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


Heather Carson’s work as a Matron’s secretary

Heather CarsonHeather’s first job was at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. It was just after the war and she was 15 years old. She had to interview the patients. The Matron told her to talk to the mother if they needed more details than the child could tell her. One day she spotted her Father’s nephew and was able to take him home when he was well enough. Later in life she worked at St Dunstan’s as an Office Secretary.

Memory contributed by Heather Carson, Aberlour

Additional Information

A wartime memory of the life in the hospital during the second world war.

BBC archive link to a london hospital videoBBC archive film of the London Hospital during WW2. Title : War Comes to London Voluntary Hospitals Description- How various hospitals in London prepared for war.

National Bank of Australasia Shorthand Secretary by Angela Wallis

II had to type the monthly wool letter- six carbon copies. It was sent all across Europe. Our office in Princes Street (London) had a lift operated by a man who pulled a cable up and down. I worked in the basement. We had 1/2 hour for lunch. 3 /- luncheon vouchers. I gave Mum £2 per week and kept nothing for myself. The working day began at 9 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. There was 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon for a break. I often joined my Dad at a sandwich bar in Woolworths, Cheapside. On Saturday the working hours were 9-1 p.m. I was asked to type but didn’t use my shorthand very much. I also did the post. I liked all my fellow workers. There was no talking in the office and it was quite cold. The Steam trams made my clothes dirty. There was a “sit up and beg” typewriter. A gestetner for making copies. It was very messy. In my time off I went to the cinema, dancing, traditional jazz concerts, tennis and the proms. I stayed 5 years. They asked me to leave when I got married. In 1953 the new West End Office opened in time for the Royal Wedding. We organised seats for visiting ozzies to watch. I became Secretary to the Manager. On June 30 and 31st December we had to stay and help until the Teller/ Cashier had balanced the books. Sometimes this took until midnight.

I spent 20 years in Africa with my husband, John who was an engineer, Met Office in Lusaka. I worked for the Kaunda Government with 51% takeovers of commerce. John was Chair of the Zambia Tennis. We played with and watched Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith.  We entertained other International Tennis Stars. We spent all our holidays in game parks, walking with elephants etc… travelled the world on our long leaves. I sang for the Queen in Lusaka Cathedral in the 70s by which time I had forgotten verses 2 and 3 of our National Anthem! We sponsored our garden boy, Paul Mwansa for GCE and accountancy training and by the time we left he was the Financial Controller of the Government owned Zambia Hotel Corporation!  We were very proud.”

Angela earned £3 12/- 6d. The uniform cost 12 /- 6 d. The season ticket cost £1 from Surrey. Angela worked in the City of London in 1952 and at the new West End office from 1953-7. Her holidays were two weeks per annum and one Saturday off in 8.

Angela Mary Wallis submitted her memory on a printed memory submission form and sent it into Elgin Library

Working as a Mother’s help by Jean Guild

“I left school at 14 in 1944. At that time you registered with Labour Exchange and they found you a job, I became a Mother’s help in Nairn in the McAusland Electrical Shop. I looked after two girls aged 7 and 9. I took them and fetched them from school. I helped in the house cleaning and cooking. I also helped in the shop when the men went out. I remember having to give out wet and dry batteries, I was also entrusted to take the takings to the bank. I really enjoyed the job and had good employers. I really enjoyed the job and had very good employers.  I worked from 9 to 4 and had weekends off, but can’t remember having holidays, and I earned 14/- per worked.  I worked there for about 2 years until I was 16 and then everything changed.  My father was killed in the war, he was a gunner, and my mother died 2 years later of a brain haemorrhage.  I was the oldest of 6, but luckily we had 2 wonderful spinster aunts who were very kind and they looked after us.  I went off to Kent and worked in service at a castle. 

I loved the work and saw lots of famous people including royalty, the Aga Khan and Winston Churchill, although to begin with I was very homesick and only got home once a year. 

Vintage Maxwell House Coffee tins from the 1950sI once brought home coffee from Maxwell’s in London but it was no good as it had to be percolated and we didn’t have a percolator.”

Working as a window dresser for Lily and Skinner in London by Joan Hunt

Joan’s job involved changing the shop windows of Lily and Skinner, Oxford Street, London She also fitted and sold shoes. She handed over her wages to her mother who gave her back money for bus fares and a little for herself. The normal working day began at 8 and finished at 5 p.m. She took a packed lunch or went to the cafe on pay days. Jona enjoyed meeting lots of people ( a lot of country people came into London). She was given training on how to serve a customer. If you didn’t do it right you were not allowed to work alone. In her spare time she joined the girl guides as a leader. She only stopped 7 years ago. Both her daughters were guides as well.

Joan Hunt was interviewed by the staff of Linnburn Day Centre in Rothes

Additional Links
More information about Girl Guiding now

Selling a Roberts radio to the Queen by Danus Skene

Harrods (London)“I left school in 1962 when I was 18 and went to London.  I worked in Harrod’s over the Christmas period in the Radio Department.  I was often repremanded because I called them wireless instead of radios.  My wages were £5 per week but I got commission which was very good because the radios were expensive.  One day the Queen came in with her bodyguard and 2 servants.  She wanted a very small radio, I was able to recommend a Roberts radio, but she didn’t buy it, that was left to her staff at a later date.”

Danus Skene was interviewed by Heather Heppenstall, WRVS Volunteer at Kinloss Coffee Morning, Kinloss Church

Joy’s first job as an Air Stewardess in Belize

An AA 757-200 Landing runway 02 at Toncontin International Airport (Prior to removal of the hillock), Honduras

An AA 757-200 Landing runway 02 at Toncontin International Airport (Prior to removal of the hillock), Honduras

Joy’s first job was for the Transatlantic Central American Airlines based in British Honduras (now known as Belize). One of the routes she flew was from San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa from Belize City. She was offered the job in 1948 when she was 16. Her mother was Scottish, her Father was Welsh and her first language was English. The training took place in Belize and she was required to speak Spanish. The flights she worked on were of one hour duration with no drinks. The airline used small passenger planes. Sometimes she had to change planes in San Pedro Sula to a plane which could carry people and cargo. When there was cargo Joy often stayed behind in San Pedro Sula as they needed a man to unload the cargo at the destination,

South London Hospital for Women, Clapham Common South SideThe South London Hospital for Women, Clapham Common South Side was entirely staffed by women. The hospital was founded in 1912 and opened by Queen Mary on July 4th 1916.

The South London Hospital for Women

Later in life she moved to London where she worked in the South London Hospital as a trainee nurse. The hospital was for women and children run by women. One man was a porter and all the doctors and nurses were women.

The three arms of modern fencing (Foil, epee, saber)
The three arms of modern fencing (Foil, epee, saber)

In the 1960s Joy took up fencing. There are three weapons in fencing the foil, sabre and epee. She was allowed to use the foil. She was a member of a club and fenced all over Cramwell, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. She was the Individual Women’s Champion for Lincolnshire. Joy preferred team competitions. For matches she had to wear a mask, special gloves, padded jacket (torso only). There was no electric fencing at club level as it was too expensive, but once you were at competitive level it was used. Fencing was good fun and very good exercise, however a legacy of her fencing days is a problem knee from all the lunging.

Memory was contributed by Jo Crowley, a WRVS volunteer

Additional Information


Joy Crowley sharing memories of living in Lincolnshire with teacher Mrs PaxmanJoy is a valuable member of the team of WRVS volunteers helping with this project. She has been interviewing people in a variety of settings in Moray including this educational event at Cluny Primary called Then and Now in May. Here she is talking to Cluny teacher Mrs Paxman (left) about their shared experiences of Lincolnshire.  

Toncontin International Airport
Toncontin airport“The airport received much notoriety as being one of the most dangerous in the world due to its proximity to mountainous terrain, its short runway, and its historically difficult approach to runway 02.” source 

Description of landing at the airport- click here

South London Hospital
The South London Hospital for Women, Clapham Common South Side was entirely staffed by women. The hospital was founded in 1912 and opened by Queen Mary on July 4th 1916. It was enlarged in the 1930s and closed down in 1984.

“South London Hospital for Women (Incorporated); 1912; Out-patients, 86-88, 90, Newington Causeway, S.E. In-patients, 103, South Side, Clapham Common.; To give medical and surgical treatment by qualified medical women – to provide private wards for women of small means (1 to 3 guineas a week).” source

Lost Hospitals of London– information on the South London Hospital for women and children

Edward’s time as a senior office boy

Edward decided to go to work for Allan, Buckie and McCaskie in Elgin as he thought he would like to study the law. He started work in 1936 for 30/- a month. His family moved away from Scotland to London. There he had seven jobs in six months. One of these jobs was as a debt collector but he found he was too sympathetic and it went against his nature.  The family had moved because his brother wanted to join the police. 
Sellarc Company House RecordWorked for an oil company in London called HE Oil. Involved in the marketing. Eventually set up an oil company in 1963 in Preston, Sellarc Southern Ltd. It was a successful company selling high pressure greasing equipment.

He also travelled to Burma, South Africa with the army in WWII. He was training Bush men.

Edward was interviewed by Community Service Students at Gordonstoun School

Working for the Civil Service in Wartime by Vicky

Vicky attended the University of S.W. England (now known as Exeter University). She studied sciences. In 1940 she was given a job in London working for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. She worked as a personnel assistant. She lived in Kensington and cycled to work. There were very few cars on the road and lots of people walked everywhere. Vicky had met her future husband at the University. He was in the RAF during the war. They got married and then Vicky stopped work, as was traditional in those times when she had her son in 1943.The marriage bar, which prevented married women working had been lifted by the start of World War 2 when more women were needed in the workforce. Later in life Vicky completed a diploma in Librarianship at Robert Gordon University and worked at Elgin and Lossiemouth Libraries. Her Husband remained with Fleet Air Arm and became a Commander at Lossiemouth Airbase. wiki-commons_image University_of_Exeter_1938

Memory Contributed by Vicky, Elgin

Other links
Information on what the Department of Scientific Research did in 1940

Life as a housemaid in London by Margaret Anderson

Margaret was born in Findochty in 1922. By the age of 15 two of her cousins were working in London and she asked if they could find her a job there. They wrote to tell her about a position they had found as a housemaid to a lady and gentleman in a London house. So in 1937 she travelled down to the city to start her first job and was given a room of her own in the house.

Her Working day
Every morning Margaret got up by 7 o’clock to eat her breakfast. Then as their only servant she had to do all the household tasks including the cooking, cleaning and lady’s maid duties. The latter would include washing her lady’s face, hands and feet then preparing her lady’s permed hair.

Pay and Conditions
Margaret was paid 10 shillings a week. On Tuesday and Sunday after lunch  (when she had washed the dishes) she was allowed time off to visit friends she had in London. She found the days long and the work hard.
After a year or so she returned north to work as a nanny in Buckie.

Memory contributed by Margaret Anderson, Buckpool

Additional Information
Buckie Heritage website and Heritage Centre has a wealth of information of the history of the town and surrounding area.