Weavers and weaving in Girvan

On the 1851 Census form, James McCoid is registered as a Hand Loom Weaver (cotton). All the other males on that form are similarly registered, and although the occupation of wives was left blank, it is safe to assume from photos of the time that Charlotte would also have been engaged in weaving.

The whole area at the far southern end of Dalrymple Street, seemed to have been employed in this cottage industry. Many of the workers were Irish, escaping poverty in Ireland whilst taking advantage of their skills. You can read what the minister said about them here. Although Charlotte’s parents, the Dowie’s, were born in Ireland they were long term members of his church so let’s assume he didn’t include them in his remarks.

These photos have been taken from McMeikan, J. (1993) Girvan Memories. A walk down memory lane. Kyle & Carrick District Council.

Why weaving?

The Scottish textile industry was a major contributor to the development of the Scottish Industrial Revolution, and the growth of the Scottish economy, from the mid-eighteenth century. In the 1820s, 9/10ths of the Scottish workforce was employed in the industry.

Woollen weaving was the traditional industry and one of the oldest, in the west of Scotland. However, this was overtaken by flax spinning and its weaving into linen; later cotton weaving overtook linen, early in the Industrial Revolution.

Tom Barclay, from the Carnegie Library in Ayr tells this story:

The first important development in the mechanisation of the British textile industry was the invention of machines powered by steam engines or water wheels which spun raw cotton into thread. The thread still had to be woven into cloth on manually-operated hand looms. In Scotland, agents for the thread mill owners in Glasgow and Paisley delivered the thread to hand-loom weavers working in their own cottages, and later collected the finished cloth, paid the weavers, and took the cloth to the mill owners to be marketed.

For most of the first half of the nineteenth century, hand-loom weaving was the most important industry in the town of Girvan.  However, the invention of powered weaving machines meant that by around 1850 hand-loom weaving was in rapid decline.