….A Tale of this City. It’s the autobiography of Mary Brooksbank Mill Girl Poet and Socialist. A hard back copy was given to my parents when it was first published in the 1970s. They got it from someone who knew someone who was in the Labour Party. I think. And it sat on a bookshelf for many years surviving a number of culls of books in both my parents’ house and my own three houses over the years when it was later bequeathed to me! It’s a survivor like the lady herself was as she stood and fought for the rights of working people not just in Dundee Jute Mills but far far beyond. Even imprisonment did not deter her.
There aren’t many copies of Mary Brooksbank’s autobiography left that I’m still aware of – she died in 1978 – so I’m hanging on to this. Nor are there any plans to reprint that I know of. As an expression of the struggles in which she was involved Mary Brooksbank later took to writing poetry and song. Her most famous work in that regard is of course ‘The Jute Mill Song’ which includes the lines : –
“Shiftin bobbins coorse an fine
They fairly mak ye work fur yir ten an nine.”
These words are engraved above the entrance to the High Mill at Verdant Works Scotland’s Jute Museum in the Blackness area of Dundee and on the Jute Workers’ memorial in the Lochee area of the city. ‘They Fairly Mak Ye Work’ was also the title of Billy Kay’s play about the Jute Industry performed to sell out audiences at Dundee Rep some years ago. Ten and nine for those under a certain age was around fifty three pence – for a week’s work!