1930s work for Dawson’s Opticians by Elma Anderson

Elma went to Webster’s College in Elgin from the age of 14- 16 years of age. Her first job was in 1939 at the age of 16 for the Elgin-based Dawsons Opticians (3 South Street). Her job was in the repair place at the back of the shop. This was before the start of National Health Service (NHS)so people had to pay the full cost of their glasses unless they had work insurance to cover the cost. There was a strong trade in secondhand glasses as a result. There were different kinds of lenses including :-

  • flat lenses (cheap)
  • 3 types of bifocal lenses
    – cement = two pieces of glass cemented together
    – fused = had a heated join
    – solid = raised

It could take six months to get an ordered pair of glasses back. In the meantime, temporary pairs were made up from old lenses. They were usually round lenses. If a baby needed glasses then a pair were made with a small metal bridge over the nose, round lenses and elastic to fit around the head.

Once the NHS arrived glasses cost £8  6 /- if a non-NHS frame was used for the lenses.
(In today’s money that is about £255). Tortoise shell glasses cost considerably more than that and Elma said “they were for very rich gentlemen”. They were not available on the NHS. The lenses were also thicker. There were lots of other frames available.

Elma worked for Dawsons from 1939 until 1952.

Memory contributed by Elma Anderson, Elgin

Additional Information

1940s Vogue cover showing eyeglass designs from 1946

BBC Archive Site – Birth of the NHS

National Health Service Archive from the BBC
NHS archive information from the BBCOn 5 July 1948, the National Health Service was launched with the proud expectation that it would make the UK the ‘envy of the world’. Here you can follow the early years of the NHS from radical plan through to triumphant birth and on to fully fledged but sometimes problematic service. Through programmes, documents and images taken from the BBC’s archives you can witness for yourself a time before the NHS existed, the disputes surrounding its inception and the difficulties it faced in the early years.

Elgin High Street Photographs
Elgin Street parade website
Here is a website with pictures of Elgin High Street now and in the past. “Virtually” walk down the Streets of Elgin.


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