Stocking making began as a domestic craft, but after the introduction of the stocking frame in about 1770 it began to grow into an important industry throughout Dumfriesshire and Galloway. By the mid 1790s there were about thirty stocking frames at work in Maxwelltown and Dumfries. The industry remained relatively small scale until 1810, when Robert Scott went into partnership with William Dinwiddie and developed stocking and hosiery making. Others followed and by the 1830s hosiery was giving employment to over 300 people in Dumfries and the surrounding villages. 350 to 400 stockings, socks, drawers and flannel shirts, were made every week, with a capital turnover of £20,000 a year.
Hosiery continued to expand and by 1869 there were more than 500
frames or stocking looms in Dumfries and district. At this period
there were five leading firms - R Scott & Sons, Milligan &
Co, James Dinwiddie & Co, all of Dumfries, and William Halliday
and Robert McGeorge, both of Maxwelltown on the other side of the
River Nith. The industry employed over 500 workers.
J & D McGeorge
After a period of amalgamations and partnership changes, James
McGeorge emerged as the largest firm in the Dumfries hosiery trade.
From 1885 this firm specialised in the production of gloves on
knitting machines designed and developed in their own works.
Further expansion took place from 1888 when the vast St Michael's
Mills became vacant and McGeorge's transferred business to the
weaving sheds there. By 1902 the firm also had part of the
Nithsdale Mills where 700 - 800 workers, mostly young women, were
employed. McGeorge's also operated a glove factory in Sanquhar, and
other smaller units in the country districts around Dumfries. The
firm made woollen gloves, stockings and ties of silk and
J A Robertson & Sons
J A Robertson & Sons, latterly known as Drumohr Knitwear,
was founded in 1773 by James Paterson, a burgess stocking maker in
Dumfries. In 1805 he moved to the farm of Nunland on the road to
Castle Douglas and started making knitting machines, hiring several
out to local workers. The premises at Saughtrees, between the Annan
and Lockerbie roads, were acquired in 1870 and remained the centre
of operations for the next 130 years. In 1851 the firm exhibited a
sample of hand framed hosiery at the Great Exhibition in London. A
similar example was shown at the Festival of Britain exhibition a
century later, in 1951.
Stockings in jacquard colour patterns were the firm's most famous product, and were sold through Harrods in London to members of the Royal Family. George V wore them and Queen Mary used to return worn ones, via Harrods, to the Dumfries factory for refooting.
The Royal connection was kept up until recent times. Lady Diana Spencer wore a predominantly pink argyle pullover made by Robertson's shortly after her engagement to Prince Charles, a photograph of which appeared in many newspapers and magazines.
The firm ran into difficulties during the Second World War, when the factory was requisitioned and the Robertson brothers were required to teach the owners of rivals McGeorge's of Dumfries and Pringle's of Hawick, the methods of manufacturing the Drumohr range of knitwear.
After the war recovery was slow but strong, and the workforce of 20 was eventually increased to the pre-war total of 200, with smaller factories established in Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright, New Galloway and Gatehouse of Fleet.
In spite of fierce competition and changing fashions hosiery continued as an important industry in Dumfries until the 1990s, when both remaining companies, J A Robertson & Sons and J & D McGeorge, were forced to close.