The Shuttle Rins

by Henry Syme pub. 1849

The weaver’s wife sits at the fire
And ca’s the pirn wheel
She likes tae hear her ain gude man
Drive on the shuttle weel

The shuttle rins, the shuttle rins
The shuttle rins wi speed
O sweetly may the shuttle rin
That wins the bairn’s breid

Thread after thread maks up the claith
Until the wage he wins
And ilka weaver maks the mair
The mair the shuttle rins

He rises early in the morn
He toils fu late at night
He fain wad independent be
He kens what is his right

Although he has nae dainty fare
His wages being sma
Yet he can wi his thrifty wife
Keep hungry want awa

He fondly soothes a neebor’s grief
Or shares a neebor’s glee
And fain tae gie his bairns lair
He gars the shuttle flee

State cormorants may craw fu crouse
And haughty be an’ prude
But were they paid by “ells o keels”
They wadna laugh sae loud

The proudest o the land wad pine
Without the weaver’s wark
The pampered priest, the haughty peer
Wad gang without a sark

Then cheer your hearts ye workin’ men
An’ a like brithers be
Rouse up against restrictive laws
And set industry free.

Ca’s the wheel: makes it go round
Craw: crow, boast
Crouse: smug, arrogant
Ell: measure of length, about a yard
Paid by ‘Ells o keels’: paid not by the hour as wages but by the amount of woven yarn returned by the weaver to the agent
Fain: eager
Flee: fly
Gars: makes
Gudeman: husband
Ilka: every
Keel: mark made with ruddle at each end of the warp, to check that the weaver returned the right amount of woven yarn; or to show him where to cut his cloth
Lair: learning, education
Mair: more
Pirn: the reel or bobbin on which yarn is wound; part of the shuttle
Prude: proud
Rins: runs
Sark: shirt
Shuttle: part that holds the bobbin with the yarn, and is thrown back and forth to weave the yarn.
State cormorants: officials

This song was written as times were beginning to change for hand-loom weavers, who had been home-based independent workers, like the weaver and his wife described here. It appeared in Henry Symes’s book, Poems and Songs Chiefly for the Encouragement of the Working Classes, and encouragement was certainly needed as times grew hard.

Rates of pay for their “ells of keels” declined in the 1820s, first, according to Roy Palmer in The Sound of History, because there were so many weavers and then because of the introduction of steam-power. There were some attempts at banding together to “rouse up against restrictive laws” but in the end there was no escape from the march of manufacturing progress.

The song was published in 1824. By 1834, there were 190,000 adults working in textile mills in Britain, according to Roy Palmer in A Touch on the Times. Of these, roughly 102,000 were women, and young men who could be paid less.

Older hand-loom weavers did not easily adapt to the regulation of their lives by factory hooters “and resented not being able to work part-time in their gardens or small-holdings. The hardships of weavers who did not go into the factories were a national disgrace for many years.” (The Sound of History by Roy Palmer)