Scottish Textile Heritage Online

Scottish Textile Heritage Online

David Powell, Project Co-ordinator, Scottish Textile Heritage Online

(First published in Dunaskin News, April 2004)

From the production of textiles within the home through to mass industrial works such as cotton production at New Lanark, Turkey-red cloth in the Vale of Leven, and the creation of haute couture garments, Scotland has a rich textile heritage preserved within Scotland's archives and museums.

Scottish Textile Heritage Online is a groundbreaking pilot project aiming to provide a one-stop shop for researchers wanting information about the richness and diversity of these collections. Led by Heriot-Watt University and funded by a Scottish Museums Council Strategic Change Award, the project is surveying and documenting important collections of material relating to Scottish textile history within the 6 partner museums and archives of Heriot-Watt University, Dundee and Glasgow universities, Scottish Borders Council, Glasgow School of Art and Paisley Museum and Art Galleries as well as providing links to significant collections held elsewhere in Scotland and the UK.

Users will be able to browse through a database of some 4,000 descriptions of archives and museum objects with supporting images. The project website, scottishtextileheritage.org.uk, and database were launched in December 2003 and March 2004 will see the addition of the image gallery of over 400 items, articles relating to Scottish textiles and a glossary of textile terms.

  Women employees Chrissie Maxton and Jessie Bell on the factory floor of James Templeton & Co Ltd, Glasgow, May 1955.  (GUAS Ref: UGD 265/1/16/14. Copyright reserved.) 
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The collections cover all aspects of the relationship between Scotland and textiles ranging from the archives of designers, machine manufacturers, industry and its workers, through to museum objects such as machinery, finished fabrics, textile art works, publicity materials and craft works.

The project database contains a wealth of data to aid the labour history researcher in finding relevant information. It is possible to search for records and objects relating to individual companies, but searches for terms such as "employment records", "staff records", "wages", "superannuation" and "pensions" may be combined with a particular industry such a jute or linen, will return more general results and help to discover resources you may not have realised existed. These types of records often includes details on the number of workers employed, their job titles, pay and occasional more detailed information on individual employees and their relationship with their employers.

Searching for terms such as "trade unions" or "associations" will find you the records of trade associations and Guilds set up to support and protect the rights of industry workers and industry employers. Many examples of the elaborate and symbolic flags and banners produced for protests or celebratory marches can be found in local history museum collections.

An employee at work on the factory floor of James Templeton & Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1950s.  (GUAS Ref: UGD 265/1/16/14. Copyright reserved.) 
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Many of the larger employers were wealthy and far-sighted enough to look into the welfare of their workers. Searching the database for terms such as "savings" find the records of employers such as James Templeton & Co Ltd, carpet manufacturers, Glasgow (whose records are held at Glasgow University Archive Services) who set up saving banks for their staff. GUAS also hold the records of New Lanark Mills, an example of a model works where work, education and the welfare of the workers and their children were seen as being as important as the product they produced. Finally, searching for terms such as "recreation" and "religion" returns examples of workers social clubs, committees and sports groups such as Ferguslie Amateur Dramatic Club and Anchor Bowling Club within the records of J & P Coats Ltd, thread manufacturers, Paisley, held at Paisley Museum and Art Galleries.

Many archives and museums have large photographic collections, or even film, which provide a wealth of information on life and work within the factories. Although some of these are staged photographs produced by the company for publicity reasons, they show staff, machinery, contemporary fashion, factory life, and the scale and size of the factories that is hard for people from the modern work place to imagine following industrial decline.

 

This is just one demonstration of how the Scottish Textile Heritage database can be used. To discover more, visit the site at scottishtextileheritage.org.uk.