While the plan had been to go castle hopping today, the weather took a wee bit of a turn, and it was raining snow. Cold to the bone-chilling cold. Lucy, Kiki, and I went museum hopping in Dundee instead. Three museums: The Verdant Jute Museum, the MacManus Museum, and the new V & A Design Museum.
The jute industry was the heart of the city of Dundee. In the late 19th century, over 54,000 people were employed in the industry. The featured image shows a map of the trade in jute. Dundee was known as Juteopolis. In 1901 it was at the very height of its power and was a bustling international city with people from Russia, India, the United States, Germany, and Poland. Merchants travelled back and forth between Dundee and the Indian subcontinent.
The raw material was imported from Calcutta and processed in Dundee. It was the women and young children that were used in the mills, and it was the women in charge of the pay packets. In the 1860s, the jute barons of Dundee had set up jute mills on the Indian subcontinent because labour was so cheap. By 1901, the processing of jute was in decline in Dundee and in 1947 at India’s independence, no more jute was shipped to Scotland. A few years later, in 1912, the whaling industry died. So many whales had been killed that the industry was no longer profitable. I was surprised to learn that it was whale oil that made the jute fibres so soft, like cashmere. In 1914, the Scots raised their own local battalion, the 4th Black Watch and went off to fight for British imperialism. It was the first time that many of the men in Dundee had work.
In 1863 the average life expectancy of someone living in the country around Glamis was 60 years. It was 33 years in Dundee. The infant mortality rates in Dundee had one in every three children dying before their first birthday. Infant suffocation was five times greater in Dundee than in Glasgow in the 1880s. The people in Dundee were either impoverished workers or jute barons with a middle class that was pushing for religious and drink reforms. The Temperance Union was growing. But the reality of life was so bleak that most turned to drink. Babies and young children were given ‘bread meat’ which was bread soaked in a cup of water with a wee bit of milk added and a little sugar. As a consequence, people were malnourished and did not grow. Notice the size of the children playing with the hydrant. The doll with its porcelain face was imported and would have been owned by the children of the wealthy jute barons of the city.
The museum is staffed by volunteers who give the most amazing tours. They talk about the life of the workers in the mill and the clerks in the office. The clerks had full-time work and were paid regularly although they did not make much more than those on the floor. The mill workers were paid by the piece of work they completed that day. Others gave tours on the different kinds of jute, the history of the mills in Dundee, and the social impact of working at the mill and the class differences in the city. The entrance fee is 11 GBP and includes a visit to the Discovery. If you ask they will give you a card that is good for visits to the museum for an entire year. The cafe was very reasonable, much more so than any of the other we visited and the sandwiches and soup were quite good. I highly recommend a trip to this museum, children included, if you come to Dundee. Below are some pictures of the various areas of the museum.
The jute dress is what the women working in the mills would wear pre-wedding. I can’t possibly imagine how scratchy it must have been.
This is what the men would put on their backs so that they could carry the big bales of jute. If you look closely at the bottom of the image, you will see a man with one of these on his back.
The mills of Dundee provided sails for the ships, tents for the army, flour sacks, covers for the wagons heading West in the United States, sacks and bags for all manner of things, including linoleum.
This is an image of where the clerks would work. They were required to work standing up all day. Notice the female secretary on the left is seated at her desk!
One of the newer looms that allowed for weaving to take place.
Our guide did not tell us the name of this piece of equipment for the looms. Initially, the women were in charge of two looms. They were paid for piece work which meant if they had to go to the toilet they had to stop their looms. The looms were also connected to clocks to check for efficiency. This device allowed the looms to continue working when the operator had to leave for a few minutes. When the owners discovered this, they put the women in charge of SIX looms! Dundee eventually comes one of the most organised labour cities in England. In fact, Winston Churchill was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party and turned Tory. He was subsequently voted out and had to run elsewhere.
Tomorrow I will take you on a tour of the MacManus Museum.
Tip for those travelling to Scotland. May and June are the best times to come. It is too cold in March and is nice and warm by May. After the end of June, the bugs are so bad that they can almost drive one mad. Thanks, Lizzie for that insight. Also, if you go out into the country, away from the tourist spots, your trip will be much more economical.