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The craft of making sporrans by hand is at risk, due to cheap imports, but one company is determined to continue making quality products
WORDS AND PHOTOS Jeremy Flint
The making of sporrans has been a part of Scottish culture for centuries. The exact origins of sporrans are unknown, but it is believed that they originated in the 12th century as part of the male Scottish Highland dress. A survival of the medieval purse, the sporran (Gaelic for purse) was in essence the Highlander’s pocket, as they wore kilts rather than trousers.
Traditionally, the sporran, often made of animal skin, was worn around the waist and was gathered at the top by simple drawstrings, and was used to carry oats and other items. Over the years the purpose of a sporran transformed into a way to carry ammunition for Highland soldiers and daily rations, while the three tassels featured at the front, whose original purpose was to hit flies away from the food kept inside, remained. Today, a sporran has evolved from its basic design into a decorative and essential item of Highland dress, which accompanies a Scotsman’s kilt.
They are worn for anything from weddings to special events and significant celebrations, including St Andrew’s Day and Hogmanay, and today they are used to store cash, keys, and mobile phones. Sporrans are still widely used in pipe bands and for ceremonial purposes in the UK and Canadian military too.
According to the Heritage Crafts Association, the art of making sporrans by hand is now an endangered craft with only a handful of workers remaining in Scotland.
One leading light in upholding the craft is William E Scott and Son, a family-run business that has been at the centre of the sporran making industry for decades. Four generations have been at the helm of this company where the tricks of the trade and intricacies of the craft have been kept in the family as the business has passed from father to son over the years.
The business has been serving the people of Edinburgh and its customers for almost 90 years since it was established in 1937. William E Scott and Son still operates from premises in the heart of Edinburgh, where it has been based for more than 50 years.I met up with Eddie Docherty at the company premises in Causewayside, Newington, to find out more about this fascinating tradition. Eddie tells me: “I am a sporran maker by trade and joined the team after leaving school, aged 16, in January 1977, with the help of my sister, who worked there. “She recommended me to the owner, Malcolm, and I have worked here ever since.”
This is an extract. Read the full feature in the June/July issue of Scotland, out on 14 April.
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