The Doric Columns
Richards & Co. processed Jute
Huge combing machines would chatter away while the jute was processed and as they were not allowed to smoke - some ten girls would crowd into a WC at a time to have cigarette - as if their lungs were not already under severe attack. For some reason I was allowed to accompany her to work one day aged about 5 and I complained bitterly that I could not breath and stood in the doorway of the workhouse to get some nearly fresh air. When invited to meet the girls during the break in the toilet I was so further asphyxiated by their cigarette smoke and farts that I fled never to return - except for the superb Christmas parties held in the Canteen where a hungry lad could feast till he burst. The entire household was grateful when mother left following the offer of work in cleaner surroundings and the ever present stench of Jute or Flax would vanish from our lives.
The characteristic smell of jute twine and burlap doesn't come from the fibre itself or even the grossly polluted water of the retting pools where they separate the fibres; instead, it comes from the oil that is applied to it to make it easier to handle in spinning and weaving. it was discovered that the whale oil mixed with raw jute enabled workers to spin the fibre into fabric. The City's whaling fleet provided a ready supply of oil and by Whale oil was used initially before petroleum.
The production of Jute from the imported fibre started with a process called batching. Bales of different qualities and colours were mixed into a batch suitable for the intended product. The jute was separated and twisted by hand into heads or bundles of between 2 and 5 lbs and put through a machine known as a softener or spreader. The jute fibres were also sprayed with an emulsion of whale oil and water to help in later processing. The jute was then left for several days so that the emulsion might fully penetrate the fibres. The combing action of the pins on the carding machine ‘fleeces’ the jute before condensing it into a loose fibre called ‘sliver’. The process also further mixes the fibres.
Towards the close of the 18th century, and early in the 19th century it was spun into yarn and woven into cloth in the town of Abingdon Berks. It is claimed that this was the 1st British town to manufacture the material. For years small quantities of jute were imported into Great Britain and other European countries and into America, but it was not until the year 1832 that the fibre may be said to have made any great impression in Great Britain. The 1st really practical experiments with the fibre were made in this year in Chapelshade Works, Dundee, and these experiments proved to be the foundation of an enormous industry. It is interesting to note that the site of Chapelshade Works was in 1907 cleared for the erection of a large new technical college.
Subsequently, about the year 1824, a bale or 2 of jute was sent to Dundee, to Mr Anderson, a linen manufacturer. He got his mother, who was an adept at the spinning wheel, to make a trial of spinning it, but she did not succeed to her satisfaction. Mr Anderson seemed to recognise the value of the fibre, and made numerous experiments with it, but without much success, beyond producing a coarse yarn suited only for sacking. The new material was regarded with suspicion by the public, and goods suspected to contain jute were difficult to dispose of. In 1822 Mr Thomas Neish, merchant in Dundee, got a small consignment of jute from London, and tried to get some of the manufacturers to spin it, but none of them would make the attempt; and, after lying aside for 4 or 5 years, the jute was sold for the purpose of being made into door-mats. Ten years after receiving this parcel of jute, Mr Neish got another consignment, which was again offered to the manufacturers in vain. After being much pressed by Mr Neish, Messrs Balfour & Meldrum reluctantly resolved to make experiments with the fibre. Success attended their efforts, and the foundation of the jute trade in Dundee was laid. Mr James Watt, another merchant in the town, rendered great service in bringing jute into favourable notice. For the 1st year or 2 after the possibility of spinning jute had been demonstrated, the manufacturers did not spin it pure, but mixed it with flax and tow. In 1835, however, pure jute yarn was made and regularly sold in the market. The raw material could be bought in 1833 for £12 a-ton; but 4 years afterwards, when the value of the fibre had to some extent been recognised, the price was £22 to £23.
The annual consumption of flax in Dundee was estimated to be about 28,000 tons; of hemp, about 1500 tons; and of jute, about 60,000 tons - in all, 90,500 tons; so that in 1/2 a century the quantity of raw material used has increased fully 40 fold. It may be mentioned that all the jute is imported from Calcutta. Formerly it was sent through London and Liverpool, but considerable quantities were brought direct into Dundee as well as into Greenock.
The effect of the introduction of jute on the linen trade of Dundee is shown in the following passage from a paper read before the Social Science Association at Edinburgh in 1863, by Mr Robert Sturrock, Secretary of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce:- "By the introduction of jute into the linen trade great changes have been brought about. In place of sackcloth, bagging, and other coarse fabrics being made from hemp, hemp codilla, flax codilla, and coarse tows, they are all now entirely made from jute, and some of these raw materials are not now known in the trade. Though much the same quantity of flax and tow is now imported as many years ago,
The flax and jute factories of Dundee are substantial edifices. They are fitted with every appliance that has been devised for promoting the health and comfort of the operatives, and facilitating their work. As a rule the proprietors are possessed of a spirit of considerate liberality towards those who toil for them - or, rather, with them, for the life of even a prosperous manufacturer is anything but a sinecure. Many of the employers are men who had but a humble start in life, and have created their own fortunes by close application to business. Some of those who were leaders in the earlier and more trying days of the trade have retired to spend their remaining time in the enjoyment of fortunes accumulated during years of anxious labour, leaving sons and successors to carry on the work which they brought to such a successful issue. Others who have attained an age and position which would entitle them to retire, continue to work on, as if determined to die in harness. Indications of the prosperity prevailing among the class are abundant in the stately mansions which they have reared for themselves in the outskirts of the town and in quieter localities adjacent.
One of the great obstacles which the early workers in jute had to contend with was the hard and dry nature of the fibre. They could neither get it to spin nor weave satisfactorily. Old machines were altered and new ones devised with the view of overcoming this peculiarity of the jute; but none of these were successful until the idea occurred to some one that the jute might be softened by being moistened with oil. This was tried and found successful to a degree beyond expectation. The oil is applied in a special apartment called the "batching-room," in which the jute is spread in layers, each layer receiving an abundant sprinkling of oil and water. In that condition the material is allowed to lie a certain time, according to the season and temperature.
At the close of 1867 there were in Scotland 16 firms engaged in the manufacture of flax, hemp, and jute, who employed 1000 persons or upwards, the aggregate number of operatives being 31,162, or an average of about 1948. Four of those firms were spinners, but not weavers, and all the others were spinners and weavers. The number of spindles employed by them was 205,454; of power-looms, 5177; and the nominal horse power of their engines was 6057. The works of 8 of the firms are in Dundee, 2 in Glasgow, 2 in Greenock, and 1 each in Aberdeen, Johnstone, Markinch, and Arbroath.
The firms out of Dundee who, at the period to which these remarks refer, employed 1000 persons and upwards were:- Messrs Richards & Co., Aberdeen; City of Glasgow Flax-Spinning Company; Glasgow Jute Company; Messrs Finlayson, Bousefield, & Co., Johnstone; Gourock Rope-Work Company, Greenock; Messrs John Fergus & Co., Prinlaws; Mr Andrew Lowson, Arbroath; and the Greenock Sacking Company.
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