[1964:] Mary Brookbank [sic!], herself a jute worker in what is acknowledged to be a low paid sector of a badly paid industry, wrote this lullaby. Since Ewan MacColl introduced it to the folk scene the song has become very popular. (Notes 'Presenting The Ian Campbell Folk Group')
[1977:] [This] sprang from the bones of one traditional verse and a great deal of direct personal experience as a child worker. (Notes Jean Redpath, 'Ballad Folk')
[1979:] 'The life of the women workers of Dundee right up to the thirties was ... a living hell of hard work and poverty. It was a common sight to see women, after a long ten-hour-day in the mill, running to the stream wash-houses with the family washing. They worked up to the last few days before having their bairns. Often they would call in at the calenders from their work and carry home bundles of sacks to sew. These were paid for at the rate of 5d for 25, 6d for a coarser type of sack. Infant and maternal mortality in Dundee was the highest in the country.' (Mary Brooksbank, 'No Sae Lang Syne: A Tale of This City', quoted in Henderson/Armstrong 154f)
[1986:] By Mary Brooksbank, a former jute mill worker, from her collection of poems entitled 'Sidlaw Breezes'. (The Scottish Folksinger 154)
[1986:] From the latter half of the 19th century until the late 1960s, Dundee was the centre of a thriving jute industry, which employed a large segment of the town's labour, adults and children alike. For most of the 20th century women dominated the workforce. Men were due pay rises at the ages of 16, 18 and 21, and employers often preferred to lay men off rather than grant the extra wages. There is some evidence to suggest that men were not keen to adopt the new power looms when they were introduced in the 19th century, and so the employers willingly replaced the workforce with women. This also ties in with the theory that the employers, keen to avoid strike action from the male unions, found women 'more manageable'. It was quite common for a married woman to go out to work at the mill, and for her husband to stay at home, looking after the house and children. (Gatherer 80)
Shifting, piecing and spinning were three jobs of work on the 'flett' - the platform on which the spinning machinery stood. The shifter was the person who removed full bobbins from the spinning frames and replaced them with empty ones. These workers were also called 'doffers' [...]. Some parts of this song are likely to have been taken from an older song. Charlie Lamb heard from his father that 'ten and nine' [ten shillings and ninepence] was the pay rate for jute workers before the First World War, in the form of a gold half-sovereign and ninepence. (Gatherer 96)
[1991:] This outstanding song was written by the diminutive Mary Brooksbank from Dundee. Although small in stature, Mary was an active spokesperson for the working class in general and the jute millworkers in particular. At the age of thirteen Mary began work as a shifter [...]. To quote Nigel Gatherer [...] "Her songs of the mill and the hardships of the jute workforce are from first-hand experience and invaluable in telling the story of the demise of the industry. Mary died in 1980, at the age of eighty-two." (Notes Ray Fisher, 'Traditional Songs of Scotland')
[Fri, 10 May 2002 12:30:44 EDT] Siobhan Tolland wrote:
I was so glad to see your web site had Mary Brooksbank songs, especially the Jute Mill Song. I am doing a thesis on Mary Brooksbank and I thought you might like this piece of information regarding the Jute Mill Song.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Mary regarding the origin of the song itself.
Recorded in Interview with Mary Brooksbank by Hamish Henderson;
SA 1968.317.Mary Brooksbank, A4. School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh
Mary Brooksbank :And then insidework, they used to sing the Jute Mill song you know and when I grew up I put the words, the verses to it that wis Oh Dear me they used to go aroond 'the mill's gaen fest, the puir wee shifters canna get a rest.
Song; The Jute Mill Song
Hamish Henderson: And how much of that was what they were singing in the mill and how much did you add to it?
Mary Brooksbank: Only the ditty, 'Oh dear me, the mill's gaen fest.
, the puir wee shifters
' The verses are all mine. And that verse, 'to feed and cled my bairnie' was brought to me by a lassie who was worried. It wis hard lines if she, ye hid an illigitimate child and you had to pay for it aff that meagre wage, you know what I mean, and she used to say, oh I wish the day was done. And eh, tell me her troubles, her trackles, what she hid tae dae for her bairn and that, nae help that sort o' thing, and that brought that tae mind. And then I used to think on my own aboot how ill divided the world wis. My mother put me into service for a period; tried to make me genteel you know. She gave me a lovely outfit but it did'na suit me, it was the worst thing she could have did because I saw right away the contrast between their homes and ours, you know, thon's o' the gentry and ours