The Women of Auchindrain and the Spinning Controversy, Part 2

When we left our story yesterday, the women of the townships around Inveraray, including Auchindrain, had been instructed by the Duke to each spin six stones of wool a year. To put that in context, that would be a pile of wool around nine feet square and high! This was their response, as recorded by the manager of the mill at Clunary.

The Ban-Droighneach, the women of Auchindrain, refused to spin for the Duke, and the same picture is seen across the local townships, including ‘Achingoul’ (Achnagoul), ‘Auchentibert’ (Auchantiobairt) and ‘Dumfern’ (Drimfern). One of the women of Auchindrain complied, Mary McCoshain, who was a widow and for whom the income would no doubt have been very welcome. We can only hope that this was accepted by the other families as being an allowable exception to the general consensus of non-cooperation.


We know that most of the women in the town of Inveraray agreed to spin for the Duke, so why did the women of the townships refuse? The main reason, we believe, is because they simply did not have the time to do the work. Some rough modern-day calculations suggest that an experienced spinner would have had to spend two to three hours a day to process “six stones of wool” a year. This would have been a very big ask for women already putting in long hours managing households and taking a share of the farm work. It would have been different for the women of Inveraray, where family income would generally have come from employment or trade, and there was no land to work.

Beyond this, however, perhaps the Ban-Droighneach and the women of the other townships refused to become outworkers for the Duke’s new industrial enterprise as a way of resisting the economic and social changes they could see taking place around them. A way of life that had been stable for centuries was under threat as landowners like the Duke pursued the principles of “agricultural improvement” to generate more income from their estates. Not just in Argyll but across much of Scotland, the trend was towards replacing the townships with sheep grazing, enclosing large areas of land and giving them to one farmer to work, and attempting to retask people who had worked the land for centuries as industrial workers in new enterprises set up by landowners. Fishing, ironmaking, the processing of seaweed into materials for making soap and glass, or textile production: it was all the same. We will never know for certain, but it seems likely the defiance of the Ban-Droighneach in 1792 was a way of resisting this threat to their way of life.

So what happened in the end? It is clear that some wool was provided to the mill, but although many of the Duke’s new industrial ventures were successful, the woollen mill at ‘Clunary’ was not. It seems many orders were not completed, and the mill itself was closed within twenty years.
The Auchindrain YouTube channel has a short video of hand-spinning taking place in Taigh Beal Pol, Bell’s House, at Auchindrain.  If you like this video, please like and subscribe to see more videos from the Township.