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Burgh trade

Burghs produced those goods/services themselves that the local farms could not, and many local trades and crafts were developed from these humble beginnings.  Burghs had a monopoly of local trade, were able to regulate all trade coming into the town and to levy certain taxes. There were four “Incorporated” crafts/trades in Forfar – glovers, shoemakers, tailors & (later) weavers by 1700, with some trades dating from much earlier.


The weekly Forfar markets saw stall keepers from Montrose, Arbroath and many rural villages.  Wool, leather, metal work, pottery and food items (such as herring, salmon, butter, cheese, honey and animal meat) were commonly traded. The Buttermarket still stands to the rear of the Town House today, and here the Tron would be situated.  The Mercat Cross can be traced back to 1230. 


Sutors of Forfar

Forfar’s early Roman and royal origins may have helped start local leather crafts and from these eventually the Forfar shoemaking and glover crafts of the 1600’s.  The Shoemakers Guild formed in about 1626 and was one of the oldest, most numerous and richest in town – that is until the financial benefits of weaving took hold of the local population.  


Forfar was well known in the Angus and other parts for the manufacture of a particular kind of shoe – a wooden soled brogue, made of horse leather that was well adapted to the uses of country people.  This gave rise to the appellation “sutors of Forfar” (Gaelic word for shoemaker) and contributed much wealth to the town.  Canmore Street’s older name was The Limepots – named after the pits where the tanners cured skins for the famous brogues.  The sutors of Forfar and the weavers of Kirriemuir had a longstanding and much celebrated feud, which often resulted in blows.  


Linen Weaving  (from flax to jute – from linen, to osnaburgh, to burlap)

In the early 1700’s in Forfar there were about 40 incorporated weavers making linen from flax, imported from Europe.  The manufacture of Osnaburgh was brought to Forfar in 1745 from an Arbroath weaver who had made a small quantity of flax (unfit for making linen) into a coarse web and offered it to his merchant.  The merchant noticed the similarity to the fabric of Osnaburgh in Germany.  So, the manufacture of Osnaburgh was started in Angus.  

Weaving skills...

... were easy to acquire and with great demand for the product, many local young men turned their hand to it. The work was well-paid from the first day of apprenticeship and when qualified to carry on business for himself, a weaver was able to support a family.  Other professions such as the tailors were less profitable, with skills more difficult to acquire, and so were increasingly less interesting. 

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