Ellen Sinclair is eighty –three years old now but she has fond memories of her first job at the Merino Mill where she started work at the age of fourteen. Ellen’s first wage was £1 a week.
She worked as a turner which meant that she turned the heels of socks. The socks were made for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
She and her pals used to slip a bit of paper with their name on it into the socks before they were dispatched and sometimes a Navy man would write to them. It was just a bit of fun on the part of young girls.
Later, Ellen worked at Invoicing. People would send socks into the mill to be “re-footed” and Ellen had to make up and send out the invoices for this work. It was cheaper to have socks re-footed than it was to buy new ones which people could not afford to do in hard times.
During the war there was what was called a “Utility Mark” and this had to be pressed onto every pair of socks before being despatched to the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Ellen spent part of her day using a small iron to press on these “Utility Marks”.
Ellen was brought up by her Granny who used to crochet for the mill. The wool used to come from Dalry for this purpose and for the making of socks, jumpers and cardigan. One day Ellen came home from school and her Granny said,
“Come on, I’m taking you up to the mill. I’ve got you an interview for a job.”
“I don’t want to be a Mill Dumpling”, said Ellen.
This is what the mill girls were known as. Ellen got started and she loved working in the mill and only left when she got married. Her husband did not want her to work as he was able to provide for her.
Ellen was happy in the mill. She started work at eight am and finished at five pm. She had an hour off for lunch and she lived near enough her work to go home for lunch. The girls also had a morning tea break and an afternoon tea break. In the summer they would bring a snack from home and, at break time, eat it on the hillside behind the mill. Ellen remembers there were prisoners of war working nearby and they would nod and smile at the girls who would nod back at them as none of the girls could speak German. She remembers these POW’s built part of Peat Road.
The girls were all pals as well as workmates and they used to go to the pictures together in their time off. They had posters of film stars put up around their workplace. Their boss was a Mr. Summers and he was strict with the workers but he did not say anything about the posters because he knew it kept the girls happy and they were good, conscientious workers. Ellen cannot remember swearing going on in her department.
There was a Mill Shop at the bottom of the Mill Road and they could use their pay slips to prove they were employees and get a discount but they did not have much money to buy things in those days.
There was not much pilfering as far as Ellen remembers. There was a gatekeeper called Mr. Mc Noull and he would call into his gatehouse for questioning anyone he suspected might be pilfering.
“We were good girls,” said Ellen, “it did not occur to us to steal anything. We were only too glad to have a job.”
Mr. McNoull would close the gates every morning at 8am and if you were not there on time you were quartered, that is, your wages were docked by quarter of an hour for being late.
Ellen’s sister worked for Mc Millan’s who had TV and electrical shops. One day she came home and asked her Granny if she could get her a job in the mill as she did not want to get her hands dirty any more. Ellen was told to speak to her manager the next day to see if her sister could get a start. She was taken on and worked in the knitting department where there were machines and where jumpers were cut out etc. She did not get her hands dirty!
Ellen does not remember much about safety in the mill. She remembers that sometimes girls used to faint. There was an Ambulance Room with a nurse on duty and girls were sent to the nurse if they felt unwell.
Periodically, Fire Drill was carried out at the mill to ensure that the employees knew how to get out safely in the event of a fire and also to train them not to panic and endanger themselves and others by rushing or causing congestion on narrow stairways etc.
When her daughter was at high school, Ellen went back to work to provide the extras that could not be afforded out of one wage packet. However, she did not go back to the mill but got a job in Auld’s Bake house.