>Glasgow International Exhibition 1888

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‘The Glasgow Exhibition was yesterday visited by upwards of 66,000 persons.’
The total number of visitors to the Exhibition exceeded five-and-a-half million (slightly more than visited the London Exhibition) and amongst the exhibits available to them, in the Women’s Industries Section, was a section from the Home Arts and Industries Association:
‘An interesting and important part of the society’s work at present is the developing and improving of the wool-spinning and weaving industries in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Nearly 2000 women are employed under one class holder, Mrs Thomas, in spinning, dyeing and weaving; and in this exhibit is shown how the heavy woollen fabrics woven by them may be used for curtains, portieres, etc. Specimens of cloth and also of knitted socks, etc, are shown in a wall case outside the stand.’
This is tantalising for I have only come across one ‘Mrs Thomas’ involved with ‘heavy woollen fabrics’ and ‘knitted socks’ in the region. We know that in 1883 Fanny Thomas had still been taking boat trips to Taransay in connection with her work on the islands , that in 1897 she had endowed the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital and that she appears to have maintained her interest until her death in Edinburgh in 1902 . The figure of ‘nearly 2000 women’ is astounding but, if this obituary is accurate, then at one time she had 400 stocking knitters on Harris alone!
‘Mrs Muir, of Lerwick, has brought with her three workers, who may be seen carding, spinning and knitting Shetland wool at her stand. This lady shows also a quantity of work knitted in the Fair Isles which is entirely different to the ordinary Shetland work, being bright and gay in colouring, and some of it very intricate in pattern. This kind of work is said to have been introduced into the islands by some of the Spaniards who were wrecked there at the time of the Spanish Armada. Not far from Mrs Muir’s stand is that of the Harris weaver, who, upon a very primitive loom, occasionally illustrates the weaving of the now famous and fashionable Harris tweeds. This loom was sent by Lady Scott, who takes great interest in the “homespun” industry of the Hebrides; and to the exertions of this lady and several others these textile industries owe their revival and recent development.’
I have included the Fair Isle section because, whilst straying outside my usual territory, it includes the story of wrecked sailors from the Armada and other similar tales are heard on the Western Isles.
The ‘Lady Scott’ referred to in regard to the loom upon which the (sadly un-named) Harris weaveress was working was Emilie, widow of Sir Edward Henry Scott and who, coincidently, had become a widow in 1883 which was the same year that Fanny Thomas’s husband Captain FWL Thomas had also died. This is the first direct reference I have found to the work of Lady Scott and it is entirely in keeping with the high regard with which the Scott family are held as proprietors of the North Harris Estate.
Finally, the use of the phrase ‘their revival and recent development‘ with reference to the ‘homespun’ textile industries of the Hebrides fits the pattern seen in the census data on Harris Weavers. .
Source: Glasgow Herald 10th November 1888 page 4
Note: The Home Arts & Industries Association, founded in 1884 by Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, was yet another organisation associated with the burgeoning arts & crafts movement in Britain and was functioning alongside others such as the Scottish Home Industries Association.
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>South Harris Estate – The Final Dunmore Years & A Review of 1834-1919

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You may recall that, in 1868, Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, had relinquished ownership of the North Harris Estate to his bankers, in particular the Scott family.

Thus for the next forty years, until his death on the 27th of August 1907, the Earl’s interest in the island was confined to his South Harris Estate.

He was succeeded by his son, Alexander Edward Murray, but this 8th Earl of Dunmore was to finally sell the estate in 1919 marking the end of his family’s involvement in the island some 85 years after his great grandfather had initially bought Harris. (As an aside, the purchaser in 1919 was Lord Leverhulme who paid £20,000 for the Estate. Following his death only six years later it was sold at auction for £900.)

In fact, the 8th Earl was a soldier and it was really only the in years 1908-1914 that he was able to devote time to his Harris estate for he played an active and distinguished role in the First World War prior to lord Leverhulme’s purchase a year after the end of that bloody and, for the islands, especially debilitating conflict.

Thus ended the Murray family’s ownership that may be conveniently divided into seven eras:

The 5th Earl
1834 – 5th March, George Murray, 5th Earl of Dunmore buys Harris for £60,000
1834 – Duncan Shaw replaces Donald Stewart as Factor

The 6th Earl
1836 – Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits Harris
1836/7 – Poor harvests, particularly of Potatoes
1838/9 – Seilibost, Big Borve, Middle Borve and Little Borve cleared
184? – Raa on Tarasaigh Cleared for John Macdonald, tacksman
1843 – Church of Scotland fragments in Disruption – islanders join Free Church of Scotland
1843 – 6th Earl of Dunmore considers a harbour at W Loch Tarbert, with a link to the E Loch
1844 – John Robson Macdonald becomes Factor of Harris

The Dowager Countess
1845 – Alexander, 6th Earl, dies and Catherine, his wife, is ‘Tutor’ for her son, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1846 – Potato Famines begin
1847 – Borve, Harris resettled.
1849 – Countess of Dunmore establishes the Embroidery School at An-t-Ob
1851 – Crofts at Direcleit and Ceann Dibig bisected to provide homes for people cleared from Borve on Berneray
1851 – Potatoes Famines end.
1852 – Highland and Islands Emigration Society(HIES) formed – 742 leave Harris for Australia
1853 – Borve, Harris cleared again
1853 – Manish Free Church built
1854 – Road from Stornoway to Tarbert completed

The 7th Earl’s Limited Period*
1857 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 16th Birthday
1857 – Lady Dunmore and Mrs Thomas start Stocking-Knitting industry
1858 – ‘In 1858 Lady Dunmore was a mother to her people in Harris.’ – Duchess of Sutherland writing of ‘The Revival of Home Industries’ in ‘The Land Magazine’, Vol 3, 1899.
1860s – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig cleared

*This marks the period during which, although he was still five years away from being of ‘Full Age’, the Earl would have had enjoyed enhanced rights regarding his property under Scottish law.

The 7th Earl
1862 – 24th March – 7th Earl of Dunmore’s 21st Birthday
1863 – Ardvourlie Castle built as Hunting Lodge for North Harris Estate
1865 – Harris Hotel built by Earl of Dunmore and originally called Tarbert Hotel
1866 – Marriage of 7th Earl to Lady Gertrude Coke
1867 – Abhainnsuidhe Castle built by Earl of Dunmore
1867 – North Harris Estate sold to Sir Ernest Scott for £155,000 (over two-and-a-half times what the 5th Earl of Dunmore had paid for the whole of Harris 33 years earlier!)
1871 – Alexander Edward Murray (8th Earl) born

The 7th Earl – South Harris Estate
1873 – Dunmore’s restore St Clement’s church
1882 – Nov/Dec –Thomas Brydone becomes Lord Dunmore’s Factor
1884 – Direcleit and Ceann Dibig recrofted
1886 – Catherine, Countess of Dunmore (7th Earl’s mother) dies in February
1886 – Telegraph Cable from Port Esgein, Harris to North Uist laid
1888 – Assisted emigration to Canada established
1897 – Golden Road linking Tarbert and Rodel through the Bays is completed
1897 – Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital built & endowed by Mrs Frances Thomas

The 8th Earl
1907 – Death of Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore
1919 – South Harris Estate sold for £60,000.

The first point that I need to make is that, as a result of the estate(s) being owned by four successive Earls punctuated by the Dowager Countess’s period as ‘Tutor’, there is a degree of confusion to be found in some writing about Harris (Yes, including my own!) and I hope that the selected extract from my Timeline shown above helps to clarify things.

(A similar problem exists with the previous dynasty of owners where we have, in turn, Captain Alexander Macleod, Alexander Hume Macleod & then Alexander Norman Macleod owning the island from 1779-1790, 1790-1811 & 1811-1834 respectively!)

Secondly, it is really the role of two generations, those of the 6th & 7th Earls from 1836-1845 and 1845-1907 respectively, upon which we should focus:

1836-1845
Alexander Murray, 6th Earl of Dunmore, inherits the island and with it the first hint of the food crises that would, coincidentally, start the season after his death and dominate the early years of his widow’s control of the estate. He appears to do the islanders a favour in replacing the hated Factor Donald Stewart with Duncan Shaw Factor but the series of Clearances that Shaw oversaw suggests otherwise. The one good thing that the 6th Earl did consider doing was a revival of Captain Alexander Macleod’s plan to link East & West Loch Tarbert but he, just like the good Captain before him, died soon after having had this notion.

1862-1907
No, this is not an error but I want to look at these years before returning to what I believe to be the defining decades of the Dunmore dynasty.

The first five years see the finally fully fledged 7th Earl embark on an overambitious building program, gain a wife and lose an estate. I say ‘lose’ because, although it might appear that having sold North Harris for 250% of the sum his grandfather had paid for the whole island he had done rather well in the deal, it is believed that little or no cash was actually exchanged. The estate was provided in payment of monies that were owing to the Earl’s bankers.

It is worth noting that he wasn’t the first grandson to have to ‘sell’ land on Harris for Alexander Norman Macleod had preceded him in this regard when being forced to sell the whole island. In his case, the purchaser had been…the 5th Earl of Dunmore. It was also this Macleod who had brought Donald Stewart to Harris to act as his Factor.

The consequence of this was that, for the final forty years of his life, the 7th Earl only owned the South Harris Estate and thus could focus his attention upon that part of the island. There is, frankly, scant evidence of him paying the island any attention at all other than as a plaything and virtually none after his mother’s death in 1886. The few developments that did take place can all be ascribed to sources other than him.

1845-1862
As alluded to above, the Dowager Countess was greeted in the year following her husband’s death by the first of the Potato Famines that would last through to 1851 and lead, in part, to 742 people leaving Harris for Australia the following year. Borve on Harris was resettled, and then it & Borve on Berneray were Cleared. In amongst this turmoil the Countess decided to establish her Embroidery School at An-t-Ob which seems to have more in common with a child-labour sweat-shop than a serious attempt at addressing the economic issues facing the islanders.

She met their spiritual needs by finally acceding to demands for a Free Church to be built (although the site at Manish was not their first-choice) having claimed ignorance of all previous requests.

In the year of her son’s sixteenth birthday she and Mrs Thomas started the Stocking Knitting industry which appears to have been more financially robust for the women of the island than the Embroidery School of the previous decade. This event marks our first record of the latter lady’s presence on the isle, a presence that in my opinion was of great significance especially with regard to the early marketing of what was to become known as Harris Tweed.

Finally, in 1860, Direcleit and Ceann Dibig were cleared with a favoured few being allowed to dwell there as cottagers…

Overall what strikes me is not what the four Earls and one Countess are remembered for having done, but rather all that they failed to do and chief amongst these must be their not having established Tarbert as a fishing station with the two lochs linked by canal or rail.
One can only guess at the income it would have generated for the island and its owners and at what it might have cost, but it would certainly have been a wiser investment than the 7th Earl’s castle which was to prove so dear…

>1911 Harris Households containing Kerr folk

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In the previous piece I mentioned that there were only 15 people left on Harris bearing the family name Kerr:
There are some 18 people listed here so quite why three of them were missing from my original search is a (somewhat concerning!) indexing mystery…
Please note that all spellings are given as they appear on the census sheets.
I have shown in bold those who are my relatives.
DERECLET – 7, living in 3 consecutively listed households
Catherine, 35, G&E, Hand Loom Weaveress (Home Spun), Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Married 9 years, 3 children all still alive. Her husband, my cousin John Kerr, was a Salmon Fisher at Chanonry Point in 1901 and died on the 8th of November 1950 in Direcleit. His mother is the Widow Mary Kerr seen below.
Christy, 7, Daughter, G&E, School, b. Harris
Mary, 5, Daughter, G&E, School, b. Harris
Angus, 2, Son, b. Harris
W Mary, 72, Gaelic, Widow, Tweed Making Home Spun (Old Age Pensioner), Own Account, At Home,
Marion, 43, Daughter, Single, G&E, Woollen Weaveress Home Spun, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Mary was the wife of Angus Kerr, a Fisherman and the younger brother of my great, great grandfather.
Effie, 80, Single, Gaelic, Tweed Making OA Pensioner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
I think this is my great, great grandaunt who was my great, great grandfather’s youngest sister and a sister-in-law of her neighbour, the Widow Mary.
KYLIS – 1
Christina Kerr, 21, G&E, Servant, b. Harris
Christina was the eldest daughter of my great grand uncle Roderick of Obbe. She was living in the household of Norman Robertson, 29, Estate Factor, b. Portree.
Their neighbours (in what appears to have been the smaller od the two houses) include the 70 year-old widow Sarah Macdonald, the Mrs Macdonald of Kyles Lodge who wrote an account of the origins of Harris Tweed.
KINTULAVIG – 1
Annie, 17, Niece, G&E, Hand Loom Weaveress Harris Tweed, Own Account, At Home, b. Glasgow
As far as I know, Annie has no connection to the Kerr families of Harris.
OBBE – 5
Roderick, 68, Gaelic, General Labourer, b. Harris
Peggy, 57, Wife, Gaelic, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Married 30 years, 8 children of whom 6 still alive.
Angus, 20, Son, Gaelic & English, General Labourer, b. Harris
Kate, 16, Daughter, G&E, b. Harris
John, 9, Son, G&E, At School, b. Harris
Roderick, who was born in Direcleit, was the son of my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr and his first wife, Bess Macdonald. He was raised by his grandparents in Direcleit before returning to the family roots along the Sound of Harris. His son, Angus, was wed at Scarista in 1923 and the Minister performing the ceremony was John Kerr, the ‘Ayatollah’ of Finlay J Macdonald’s books.
STROND – 3
Ann Maclean, 44, Gaelic, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
John Kerr, 15, Son, G&E, b. Harris
Jessie Macleod, 74, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Greenock
Donald Kerr, 49, Son, Single, Crofter Fisherman, b. Harris
Susan Kerr,, 46, Daughter, Single, Harris Tweed Spinner, Own Account, At Home, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 19, Grandson, Single, Assisting on croft, b. Harris
This family descend from a Shoemaker, Angus Kerr, and his wife Margaret Mackay. The 15 year-old John Kerr was the son of the unmarried Ann Maclean and Donald Kerr, who in turn was the son of the unmarried John Kerr and Jessie Macleod. Quite why this family shunned wedlock is unknown but it certainly proved challenging when I was mapping all the Kerr families on Harris!
RODIL – 1
Lexy Kerr, 79, Widow, G&E, Private Means, b. Harris
Lexy, whose husband Angus Kerr spent his whole working life serving the South Harris Estate, was living three doors down from the ‘Boarding House’ ie what began life as Rodel House and is currently the Rodel Hotel.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that 1911, the year that the Clo Mor was first stamped with the Orb Mark, displays in the census returns for the first time the words ‘Harris Tweed’…
…and I’m very proud to have several female relatives shown to be engaged in spinning & weaving this most famous of Home Spun fabrics!

>The (True) Origin of Harris Tweed?

>It is inevitable that, in this year which see celebrations of the centenary of the first Clo Mor to bear the Orb stamp, my thoughts should turn once again to the story of the early origin of Harris Tweed.

It is a topic that clearly exercised the late Angus Macleod too, for his archive is full of notes on the subject and these have been particularly valuable in guiding my research, although whether he would accord with my conclusions or not is quite another matter.

Are the tales told part of the oral history of the people of the island, or are they a marketing spin invented in the late 19thC to add romance to the material and conveniently mask some of the less-palatable aspects of the Dunmore years, especially those of the 1840s?
Minutes of Evidence – 12th May 1847 John Tait Esq.
Third Report from the Select Committee on Sites For Churches (Scotland)
6290. Was anything done with a view to giving a market for the fabrics of the island?
Yes; Lady Dunmore intimated to all the people in Harris that the whole fabrics of the island, such as tartan plaids and stockings, would be taken at once by her, and paid for in ready money; and I may state that she has has received from there about 80L. worth of such fabrics, most of which have been brought up to England, and sold or given to her friends.
This represents the earliest datable, documented account of the Countess of Dunmore involving herself with ‘Harris Tweed’.
No family tartan, no sisters from Strond sent to train in Paisley, or Alloa, or anywhere else.
£80 in 1847 equates to £5,360 today using the Retail Price Index (£57,800 using Average Earnings).
Her late husband had bought the whole of Harris 13 years earlier for £60,000.
This equates to nearly £5million using the RPI and almost £50million using Average Earnings.
750 times the amount ‘taken at once’ from the weavers & stocking knitters…
John Tait had had a long-standing & knowledgeable relationship with the family:
6259. I Believe you were one of the trustees under the will of George Earl of Dunmore, the grandfather of the present Earl ? -Yes, I was.
You are intimately acquainted with the affairs of the family, and assist Lady Dunmore in the management of the property ? – Yes, I have been consulted by her frequently.
The situation the Countess found herself in was undoubtedly complex: the Disruption of 1843; the death of the 6th Earl of Dunmore in July 1845 (shortly followed by the birth of his last child); the start of the Potato Famines in 1846; the requests for a Free Church or churches to be built; and the resettlement of Borve in 1847 all being major features that occurred in these five short years.
It seems a little too convenient that it is in the middle of this period that she is alleged to have set the industry on its way, especially as there is no concrete evidence of her visiting Harris at this time.
The very complexity of the situation, made all the more difficult by her acting as ‘Tutor’ to the small boy who legally owned the property, makes it extremely difficult to differentiate fact from fiction but the more of the former that I examine the less inclined I am to accept much of the latter. As I have made clear previously, almost all the published accounts of the origins of Harris Tweed were written decades after the events that they purport to describe (and after the death of the Countess herself) by people who had a vested interest in mythologising the Dunmore proprietorship of Harris. They were fellow ‘establishment’ figures (or their immediate underlings) and included a titled Lady or two, Ministers of the Established Church, Factors & Farmers.
She did make a payment of £1800 pounds in the Spring of 1847 which is the earliest documented evidence of the Countess assisting ‘woollen manufactures, partly knitting and partly spinning.’ on Harris. It equates to perhaps as little as £180,000 today:

“In the spring of 1847, Lady Dunmore, from her private funds, supplied seed oats, and a considerable quantity of seed potatoes, to the tenants. Some have repaid their advances, but a greater number have not. Her Ladyship also provided materials for employing females in woollen manufactures, partly knitting and partly spinning. For these two purposes she expended above £1800. Nearly £1200 have also been expended on boats, fishing-gear, and the erection of a pier at West Tarbert, for the encouragement of the fishery.”
It is not entirely clear if the sum of £1800 refers solely to the knitting and spinning manufactures, or if it includes the seed oats and seed potatoes too, but what is significant is that it appears in the 1851 submission of the Parochial Board of Harris. and yet this account makes no reference to any subsequent encouragement occurring in the four years following this one-off payment.
It was, I suggest, simply an attempt at recouping some of the costs of the famine relief that had been borne (‘from her private funds’ probably because the Trust legislation made such payments difficult for her to make directly from the estate of her 6 year-old son), rather than a part of any properly planned enterprise. That would only appear a decade later, after the famines had ended and a certain ‘Mrs Captain Thomas’ had appeared on the scene. A decade later still, the 26 year-old 7th Earl’s castle-building led to him having to sell the North Harris Estate for £155,000.
In conclusion, whilst there is evidence from as early as 1847 of the Countess providing some stimulus for the women of Harris to generate income from textiles, there is nothing to support the familiar myth of the origin of Harris Tweed which may well be rooted in true events but which, in it’s well-spun version(s), is too full of flaws to be given the stamp of approval…
Sources:
Note: Previous pieces that may be of interest:

>’Donegal Homespuns,

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hand-spun and hand-woven by the peasantry, 2s. 2d to 3s. 6D yard, according to weight and merit, 26 to 29 inches wide.
The thin ones are perfect for tropical climates, the medium for ordinary summer lounge wear, whilst the heavier are almost identical with the genuine high-priced Harris homespuns, and made in exactly the same way.’
Source: W Bill, Irish Cloth Merchants, London in Whitaker’s Almanac, 1897

>Some Sites in Strond

>I have made reference to Harris Development Limited in previous posts but, somehow, have failed to examine one of their Projects despite it being of particular significance regarding the story of Strond.

I refer to an (undated) ‘Record of Strond Site’ where we have a map and accompanying photographs that relate to these 46 sites.

It is the first three of these (STF1, STF2 & STF3) that I wish to focus upon for they record two slipways, including possibly Port Ungasto, and a wall that may be part of Dun Boraigeo. I have shown the location of the possible site of Port Ungasto on this map where the symbol of a telephone indicates the location of the old Strond Post Office and it is between there and Borghasdal that the ruins of the dozen-and-a-half houses that, I believe, were ‘Port Esgein, Farm of Strond’ in 1851 are found.

So we have a port, defended by an adjacent dun, with a small settlement on farmland bounded by a hill behind with a well-defined track to Rodel and another to the Carminish peninsular and the dun the protects that part of the coast with its natural ‘harbour’. My earlier impression that these coastal duns might have been both symbols of power & ownership as well as places of safety when danger was signalled seems perfectly plausible and I think it highly likely that the relatively modern group of houses from 1851 were displaying a continuity of use from the days of the duns. As I have made clear before, the earliest accurate map made by Bald in 1804 (and having georeferenced it to Google Earth I can attest to how remarkably accurately he performed his duties as a surveyor) clearly places Strond in what we know as Borghasdal and equally surely shows little sign of significant settlement along the coast until we reach Carminish.

I may well be wrong but, if not, then it seems even more certain that the Paisley Sisters were living in 1851 in what is now one of the ruins near Borghasdal and that the plaque commemorating them is either indicating another place that they occupied at some other time or it is possibly in altogether the wrong location.

Note: I first suggested this a year ago in ‘A Stroll From Strond To Rodel Across The Decades…’ where the connection between the ruins and the records is explained in more depth.