Bargarran Thread

Christian Shaw

We next meet Christian Shaw in 1719 when she married the Rev John Millar,  Minister of Kilmaurs about 1719. Not a lot is known about this marriage except that it was short lived.  In 1721, the Rev. Millar passed away rather suddenly. After his death Christian Shaw went with her mother, who was also now a widow, to Holland to observe Dutch spinning techniques, sketching the innovative thread production process in operation there. She is said to have smuggled some machinery back to Scotland in her luggage. This may have been a machine which twisted three lengths of yarn into a strong thread.

Christian Shaw and her mother in Holland

The new methods resulted in a more durable thread and was soon selling well in the locale. So much so that Shaw established a small thread manufacturing company “The Bargarran Thread Company” in nearby Johnstone. This involved a twisting mill from Holland, which ran twelve bobbins at a time, turned by hand.

Samples were taken to England and met with much praise. Lady Blantyre, the wife of the judge who presided over the witchcraft trial of 1697, took samples to Bath,  Bargarran thread was soon patronised by the upper classes.
Bargarran Thread became famous and, as happened frequently during the history of the thread trade, the honest producer was imitated by a host of inferior makers, and Bargarran had to fight for its rights.

Thus linen thread manufacture began. Christian Shaw’s invention and introduction of fine thread manufacturing to Renfrewshire helped spark a country wide industry by the early 18th century.
Shaw spent increasing amounts of time in Edinburgh from the 1720s onwards and was based in Leith. She established a spinning school in the city, taking donations that were distributed to trainee girls. She was by now one of the highest earning women in Scotland. By the 1730’s Christian could be found in Edinburgh advising the Board of Trade and Manufacturing on how to improve thread manufacturing. Within 2 years she was appointed as the first Edinburgh Spinning School Mistress on a salary of £50 per year. The Spinning Schools would appear to have been Christian’s idea.

Shaw married William Gillespie, a glove manufacturer, in Edinburgh in 1737 but this marriage too, was not to last long. She died on 8th September 1737, and is buried in Grey Friars Kirk, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh – 1700s
Greyfriars Kirk Cemetery

This advertisement was widely circulated at the time-


The Lady Bargarran and her daughters having attained to great perfection in making, whitening and twisting of Sewing Threed, which is as cheap and white, and known be experience to be much stronger than the Dutch, to prevent people’s being imposed upon by other threed, which may be sold under the name of “Bargarran Threed,” the papers in which the Lady Bargarran and her daughters at Bargarran, or Mrs Miller , her eldest daughter at Johnstone, do put up their threed, shall, for direction, have thereupon their coat of arms, Azure, three covered cups. Those who want the said threed, which is to be sold from five pence to six shillings per ounce, may write to the Lady Bargarran at Bargarran, or Mrs Miller at Johnstone, to care of the Postmaster at Glasgow, and May call for same in Edinburgh, at John Seaton, Merchant, his shop in Parliament Close, where they will be served either Wholesale or Retail; and will be served in the same manner at Glasgow, by William Selkirk, Merchant, in Trongate.

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