Women in Scotland: Servants and Miners

We continue our series on women in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, with a particular focus on employment. The existence of women servants is not a surprise, but women miners may well be! We also look at some of the other jobs women undertook which have not already be mentioned.


In our previous post on women in Scotland, we mentioned the fact that it was hard to employ people as servants during the summer months because they earned more working on the land. However, there were still those who were not willing or able to work in agriculture. In Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, “women-servants receive from L. 2, 1Os. to L. 3 per annum ; but as they are much engaged at home in the plaiting of rye-straw for bonnets, they are unwilling to work in the field, and are generally employed, only in the care of cattle or as house-servants.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 100)

Conversely, farmers in Kinnell, County of Forfar, found it hard to employ women who were working in the weaving industry. “For the farmers, finding it difficult to induce women to leave the loom for the working of the green crop, have been constrained to bring workers from the northern counties. The engagement of these workers is generally for a certain period, at about 8d. or 9d. a day till harvest, when higher wages are necessarily given.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 404)

A painting called 'A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen', c.1765-82, by Henry Robert Morland.

Morland, Henry Robert; A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, c.1765-82. Picture credit: Tate.

Many women had to move away from their parishes to work as servants, such as those in Kirkinner, County of Wigton. “Many of the young women go out as servants to Edinburgh, but particularly to Glasgow and Paisley.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 17) In Walls and Sandness, County of Shetland, “many of the young women, in the character of servants, go to London, Edinburgh, Etc. in the Greenland ships.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 106)

As an aside, in Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty, there was a very interesting custom involving women servants! “The people of the town seldom have menservants engaged for the year; and it is a curious circumstance that, time out of remembrance, their maidservants were in the habit of drinking, every morning, a wine glass full of whisky, which their mistress gave them; this barbarous custom became so well established by length of time, that if the practice of it should happen to be neglected or forgotten in a family, even once, discontent and idleness throughout the day, on the part of the maid or maids, would be the sure consequence. However, since the stoppage of the distilleries took place, the people of the town found it necessary to unite in the resolution of abolishing the practice, by withholding the dear cordial from their female domestics, but not without the precaution of making a compensation to them in money for their grievous loss; and it is said, that even this is not satisfactory, and that, in some families, the dram is still given privately, to preserve peace and good order.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 258)


Women of all ages, even during the time of the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, worked in the mines, carrying the coal up to the surface on their backs! This was particularly prevalent in Alloa, County of Clackmannan and Tranent, County of Haddington. “The depth of a bearing pit cannot well exceed 18 fathom, or 108 feet. There are traps, or stairs, down to these pits, with a hand rail to assist the women and children, who carry up the coals on their backs.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 615) The women were called “bearers”, who carried about 1 1/2 cwt. on their backs, and ascended the pit by a bad wooden stair. In the deeper pits, the coals were carried to the bottom of the shaft by women, and then raised in wooden tubs by means of a “gin” moved by horses.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 287) In Liberton, County of Edinburgh, “the stones from the mine or quarry were formerly carried to the bank-head by women with creels fastened on their backs, and when the works were in full operation, probably fifty women were thus employed.”  (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 19) As reported in Hamilton, County of Lanark, “at Quarter, the first bed worth working is the 10 feet or woman’s coal, so called because it was once wrought by females. This is a soft coal, which burns rapidly; and although called the 10 feet coal, is in reality from 7 to 14 feet in thickness.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 258)

For the actual numbers who worked in the colliery of Alloa in 1780 you can take a look here: OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 619. There are also figures given for those working at the coal mines in the parish of Dunfermline, County of Fife. (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 476) In Lasswade, County of Edinburgh, “there are from 90 to 100 colliers, (pickmen). Women are still employed as bearers below ground; their number may be from 130 to 150.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 281)

In the later Alloa parish report, found in the New Statistical Accounts of Scotland, mining was equated to slavery. It was reported that the condition of colliers had, in the last thirty years, improved “since the women were relieved from the most disgraceful slavery of bearing the coals, and the workman from all charge of the coals, the instant they are weighed at the pit. From, the circumstance of the wives remaining at home to attend to the domestic economy, the houses are much more comfortable and better furnished than they formerly were, and the whole style of living has been improved.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 33) It was felt that not having women working down the pits improved both the character and habits of the people. In the parish report of Tranent, County of Haddington, it was noted that “among a population of colliers, it cannot be expected that the habits of the people should be cleanly; and the injurious practice of women working in the pits as bearers, (now happily on the decline with the married females,) tends to render the houses of colliers most uncomfortable on their return from their labours, and to foster many evils which a neat cleanly home would go far to lessen.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 295)

Other jobs!

Here are some other jobs undertaken by women found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

  • Boot-binding

Linlithgow, County of Linlithgow – “Thirty women are also employed as women’s boot-binders, whose weekly wages average 4s. 6d.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 180)

  • Fuel manufacture

Rathven, County of Banff – “It is the province of the women to bait the lines; collect furze, heath, or the gleanings of the mosses, which, in surprising quantity, they carry home in their creels for fuel, to make the scanty stock of peats and turfs prepared in summer, last till the returning season.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 424)

Kirkinner, County of Wigton – “The day-light, during the winter, is spent by many of the women and children in gathering elding, as they call it, that is, sticks, furze, or broom, for fuel, and the evening in warming their shivering limbs before the scanty fire which this produces.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 147)

Appendix for Kincardine, County of Perth – “The women declare they can make more by working at the moss than at their wheel and such is their general attachment to that employment, that they have frequently been discovered working by moon-light.” (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 175)

Snizort, County of Inverness – “The fuel is peats, which the women carry home in creels on their backs, from a very great distance.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 295)

Lismore and Appin, County of Argyle – “Peats are the only fuel in both parishes. The process of making them in Lismore is difficult beyond conception, as they are first tramped and wrought with men’s feet, and then formed by the women’s hands. There is a necessity for this; because the substance of which they are made contains no fibres to enable them to cohere or stick together. This tedious operation consumes much of the farmer’s time, which, in a grain country, might be employed to much better advantage; and affords serious cause of regret that the coal-duty is not taken off, or lessened, which would remove the everlasting bar to the success of the fishing villages, and to improvements in general over all the coasts of Scotland.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 490)

  • Varnishing wooden boxes

Old Cumnock, County of Ayrshire – “One set of artists make the boxes, another paint those beautiful designs that embellish the lids, while women and children are employed in varnishing and polishing them. The process of varnishing a single box takes from three to six weeks. Spirit varnish takes three weeks, and requires about thirty coats; while copal varnish, which is now mostly used, takes six weeks, and requires about fifteen coats to complete the process. When the process of varnishing is finished, the surface is polished with ground flint; and then the box is ready for the market.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 486)

  • Plaiting straw

Orphir, County of Orkney – “Almost all the young women have, for many years, been employed in winter in plaiting straw for bonnets.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 20)

Stromness, County of Orkney – “There are a few straw plait manufacturers, who employ a number of women in the town as well as in the country. This manufacture has been, for some time past, upon the decline; and, being at all times dependent upon the caprice of fashion, has lately afforded a scanty subsistence to the many young females who totally depend on it for their support. They are now allowed to plait in their own homes, which has been found more conducive to their health and morals, than doing so collectively, in the houses of the, manufacturers, which was the original custom. -There is a small rope manufactory, where ropes of various kinds are made, both for the shipping and for country, use. From the former Account, it appears there was a considerable quantity of linen and woolen cloth manufactured. This business has now wholly ceased here, being superseded by the perfect machinery now in use.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 32)

  • Salt sellers

Duddingston, County of Edinburgh – “Their labours afforded employment to above 40 carriers, all women, who retailed the salt in Edinburgh, and through the neighbouring districts.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 368)

  • Lace makers

Hamilton, County of Lanark – “The lace trade, established here about eight years ago by a house at Nottingham, which sent down a number of English women, who took up schools and taught the tambourers here the art, is now in a thriving state, and is contributing greatly to the happiness and comfort of the community.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 294) “From a census taken some months ago, and which seems to be accurate, there has been an increase [in population] of 309, which may be attributed to the introduction and flourishing condition of a lace-manufactory, which now employs a great many females.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 276)

  • Potato-starch makers

Spott, County of Haddington – “The only thing of this sort [manufactures] carried on in the parish, is a manufactory of potato-starch, or flour, on the farm of Easter Broomhouse. It employs six women for six months in the year. The flour is principally used by manufacturers of cloth; and sometimes by bakers and confections in large towns.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 230)

For a fascinating insight into the industries found in Scotland in the nineteenth century take a look at the book ‘The industries of Scotland; their rise, progress, and present condition‘ by David Bremner, published in 1869.


The last three blog posts illustrates just how important the role was for women in society. They worked in all sorts of sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, and even mining at one point. They supported themselves and helped support their families, showing resourcefulness, adaptability, and willingness to work hard.

We will continue this series on women in Scotland by looking more generally at the impact women’s work had on society, as well as the impact society had on women.


The 1984 Miners’ Strike

Thirty years have now gone by since the beginning of the 1984 Miners’ Strike. It remains the bitterest industrial dispute in living memory and marked a turning point in the power relationship between the trade unions and the government; the consequences of which have helped shape our economy today.

This post uses a range of Jisc MediaHub resources to examine how the strike progressed. If you are carrying out your own research you will find many hours of relevant material on this topic in the Newsfilm collections as well as the Amber Films collection and the LBC/IRN radio archive collection. You can access all of these via the ‘Explore by Collection’ page.

Mining in the UK has always been a dangerous job, where each has depended on the other for their safety underground. In addition lives could be cut short by emphysema and black lung disease; illnesses brought about by long term exposure to coal mine dust. As a result mining communities were traditionally close knit as is shown in the following film made about the future of mining in the year before the strike began.

Centenary of the Durham Miners' Association. The News From Durham: Amber Films 1983

Centenary of the Durham Miners’ Association. The News From Durham: Amber Films 1983

The News from Durham (a documentary made by Amber Films) was based around the centenary of the Durham Miners’ Association in 1983. It shows miners and their families gathering to celebrate and show their solidarity in what they knew would be difficult times ahead. The miners would be fighting for more than just their jobs; it was for their way of life and their communities.

Background to the Strike:
Poster from a government campaign to recruit miners. Come into Mining Imperial WarMuseum (images)  c1942

Come into mining – the miner’s the skilled man the government will always need
Imperial War Museum (images) c1942

Britain’s industrial revolution had been powered by the mining industry over many generations but following nationalisation in 1947 mining had gradually  become unprofitable due to oil imports and the birth of the nuclear power industry. The following film from Channel 4 News looks at the background to the National Union of Mineworkers and why it eventually became left wing.

A young Arthur Scargill rises within the NUM Yorkshire Miners: Channel 4 News  07-01-1985

A young Arthur Scargill rises within the NUM
Yorkshire Miners: Channel 4 News 07-01-1985

The increasing militancy of the miners led them to strike over pay in 1971; their first national action since 1926. The resulting electricity cuts and  Three-Day Week caused humiliation for Ted Heath’s government which was eventually brought down in 1974. A decade later the Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was determined to crush the NUM should they oppose plans for the restructuring of the coal industry. Careful preparations were made by stockpiling coal well in advance to ensure electricity supplies were not interrupted.

The next move in the government’s battle plan was to appoint Ian MacGregor as the new head of the National Coal Board in March 1983. He was a controversial figure due the reputation he had earned  as a ‘hatchet man’ during his last job at British Steel where he had made over 90,000 staff redundant in order to make the company more profitable.

Arthur Scargill describes the NCB Reports and Accounts as an exercise in duplicity Where are we going?: Amber Films 1983

Arthur Scargill describes the NCB Reports and Accounts as an exercise in duplicity
Where are we going?: Amber Films 1983

Amber Film’s ‘The Future for Miners: Where are we going?’ was produced for the NUM during 1983 to discuss the crisis in the coal industry. It provides a valuable background to how beleaguered the miners were at this time and their thoughts about the future. In it Arthur Scargill, then President of the NUM, talks about a secret hit list of 70 pits for closure: an allegation which was to have consequences for him a short time later. In fact the miners had been used to many pit closures over preceding decades, however in 1974 the NCB produced a report called ‘The Plan for Coal’ in which they confidently forecast an expansion of the coal industry until the end of the century. As a result the miners were deeply suspicious of the Thatcher government’s motives in appointing Ian MacGregor who was already regarded as an asset-stripper.

The Strike Begins:

The strike began in early March 1984 after the NCB announced its intention to close 20 pits. There would be no national ballot – a decision which was to contribute to Scargill’s eventual downfall. Some mining areas (such as Nottinghamshire) did not support the strike: they mistakenly believed their pits were safe. NCB Chairman, Ian MacGregor, wrote to all members of the NUM to tell them Scargill was deceiving them and there was no secret hit list; however documents recently released by the National Archives reveal otherwise.

This ITV News report shows how flying pickets were sent to non-striking pits to persuade them to join the strike; causing much division and violence. The NCB were granted an injunction by the High Court against secondary picketing by the NUM, however this proved ineffective. Police from other parts of the country (especially the Met) were brought in to control the situation but their presence was greatly resented as they were not local and had little understanding of mining communities.

The next news clip gives a flavour of these tensions. Yorkshire miners from Knottingly colliery tried to picket Nottinghamshire mines but were frustrated in their efforts by the Police. Click on the image below to hear them talk about their experiences.

Picketing miners talk about Police interference Miners Strike/ Day 16: Channel 4 News  27-03-1984

Picketing miners talk about Police interference
Miners Strike/ Day 16: Channel 4 News 27-03-1984

In this ITV News clip you can watch Arthur Scargill’s bravura performance when asked to condemn the violence of flying pickets.

The Battle of Orgreave:

The worst violence of the strike took place at the Orgreave coking plant on 18 June 1984, when up to 10,000 picketing miners clashed with 5,000 police in a bloody confrontation. The miners were trying to blockade the plant to prevent coke being transported to British Steel. That day huge police reinforcements had been brought in along with dogs, police horses and riot gear; whereas the miners were clad in light summer clothing which gave them no protection. Never before in the UK had police in riot gear attacked citizens exercising their right to picket – it was a watershed moment.

The following extensive unedited rushes from ITN give an indication of the atmosphere on the day:

A miner who has been beaten with a truncheon is taken away by the Police at Orgreave Miners Strike Rushes: ITN Rushes: 28-12-1984

A miner who has been beaten with a truncheon is taken away by the Police at Orgreave
Miners Strike Rushes: ITN Rushes: 28-12-1984

Both police and miners were injured that day but arrested miners could not be succesfully prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Today the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is calling for a public enquiry into the police brutality which took place.

‘The Enemy Within’

On 19th July 1984 Margaret Thatcher addressed the Conservative back bench 1922 Committee on the striking miners, during which she described them as ‘the enemy within’:

We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty

A short time later she gave the following interview to ITV News in which she said the government had given the miners ‘the best deal in history ……and the best investment in the future they’ve ever had’ Click on the image below to listen in full.

Margaret Thatcher is interviewed on the Miners' Strike ITV News  02-08-1984

Margaret Thatcher is interviewed on the Miners’ Strike
ITV News 02-08-1984

The following month David Jenkins, the controversial new Bishop of Durham, took the opportunity to make an inflammatory speech about the strike in which he argued why the miners ‘must not be defeated’ and that the government were ‘indifferent to poverty and powerlessness’. Click here to listen to his words via our LCB/IRN collection.

Meanwhile miners’ families were starting to suffer great hardships. Everyone had hoped the dispute would be resolved after a few months but as winter approached the cold weather and increasing poverty was starting to take its toll . Miners’ wives had mobilised to form support groups such as ‘Women Against Pit Closures’. They set up kitchens in community centres to feed the strikers’ families and many had also joined in the picketing.

End of the Strike

The miners eventually returned to work on the 5th March 1985; a whole year after the strike began. For most of them it was a very emotional time; they were not sure what they had achieved despite having faced so many difficulties.

Maerdy Lodge miners demonstration at the end of the Miners'Strike Getty (still images)  05-03-1985

Maerdy Lodge miners demonstration at the end of the Miners’Strike
Getty (still images) 05-03-1985

In the following clip, from the  Channel 4 Special ‘The Miners Decide‘, Welsh miners speak passionately about what the strike meant to them. Arthur Scargill blamed the end of the strike on a hostile government, judiciary and Police together with the media and a year later was to say the NUM had not been fighting an employer but the Tory government and the state machine.

In this overview made by Channel 4 News you can hear a report on the long term legacy of the dispute and how it had weakened ties between the NUM and the rest of the trade union movement. The human cost of deprivation endured by miners’ families was very great and would have ongoing consequences in the following years and across generations. This Channel 4 Special looks at the village of Grimethorpe a year after the strike ended and its effects on the mining community. A further clip from ITV News shows the effects of the strike on the Nottinghamshire village of Wellbeck where the community had suffered from divisions between striking and non-striking miners.

The mining community of Wellbeck talks about how the strike has affected their lives Wellbeck Retrospective: ITV News: 03-03-1985

The mining community of Wellbeck talks about how the strike has affected their lives
Wellbeck Retrospective: ITV News: 03-03-1985

By the end of the 1980s trade union power was significantly weakened by legislation which limited the extent of industrial action. It is now illegal to carry out secondary picketing and police have special powers to stop a mass picket where they think there is a danger of serious public disorder. Today trade union membership has dwindled to less than half its total in 1980 and it is unlikely we will see industrial conflict on the level of the Miners’ Strike again. However, the recent strike by London Underground workers signals a possible return to using strikes as a method of solving industrial disputes.

The UK coal mining industry continued to decline and was privatised in 1994. Today only three deep coal mines currently remain open from the 170 pits which employed 190,000 people in 1984.


Further Links:

Now We See What Was Really At Stake In The Miners’ Strike: Guardian review article by Seamus Milne 12/03/14

Nicholas Jones Archive and Blog

Cabinet Papers reveal ‘secret coal pits closure plan’: BBC News article 03/01/14

National Archives: Newly released files from 1984 include miners’ strike

Thatcher vs the miners: official papers confirm the strikers’ worst suspicions: Channel4 blogpost 03/01/14

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

In search of Arthur Scargill: 30 years after the miners’ strike

Margaret Thatcher and the Pit Strike in Yorkshire: BBC News article 08/04/13 following the death of Baroness Thatcher

BBC Radio 4: The Reunion: The Miners’ Strike:   Those divided by the picket line discuss the legacy of the strike 30 years on

The Women of the Miners’ Strike: ‘We caused a lot of havoc’ : Guardian article 07/04/14

Kellingley and Thoresby deep mines to hit 1300 jobs: BBC News article 10/04/14 reporting on the closure of two of the three remaining deep mines belonging to UK Coal

Taking part in industrial action and strikes: a guide from Gov.UK

Coalfields Regeneration Trust:  Charity founded in 1999 dedicated to improving the quality of life in Britain’s former mining communities


Our 20th Century Industrial Heritage

Manufacturing Pasts

If you have an interest in the social history of 20th Century industrial Britain you will want to know about a  new set of resources recently released by the University of Leicester. Manufacturing Pasts is a collection of digitised material documenting the changing lives of  those working in factories after World War II. It contains an array of primary sources including photos, maps, factory plans, newspaper articles and audio interviews with the workers themselves.

Christmas celebrations, ‘J’ Department, N. Corah & Sons Ltd., 1960s
Manufacturing Pasts: University of Leicester

A set of learning materials has been created around these resources on themes encompassing de-industrialisation and urban regeneration.

Indian Visitors to the Corah Factory 1939
Manufacturing Pasts: University of Leicester

All the Manufacturing Pasts resources and the accompanying learning materials can be retrieved and browsed via Jisc MediaHub and are part of  My Leicestershire History, which can be viewed via our Explore by Collection page . Why not extend your search and explore other Jisc MediaHub collections which contain industrial heritage material?

Amber Films

Amber Films was set up in the North East of England in 1968 and has been producing documentaries and feature films since that time, many of which cover the effect of declining industries upon working-class communities.

Newcastle’s Quayside before redevelopment
Quayside: Amber Films 1979

‘Quayside was made in 1979 as an elegy to Tyneside  and was part of Amber’s campaign to preserve the industrial heritage of this area. It captures the mood and atmosphere of Newcastle’s Quayside and a way of  life now gone through combining oral accounts with a visual portrait of the old industrial architecture.

Films of Scotland

This wonderful collection contains a range of  films documenting life, industry and social change in Scotland from the 1930s until 1982.

‘Wealth of a Nation’ is one of seven films made for the 1938 Empire Exhibition. It looks at how the decline in heavy industry in Scotland after WWI resulted in the birth of new manufacturing industries and  how the ensuing social change  offered workers a different way of life, including time for leisure activities. This new golden age brought problems of its own as machinery replaced manual labour and jobs were cut.

Working men discuss the impact of new machinery on their jobs
Wealth of a Nation: Films of Scotland 1938

A few decades later a brand new factory was purpose built at Linwood, in the West of Scotland, for the manufacture of the Rootes Group’s Hillman Imp. ‘Rootes Group’  is a documentary film which tells the story of how this innovative car was created in the early 1960s  to rival the new Mini.

Manufacture of the Hillman Imp
Rootes Group: Films of Scotland 1963

New estates were built near the car plant to attract workers from nearby Glasgow, where unemployment was high. By 1966, however, the future looked bleak for many of those who had relocated to Linwood as 450 workers were to be made redundant. You can follow more stories like this in the Newsfilm collections:

The Newsfilm Collections

Explore our extensive Newsfilm Collection to research the history of different industries across the 20th C and into the 21st C.

The dying art of pottery making in Stoke-on-Trent
Pottery : ITV News 28-08-1978

This 1978 ITV newsclip shows how  the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent organised a display of pottery manufacturing to demonstrate rare skills which were disappearing in the area. Modernisation of the pottery industry, combined with global competition, led to a major decline in  the workforce. Although many potteries have been closed or bought out by foreign companies, there are still potteries which are thriving around Stoke-on-Trent.

Men searching for coal on spoil tips at Grimethorpe Colliery
Grimethorpe One Year On: Miners Strike Anniversary: Story 2: Channel 4 News 04-03-1986

The mining  industry  underwent radical change during the last half of the 20th C as coal stocks declined and foreign imports became cheaper. This culminated in the Miners’ Strike of 1984 which is arguably the bitterest UK labour dispute in living memory and has had not only a huge political impact but blighted communities permanently. In this clip  mining families from Grimethorpe Colliery reflect on the changes which have taken place as a result of the dispute.

The University of Brighton Design Archives

This special design archive contains images of artefacts which were products of British design between 1945-85. The collection contains material from the major post-war exhibitions as well as posters, product design images and photographs of British retail spaces. Part of the collection relates to manufacturing processes such as furniture, glass and printed textiles.

Whitefriars Stained Glass
University of Brighton Design Archives 1946

Whitefriars Glass was one of the most successful glasshouses in England, rising to prominence during the 19th C as the Gothic revival created a demand for stained glass. Some of the designs were created by William Morris and  other celebrated artists. The image above shows how design rolls were stacked on shelves for storage.

S. Clarkes and Sons, leather goods manufacture
University of Brighton Design Archives : 1947

This photograph, taken at the factory of S.Clarke and Sons in 1947, shows women machining and tying off trunk handles. There are many more images of leather luggage manufacture at this factory, with a proportion of tasks still done by hand.

 Royal Mail Film Classics

The GPO Film Unit were responsible for making many groundbreaking documentaries about British industries around the time of WWII. As well as  celebrated classics such as ‘Nightmail’ there are many other films portraying social change stemming from technological advancements which took place during 1930s  Britain.

A worker wears basic protective clothing while spraying cars with paint
Men In Danger : Royal Mail Film Classics 1939

‘Men in Danger’ resulted from a growing awareness that accidents occurred more readily among those carrying out repetitive tasks with potentially dangerous machinery. Until now there had been little regard for health and safety issues and working people were often exposed to risk. This beautifully crafted film shows the measures which could be taken to make the workplace safer.

A Steel Workers’ Brass Band
Spare Time : Royal Mail Film Classics 1939

‘Spare Time’ is a black and white film, made in 1939, which shows how people enjoyed their leisure hours. It looks at three communities from the steel, cotton and coal industries and observes how their different shift systems have had an influence on their activities.

North Highland College (Johnston Collection)

The Johnston Collection offers a unique glimpse into the lives of those around Wick before the Second World War. Many thousands of  archive photographs reflect the work and leisure activities of the community and show us fascinating details of industries which have long since gone.

Gutting the Herring
North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c1925

At one time the small town of Wick was the biggest herring port in Britain  but the industry began to decline in the 1930s as herring shoals became less common and faster transport links removed the need for salting and curing. The photo above shows James More’s herring curing station around 1925. The fish were gutted as soon as they were landed by girls who worked in “crews” of three; two gutters and one packer. If the fishing was heavy they worked on into the night in all weathers and open to the elements.

Miss Christine Gunn, Herring Queen in 1953 and her attendants
North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c1955

The herring industry was of such importance that for many years the community of Wick celebrated the summer ‘Herring Queen’ festival. This eventually stopped during the 1950s when the industry declined.

There are many more industries which can be researched through Jisc MediaHub, so why not take some time to explore our collections for material which interests you.

Further Links: