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Oh Dear Me / The Jute Mill Song

Of all the poems and songs that are associated with Mary Brooksbank, the Jute Mill Song or Oh Dear Me is probably the best known. Based on a single traditional verse, which she adapted as the chorus, she managed to capture a lot more about life than just the hardships of the jute mill lassies. Two lines of Mary’s song say more than many a politician can say in a lifetime – but we’ll leave you to guess which two we mean!’

Mary was a member of the communist party and a social activist. She self-published a book of her poems and an autobiography.

Shiftins, piecing and spinning were three of the jobs on the ‘flett’ (i.e. flat – the floor on which the spinning machinery stood). The shifter was the person who removed full bobbins from the spinning frames and replaced them with empty ones. Ten and nine was the weekly wage of the mill lassies at the turn of the century – ten shillings (paid as a gold half sovereign) and nine pence.

Brooksbank worked all her working life in the jute mills of Dundee and the song tells of the hard life.

Click below to hear the song sung by Sheena Wellington (followed by some weavers’ tales).

1: Oh dear me the mills gaein fast,
And the pair wee shifters canna get nae rest;
Shiftin bobbins, coorse and fine,
They fairly mak ye wark for your ten and nine.

2: Oh dear me I wish the day wis done,
Rinnin up an doun the pass is nae fun;
Shiftin, piecin, spinnin – warp, weft and twine,
Tae feed an claith ma bairnies affen ten and nine.

Chorus:
Oh dear me the mills gaein fast,
And the pair wee shifters canna get nae rest;
Shiftin bobbins coorse and fine,
They fairly mak ye wark for your ten and nine.

3: O dear me, the warld’s ill divided,
Them that works the hardest are the least provided;
But I maun bide contented, dark days or fine,
There’s no much pleisure livin affen ten and nine.

Chorus:
Oh dear me the mills gaein fast,
And the pair wee shifters canna get nae rest;
Shiftin bobbins coorse and fine,
They fairly mak ye wark for your ten and nine.

Sung by Sheena Wellington (http://sheena-wellington.co.uk/). Words & music by Mary Brooksbank. Published by Springthyme Music 1990. Copyright. See also https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Brooksbank

The song is followed by some ‘weavers talk’, which will give you an insight to the hard lives the weavers endured.

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