Date of interview: 5 June 1993
Interviewer: Sally Smith, Dunglass Mill
The interview undertaken as part of research for Cockburnspath – A History of a People and a Place (1999) Dunglass Mill Press. This text and transcript given to Sonia Baker for use on CD copy of East Lothian Fourth Statistical Account 1945-2000. One of my main objectives was to discover how to make a bondager’s hat
Interviewee: Mrs Helen Patrick (‘Nell’ Jenkinson) aged 82 – born 1911.
Nell, retired farmworker, lives in lnnerwick. She was introduced to me by her aunt, Maggie Torrie Gray (then living on the Moor Road near Coldingharn, aged 93). Nell was widowed nine years ago and has one son who also lives in Innerwick as does his married daughter and her children.
Nell Jenkinson was a contemporary of Edward Hay of Cockbumspath. When she was quite young, she lived in the middle cottage at Dunglass Mill (ie. Dene Cottage, middle section). She remembers the Borthwicks who had the Mill then. Her father was a farmworker. She had five brothers and one sister.
The brothers – Bob, John, Dod and ? are all dead except for Ned who lives at Broxbum. At another time, the family lived at Red Row, Pathhead Farm when the farmer was Wyllie.
Mrs Patrick worked all her life in the fields. She left school when she was 13½ and went into field work. She values the quality of her life and says there was a great sense of peace about it. She also has a high regard for the Irish and says they have a warmth and generosity which the Scots do not have.
She worked for McGregor’s of Pinkerton and also at Thurston, receiving 22 shillings a week for her work, plus an extra 5 shillings for being a squad leader. She was hired at the George Hotel, Dunbar. She mentioned Pease Lye and the houses there, recalling a true story about a Mr Innes, a builder, who jumped over the bridge. She remembers his body being carried away in a cart.
She knew the Marshall Browns who painted at Cove and remembers annual parties held at Dunglass by the Ushers. Her grandfather was present at the blowing up of Dunglass House. She mentions knowing Tom Reid in the Lodge Cottage at the main entrance (now) to Dunglass House.
Her mother wouldn’t let Nell’s sister and her best friend work together at Aitchison’s (now Hay’s grocers) at Cockburnspath because she said ‘Friends are best separate.’
Making bondager’s hats – ‘uglies’: Nell made the hats for her own use in the fields. The canes are the most important part of the hats and are taken out of last year’s bonnet to be inserted in the new ones. Nigel Tranter came to hear of her and her hats and took a picture of her wearing one which she had photographed and enhanced from the one that appeared in the newspaper (NB -The Scottish Genealogical Society are using this photograph as the lead into their web-site in 2003).
It shows a woman of circa 40 + wearing a bonnet with a further piece of the same cloth around the head and crossed over at the neck.
Nell says that the cloth is the size of a large handkerchief and went on first, with the bonnet and ties holding it in place. She once gave a demonstration at Haddington and took two friends with her for moral support Nell says that the Berwickshire hats were different, being made of black straw with red ruche and lined with green to fend off the sun. She wore both kinds depending on where she was working and tells a story about wearing the ‘wrong’ bonnet and the action of another female worker in knocking it off. Her response was something like ‘they don’t cost nothing you know’.
Leather boots, not wellies, were another part of her working gear. She polished them each night and tells a story on herself about using the lead black for the stove on her boots by mistake and being told next day at work that her boots were an awfie funny colour. The boots and polishes were kept by the stove.
Structurally, the bonnet she has kept is in a small check of orangey pink and yellow and white. She made it herself, using a sewing machine to make the slots for the canes. The shortest cane is at the back and measures 14″. The largest at the front is 26″. There are 15 canes in all, with two of them sewn very close together at the front. Otherwise, the spacing between cane slots seems to be equal distanced. There is a ruffle attached to the bonnet at the neck, going from the front where two ties are attached each side, all round the back etc.
The canes are round section and approximately ¼” (quite fine). They are formed into hoops which give the bonnet its shape. When not worn, the bonnet lies quite flat. The width of the ruffle piece before being ruched, is about 36″. This is the same width used for the whole bonnet. The approximate measurement of the bonnet, with canes inserted, from front to back, is 25″. To be on the safe side and to allow for the handkerchief piece, it might be wise to allow 1½ yards of 36″ wide fabric.
Transcription of subsequent taped interview – end June 1993 at her house:
Tell me about when you were 13…
We cran-ed on the stack … chuckin the staves to the man in the kirst – to the stack and they had patches on their knees to protect their knees … keep them from getting sair, walking roond aboot … made of cord mostly … corduroy patches.
Quality of life
What was good about it?
Well, you were up in the morning for six, half past six and you went oot, you had your breakfast and you got oot and mid morning you got your break. If you was married, you went oot later and if you went to school, but afore that you could get when you liked … and if you was young and had a boyfriend on the place, it was even mair interestin … I had a sister and she was in service and my brother down at Broxburn’s wife was in service wi’ her and they weren’t allowed the boys at the cottages … they weren’t allowed to go to the cottages, they weren’t allowed to take boyfriends to the back door. Well I said, yin’s a start, telling me what I’m going to do, I’ll no be there. So I rather help my mother in the hoose.
So you were much freer by working in the fields?
Of course there were aye kirns, a grand dance, yince an ‘ear.
Only if it was a good year?
No, it aye happened, yince an ‘ear. Up at the granary, where they put the corn … At McGregor’s, Pinkerton
No, I helped my mither and well I had five brothers and I felt that … and she was fussy. My brother came in yin time and he says to his wife, ‘I see oor Nell’s done my shirt today’. He said to his wife … he saw me looking at his collar the day. It was not right ironed. There was no washing machine in they days, just a boiler in the corner. After I was married an a’, I used to go home to my mither’s yince in a week to wash. And she would say, ‘is it boilin?’ and I would say, ‘Yes, it’s boilin’. Well, 20 minutes and she wouldn’t let me take it oot until it was 20 minutes in the boiler. And the folk tells me I’m a good washer … well, that’s the way. Anything I know is what my mother told us. I’ve got a scrub board … I don’t use it. The soap was in big bars and you cut it and dried it. You got it at the ironmongers
Then there were things came in wee blocks and you put in the boiler … you scraped so much into your wash … to whiten. They used to use bluing, to make things white. When they were going to wash the blankets, they wouldn’t take it to the sink. They used to carry oot, when I was a bairn, you had to carry a pail and you had to fill this big barrel, for to make it soft water. These were the harder days, mind.
Rain water, it was softer in the morning you see when they were going to wash the blankets. My father used to get up in the morning to help my mother to wash the blankets … the weight.
Dried on the grass?
… wasn’t so bad, it was ropes. Oh no, I wouldn’t change my life for anything.
My son’s aye been an accordion player since he was a laddie of about twelve, he went oot with the band. He was aye interested in that and he went to dances an that.
Were you musical?
No. My husband was a good singer but he wasna musical. But my son’s music daft. He writ a two-step and put it in at Musselburgh and he got 99 out of a 100 for it. He calls it the ‘Ann Two-Step’ … that’s what he calls his wife.
Did you sing in the fields?
No … oh well, some of them sang.
Did you join in?
If I’d had a voice.
Do you remember any of the songs?
No… well I can aye mind, there were a fella up aside us at Pinkertons and we called him Willie Falls and he used to sing ‘My fither’s a grocer in Gourock’.
Did the women sing as they were working in the fields?
Oh, sometimes, depending what fettle they were in… I wouldna change my life for anybody …I’ve my gairden.
[Nell] How did you find out about me at first?
Maggie Torrie Gray.
She was 11 when I was born. Our mothers were sisters. Mrs Gray was my mother’s sister. She’s in her 90s now, I think she goes by the year … my gran was married twice. Her first man was drowned at Cove at the disaster. Ned Torrie was her brother and then my grandfather was Ned Torrie as well. In they days, they used to cart all the fish fra the harbour, cart all the stuff up to the pub, cart the coals round aboot. Oh I’ve had a shot on the carts … on my own, driving the horses. I can mind … you’ll ken how much 36 years is, … you know the auld polis station at Cockburnspath on the right hand side, well there was a Brown, a May Brown went to school with me and that’s where she bade … and my Auntie Maggie served with the Aitchison’s in Co’path … the Hays has the shop now … but it was the yins that it belonged to at first that my Auntie Maggie worked with and she used to come out in the afternoon to help us gaither oor tatties … 36 years, you thought it was never coming to an end … and he was aye looking for Monday morning coming, taking for another lot … You never see anybody laughing these days. You think it’s a crime to laugh. Oh, I had many a good laugh.
May Brown, not May Marshall Brown?
No, they used to come to the Cove painting. Mrs Gray … that house that belongs to my Auntie Maggie, well it’s … well the Marshall Browns came in summertime and painted that and my Auntie Maggie must have it (a painting of it) now …their hoose painted. They (Marshall Browns) just seemed to like to come there (no connection with the village)
… Oh, I’ve seen them paint. (Maggie T. Gray’s husband appeared in one of the paintings gifted by the Browns to Cockburnspath).
He was a great joiner, my uncle … made a violin, yes and my baking board and rolling pin when I got married, aye.
Field work / war years
Tell me, when you were 13 [c1924] and going to work in the fields alongside the men – were you apprehensive?
Oh aye…my husband wasn’t on the farm then but he came back onto the farm when he came back from the army…he was with Patterson in Haddington with the carts … they didn’t want him to go, you ken, he wanted to stay, for I was wi’ him the next time that … after he came home from the army and he says I tell you now, if there wasn’t a war on. … he didn’t want to go.
Were you glad to stop school?
Oh aye. Eddie Hay’s the only yin that … they’d a big family … about eleven of them.
You were at school with Eddie Hay and Mrs Jean Mitchell, the Denholms?
Oh aye, they ca’d him [Edward Hay] Cookie, he used to work for Cribbes, where Willie Sanderson is, Cribbes’s was there. The Denholm’s aunt and my aunt – two lots of them – the two sisters took up with the two brothers, my auntie Nell who the house belonged to at the finish was either getting married or engaged, when he went into the army and he never got back; he was killed. And the Denholm’s auntie had the same … the two of them lost their boyfriends. They stayed at the Pease Lye. Spiden was my auntie Nell’s boyfriend. And Oliver was the Denholm’s auntie’s boyfriend. They were pals. Jimmie Spiden was the one that my auntie Nell went with.
What was school like in those days?
Well, Stevenson could sort them out. Stevenson was the schoolmaster and she made the soup in the school, the wife, Mrs Stevenson. And he ca’d them lubbers if they wouldna do as they were telled … lubbers. And he’d two sons, David and James. And I’ll tell you, they used to have the lodging house at Co’path. It was their father who was the teacher at Sparrow Castle.
They kept the lodging house as well as the school?
No, but this was later years that they bought Sparrow Castle. There used to be Youngs in the Sparrow Castle when I was young.
Sparrow Castle as a lodging house
Do you remember when it was used as a lodging house?
Oh I mind it fine. There were … if they couldn’t pay their digs, they’re lying on straw, on big spare boxes, beds…how many?
Oh, there must have been four or nine living there. Them that could pay went up the stair. They were mair ‘goin aboot folk’ then … you ken what I mean, they were right tramps, down and out type.
Looking for work?
Well, maybe some of them but some of them no looking for work. I mind my mother had been washing when she was at hame and my grannie was living and my grandfather, and my grandfather had a new shirt. The wash hoose is on the pavement as you go into their hoose and a tramp stole my grandfather’s new shirt. (laughs )
How many of you were there in the class?
Oh, ? a great many, there were three teachers. Eddie Hays’ sister was … Auntie Maggie got the night school when Eddie’s sister was taking the night school … There were Daisy Hay, Miss Wightman – she married a factor at Dunglass and Stevenson. That were three. And Miss Murdison was the cooking teacher, she came once a week, to learn to cook.
What about English and arithmetic?
You had to be awfully clever, you had to be a Hay or a Fairlie or somebody like that. These were the yins that were clever and got to Dunbar school. But the likes of us never got to Dunbar school. But I can mind leamin to dance.
Learnin the Highland fling … learnd to dance at the school. In the corridor. Lessons were … cooking, dancing and sums, likely, history.
The lending library in Cockbumspath – did you ever use that?
What sort of trades do you remember when you were a little girl? Do you remember the smith, butcher, wheelwright, tailors?
Well, my grandfather, Mrs Gray up on the moors’s brother, was a blacksmith and you know Maggie’s hoose along the … Causie … that’s where they bid and there were … .the butcher, Mrs Denholm’s faither.
And I can mind when I was a lassie…my sister’s nine [sic] younger as me, she bides in Perth and the byre was that near, you could nearly step off my aunt Nell’s step and went into the byre. And my auntie Peggie learned to milk the cow. No me, I was frightened.
When you went into field work, were there others of your age?
Some of them. It depended on whether you were a half worker or a three-quarter worker or a full worker. Well, I never was a half worker. I was a three-quarters worker first. And we used to single by the piece. You measured your drills. ? .. (.. to sell) and my mother used to bring my brothers, all younger than us and used to bring them to the field and we’d have tea with them and she could work, she had been in service and had been on the farm too and she used to tak up the drills for us … she helped.
That was what was going, the rate of pay.
Better or less than if you worked in Aitchison’s?
I dinna ken. I used to go when my auntie Maggie was housekeeper, you see, and I used to go down once a week and I can aye mind used to get our milk and something with eggs, I don’t mind what … when she was helping at Aitchison’s. She’s tough though.
So you graduated from a three quarters worker to a full worker … more pay, privileges? See your boyfriend?
He was the only boyfriend I had … I’ve been quite happy with my lot. Worked from 13 until I was 60. Because you see, after my man came back, if your man was on the place, you got a chance of work as well. But some of them at Pinkerton wi’ us used to say … a friend who comes to me, well she’s at the now … she said: ‘I can mind you Peggy getting on the bike and away to the dances while Nell was lying out on the grass brushing rugs.’ I aye like to be yin about to see things shinin’. My son, I’l1 say to him, you ken David what’s been the hardest? … he’s the same as his faither … I said you ken what’s been the hardest in my time? He says, no ‘keeping my end up.’ (Laughs).
With your mum?
Tell me about the bonnets – different bonnets in East Lothian from the one in the Borders. The Berwickshire bonnet was made of black straw.
Black straw with flo’ers round the brim. And they lined the straw bonnet with green net, they said the green net didna affect your eyes.
When you were working in Berwickshire, did you have to wear black straw?
I didn’t have to, but I had yin. My mother made it. And of course I never spoke a word to anybody, never said boo to anybody. So here the fores woman, that’s what you called the first yin in the drills, … there were like three grades and the first ones didna like the second yins or third yins goin anyplace with them. So we were sitting doon to turn back tatties, you ken that’s riddling them and puttin them back. So this foreswoman was there and she was before me, so she just took her basket and she pulled it right off? … so I says ‘Here you, I didna get my hats for nothing’.
She wasn’t pleased that you were wearing the wrong …
No, she just had to come tae …
… you wore your East Lothian hat in Berwickshire and got a reaction to it. Did you ever do it the other way round, wear your black straw hat in East Lothian?
No, I don’t think so. There used to be … Robertson used to make them. And there was a Maggie Darling used to make, used to sell them for somebody.
Making the hats
But how we started was just taking an auld yin doon and sort of … you see that’s what’s wrong, we’ve no got yin – if you’d seen the start of it … it’s the canes that really makes the shape and you must sew the end of the canes.
So once a year you took the canes out of the bonnet
…No – you can wash them.
How often did you have a new bonnet then?
Every year. You ken, you washed them through the year if they were dirty.
When it came time to make a new bonnet
You took all the canes out.
But otherwise, you can wash it with the canes in?
And you would chose different fabrics … the one you have is peach and yellow.
I’ll tell you what I would dae (to make a bonnet): there’s two canes in there – you’ll have to take the length of your cloth, that must be the width of the cloth … you start and put in in as you sew, put the cane in … the cane will no break. You’ll need to measure the length of the canes. You have to still keep on your cloth to here … you see, it’s like a concertina and you’ll need to take the length of the canes. Measure each cane. Start from the front when you’re sewing. Put the canes in as you go. To give it the shape. And then, you see, those yins must be all about the same size. But supposing your hat was a wee bit shorter, you didn’t have enough stuff … ? … be all right. The neckerchief is just like a hanky. You put it on and tied it like that … in the summertime, with the heat. A hanky, you ken what I mean.
Did you fold the handkerchief before you put it on?
When we went to the night classes, you learned everything … it was your life. Up at the school, the minister’s wife, she learnt me …? quilting – recent times.
What about evening classes when you were growing up … at Cockburnspath?
Well, the minister’s wife used to have something for the girls, used to have to sing … hymns.
Singled turnips, paidled the tatties (hoed). I can mind I was gae young and I was sent for to watch for the close gates because they were taking the dam? oot for the cattle. It was at the Neuk. There was foreswoman and she done the cattle. Well, I was to stand at the gate. I never stayed for the bullocks. So he let them oot and landed them in the Square at Co’path … at the monument…? Pathhead and the Neuk used to go together, same boss. Now it’s the Finlays at the Neuk. Jean Mitchell still at the post office?
Oggs? Arthur Ogg’s father … she was a teacher at Co’path school – Ogg’s mother.
Did you keep a pig?
Oh aye. We had pigs. There was two of them. Selled them.
You didn’t slaughter them?
Some of them we did, others we didna. We’d black and white pigs.
Did you smoke the hams?
No. Made the potted meats. The butcher’s dead…he get them for you when they were wee; they would go to the sale.
Fed on household scraps?
That’s right. Sometimes you kept them. Of course in these days the hams hung in the kitchen and the living room. Ate off them all winter.
Did you get fed up with ham?
You were telling me about the Irish. You liked their sense of humour and their kindness.
So I do.
Did you work alongside them?
Well, you see long ago, the Irish were sort of looked on … ken what I mean, as no … they came over with the squads … but I’ll find out just who’s staying here mysel and that, but doon here she’s away now up where they’re lifting the tatties and that, for she’s a very kind person and I’ve another one that was here but she’s lost her man just a month ago. She went away to Haddington. Her son’s got the squad here at Templemains Farm. Celia Dean is her name.
And Mrs. Gochan (sic)?
… it’s her man that died. But her son’s the gaffer here now … tattie gaffer.
Did you work along Irish workers when you were in the fields?
Oh aye. There were some nice fellas among them. I can mind my sister and some of her pals one night and they were oot – and some boyfriends knockin aboot and they took a big divot to put on top of the lum. So of course the Irishman was – and they said … yarakin … blethering, swearing away about the lum.
Was there a time you liked best?
I used to like to plant tatties. You used to have what you call a brat and you get the tatties into your brat and you went like this, with a tattie here and a tattie there, up the drills. It seemed to be awfa kinda soothin. We had a place before I was married, there was a woman gaffer, they were worse as a …? …woman gaffer worked at you all day. They used to have them (women gaffers) at Oxwell Mains but none of the other yains had woman gaffers.
Did you ever want to be one yourself?
[Making the Bonnet]
The back (canes) are all about the same size.
They’re close, but then there’s a jump of about an inch.
I’m measuring the distance between the canes.
So you have to draw that to make a frill. You take the full width of the cloth to make the frill. And you sew the ends of the whole lot of the canes. Some of them might split, but they’ll be all right.
I’ll come back to you once I’ve made the slots and put the canes in. That’s 16 canes. How much fabric should I leave at the end?
That’s the full breadth you see. And that’s how you sort of sew.
That’s everything gathered in together.
That’s a separate bit you see.
This bit’s still a continuation though from the hoop. That’s six and then we go underneath and that’s another seven and a bit. Then the full breadth.
35 ½” from … that makes the ruffle.
That goes under, you draw it on a thread. You have to sew the ends of all the canes, then you turn the bit of the cloth at the end of the canes. You then put on that.
The ruffle goes on the very last?
Summary: First, make the slots – all at once. Then put the canes in. Sew the ends of the canes to the cloth. Sew the first (front) three canes together. The canes get sewn into a sort of band, but there’s a distance between them. A little bit, with the canes in – but they’re gathered in together. 16 ½” from front to back with the canes in
(Conversation switches to heating, coal fires etc.)
Willie Bell has a brother in a big hoose at the top and a brother there too. Two of his brothers work at Templemains farm. One of them’s a grieve there. Willie’s wife ismy niece.
Hooks called bondagers.
It’s called a bondager?
Yes, the same as a bondager. It had cleeks on it and you hang your bags on it.
Aye, the likes of them that’s feeding the cattle. They shovelled the stuff into the bags and had this what we called the bondager.
Where did this bondager go…on the side of the cart?
No, in the barn.
Did you know about bondagers?
Well, you know where East Barns is? Well the women workers at East Hams used to have certain slippers for going into the granary and they had certain clothes they wore too. And you see, we wore drugget, the name of the cloth, brown and you had a petticoat made the same. You wore it for a year and the next year, you took the (waist) band off and put it on the bottom. And we used to wear sleeves on our arms. Stockin’ legs (old stockings). For the threshing. We used to have a man’s bonnet with the snoot taken off. And … ? ony rain…
Clothes – continued
You told me your boots were big, heavy leather boots. Not wellingtons.
No, no … ? …Oh, we were stylish and of course, …? … it was what … and we had blouses, what they wear now, blouses we made with nurse’s cloth you know that’s like what some of the nurses wear for wrappers, that blue-y cloth. And our hankies were pink and white check-ed. A decent size. Every day? Sundays?
Oh, there’d be a rest on Sundays
What did you wear on Sundays?
Oh something I could … something stylish. I mind having a red coat and a red hat, a red dress down my ? biscuit… ?…At the kirns of course, you’d always a new dress. One year I had red satin and another, pink satin. A kirn was when that harvest was finished. That was the biggest thing of the year.
Well, no very much to the pictures. Hay … did the twa Hays no marry twa brothers? Daisy and Mary. Daisy was older than us. Daisy took the night school. She had classes in the winter time. Old Arthur Ogg’s mother was a … ? …They belonged to Berwick. She had a fish shop. Daisy would have been an infant teacher. She must have taught dress making or something in the evening.
…rag rug making I’ve had the cup up at the hall … the flower show. I’ve had the prize – first – for my gairden. And I’ve had it for a rug … made with army blankets (clootie rug, cloth poked through Hessian backing). A lot of folk doesna’ do it. When you finish your last trog [yarn?], you’ve got to put your first [next] trog through the first [that same] hole to make a loop.
When you pull the last trog through, well, it’s a single one. When you start the next trog, you put it through the same hole. That makes it a double yin. (ie. when youuse up the strip, leave the end up through the hole and start the next strip in the same hole, going down …I think) When I made it, I stood all the time, I never sat. I had a frame. Anderson or Wullie Gray made the frame. I’ve another yin below the bed – it’s grey with wine flowers up the middle. My husband used to cut [?] the rugs but these have been on the go since we were married and you’ll ken how long that is – 60 years [married c1933]. [The rug in the living room goes in curves, waves]. The Hays used to sell the canvases.
Well, we used to send away for them. We got rare long strips.
I remember one night my husband went to Dunbar … ? so he came back quite happy and they days, we used to cream the milk and put it in a milk pitcher and shake it and it came to butter. So he comes hame this night, quite happy, and I had a round table I thought was posh and a single cover on it and a bunch of flowers in the middle of the table. I was standin’ makin’ this rug and when he comes home, he says ‘Nellie, onything I can do to help ye?’ I says, ‘away and shake that butter, man.’ Well, he got the handle of the pitcher with the milk and he goin’ dancin’ roon the table and I’m roarin’ and the milk’s comin’ out of the pitcher. It didn’t get on my rug but it got on the rug below. My husband was a very, very pleasant man. ? … nine years and one month now,
Where were you married?
In Dunbar church … at the manse. And my son, when his father was away, I held my son up mysel and got him christened at the manse. My sister and her wee lassie and me. I …? … my time and I never weary a minute.
What do you put it down to?
Well, just being content. You see, my son cannot speak about his faither. They were very close. When I was young, I was easy turned on, easy made cry, (Her husband) worked at the store at the station coal and he delivered the coal around here for a shilling a bag. He came back to the farm and that’s where I met him. He drave horses and then he was on the tractor.
How many horses would there be on a farm then?
About six pair. (She liked the horses and so does her son now).
Postscript (October 2003):
Nell Jenkinson Patrick died 19 December 1995
Edward Hay died 8 June 2003