History of the Lochgelly Tawse – In The Beginning

It is believed that he started production around 1884 when his son David Crombie Philp (born 1865, died 1939) and Daughter Catherine Philp (born 1867, died 1930) became teachers.

Robert Philp Lochgelly Tawse
(Photo Of Robert Philp Lochgelly Tawse Circa 1884-1906)
R. Philp & Son Makers Lochgelly Tawse
(Photo Of R. Philp & Son Makers Lochgelly Circa 1906-1920)

The teachers liked this new belt it was narrower so easier to wield, firmer so it didn’t wrap around the hand and was well made with no sharp edges to cause serious damage but it didn’t really take the skills of a Master Saddler to make it, so often one of Robert’s 3 apprentices would get the job. As time went on most every saddler and quite a few cobblers would make something similar to this new belt. Approximately 30 other maker’s stamps existed but not all manufacturers would have put a name stamp on their belts so it is safe to assume that there was at least double this number making their own version. The Lochgelly Tawse is estimated to have held the lion’s share of the market some say as much as 70%.
Robert’s youngest son Robert Walker Philp (born 1872, died 1929) joined his father in the family business as an apprentice Saddler when he left school and as the business expanded Robert senior took on another 2 apprentices, James Heggie (born 1876, died 1954) and my Grandfather George Wilson Dick (born 1882, died 1955).
James Heggie stayed with the firm of Robert Philp & Son all his working life, as a fully qualified Saddler he worked for Robert senior till his death in 1926, then worked on for Robert junior till his early death in 1929 and continued on as manager for Robert senior’s widow Margaret until the business was sold and he retired around 1945.
My Grandfather George Wilson Dick started his apprenticeship in 1896 after a brief period down the pit.
Apprenticeships: Serving an apprenticeship in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was very different from a modern apprenticeship today.
My Grandfather’s apprenticeship involved 4 years learning to be a Black Saddler, during this period he would learn how to make Horse Harness which was traditionally black in colour hence the name, this wasn’t for aesthetic reasons horse harness especially for working horses was used day in day out often in dirty wet conditions and black leather could be re-dyed and polished up to look ok again in a way that brown leather couldn’t.
He then went on for a further 3 years learning to be a Brown Saddler, making finer horse bridles and saddles.
These first 7 years of apprenticeship were unwaged in fact the Master Saddler had to be paid for this service. No grants or sponsorship available then, my Great Grandmother would need to foot the bill alone as my Great Grandfather had died when George was just 5 years old leaving 5 children the eldest just 16.
For the next 3 years my Grandfather would be obliged to work on for Mr Philp as ‘An Improver’ and he would finally receive a wage, then he would be free to do as her chose but we could reasonably assume that after paying for his apprenticeship there wasn’t really the funds or will to set up a business for George, not yet anyway so off he went to Cupar where he worked as a Saddlery Journeyman for a while, it is believed that when he returned to Lochgelly he set himself up in an old sentry box, this might seem a little far fetched but it’s surprising how much you can do with a small bench, some tools and a set of clams so I can see this being true, he probably just did repairs at this stage.

George and Janet Dick
George and Janet Dick

Two years on from leaving Robert Philp’s employed (1908) my Grandfather married Janet Downie Urquhart Shand (born 1885, died 1954). My Grandmother’s family were publicans in Cowdenbeath and the famous accordion player Jimmy Shand was her cousin.
Family history has it that all The Shand family started out their married life with a Public House as their dowrie but Janet opted to take cash instead so I assume this dowrie was put to good use when George founded ‘The Yard’ High Street, Lochgelly a year later in 1909.
George set up in business with his brother Robert Shand Dick (born 1878, died 1953) who was a Coach Builder.

How to care for your tawse

The Tawse are hard wearing and durable, but by following proper procedure you can make sure they look the best for as long as possible.

Caring For your tawse