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The Records of a Scottish Cloth Manufactory
At New Mills, Haddingtonshire, 1681-1703


The Records of a Scottish Cloth Manufactory at New Mills, Haddingtonshire, 1681-1703. Edited from the Original Manuscripts, with Introduction and Notes, by W. R. Scott, M.A., D.Phil., Litt.D., Lecturer on Political Economy, University of St. Andrews. Pp. xci, 366. Demy 8vo. Edinburgh : Printed at the University Press for the Scottish History Society, 1905.

The records of the New Mills Company are unique in respect that they are the earliest of the kind known to exist in Britain. Of the Bank of England, the Bank of Scotland, the East India Company, and the two or three other great commercial enterprises of the seventeenth century, the minutes are preserved, and some of these have been published. But the New Mills Company is the only manufacturing undertaking of that time whose records have survived, even in an incomplete form. The Company was founded in June, 1681, and dissolved in 1713. It thus continued for thirty-two years. The records comprise twelve years of that period. They consist of two parts. The first, extending from the formation of the Company to 1691, a space of ten years, is a manuscript folio of 36 pages which came to the Edinburgh University Library in the Laing Collection. The second, beginning 1701, ending 1703, a space of two years, was discovered at the Register House after much of the first was actually in print. Between the two parts there is an interval of ten years for which the record is lost; and the same remark applies to the decade from 1703 to the dissolution of the Company. Dr. Scott gives the first series of minutes in full; the second in summary, omitting nothing that is of any real consequence; and of more value perhaps than the lost minutes would have been are two documents discovered among the papers at the Register House relating to the estate of Sir James Stanfield, the principal promoter of the Company. One of these is a ‘memorial’ concerning the proposed 'manufactory of cloath’; the other is the original contract of co-partnery; and of the former it is remarked that it is the earliest prototype of the modern prospectus of which we have any knowledge — a circumstance which invests it with peculiar interest. There is much in the minutes and the accompanying documents to engage the thought of students of political economy, and makers of cloth who are curious about the beginnings of their industry will derive from their perusal more than amusement. But the general reader will be chiefly attracted by the admirable introduction. No cue could have been chosen to edit the minutes possessed of greater fitness for it than Dr. Scott, or more competent to bring into review the industrial condition of the country at the time to which they refer. It was no part of his task to collect from the mistakes of our forefathers material for warning and rebuke for men of our own day who with infinitely less excuse would repeat those mistakes. But he could have urged the moral with a force begotten of clear thinking and strong conviction. The reader, however, will be dull indeed who fail to perceive it for himself. In the seventeenth century it was sought to foster commercial and industrial enterprises by almost every device that was to be condemned by scientific economists and rejected after failure. The Trade Guilds exercised the powers they possessed to protect their several crafts in their several districts. In England the King granted charters and monopolies to companies and individuals. In Scotland the same thing was done, but by Privy Council and by Parliament, and with a more apparent intention to safeguard the common weal. The charters in every instance conferred exclusive privileges. At one time our exports were almost entirely of food-stuffs, and the raw materials of manufacture; while our imports were of manufactures and luxuries for the table. The desire to correct this was patriotic and natural. But the methods adopted involved a conflict of interlacing interests and were a source of serious inconvenience and loss to consumers. Foreign manufactures were not only excluded, but the wearing of them was made a punishable misdemeanour. The export of raw materials required by the home manufacturer was disallowed, and for the same reason the import of such materials was completely freed from obstructive duties: manufacturing companies were exempted from taxes and local rates, their premises from having soldiers quartered upon them, and their workmen from military service; inducements in the form of easy naturalisation and immunity from taxation were offered to the ingenious alien to settle in Scotland, to instruct others in his trade; and the companies were given, if not the power of pit and gallows, at anyrate a very large measure of magisterial and police authority over their workers. They could imprison or pillory for certain offences, and it was unlawful for other employers to engage a Company’s workman without the Company's consent. Notwithstanding this comprehensive and complicated scheme of protection, preference, and privilege, a scheme which included not only immunities from public burdens but the receipt of subsidies from the State, there was still a cry for more protection, preference, privilege, immunity, and subsidy; for the fostered trades could not or would not supply the public want created by the exclusion of foreign competition. Smuggling had a tempting field presented to it, and the State was under the necessity of giving special licenses to individuals to manufacture and import in order to make good the shortage in the markets. But when relaxation came in the cloth trade it was more in consequence perhaps of the conflict between agricultural and manufacturing interest than because of the oppression of the general body of the people. Spanish wools and Galloway ‘whites' were employed in the production of the finest cloths, which were to be as good as any that our English neighbours could make: so the export of Galloway ‘whites’ was prohibited on the demand of the manufacturers, Spanish wool was admitted free, and English cloth was not suffered to be brought across the border. This affected the agricultural interest severely; and there was an agitation to recover the right to export wool. A small concession was granted to the extent of a permit to send out sheepskins with the wool on them; but even this was restricted on the remonstrance of manufacturers, and the export was limited to three shipping places—Kurrowstounes, Newport-Glasgow, and Dumfries. In 1704 the woolmasters secured an unfettered right to dispose of their fleeces in the best markets whether at home or abroad. But at the Union of the Parliaments, England, whose manufacturing class was highly organised, required from Scotland a return to the prohibition of the export of wool, and, as compensation to the flockmasters a subsidy was provided for the manufacture of coarse cloth. It was to produce the finer cloth that the Company at New Mills had been formed; and after struggling for some years subsequent to the Union in strenuous competition with the cheaper goods of equal quality which then came in freely from England it was resolved to wind up the business. The property was purchased by Colonel Charteris, and he changed the name from New Mills to Atnisfield (after the historic tower belonging to his family in Dumfriesshire). Of the minutes of the Company Dr. Scott presents a serviceable analysis in his introduction. This will enable the reader tn skim the body of the book. It is more likely to induce him to carefully peruse it. For the minutes possess a fascinating quaintness, are intensely human documents, affording glimpses of the character of the merchants concerned, and throwing curious sidelights on domestic life, as well as on social, industrial, and political conditions. Among the contracts secured by the Company was one to furnish cloth for the troops. An Act of Privy Council had just been passed for the provision of military uniforms, so, as the Act puts it, ‘to distinguish sojers from other skulking and vagrant persons,’ and among the regiments supplied with stone-grey stuff was General Dalziell’s Dragoons. Government favours were not obtained without influence, and influence exerted by official persons and others necessitated retainers and rewards. These, which we speak of now as bribes, were in the seventeenth century more delicately alluded to as ‘gratifications.’ Military officers had to be considered in this way by the Company, and even the ‘King’s Advocat' was not above taking a tip of ‘ten dollars for himself’

T. Watson.


Records of a Scottish Cloth Manufactory at New Mills, Haddingtonshire 1681-1703 (pdf)
Edited from the Original Manuscripts, with Introduction and Notes, by W. R. 5COTT, M.A., D.Phil., Litt.D. (1905) (pdf)



 


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