Isabella Cummings was clever with her hands and used to sew. When she turned 14 years of age (1932) it was decided by her family she should become an apprentice tailoress atShandwick Place in Edinburgh. She learnt to make coats, jackets and shirts. She earned 6 /- a week. Her mother took 4 /- for her keep. She needed 1 /- for bus fare and she used the final 1 /- for stockings, personal items and shoes. Whatever she could save she gave to her grandfather, who looked after it for her. He returned it to her when she wanted to buy shoes. He doubled any amount she saved. He worked for the Edinburgh Rubber Mill, William Smith, where he was a foreman.
Tailor from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568
available freely at Project Gutenberg
She started work at the age of 14 in 1932. The apprenticeship lasted 5-6 years. The workshop was based in the Oak Street Area. She worked with a tailor’s dummy. The older men in the trade had started work back in the 1870s and 1880s. Most people lived into their 70s. The tailors worked in basements which were very cold and damp. Basements were found at the bottom of stone stairs. They worked with a continual electric light. Many of the tailors sat cross-legged on a long table so they were able to work closer to the light. The kilt makers sat on the long table with the cloth draped around them and off the floor. The sewing machines were treadle and not electric. People came into the workshop where there were dressing rooms. Most of the customers were Jewish. The workshop also made Red Cross uniforms
Bangour Village Hospital (now disused)
The nurses’ home at Bangour (now disused)
and this meant that when World War 2 started Isabella wasn’t called up immediately. She did eventually join the Civil Nursing Reserve at Bangour Hospital for burns for her training. She had a year in Edinburgh in a hospital fro geriatric medicine. She then went on to serve two years in Gogarburn, just out of Edinburgh.
Her family lived in a building called a stair off Murchison Grove. It was a tenement which was a very tall building. Their building was a pleasant place to live.
The Brave Little Tailor sitting on his table sewing
There are many images from the Grimm’s Fairy tale story of the Valiant Little Tailorsitting on his table sewing in the way that Isabella describes in her memory above.
Before and After video of Bangour Hospital- film contains a series of archive images and up-to-date images of the same scenes. With a simple search there are many pictures on the web of the hospital site which seems to be a favourite place to explore now it is closed.
Singer model 27, drawing of treadle table from its instruction manual. This machine dates from 1896.