Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Friday, 6 January 2012

Untangling the Web (Makers)

A couple of years ago I wrote about the unusual occurrence of the term 'Web Maker' as an occupation amongst the good ladies of Harris in 1891 & 1901, ending with the promise to investigate further when the 1911 Census had become searchable.

I am revisiting the topic because in fact the term disappeared almost as quickly as it had popped-up in 1891! It is an occupation wholly unique to Harris and, with the sole exception recorded from 1901 in my earlier piece, exclusively in the 1891 Census.

However, its usage in that year was far more commonplace than I first indicated for, because I was still at an early stage in teaching myself how to interrogate the database, I had overlooked those ladies who rather than being recorded as a ‘Web Maker’ were listed as being a ‘Webmaker’.
A small but highly significant difference!

Thus in 1891 we find no less than 136 women on Harris who were Web Makers/Webmakers and of these no less than 121 specify that what they producing was ‘Tweed’.

This is significant for two important reasons:
Firstly, it reinforces my finding that the term ‘Harris Tweed’ made a very late appearance on the stage and only once those ladies promoting the ‘Home Industries’ via a variety of organisations had begun their endeavours.

Secondly, as I have been unable to discover any distinguishing features separating ‘web making’ from ‘weaving’ as being terms for the production of woven cloth from spun yarn, it means that we can add to the number of weaveresses these webmakers and hence review the economic importance of the production of Harris Tweed to Harris in 1891.

In 1891 Harris Tweed appears to have been being made by at least 247 Weaveresses and 136 Webmakers so that a total of 383 women were creating Harris Tweed at this time.
As there were some 2,662 women & girls living in Harris in 1891, that figure represents over 14% of the female population of the island!

This all fits rather well with an account from 1888 , which incidentally also demonstrates the longevity of the involvement of  'Mrs Captain Thomas' with the work of regenerating the island following the famines & failure of the Kelp-industry earlier in the Century.

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