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Tartan Ferret

John Cargill

Very little was known about John Cargill who was a foreman in a carpet factory in Dundee. He was in touch with Jack Dalgety
of Forfar in 1962. He then lived at 7 Birchwood Place, Logie, Dundee. Jamie Scarlett says of him: "I only met him twice and found
him very forthcoming. He was a foreman in a carpet factory in Dundee and wove some very beautiful specimens in sewing silk."

February 2010

We were very fortunate that John Cargill's son John came across our website and has very kindly supplied the following information:

John Cargill
1914 - 1974

John Cargill was a researcher, writer and speaker on Scottish tartans who brought a practical knowledge of textiles to his analysis of historical sources. He was one of the first to truly explore the Wilsons of Bannockburn archives and in particular to reconfigure these early designs to enable them to be manufactured by modern looms and in some cases to re-enter commercial production after almost two hundred years.

Brought up in a family with deep roots in the Dundee textile industry stretching back many generations, he ultimately became works manager of one of the large carpet manufacturing works in that city. In the interwar years he gained his professional textile qualifications but also found time to study painting under the renowned artist Mackintosh Patrick. As with many others, his career was interrupted by extensive wartime service overseas but he returned to Dundee after the war and took up an active interest in archaeology taking part in digs throughout the local area. In recognition of this work, he was elected FSA Scot.

Alongside these activities, he developed a practical interest in weaving and constructed a floor-standing loom at his home to enable him to produce small scale batches and samples of tartan cloth. Typically woven in fine sewing silk, these scarves and sashes were shown at exhibitions and the Scottish Crafts Centre in Edinburgh. In addition, he produced a substantial collection of samples of early tartan setts many of which were based on the Wilson designs. One of several such designs is that known as Dundee tartan which has since become commercially available as a result.

A key feature of his work was the combination of historical research coupled with a practical hands-on knowledge of weaving. The experience of actually manufacturing tartans brought him an unrivalled ability to recognise many of even the most obscure designs at sight. In addition he had the forensic skill to identify old weaving styles and formats which allowed him to place the location and approximate date of manufacture of rare and ancient tartan fragments.

Although he published little, he spoke regularly on the development of tartans thus educating and involving a wider public - much of his original work forming part of later publications with colleagues. He was a founder member of the Scottish Tartans Society and provided enthusiastic encouragement and practical support to his fellow members.

Someone else who remembered John was Geordie Mertin who sent us the following in 2008 although we believe some of the dates may be suspect.


When I read your article on John Cargill, the mists of time parted from my memory. I'm now seventy years of age and in 1966 I started in Gilroys Jute Industries of Lochee road Dundee as a carpet rubberised foambacker.
Jim Cargill visited our department on occasions: there were four of us lads . . . a happy bunch . . . always singing and JC, as he became known to us all eventually, would sit and listen to our renditions of our various Scottish songs or Welsh arias (yes - we had a Welshman amongst us). J.C. was a quiet man and we only knew he was there when he applauded our efforts at singing ourselves hoarse, trying to hit high notes that even the Great Caruso would find difficult. One night we were working late, when the manager came a visiting, Tom Robertson a good friend of JC. Tam was the sort of manager that working men got on well with; if he had an order he needed out quickly we would gladly help.
JC had his own special working, one floor down from the rubber backing carpets. Nobody really knew what he did in this experimental room as it was out of bounds to us "common" fowk. Tom came into the flat one day and asked if anybody would like to work a bit of extra overtime. The other three lads were all married with young kiddies and I, being the only single loon present was picked for this secret mission."Geordie just you go on down tae the experimental laboratory and report to Mr Cargill. Have you ever filled spool banks afore?" Tam asked. "Och aye Mr Robertson; monies a time!" "Guid . . .then on ye go"
JC was waiting for me. I'd seen spools manys a time but no this type. When work wi' jute in a jute works, yea ken whit yere daein, bit no WOOL! Whit's wool daein in a jute mull? I was sworn to secrecy that night and I started at 8.30pm  filling banks o' the softest yarn I ever worked wi' and I was telt by JC himself that I was to report for work to him the next day. I worked that night until 10.30.p.m. "Tartan carpets" - I thought that JC wis pulling my leg! When I told him I'd weaved a scarf in Bridge of Earn Hospital, on a hand loom when I was only 13years old he thought I was pulling his leg. Aye they were grand days, looking back. What I did'nt know about JC was the other place where he weaved the city tartan that he discovered in a forgotten pattern book that he found. If my memory serves me properly I"m almost sure that he did display the Dundee city tartan in the display window of the works where he weaved the bolt of Dundee"s own tartan COWLEY"S CALLENDAR in the COWGATE Dundee,and I"m also very sure that the "Scots Magazine", published an article on his discovery of the pattern.
It's time for an auld man's bed . . . oh meh Goad is that the time! Twenty-five meenits past twa. Meh auld sister ull kill me. Guid nicht meh son and Goad bless you and yours.
Geordie Mertin, Bonnie Dundee. 2008.

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