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

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Pic­tures: Kim Cess­ford.

Above: Lesley Bot­ten with the Mel­drum shirt. Right: the Inglisshirt.

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