Posts Tagged ‘Dunbar and District History Society’

Historic photos of the harbour and flowering honeysuckle

May 31, 2018

Having substituted local history research for my previous academic research since I retired, I have been fascinated by some of the material which has been given to me – some of it by former school pals, some by a girlfriend from my teenage years, and some by people on the Lost Dunbar Facebook site, of which I am a member. I joined the site to get material for my research on my home town of Dunbar in the 1950s. This is the only site to which I make a contribution, despite many requests from potential friends, some of whom are close relatives. I know that many people get joy from posting on Facebook, but it is not for me. One of my present roles is to maintain the website of Dunbar and District History Society. Interestingly, when I designed the site, with the help of a student from Dunbar Grammar School – my alma mater – I was told that websites were rather old-fashioned and that Facebook sites were much more popular – because of their interactivity. Given that the Lost Dunbar site already provides a local history forum for Dunbar in the form of photographs posted and commented on, there was no point in creating another one. What I have done, is post some photos on Lost Dunbar and directed people to see and read more on the History Society website. The site statistics show that this has been a success.

I recently posted two photographs of Dunbar Harbour (good photos) i.e. the main or Victoria Harbour, built in the 1830s. This succeeded the original Cromwell Harbour or Old Harbour as it became known. The first photo is of women – and a solitary man – gutting, basketing and barrelling a huge mound of herring. The photo is probably taken in the 1920s, when the herring fishing was at its peak on the east coast of Scotland. This was very hard work, with the women – both young and old – spending long hours gutting the fish. The smell must have been terrible and the work was done in all weathers. The women and girls who did this job are often affectionately – and rather patronisingly – called fisher lassies. Gutting the herring was done with very sharp knives and accidents were common. There was no health and safety restrictions in those days. In the photo, the women are mainly sitting on upturned baskets and the herring would be transferred from the baskets behind the women to the barrels you can see to the left. Packing a barrel was a skilled job as the fish had to be layered correctly. This must have been a socially off-putting task as, given the washing facilities available to these women in the 1920s, it must have been impossible to get rid of the smell of fish off their bodies. While the fisher lassies are celebrated in song (video), these women were clearly exploited, given the filthy conditions and the low wages.

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Gutting and barrelling herring at Dunbar Harbour (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The second photo was probably taken in the late 19th or early 20th century. It comes from a book entitled Views of Dunbar which was published by W Black of 126 High Street, Dunbar which is now the John Muir Birthplace. There is no date inside and no indication of where the photos originated. The photos in the book may have been based on a series of postcards of Dunbar, which were common in this period. It is certainly a fascinating scene and it was entitled The New Harbour, as the Victoria Harbour may well have still been called at the time. In the foreground, you can see the traveller/gypsy caravans. These were known as vardos and came in a range of designs. In the harbour, there is a boat with a funnel. Local experts tell me that this was not a fishing boat, as there are no letters or numbers on the boat. It is likely to be a trading vessel e.g. a tattie boat, carrying potatoes up and down the coast. Behind the boat, you can see the buildings of the Battery Hospital which was built in the 1860s as an isolation hospital for those with contagious diseases. The Battery has recently been transformed and I posted a feature on this here. You can see more historic photos of Dunbar harbour on the Dunbar and District History Society  Resources section for April and May 2018.

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Dunbar Harbour in the 1890s/1900s

May is the colourful month, with a succession of plants and bulbs producing brilliant displays. Just as the daffodils give way to the tulips, and the pansies and polyanthus start to lose their stature and beauty, the honeysuckle in my garden provides a startling new burst of colour. My honeysuckle  – proper name Lonicera – has profited from my extensive pruning last autumn and there are many more flowers this year than last. The name Lonicera was given to the honeysuckle in honour of the 16th century botanist Adam Lonicer. The name of the plant comes from the ability insects to suck honey from the plant i.e. the le at the end is a diminutive. Thus the bees do not suckle (as in breastfeeding in humans and animals) but take the pollen from the plant.

I took photos of the honeysuckle flowers on two consecutive days – one sunny, one rainy. The first photo shows the brilliant purple flower with its white extension – the female part of the flower – and the antenna which contain the honey/pollen of which the bees are so fond. What I particularly liked about this photo is the shadow of the flower below, which resembles a wheel-like contraption.

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Honeysuckle flower and its shadow

In the second photo, I managed to capture a bee feeding on the elongated white and yellow extension from the flower. The bee gives a magnificent display of gently stroking the very thin elements and hovering in the air.  Note also the shadows in this photo and the great range of colours on show.

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Bee feeding on a honeysuckle flower

Seeing the wings reminded me of Richard Thomson’s great song “Beeswing” – below.

 

The next two photos were taken the next day, after a short period of rain. In the first photo, the close-up of the flower captures the tiny droplets of water that have clung to the plant. On looking at it again, I though that it appeared to have been affected by frost – or dipped in some sugary substance.

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Honeysuckle flower head after the rain

The second photo shows both the flowers and the leaves with the raindrops still on them. I like the wide variety of shapes here, with the purple and white flowers appearing to be reaching out or displaying their wares to passing bees. I went out to the same spot and hour later and the plants were completely dry, having shed the water or absorbed it or let it evaporate in the late afternoon sunshine. We have not had the usual strong westerly winds this month, so the honeysuckle display goes on, with more flowers emerging fully each day, compensating for those which are past their prime and starting to wither. The poem The Wild Honeysuckle begins “Fair flower, that dost so comely grow” and I could not agree more.

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Rain splashed honeysuckle

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Whales stranding and The Store

February 13, 2017

Just before I went to bed the other night, I got an email from my brother-in-law in New Zealand to tell me that there had been a huge stranding of pilot whales at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. This is of particular interest to me, as many of you will know, as I wrote a book about a mass stranding which took place at Thorntonloch, near my home town of Dunbar in 1950.

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My book on the whales at Thorntonloch

One of the things I noticed about the above email was that, when I clicked on the link I’d been sent, I saw that the news was only 20 minutes old – and it included video footage of the stranding. This got me thinking. If my brother-in-law Jim had been in New Zealand in 1950 and wanted to tell me about this mass stranding, how would he do it? His only option then would have been to write me a letter, which I would have received maybe a few weeks later, given that there would have been a very limited air mail service at that time. In my book, I analysed the social aspects of the stranding in 1950, including communications. In 1950, most people heard about the whales locally and most often by word of mouth. There was no television in Scotland then and of course, no internet.

When I was nearing completion of my book, I wanted to refer to recent strandings and did a search for that. Spookily, I found a report of a mass stranding which had happened four hours earlier – also at Farewell Spit and I included this photo from there in the book.

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Mass stranding at Farewell spit in 2015

At Thorntonloch, there is a lovely stretch of beach and it is a very peaceful place to go for a walk. Farewell Spit is next to Golden Bay – another beautiful spot – so it is ironic that these attractive and peaceful beaches were – and continue to be – the scenes of such dramatic carnage, as hundreds of whales died when they stranded as a group. There was some better news overnight, with reports that 200 whales had been re-floated at Farewell Spit after a third mass stranding in as many days.

On Tuesday evening, I’m giving another talk to Dunbar and District History Society (new website imminent), of which I am a committee member. I’ve been looking at the social history of Dunbar (where I’ve lived for 60% of my life) in the early 1950s. I started with the whales at Thorntonloch and went on to look at rationing, new council houses and entertainment. I’ve now moved on to shops and shopping. On Tuesday, I’ll be concentrating on The Store, which is what the Co-operative shops were called at that time in this part of Scotland, although not elsewhere. The talk will start with an overview of the SCWS (Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society) which provided the hundreds of Co-op shops across Scotland with most of their goods to sell. The Co-op was the largest retail  organisation in the UK at that time, with over 40% of the non-independent trade.

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SCWS in 1950

This was a time before supermarkets had arrived in any numbers in the UK and the Co-op shops offered an attractive dividend to its customers, most of whom were shareholders – on a very small scale. It was also a time of rationing, so goods were restricted in availability, and of retail price maintenance i.e. prices of good were fixed, no matter where you bought them. The Co-op factory in Glasgow was a huge enterprise and the next two photos show some of the work done there.

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Women sew on buttons in the Shieldhall factory

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Women making rock in the Shieldhall factory

I’ll also be including interviews I did with local people who worked in The Store in the early 1950s. A very interesting interview I did was with Jimmy Combe, a very sprightly 84 year old, who began working for The Store as an apprentice grocer in 1947, aged 14. In the early 1950s, being a grocer was to be recognised as a skilled tradesman, like a plumber or joiner/carpenter. Jimmy went to night school in Edinburgh to do exams in a range of subjects, including bookkeeping and salesmanship, as well as subjects related to departments such as butchery, grocery and dry goods. An advert for such classes is shown below.

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Co-operative education in the 1950s

My talk will then look at the introduction of self-service in the mid to late 1950s. This move – accelerated by new technology and the end of rationing – in many ways deskilled the workforce and was the beginning of the end for the apprentice grocer. Before self-service, everyone was served individually, with all goods behind the counter.

 

Book translation and History Society talk

February 11, 2016

This is my 500th blog post! Thanks to all my followers and readers.

In the post this morning, I received a copy of the translation of my last academic book (before I retired) into Japanese. This is the 2nd book I’ve had translated into Japanese, the previous one being Teaching Information Skills in Schools. The new translation is of Improving Students’ Web Use and Information Literacy. The book is for teachers and school librarians and has been used in schools and universities in many different countries around the world. It aims to provide school staff with both theory and practical advice – with many case studies of schools – on how to ensure that their students/pupils are effective users of the Web. My own research showed that students were often poor web users i.e. they could find lots of information but struggled to find relevant information for their school work. Developing students as information literacy practitioners implies that students identify a purpose for, find, analyse and effectively use information from a range of sources. It also implies that they will reflect upon and transfer these practices.

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English version of the book

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Japanese version of the book

Yesterday evening I was the guest speaker at the Dunbar and District History Society. My current research is on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s and this talk was on New Housing and Entertainment. The first topic related to the building of new council houses in Dunbar from 1949-1953. I’m using oral history interviews to record people’s memories of moving to these new houses, situated in what was (and is) called the Tree Scheme, as all the streets were given names of trees e.g. I grew up in Cedar Street. The interviews revealed a phenomenon identified across the UK after the 2nd World War – overcrowding. The postwar baby boom was not accompanied by a housing boom, due to shortages of materials and men, and the poor state of the British economy. As a result, many young families stayed with their parents, usually the wife’s parents. Two of my interviewees lived in small flats with shared toilets, with the parents sleeping in the living room and two or more children in a bedroom. Another interviewee moved from a rented house with only gas light.

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Pine Street Dunbar in 1950

On the whole, young families were delighted with the new houses as they at last had a home of their own, with front and back gardens, inside toilet and bath (as opposed to outside toilet and tin bath), spacious rooms and (by 1950 standards) modern kitchens. My interviewees are mainly children and young adults who moved to these houses. When I interviewed males, the reaction was totally positive. My female interviewees expressed delight for themselves with their new homes, but noted that their mothers’ experiences were not totally positive. For women, who often had several children, the new houses did not provide a release from the drudgery of washing clothes using 2 sinks and a hand wringer and cooking for large numbers. They had much more space but no longer had their mother on hand to help with these onerous tasks. They had to spend long periods in the kitchen. One feature of these houses was that they were heated by coal fires with back boilers in the living room but the coal was not kept in an external bunker, it was stored in a large cupboard in the kitchen. The plan below is not very clear but you can see the word FUEL in the top left hand corner. As you came in the back door, there was a larder, a second storage cupboard and then what was called the coal cellar. For women, this meant that once a fortnight, when coal was delivered, the coal men came in the back door and deposited the coal and created a coal dust storm which filled the kitchen – and had to be cleaned. I asked the female section of my audience whether they thought these kitchens were designed by a man or a woman. You know the response. There was thus a gendered and a class aspect to the design of these houses. The architects – presumably middle class men – were designing kitchens for working class women, so their view of the expectations of the women were, it’s clear, much less than the women’s own expectations. Even in 1950, you would not have chosen to have a coal cellar/space in your kitchen.

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Plan of ground floor in the Tree Scheme

My second topic was entertainment and although I have recorded interviewees’ memories of listening to the wireless (later called the radio) in these pre-television days and going to local dances, I only covered their memories of the two picture houses (as they were called then) in Dunbar in 1950. The old cinema, The Empire, was a large hall built on a slope, with a narrow entrance. It had been built in the 1920s and was, according to one person ” a pretty dingy place” but it was cheaper. The local paper advertised the films and an example follows. At the talk, I played part of the YouTube trailer for the Marx Brothers film.

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Empire Cinema Dunbar advert in 1950

The newer cinema was The Playhouse, opened in 1937 and a much grander affair altogether. It held over 1000 people. One of my interviewees – now a sprightly 90 years old – told me that there was a story that the cinema designers had visited Dunbar in the summer time, when the population swelled because of the seaside visitors and based demand on this and not the normal population – thus the large cinema in a small town. The inside of the Playhouse was decorated in the art deco style shown in the photo below.

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Inside the Playhouse in Dunbar in 1950

The Playhouse was much more luxurious than the Empire, with a proper balcony section, as opposed to the rope divider in the old cinema. It also had a café. The Playhouse showed 3 lots of films in one week, plus a Saturday matinée for children, as this advert shows.

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Playhouse cinema advert 1950

I played part of the Challenge to Lassie film. It’s Lassie as you never imagined and the accents are awful. My audience enjoyed it as well as the memories of my interviewees who recalled going to the Playhouse on a regular basis. In the advert above, you will see that, at each showing, there was the Gaumont British News. This was the only way that people could see the news in 1950 as television did not come to Scotland until 1952.