Annabella Johnston

Annabella Johnston

Annabella started work at the Merino Mill when she was fifteen.  It was dirty work and was also heavy work.   She was a canvas weaver and they worked with formaldehyde which was hard on the hands.  She was on piece work and worked two nights and a Saturday morning, overtime, for which she was paid a total of £2 per week.  Even with those wages, the mill was better paid than shop work.

Workers clocked in and out each day.

The canvas Annabella made was used for backing carpets.

It was very noisy in Annabella’s department so the girls could not call out to each other and have a laugh.  Instead, they had to learn to lip read in order to communicate.  The girls had to put their hand up if they wanted to go to the toilet.   All the looms could not shut down at once so the girls on either side would have to keep an eye on their neighbour’s looms as well as their own if someone wanted a toilet break.

In spite of the noise and hard work, Annabel loved working in the mill.  The noise took its toll, however, and Annabella was paid compensation for the damage she suffered to her hearing from the high level of decibels in her workplace.

Annabella met her husband William (Billy) Easterbrook while she was working at the mill because Billy worked there too.  He used to chat her up and bribe her with slice rolls.  Unusually for that period, Billy had a car while he was still quite young.  Annabella admits that the car was an added attraction.  It wasn’t long before they were going out together and they later married.   Billy and Annabella lived in Holmscroft Street and latermoved to Braeside.  They had four children.   Billy died young at the age of forty one years.

When discussing health and safety at the mill, some of the workers said it was quite a safe place to work but Annabella remembers things which happened that would not be allowed in the workplaces of today.

She said that it was not uncommon for rats to run about the mill and tells the story of how they used have their breaks round a table in what was not much more than a store-room.  One day she saw a large rat drinking out of a cup which someone had left on the floor.

The workers were not supplied with ear plugs despite the loud noise in the mill.  Hence many of the girls suffered from hearing loss. In later life, many of the girls received compensation for their work related hearing loss.

Annabella and her fellow workers had to work with formaldehyde and their hands could become rough and sore as they were not issued with any gloves or protective clothing.  Once, Annabella mentioned this to her foreman and he said she was to “go home and pee in a bucket and then dip your hands in it .” Annabella declined.

As a result of the fluff and dust she worked among, Annabella suffered from nosebleeds.  She had to have her nose cauterised.