Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Big Man Tait

Baker Place has a clock. You can't miss it. There was a refurbishment of Baker Place a few years ago, when they paved the area and put little lights in the ground and put in some benches and cleaned up the clock. It's popular with the baby goths of a Saturday. I don't think it chimes anymore,[ I was wrong, it chimes!-it chimes!] but it tells the time. It's called 'Tait's Clock' .

But who was 'Tait'? —that doesn't sound like a Limerick name, and why does he have a clock for himself, standing there in the middle of everything?

Well I'll tell you. 'Taito' was a Caledonian chap born far away on the Shetland Islands in 1818. It's likely that he intended to emigrate to America but only got as far as Limerick before he found himself in need of a job sharpish. Fortunately for him, Scots were favoured in the drapery trade and he was a Scot, and even more fortunately, the firm of Cumine and Mitchell in Georges St (now O'Connell St.) was run by Scots.

So there he was, a lucky young man indeed in 19th Century Limerick, with a position in a drapers shop no less. Which meant he slept and lived in the shop, and spent the majority of his life there as more or less a slave. That was the way for folk like-as-what-had-nothing back in the day and most people would've said he was lucky to be there.

That 'luck' didn't last and when business dropped off he was given his marching orders. He offered to work for no wages if he could just have grub and somewhere to kip but the answer was no.

Not a good time for the Taitster. With the small bit of cash that he had, he got himself a basket and some shirts. Sailors off the boats at Arthur's Quay, he reasoned, would have money in their pockets and be in need of a new shirt, so he hung around the quays hawkin' shirts out of a basket.

Apparantly, this turned out to be a good earner and after a while he was able to purchase a new-fangled Singer sewing machine and to pay a woman to make shirts.
Not until he was 32, did he have the wherewithal to rent rooms in Bedford row and employ a number of women but in 1850 this is exactly what he did. Three years later, he advertised positions for 500 workers.

What had happened was that our man Tait had got an army contract. The British War Office had been petitioned by the Lord Lieutenant for the job, and Tait could do it way chaper than anyone else in her majestie's Empire. How? Simple, long before Mr Ford supplied cars in any colour so long as it's black, Peter Tait invented the production line system.

There you have it.

Throughout history, all garments had been individually made, with the same seamstress/tailor making-up the garment completely. This took a lot of time. Tait's system was to revolutionise clothing manufacture - indeed all kinds of manufacture - by having each of a number of workers completing one simple operation. So by the time the shirt reached the last worker, it only required the finishing touches.
The 'production line' was invented here, in Limerick Citaye!

More Tait-related stories of facination and wonder [and I'll explain about the clock ]tomorrow.


  1. Fascinating. I did not know that. Did a little Google myself, and he's quite big in US Civil War circles too.




  2. Brilliant, love this description, even though I know about the history of Tait in Limerick it is great to see it in such a light-hearted way.