Oral History: Lily Thomson
I left school, I knew I was going into the jute mills. I never saw in the mills, I heard them, I smelt them, and when I left school my friend said, ‘We’ll be weavers.’ So, we got jobs as weavers, apprentice weavers, and that’s the life I do all my life, weaving ‘til the jute mills closed.
One of Barking’s biggest industries until 1891 was the processing of jute. Barking’s Abbey Jute Mill workers turned fibre from bark trees grown in India into every type of rope, string and woven sacks. Many workers were women and children, immigrant skilled weavers from Scotland and Ireland.
Lily Thomson, a retired weaver from Dundee, shares her insight into what working in a jute mill smelt like and felt like from the 1950s to the industry’s decline. Working as a weaver since the age of 15, Lily is now quite deaf due to her time spent working the noisy looms. Hear about the challenges of life in the mill, including frequent accidents and hazards she witnessed. Lily also talks about her work as a volunteer at Verdant Works since retiring, sharing the heritage of this historic trade.