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Whitefields and Bleaching

Around 1905, cotton fabric was bleached by exposure to natural elements - rain, sun, and dew. This process was very slow and laborious, taking weeks or months in various processes of steeping in alkaline lyes called 'bucking', washing it clean, steeping it in buttermilk, spreading it on the grass and exposing it to the sun - called grass bleaching or 'crofting.' The fabric was strewn over the fields, creating an area of  literally ‘white fields’. This gave rise to the name of the area in Lennoxtown currently known as Whitefield.

Occasionally, when nature needed a little assistance, copious amounts of water would be sprinkled over the cotton in the dry weather, and the pieces would be turned as required. Although the process was tedious, it was thought that the durability of the cloth compared favourable with that subjected to speedier, more modern, chemical processes.  

Beech hedges, called ‘The Lines’, ran east and west around the field, affording protection for the areas where the cloth was bleached. The remains of these lines may possibly still be visible between Whitefield and Grey Stane.

Sentry boxes were erected in each of the fields for the shelter and protection of excise men, who were appointed to ensure that the duty of sixpence per yard was duly paid.

In addition to tax on printed cloth, other materials used in various bleaching and printing processes, also had excise duty levied. For example, from 1782-1816, the duty on hard soap was 2 1/4d. Soft soap, 1 ¾ d   per lb. After 1816, the duty on hard soap was raised to 3d per lb. 

The need for the lengthy, tedious bleaching processes changed mainly due to the skill of Charles Tenant, then a bleacher at Darnley near Glasgow, and Charles Mackintosh, one of the founders of the Alum company. They discovered that a weak solution of Chloride of Lime could bleach the cotton as well as if it had been exposed for several weeks or even  months. 

Whitefield Housing Scheme

[It has been written elsewhere that the first row of houses built in Lennoxtown shortly after the Calico Print Works opened in the late 1780's, was Whitefield. This can't be true since the Whitefield houses were not built until 1937. It is more likely to have been Service Street, or Crosshill Street]

As mentioned above, the  area where the cotton fabric was strewn around to bleach in the fields gave rise to the name Whitefield.  Houses were eventually built here, the first sod being cut by Mr. Thomas Johnston on January 20th 1937. Laying of the sewers was approved on April 28th 1937, and the decision to install electric lamps was made on August 3rd 1938. Plans for extension of water mains and sewers and for the erection of the lamps were approved on August 2nd 1939.  The erection of 22 houses was approved on October 4th 1939.


More on Calico Printing

Calico printing was an art associated with the district around Calicut, off the east coast of India. Calicut produced grey cloth, a plain cotton cloth which took its name Calico from the town.

Hand blocked printing of fabrics which had been used in China and India from earliest recorded time, continued to be used until the industrial revolution, when many new machines were introduced.  Arkwright's water frame in 1798, and James Watts steam engine, meant calico printers were able to supply the home market with an abundance of cloth. Bell invented the roller printing machine in 1785, and except for a few refinements, this was still in use in the 1950's.

Prior to the revolution production was often slow and laborious. For example, one man and a boy could only print, in one colour, six pieces of 25 yards per day. If 8 colours had to be used, then 8 men and 8 boys would have been required to print the six pieces, which would measure 150 yards in all.

A major advance was the introduction of the cylinder dyeing machine. It meant that the main colour could easily and quickly be added to the cloth, then any other colours necessary to complete the design could be  block printed. Imperfections in the printing were then filled in by the pencillers, who were always women.

Calico printing was not introduced in Scotland until 1738.

Bleach Fields Clachan of Campsie.jpg (161041 bytes)            Lennoxtown laundry - granny.jpg (128807 bytes)


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