When Bailie John Hardie introduced the first stocking frames to Hawick in 1771, he could not have imagined what he was about to create. In less than 100 years the town was to be at the very heart of the knitwear trade in Scotland. Textiles expansion continued with foreign markets being conquered and in the 1960’s Hawick became the highest earning town in the United Kingdom per head of population.
Of course, there was hand knitting in Hawick long before 1771, but this is the date given for the foundation of the textile industry in Hawick. This marks the introduction of stocking frames to the town by Bailie John Hardie, a merchant who had found them being used in the west of Scotland.
In the beginning, these stocking frames would be used by out-workers in their own homes but increasingly waterpower and steam power saw machinery being concentrated alongside the rivers.
By 1800 up to 3,000 people were employed in Hawick producing hosiery, carpets, linen and woollen goods. During the second half of the 1800’s steam power began to replace waterpower and the size and number of mills grew further.
Rail transport came to Hawick in 1849 with the arrival of the line from the Lothian coalfield. Significantly the onward connection from Hawick to Carlisle, completing the Waverley Line, was not made until later, in 1862.
The scale of the textile industry in Hawick grew to such a size, that by 1870 over a million pounds in weight of wool was being turned each year into a range of goods. Production was not restricted to knitwear and tweed became highly popular in the early and mid 1800’s with weaving being established in Hawick with similar success.
Stockings ‘grew’ into combination underwear, and then into outerwear: pullovers, cardigans, and the famous twin-set. With the growth of the industry came an influx of workers and Hawick’s population peaked at 19,800 in 1891, when it is worth remembering the area of the town was a fraction of its present size.
The Pringles had founded their enterprise in 1815, and other manufacturers steadily followed. These included Barrie, Innes Henderson, Lyle & Scott, Peter Scott, Robert Noble on the knitwear side, and Blenkhorn Richardson and Wilson & Glenny for making worsted cloth. Those examples all bear individual family names reflecting pride in the quality of the product, and there came to be many other family businesses during a long period until the end of the 20th Century.
Indeed, Famously Hawick partner William Lockie have been upholding the pride of Hawick since 1874, through luxury handcrafted knitwear. ‘Lockies’ are proud to remain a family run business with skilled workers from the same local families who have been employed for generations. Hawico’s history of manufacturing can be traced all the way back to 1874 when the Hawick Hosiery Company was formed at its Duke Street site, where Hawico still produce their luxurious cashmere knitwear today. Alexander Johnston established the Johnstons of Elgin mill in 1797 and the Hawick mill started production in the 1970’s but Eastfield Mill has been at the centre of textile production in Hawick for more than 140 years. And the product that we all recognise as Tweed has its origins in Commercial Road, Hawick, just a few yards from where Lovat Mill stands today.
Times may have changed, but to this day, Hawick’s success has been built on a highly skilled workforce producing top quality products, with manufacturers leading the way in both innovation and design.
The Home of Tweed
The wearing of Tweed became highly popular in the early and mid-1800’s with manufacture being readily established in Hawick, with similar success to knitwear production being enjoyed in the town.
Weaving in Hawick began centuries ago as a cottage industry using wool from local sheep, the abundant supply of water from the River Teviot and, of course, the skills of artisan craftsmen and women.
By the late 1800’s, as new dyestuffs and loom types evolved, weaving in Hawick developed into a thriving industry supplying wool cloths to many new international markets.
The term “Tweed” was coined quite accidentally in 1826 as the result of a misread label on a shipment of woven wool “Tweels” – the Scots dialect word for twill – from weaver William Watson & Sons of Commercial Road, Hawick, to a London cloth merchant. The word “Tweel” had perhaps not been written clearly on the label but to the merchant “Tweed” made complete sense as these fabrics were chiefly used in those days by gentlemen for shooting and fishing, with the nearby river Tweed being a fashionable destination for such pursuits.
With the misunderstanding then being perpetuated by the customer reordering another consignment of “Tweeds”, William Watson chose not to correct the mistake. Realising he had a fantastic name for his product, and recognising the branding opportunity, he promptly adopted the term as a description for his mill’s high quality sporting cloths. In modern times William Watson would have been well advised to register copyright on this new product, however 200 years ago there were few such considerations and use of the word soon spread all over Scotland and, ultimately, throughout the World.
Now generally recognised as “The Home of Tweed”, Lovat Mill is proud to be the torch bearer of William Watson’s legacy, continuing the manufacture of this unique product into the 21st century. Lovat Mill now stands just a few metres from where Watson’s mill once stood.
“Tweed” is one of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, with its richness of colour twists and yarn mixtures capturing the very essence of the Border landscape.