Tales Of Kirrie Toon

Weavers & Cloth Trades


The Last Thried.

By Andy Shanks/ Christine Kydd PRS

Vocals C Kydd

Piano, Stuart Duncan

Recorded and produced by

Stuart Duncan, Redbarn Studios


Alan Reid gives a finely detailed account of the handloom weavers of Kirrie.

Our own focus is on the buildings and who worked there. Nearly all handloom weavers worked in their own homes, though a few are listed in 1846 as working in the Meikle Mills.

The first incursion of machinery was the 'introduction of spinning by machinery ... while it put a check on the old methods of yarn production [by family members] did much to further the general interests of the craft. The two yearly markets on Kirrie Hill at which large quantities of flax and yarn were sold, fell into desuetude, but supplies cam,e frerly from other sources. Many who had been frugal and industrious were able to lay the foundations of flourishing businesses, and as "manufacturers", or as "agents", for manufacturers, did much to regulate and develop the trade. ... The South and North Muirs were requisitioned as sites for weaving colonies ... tile from 1500 to 1800 looms were at work within the bounds. The "workshop" formed a portion of nearly every dwelling, and those who were in the thick of business found it necessary to build "loom shops" for the accommodation of their own employees.' Reid


The Old Statistical Account says that in 1791/2 coarse linen was manufacturered in Kirrie to the value of £38,000 - Osnaburgh, scrim and birdy.

A footnote tells how Kirrie weavers decided to look after their own.

The town was in great distress in 1782, not so much from a scarcity of of victual, for some of the farmers never had a better crop, as from a resolution entered into by the people not to give above a certain price. Consequently the farmers carried their victual to the best market; and this place was threatened with a famine.

To prevent this in future, a society was established in 1785, called the Weavers Society. Each member, at his admission, pays a certain sum, and so much a quarter afterward; and in case of sickness, or inability to work, he is entitled to a certain allowance a-week; and in the event of his having a widow, she receives a small annuity.


In 1816 the end of the War With France resulted in a glut of home-made linen, all Kirrie's warehouses were 'full and overflowing', and wagfes fell. But 'a few adventurers' took the excess goods to neighbouring towns, sales went well and eventually they ranged and sold further afield, to the towns of England and the Highlands of home,' 



From The New Statistical Account of 1833, ‘The water of the Gairie is also carefully collected by us into dams; and it is wonderful how many corn and plash mills, on the most approved construction, are set in motion by it. Although the yarns must be carried from the shores in carts and along roads constructed on the common principles, and although the cloth, when manufactured, must be carried back by the same rude conveyance, such is the ingenuity of our weavers and such their industry, that we are not only able to compete with our rivals in the more favoured towns on the aost, but even to bear away from them the palm of victory’.


The 1846 Post Office Directory lists 64 weavers, 4 warpers, a reedmaker [see * box on right] and 22 shoemakers. The 1878 Slater Directory lists 14 boot and shoe makers, but no weavers or warpers at all. However, 14 linen manufacturers are listed.


'In 1867, while the air was pulsating with disquieting rumours of power looms, factories, and steam, there were close on 2000 weavers in the own and neighbourhood, as many more being engaged in the various operations connected with the produce of the loom in its initial and final stages. Reid

Dr Alexander Whyte recalled in the early 1900s that, 'There were rows and rows of weavers' shops in the Newtown where I was brought up; generally comprised of a "but and a ben", the "but" being the kitchen, with maybe a little room as a bedroom or sitting-room. Then at the other end were four weaving looms. The father would have one, and perhaps two daughters would have one each, and the son would have one.


'Kirriemuir held out against the innovation as long as possible --- the local manufacturers were compelled to such action was would keep their trade on a level with that if their southern fellows. ...The late John Ogilvie of Lisden, and the Messrs Wilkie, took a firm grip of the difficulties that emerged in the fifties and sixties. ... They founded separate works by the side of the Gairie; extensive and well- appointed factories which from their erection have been centres of employment for thousands of young and old of both sexes. Nor were the old handloom weavers forgotten under the new conditions of labour. All who were unable to take part in the more strenuous methods of production were allowed to work their webs as of yore, and thus there was general satisfaction.' Reid

The demand for hand-made fabrics grew smaller, but n 1909 towelling, sheeting and tablecoths were still being woven on Kirrie handlooms,

'in the Roods, the Glengatge, and other quiet corners, the handloom itself may still be heard and seen in operation, but the varied evidences of its palmy days are everywhere.' These included the more substantial premises and residences of the manufacturers, cottages elongated into workshops, and the 'long rows of two-storied dwellings with loom shops underneath', hundreds of them converted from factory to home by alterations 'mainly to the rear of the houses, but very often the fronts of others show the building-up of thje small old windows alongside the formation of their larger fellows'.


An old Kirrie rhyme remembered by the Reids was

Spuggie Young the weiver, gaed up tae see the mune

Aa the treadles on his back, His sownie mug abune

The mune is of course the artificial hillock, The Moon, at the top right of the road climbing up from the Den.

'This area was formed from the excavated soil removed in 1871 to build the Gairie Factory. The debate continues as to the origin of the name. Is it derived from the crescent moon shape or is it from the irony of the workmen that they were taking the excavated soil to the moon?' D Orr 


‘The Meikle Mills, which have never been tenantless, are still driven by the waters of Kinnordy, their useful function being reinforced by the Angus Mills, driven by steam, and specialising several widely advertised and very popular products.’ Reid

* The Reed

A reed which is an integral component of every loom, is a device consisting of several wires closely set between two slats or baulks. It is used to beat up the weft inserted by the shuttle to produce a compact cloth. It also helps to keep the warp threads in their proper position according to the fineness of the fabric and it acts as a back guide for the shuttle to run against. Before the early 18th century, reeds were made from split cane. Later flattened wire was used, held in wooden strips bound with pitched twine. The spacing or dent of the reed varies widely depending on the application and the change wheels allow a wide range of dents to be produced.