Last month I shared some reminiscences of former employees of Henry Widnell & Stewart Ltd, the carpet manufacturer of Midlothian for 150 years and a major employer in the area.
My last article gave reasons why people applied to work for the company and also what their jobs entailed. I would now like to share some thoughts from those who worked in other trades in the factories together with an idea of their working conditions.
Isobel O’Meara (nee Ross) recalls: “I was a setter and this was a piece-time job. I read a pattern which was on a table. I placed the bobbins into the spindles to make the pattern. When the pattern was completed, I pressed a button and the pattern moved to allow me to complete the next part of the pattern. When completed the patterns were sent to the weavers.”
Betty Campbell (Turnbull) says: “Axminster carpet was introduced at Eskbank in 1947 and that is when I started as a weaver. I operated a loom and the wool came off spools.
“The backing of the carpet was made of jute manufactured in Dundee. It was fed into the machine from the right hand side. This had a safety cage. I changed the spools in the gantry (which is a chain) when they ran out. I also checked the patterns and pulled through any knots that had occurred.
“I also had to clean the blades. The correct practice for cleaning the blades which cut the tufts of wool that I was weaving was to switch the machine off first. If the machine was stopped at any time I would have lost money because I was a piece-time worker.
“We used to clean the blades with our fingers when the machine was working and this was against the health and safety rules and of course accidents would happen and on one occasion someone lost a finger.”
Read more in this week’s Advertiser, out now.