>About the Hebrides No VIII

>

‘Tarbert in Harris, to which the Clansman conveyed us from Loch Maddy in North Uist, was described to us by a residenter of the place, though not a native, as consisting of 26 dwelling-houses and 13 shops – he begged pardon, business premises of “merchants”. This is possibly a rather rough-and-ready summing-up, but it is correct enough in so far as indicating that the number of the latter is distinctly out of proportion to the number and requirements of the former.

The village stands at the head of East Loch Tarbert, that indentation of the sea that cuts into the land from the Minch to about a quarter of a mile from the head of West Loch Tarbert, similarly indenting it from the Atlantic, the so close approach of the two all but constituting the southern portion of Harris an island. As it is, the march between the two districts is here, the proprietor of North Harris being Sir Edward H Scott, Bart., and of South Harris the Earl of Dunmore.

The houses are all on the north or right hand side as you enter by the steamer, ust where the loch or bay becomes a creek of 300 or 400 yards in length, and narrowing to less than 50 yards at the top. The first structure to catch the eye is the Free Church, a plain enough building, erected on the summit of an eminence jutting into the sea immediately eastward of the pier. Close at hand, but standing a little lower, is the manse, a comfortable-looking, white-washed house, with a neatly-kept kitchen garden in front and sheltered so far from the wind and spray by some trees – the latter not of any dimensions, truly, but still forming a show of “wood” surpassing what we had seen as yet in working up the Long Island. Then comes the wooden pier, up from which, by a path that winds round to westward, you pass the schoolhouse (the of teacher which is also the registrar for the district, &c.), and get onto the main road or street, on the right of which stand the houses and stores of which, as above mentioned, the village consists. To right and left respectively of the pierhead is a row of eight or ten of these, some slated and others roofed with zinc, and all of one storey only.

Beyond these, going on to the head of the loch, there is a hiatus, to which succeeds a row of about a dozen newer-looking houses, two or or three of which are of two storeys and “semi-detached” from their neighbours. At the very head of the bay is the old Tarbert Inn , now disused as such; and across the road from this, almost down on the shore, the modern post and telegraph office. Following the road westwards two minutes’ walk brings you to the new Tarbert Hotel, in the very centre of the isthmus, and 30 or 40 yards further on is the house of the medical man of the district, Dr Stewart, which commands the view away down West Loch Tarbert.’
This is a gem of a description of Tarbert from 130 years ago and I only wish that I could name the author! However, we can identify ‘…Dr Stewart…’ as James Stewart for this young ‘Physician and Surgeon’ from Perthshire is found living in Kintulavig in 1881 and at 15 West Tarbert a decade later
Similary, we can be sure that the teacher who was ‘…also the registrar for the district, &c.’ was the Glaswegian Donald Bethune, he being the Schoolteacher in Tarbert in 1881 & 1891 , and that the Minister in the Manse was Roderick Mackenzie from Assynt in Sutherland who a few months after the publication of this article was giving his evidence to the Napier Commission where he makes particular reference to the work of Fanny Thomas .
We are especially fortunate in having the 1882 6-inch Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1878) on which to follow in the footsteps of our unknown author and then we should perhaps refresh ourselves at the ‘…new Tarbert Hotel …’ before returning later to examine the remainder of his piece…
Source: Glasgow Herald 16th September 1882 p3
Advertisements

>Glasgow International Exhibition 1888

>

‘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.

>Contribution From India For The People Of Harris

>

The Scotsman notices that the last number of the Friends of India contains an interesting statement regarding that “most desolate and poverty-stricken of the Western Isles,” Harris, with a population of 4400, the majority of whom “live in sight of starvation the whole year.” “They are always hungry: …many of them never know what it is to feel satisfied after a meal. Poor as the other islands are, nowhere are the people in so wretched a condition as in Harris.
The article from which we quote (and we guess it to be from the pen of Mrs Colin Mackenzie) goes on to describe the noble exertions which an English lady, Mrs Captain Thomas, the wife of the naval officer surveying the coast of Harris, has made for the last two or three years, “striving, as she has done, with all her might, and almost unassisted, to raise a population from the extremity of misery.” She has established schools, got the church finished, has collected subscriptions by which she has supported a catechist in the island for almost three years, has set on foot a bazaar by which she has raised funds for building a manse, has induced numbers of the fishermen to join the Coast-Guard service, and has brought up in Edinburgh several relays of boys and girls, who have all turned out most docile and excellent servants, and strives, but hitherto striven in vain, to raise means for enabling some of the poor and starving families of the isle to emigrate.
Shall we not (writes the Friend of India) – “Shall we not help her?”
The appeal ends with a series of subscriptions from Hindoos and others, as H. H. the Nawab Naziur, 500 rupees; Rajab Prosuno Narain Dab Buhadur, 100 rupees, etc.
Is this not a great and deserved censure upon the apathy with which we look upon the miseries of poverty when they chance to be to near our own door?’
Inverness Advertiser Friday 22 Feb 1861
This article, obtained from the Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile’s online search and order service, is, quite simply, the pinnacle of the primary sources that I have perused in relation to this magnificent lady (and also of the situation on Harris fully a decade after the final potato famine).
Everything that I have researched regarding Mrs Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield Thomas (yes, that was her full name following her two baptisms and her first marriage!) leads up to this newspaper piece. This may come as a surprise for where is the Clo Mor, or the Stocking Knitters, or whatever? The answer is that I do not believe that either ‘Harris Tweed’ or ‘Strond Stockings’ were truly significant economic activities at this early date and it was the less glamorous work amongst the people that is described above that the exhaustingly energetic Fanny was devoting herself to at this time.
Of the publication, ‘The Friend of India’, I have learnt that it was created by the missionary John Clark Marshman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clark_Marshman but, although the title contains the word ‘Friend’, I have not discovered whether it was associated with the Society of Friends. I raise this because, although I have no proof that the Thomas’s were ‘Quakers’, an article on Mrs Thomas appeared in ‘The British Friend’ of 1888.
Mrs Captain Thomas, my ‘Heroine of Harris’, was certainly a friend to the people of the isle…

>Bushey & the Congested Districts Board

>This is one of those ‘tying-up-a-loose-end’ posts – although in this case there remain several ‘tails’ still to be told.

In my piece on ‘Lululaund’ I referred to the Tapestry Weavers of Bushey and then later discovered The British and Irish Spinning and Weaving School that had been located there. I mentioned the presence of Miss Clive Bayley and conjectured that she was the ladies teacher. Hence I was delighted to find in the National Archives of Scotland a reference from 1901 to ‘Miss Clive Bayley. Home Industry. Expenses incurred at Bushey’ that is filled under the Congested Districts Board (Ref:AF42/890)

Unfortunately there are no further details and the file, which is held off-site, has to be pre-requested but it nicely corroborates the foregoing guesswork and links the CDB to this particular endeavour. As it appears in Bushey, and Mrs Captain Thomas was now living in East Sussex as Mrs Frances Beckett, I wonder if once again she had a hand in yet another textile offshoot from Harris, this time one that was training some seven young ladies from ‘Obbe, Harris’?

Whilst on the topic of connections twixt Bushey & Harris, here’s the piece on ‘A Somewhat Strange Affair’ …

"I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort."

Thus ended the evidence to the Napier Commission given by the Reverend Alexander Davidson of Manish Free Church, Harris.

The full exchange went like this:

13113. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—I forgot to follow out a question which I put about the lands. Taking South Harris as a whole, is there not enough land to support in comfort even more than the present population ?

—I should think it would give land to the present population, if the land were distributed among the people. I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort.




This, from a man who had lived, worked and raised a family amongst the people of South Harris for at least the past twenty-eight years (including officiating at the wedding of one of my female cousins in Strond in 1867) stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view of the Proprietor, the past Factors and the present Farmers of the day for whom Emigration was the only ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’.


I was inspired to take a closer look at Alexander Davidson having been contacted by one of his descendants, as can be seen at the end of this piece on Harris Free Churchmen .


The church is described in these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and this is its location as seen on the OS 1:25000 Map .

The accompanying Manse, which was the Davidson family’s home for many years, is similarly described on these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and its precise location can be seen here .


In previous pieces I mentioned that Captain FWL Thomas and his wife, Mrs ‘Captain Thomas’, had at times taken-in the children of islanders including one of Alexander Davidson’s daughters and also of the widowed Fanny Thomas’s later endowment of the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital .

I would like to end with a longer extract from the Reverend’s evidence to the Napier Commission, to which I have added notes & observation within the text:


13081. Do many of the young women go south?
—Not many.


The context here is that of the ‘Herring Girls’ of the islands who followed the fishing fleet in their progress around the coast of Scotland and England during the season.

13082. Have they never been in the habit of going much from Harris?
—No, they never went.


This is telling us that as far as Davidson was aware, the women of Harris did not participate in this work.

13083. A good many of the women in this island get employment in knitting and in spinning cloth ?
—Yes, kilt making. That is their principal employment, and of late years it has been very useful to them.


Knitting, Spinning and Weaving were clearly well-established by 1883 but whether ‘kilt making’ referred to an actual Tailoring activity or was Davidson’s shorthand for weaving a web of cloth is not clear. As far as I know, such tailoring was not performed in creating a product for export and my researches into tailoring certainly don’t indicate that it was ever a large-scale female activity on Harris.

13084. Who set that agoing?
—Well, the Countess of Dunmore takes some interest in it, as well as other parties. I see they get very much into the way of dealing with the local merchants in order to get meal.


The internal arrangements pertaining at the time between the producers and the local merchants are beyond the scope of this piece, but I am interested in Davidson’s phrase ‘takes some interest in it’  for that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Countess’s commitment to the cause. It is just a pity that none of the ‘other parties’ were named!

13085. Are most of the women in the parish employed in that way?
—Well, generally.



A reminder that, unlike on neighbouring Lewis, Weaving on Harris was traditionally dominated by the women.

13086. I mean every family?
—Perhaps not every family, but very generally they are.


The extent to which these textile industries pervaded the population and were pivotal to their survival is clear.

13087. They knit a great many stockings and hose?
—Yes.

The size and importance of the knitting industry must have been very significant at this time so quite why it slipped into relative obscurity, especially in comparison with the international fame of Harris Tweed, is an interesting question that I have discussed in previous pieces.

13088. What price do they get for socks?
—Not very much—perhaps about 1s., but I can hardly say whether that is the fixed price.

That is only £2-£3 in today’s money

13089. And they manufacture a peculiarly coloured native cloth?
—Almost every kind of cloth.

13090. Native dyes?
—Yes, they use native dyes.


Ignoring the slightly pejorative-sounding ‘peculiarly coloured’, we learn that the women were producing a variety of different cloths using ‘native dyes’. It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘Tweed’, let-alone the two words, ‘Harris Tweed’, are conspicuous by their absence. It wasn’t until the later marketing of the brand that they assumed common usage.




Ref: The full transcript of this evidence may be read here .

Note:
Anyone wishing to learn more about the Free Church Ministers at this time should consult the  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (which may be available as in inter-library loan).

The British and Irish Spinning and Weaving School

It appears that this institution was the likely link between Harris and Herts. and I have uncovered a reference in ‘Womanhood 6’, the publication edited by Ada S Ballin, which states:


‘At the British and Irish Spinning and Weaving School, in New Bond Street, with its branch school at Bushey…’


In 1902 Volume 8 of this publication would refer to:


The stall for Harris goods, superintended by Mrs. Thomas…’


which I think was in regard to an Exhibition of Home Industries that had been held in Scotland and which links Fanny Thomas to the island and to Home Industries/Arts & Crafts almost up to the time of her death and certainly during the period when the School in Bushey was opening & operating.

Although she is not specifically mentioned, the lady ‘on the ground’ in Harris at this time was Mrs S Macdonald, (born in Grantown-on-Spey as Sarah Grant) of Kyles House near ‘Obbe’ and of the Scottish Home Industries Association.
In 1895 this wife of the Farmer and Merchant Roderick had written her piece that appeared in a Scottish Home Industries booklet and was then referred to in the Scott Report of 1914.
(It is this account by Sarah Macdonald’s on the origins of Harris Tweed that has informed most subsequent accounts.)

I am hoping to learn more about the School in Bushey from the Local Studies Centre in the museum there but meanwhile the presence of the Tapestry Weavers in Bushey appears to provide additional evidence regarding the wide range of activities undertaken by the ladies associated with the Home Industries movement and Harris.

Lululaund?

In the previous piece on Tapestry Weavers I posed the question as to what had led the ladies from Harris to Bushey? A little further examination of that little village in Hertfordshire produced a possibility which, although highly conjectural, I thought I would describe:

In 1886 a remarkable house was conceived and by 1894 people were living in it. It was known as Lululaund and was built for the artist  Hubert von Herkomer who was linked with the Arts & Crafts movement. Lululaund has been described as an ‘Arts and Crafts fairytale home’ .

In 1899, The Land Magazine had published the Duchess of Sutherland’s account of The Revival of Home Industries and the newly-founded Scottish Home Industries Association, inspired by Ruskin’s Arts & Crafts movement,  had ‘Mrs S Macdonald‘ as its champion in An-t-Ob or ‘Obbe’. FWL Thomas had died in 1885 and in 1890 the widowed Fanny Thomas married James Flowers Beckett and moved from Leith to Sussex but remained linked to Harris at this time via her Tweed depot in London.

The pieces were in place, therefore, for seven skilled young ladies from Harris to find themselves working in Hertfordshire producing items for the extraordinary residence of an artist named Herkomer. I have no proof, and have contacted the museum in Bushey for assistance, but at least I now have a possible explanation where before there was none.