This monochrome pic is taken from a temporary exhibition at Scotland’s Jute Museum@Verdant Works Dundee. The exhibition runs in the Social History Gallery until July 13th. And the fact it’s a woman in the picture is symbolic since at its height in the late 19th and early 20th Century the Dundee
Jute Industry’s near 50,000 workforce in 125 mills was dominated by female and child labour because women and children were cheaper to employ.
When rows and rows of these machines were thundering away the noise was horrendous and many of the workers went deaf and experienced hearing loss. As a boy of eight or nine I remember walking home from school past a then working jute mill. This would be around 1960 when the 50,000 of 1900 had shrunk to a still substantial 10,000 or so the employers having moved much of the industry back to India where there was cheaper labour and no transport costs. On the street I used to have to cover my ears such was the noise. And when I got a bit older I thought if it was like that on the street outside what on Earth was it like working there every day?
Nowadays in Verdant Works no more than a couple of machines are demonstrated at a time – the tour isn’t that authentic it damages people’s hearing! So the looms in Dundee are not totally silent these days – just close to. But one noise you can hear twice a day in Verdant Works Museum is the ‘bummer’ or factory hooter. It sounded in a working jute mill in the city for the last time in 1999. This was the end of a story which started in the 1820s when the first bales of jute landed on the Tay. If you’re in town do come and visit and hear the story. The exhibition runs till July but the Museum is open all year.