Saturday, 25 June 2011

Verdant Works - The story of Jute

When we were on holiday visiting my family, we took a trip to the Verdant Works in Dundee.  I have close family connections with Dundee and those are also linked to the Jute industry.  My great grandfather was killed by a bale of jute which fell on him and broke his back,  my great grandmother had to go and work in the mill to keep the family fed.  She became very active in organising and supporting other women working there, there were many jute mills in Dundee and I'm not sure which one she worked at.  My grandmother worked as a spinner and my great aunt was a weaver.  So you can see why I wanted to visit this museum.

We started off in the Works Office, this was delightful, because when you press a button you can hear the staff talking to each other in lovely broad Dundonian accents, I enjoyed hearing the characters say 'eh' instead of 'I', you had to be there ;p
My mum was with us and she worked in an insurance office in Dundee in the early 1950s, her recollection was that this sort of office was still in operation with the high desks.

The thoughts of the typist were interesting, no downtrodden woman here, she was off to a suffragette meeting.

We learned all about how jute was grown but I particularly loved this scene which similated looking up at the masts of the clipper from the hold of the ship.

There was plenty of information about the processing of the jute as well as the machines used for the various processes.

Sack sewing was the very lowest of the skills associated with the jute trade and much of it was done in the home.

The exhibits then went on to tell about the products that used jute and the canvas and hessian was exported all over the world, products such as covered wagons, carpet backing, tents, bags, webbing, rope and string.

We then moved on to the exhibits which tell about the life in Dundee.  One of the most interesting things about that was that there was very much a matriarchial society because when the boys reached maturity they were paid off because men were too expensive, so it was the women to earned the money and the men stayed at home as 'kettle bilers' (boilers) looking after the children and making the meals.  They got seasonal work picking fruit and took the children with them to the berry fields but otherwise morale was pretty low.  They were some of the first to volunteer to sign up at the start of WW1.

These depictions of the Dundee tenement flats brought back lots of memories, as I can vividly remember visiting my great-grandmother in her 'room and kitchen' flat.  Her bed was in the kitchen and she let out the 'bedroom' to a relative.  There was a shared toilet on 'the stair', even at 4 or 5 it horrified me that she had to share a toilet with her neighbours.

If you are going to Dundee, I can thoroughly recommend this musuem/attraction,  it was full of information presented in varied and interesting ways.  Some of the film footage you can see there is very evocative and entertaining as well as educating.


  1. How fascinating, Janice. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Great photos too.

  2. I love places like that Janice. Its very interesting

  3. very interesting janice:) great photo's. i can't imagine mike staying home and keeping house LOL

  4. Thanks for posted such an interesting post Janice. You have some very strong women in your family - now I know where you get it from haha.


  5. That looks a really interesting place, Janice. I really enjoy visiting this sort of place, they really make history come to life, don't they?


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