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Tartan Ferret

Still Going Strong

Last of Bannockburn Hand-loom Weavers

We found this charming little article from a very old Stirling Observer newspaper (from around the 1890s we think) which marks the end of an era in Bannockburn - the one-time home of famous tartan weavers Wilsons. And of course, also the site of a battle in 1314 where Robert the Bruce made some English eyes water.

Burnside Hand-Loom Weaving Factory is situated in Carpet Close in Old Town Bannockburn. No hooter sounds to call workers to their day's toil or to tell them that their eight-hour day is over, for there is only one workman there, Mr William Chirrey, the proprietor. He is the last of the handloom weavers of Bannockburn.
It is six-five years since Mr Chirrey took to his trade. At the age of ten he became a drawboy in one of the many tweed mills in Bannockburn. At that time the Bannockburn tweeds were known throughout the length and breadth of the land for their excellence, and 115 hand-looms and 20 power looms were at work in the village.
Bannockburn weaver
Even then the day of the hand looms was almost over and there were periods of idleness for the weaver, so much so that Mr Chirrey's father decided to join the police. On his way to the Old Stirling Burgh Police office in Broad Street, he saw a policeman standing in the centre of the street. "Man, a couldnae be yin o' them" thought Mr Chirrey's father. "and so he decided to stick with the varying fortunes of the hand-loom.

Mr Chirrey told me this as he yanked out a great big plaid of Cameron tartan from the press in which he stores the cloth he makes. He had some splendid samples of his art to show me. Beautiful suit lengths of herring-bone pattern, Glen Urquhart checks, broad plus-four checks, and ladies' suit lengths. All of  the best material, and made only as a hand-loom weaver can make them.

For a while I watched him at work at one of his looms where he was making a six-about check. With his left hand he pushed to and fro a heavy beam; with his right hand he jerked the hand leather to right and left, sending the shuttle racing backwards and forwards across the loom; I calculated that working normally for ten hours, each of his limbs would make 15,120 distinct movements.

"Nae wunner the weaver's a healthy man," chuckled Mr Chirrey. And if Mr Chirrey is any criterion, they must have been a healthy set of men, these old weavers, for at the age of 75 he has the firm, purposeful step of a man half his age.

Like his father, Mr Chirrey "mun be active." He now carries on the hand-loom weaving as a pastime, but the standard of his work is of the highest. Most of the cloth he makes is sold to a famous Edinburgh house. I was surprised to learn that not a yards of the cloth made by him is sold in Stirling. Surely there is a draper in Stirling, the true Historic Capital of  Scotland, who would find it worthwhile to display cloth made by this fine old weaver - tweeds that are made in the true tradition of the famous Bannockburn tweed-makers.



Scots Sangs Fur Schools
One of a series of traditional and new Scots songs composed by junior school youngsters with help from the Tolbooth Project. This example is from Borestone Primary School in Stirling just a short distance from Bannockburn.

Borestone school


Tune: Calleen Morunsa

Bannockburn tartan, the best in the land.
Made by our nimble and hardworking hands.
Fourteen long hours a day we must stand,
For Bannockburn tartan, the best in the land.

Five in the morning we rise from our beds.
We don't go to school, to the factory instead.
Drowsy and hungry we trudge to the mill,
Down by the burn at the foot of the hill.

The dyers of Stirling they send us their thread,
Blue black and yellow, grey brown and red.
We have to weave them on the machines,
Then there is tartan fit for the Queen.

Plaids kilts and stockings made by us bairns,
For our brave Highland battalions to wear.
We work like men, in the heat and the cold,
Though some of us are just eight years old.

[The factories were a few hundred yards from where the school now stands.]


By Ewan McVicar  Tune: Shift and Spin

Shift and spin, weave and twine
Making cloth coarse and fine
Poor folk work while rich folk dine
Make your shuttle fly

Spin your yarn, spin it well
Spin enough to weave an ell
Weave enough to claith yersel
Make yer shuttle fly

As the spinning mills come in
We'll go there, our bread to win
Singing sadly in the din
Workin in the mill

© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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