Weaving in Dunning
Linen weaving became the major industry in rural Scotland in the 1750s. After the '45 Rebellion the government, seeking a way to relieve hardship and provide work and a suitable material for army uniforms, gave farmers a monetary incentive to grow flax which would provide the industry with its raw material.
Thus Dunning became typical of many villages throughout Scotland where the meagre prosperity became almost entirely dependant on the handloom weaving of linen.
Dunning had been virtually rebuilt between 1792 and 1830, greatly increasing its size. The new adjacent village of Newton of Pitcairn was feued at the same time with the proviso that one room in each home would be provided with a loom. Consequently ground floor ceilings were deliberately low so that loom heads fixed to them could be easily reached by the operatives.
Between 1755 and 1851 the population increase from 1500 to 2200 was almost entirely due to the weaving industry. There were 500 looms and along the banks of the burn, bleaching greens were established where the soaked flax could dry and be bleached by the sun.
The linen produced by the Dunning weavers was of a fairly heavy quality and a sheen could be obtained on it by laying the linen on a flat surface and rubbing over it with glass balls held in the hands. This practice is said to be the origin of the term 'glass cloth'.
With the importation of cheaper cotton from America, linen weaving gave way to cotton weaving but the introduction of powered machinery and improved transportation by the new railway system saw the industry concentrate more in the larger industrial areas.
Thus handloom weaving as a rural cottage industry declined steadily and by the early 1900s there were only half a dozen or so weavers still working in Dunning. A few more years and the once thriving industry was dead.
The only tangible reminders today are the numerous large stone weights which once tensioned the looms, the low ground floor ceilings in some of the cottages, and some lengths of Dunning linen still in the possession of a few residents.
Peter Flockhart's life spanned three great phases of the handloom weaving trade in Dunning and Scotland. In the 18th century, demand for Scottish linen provided abundant work for weavers even in country villages like Dunning. Two local lint-mills processed flax, and weavers often worked four to a loom in their homes. When Peter was born in 1819, some Dunning weavers were still producing linen. By 1841, the linen trade had dropped away and Peter, like most other Dunning weavers, worked at cotton. The orders from the Glasgow agents were large. In the 1850's, there were 475 cotton weavers and winders when Dunning hit its population peak of over 2,200. But then city factories took over cotton weaving, and by the 1870's Peter had become a weaver of wool, like most of Dunning's dwindling number of handloomers.
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