A social history of the Scottish handloom weavers 1790-1850
Like any other work of social history, this study must begin by examining the economic background. In outlining the main economic factors affecting this important workforce in the Scottish Industrial Revolution period, it is not only necessary to quantify the numbers who, over time, depended upon the hand loom for a living, but also to relate these aggregate figures to the types of fabric worked, the industrial hierarchy of the industry, and the sex structure of its followers. Other questions to be asked in this context relate to the geographical location and, where relevant, the nationality of the weaving community. Moreover, since the websters were affected by long term movements in economic prosperity and by cyclical fluctuations, some attempt must be made to delineate these exogenous influences, and to explain the causal factors operating in each case. Once the economic background has been established, an assessment of the movement over time of the more measurablefacets of wea vers' living standards is attempted. Trends in aggregate family incomes are examined in relation to the movement of food and other prices to establish the course of real wages. Such an exercise reveals clearly that there was a trend increase in poverty among the Scottish handloom weavers. The incidence of poverty is examined critically, making particular use of concepts formulated by the social analysts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is followed by an assessment of the effectiveness of various relief mechanisms in alleviating such destitution and, in addition, several aspects of weavers' everyday lives - working conditions, housing and health are briefly explored. But the quantifiable side of living standards apart, certain qualitative elements in the overall culture of the Scottish weaving community need to be analysed. These include educational, religious, and intellectual activities, leisure-time pursuits, the incidence of crime and vice among the weavers, as well as their performance according to the prevailing contemporary concept of morality. Again, as in the case of more measurable criteria, changes in these cultural aspects over time are emphasised. Since over the period 1790-1850 weavers were subjected to increasing social and economic pressures, their response to such harrassment is interesting. Basically, this took two forms. They attempted to protect their trade by forming trade unions, and they supported the main political movements of the period. In addition to examining in detail their contribution in these directions, it is, finally, worthwhile noting whether there was any degree of overlap between the two responses.