The Handloom Weavers of Perth 1770 - 1844

The following is taken from my my Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies dissertation at the University of Strathclyde in 2007 


i) Weavers Births and Baptisms 1770 – 1844


The births and baptisms OPR entries were the only records of those studied that spanned the entire 75 year period. In total, 8835 births were listed as born to weavers during this period, though this should again be cautioned with the fact that the database only records those who stated that they were weavers at the time of the events being registered. From the records, the following preliminary observations could be made:


a) The most represented surname of children born to weavers in the period was ROBERTSON, numbering 341 births, or 3.86% of all births. This was followed by YOUNG at 178 births (2.01%), and TAYLOR at 157 births (1.78%). None of these surnames had any name variants recorded in the records. Only eight children were born with the weaving surname of WEBSTER (0.09%).


b) Most births were duly followed by details of the baptism. The records for Perth are excellent for listing which denomination the child was baptised into. If no details were listed, this was recorded into the database, and if in a Dissenting, Episcopalian or Methodist church, this was duly recorded. In all other cases, where wording such as “the minister of the Gospel” or “minister of Auchterarder” was recorded, this was assumed to mean the established Church of Scotland. Perhaps not surprisingly, given Perth’s fiery reputation at the time of the Reformation, only one Roman Catholic born to a weaver was baptised in Perth within the entire 75 years studied. The breakdown between those adhering to the established Church of Scotland and those adhering to other denominations is as follows:  


Numbers baptised

% of baptisms

Church of Scotland


44.74 %

Non Church of Scotland


55.26 %

c) Only 16 children out of 8835 were described as having been born illegitimately (either through the terms ‘bastard child’, ‘natural son’ or ‘natural daughter’). 


An initial study of the birth rate of children recorded in the Perth OPR as being born to weavers was of especial interest. The following diagram illustrates the rise and fall of the annual birth rate between 1770 and 1844:

This chart is interesting when looked at in more detail. In 1770 only 43 children were born to the weavers operating within Perth and the immediate vicinity of the town, a figure remaining fairly constant until 1774 when it is at a mere 46 births. By the following year, however, the birth rate has suddenly almost doubled to 84, and soon begins a steady climb annually. By 1782 there are 109 births recorded, and ten years later, in 1792, the rate has again almost doubled to a peak figure of 209 births. Towards the end of the 1790s and the early 1800s, the period in which the Napoleonic Wars got underway, the rate begins to decline, reaching a low in 1814 of just 89 births. In 1815, at the end of hostilities with the French, the rate almost immediately spikes again to 182 births, and then almost as quickly begins to progress on a slow but constant decline towards 1842, when the rate is almost identical to that back in 1770, By 1844 it has declined still further.


With regard to the location of weavers at the time of the births, the records from January 1770 to June 1808 list the residence as either Perth, one of its immediate suburbs (North Clayholes, Carr’s Croft, Pomarium, etc), or the location if not within Perth at all. With the rapid expansion of Perth, by 1807, the main church of the parish of Perth, St. John’s, was physically divided by order of the session into three separate but connected churches, each now the head of a new parish. These parishes were known respectively as the East Church Parish, the Middle Church Parish and the West Church Parish, and from July 1808 to December 1844, the locations are given by the street name in many cases and the relevant parish within Perth. No attempt was made to analyse the breakdown of these locations at this stage, though it will be possible in the future to study (to a degree) how static the weavers were between births and how they were divided up between locations across Perth.



ii) Weaver Indentures from 1772 to 1784


From the weaver indenture papers held at Perth and Kinross Library (series B59 29), there is sadly not enough information to draw a bigger picture on apprenticeships from 1770 within the few records held.  Only four of the fourteen indenture papers held list an actual commencement date, and only three listed details of the stipend to be paid for the indenture, ranging from 40 shillings to ten pounds and ten shillings sterling. Interestingly, a single indenture paper was found in the archive for a weaver from Aberdeen, who had served his apprenticeship in Aberdeen and then moved to Perth later. The details of this indenture were not recorded for this project, but it does suggest that indenture papers may exist in other communities where weavers from Perth moved to after serving their apprenticeship.



iii)  Freeman Apprenticeship Indentures 1777-1791


Again, with the Freeman Apprenticeships recorded within the minutes of the Weavers Incorporation of Perth, only fifteen indentures were noted.  However, the information given was more detailed than that held within the loose indenture papers held at Perth and Kinross Archive. The freeman apprenticeships were usually recorded about three years after the initial apprenticeship had been started, with these initial apprenticeships seeming to have started usually at either Candlemas or Martinmas. Upon agreement of the freeman indenture, a stipend was paid, usually of about 6 shillings and 8 pence.



iv)  Freeman Weaver Appointments 1771–1807


The Callings Book of the Weavers Incorporation of Perth was a significantly better source, with some 109 appointments recorded in the burgh between 1771 and 1807.  A payment was made upon appointment of the freeman, which could be anything between twenty shillings and four pounds, though most were of the order of four pounds sterling. The following chart breaks down the amount paid by the 109 freemen recorded:

Amount paid

Number of freemen

£6 sterling


£4 sterling


£3 5s sterling


£3 sterling


£2 sterling


£1 15s sterling


£1 10s sterling


£1 5s sterling


£1 sterling


20 shillings


“the usual dues”


awarded eleven Guineas




Most of the freemen appointed were weavers, but there were a couple of interesting additional appointments. These included George Dempster, Member of Parliament, in 1775 (no reason stipulated); the Duke of Athole in 1778 in response to his raising a regiment for the defence of the Burgh during the American uprising; John Hepburn Belcher of Mornay in 1789 for his services in promoting the manufacture of the country, and in particular the linen manufacture “the prosperity of which is so remedially connected with the welfare of this nation", and Captain William Drummond, John, the Right Honourable Earl of Breadalbane and William Robertson the younger, all on the same day of November 9th 1790, for their support and activities in promoting the linen industry of Perth.


In respect of the American War, a further entry of note concerns weaver Thomas Glass, who was rewarded with becoming a freeman of the burgh by the incorporation after having enlisted with the army for the war effort. Instead of having to pay a fee for the privilege, he was in fact remitted eleven guineas, and the person who proposed him given half the same again. 



v) Weavers recorded in the 1802 Militia Act Census of Perth


At a time when radical publications such as Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” were seeding disquiet amongst the lower classes yearning political reform, the Militia Act of 1797 had been passed by the Government in order to raise some 6000 men into local defence militias and fencible units. These would be ready to keep any likely outbreaks of revolt in check by the various secret societies in operation at the time, such as the United Scotsman, which had been formed in Perth and heavily supported by the town’s weavers and shoemakers. The act, when introduced, was deeply unpopular in Perth, as noted by George Penny in 1832:


“The Militia Act was the cause of much disturbance in the country, when it came into operation. The parish schoolmasters were attacked in various quarters; attempts were made to burn the session books, some of which were   destroyed. Two troops of the Ayrshire Cavalry were lying here at the time; and every day expresses arrived from different quarters for troops to keep down riots and quell disorders. The Gentleman Volunteers were ordered to wear their side arms when they went out, and a captain’s guard was mounted every day in the Council Room”.”


Five years after the passing of the Act, a census was carried out in Perth to ascertain which of the town’s male population were eligible to join the militias. A printed form was duly sent by schoolmaster Peter McCraw, constable, to every householder in the town, ordering the following:


TAKE Notice that you are hereby required within Fourteen Day from the Date hereof, to prepare or produce a Lift in Writing, to the best of your Belief, of the Christian and Surname of each and every Man resident in your Dwelling House, from and after the age of Eighteen Years complete, and not exceeding the Age of Forty-five years complete, distinguishing every Person in your Dwelling House of such age as aforesaid, claiming to be exempt from serving in the Militia, together with the Ground of every such Claim delivered to my house at South Street Perth.


The form required the occupiers to name all those in the house liable to serve in the Militia between the ages of 18 and 45, to list how many dependant children they had, whether they owned property to the value of at least £50, or whether they had any other reason for exemption from service. Failure to fill out the document would result in a penalty payment of ten pounds sterling, and anybody wishing to appeal for exemption with regard to service in the militia would have to do so November 4th 1802Not all of the original forms have survived, but those that do are held at Perth and Kinross Archives. Of the surviving returns, 353 list householders working as weavers. The following figures were produced from the dataset:


75 weavers had young dependant children listed as one of the reasons for requiring an exemption (21.24%)

36 weavers claimed they were outside the age range of 18 to 45 (10.20%)

17 weavers declared themselves unfit for service (4.82%)

10 weavers had already served in the military (2.83%)

293 weavers owned property worth more than £50 (83.00%)


Only two of the householders were recorded as apprentice weavers, and one claimed that as he was born on 21st October 1784 it would up to a Judge to decide whether he came within the Act or not.



vi)  Weavers listed in the Perth Trade Directory 1842-43


Having already seen the extracted names of Perth weavers from the 1836 Perth Trade Directory directory, as reprinted in the book Perth, It’s Weavers and Weaving in 1936, I decided that this might make a good source to show the state of weaving towards the end of the period I had selected. Preferring to extract the names from the directory myself, rather than rely on a secondary source, I soon discovered that the A. K. Bell Library in Perth did not in fact hold the relevant 1836 edition, as their held volumes start in 1837. I therefore decided to look at a completely different volume, with the 1842-43 being the one closest to the end of my chosen 75 year period. 

Of the 493 entries in total, the following were the names most represented at that time:


No. recorded

Percentage of total names recorded



4.87 %



3.04 %



2.67 %


The areas with the highest concentrations of weavers resident were as follows: 

Street name

Number of weavers

Percentage of weavers in Perth Directory



19.27 %

High Street


11.16 %

Leonard Street


10.75 %