Corporate Espionage 300 years ago

The sound you just heard at the end of the last stop is from a modern silk weaving handloom. Weaving and textile manufacture have been hugely important to Dunfermline’s history and economy.

The introduction of damask weaving came from some corporate espionage by James Blake who acted like ‘a daft laddie’ and persuaded a purveyor of high-quality silk in Edinburgh to take him in for labouring. While there he observed, asked questions and stole their process of manufacture to return to Dunfermline and set up his own production. As a town, Dunfermline was producing the highest quality silk and weavers challenged themselves to make a shirt with no seams! 

David Anderson won a prize for being the first person to make a shirt with no seams and he went on to weave a chemise for Queen Victoria. It was made of silk and also had no seams. The front included a portrait of Victoria, with dates of her birth, ascension, and coronation, underneath were the British arms with national flowers. 

You can see the shirt at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries and you can discover what part Dunfermline played in Queen Elizabeth’s wedding of 1947, a fairly significant item was sourced from here? Any ideas? The silk used to make the Queen’s dress by designer Norman Hartnell was manufactured at Winterthur Silks Ltd, you can see a piece of the material in the Galleries.

Winterthur Mill was in the north of Dunfermline, opened in 1932 and employed up to 750 people. In 1877 there were 11 linen factories in the town employing 6,000, and it’s calculated that Dunfermline’s output in a year – 30,000,000 square yards – if measured in a one-yard strip it would pave a path from here to New Zealand and have cloth to spare.

Alan Johnston attended Lauder College to study weaving before he worked in the Dunfermline mills and has shared his memories below. Listen to what it was like to study textiles, work in the factory and loom types. . 

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