Where to Stay in Blair
Finding a place to stay in Blair presented some exciting possibilities. Here are three of many that piqued my interest:
1 – Keathbank Mill
A ‘penthouse’ apartment in Keathbank Mill seemed just the thing. My Ma’s mother was born and grew up in the mill workers’ accommodation there. Her father was foreman, and she worked there spinning flax for weaving into linen.
I would have loved to stay there. It’s such a good location but not enough beds for all of our party.
2 – Ballintuim Schoolhouse
Or, maybe the old Ballintuim Schoolhouse in a hamlet five miles’ up the Glen’ outside Blair. It is beautifully repurposed and a lot of fun, I think. Too bad that it was one bed too few for us.
3 – The Bridge House
Or, The Bridge House, a two bedroomed apartment in a bridge over the River Ardle. It’s near Ballintuim too. An astonishing place, but sadly not big enough for all of us.
4. – My Old School
We could not consider this excellent four bedroomed, two bathroomed cottage in the center of Blair. They were still converting it from the old Victorian school building that closed for business decades ago.
It was the annexe that housed the Art Department of the old High School in the town.
The Berries Back Then
Bad Old Days
Blair’s relationship with it’s Berry Pickers did not start well. At the start of the 20th Century, Travelling Folk and those from the tenements of Glasgow and other Scottish cities were invited in to do the work. But, the farmers made no arrangements to accommodate them during the six to eight week long harvest.
An article in the 3rd of May 1904 edition of the Dundee Courier explains the problem and the initiative taken by a local farming company to remedy matters:
THE INDUCEMENTS HELD OUT TO BESPECTABLE WORKERS.
The recent controversy over the disgraceful scenes associated with the Blairgowrie berry-pickers is likely to involve improvements of decidedly radical nature in the conditions under which the berry-pickers carry out their labours. The fact that dining-rooms, toilet facilities, magazines, and, to crown it all, a piano are to be at the service of the Blair berry-pickers should attract workers higher in the social scale than the scum hitherto associated with such work.
A MECCA FOR TRAMPS.
In the current number of Organised Help, the organ of the Glasgow Charity Organisation Society, an article appears in which it stated that an application reached the Scottish Women’s Trades Council from a large firm of fruit growers in Blairgowrie asking help securing a hundred respectable girls and women to take part in the raspberry harvest there. Being a seasonal trade requiring only unskilled labour, the Blairgowrie centre had formed a sort of Mecca for the tramps from all parts of Scotland. This annual influx of vagrants was accompanied by deplorable results. The tramps of both sexes had arrived year after year and had squatted promiscuously in the sheds, stables, and even hen-houses on the fields of their respective employers, and had managed to successfully defy local opinion, the sanitary inspector (Mr George Mackay), and the most elementary laws, both of sanitation and decency.
ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE WORKERS.
One firm of fruit growers, Messrs Keay and Hodge, had determined to make a stand against the employment of tramps on their own farms, and to do what they could establish a better standard of conditions ’ the industry. The first step taken was to provide comfortable accommodation suitable for workers of a respectable class. Buildings were erected on the farm of Westfields, a little way out from Blairgowrie, and money and care were generously expended in making these healthy and comfortable and attractive. The building included a dining hall well lighted and ventilated and capable of holding over one hundred persons. The dining-room, being also supplied with a piano, magazines, &c, served as a recreation room, in which were held lantern entertainments and concerts during the workers’ sojourn in Blairgowrie
Above the dining-room was the largest dormitory, with 32 iron beds, and giving each person considerably over the 200 cubic feet of air required the sanitary bye-laws of the burgh. Several smaller dormitories accommodated from twelve to sixteen persons. In all ample provisions were made for lighting and ventilation. Suitable and adequate sanitary accommodation was provided outside. There was also a large wash-house; with seventeen set-in basins, each with a towel-rack, brush, comb, and mirror. The firm providing all little necessaries down to the soap and shoe-blacking. A stove, bath, and boilers for washing clothes were also set aside for the workers’ use. A separate cottage accommodated the manager and wife, and another had a room in reserve to be used as an isolation ward in case of sickness, while the services of a doctor specially retained for the workers’ needs. The terms offered by the firm were that workers would be engaged for at least one month, and that lodging, service, and comfortable board would be provided for at a charge of 6 s a week – a sum which, of course, covered only the actual outlay for food. The fruit was picked at 1⁄2 d per pound, at which rate it had been possible workers in previous years (with conditions of weather and crops) to earn from 3s to 5s day.
Not so bad Days
We had a couple of raspberry fields and a loyal band of pickers. They were mostly locals but often some incomers each year too.
We picked along with the gang as young teenagers and could earn anything from 10/- more than £1 a day. Much depended on the weather and the state of the crop. Mostly, we picked into small buckets called “luggies” attached around our waists with coarse twine. We decanted full luggies into a full-sized pail we placed strategically up the ‘dreel’. Once the pail and last luggie were full, it was a trudge down to the weigh station where your berries were weighed and poured into wooden barrels. We were paid by the pound. 1¾d was a typical rate but it could go as high as 2½d later in the season.
We were permitted to fritter away some of our earnings on sweets, trips to the pictures and so on. The greater balance was saved up for the post berry season trip to Dundee to stock up on items of school uniform and other clothes.
Dundee – When I was Wee
Back in the Day
Scotland’s fourth-largest city was an hour away on the bus. Of the regular trips to Dundee every year, the most purposeful was at the end of the berry-picking-season. Once there, the Ma would march us to Draffens, a vast department store on the corner of Whitehall Street and the Nethergate.
It was straight up to the third floor to get kitted out for the coming school year: Grey socks, grey shirts, grey pullovers, and grey flannel shorts. Maybe a new blue blazer for me, my younger brother qualifying for the hand-me-down. In truth, all these items were available at the Co-op back in Blair. But, Ma’s sister-in-law Jean’s sister Cath was Head Buyer at Draffens, and there might have been a discount involved.
After the procurement phase was complete, it was into the lift and up to the top floor to Draffens’ restaurant for lunch. Breaded haddock, chips, and beans for me, followed by apple pie. After lunch, a detour to Woolworths in Murraygate on the way back to the bus station.
We were afforded anything we wanted there, as long as it was under £1.
I always liked being in Dundee and kept up regular social visits through the 60s. There was still lots to do. I went to concerts in the Caird Hall: Ella Fitzgerald, Acker Bilk and his Jazzmen, Dave Brubeck Quintet, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I watched the Harlem Globetrotters perform at the Ice Rink. In later life, whenever an opportunity presented itself, I organized trips to the area on any pretext.