Artisans and Craft Production in Nineteenth-Century Scotland

A University of Edinburgh online exhibition about Scottish artisans, their work and working lives between 1780 and 1914.


Design for a Paisley Shawl, ca.1839

© The University of Edinburgh

Design for Paisley Shawl, ca.1839

This hand-painted design for a Paisley shawl is stamped ‘Board of Trustees for Manufactures in Scotland’. Painted on oiled paper and mounted on cartridge paper it is for a shawl quarter that combines Indian-style flower and pinecone patterns arranged in a central decorative medallion.

The design is thought to be one of those retained when the Board of Trustees gave a collection of 196 samples and designs to pattern designer and teacher of pattern drawing Thomas Barker Holdway in 1839.  Holdway won the Trustees' Academy's prizes for shawl designs 1831-33 and was sent to study French designs in Paris in 1834. He taught at the Trustees' Academy between 1835-1839, leaving to start classes in Glasgow following the decline of the shawl industry in Edinburgh.  A keen defender of the profession, Holdway gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Copyright of Designs in 1840 arguing for extended protection of one year on copyright-protected designs (Reports From Committees, vol.3. 148-160)

Shawl designers worked anonymously so we don’t know whether Holdway drew this particular pattern, but we know that collections of ‘good design’ were maintained throughout the nineteenth century to be used as teaching tools in the education of new designers.  The Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufacturers and Improvements in Scotland was established in 1727 to promote and support the development of Scotland’s industries. It established a Drawing Academy in Edinburgh in 1760. 

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Embroidered Footstool, John Taylor & Sons, ca. 1850

© National Museums Scotland

Embroidered Footstool, John Taylor & Sons, ca.1850

This walnut and inlaid footstool with Berlin wool needlework top was made by John Taylor & Sons, Edinburgh, ca. 1850. It is square, with carved scroll feet and a geometrical coloured inlaid border around the lower edge.  The needlework top features a design of a fox head in semi-profile surrounded by winter foliage reminiscent of Victorian Christmas decorations, with a coloured braided cord forming a border on the upper edge.  The footstool is stamped underneath with the maker’s mark.  An amateur may have made the embroidered top. 

John Taylor & Sons, sometimes styled ‘Cabinetmakers to the Queen’ were founded in Edinburgh in 1825 with premises in West Thistle Street, moving to 109 Princes Street by mid century.   They had extensive retail premises and a workshop and offices behind.  They also established a more extensive workshop – the Rosemount Cabinetworks – to the west of the city, close to Haymarket railway station. At the Census of 1851, the founder, a wright by training, employed 90 men and four apprentices, one of them his own son who was an apprentice cabinetmaker.

further information…