Wednesday, 4 April 2007


I have been going round a few of the island's cemeteries in recent times, looking for and photographing tombstones of victims of the Iolaire Disaster in 1919. On my visit to Bragar's cemetery this week, I came across the tombstone for Kenneth MacLeod of Shawbost, an important figure in the Harris Tweed industry. He died in 1949 at the age of 67.

Standing there on a cloudy, windswept day, the news came back to me about ongoing developments in the industry today. And what would he make of it now? Mr Macleod got local weavers to weave tweed for him in the first half of the 20th century.

Late in 2006, Yorkshire industrialist Brian Haggas bought over the remaining Harris Tweed mills in Lewis, of which the largest stands in Stornoway. Shortly beforehand, the closure of the mill in North Shawbost was announced, with the loss of about 30 jobs. Last week, plans were announced to shrink the range of tweeds to 5, although not directly in such words. The announcement was to the effect that single-width weavers would be laid off. Not many of them left, but it was seen as a sign on the wall. Some 20 years ago, there were hundreds if not thousands of different tweeds in circulation. It was a top of the range product. Fears are now being expressed that this prestige will be lost.

It sounds as if Harris Tweed is heading for its own graveyard in history.

On a related note, I came across streets of derelict business premises in the Newton area of Stornoway. This used to be the centre of the Harris Tweed industry in years gone by, but is now broadly in disuse. A line in the recent Budget caught my attention, as the tax on disused business premises was due to be increased, or words to that effect.

I am surprised that the non-residential side of Newton is allowed to fall into ruin like it is at the moment. I hope that following the local council elections on May 3rd someone will have the foresight to come up with a plan for a major revamp of the area. Yes, I am aware that a number of businesses are thriving there

1 comment:

  1. "I'm very sorry, and somewhat surprised, to hear about the continuing decline of the Harris Tweed industry. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour last year talking to Donald McKay of Luskentyre who told me that he had about 10 weeks weaving work in hand. You might remember that he got an order for 9,500 metres of Harris Tweed for the sides of Nike trainers. The Money Programme offered him a free trip to China to see the trainers being made at a Nike factory but he didnt go because he didnt like flying. I hear that his wife still hasnt forgiven him."

    Malkie from Glasgow
    "People, do buy Harris Tweed jackets - high demand will hopefully support the weavers. I would hate to see this source of income for the islanders go. Where will this development end? Are the Outer Hebrides following the example of St Kilda? And why, Arnish, is Ardvourlie Castle for sale? It used to be a highly recommended B&B. Is the tourist industry going downhill, too? Harris Tweed does go very well with Lederhosen, by the way."

    The Lederhosen from The Mountains
    "Lederhosen, Ardvourlie Castle has been on the market for a long period of time. Its occupants used to be vociferous opponents of the proposed windfarms. Their location is in direct line of sight of the Eishken windfarm. Malkie, The reasoning, suggested to be behind the decisions taken regarding the HT industry, cannot be repeated on a public blog. "

    Arnish Lighthouse from Stornoway
    "Arnish. I think you misunderstand me. Donald got the order, which is why he is so busy. The trip to China was supposed to be a payment for the hard work he put in for the article on the Money Programme."

    Malkie from Glasgow
    "This sounds like a unfortunate state of affairs from your article. Several processes need to be changed in the supply chain and marketing to improve the outlook in the global market for the textile industry but the quality and variety should contiue to be as rich as its heritage and as valuble as the pride of the people. I am actively researching how I can possibly assist long term in the management of the woven textile indutry and improve its use beyond garments into household use. Please let me know who has not given up and is an expert in textile management . Thanks"

    Grey from US