THE AULD WEAVERS’ DRIVE

By Dr. Jean Barclay

At the end of the 19th century there were many old handloom weavers in Dunfermline, who had experienced the ‘four stoups o’ misery’ with the coming of power looms from the early 1850s.  Some had found employment in the new textile mills but many were in poor circumstances having faced years of unemployment or doing what odd jobs they could find.  In 1897 Councillor John Dick and Mr. Edward Watt, burgh rate collector, organised a collection to provide ‘Old Handsel’ suppers for old hand-loom weavers (1).  These took place in January 1898 and 1899 and it was suggested at the time that it would be nice to give the old men a summer outing into the countryside.

Group photo of the Auld Weavers in 1900.
Courtesy of The Carnegie Library and Galleries

Money was raised and an ‘Auld Weavers’ Drive’ was arranged to Glensherup Reservoir, the source of Dunfermline’s water supply.  On the morning of Thursday July 19th 1900 some 70 old weavers assembled at the cannon near the townhouse and took their seats in four large, horse-drawn brakes.  To the sound of the bagpipes, the brakes left the town via Douglas Street, halted at the post office for cigars from Mr. George Inglis of the Royal Hotel, and then drove through Wellwood, Redcraigs, Rumblingbridge and Glendevon, with a stop at Powmill for refreshments.  Reaching Glensherup, the weavers were welcomed by Mr. Baillie, the water officer, and enjoyed a picnic on the grass in front of his house, after which they were shown round the reservoir.  Questioned by the weavers about the fishy taste of the Dunfermline water, Mr. Baillie insisted it was fine when it left his works and must have been picked up in the pipes along the way.  The return journey was via Muckhart, Dollar and Saline and at 10 p.m. the old weavers finally reached Dunfermline where the streets were lined with spectators to welcome them home (2).

It was not certain that an outing could be financed each year by local collections but, somewhat strangely perhaps, plans for ongoing drives were launched in a smart hotel in Paris.  Staying in the hotel were Alexander Rolland Peacock and Thomas Morrison, two Dunfermline men who had made fortunes in Pittsburgh with Andrew Carnegie, and ex-Baillie Alexander Rolland of Dunfermline, a cousin of Alexander Peacock. Baillie Rolland suggested to his friends that on their forthcoming visit to Dunfermline they might be able to help with another drive for the weavers.  Mr. Peacock and Mr. Morrison readily agreed and not only funded the drive but attended for a short time with their wives and some American friends (3).  From now on until 1914 Messrs. Peacock and Morrison would fund the old weavers’ drive.    

Image of a ticket for the 1902 Auld Weaver's Drive
Image courtesy of Alison Baxter

Much can be discovered about the old weavers’ drives from the local press and the narrative poems of James Chapman Craig, which include descriptions of the transport, the destination, the weather, the food, the entertainment, the names and ages of those present and sometimes a group photograph (4).  In 1901, for example, of the 91 weavers on the trip to Blairhill, 34 were aged 60-70, 20 were 70-75, 18 were 75-80, 12 were 80-85, 6 were 85-90 and one was 92 (5).

The drives took place during the Dunfermline holiday week in July and over the years the destinations were Blairhill (1901&1909), Alloa Park (1902 & 1908), Kennet House, Clackmannan, (1903 & 1912), Raith Estate, Kirkcaldy (1904), Tulliallan (1905 & 1907), Kinross House (1906), The Sands near Culross (1910 & 1911), Solsgirth, Dollar (1913 & 1914) and Otterston (1915) (6).

Group photo of the Weavers outing in 1902

The main purveyors for the drive were Mr. Inglis of the Royal Hotel, Mr. Chapman Craig of the High Street, Mr. H. C. Aitken tobacconist of Priory Lane and Mr. John Dick.  The brakes and horses were hired from Mr. John Goodall’s posting establishment.  In 1903, for example, seven two and three-horse brakes were hired from Goodall’s to take 96 old weavers to Kennet House, the seat of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and in 1906, when Kinross House was the destination, 14 machines were hired from Mr. Goodall and five from Mr. Robert Philp for 201 passengers.  In 1908 on the drive to Alloa Park, seat of the Earl of Mar and Kellie, ‘the cavalcade was an imposing one’ with 13 large brakes and three lorries. The front brake, which was occupied by old hand-loom weavers, carried a flag woven by Mr. John Letham aged 78 who was still working at the hand-loom at the premises of the Dunfermline Linen Company in the New Row (7).  In 1911 Goodall’s provided 15 brakes and 40 horses.

Photo C. 1900 – Goodall’s Charabanc at TheTormaukin Hotel, Glendevon
C. 1900 – Goodall’s Charabanc at TheTormaukin Hotel, Glendevon

The number of old hand-loom weavers naturally decreased year by year and in 1906 it was decided that any ‘respectable man over 60’ could apply for a ticket.  Later on young people attended as helpers or entertainers. It had been feared that the drive of 1906 might be the last but, after consultation with the donors, word was received that they would continue ‘as long as there are deserving old men – not necessarily representatives of the handloom weaving days – who may be willing to accept the hospitality of Mr. A. R. Peacock and Mr. T. Morrison’ (8).  Mr. Watt and Councillor Dick made the arrangements for many years but in 1907 James Adamson, a cousin to Mr. Peacock, and John Finlayson, brother-in-law to Mr. Morrison, took over.

From 1909, the invitation was extended to elderly women. Some 23 of them attended the trip to Blairhill and, dressed in their best gowns, were ‘a sonsy, respectable set of women who would do honour to any community’.  Many of them had been pirn-winders, proud that they had either filled or carried pirns for their ‘lords and masters in the loom shop’ (9).  By 1911 numbers had reached a peak of some 300 including 50 women.  In 1912 the eldest person in the group was Mrs. Sinclair or Wilkie aged 95, of 29 Grieve Street, who was accompanied by her son James, 75.

The Pirn Wheel and Whisks
From D. Thomson, The Weavers’ Craft 1903

The auld weavers’ drive became a famous event and the old people were made much of.  The horse-drawn brakes, with flags flying and packed with the old folk, their helpers, the band and the pipers were a sight worth seeing. The roads were sometimes blocked by the crowds seeing the old men and women off on their adventure and greeting them on their return, and people gathered by the roadside and in villages along the way to cheer them on. As the drive was held during the July holiday some of those who greeted the weavers when the route went through Torryburn, Newmills and Culross were Dunfermline folk having a break by the sea.  Newmills Brig formed the old boundary between Perthshire and Fife and whenever the drive passed this way the stirring Chartist days were recalled when Thomas Morrison, Andrew Carnegie’s radical grandfather, held a meeting here to outwit ‘the poo’ers that be’ (10).

The old people always received a kind welcome at the large estates, being greeted by the owners or the factor and having the servants of the house put at their service.  In larger places the procession of brakes caused great excitement and in Alloa in 1908 the crowd ‘cheered each brake as if we’d been some folks ‘o high estate’. In 1909 on the trip to Blairhill, crowds gathered in Carnock and in Saline, which was not surprising as ‘a pic-nic like oors disna pass through Saline ilka day, nae wonder then that a’ the folks set up a loud hurray’ (11).

Although the venues varied, each drive followed a similar pattern.  Somewhere along the way a stop would be made for drinks and a snack and then it was on to the main venue for a picnic, speeches, toasts, entertainment and races.  The men were piped in to their picnic which generally consisted of meat pies, sandwiches and scones with whisky, beer or lemonade to drink. Sometimes a large marquee was set up where the refreshments were served by ladies accompanying the party. There were talks by well-known local men like Daniel Thomson and Mr. J. B. Mackie, editor of the Dunfermline Journal, and by friends of Messrs. Peacock and Morrison from home and abroad, including Baillie Rolland, Mr. James Watt, manufacturer of Messrs Steel and Co, Dunfermline, and the Rev. Dr. Christie of Allegheny, who had once been a hand-loom weaver in Stirling.  On most drives letters were read out from Andrew Carnegie in Skibo ‘oor ain Andra faur up North’, or from Messrs. Peacock and Morrison in Pittsburgh or New York.   Although business prevented them from attending, relatives sometimes came in their stead.  In 1909, for example, the drive was attended by two of Mr. Peacock’s sisters, both Mrs. Norval, and in 1912 by several members of his family, variously named, Peacock, Adamson or Rolland (12).  After the picnic and the speeches came songs and recitations and the day finished with races and prizes.   

The songs and recitations on the drives included hymns and songs by Burns as well as ‘The farmer’s life’, ‘Macgregor’, Jock Tamson’, ‘Willie brewed a peck o’ malt’, ‘The Laird o’ Cockpen’, ‘The March o’ Cameron’s Men’, ‘Sandy Gray’s Jackdaw’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Janet and Himself’, ‘Killarney’, ‘The Drap o’ Dew’,  ‘The land he loved’, ‘Will ye no come back again’ and ‘Kate Dalrympal’. There was also music from the band and pipers, singing of a choir and highland dancing by ‘little Isa Baxter’ and others.

Each drive brought its own memories.  In 1903 at Kennet House, Robert Anderson aged 91 recited ‘The Battle of Stirling Bridge’ just a month before he died, and Daniel Thomson, who was one of the speakers, presented the host Alexander Bruce, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, with his new book The Weavers’ Craft (13).  In 1907 on the second trip to Tulliallan, the weavers could see that Cairneyhill, which had been a ‘deserted village’ with silent looms when they passed in 1902, was now, according to Mr. Craig: ‘wa’knin’ up and showin’ some elation, ‘cause some ane’s tethered to its tail a graund new railway station’  An innovation on this trip of 1907 was ‘a great big gramophone’ with Harry Lauder records (14). The old men usually received a gift of tobacco and the women a packet of tea, but in 1911 while the women got tea as usual, each man received a ‘highly artistic coronation memorial box containing two ounces of tobacco’ (15).

Memorable for the wrong reasons was the only serious accident to occur on the drives. At start of the 1904 drive to the Raith Estate, Kirkcaldy, a little boy fell under the wheel of the hindmost brake as it navigated the awkward corner at the Priory corner and, to the sorrow of everyone, his injuries proved to be fatal (16). 

In 1913 the drive was to Solsgirth in Dollar, the home of the Sutherlands, via Wellwood, Powmill and Blairigone.  A slight disturbance held up the start as the 16 brakes were crowded and the men objected to having the women aboard.  In 1914 the destination was Solsgirth again and the brakes carried the Stars and Stripes in honour of the donors, apart from the first which bore the weavers’ flag (17).

Recent photo of Solsgirth House
A recent image of Solsgirth House

In 1915 came change.  With war raging there was a ‘temporary’ stoppage of the ‘Dunfermline- American generosity’ and, although funds were raised locally, the drive to Otterston, the home of the Mowbrays, was ‘short of much of its wonted splendour’ (18).  Instead of the time-honoured horse-drawn brakes, motor charabancs were hired from Messrs Cousin in Culross and, to the disappointment of the old ladies they were not included and could not partake in the picnic which included 150 pies provided by the Dunfermline Co-operative Society.

There is no record of a weavers’ drive being held in 1916 and, if a treat for the elderly continued after the War, it probably took a different form, but for 15 years the ‘auld weavers’ drive’ had given ‘the good auld sowls’ of Dunfermline ‘a real red-letter day’ (19).

Notes and Sources:

1. Dunfermline Press, DP, Saturday, January 22 1898. Old Handsel Monday – the third Monday in January – was held in great affection by the old weavers but was gradually being superseded as the main winter festival by New Year’s Day and even Christmas.  An article on Old Handsel Monday will appear nearer the time.  Providing a treat for the weavers may have been influenced by what was being done for the poor in Paisley.  The ‘four stoups ‘o misery’ were the four posts of the hand-loom made redundant by the coming of the power loom.

2. DP, July 21 1900.  Daniel Thomson wrote a poem about this first drive and also an article ‘The Auld Weavers’ Drive’, ‘Anent Dunfermline’, Vol. 8, item 218.   Daniel Thomson (1833-1908) had been a hand-loom weaver and a linen mill manager but went on to become a director of the Scottish Wholesale Co-operative Society.  He was a well-known local historian, author and public speaker.

3. DP, July 27 1901. Details of Alexander Rolland Peacock (1861-1928) and Thomas Morrison (1861-1946), Andrew Carnegie’s second cousin, can be found in biographies of Carnegie and elsewhere.  Both went to America, were spotted by the Carnegies as likely young men from Dunfermline and made their fortune in Pittsburgh steel. The American friends were Mr. Daniel Clemson of the Carnegie Steel Company and his wife, and Mr. James Neilson of New York, a Dunfermline native.   

4. James Chapman Craig (JCC), Sangs o’ Bairns an’ Hame (JCC Songs), Edinburgh, 1909.  James Chapman Craig (1859-1939) was a confectioner and pastry maker by trade but also a poet, vocalist, pianist and composer (from electricscotland website and elsewhere). The group photographs look good in the newspapers but are difficult to copy successfully.

5. DP, July 27 1901. Blairhill on the River Devon was home to Mr. Haig and family.

6. Some of the places passed on the drives are lost to most of us now.  For example, the route home from the Raith Estate in 1904 took in Bairner’s Smiddy and Dirthill before reaching familiar Crossgates and the road to Blairhill always passed ‘The Ramshorn’.

7.  DP, July 25 1908.

8. DP, July 26 1907.    

9. DP, July 24 1909, July 22 1911.  A pirn was a bobbin or spool.

10. DP, July 26 1907. JCC Songs, No. 2.

11. JCC Songs, No. 8.

12. DP, July 24 1910, July 20 1912.

13.  DP, July 25 1903.

14. JCC Songs, No. 6. DP, July 26 1907. Later on dance music, Scottish songs and operatic pieces were added to the repertoire.  The gramophone was in the hands of Mr. Lowe of Messrs. Whyte and Co. music sellers. 

15. DP, July 22 1911.

16. JCC Songs, No. 4. As Craig put it ‘On sawbath nicht his wee bit heart was stilled for evermair’.

17. DP, July 26 1913, July 25 1914.

18. ‘Dunfermline Old Men’s Drive’ in DP, July 31 1915.

19.  JCC Songs, No. 2.