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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology

Consumer Goods

By W Hamish Fraser

The market cross, around which trading took place from at least the 12th century, was at the foot of the High Street. Those with rights to make and sell goods in the burgh would set up their stalls around the cross, selling meat, perhaps candles, articles in wood, and cloth. From the late 15th century there was an occasional fair where more exotic goods from further afield might appear. For most of the period families had to be self-sufficient, growing their own food and making their own clothes, although from country traders they might buy corn to grind or timber for making things.

Much of the cloth that was home produced was of coarse wool, sewn into tunics and hose for men, and into gowns and petticoats for women. Only the wealthiest would buy silk cloth, jewellery and furniture, almost always from outwith Scotland. There were acts of the Scottish Parliament laying down the types of dress that different social ranks should wear. Only the gentry were allowed to wear imported silk; women were discouraged from wearing expensive furs. How effective such legislation was in shaping fashion is impossible to say, but the chances are that it was not. Leather shoes were another luxury and many would have made do with wooden clogs or pattens. Clothes, more than anything, were the indication of social status in medieval Scotland.

Most houses were sparsely furnished, with floors of sand perhaps strewn with rushes or straw. Cooking was at an open hearth. Horn or bone spoons were in the luxury class and the quality of knife carried expressed the owner's status. Beds and cupboards were generally built into the fabric of the house although, for many, a bed would be a bundle of straw. Roughly made stools or benches were more common than chairs. In Provand's Lordship Glasgow has one of the only surviving houses from the late 15th century. Such a grand house might contain imported furniture and luxury items such as glass, Limoges enamel, or iron work imported from France or Holland.

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