Ayrshire History

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ROBERT McLEAN (fl.1763)

Crookedholm weaver and carpet maker

David McClure 2001.

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In 1763 Robert McLean entered into a partnership with William and James Steven, both dyers of Crookedholm, and with Hugh Wylie, a merchant of Kilmarnock, the purpose of which was to manufacture carpets which were to be sold in Edinburgh on commission. James Steven was McLean's cousin. It is not clear whether the other Steven in the partnership was McLean's uncle William, who was certainly involved in setting it up, or his cousin. When some documents concerning such partnerships are to be found in the Court of Session records in Edinburgh, it is inevitably because of a dispute among the partners and probably of failure of the projected business. This is no exception.

Although partnership documents were drawn up, McLean neglected to take legal advice, and proceeded with the business with the documents unsigned. He, as the working partner, expected to draw a salary, which in the normal way would have been treated as an operating cost. The profits of the business after all operating costs would then have been divided among the partners according to their shares in the capital with which they set up the business.

What actually happened, according to representations made on McLean's behalf, is that his partners took a greater value in goods out of the business than they put in, allowed him no payment at all for his time or the rent of his premises, and still James Steven managed to convince a sheriff at the court in Ayr that McLean owed him money.

The business was set up on 15th May 1763 with a capital of 80 - 20 from each of the four partners. Nothing transpired for over a year; then McLean's notebook records meticulously all the materials and parts he bought during July to September 1764, for the construction of the broad loom at a total cost of 7. Most of the carpets produced were supplied in 1765, though in all the dates of supply run from June 1764 to February 1768. Widths ranged from 18 inches to 3 yards. McLean charged his "manufactury" wage of 9 a year each January from 1765 to 1769.

He made payments to the following spinners: "young Francie Bountain; Jane Bountain; Jane Proudie; Izbell Shaw; Margaret Wallace; John Smith Spinners; Andrew Robs wife; James Steal Daughter; Janet Brown; Mary Mair; Jane Wolock; Mary Brachinrige; James Addam wife; Jane Rose; Mary Gemmill; Alexr. Smith wife". The sums involved were small. Between 24th December 1763 and 9th June 1764, Jane Proudie earned 4:6:6. Work from June to September that year brought her a further 2:14:3. The total for Margaret Wallace for work done between December 1763 and August 1764 was 1:1:0.

The following are the chief points from the fourth representation to the Court of Session on behalf of McLean, made in 1776: Judgement had been given against him in Ayr, from his own simplicity and his former agent's inattention, in favour of the charger, James Steven, his near relation, when it was McLean himself who was truly creditor of the company. The partners had agreed to lay out 20 sterling each in buying wool, woollen yarn, spinning, dyeing and weaving looms and other necessary items. At the start McLean's wages were not settled, but he was to have at least 9 yearly fixed, besides house rent, since he was providing the premises for most of the operation. This did not take account of all the work he was to do in running the business, but he was persuaded to go ahead with his proper wages to be settled once the business was running. He "furnished House room for the weaving Looms, the Twinning Miln, & other utensils, all except a Broad Loom which was in a house belonging to the" Stevens.

According to the accounts kept by McLean, when the company dissolved in about 1769, it appeared that Hugh Wylie had paid in cash to the company 35:8:3, and received carpets to the value of 60:13:5. That is, he had drawn from or owed the company 25:5:2. Similarly William and James Stevens paid in money and supplies for the use of the company 54:3:1, but received in goods and money 68:6:2, besides which some part of the company's equipment to the value of 7 and upwards were in James Steven's possession. From all of which, the Stevens owed the company 21:3:1 or more.

So in 1776, 13 years after embarking on the partnership, Robert McLean, a weaver in Crookedholm, was still petitioning the Court of Session for relief from the judgement the Stevens had obtained against him and which, his agent claimed, was sure to ruin him.


The following records are in the NAS, West Register House: CS 96/3174 - a notebook, covering the period 1763-73; CS 96/3175 - a ledger for the same period; CS 21/1776 June 22 - court documents in the case of Steven v. McLean.

David McClure 2001.