James Bruce (1754-1819), the weaver


The births of James and Amelia’s children match perhaps the peak of the handloom weaving trade. A year or so after the birth of young James, the trade was very depressed in the county of Angus in 1801, and again in 1803-04, when output fell by a third. Although 1810 saw a very high demand for linen, the disruptions from the Napoleonic Wars could cause havoc and in 1811-12 Dutch flax was virtually unobtainable, leading to high unemployment. One Dundonian wrote to a friend in February 1811, “The commercial credit of Angus is shaken to its foundations and Perth I fear is far from secure.”

As is often the case, the end of the Napoleonic Wars saw a deep recession with a meal riot at Ayr and severe hardship everywhere. Although James was now about 60, his two sons were 21 and 15, so the family might have had a better chance than some.

Government policies were blamed for the recession and a host of petitions from various groups within the working classes followed. These movements centred in Glasgow, but there were offshoots in Dundee and Perth. There were all kinds of rumours; that they were armed, that they planned the overthrow of the government and the seizure of the property of the upper classes. In fact, nothing was done until February 1817 when some of the ringleaders were arrested and Scottish radicalism entered a period of decline.

Howff stone 738 for James Bruce

Howff stone 738 erected in 1831 by John Bruce, for his father, James, and his sister, Helen

On 2 February 1819, James Bruce died at the age of 64 years. If the monument in the Howff is taken at face value, James was buried in the Howff graveyard, in the same grave where his daughter Helen had been laid to rest nine years previously.