Many members of the Milne family were weavers but I'm going to focus on Robert Milne, my 1st cousin 4x removed, my great great granny, Grace Milne's cousin.
Robert was born in Paisley on 15 October 1839 to Robert Milne (1808-1882) and Jeanie Kerr (1808-1890). He married Margaret Crawford on 18 September 1863 and they had four children:
- Anne C. Milne 1865
- Robert Milne 1873
- Hamilton C. Milne 1876
- Hugh K. Milne 1878
By 1870 Paisley was described as "the dirtiest and most unhealthy town in Scotland" and rather more favourably another observer commented, "The town was full of smoky grime and industrial vigour, drunker squalour and puritanical religion." It was one of the fastest growing towns in the whole of the United Kingdom, prompting the Tory Prime Minister Disraeli to comment "Keep your eye on Paisley". But it was poor. In the 1820s hand loom weavers could earn over £1.00 a week, but the weekly wage for a female in the thread mills in the 1870s was less than half of that.
In 1819 there was a week's rioting in Paisley High Street as the authorities tried to suppress demonstrations in favour of parliamentary reform, and in the Radical War of 1820 nowhere was more radical than Paisley, when thousands of local workers went on strike and some went as far as to take up arms for political reform. In a series of treason trials in that year in the town, the defendants were acquitted. Paisley's radicalism continued into the Chartist period in the 1830s and 40s, when a surprising local leader of the agitation to gain working men the vote was the Rev. Partick Brewster. His denunciations of the rich and powerful at a time when poverty was endemic and cholera rampant, meant he was passed over for the post of main minister at the Abbey when it became vacant.
At the age of 22 in 1861, Robert was a pattern weaver. The introduction of the Jacquard Loom*, in the 1830s moved weaving from the home to the factory, and allowed the production of more elaborate patterns. Paisley weavers wove shawls based on a Kashmiri pattern which became very fashionable, especially after the young Queen Victoria wore one. The shawls and the pattern became synonymous with Paisley and were known around the world as 'Paisley Shawls' and the 'Paisley Pattern'.
*In 1801, Joseph Marie Jacquard, a silk-weaver, invented an improved textile loom. The Jacquard loom was the first machine to use punched card. These punched cards controlled the weaving, enabling an ordinary workman to produce the most beautiful patterns in a style previously accomplished only with patience, skill, and hard work.
Robert's children did not follow him into weaving, Robert junior became an accountant, Hamilton a traveller in flour and in 1901 Hugh was a clerk at a soap manufacturer.