Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional
and newer songs 
sung by Sangschule 
of Linlithgow

Wimmin O Dundee

by Sheena Wellington
The men they were na lazy but the work was hard tae find
The pairish and the means test they'd tae face
But a lassie's hands are nimble and a lassie's wages sma
So the wimmin o Dundee worked in their place

Oh, the wailin o the bummer and the clackin o the looms
Brought the wimmin o Dundee oot o their beds
And they walked tae mills and factories and they wrought frae seeven tae five
And the wimmin kept the bairns o Dundee fed

Noo ma mither an ma granny an ma aunties yin an a'
Went tae the looms the day they left the squeel
They didnae work for freedom, independence or the rest
They jist worked tae get some kitchen for the kale

Noo the rhythm o their livin was the clackin o the looms
Their youth and health and strength was lost to jate
But the weavers and the spinners and the winders o Dundee
Had the spirit that the hard times didnae bate

Noo you may boast o noble lineage and sing o yer Hielan clan
And hail some gallant chief wha shares yer name
But ma line's as guid as ony and I'm very proud tae say
It was frae a Dundee weaver that I came

Bate: beat, overcome 
Bummer: factory siren calling the workers in
Jate: jute, vegetable fibre processed for ropes and sacking
Kale: a tough form of cabbage, so widely grown by the Scottish poor that it also means a meal, food in general.
Kitchen: something edible to add to basic food
Means Test: Strict State assessment of existing sources of money before benefits were awarded
Pairish: parish church officials who could award charity to the deserving, before State Benefits existed
Squeel: school, Dundee version
Winders: workers in the mills who wound fibres on to bobbins for weaving
Wroucht: worked
Yin: one

Sheena Wellington brought this song to Sangschule. It is on Sheena’s 1990 CD Clearsong and in her notes she says “My home town of Dundee was for many years dependent on the jute trade. Women were the mainstay of the labour force, partly through aptitude and partly because they could be paid less than men. The working conditions were bad, noisy and dirty - the fine jute stoor (dust) got in hair, eyes, clothes and lungs - but the women survived by strength, spirit and solidarity. In 1906, dissatisfied with the male-dominated Textile Workers Union, they formed their own Jute and Flax Workers Union, half of whose Executive Committee had to be women. They also managed to raise fine families, often in appalling slum conditions. This song is for these Women of Dundee, particularly of my own family, with respect and love.”

Sheena Wellington has an international reputation as a singer/songwriter and was well-known in the folk music world long before her televised appearance singing “A Man’s A Man” at the opening ceremony in 1999 of the first Scottish Parliament for 300 years.

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