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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Industry and Technology

Textile and Leather

By John R Hume

Textile and leather manufacture were still hand crafts in the 1560s, with the possible exception of waulking, or fulling woollen cloth, processes which made the cloth more compact through shrinking or pressing. Almost without exception they remained hand crafts in 1770, the possible exception being the use of the spinning jenny to make cotton yarn. However although the basic techniques in these two groups of industries changed little in two centuries their scale and focus changed dramatically in the half-century or so before 1770.

The most important stimuli were the enormous expansion of Glasgow's overseas trade which followed the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 and the decision of the Union Parliament to encourage the linen industry at the expense of the native woollen industry. The expansion of trade brought with it both markets and ideas. The demand of the plantation system in the American colonies and in the West Indies stimulated the growth of both coarse and fine linen manufacture; and the Glasgow tobacco trade's connection with France led both to a fashion for French fine textiles and to the importation from France of skilled men and of techniques. As a result, by 1770 Glasgow was the leading British centre for the making of fine linen gauzes and lawns.

Demand for leather goods, especially for shoes, from the plantations resulted in the expansion of the tanning industry and in the employment of large numbers of craft shoemakers to work up the leather. Both the leather and linen textile industries were organised by capitalist entrepreneurs and the skills and capital thus generated made Glasgow particularly suited to the rapid adoption of the new factory system when it became financially attractive later in the 18th century.

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