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CALICO PRINTING AND SHAWL MAKING IN KILMARNOCK

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For fear that it will one day disappear, the following has been copied from a web page at:   http://www.east-ayrshire.gov.uk/comser/tourism/industrial_calico.asp
 

Calico printing and shawl making

The almost forgotten industry of calico-printing, and the closely related shawl manufacture, was at one time a major industry in Kilmarnock, though, due to changes in fashion, it had all but died out by the beginning of the 20th century.

About 1770, calico printing was introduced to Kilmarnock by a Mr John MACFEE (MCFEE or MCFIE) and the first printworks was opened at Greenhill (or Greenholm) near the Riccarton bridge. The printwork buildings later became the Glencairn Flour Mill. John MacFee married the sister of one of Kilmarnock's most famous sons - Sir James SHAW. Their son, John MacFee changed his name to Sir John Shaw on inheriting his uncle's title. John died in 1868.

By 1792, the average annual value of "printed calicoes" produced in Kilmarnock was 650 and the industry was one of the most successful in the town. At some time around the beginning of the 19th century, William HALL took over the Greenholm Printworks and in 1824 he began the printing of worsted shawls. The introduction of this new trade, in direct competition with Paisley shawls, gave employment to "a considerable number of handloom weavers". At one time in the early 1830s over 3000 looms "were employed in the weaving of (worsted material) in Kilmarnock and the neighbouring villages.

Over 1000 people, plus about 800 boys and girls, were at one time employed in the printfields. One of these workers was John SMITH, a pattern designer and native of Old Rome who, after a spell working in Paisley, came back to Kilmarnock and set his son Alexander to work as a 'putter-on' in the printwork of GEDDES and MATHIESON in Welbeck Street. Alexander was born in 1830 and later achieved fame as a poet and essayist. He died of typhoid in 1867.

Around the year 1832 worsted began to give way to cheniels, and to a material made of silk and cotton, called in the trade 'quakers'." Later materials used included delaines, silk stripes and checks, wool and wool/cotton. In 1838 the printing of mouselaine-de-laine dresses was introduced. By 1848 most of the industry concentrated on this work.

The early methods of printing where a printer's table was "only six feet long and about twenty seven inches broad" meant that a shawl had to be lifted from it every time a colour was put on. By 1848, however, the tables were "of such a size as take on the largest shawls, which are fixed down and finished in printing before they are removed." Dresses were printed on tables 27 feet long and between 27 and 40 inches broad and were "fixed when receiving the colour". More modern apparatus included what sounds like a predecessor of the spin dryer - "a large copper vessel thickly perforated with small holes, called an extractor, into which the goods streaming with water are laid. When the machinery is set in motion, such is its rapidity that in five minutes every particle of water is thrown out"

Between May 1830 and June 1831, 1,128,814 shawls were produced in Kilmarnock, the value of these being about 200,000. In 1833 there were at least seven firms specialising in calico printing and shawl manufacture, mostly situated in East and West Shaw Streets. By the 1840s, however, a decline had begun, the trade "being of a fancy nature" and subject to "sudden alterations of pattern, style and colour". As an indication of this decline, it was a disused printworks at the foot of Welbeck Street (probably that of John DICK) which was used as a temporary hospital "for the poorer patients" during the outbreak of cholera in the spring of 1849. Four printworks appear to have closed between the publication of the 1846 "Kilmarnock Directory" and that of 1851 though some new ones did open in the 1850s and 1860s. By the end of the 1860s the main focus was around the Welbeck Street area, and of the four printworks surviving in 1875, three were in Welbeck Street and one in East Shaw Street.

A correspondence developed in the "Kilmarnock Standard" in 1867 between the printers and their employers. This was basically an argument over the wages received by the men - the top men did not earn more than 17 shillings per week and the average wage was less than 10 shillings per week. Compare that with the 850 divided between about 1000 workers in the early 1830s. The Education Acts of the early 1870s also dealt a savage blow to the trade. Before 1872 children could be employed "half-time" in the printworks. In October 1870 there were 59 children working such "half-time" in the local printworks, and the local press was urging that they should be put on alternate days schooling and work The changes in fashion, and in the laws relating to child employment, ensured the further rapid decline of the industry.

By 1882 there were only two firms still operating printworks in the town - Peter BROWN & Son (established before 1846) and William CAMPBELL (established between 1856 and 18680 – both works were in Welbeck Street. The Welbeck Printworks ceased working between 1892 and 1895, and Peter Brown & Son closed between 1898 and 1900. The related trade of block cutting, introduced to the town in the 1850s or 60s, survived for a few more years in the firm of WILSON, HARVEY & MCGREGOR).

LIST OF KNOWN CALICO PRINTERS AND SHAWL MANUFACTURERS IN KILMARNOCK
AICHESON, George, 22 West Shaw Street, c.1833
ANDERSON, MCGREGOR & Co., Menford Lane, c.1833-47
ANDREW, James, Jun., 20 Wellington Street, c.1833
BICKET & YOUNG, 104 King Street, c.1833
BICKET, Hugh, 104 King Street, c.1846-56
BROWN, Peter, Welbeck Street, c. 1846-55; Riverbank c. 1855-82; Welbeck Street
c.1882-1900 (& Son from 1855)
BROWN, MERRY & MCGREGOR, Bishopfield Printworks, High Street, c.1851-6
CAMPBELL, William, & Co., Welbeck Printworks, Welbeck Street, c. 1868-93
DICK, John, Welbeck Street, c. 1846-7
GEDDES & MATHIESON, Welbeck Street, c.1833
HALL, William, Greenholm (or Greenhill) Printworks, c.1800-33
HUMPHREY, MCINTYRE & Co., Welbeck Street, c.1855
MATHIESON, Bailie - see Geddes & Mathieson
MERRY, John & Co, Irvinebank Printworks, Low Glencairn Street, c.1868
MERRY - see also Brown, Merry & McGregor
MUIR, R. & Co., Portland Printworks, Welbeck Street, c.1872-5
MCADAM & Co., Greenholm, c.1846
MACFEE, John, Greenholm, c.1769-1800
MCGREGOR - see Brown, Merry & McGregor
MCINTYRE - see Humphrey, Mclntyre & Co
MCMURRAY, WEIR & Co., Irvinebank, c.1855
NEIL, Thomas, 18 East Shaw Street, c.1833-46
POLLARD, Benjamin, Shawfield Printworks, East Shaw Street, c.1872-5
REID, John, Portland Printworks, Welbeck Street, c1868
REID, THOMSON & Co., Newton (i.e. Robertson Place), c.1855
TEMPLETON, John, & Co, Burnside, c.1855
TEMPLETON, Robert, Burnside, West Shaw Street, c.1833-51
THOMSON - see Reid, Thomson & Co,
WALLACE, John, East Shaw Street, c.1851-6
WEIR - see McMurray, Weir &• Co.
YOUNG & Sons & Co., East Shaw Street, c.1846-51
YOUNG - see Bicket & Young

List compiled from Kilmarnock Post-Office Directories for 1833 - 1903 and
McKay, Archibald "History of Kilmarnock 1st and 3rd edition