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The Model Village Of Portlaw

Portlaw A Nineteenth Century Industrial Village

7. The Model Village Of Portlaw

Aerial View Of PortlawMany myths have originated as to how Portlaw acquired it's distinct layout, which is still intact and evident today. As can be observed from the 1901 map, it consists of a central square from, which radiates a web of five streets, converging to form three distinct triangles. Among the most popular myth is the story that David Malcolmson on sitting down to plan the village laid his hands upon the table, and decided to build Portlaw in the shape of a hand, with the palm signifying the square and the four main streets, the four fingers. Another myth was that the streets represented the rays of the sun. However, as mentioned previously, the industrial village is utilitarian rather than beautiful, and this was the case in Portlaw. It was a functionally, practically built village. Portlaw was built for the betterment of the workers and it was shaped by the characters of its originators. That is, the Malcolmsons were practical business people and therefore in designing Portlaw it was laid out with practicality in mind. The main purpose of its layout was to serve the outpourings of the people from the factory. Therefore the village layout was admirably suited to the particular needs of the community. The roads of the streets were 40 feet wide and the pavement 12 feet wide. It is said that on a wet day some workers arrived home dry, due to the crowds of people all converging on the square after work had finished. At the height of the factory's prosperity, it was employing well over 1,000 people. In order to accommodate these people, emerging out of the one building at the same time practicality was required and therefore implemented in the case of Portlaw. Credence must be given to the myths to a certain degree. However, it must be acknowledged, if the layout was not practical and beneficial it would have been discarded. Aesthetically speaking, the village was quite pleasant, with three major buildings forming the pivot of each triangle. Although the above layout is the shape of Portlaw that is known and referred to in any literature on Portlaw, nobody has mentioned previously the map of 1841. As can be seen from this map the layout is quite different to the present one! However, it has always been assumed that the web pattern was the original layout, evidently this is not so. The Malcolmsons arrived in Portlaw in 1825, and it cannot be said that perhaps they had not begun to develop the village by 1841, because at this point the population was 3,647 and there were 458 houses in comparison to the 71 inhabited in 1821, previous to the Malcolmsons. Also in 1841 according to the census, 31 houses were being built

Unquestionably Portlaw was not built in a day, therefore the 1841 layout must have been a stage in the development. Streets identifiable in the 1841 edition, appear to be Brown Street, Main Street, Bridge Street and several other small streets. Interestingly enough in Griffith's valuation of 1852 the Malcolmsons appear to be only immediate lessors of a few houses in those streets, and as shall be seen in 1852 they were major lessors in other streets which apparently were not developed in 1841. By 1901, they were ground landlord to the majority, if not all the houses, in the streets listed above. Also by 1901 the web layout was in tact. I feel, therefore, that one can only presume that as time progressed and the factory employed more persons, the Malcolmsons on building more houses redeveloped the village. This redevelopment must have taken place between 1841 and 1871, as these twenty years were the post productive for the Malcolmsons.

It must be acknowledged that the Malcolmson family were not the only people to benefit from their cotton factory, there being many others who were laymen to the prosperous Portlaw. That is people who moved to Portlaw with the advent of the Malcolmsons, to serve the growing population. Many people extracted wealth from Portlaw as a consequence of the Malcolmsons establishing a flourishing economy in the little village. Trade directories give ample proof of this. Take for example, Slaters directory of 1846, he describes Portlaw as "a thriving little village", and carries on to say that "twenty years ago there was scarcely a cabin to be seen on the spot which is now the site of a flourishing colony, busy and joyous with the hum of renumerated industry" (Slater 1846: pg 303). Much more practical and interesting are the lists he gives of public house owners, shopkeepers and traders. In all he recorded 31 shopkeepers and traders as well as 7 public house owners.

Table 3 Various Trades As Listed By Slaters & Pigots Commercial Directory

As the table above shows Portlaw over time became a well-supplied village. The high numbers of grocers, drapers, bakers vintners-etc, all prove as indicators to the prosperity of the traders as well as the people. Evidently enough the only reason there is such an array of trades is because of the need of them by' the inhabitants. Also it must be mentioned that because vintners, coal merchants etc are not mentioned in 1846 does not necessarily mean that they were not established in the village, as the 1846 data is taken from a different directory to the 1886 and 1893 one.

These trade directories also proved to be beneficial in another way. Many of the traders named in the directories, reappear as immediate lessors of property and housing in Griffiths valuation of 1852. Evidently the Malcolmsons could not build enough houses for their employees. Also houses had to be built for the many others who came to Portlaw during the nineteenth century, but who were not employed in the factory e.g. farmhands, lime burners, builders etc. It may be presumed therefore that many people built houses to accommodate the growing population, thus accounting for the large number of houses not leased by the Malcolmsons in 1852. The table below indicates this necessity for housing by virtue of the increase in population between 1821 and 1871.

Table 4 Housing & Population In Portlaw 1821 - 1891

Evidently the factory had a multiplier effect. If in 1850 it was employing 1,362 people, they obviously had to be fed and clothed, thus providing many spin off industries. However, the traders and merchants were not - the only people to profit from the factory. Many lay unskilled labourers were required as well as servants and domestic staff. Also quite a large number were required in the neighbouring countryside to man the farms and help in the production of produce consumed in the town itself. In 1841 out of a total of 677 families, 323 were dependent on agriculture and 276 on manufactures and trade. A more detailed account is given in the tables below taken from data in the 1871 census.

Table 5 Male Occupation Class 1871

Table 5.1 Female Occupation Class 1871

Both tables above show clearly where the population not employed in the factory were working. I thought it most peculiar that in the male classification, the agricultural labourers were attributed a higher-class category than the skilled craftsmen in the factory. Seemingly class categories and social classes were an intrinsic part of the industrial revolution. This is evident enough in the table above, which shows that the skilled craftsman, although given a lower class category than the agricultural labourer , is in turn attributed a higher one than his unskilled partner in the factory. Also in the female classification, the woman was given a higher status if the wife of a shopkeeper rather than being a shopkeeper herself, or working in the factory. It is interesting to note here, how the women in the factory were not just unskilled labourers; in fact there were fewer unskilled female labourers in the factory than males. By comparison it is observed that the females made a higher number of skilled labourers than the males, the males in fact were largely employed as unskilled labourers.

As the above information shows, Portlaw had a large spectrum of workers to cater for, all requiring basic facilities such as housing. Also as shown, many were not factory employees. Therefore, a large number of people served to profit from Portlaw as a prosperous town in the nineteenth century.

Richard Griffith was the Commissioner of Valuation in 1838, and he created a system for building an agricultural valuation assessment. This assessment was based on "an' estimate of the intrinsic or absolute value modified by the circumstances which govern house lettings" (Griffith 1853). In determining the valuation of the building many factors were taken into account, such as age, state of repair etc. This entire aside, the most important thing to realise about the valuation is that the immediate lessor may have been himself leasing the land from another landholder, and in turn subletting it.

Griffiths Valuation was in 1852, by 1901, some of the streets had disappeared, others were to be renamed. The data below enables the reader to see how the Malcolmsons came to be lessors of property in 1901, which they were not lessors of in 1852, and also class category is outlined. The 1901 class categories being derived from census material and the 1852 from the authors categories as outlined in Research Methodology.

Table 6 Number Of Houses Leased By Malcolmsons & Their Class Categories For The Years 1852 and 1901

General information from the 1841 Census tells how 313 out of 458 houses were 3rd class. Also the majority of houses in 1901 are 3rd class houses, however a 3rd class house had walls made of stone or brick or concrete. They also had roofs of wood or thatch and the majority had two, three or four rooms. The general standard of the housing aside, it must be acknowledged that although the Malcolmsons were building and supplying these houses for their workforce, they were also profiting in a big way, as they obviously were receiving rents from over a hundred plus houses each week. The Malcolmson houses, however, were quite comfortable. if practicality was implemented in the layout of the street pattern, it also prevailed in the building of the workers houses.

The Malcolmson houses were very distinctive and they were let at a cheaper rate than other houses in the village 30% cheaper. They were of single storey design, the roof was semi-flat with a one inch by one inch of lattice timber truss, this in turn was covered by calico ~ a kind of cotton cloth -, manufactured in the factory, and then covered with tar. These types of roofs were unique to Portlaw and became known as "Portlaw roofs". These roofs were very durable and still are to be seen today, as many of the flat roofs in Brown Street, William Street and Bridge Street are "Portlaw roofs". The house itself consisted of a front and back door, and also a small yard to the back. It also contained a passage hall and initially branching from this hall, two rooms. Each room had a fireplace making the rooms very warm and cosy, as the fireplace in each house lay back to back the fireplace in the next, thus each house benefited from the heat of four fires. In summer though, the twelve-foot high ceilings afforded a sense of space and airiness.

It is only now I feel that one may understand why the, Malcolmsons are called the makers of Portlaw. They built a factory, which with hindsight is perceived as being in the nineteenth century, a hundred years ahead of its time. They also constructed a model village in which they housed their workers, and as outlined, these houses were comfortable and practical, never ostentatious. They still did, however, serve the needs of their inhabitants, and were certainly appealing to the eye in structure and shape. However, the Malcolmsons did not stop developing after building the houses, they simultaneously tried to maintain a high standard of living for their workers. As shall be outlined in Victorian Virtues And Social Control they set high standards for the workers to pursue, as well as seeing to their well being, their comforts and necessities. Unquestionably they remained always benefactors of the village.

Author: Tina Foran

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