What’s in the Harris Tweed Authority archive?

Shockingly, I’ve already been here at Tasglann nan Eilean for six weeks! Time is rushing by. After researching the history and context of Harris Tweed and the Harris Tweed Authority, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve begun actually looking at the archive material! This was an exciting step, and one which meant that I could start to get a feel for what types of records are in the collection. Today I thought I’d give you a brief overview of what I’ve found so far.

One of the main roles of the Harris Tweed Authority (HTA) is to safeguard the Harris Tweed trademark, and this is reflected in the archive, with a great deal of correspondence on legal issues. The correspondence covers letters to and from solicitors and patent agents, as well as agents in various countries around the world reporting back on fraudulent Harris Tweed advertising. You may have seen a recent news story talking about how the HTA has appointed a company to monitor online sales of Harris Tweed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-39627877) – this is just an extension of what has been happening for years in the physical realm. There is also correspondence with those accused of misrepresenting the product, with an example penalty being paying for a large advertisement in a popular newspaper stating the true definition of Harris Tweed.

There is also correspondence relating to the passing of the Harris Tweed Act. This took place in 1993, and caused the Harris Tweed Association to become the Harris Tweed Authority. More significantly, it set the definition of Harris Tweed down in law, as being ‘Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides’. This gives Harris Tweed more protection than the trademark did previously.

Papers relating to the development and introduction of the Bonas Griffiths double width loom

Papers relating to the development and introduction of the Bonas Griffiths double width loom

Another key turning point in the history of the Harris Tweed industry, the introduction of the double width loom, is also well-represented. This occurred around the same time as the Harris Tweed Act was passed, but, as is shown in the archive, was being discussed much earlier. The older, single width Hattersley loom was originally brought in in the 1920s, and by the 1970s it has become difficult to find replacement parts, as well as requiring a lot of manual effort to use. There was also a great deal of demand in the garment market for double width cloth – c.150cm wide rather than the c.75cm produced by the Hattersley loom. After much debate, production of prototypes, running of training, and arrangement of loans for weavers to purchase the new equipment (all of which is evidenced in the archive), the Bonas Griffiths double width loom began to be used in the mid-1990s – though there are still some weavers using the single width Hattersley loom today.

A Harris Tweed Association ledger

A Harris Tweed Association ledger

In addition to the correspondence mentioned above, there are a number of fascinating volumes included in the archive, some of which date back almost to the founding of the Harris Tweed Association (1909). These volumes variously contain accounts, minutes, and even stamping logs – lists of how much cloth was produced by each weaver each month, and stamped by the Harris Tweed Association inspector. They would likely be especially valuable to anyone researching the Harris Tweed industry, or a particular weaver, so it will be great to have them catalogued.

This is just a taste of the type of records to be found in the Harris Tweed Authority archive. Later blog posts will focus on specific subjects or groups of records in more detail, so look out for those. In the meantime, follow the @HTAarchive Twitter account for daily Harris Tweed-based updates, images, and links!

Harris Tweed Association ledger showing expenses from July 1911 to January 1913

Harris Tweed Association ledger showing expenses from July 1911 to January 1913

 

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