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  William Wilson and the Modernisers

The majority of the pre-1850 patterns bearing clan names can only be traced back to the early 19th century and to the famous weaving firm of William Wilson and Sons of Bannockburn, near Stirling.

William Wilson started a family weaving business south of the Highland boundary in Bannockburn where, being unaffected by the 1746 Disarming Act, he was able to flourish. He cornered the growing market for supplying tartan to the military and gentry in southern Scotland, and to the increasing number of Highland Regiments. The need for mass-production to meet large military orders was one factor (standard colours and setts for easy production), while another was the increasing control over the Scottish troops by a centralised and modernised government (distinguishing one troop from another).

Wilson met and discussed traditional patterns with various chiefs and authorities, and he must have been a fine diplomat because he gained agreement on a standard sett for many families. He even designed a tartan for Wilson, a family with no clear homeland at that time (at left). The standardised colours and patterns devised by Wilson were certainly in use by the 1780's, and the range offered by his weaving firm continued to grow with the increase in the demand for tartan throughout the 19th century.

The first aniline dye was introduced in 1856, yet by that time the use of standard colours and colour terminology had been practised by the Wilsons for over seventy years. His family of weavers had already firmly established a way of recording, defining and reproducing tartans of quality and consistency. The Wilsons named some of their patterns after towns and districts in the second half of the 18th century, and towards the end of the century the use of family names for tartans became more common. That practice continued for the next fifty years, and in 1819 they compiled their in-house reference manual - the '1819 Key Pattern Book', also known as the 1819-KPB.