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.