” I bought my wife a stane o’lnt,
As gude as e’er did grow,
And a that she has made o’that
is a’e puir pund of tow.
The weary pund, the weary pund,
The weary pund a’tow,
I think my wife will end her life
Before she spins her tow.’
A poem by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796).
The Howe of Fife was a poorly drained boggy area of land where only one crop, flax, was able to grow. So since before the 16th century the production of linen cloth had been the main source of employment locally. In Scotland, linen was known as ‘lint’. The flax was pulled and spun by hand and then woven into cloth on hand looms.
The farmer, in order to get labourers for his farm, gave 10 yards square to the labourer to allow him to sow the ‘lippy’ of lint seed. The flax was grown for the labourers family, who spun and wove the cloth for their own use.
In 1680 the government passed a law declaring that, ‘ hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet or anything else except in plain linen…………………made and spun in the Kingdom.’
There was not a village in the county that did not have it’s hand loom weavers. They were even found in the fishing villages of Crail, Pittenween, Anstruther and Largo. The cottage of the weaver might be described as a ‘but’ and a ‘ben’. The ‘but’ housed the kitchen, beds and living area and the ‘ben’ was a separate room for the loom. As time went by weavers would take their cloths to merchants to sell in Edinburgh and London.