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1869 Andrew Burns the Selkirk woolsorter

Andrew Burns the 1869 Cornet was a wool sorter

Wool sorters were the craftsmen who processed the fleece before yarn could be spun.
ifferent breeds of sheep produce vastly different types of wool. The variations include fineness and length of the staple, softness of handle, crimp, colour and lustre, and different types of cloth required wool with different characteristics.
Wool Sorters
identified the correct quality of fleece for a specific cloth, essential to ensuring top quality fabrics and required a high level of skill. The wool sorter worked at a bench on which the fleece was unrolled. Badly soiled parts were discarded, and then the fleece was sorted by sight and touch into wool of the various qualities
” A 1924 video here shows Australian fleeces being sorted in an unidentified Scottish mill, and processed into tweed.

I worked one summer in Wilton Mills as a labourer on the wool sorting gang.

Our job started with lorries bringing in great sacks of fleeces, mostly about 6x10ft, which were winched up to the top flat, where two men with dockers hooks swung the bags into the flat. [Health and Safety Risk Assessments – don’t ask!  They did have a hand grip at the door to hold onto though].
The bags were barrowed in to have the twine cut to release the fleeces.

The wool came from all over Scotland, though mainly from the West, and the size of the bags varied enormously. The largest and most numerous bags were from the big estates, with good clean wool. There were a good many small sacks from crofters, usually crammed with dirty coarse fleeces – so weighty, and unpopular with us. The photo here is from an Australian sheep farm in the 1890s, but shows how those bags must have been trampled full by the farmer, before the flap was sown shut with twine.

Once open, the fleeces were thrown into a large wooden chute in the centre of the flat, throwing it onto the sorting table below – you had to get the pace right or the wool sorters soon let you know. The 1890s Australian photo gives an idea of a farm based sorting, with no upper flat.

The sorters pulled the fleeces apart to assess the quality, and threw it into the big bins around the room – a skilled job, with an apprenticeship lasting up to 5 years.

The bins had to be emptied and wicker baskets pushed around to – I forget what happened next, I wasn’t involved! Much of the wool seemed to be of low quality – the despised “Bradford mattress” grade!

So that was what Andrew Burns was doing in 1869 when he was Cornet.

He was living in the Crown Inn at 20-22 High Street, with his mother Jane Burns

Jane Burns Head 58 b Southdean , Hotelkeeper
Andrew Burns son 21 b Selkirk, Journeyman woolsorter
Agnes Burns daughter 19, b Selkirk
Helen Burns daughter 16, b Edinburgh
Jane Brodie granddaughter 7 b Hawick
Margaret Cowan niece 22 b Selkirk, Waitress
along with Margaret Ker 38 Cook; John Oliver 19 Groom; William Scott 36 Billiard Marker; and Thomas D Kidd 78 a retired dentist from Lilliesleaf.

But that family looks familiar [to me at least !] and looking back to 1861, there is the Burns family keeping the Railway Hotel, 14 Princes Street in Wilton.
Andrew Burns is there as an 11 year old schoolboy, with his younger sisters Helen and Agnes, and cousin Margaret Cowan.
Their father George Burns however, must have died in his early 50s leaving widow Jane as Head of the family to look after the Crown Inn by 1871, with the family to help. Bessy Burns an older sister is there in the Railway Hotel – she might be the mother of the 1871 granddaughter Jane Brodie.

Most interestingly is the oldest son – John Mein Ferguson or Burns – the 1861 Cornet

And sure enough the two half brothers were together in Selkirk with George and Jane Burns at the Crown Inn .
The 1861 Cornet John was described as a stepson, and used the name Ferguson;
and 1869 Cornet Andrew is listed as a son, and a Burns.
[The distinction between sons and stepsons was probably important to the family at that census because 1861 Cornet John’s father James Ferguson, keeper of another Inn in Selkirk, had died only about 4-5 years previously, and Jane had in the meantime married George and moved her family to George’s inn]

Andrew Burns must have enjoyed two Common Ridings more than the others – first in the Railway Hotel as an 11 year old when his older brother John Ferguson/Burns was Cornet in 1861; and then in 1869 in the Crown Inn when he was Cornet.
Not bad going for a couple of Selkirk brothers!


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.


One thought on “1869 Andrew Burns the Selkirk woolsorter

  1. I’m working on my family tree and discovered that my 2xgr grandfather was a woolsorter. I looked up info on woolsorters. I didn’t know what that was so I found your article. It was very interesting. I discovered his occupation on his marrage record dated 13 Oct 1850. His name was William Cockin and he was from Bradford, Yorkshire, England. His wife Nancy was a weaver.

    Posted by Davette Bulloch | March 17, 2013, 20:22

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