Lab Assistant at Thomson Cod Liver Oil Factory by Jean MacPherson

Thomson's cod liver oil cream advert from the Northern Scot Christmas Post 1905Jean started work for Thomson Cod Liver Oil factory in 1942 at the age of 15. She went on to work for the Thomson family for the next thirty years. At the time she joined George Thomson worked for the firm. Her normal working day began at 9 a.m. and ended at 5.30 p.m. She was given an hour off for lunch from 1 – 2 p.m.  Her starting wage was £1 a week.

The cod liver oil was stored in metal barrels and decanted into glass bottles and latterly plastic ones during the time she worked for the firm. There was a plain and an iodised version of the oil for chesty people. They also made and sold capsules flavoured with blackcurrant.

Her journey to and from her home in Bishopmill could be very difficult. During the period of WW2 her walks home at night were very dark. This was due the lack of street lighting i.e. the blackouts. There also very bad winters with heavy snowfalls throughout the 1940s. Jean had to wade through the snow in her Wellington boots.

One summer as Jean turned 18 in April 1960, the employees were taken a work’s holiday. Jean had to obtain her first passport. In two separate groups of eight (so the factory could remain open) they travelled down to London by train and stayed at the Ambassador Hotel. During the first week of their holiday they went to see a variety of the city’s tourist attractions including Madame Tussauds and the Lyons Tea Rooms. The following week Jean’s group travelled on to Paris, managing to catch the last train from Calais before the rail workers went on strike. They were not allowed to take anymore than £15 out of the country. They were issued with ration books which were handed to the hotel. Jean remembers having a lovely room in Paris where she could smell the bakery.

They visited a number of famous Parisian landmarks including the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles. At the Louvre they saw the painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo de Vinci.

Memory contributed by Jean McPherson at the Messages and Memories Event at Elgin Library

Additional Information
Grace's guide link

Lyons Coffee Shop information on a history of shops website


Book about Wireless Station wavelenghts written by R. Thomson (Horace’s Father?) in the 1920s.

An example of one of the porcelain cod liver oil spoons produced and sold by Thompsons.


Life as a Junior Reporter for the Northern Scot by Bruce Taylor

Piper Alpha Memorial Window  source: wikicommons

Piper Alpha Memorial Window at Ferryhill Church, Aberdeen Source: Wikicommons

Bruce enjoyed writing at school and generally enjoyed his English lessons. He left school in 1961 at the age of 15 and went to Websters College at the top of Batchen Lane in Elgin to study shorthand and typing. His first job was for the Northern Scot newspaper where he described his first duties as a “general dogsbody”. They included buying cigarettes for the Editor, covering events such as  Flower Shows etc.  He had to travel to local towns including Lossiemouth and Dufftown to look for stories. All the time he was looking for stories of general interest. He travelled by himself as there was no staff photographer at this time.

When he turned 22 he moved to the Press and Journal Newspaper. Someone came from the P&J to his house to offer him the job, which included an increase in wages. Bruce accepted the offer and his earnings rose from £16 a week to £25 per week (a 56% increase).

During his time at the paper the biggest story he covered was the Piper Alpha Disaster in July 1988.  Bruce was the first reporter to travel out to the rig site, the day after the accident. By that time the flames were out and all that was left was the smoking skeleton of the platform. Bruce wrote about his first impressions and his reports were run on other papers as well as his own.

Bruce thought the best part of the job was the contact with people and helping them to communicate an issue they were concerned with. This could be raising funds for someone who was ill or a local campaign against a new road or the closure of an institution. He also covered Moray Council meetings and was an advocate for those who would have had no voice. It gave him great satisfaction to see his own stories in the Press and also when some stories were taken up by the National Press.

Additional Information

British Newspaper ArchiveThe Press and Journal has 13,234 back issues lodged with the British Newspaper Archive holds a number of Press and Journal newspapers in a digitised form. The BNA website

New Scottish online resource related to the Piper Alpha Disaster. The resource is part of the Glow Intranet community.
 Piper Alpha Disaster – Education Scotland website with a link to the glow-based resource.

Milk boy for Bishopmill Dairy by Bill Forsyth

Bill started work in 1937 at the age of 9/10. His Father had heard about the job in his job at the Tile Works. Joseph Farquhar owned Bishopmill Farm, which was the left hand side of the road on the way out of Bishopmill towards Lossiemouth. It was just past the old Moray Poor House site. He worked for the farm’s dairy before school every day of the week. He arrived about 7 a.m. and collected tin cans, which held about 1 pint of pasturised full cream milk. He could hook 5 cans on either side of his bike. He then set off to deliver milk to the local customers. The job carried on through the holidays as well. When the war started Joseph Farquhar’s son, also called Bill was called up. Bill was asked to help with the milk round. Joseph had two milk floats to deliver the milk to his Elgin customers.

Easterton farm Roseisle © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Easterton Farm Roseisle Copyright Anne Burgess Creative Commons Licence

When Bill reached 13 he left school to work for the dairy full-time. He learnt how to control a horse and cart so he could then take one of the carts on local milk deliveries. Two large milk churns were placed in the back of his cart along with a one pint tin jug to dispense the milk from the large cans into whatever the customer had at hand for their milk delivery.The route he took was from Bishopmill along Lesmurdie Road, Kingmills, over the old Bridge to the Cathedral, up King Street, cut across Institution Road, round the Station Hotel and then back to the Dairy. The caretaker at the Cathedral always had two sandwiches ready made with fresh butter and rhubarb jam. One for Bill and one for the horse. No-one had fridges in those days so Bill went on his round every day. When he returned to the dairy he handed back the tin cans for cleaning and put the horse to pasture in the fields around the dairy. Then the cart needed to be tidied up. Next Bill went off to Easterton Farm on Covesea Road to collect the cans of milk for the following day. The milk was processed and pasturised at the dairy ready for the next day’s delivery. Each week Bill handed over his wage to his Mother and received spending money back.

Cattle were also kept on the farm. The dung heap was situated behind the Old Bishopmill School and the smell could be quite strong on some days.

Bill remembered the Old School at Bishopmill had traditional school desks with slates, ink pots and blackboards.

 Memory contributed by Bill Forsyth at the Messages and Memories Event at Elgin Library June 2014

Additional Information

Bishopmill History

nls map referencesLocal Maps of the area   Either choose Find by place which allows the user to select specific maps individually e.g. This 1938 (published 1946) map of Elgin shows all the detail of Bishopmill including old and new school, the old town centre roads before the bypass, the gas works etc…

There are various books which describe Bishopmill and its development including the schools. The History of the Local Area is written about in detail in the New Statistical Account of Scotland. Search by putting Bishopmill in the left hand search box or go to page 98 onwards in the Elgin section of the book.
Bishopmill Google booksMoray Poor House, Bishopmill  The Map of the Moray Poor House on this web page also shows the location of the local primary school on Balmoral Terrace and the farm fields around Bishopmill around 1905. To look at other old maps of the area go to the Useful Links/Scottish Maps page on this website and follow the NLS link.

List of Moray Combination Poorhouse residents in 1881

Working as a van porter for Henderson’s Furniture by Peter Logie

Hendersons_furniture ElginPeter started work at the age of 15 in 1956. His first job was at Henderson’s furniture in Elgin.  He had left school with no qualifications and he had heard about the job. Peter felt that in those days there were jobs for anyone willing to work. The Local Mills could be difficult to get work in. Young people had their names put down for mill work several years earlier, by their parents who worked there. Peter’s working week ran from Monday to Friday with a half day on Saturday. He earned around £5-6 per week with two weeks holiday annual leave including Christmas Day as a holiday.  Peter’s Father was in the building trade and for him Christmas Day was a working day with New Year’s day as a day off.

Peter delivered new furniture from Henderson’s and also did removals all over Elgin through to Aberdeen and Inverness. On a rare occasion he stayed overnight. It was very hard work with lots of heavy lifting. Four people were on the removal team and two people on furniture deliveries. Sometimes getting furniture into houses was difficult. Windows could be a useful way of getting furniture into a house. Peter stayed in the job for three years and he really enjoyed it.

He went on to work for Grant Furniture until he was made redundant. Looking for a change he took a job as a kitchen porter washing dishes and general “odd bod”.  One day the Head Chef was ill and the owner came down and said  “Peter, you are doing breakfast tomorrow”. From then on he continued to work in the kitchen as a Commis Chef for 2-3 years. He went to college at Elgin Technical College to do his City and Gulids 7061. From there he went to work at the Seafield Arms in Cullen returning to take his City and Guilds 7062 (distinction pass) then back to Cullen for a further 2 years. Peter moved from there to work at the Eight Acres, where he remained the second chef for the next twenty years. He did not want to be the Head Chef as there was a lot of organisational work involved. The hotel had around sixty bedrooms and held functions for up to 200. Most nights there were 40 covers to serve. Peter liked being busy.

Leather strap from the Keith Memory Blog website

Leather strap from the Keith Primary School Memory Blog website

Old Bishopmill School memory
The original Bishopmill Primary School was on Balmoral Terrace and it closed in the mid 1930s moving to its current position on Morriston Road. Peter was at both schools. He remembers taking home the leather strap so as to avoid receiving it as a punishment. Unfortunately his idea was flawed as his Father used the strap to give him 6 lashes for taking it and then when he took it back to school he got six more from the Head Master for stealing!

Memory contributed by Peter Logie at the Messages and Memories Event at Elgin Library in June 2014

Working as a table maid at Leuchars house by Sheila McGregor

Leuchars House Attibution Anne Burgess This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.Sheila attended Elgin Technical College where she learnt cookery, sewing, knitting and housework. She left at the age of 16 and went to work at Leuchers House situated in a farming area near Elgin. Her employer was Colonel Black who by then was in his 90s and childless. Her room was in the attic. In addition to Sheila there was a housekeeper and a gardener. Each day the housekeeper, Nurse Grant woke her up. Nurse Grant had previously looked after the Colonel’s late wife and stayed on.

Sheila woke the Colonel at 7.30 a.m. setting his breakfast table in the dining room and then moving on to clean his shoes. She was then able to have her own breakfast in the kitchen with the housekeeper. Breakfast always consisted of porridge, toast, home-made butter, jam and marmalade.

The Colonel dressed himself and then went to work every day, even though he was advanced in years, until well into his 80s. He worked for the partnership of Allan, Black and McCaskie in Elgin as a solicitor. While he was out Sheila cleaned the house and helped to prepare lunch. He returned for lunch driving himself home in his Rover car. In the afternoon both she and the Housekeeper were free and sometimes they would cycle to Lochhills, where Nurse Grant owned a cottage. Sheila’s parents lived in Birnie but it was too far to go for just an afternoon. Each Friday and every 2nd Saturday she had a day off. On those days she would cycle from Leuchars House to Birnie to see her parents. She did not take her washing as she was able to do that at Leuchars House.

In the evening Sheila and the House keeper sat in the kitchen and knitted or sewed. The Gardener went home. He did not live in as he had lived a cottage with his family. The cottage was on and belonged to the estate.

On occasion the colonel would entertain neighbours with a dinner party. Regular guests included the Laird of Pitgaveny and Captain Iain and Lady Margaret Tennant from Innes House.

Additional Information

More information about Lieutenant Colonel William Rose Black can be found on Libindx database. Select People search on the left and then click on the blue full information icon on the right (see screenshot below).
Link to the Libindx database which has information about Colonel Black

Leuchars House is a British Listed Building. There is a lot of information about the hosue including a map of its location and photographs of the house. Libindx also has information about Leuchars House under a Place Search including details of a fire which destroyed part of the house in 1948 and the addition of a garage by Colonel Rose Black in 1953 around when Sheila worked there.

An 1870-1 map of the area showing where Leuchars House is. It is in the left third of the map about halfway up.

Plan of Loch spynie and adjacent grounds on the Scotland Places' websiteScotland’s Places website has a wonderful map of the area called a Plan of Loch Spynie and adjacent grounds. It shows the Mill of Leuchars around where the main house is now. The mill run is shown running south from the Loch of Coates and over the Lands of Leuchars. There is also an old channel shown linking the River Lossie to the Loch of Coates which ran across the Leuchars land. The map was drawn up for the Court of Sessions in 1783 as part a dispute between Sir William Gordon of Gordonstoun and the Branders of Kinneddar (Alex Brander) and Pitgaveny Estate (John Brander).

Alistair Riach’s first job for Scott the Grocers in Bishopmill, Elgin

Alistair started working for Scott the Grocers at the age of 13 in 1948. His Mother said “You have to go out and make some money”. Scott the Bakers was situated next to the Chemist shop (where the Co-op shop is now). Bishopmill did not have a lot of shops.He delivered baked goods and collected orders all over Bishopmill using his message bike. A sack of potatoes would just fit into a bike carrier. During the winter it was very hard work. He handed over his earnings to his mother for his keep. He worked from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. and then 4 p.m. until 6 p.m going to work in between.

In his free time he went to dances at the Lido and saw films at the Elgin playhouse. The children also went swimming in the River Lossie. They only wore shoes for school and took them off once they got out of school to keep them “nice”. When they wore the shoes the socks would be darned with a tennis ball.

He remembers his Granny putting spare porridge in  a drawer. Pieces could be cut off as oatcakes. Sometimes she would cut a slide off and fry it. One day she gave Alistair a Mars bar and said “That’s your tea, there is a meal in a Mars.” 

Additional Information
The Porridge drawer tradition is well established in the north-east of Scotland.

Memory contributed by Alistair Riach from Elgin.

Vera’s first job as a waitress at the Playhouse Cinema café

The Playhouse Café was located on the right as you went into the cinema. Vera started work there at the age of 17 in 1937. She wore a navy/black frock as a uniform and an apron. Her duties included taking orders and serving tea. China tea cups were used to serve tea. At this time the cinema still had its main entrance off the main street and there was only one screen. The cinema was divided into two in 1986. Vera does not remember a piano even though she saw silent films played there as well as talkies. The back seats of the cinema were reserved for the courting couples.

In her spare time Vera went dancing. Later on she worked for a tailoress in the High Street. She made Ladies’ skirts and altered Men’s trousers.

Additional Information

More information about Scottish Cinema and Theatre ProjectElgin cinema history from Scottish

Forestry tree planter at Newton by James McPherson

Newton House by CA Miller  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Newton House by CA Miller This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution

James started his job as a tree planter at the Newton Forestry commission site near Elgin in 1939. It was the only job he could get at the time at the age of 14. He needed to get a bike to cycle to Newton and back home. Three of his workmates walked from Hopeman to Newton everyday (distance 4 1/2 miles – 1 hr 35 mins). He earned 19 /- a week and had the weekends off. He gave his earnings to his parents. He started work at 8 o’clock and then had a tea break at 9.30 a.m. For his lunch he had sandwiches, a banana and a drink. The work day ended at 4.30 p.m. In winter James worked in a shed. Everything was done by hand in those days. There was no training. When he wasn’t working he played bowls and played football. After working in Forestry he went to work at the Greenbrae Quarry in Cummingston as a labourer. Then he went on to work on the Kinloss RAF base for 25 years washing Nimrods and Shackletons.

James MacPherson was interviewed by Cora Mackenzie, a pupil at Burghead Primary School.

Anne McArthur’s work in accounts

Anne started her work as an accounting machine operator in Elgin when she was 15 in 1969 and stayed there for 5 whole years. She worked in an office and chose that job because it had a good employer. She was paid £30 a month and she had to pay digs and keep the rest. She got 34 days holiday and during her holidays and spare time she would go dancing.

She would start work at 9 o’clock and finished and 5 o’clock. Anne had two 15 minute breaks and she did not go home for lunch. She was asked to do key in information but one day the company changed to decimalisation which she had to do training for. Sometimes she would put cold tea in a bottle for whisky to see if people could tell the difference. She used a big machine to do her work and computers were used more manually. Anne enjoyed getting things right at work and the job was very safe.

Anne McArthur from Elgin was interviewed by Sam, a pupil from Burghead Primary School.

Ann Hay Cowie’s first job as a tailoress in Elgin

A historical Singer sewing machine.

An example of a Treddle Singer sewing machine.

Ann’s first job was as an apprentice tailor for Edwin Davidson at 24 South College Street in Elgin.
The workrooms took the form of a line of garages at the back of the shop with a panel of windows all along the right-hand side. Inside the workrooms sat two tailors and the three girls. The business premises ran near Lazurus Lane. The only heating in the garage were the Tailors’ Goose irons used for shaping the cloth. A bucket of water was used to cool the irons down to the right temperature. Many a morning Ann came in to find a sheet of ice had formed overnight in the bucket. A small iron was 8 lb and the big ones were double that. Also in use were treddle sewing machines.

Ann’s working day started with dusting the tweed down and general cleaning. Next she delivered parcels to the “burgh” and went to the bank. She earned £1 a week. She used half of it in her bus fare from Portgordon to Elgin every day. There was Christmas Day off. The tailors had to work on Christmas Day. They all got a week off the first week in January because it was quiet. They didn’t get paid though.The girls on the staff did the skirts and trousers. The tailors made the Harris Tweed Coats and jackets etc…

She found that by the time she had completed the non-sewing jobs she wasn’t learning very much about tailoring. After four years (1956) the shop had still not taken on a new assistant like her so delaying the possibility of Ann moving on to more tailoring work and less cleaning/ delivery work so she decided to move on to another job elsewhere. Her sister was already working in London for Lloyds Bank in Pall Mall so that is why she found her next job at B.J. Simmons, Costumiers in Covent Garden on January 1st 1956.  She got a place to stay at Harrow on the Hill in a private bedsitting flat. From her £5 a week wage she had to pay out 30 /- for her digs, 32 /- 6d. for fare (including 2 /- 6d. for milk). It took three trains to get in for work. She usually bought a £4 monthly ticket which allowed her to come back into town at the weekend with friends to visit the many free attractions of the city. She didn’t have much money left to go to the theatre or anything like that but there were plenty of places in the city such as the museums, parks and art galleries, which were free. Life in the city was sooty and smoggy. The London smog was so bad at the time that people died. there were many illnesses caused by the smog. Young women wore white gloves and by the time she got home each day her gloves were filthy and her hair was full of soot. When she washed it there wasa ring around the wash basin. The smog was caused byu the burning of coal fires. There was a move to the cleaner anthracite coal and that helped to clean the air.

B.J.Simmons were a huge Theatrical Costumiers Firm in Covent Garden.  They supplied the whole of London. There was only one other costumiers in London at that time. They were opposite the Sadlers Wells Theatre. Ann worked in the bottom floor where there was a laundry and a workroom for props and wig-making. She was a hand sewer re-attaching collars after they came out of the laundry. The actors used to cover the collars in make-up as they wore the costume. the collar was removed, laundered and then re-attached by hand after which it was returned to the theatre or opera company for the next performance. The Victorian dresses had no zips only hooks as was traditional for the time. The Elizabethan dresses were covered in Embroidery.

Ann particularly remembers the Mikado production of 1956. The satins were very heavy. One costume was a huge purple dressing gown with a bright yellow collar and cuffs to match. The Mikado was a Sadler’s Wells Ballet production starring Margot Fonteyn and it opened on 22nd March 1956 with choreography by Sir Fredrick Ashton.

After a year or so Ann decided to get sewing work closer to Harrow on the Hill.

more memories to be added soon including Emigration to New Zealand …………………………..

Memory contributed by Ann Hay Cowie from Portgordon


Tailor’s gravestone ©Walter Baxter Licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution

Additional information
The History of ironing– this includes information on Goose irons

Possible Origin of Goose Irons– “A tailor’s stone. This old symbolic gravestone at Newlands Churchyard displays the emblems associated with a tailor in the form of the goose and shears. The term ‘goose’ seems to have come into use around 1605, when the tailor’s pressing iron was so called because the handle resembled a goose’s neck.”

B.J. Simmons- Theatrical Costumiers
The Ransom Centre at the University of Texas has the archive for this busy Covent garden Workshop.  Other information on the archive of material on the company from Harvard University Library. The V and A have a large collection of drawings of costumes made by B.J. Simmons and Co.

Royal Opera House

Mikado production in 1956 (Entrée Japonaise)- more information about the production of Mikado

The Great Smog and the Clean Air Act of 1956 – London was famous for its smogs. By the time Ann arrived in 1956 the City of London was dealing with the problem by providing financial incentives to to install a gas fire or to use the less smoky coke fuel on fires.

Moving to New Zealand

NZ arrival also from 1958

NZ history website with media gallery