Oh Dear Me / The Jute Mill Song
On Springthyme SPRCD 1030
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. As Jim says, 'two lines of Mary's song say more than many a politician can say in a lifetime - but I'll leave you to guess which two I mean!' Mary Brooksbank worked all her working life in the jute mills of Dundee and the song tells of the hard life. Mary was a member of the communist party and a social activist. She self-published a book of her poems and an autobiography.
The origins of the song are made clear in an interview that Hamish Henderson had with Mary that is held in the archives of the Scool of Scottish Studies. SA 1968.317 School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh.
Mary Brooksbank: And inside work (in the mills), they used to sing the Jute Mill song and when I grew up I put the verses to it. They used to go aroond (singing): 'the mill's gaen fest, the puir wee shifters canna get a rest'.
Hamish Henderson: And how much of that was what they were singing in the mill and how much did you add to it?
Mary Brooksbank: Only the ditty, 'Oh dear me, the mill's gaen fest, the puir wee shifters . . .'. The verses are all mine. And that verse, 'to feed and cled my bairnie' was brought to me by a lassie who was worried. It wis hard lines if ye hid an illegitimate child and you had to pay for it aff that meagre wage, you know what I mean, and she used to say, 'oh I wish the day was done'. And eh, tell me her troubles, her trachles, what she hid tae dae for her bairn and that, nae help that sort o' thing, and that brought that tae mind. And then I used to think on my own aboot how ill divided the world wis. My mother put me into service for a period, tried to make me genteel you know. She gave me a lovely outfit but it didna suit me, it was the worst thing she could have did because I saw right away the contrast between their homes and ours, you know, thons o the gentry and ours.
Words & music by Mary Brooksbank