The unseen artefacts of Tayside and Fife
While the items kept in museum storage are not always the most eye-catching, more often than not they represent an intriguing story. On the second day of our Hidden Treasures series Leeza Clark visits Dunfermline to examine some garments with hidden depth
DUNFERMLINE IS home to two rare surviving Scottish examples of a shirt namechecked in one of the world’s oldest and most famous ballads.
Scarborough Fair famously tells the tale of a young man who instructs his former love to perform a series of impossible tasks — including the making of a “cambric shirt” without “seam or needlework”.
Indeed the same song can be traced back to a more sinister Scottish version from 1670, known as The Elfin Knight, which recounts the tale of an evil elf who threatens to abduct a young woman, demanding: “For thou must shape a sark to me . . . Without any cut or heme, quoth he.”
While sewing a seamless shirt may have been impossible then, technological advances of the 18th and 19th century proved otherwise.
Only a handful of examples of the shirts — made entirely without seams — are known to have survived in Scotland.
Lesley Botten, the display design and activities curator for the new Dunfermline museum, explained that the shirts were woven in one piece on the loom, using no sewing or needlework.
She said the two pieces held in Dunfermline were rare examples of the town’s loom weaving industry, with the older of them woven by Henry Inglis in the Fife town around 1702.
On the front of the shirt are symbols of the weaving industry and on the back there is the arms of Scotland with a crown and the words: “For the weavers of Dunfermline 1702”.
“We think the weaving symbols were added when the shirt was in the possession of the Dunfermline Weavers Incorporation or Guild,” Lesley said.
While there is no information on Inglis, there are clues to the story of the shirt after it left the guild.
Local historian Ebenezer Henderson wrote that he had it in 1879 and there is evidence it was donated Charles Robertson of Dollar. The second shirt hails fro from 1813 and was created by Henry Meldrum, who is rec recorded as having made threethr different seamless shirts — one of which sold for £5.
Made of fine linen, it hasha a damask panel with lion,lio roses and thistles and Britannia 1813.
Many generations of Meldrums were Dunfermline weavers and there are now members in the America and Australia.
“Of all the known objectso we hold in the Dunfermline collection theth Meldrum shirt is the one that attracts the most inquiries from relatives,” Lesley said.
Above: Lesley Botten with the Meldrum shirt. Right: the Inglisshirt.