With the introduction of the ‘flying shuttle’, the weaving industry was revolutionised, and by 1800 power-loom factory workers had taken over from hand-loom weavers in Scotland. Smooth-running shuttles were essential to the industry, and in 1844 John Menzies of Logiealmond built a shuttlemill by the bank of the River Ordie, on the site of an old mill in Luncarty.
For over a hundred years a small group of workers made shuttles that supplied a world market, particularly after the mid-1850s, when Mr. Menzies introduced his invention of a side-tipped shuttle. It was a lot safer than earlier designs, which could fly out an injure the weaver. Facial injuries were most common, all all too many women were disfigured by such accidents.
The centre-tipped shuttle was gradually replaced by the side-tipped model and the Luncarty Shuttlemill began to supply mills at home and abroad.
In recognition of his huge contribution to safer working conditions in the Dundee jute-mills, in 1878 Mr Menzies was honoured by a special ceremony and presented with a silver and gold model shuttle that can now be seen at the National Museum of Scotland:
‘Presented with a purse of sovereigns to Mr John Menzies, Shuttle Maker, Ordie Mill, Perthshire, by a number of manufacturers and factory managers, to commemorate the various improvements he has made on shuttles, particularly the introduction of the side-tipped shuttle, which has made power loom weaving a safe calling to those employed therein. Dundee, November 1878.’
One of the shuttle-makers trained by Mr Menzies was William N. Patton who was taken on as a twelve-year-old apprentice in 1871.
The shuttlemill operated with six workers: two journeymen shuttle-makers, one apprentice, and three labourers. On the far right in the photo below, he is holding one of the shuttles he made. Mr. Patton continued to work in the mill until the age of 82, and his grand-daughter, Betty, is justly proud of his seventy years of service.
Betty Robertson (née Patton) has lived in Luncarty all her life and remembers when the village was a hive of activity:
“They had a big water wheel that drove machinery, and they used hard wood – beech and persimmon. But a lot of the work was done by hand, to get the right finish.”
In 1889, the Ordie Mill was taken over by Peter McFarlane, an experienced mill-right, whose sons later joined the business.
Being an enterprising family they also hired out cycles and horses, as Luncarty was a busy place, alive with workers that sustained Scotland’s linen and cotton industries.
The Patton family was to have two more generations learn the craft, as Betty’s father, also William, became a shuttle-maker. Before taking up his apprenticeship, he worked as a wood-cutter, as his brother had a wood-cutting business – William Patton is the young man holding the axe. In the 1920s he was apprenticed to his father, and became equally skilled.
From 1939 to ’45, his career was interrupted as he served in the Second World War. Though Betty was just a little girl at the start of WW2, she remembers how family life changed when her Dad went off to war. The shuttlemill still operated, however, giving a sense of normality to the village.
Thousands of shuttles continued to be sent to Dundee and to the nearby Stanley Mill, where wartime workers were re-trained to make jute webbing needed for military activities: uniforms, spats, belts, as well as machinery parts.
Nell Hannah remembers those years:
“We were just told we’d be making webbing for the soldiers, but we had no idea what it was for.” In 1947 Betty’s brother, the third William Patton, began to learn the skills of the shuttle-maker. This is the letter of agreement he received when he began his apprenticeship at the Ordie Shuttle Mill. No sooner had he completed his training than he was called up for National Service. Two years later when he returned home the shuttlemill had closed down, ending his hope of carrying on the family tradition. the buildings were demolished, leaving no trace of a highly skilled trade that had served the world’s weaving industry.