The following is the eight and final part of a series of stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.
More than Mere Work.
Heretofore I had devoted my chief attention to my own personal improvement both in education and circumstances; now my heart was engrossed in advancing the work, in economising processes, and securing order and efficiency for my employer’s benefit. And as all these severally were in a fair way, I began to bethink me of what I might do for the benefit of the workers. My endeavours in that direction originated thus:—
It chanced that a that a thunderstorm had displaced a few bricks at the top of the chimney-stalk and twisted the lightning rod, and so Steeple Jack had to be engaged. One day he occupied with his kite and cord to secure a connection with the top, afterward he rigged up his pulley and climbing apparatus, and set to work with as much coolness as if he were employed on a parapet wall in a back yard. Those dangling ropes and that swinging seat of his attracted great attention, especially at meal hours, and forthwith we had never so much talk among the loungers at the gate about climbing in all places. One old sailor had yarns about mastheads and yard-arms, and even the lads from the country had feats on cliffs and tree-tops equally wonderful to relate, and for the nonce it looked as if every one was a Steeple Jack. What was the result? Next morning our Dick Daring scrambled up the jagged face of the rock overhanging the pond and secured a huge bunch of yellow broom, which had been glowing in the summer sunshine for a whole week, and reaching the court again in safety was the hero of the hour. Soon his floral spoils were seen in every place—twisted round and tied to a gas pipe in the low mill, it threw a gleam of sunlight in a dark corner; the warping-mill banks wore sprigs on the top; and lo! Taglioni coquettishly adorns her hair with a bright morsel. And thus Dick’s fame was blazoned through the whole work in glowing colour. A reprimand from his foreman went a far way to render him still more heroic in the eyes of the other boys, and thus the Steeple Jack episode awakened interest which lasted several days.
I was not displeased to see the happy aspect thus imparted to the everyday course of the mill life. It reminded me that while the existence of many might consist in no more than steady work and good wages, yet there were susceptibilities to something else, perhaps something better. There were hearts to please and minds to cultivate, there were social and personal interests which, although not brought into public light, were yet largely affected by public circumstances. Was it not possible to do something for them? All those men and women, those boys and girls, could look after their summer entertainment; their trips at the June Holidays and their little fetes on Saturday afternoons gave nobody any trouble; but what of their winter pleasures. Yes, thought I, what of their winter profit, for I had not forgotten how precious the long winter nights used to be to me for both study and pleasure. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 8 (2 July, 1881)”