Tales of Forfar mills at ‘Big Kirk’

TALES of the life and work in the Forfar mills will be aired after the holidays in a series of “drop-in” sessions at the East and Old Parish Church.

As the Dundee Weavers prepare to celebrate their 500th anniversary next year, Forfar man Ron Scrimgeour, Deacon of The Weaver Incorporation, is calling on those with memories of the mill to come forward to recall their stories.

Next year will be an exciting year for the Dundee Weavers and Ron, a former Angus Councillor, says it can also be an exciting year for community groups, educational establishments, clubs and business organisations throughout Angus, Dundee and Perthshire.

Weaving and all the background preparation of yarn has had a tremendous impact on the City of Dundee and the Angus burghs. The allied trades of metal foundries, whaling and shipbuilding that supported the jute and flax trade have equally put Dundee on the map. The social, economic and political history of the textile towns is written in lives of the people who toiled in the factories and mills.

He says there are many stories to tell and all of them will testify to the resilience and character of Angus people.

The Weaver Incorporation was given its charter in 1512 to regulate the quality of yarn and finished cloth, to set standards for the training of spinners, winders and weavers and to provide poor relief for the unemployed weavers, for widows and orphans. The weavers are one of the Nine Trades in Dundee, the others being bakers, tailors, bonnetmakers, glovers, fleshers, hammermen, dyers and cordiners (shoemakers).

Only the bonnetmakers have already reached their 500th year. The records of Forfar bakers, tailors and weavers are still available at the national archive.

Ron explains the Angus towns were well known for their weaving skills and it was no secret that Forfar cloth was superior to that produced in Dundee although the Forfar weavers were paid significantly less than their colleagues 15 miles to the south.

Family dynasties ran the factories in Angus with names such as Don, Low, Smart, Duke, Lowson, Craik and Hill still echoing in the wynds and narrow lanes of Angus towns.

A number of activities are planned for 2012 including schools competitions, special jute related productions at Dundee Rep, exhibitions of Angus trade and craft insignia at the local museums.

Deacon Ron says: “Today the craft and trade guilds are largely historical and ceremonial but they do have a role in preserving the traditions of the past.

“I would like to see our 500th anniversary as a tribute to the countless thousands of men, women and children who laboured in difficult and dangerous conditions to manufacture products that went all over the world. These products forged the new continents and were used by pioneers in the emerging USA, Australia and South America. The names of small Scottish towns and villages went with them.

“As well as the relatively dry historical records that we have, I would like to hear the real stories of real people whose families worked in the Forfar mills.

“The Rev. Barbara Ann Sweetin of Forfar East and Old has kindly agree to have the kirk open so that a “drop in” can take place. Once the holiday season is over, anyone who has a story to tell or old photographs to show will be welcome to have a cup of coffee and a blether of old times. Details will be published later.

“My mother was a weaver so I have particular pride in preserving the true and honest record of our industrial heritage. And of course, I had better get it right or the memories of a number of clouts” on the back of the head from the rough hands of a weaver will come flooding back!”

Ron (left) is pictured with past Deacon Alastair Scott presenting a miniature lapel shuttle to Rachel Timmons, the only weaving graduate from Duncan of Jordanstone Art College.