Opera manager and theatre worker in South Africa by Mary Ashdown

“I came to live in Forres with my daughter, when I was 70-year-old. My father was from Yorkshire and moved to South Africa and to work as a gold/diamond and tin miner. I was born in Vendersdorp, Western Transvaal in 1934. Our Headteacher started a theatre in the school and I was very involved in it. I went to Tech. College and did typing too. I got a call to offer me the job in the theatre. I met my partner while working in the theatre. It was a very busy working life at the theatre with concerts every Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon. Afternoon concerts in the park so very little free time as we worked 9 a.m-5 p.m. everyday. If I did get some free time to relax I would stay home and read.

I was also helping children who had been thrown out and we had a little cottage in our garden where 10 children stayed until homes were found for them. I met Nelson and Winnie Mandela while I was doing this work. A friend who had a hotel gave us food for the children. Margot Fonteyn was one of the performers while I worked at the theatre. I stayed for 40 years and still helped out when I retired. I was the first white lady to put a black child in school at seven years of age. She did well and matriculated and went on to work. The Theatre is called Natal Performing Arts Council in Durban.”

Mary Ashdown was interviewed in Forres by Jo Sweeney, WRVS volunteer

Additional Information

Natal Playhouse website About Us pageMore information on Natal Performing Arts Council in Durban.

The Natal Playhouse is the NAPAC’s official home for the various departments.

A large number of people travelled from the UK to South Africa in search of work. There are a large number of studies of the emigration from the UK duirng the 1930s (the depression) to Canada, Australia, the US and South Africa (like Mary’s Father). Here is a graph showing the number of people who left UK shores 1890s-1960s.


Working for Christies Nurseries in Fochabers by John Smith

Christies garden centre advert from 1953- Northern Scot Christmas EditionJohn started his working life at Christies Nurseries in Fochabers in 1952 at the age of 16. He stayed there for four years and then went to work on the Seafield estate in the office.
He did his National Service when he was 21-22 yrs old based at Blanford.
He then decided to train as an engineer, working for Jones of Buckie. He earned £2 a week doing this. His pay went up every year until he was on £6 a week after six years. He also worked for McDuff Engineering Company.

From his youth he remembers being outside a lot and cutting “morning sticks” = kindling to earn pocket money.

Memory contributed by John Smith from Fochabers

Shop Assistant for Alex Esson, Tailor and Outfitter in Buckie by Ethel Duthie

Ethel worked for Alex Esson, Tailor and Outfitter in Buckie.. There were Ladies wear- skirts, pinafore, trousers. Some were made from the grander tweed. It was lovely to see a suit being made and fitted. The patterns were cut from brown paper.

She remembers in 1956 a woman in a long striped skirt and a shawl. She was an interesting character and one of the last of the fisherwomen in the Broch. The woman smoked a clay pipe. It was unusual for the time for women to smoke. Gallery picture of a North-east fish-wife wearing a pipe and a shawl.

Memory contributed by Ethel Duthie from Portessie.

General memories from the Over 60s group in Portessie.

In 1943 The Rag and Bone Man travelled through the area during the summer months repairing old pots and pans and sharpening ropes & scissors. He also swopped clothes for a balloon.

The three boys at home were kitted out with a new jumper each for the start of the summer session.  Ian appeared home with a balloon and no new jumper. Luckily his mother caught up with the Rag and Bone man and got the new jumper back!

A milk cart delivered milk every morning from Rathven, Aberdeenshire. Willie Findlay drove the horse on its regular round through the villages. If the horse got out at night it did its round by itself and then went back to the field. People could hear it clomping through the village on its delivery route.

Doug Andrew’s life as a trawlerman

Steady below Fireman on a trawler by Doug Andrews, Kinloss

My father’s friend was a skipper on a steam trawler. Between the ages of 12 and 15 years old went as a passenger on a ship in the holidays. I helped on deck and with the cooking. At 15 years of age in 1947 I left school and went to work on the trawler, Faithlie (now decommissioned). Trawlers drag the sea bed.  We travelled to inshore waters, middle water (Shetland, Faroe) and distant water (Iceland).

Faithlie trawler image

Faithlie trawler image from http://www.trawlerphotos.co.uk/ Shared photos on site. See site for more copyright information on this photo.

Additional link to an image of the Faithlee trawler
I spent my working day shovelling coal as the only fireman on the ship. The ship would have 300 tons of coal loaded onto the boat. This would last about 12 days depending on the distance travelled. There would always be fuel left at the end of a voyage but most of it would be shovelled into the ship’s by me.

Types of fish caught
We caught haddock, cod, monk fish  (tail = mock scampi) and rounders. In Flat fish we caught plaice, halibut, sole (lemon, dover, meghims) and turbot.  Here is a film from 1952 describing how the Seine trawler net works

Best Fishing Story
While fishing off Aberdeen we realised the net had something in it. We pulled up the net and smell was terrible. When we got to the cod end of the net inside it we found the carcass of an elephant! We had no idea why there could be an elephant at the bottom of the north sea but we found out the following week. Another trawler from Hull pulled up the same carcass and this time reported it. It turned out the elephant had been part of a herd on a russian trawler. When it died they had put it over the side where we had found it.
The story finished on the front page of the Aberdeen Express with the Heading “Aberdeen trawler catches a Jumbo haddock”.

The tale is also recounted by Fred Innes, Chief Engineer on the same boat and Stewart Cree, who lived in Aberdeen during this paper and remembers reading about it in the local paper.

Working week
Sailed on Monday and returned to land catch on Wednesday. Sailed same day and landed catch on Friday. Weekend off.
There were licences for Atlantic Waters which allowed a boat 12 trips a year for example. A trip = sailing 15-20 days and then landing the fish.

Other links

Additional link to an image of the Faithlee Boat
Link to a Fleetwood Fireman’s song
More information on the Scottish Fisheries
Scottish Screen Archive Films– many films on fishing industry in Aberdeen


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