The death of Bobby Clow last August and an article in the PA of 12/02/1910 are two prompts for a look back at how important the textile industry once was in Abernethy. The Clow family and the Wishart family were central to this, each having a factory in the village.
The PA article reads as follows:-
“An incident of an interesting and pleasant nature took place on Thursday at the factory of Messrs Ireland and Wishart, Abernethy, where Mr James Wishart, senior partner of the firm, announced to the workers assembled at midday that in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the firm’s factory in Kirkcaldy, he presented to each of the workers there a sum of money equal to one week’s wages, and that he had decided to confer the same boon on the Abernethy employees. Mr Wishart expressed the warm regard he had for Abernethy, his birthplace, and referred to the pleasant relationship, which has always existed between the firm and the employees. This generous act of Mr Wishart’s was heartily appreciated by the works, and Mr Thomas Haggart, manager, conveyed their thanks to Mr Wishart, and expressed the hope that he might be long spared to be amongst them.”
The Abernethy factory referred to was known as the Strathearn Works. It occupied part of the site where the Branston potato-sorting premises now operates. The factory was single-storeyed and was powered by a steam engine. It had a tall factory chimney, which was demolished in the 1960s. On its power looms the factory produced linen, cotton and wool fabrics (mainly bed linen, table cloths and other domestic wares). The factory started operations in 1873 and ceased production in 1930. In its heyday it employed around 100 workers, mostly female. The Wisharts built two fine adjacent houses on Perth Road, Pittarrow and Pennyhill. The last factory owner, David Wishart, who lived at Pittarrow, was much involved in village affairs. He died in 1958.
Even before the power loom works the weaving industry was a major local employer. Weaving was of course done on hand looms, mainly as a cottage industry. Census information reveals just how many were involved. In 1851 there were about 380; in 1881 there were 110. By 1901 there were less than 10 handloom weavers. Next year, when it becomes available for scrutiny, the 1911 census will reveal if there were still any working 100 years ago. Many of these weavers were also employed for part of the year as salmon fishers or as farm labourers at busy times.
The Clow family’s involvement with the textile industry evolved from the hand loom weaving. In the 1850’s Archibald Clow was a merchant in a house just down the slope from the “Tootie House”. He acted as a middle man in procuring yarn and the selling of locally produced woven cloth. His grandson, John (Bobby’s father) greatly expanded the business and started garment manufacture. He bought the Free Church building when its congregation merged with the UP Church in Kirk Wynd. This factory, called The Tower Works, was later greatly enlarged. In the 1930s the factory employed about 50 workers, mainly female, mostly from Abernethy, but later also from Newburgh. The main items made were ladies’ lingerie and nightdresses, marketed abroad as well as in some top city department stores.
John Clow was a respected figure in Abernethy and served as Abernethy’s provost during the Second World War. His son Bobby continued the business, after his release from a German POW, until the late 1980s. The site of The Tower Works is now occupied by the housing development known as Clow Square.
More information and photos relating to local weaving and garment manufacture, as well as samples produced, can be viewed in The Museum of Abernethy. The museum opens for the 2010 season on May 15th
Between three and four o'clock on Monday morning the store which forms part of the premises occupied by Mr Robert Clow, merchant, was discovered to be on fire. In a short time after it had been observed the building was completely enveloped in flames and the roof soon fell in. The goods with which the building was filled were almost totally destroyed.
The weather was calm during the time of the fire, so that the flames did not spread to adjacent buildings. The origin of the fire is unknown, but it is supposed to be purely accidental. Mr Clow was working from home on Monday morning.