The Weavers of Stonehouse


A gathering of weavers photographed around 1880.


The Stonehouse Weavers date back to the mid 1700's with the production of mainly plain weave products. Wives also played their part by garnering, dressing and spinning of fine threads from the natural fibres grown at the Linthaugh (beside the River Avon). This was followed by the processing of imported Dutch flax into linen. Tambouring and flowering of muslin, embellishing of gingham, and fine stitching of hand-sewn silk goods, brought revenue to the village.

  Hargreaves and Arkwright's inventions (spinning machines) in 1767 revolutionised the preparation of yarn. Jacquard machines furthered the art and brought it to the pinnacle of attainment. It gave total control and manipulation of the warp yarns allowing patterns to be evolved. The Jacquard could be fitted to the iron frame of almost any type of loom.

The Agricultural Revolution which started in the late 18th century brought great changes to certain areas. The result of these changes was depopulation and the abandonment of upland settlements; these were the first victims of the decline of a subsistence economy. The worst consequences were avoided, by the rise of a part rural, part urban phenomenon - hand loom weaving. The number of weavers rose from around 8,500 in 1792 to 50,000 in 1800 and 84,000 in 1838 - a sizeable proportion of the Scottish population.

 Stonehouse weavers mainly produced silk scarves, handkerchiefs and other items, mainly for export to India. The patterns that could be produced were previously beyond conception. The 1830's were the growth years for the village, and the weavers became renowned for their workmanship, establishing a reputation as masters of their craft. In 1831 there were around a peak number of 600 working in the village (many of them Sorbies). The little encirclement around Stonehouse Cross spread out, creating a large community of household weavers, putting the village as a name on the national map, rather than a dot.

A weaver's hand loom - now resident in Hamilton Museum. 

The Hand Loom Weavers however suffered from frequent bouts of unemployment which caused great hardship. A personal face to this suffering can be seen in the minutes of evidence taken before the Parliamentary Select Committee on HLWs, in 1834. James McEwan, a weaver from Perth, assesses the necessary weekly wage for the support of a husband, wife and 2 children at 9 shillings and 3 pence. This was to cover the purchase of 2 and a half pecks of oatmeal, 3 and a half pounds of barley, 3 and a half pounds of beef, as well as vegetables, potatoes, milk and house rent. This often meant that little or no money remained for clothing or even medicine. 

The 'hungry forties' were not far ahead and it's only a decade or two beyond this that people started to look back at the good times. The Power loom began to cast it's shadow and as the end of the century approached the weaving industry was in full decline. No longer did sons automatically join their father at the 'lim', they had to find openings in mining, railway, farm and other trades. Thus the hand-loom craftsmen, assembling at the agents office in the 1895-1905 decade were in effect the last of a long line. 

After the march of industrialisation had taken it's full toll, the last two weavers in Lanarkshire were the Hamilton Brothers, Robert and James of Camnethan Street. At this time they were operating their loom purely as a pastime. They completed their last "wab" in 1939 and James Hamilton died at the age of 84 in 1954. The silk loom belonging to the brothers now resides in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. Today shuttles and bobbins can still be found in the attics of weaving cottages as a reminder of a once thriving industry.


The picture below is taken from an old colour postcard which is postmarked Strathaven 1906. Printed on the back is: "Avondale Series. Published by A.Morton, Stationer, Strathaven." The sender has written on the front side (under the picture), "Straven Silk Weavers." There is also a little tongue-twister printed on the front, which goes as follows:

When a twister, a-twisting, will twist him a twist,

For the twisting his twist he three twines doth intwist;

 But if one of the twist doth untwist,

 The twine that untwisteth, untwisteth the twist.


A Strathaven weaver pictured at his loom. 

The weavers bought the yarn from agents and at it's height there were three in Stonehouse. Weavers were not bound to any one agent, but generally a crowd gathering outside an office were 'regulars'.  They were either returning completed or part-completed work hoping for payment and/or seeking a fresh 'Wab'.

If fortunate, the weaver collected his yarn in a paper bag, also a Pattern Card, if required, from which he had to weave the yarn into the finished roll of silk-cloth to the detailed pattern. The card was necessary only if the design had been changed. His first 'road' was then to the Beamer,  at this date (1875-1900), wee Tam Sorbie, who lived in Angle Street. 'Tam the Beam' was the purveyor of this service in the declining years of weaving. Tam wound the the yarn round a circular wood beam belonging to the client, his machine roughly resembling a heavy mangle with a hand-worked iron winding handle, which the client worked while Tam did the beaming.

The weaver then carried home the Wab, or beam of 'Warp' yarns, for insertion in the back of the loom and assuming the pattern card as before, or, if new, laced in correct sequence, proceeded with the 'munting' of his loom. Although many were capable of completing the preparatory build-up, the majority sought help from the 'Twister', a manipulative, quick-fingered expert engaged for the tying on of the new web. The job was completed at incredible speed, which involved the joining of a multitude of warp ends from the new web on the beam to an equal opposite number in the previously woven remnant. The 'Twister' was an artist in his field, and started the weaver on his web by introducing the new warp onto the end of the old.

A "Pirn Winder", winding silk onto bobbins for the loom.

The main job in hand was now the transformation in the loom from yarn to finished weave. The action of the shuttle, furiously flying backwards and forwards across the Jacquard machine, interlacing the obverse warp with the transverse weft. The weaver worked in a continuous synchronised movement of arms, hands and feet in perfect timing. It required constant observation and alertness to detect any faults or scars in the weave caused by a break in the yarn. It was a skilful syncopation of eye, brain and limb and this proved to be a 'sitting duck' for the mechanical power and ingenuity of the new twentieth century.

Robert Sorbie, now living in West Calder, West Lothian is the grandson of James Sorbie and Helen Hamilton married in Stonehouse on December 31st 1867. He describes James's work as follows "My grandfather had a factory in King Street, Stonehouse. This silk factory employed 35 girls. A Jewish merchant from Glasgow bought silk thread from India. He divided the work between Stonehouse and Paisley. He then collected the finished silken garments and sold them in India. I got this from an elderly Larkhall man, Andrew Graham when I was a teenager". 


Tom Sorbie - Author of 'Stonehouse Histories' featured on this website writes in June 2006 :

Here is a photograph of 33, Green Street, which I took today. This is a typical weavers cottage, there are still a great number to be found in Stonehouse:

The white masonry paint in my opinion has not improved the appearance of the house which is a typical weavers cottage with the two windows being the weaving shop and the one window on the other side being the living accommodation.

When you entered the front door there would be a narrow hallway (or lobby) with the central door on each side. The living room would have another small hallway going off to the right. It was the width of a double bed, which was a "set in" bed either side of the hall and an open timber ladder going up into the roof space. Ceiling height would be around 10 feet (3.04 meters). 

The dormer window and rooms above (visible on these photos) would not be there in weavers times. If they used the loft space a small opening skylight would be used for light and ventilation.

Sketch plan of a weavers cottage - not to perfect scale. 

I did this sketch from memory, most of the old working class houses in Stonehouse were built along these lines, even on the upper floors. If two set-in-beds were in the living room, then either side of a lobby was the only way to fit them in. A sink was fitted under the back window in the living room or scullery, a jaw box type, which is a square deep sink, with a cold tap only if water was plumbed in.

The ladder up was normally fixed in the one position but could be taken down and was "very" heavy. It was treads only, no risers and took you up to the loft which could be a bedroom, the only ventilation and daylight being a small skylight. 

Walls and ceiling were papered using flour paste as the adhesive.

In wet weather the washing would hang on a pulley in the living room and  a curtain rod across the mantelpiece for what was needed to dry quickly.

The set-in-bed had a 6 inch wooden facing surround which held  heavy curtains. The bed was made of timber bed boards with a mattress on top. A chair was needed to climb into the bed and small curtains hung below the bed covering the household goods normally in a big kist (chest).

Green Street is as it was around 1900 showing the same houses.

The fireplaces were painted stone mullions and a high mantelpiece with the gas mantle above. The fireplace would be a metal range with ovens either side, hobs in front of the fire with the ash pan below. Wives had to black lead the fireplaces frequently. Soot from the chimney was normally dumped in the garden as it was a good fertiliser. Garden produce supplemented the family income.

The floor could be flag stones or timber tongue and grooved flooring covered with "waxcloth" (Scottish for linoleum). Windows in the house were sash and case (vertical sliding) with around 8 panes of glass, small panes being cheaper to replace. Water was carried in from the many wells in the village before water in lead pipes was plumbed in. Sanitation was a garden dry closet, with of course under the bed the "Chanty" or Chamber Pot for evening use.

I might add that I was coming down one of the above stairs or ladders when it fell down to the floor below, I had just put my feet on the ladder to come down when the ladder fell away down to the Hall floor, managing to grab hold of the sides of the opening as I fell, and having just had an elbow operation a few weeks before, I only held for a second, then fell down on top of the ladder with my feet going through between the rungs, landing on a cushioned telephone table which sat below the ladder. I was bruised, thankfully no broken bones, then having to lift the ladder up to let my friend down. Lucky me. That makes two Sorbies who have had arguments with this type of ladder. Thomas Sorbie (my namesake!) died of a fractured skull in Camnethan Street in May 1888 when his head collided against one.



(noun) in weaving, one of sets of parallel, double threads, each having in the middle a loop called a heddle-eye, which compose the fittings employed to guide the warp threads to the lathe or batten.

(verb) to draw warp threads through heddle-eyes.


(noun) worsted yarn twisted and singed (Scandinavian).
The heddle-caster was the person who set up the threads on the batten.


(noun) wooden cylinder on which the warp is wound in a loom. The beamer wound the warp on a loom.

'Weft or Woof'

(noun) the filling threads carried by a shuttle under and over the warp in a weaving loom


(noun) an instrument used in weaving for shooting the thread of the woof between the threads of the warp.

Does this enlighten you? It's certainly difficult to get to grips with all these old weaving expressions.

An 18th Century loom, again pictured in Hamilton Museum.


The Gallant Weaver

by Robert Burns

                                                                                                                                Where Cart rins row in tae the sea,
                                                                                                                                By mony a flow'r and shading tree,
                                                                                                                                There lives a lad, the lad for me,
                                                                                                                              He is a gallant weaver.
                                                                                                                                    Oh I had wooers ought of nine,
                                                                                                                                The gied me rings and ribbons fine,
                                                                                                                                 But I was fear'd my heard wad tine,
                                                                                                                                     And I gie'd it tae the weaver.

                                                                                                                                 My daddie sign'd my tocher band,
                                                                                                                                   To gi'e the lad that has the land,
                                                                                                                                  But tae my heart I'll add my hand,
                                                                                                                                    And gie'd it to the weaver.
                                                                                                                                   While birds rejoice in leafy bow'rs,
                                                                                                                                  While bees delight in opening flow'rs,
                                                                                                                            While corn grows green in simmer show'rs,
                                                                                                                                 I'll love my gallant weaver.



George F. Wilson : "Hame".

John R. Young : "Wha's like us?"

David Moody : "Scottish Family History"


Here is a link to "You Tube" to show Silk Weaving being carried out and what a detailed process it is.

Stonehouse weavers mainly made Scarves for Officers in the Indian Army (Raj). Not quite as intricate but still complicated work.



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