Last week, I was at the Dundee Local History Centre looking for evidence of writers who worked in the local mills, and for mill workers who were members of mutual improvement societies that were organised either through the mills or were running in the community.

The very last thing I looked at before rushing out to catch my train on Friday was the ‘Christmas Number’ of The People’s Journal for 1885. (For more information about The People’s Journal see Poets of the People’s Journal: Newspaper Poetry in Victorian Scotland by Kirstie Blair (2016)). This was quite exciting as the theme for that year’s song competition was ‘Trade Songs’, which is precisely what we’re looking for in this project!

The prize poems were about shepherds, ploughmen, masons, sailors, riveters in shipyards, wood-turners, miners, mill lasses, fishermen, and blacksmiths. The poems I was particularly interested in were:

o  ‘The Rivetter’s Song’, by Bass Kennedy, who lived in Glasgow;

o  ‘The Miner’s Song’, by Jessie Patrick Findlay from Kirkcaldy, and was to be sung to ‘John Anderson, my Jo’;

o  ‘The Bonnie Mill Lassies’, by James Ferguson (whom we have already recorded for our project), who was from Perthshire;

o  ‘The Song of the Engineer’, by A. S. Falconer from Duns in the Scottish Borders;

o  ‘The Sons of Vulcan’, by J. A. Alexander from Glasgow, and was to be sung to ‘Vicar of Bray’;

o  ‘Song of the Shipbuilders’, Thomas A. Maxwell, who was a local from Dundee.

It remains for me to follow up on the rest of these people to see if they had any connection to the industries about which they wrote — could be very interesting, so watch this space!

(Lauren Weiss)

Categories: Blog