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The Jute Mill Song

[ Roud 2585 ; Ballad Index JRVI136 ; Mary Brooksbank (1897-1978)]

Rhythms of Labour The Singing Island The Scottish Folksinger Songs and Ballads of Dundee

Ewan MacColl accompanied by Peggy Seeger sang Mary Brookbank’s Oh, Dear Me (The Jute Mill Song) on their 1958 Topic album of industrial ballads, Second Shift. This track was also included in 1964 on their Topic album Steam Whistle Ballads, in 1993 on the Topic anthology of industrial folk music, The Iron Muse, and in 2003 on MacColl’s anthology The Definitive Collection. The Topic album’s sleeve notes commented:

The text of this tender little song is the work of Mary Brookbank, an old jute mill worker, of Dundee. Mrs Brookbank, the author of several fine songs, has also collected a considerable number of jute mill songs and ballads. The air is by Ewan MacColl.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Jute Mill Song on their 1963 Transatlantic album This Is the Ian Campbell Folk Group.

Nigel Denver sang The Jute Mill Song on his 1965 Decca album Moving On.

Mary Brooksbank sang her own song at a concert in The Angus Hotel, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, on 13 August 1967. This recording was included in the following year on the festival anthology on the Topic label, Festival at Blairgowrie.

The Woods sang Jute Mill Song in 1969 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Early Morning Rain.

Alison McMorland sang The Jute Mill Song in 1980 on the anthology of women’s songs, My Song I My Own, that accompanied the book of the same name.

Maureen Jelks sang Oh Dear Me (Jute Mill Song) on her 1988 CD First Time Ever.

Louis Killen sang The Jute Mill Song on his 1989 cassette The Rose in June.

Jim Reid and John Hubbard sang Oh Dear Me (The Jute Mill Song) in 1990 on their Springthyme album Freewheeling Now.

Ray Fisher sang The Jute Mill Song in 1991 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Scotland. She noted:

This outstanding song was written by the diminutive Mary Brooksbank from Dundee. Although small in stature, Mary was an active spokesperson for the working class in general and the jute mill workers in particular. At the age of thirteen, Mary began work as a shifter—she removed full bobbins from the spinning frames and replaced them with empty ones. To quote Nigel Gatherer in his notes on Mary Brooksbank in his Songs and Ballads of Dundee (1986): “Her songs of the mill and the hardships of the jute workforce are from first-hand experience and invaluable in telling the story of the demise of the industry.”

Ewan McLennan sang The Jute Mill Song in 2010 on his Fellside CD Rags & Robes.

Sarah Hayes sang Jute Mill Song on her 2015 CD Woven. This video shows Sarah Hayes, Inge Thomson, Annie Grace and Karine Polwart singing Oh Dear Me in rehearsals for National Theatre of Scotland’s Blabbermouth event in Edinburgh in 2014:

The Shee sang Jute Mill Song and Karine Polwart’s Song for Mary on their 2016 CD Continuum.

Danny Spooner and Duncan Brown sang The Jute Mill Song in 2016 on their CD of songs of the working life, Labour and Toil. They noted:

Mary Brooksbank was a Scottish jute mill worker, social activist and trade unionist. She began work at 12 and had her first experience of trade unionism at the age of 14 when the girls at her jute mill successfully marched for a 15% pay rise. She was a fierce fighter for women’s rights throughout her life and wrote a number of songs about conditions in the Dundee Jute Mills.

Fraser and Ian Bruce sang The Jute Mill Song on their 2017 CD Auld Hat New Heids.

Jenna Reid sang The Jute Mill on her 2020 EP Songs From Jenna Reid.


Ray Fisher sings The Jute Mill Song

Oh dear me, the mill’s gaun fast,
The pair wee shifters cannae get their rest.
Shiftin’ bobbins coorse and fine,
They fairly mak ye work for your ten and nine.

Oh dear me, I wish the day were done,
Rinnin’ up and doon the paths is nae.
Shiftin’, piecin’, spinnin’, warp, weft and twine,
There’s nae much pleasure livin’, affen ten and nine.

Oh dear me, the world is ill-divided,
Them that works the hardest are the least provided.
I maun work the harder, dark days or fine,
Tae feed and cled my bairnies affen ten and nine.