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Origin: Jute Mill Song

04 Feb 98 - 06:38 AM (#20595)
Subject: Jute Mill Song
From: Animaterra

The Jute Mill song in the database is attributed to Mary Brookbank. What is known about her? Where and when did she live? Any details about the song?

04 Feb 98 - 03:51 PM (#20642)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Bruce O.

Several of her songs and some biogrphical data are in Nigel Gatherer's 'Songs and Ballads of Dundee', 1986 (it says, but I got my copy in late 1985)

04 Feb 98 - 06:32 PM (#20654)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Bruce O.

Mary Brooksbank sang her "The Jute Mill Song" on Topic 12T181, 'Festival at Blairgowrie'. She was a 'bonnie wee lassie' in 1911.

04 Feb 98 - 09:42 PM (#20674)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Barry

The little bit of info I have comes from a Sept, 79 issue of sing out. "The original 'Jute Mill Song' was written around 1920 by a Scottish-born Maary Brookbank, who went to work in a mill durning WW1. 'Ten & Nine' is another name for it, a reference to the mill workers scant wages of 10 shillings, ninepence". Barry

15 Dec 03 - 04:16 PM (#1073167)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

Found this little bit today in a book in my local library - "Bonnie Fechters[fighters]" by Sheila Livingstone.

"Mary Brooksbank (1897-1980) was a mill girl in Dundee though she was born in Aberdeen. As soon as she was 14 her mother took her to see the foreman who found her "a richt wee smerter [smart]". It was the morning after the sinking of the Titanic. She worked 12 hour shifts from 6 am to 6pm for 7/6 [three eights of a pound]. The work was hard but Mary enjoyed making up wee rhymes about the people she saw around her, the conditions under which they worked and the uppishness of those in charge, so full of their own importance.

Mary read widely about politics and listened to street speakers who drew crowds seeking entertainment: there was no radio or tv in those days. Brought up a Catholic, she renounced her faith and became a Communist because she thought that would change the world and wipe out poverty. Arrested several times at demonstrations, she was imprisoned at Perth [about 20 miles south of Dundee] in 1919 on Armistice Day, for breach of the peace. Communists were anti-war, considering it an imperialist con trick.

On her release she formed the Working Women's Guild which attracted 300 members. They sent deputations to the Town Council and to Maryfield, the poor relief hospital, on behalf of the aged and poor inmates. They held meetings outside the Poorhouse and members began to chair meetings and speak in public on behalf of working women.

Mary challenged society's view of women. She led the Railway Women's Guild who supported her in 1927 when she was again in prison, for heckling, by sending her meals. Eventually she was expelled from the Communist Party for criticising Stalin.

Her poems and songs live on , the best known being an adaption of a popular folksong, Oh Dear Me, abut life in the mill".

Then printed are the words of the "Jute Mill Song" (Oh Dear Me) and "A Dundee Lassie", both taken from Mary's book "Sidlaw Beezes" [the Sidlaw Hills are near Dundee): David Winter [publishers?], Dundee.

15 Dec 03 - 04:20 PM (#1073171)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

That should be "Sidlaw Breezes"!

17 Dec 03 - 03:39 AM (#1074320)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Hamish

Thank you for bringing this back to my attention. I'm a born and bred Dundonian, and remember the jute ships going up to unload and keep the mills stocked. There's so many scottish trad songs which were actually Victorian pastiches (Over the Sea to Skye, or my favourite example The Northern Lights of Aberdeen, written by Mary Webb, who lived in Shropshire and never set foot in Scotland) or (Sir!) Harry Lauder who did a lot of damage (imho) and I'd let this gem slip through, too. Okay, so I may be applying some sort of puritanical prejudice, but it does resonate to know that this song was written by somebody who lived and suffered the harsh life of the song.

Go to Dundee today, and you can see the heritage museum which gives a rather sanitised but still fascinating insight into the life and times of such as Mary Brooksbank.

17 Dec 03 - 11:48 AM (#1074568)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

I've requested the M.B. book so if much relevant in it, I'll post.

My wife's from Kirrie and I have a daughter living in Dundee, so I'll be in both towns over Christmas hols and will check the Heritage Museum in the City of Discovery!

Ah fell doon the Wellgate Steps and meh peh went sheh heh!

17 Dec 03 - 12:29 PM (#1074610)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Desert Dancer

Her poems and songs live on , the best known being an adaption of a popular folksong, Oh Dear Me, about life in the mill".

Sooo... any info on the "popular folksong" on which she based her song?

~ Becky in Tucson

17 Dec 03 - 01:20 PM (#1074642)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Malcolm Douglas

There are more recent discussions on this song (see above) which refer to the fragment on which it was apparently based. Tim has revived one of the older and less useful threads.

17 Dec 03 - 03:19 PM (#1074722)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

I certainly didn't intend to re-ignite the "did she or did she not write it" thing. Animaterra asked for info on Mary Brooksbank: I found some, which I didn't see posted elsewhere, so I posted it - in full. What's "less useful" to some may be of use and interest to others.

17 Dec 03 - 04:46 PM (#1074776)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: curmudgeon

Thanks, Big Tim. While I have perused the previous threads Malcolm alludes to, I do not remember mention of Ms. Brooksbank's politics, information I do find useful, interesting and refreshing -- Tom

18 Dec 03 - 12:05 AM (#1075070)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Desert Dancer

In the thread on permissions Ewan MacVicar wrote (11/03)
Mary Brooksbank says on a School of Scottish Studies recording that she heard the Dundee mill lassies saying / singing [can't recall which] the first two lines
'Oh dear me -- get their rest'
and she wrote / added the rest.

I didn't see anything else in any of the threads when I looked (before I asked.) ;-) I'm looking for a bit more, if anyone knows it.

~ B in T

29 Dec 03 - 10:37 AM (#1081510)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

I found a bit more biog stuff about Mary Brooksbank on my recent visit to Dundee. The Central Library there has quite a collection about her. I read through it all (except for the political stuff) and came away with the feeling that she was a very fine person indeed.

Two important points;

1. She published the song as "Oh Dear Me" (not "Jute Mill Song") in her book of poetry "Sidlaw Breezes" (1966).

2. She died in 1978, not 1980 as is often published. She died on 16 March 1978 and her obit appeared in the Dundee "Courier" newspaper on 17 March 1978 ( I saw an original copy).

She was born on 15 December 1897 in Shiprow, Aberdeen, ("one of the worst slums in the City", as she described it). Her father had been born at St Vigeans, Arbroath (near Dundee). He was a "dock labourer" and became a trades union organiser. He knew and worked with James Connolly, the famous Irish revolutionary. Her mother was a "fisher lassie", and a "domestic servant".

Mary was born blind due to an accident at birth but regained her sight at about 14 months. She was aged 8 when her family settled on Dundee, making the "flit" by boat down the coast. Her first home in Dundee for in the Pump Close at the foot of the Overgate. In 1911, before her 14th birthday, she got a job as "a shifter of bobbins" in the Baltic Mill.

(I'll post some more tomorrow, as, I think, post that are too long tend to be smewhat off-putting).

29 Dec 03 - 07:15 PM (#1081915)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Susanne (skw)

Many thanks, John. Please go on posting your info. (The book on Scottish songs is already on its way, it seems ... :-)) Also, would you mind posting the year of Sheila Livingstone's book, and whether it's still available?

29 Dec 03 - 07:51 PM (#1081949)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Compton

Ian Campbell Group sang it ...or rather Lorna Campbell did (and well!)

30 Dec 03 - 07:07 AM (#1082241)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

Mary continued to work in various Dundee jute mills until she reached her 20s. Then she tried her hand at being a "domestic servant" in Glasgow: being employed by "Mrs. Stewart, Belmont Crescent" and "an old lady in Kelsland Street", both in the West End. Then she met the man who became her husband: Ernest Brooksbank (her maiden name was Soutar). They married on 3 October 1924 and moved back to Dundee. She describes her first (married) home as "a garret in Foundry Lane - an outsize dog kennel". However with typical application she transformed it into a wee palace. Ernest was a skilled man, a tailor, and was never out of work so the couple managed to live reasonably well: they never went hungry. I found no reference to any children tho this can't be taken as definitive.

She continued to work in the mills. Ernest died in 1943, age 52, and she didn't remarry. She wrote a poem called "Ernest, 12/10/43 [12 October 1943] - Memories Dear". At age 50, in 1947, she stopped work to nurse her elderly mother. Her father died in 1953, aged 86. She was writing poems and songs all the time but had never bothered trying to publish them. Then she attended a Ewan MacColl concert in the Caird Hall (Dundee). MacColl remarked that there seemed to be very few songs about Dundee, so she showed him some of the stuff that she had written. She achieved some success, especially with "Oh Dear Me" and appeared on TV and radio. She also performed in folk clubs, at the Blairgowrie Festival and in old peoples' homes. She sang and played the violin. She also wrote another book, fragments of autobiography and political stuff, called "No Sae Lang Syne - A Tale of This City" (1971).

In her old age she lived with her nephew Fred Soutar, an accordianist, at 119 Kingsway East, Dundee.

On the subject of religion she wrote:

"My lack of religion has been a sore point with many who are otherwise friendly. I feel quite grateful to those who continue to treat me as an ordinary human being and allow me to have a point of view of my own. I admire those who are truly? religious [I can't read my own writing!] and make an honest endeavour to practise according to the Sermon on the Mount. But, as I told a young priest who visited me, (no doubt to try to bring me back to the fold) I dispensed with gods, devils, witches, fairies, kelpies and bogles when I was 19 years of age. I was concerned with the affairs of this earth and the people on it. We shook hands and agreed to disagree without being disagreeable".

(PS - Susanne. Re that book - no way! I'll find details of Sheila's book and post them later. I know her personally: she was, like me, a librarian in the West of Scotland - a real lady.)

30 Dec 03 - 02:01 PM (#1082543)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

"Bonny Fechters: women in Scotland, 1900 - 1950" by Sheila Livingstone, Scottish Library Association, 1994. ISBN 0 900649 89 5.
Out of print, as far as I can see. Should be available second-hand online: try ABE.

I forgot to say that Mary's parents were Rosie (nee Brown) and Sandy Soutar. In "Sidlaw Breezes", there a nice pic of them and Mary, along with nephew Fred Soutar and his accordian, celebrating their Golden Wedding (50 years) in 1948. If any one would like a copy just PM me an email address. Also, Mary was one of 10 children - many of whom did't survive infancy.

30 Dec 03 - 02:07 PM (#1082548)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

Sorry, the pic is of their Diamond Wedding (60 years). Makes a difference!

30 Dec 03 - 06:39 PM (#1082762)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Susanne (skw)

Thanks, John! I'll try the Mitchell if I make it to Scotland next summer! They're bound to have it, aren't they?

31 Dec 03 - 07:10 AM (#1083038)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Big Tim

Susanne: yes the ML will definitely have a copy but they'll want to keep it! It's definitely out of print. It's only a small book, so if you PM me your address (again!), I'll send you a copy.

31 Dec 03 - 07:15 AM (#1083041)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)

Wonderful information on a fascinating woman! Thanks, Big Tim!

01 Feb 04 - 08:47 PM (#1106893)
Subject: Publishing credit: Jute Mill Song
From: GUEST,Sharon

A couple years ago I made a CD and included the Jute Mill Song. It's the only song on the recording for which I did not pay licensing fees, and that was only because I could not find the publisher. I realize Mary Brooksbank published it as a poem in her book 'Sidlaw Breezes' but I still don't have publisher information.

Who knows how this licensing stuff works when the song (a) isn't yet in the public domain and (b) one can't locate the publisher, or (c) the publisher may no longer exist.

The problem has resurfaces as I'm trying to put this recording on CD Baby. They require publisher information that I don't have.

01 Feb 04 - 09:21 PM (#1106915)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Malcolm Douglas

Discussion of this song has unfortunately been spread over several threads, irregularly started and revived over several years. You'll find information pertinent to your question (and also, of course, much that is not) in

Permission to record Jute Mill Song

02 Feb 04 - 07:33 AM (#1107146)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: GUEST,Hamish (cookie not set)

I'll have a look in my copy of Nigel Gatherer's 'Songs and Ballads of Dundee', 1986 for you...

05 Feb 04 - 02:57 AM (#1109759)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Hamish

...well I didn't say I'd do it immediately, did I? Truth is I forgot...

...anyway, it says:

"All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reporoduced, stored, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical or photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the express written permission of the publisher"

The publisher is: John Donald, 8 Canongate Venture, 5, New Street, Edinburgh EH8 8BH. (Note to our colonial cousins: that's the Edinburgh in Scotland ;^) )

Tel: +44 (0)131 556 6660
Fax: +44 (0)131 557 6250

20 Oct 08 - 11:49 AM (#2470801)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: GUEST,big tim

I was back in Dundee yesterday and discovered that there is a Brooksbank Neighbourhood Centre in Pitkerro Road, Dundee.

This is in the Craigie area, close to where Mary spent her final years and also to where she is buried.

20 Oct 08 - 10:29 PM (#2471394)
Subject: RE: Jute Mill Song
From: Ythanside

Mary Brooksbank, one of the most decent human beings you could ever be fortunate enough to meet, paid dearly for the ideals she embraced.

A life-long communist and humanist, she was expelled from the Communist Party in 1936 or '37 for daring to suggest that 'Uncle' Joe Stalin was a brutal fascist dictator who enslaved millions of his fellow-countrymen and women and worked them to death.

Black-listed by mill owners for her efforts to organise unions, and and therefore unable to obtain legitimate employment, she took to street-singing to keep herself and her family alive, and kept this up into her 60s.

She continued to address public meetings, and was arrested on one occasion and jailed for sedition. It is no coincidence that the local politicians waited until she was safely dead before granting her the 'recognition' of placing her name on any building.

In the days before Consumer Protection, Legal Aid or Citizens Advice Bureaux she campaigned tirelessly on behalf of those unfortunates,less articulate than herself, who found themselves embroiled in battles with the Police or unscrupulous landlords, employers or moneylenders. The path to her front door was well-worn.

How she found time to write and collect songs and poems I do not know.

In the early 1970s, while she sat at home in Mid Craigie, unwell and suffering the after-effects of a stroke, Luke Kelly, on stage with the Dubliners at the Caird Hall, berated the audience for allowing such a gem as Mary Brooksbank to languish in obscurity.

Her singing captivated me when I was a snot-nosed, ragged-arsed street urchin, and I've been hooked on folk music ever since.


28 Jul 10 - 07:14 PM (#2954112)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song

Relative attends ceremony for pioneering trade unionist and Clarion speaker Caroline Martyn

A leading 19th century female trade unionist who died on a visit to Dundee has been commemorated at a ceremony attended by one of her relatives.

Caroline Martyn died in July 1896, aged 29, after a short illness.
caroline martyn

She had been visiting the city to recruit female jute workers into the Dundee Textile Workers' Union.

Her great niece Vivienne Flowers travelled from England to speak at the ceremony. It was held in Balgay Cemetery, where Caroline Martyn is buried.

She said she was overwhelmed by the support and love from the Scottish community, and by how much her ancestor is appreciated.

Ms Martyn's grave was rediscovered last year after inquiries by an English historian.

A monument at the burial site has been restored, with its missing column reattached, after detective work by Dundee TUC secretary Mike Arnott.

Mrs Flowers was alerted to the rediscovery after reading an online article in The Courier.

She said, "I did a lot of reading about her and we're terribly proud. We're still quite amazed we didn't know anything about her."

The ceremony, which was attended by around 25 people, was addressed by Lord Provost John Letford.

It closed with a rendition of Mary Brookbank's Jute Mill Song.

28 Jul 10 - 09:28 PM (#2954190)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song
From: DebC

Thanks, Guest for reviving this thread.

Debra Cowan who sings Mary Brooksbanks' "Tired 'O Workin'"

28 Jul 10 - 11:05 PM (#2954222)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song
From: Effsee

Mary was a friend of my mother who worked in the Jute mills in Dundee in the 30/40s, and my auntie Annie, who gets a mention in one of Mary's books as a Dundee lassie that went of as a nun nursing lepers in Burma and died of malnutrition at the hands of the Japanese in the 2nd WW.
Legend has it that the only sound that could be heard on Remembrance Day 2 minutes of silence in the Mill would be the sound of Mary's knitting needles making as much noise as she could in protest!
She was also a great pal of Aberdeen Spanish Civil War Commisar Bob Cooney.
Dundee's singer Sheena Wellington also knew her well in her latter days.

28 Jul 10 - 11:18 PM (#2954226)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song
From: Effsee

Oh yeh, forgot to add that, allegedly, Ewan MacColl borrowed Mary's songbook ...and never returned it!

29 Jul 10 - 12:46 AM (#2954247)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song
From: MGM·Lion

Reminder that Mary Brooksbank's other famous song, the simple but moving "I am a Dundee Lassie"[to tune of 'The Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie'], was sung by Ray Fisher on Topic's famous The Iron Muse album compiled by Bert Lloyd. I still have, & play, my original vinyl copy, but I am sure it must have been reissued as a CD.


09 Sep 10 - 10:21 AM (#2983096)
Subject: RE: Origin: Jute Mill Song
From: GUEST,mellowmick

Hamish Henderson managed to get Mary's book back from Ewan MacColl. In Hamish's biography, it mentions Mary travelling to Edinburgh in 1968 to attend the unveiling of a plaque to James Connolly, who had lived in Dundee, and stealing the show with a spontaneous performance.