Monday, 22 May 2023

The Glasgow Steamie

To address the issues of hygiene and sanitation, Glasgow became a world leader with the development of wash houses. These were not only for bodies, but some were also for the cleaning of clothing. These latter wash houses, the pre-runners of today’s laundromats, became known colloquially as “the steamie”

Women would gather up all of the dirty clothing, bedding, tin tub and soap and pile it all into the baby’s pram then take it along to the “steamie” to do their laundry. Clothes and bedding were put into large boilers along with some soap. The steam from the boilers gave way to the nickname of “steamie” The floors were generally always soaking wet and the air hot and humid from the boilers. Washing was taken out of the boiler using large tongs. It was then rinsed in the porcelain sink to remove soap.

From the sink, the washing was put through the wringers to remove as much water as possible. One more rinse in the sink to remove the remaining soap and a final trip through the wringer and the clothes were ready to be dried. Most women took the wet washing back home and hung it out to dry. Women in the Calton, Bridgeton or parts of Hutchesontown may have taken their wet wash to the Drying Green at Glasgow Green where it could be hung or laid out on the grass to dry.

The “Steamie” was not only a place to wash laundry but also to socialize. Women were assigned a day of the week and so it was the same women each week that you would spend your afternoon/evening with. This allowed people to get caught up on the neighbourhood gossip or share news. Men had their pubs but women tended to cherish their time with friends at the local “Steamie”.

Saturday, 20 May 2023

When a Public Archive Becomes Inaccessible to the Public

Library and Archives Canada, Canada’s national archives, recently changed their website. And the change is nothing short of absolutely disastrous. Absolutely disastrous. It no longer functions as a way for the public to engage with the records in the Archive’s collections. It appears to be designed for and only useable by those with a Master’s Degree  or PhD in Archives and Record Management. 

Way back when, the website was very user friendly. Albeit there were far fewer records accessible in digital format. But within a couple of clicks, anyone researching could find what they were looking for. 

Even the site the way it was before this … change (it’s definitely not an improvement or upgrade) was easy to use once you grasped how. Records in digital format could be accessed, reference numbers for record sets could be found, and even in many cases, microfilm reel numbers were available. Anyone wanting to “know more” could read the plethora of guides available that provided a deeper understanding not only of the records, but how and why they were collected. The website truly was a treasure trove of knowledge. Useful knowledge. Not so anymore.

The new format opens page after page after page of verbiage. Words that don’t matter to anyone not studying to become an Archivist or Manager of Records. It feels like someone has taken their dissertation and padded it with thousands and thousands of useless words so that they can obtain the required number of words that the Professor has asked for. There are no direct links to any searchable databases. There are no direct links to “how to” guides about the records or collections that explain how to easily (and I mean easily) access the information you are looking for. 

The new format is not user friendly. It does not allow for user engagement. It apparently did not pass by a Users Group of people who were not employees. And while LAC may be the repository of Canada’s documented history and heritage it is pretty worthless if it is inaccessible to the people of Canada.   

Missed opportunity to move into the digital world and easily engage historians, social historians, family historians, political science historians and so many other user groups.

Friday, 19 May 2023

Friendly Societies

 Friendly societies in Scotland were the early form of social assistance. These groups were member driven, self-help groups where people with a common cause would come together to assist one another in times of need. They may also have been known as fraternal organizations, mutual aid societies or benefit clubs. 

Many of these organizations grew out of the Guild system where guild members would pay a small amount into the “kitty” so that any time one of the members required assistance such as money when they were unable to work, or payment for a funeral and then a small donation or even a small stipend would be made to the widow and any surviving children. 

These organizations allowed people to get assistance without the degradation of having to apply for charity or poor relief. The members took great pride in their organizations since the societies were member driven. These societies were also the impetus for helping members to understand the need to plan for their future or for a “rainy day” The help that these societies provided was critical during the Industrial Revolution when so many might have been out of work and unable to qualify for poor relief. These societies literally kept their members from begging on the streets. Indeed, one of the questions on a poor relief application was whether or not the applicant was a member of a friendly society. The expectation was that the friendly society was where they should have been seeking help, not the city council or poor inspector. 

Since the members took turns being in charge of the societies (office bearers), membership might also have provided them with new skills that could assist them in advancing in their place of employment.

Many of these societies also provided social activities for their members – picnics, day trips for widow and children, dances and perhaps even some light theatre events. Again, organizing such events also provided skill training for the members who were on the committees who arranged the events. 

Some friendly or benevolent societies were instrumental in building schools for orphaned children or residences for senior care. 

And some friendly societies were also the place where emigrants could apply to get help with paying for their passage to the new world. This might have been the way for them to get their third of the passage before the emigration societies would provide the rest.




Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Edinburgh's Water Supply in the 17th Century

As in any large city, clean drinking water was seriously lacking in 17th century Edinburgh.  At that time, the city’s water supply came from the Nor Loch (now Princes St Gardens) but the Nor Loch was also the holding basin for the human waste and other sewage that had run down the streets off the Royal Mile and ended up in the Loch.

So, in 1624, an act of parliament which allowed the city to bring fresh water drinking and bathing into Edinburgh from the Pentland Hills, some 10 miles to the south of the city. This was done using long, wooden pipes, which were really just hollowed out tree trunks. 

These were connected end to end until they hit the top of the Royal Mile, where a reservoir had been built to store the water. Although the reservoir no longer exists, its location does. It is at the bottom of Castle Esplanade where the Woollen Mill now stands. The reservoir was quite deep (about the five storeys that occupy the weaving mill). 

From the reservoir, the water was connected to 12 well heads located around the old town.


​The well heads became the places where people would line up for fresh water with their jugs and chat and gossip while waiting in line. The wealthier residents had “Caddies” – young boys who would fetch the water for them and then carry it up the several flights of stairs in the tenements to the top levels where the wealthier families lived. These jugs could weigh anywhere from 25-50 pounds when full.

Saturday, 29 April 2023

There's No Place Like Home

Yesterday was a long day. Packing, airport check in, a final pint and a bite of lunch

and then the long flight to Toronto followed by a ridiculously chaotic arrival at Pearson. Too many people with "jobs" directing and misdirecting us, others "checking our paperwork, but really barely glancing at it" and finally the wait to get our luggage. 

I picked up the car and immediately went in search of a decent cup of coffee before the drive home in rush hour traffic. 

The necessary travel at the beginning of the trip seemed far more manageable. Even with a lengthy delay. Perhaps it was the excitement of the trip itself. Perhaps it was that I wasn't as tired. But more importantly, I think it was because, yesterday, I just wanted to be home. There really is no place like home. Back to some sort of routine - even if that routine is simply walking or feeding the dogs. No need to figure out transportation or admission fees or manage admission times. No new historic information to take in, process or retain. I was so ready. 

This trip has been amazing. Travel really is the best form of education. We learn about other cultures, we learn about their history, their food, their celebrations and the things that formed the people in those countries or counties. We learn to appreciate the natural beauty of a new place. It makes us feel more connected. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to travel. I am grateful that I am healthy enough to travel. I am particularly grateful for medical science that allowed me to be able to walk for miles each day and ascend and descend countless flights of stairs. Just a few short weeks ago, none of this would have been possible and I would have missed out on so much. 

Being in Ireland strengthened my love for the people of my homeland. While we may share a sense of humour, the Irish seem far crankier than the Scots. Not the least bit helpful with tourists. The hospitality sector were fantastic. The locals, the bus drivers and the average resident not so much. 

Now to process all that I have learned. About Scotland. About Ireland. About connecting. I look forward to finding ways to share what I have learned and I am particularly looking forward to making the scrapbooks to remind me of my wonderful trip across the sea. 

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Final Day as a Tourist in Dublin

Today was my last day in Dublin. And my last day to see the sights or learn the history. My first point of interest today was the Museum of Archaeology. This is part of the National Museum of Ireland. It is much smaller than the National Museum of Scotland but the building is every bit as grand. And the exhibits are well laid out. 

I started out in the Prehistoric Ireland hall

                                                 Reconstructed Chambered Burial Cairn 

                                                Dugout boat made from a single oak tree

Then I moved through to the Archaeology hall. My main interests were the archaeology uncovered from the wetlands and bogs


                                                                            Jacket and hat

                                            Shoe - this was just one of several shoes on display

Being in the bogs helps to preserve whatever item is buried therein, as can be seen in these remarkable examples of clothing. 

and in this remarkably well preserved body that had been buried for over 500 years.

I was also interested in seeing the displays on Viking Ireland 

                                                        typical Viking Ireland home 

                                Recreation of what a typical Viking village would have looked like


From the museum I walked back over the river to Custom House Quay to take a tour of the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship. This was a fantastic tour and chalk full of information on the great hunger, the treatment of peasants and the ships that took the emigrants across the Atlantic. 

The original Jeanie Johnston was built in Quebec by a Scotsman and then purchased by an Irishman, Nicolas Donovan. 

It made 16 trips across the Atlantic transporting Irish emigrants to Canada and the US (80% of the trips were to Canada) and, remarkably, not one passenger perished. 

After the tour, it was time for some sustenance, so I made my way across the street to Urban Brew. 

I was so hungry that I didn't get a chance to take a photo of the main course! But dessert was scrumptious. Absolute Heaven on a plate. Chocolate cake with white chocolate cream and crushed pistachios. 

After lunch I had a tour of the Customs House. Another fascinating walk through history. Then it was time to call it. I was finished being a tourist. I headed back to the B&B and enjoyed some down time, away from the throngs of people. 

The trip has been amazing but I am ready to be home. I fly out tomorrow afternoon. 

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

A Tourist in Dublin Day 3

Today the hop on, hop off bus tour was on the agenda. This allowed me to get to places that were a bit further afield, including the Guinness Storehouse and the Kilmainham Gaol. The first driver was also the tour guide and he was really wonderful. Not so much for the others. However, they were just a small part of the whole experience. 

While sitting in traffic, the bus driver said that unless we already had purchased a ticket for Kilmainham Gaol, there was no point getting off to see it. The tickets are sold out in advance and with this week being the anniversary week of the Easter Rising, the tickets have been sold out for some time. We could try to get in line first thing in the morning and hope for a cancellation. I immediately went online and was able to get a ticket for the afternoon. Very fortunate as the rest of the month is, indeed, sold out. 

My first stop was at Guinness Storehouse. I had purchased a ticket for the 10:15 tour. I had originally thought that was the time of the bus leaving, and didn't realize it was for the Guinness tour. I tried changing to a later time but that was near impossible. So, 10:15 it was. 

However, because of the traffic snarls at that time of the day, I wasn't at the Storehouse until 10:30. I needn't have panicked as the tour is self-guided, so I'm not really sure why they bother asking you to choose a time. 

I was quite thankful, really, that the tour was self-guided as this allowed me to move quickly through the parts of the tour that were similar to what I had just seen at Tennents last week. The tour is not through the actual factory, but rather within the visitor centre itself. That also made it easier to get from one exhibit to the next. 

We were given a free taste and I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth it was. I find Guinness at home to have a bitter after taste. Not so here. Which made knowing I had purchased a free pint that much more appealing. 

Back on the bus and off to the Gaol. The buses no longer stop at the Gaol so it was a bit of a walk. Not an unpleasant one at all. I went the long way round (by road) but returned via the grounds of the old Royal Hospital. 

The tour of the gaol itself was quite moving and a wonderful walk through history. The tour guide, Mick, was a truly fantastic storyteller and I thoroughly enjoyed learning from him. 

It was so fascinating for me to see the cells where some of the people whose graves I had visited yesterday had been housed. It really added to the whole experience. 

I was absolutely stunned while standing in the execution yard and hearing about James Connelly being brought in, off his death bed, by ambulance and being propped up on a chair so he could be executed in order to be made an example of. So cruel and heartless. 

As I was standing in the execution yard, I noticed a statue across the street. It was both moving and humbling to see. There are 14 faceless figures, all blindfolded and each with a different pattern of bullet holes in their chest to show where they had been executed by firing squad. At their "feet' was their verdict. The statue is called Proclamation and is for the martyrs who penned the proclamation that set off the Easter Rising as well as for others who were killed for their political activism around the rising.