Margaret Watson b.1907: Life and Labour, Part 2.

As we learned in the first part of this blog post, through the hard work of her father, Margaret learned the importance of paid labour from the very beginnings of her life. As a working-class girl living in one of the poorest areas of Glasgow, Margaret began earning money from small chores and jobs when she was a young child. Although she quickly became used to earning money for her and her younger brother Chick, Margaret was lucky enough to receive a school education, which her move to middle-class Paisley helped contribute to. Leaving school at the age of fourteen, Margaret embarked on her long life of work.

Margaret’s first real form of employment was a job at a carpet factory. “I left school and started to work at Templetons Carpet Factory, a nasty dirty job, I always smelled of oil and sheep wool.” (p.11) Jobs in factories such as the one Margaret worked for were very common in the early twentieth century, and a large number of working-class girls from poor areas like Margaret ended up in this form of employment. Pay was usually poor, but any wage was improvement for Margaret, who was eager to start proper work now she had left education. Margaret’s job at the carpet factory is a perfect example of the poor working conditions that so many people faced in the 1900s; many factories like this were health hazards, and there was little care for the worker’s wellbeing. Margaret comments that “The oil impregnated one’s skin and clothes” (p.11), painting a harrowing image of the conditions she had to face daily.

In her memoir, Margaret explains how she soon decides to run away after working such a gruelling job. She leaves behind a very ‘weepy’ Chick, and with only ‘one pound in the world’ (p.14), decides to leave behind her old life and search for better employment. Margaret is lucky when she meets an old woman who “liked the look” of her (p.16) and paid her five shillings weekly to be her personal maid and housekeeper. This was a large amount of money for Margaret, who had quickly succeeded in climbing the career ladder, leaving behind the hard days of the horrid factory and replacing them for a much friendlier form of employment. “’five shillings weekly’, I gasped at that. This turned out to include my good food as well.” (p.16) Margaret greatly enjoyed her time with her lady, but she was old and sadly passed away not too long after. “I looked and was horrified […] my lady had had a stroke” (p.17). Margaret expresses great sadness at this event, not just because of her loss of employment, but mainly because the woman had become her friend. Due to the death of her friend and employer, Margaret once again was uprooted and had to begin searching for not only somewhere to work, but also somewhere to live.

Credit to her determined character, Margaret does not let this tragedy set her back, and she quickly finds a job working as a waitress at a Hostelry. Sadly, Margaret recalls personal upset caused by this new job; although it was a good form of employment, the working hours were in the evening. “They required kitchen help from seven until ten in the evening. […] there was one drawback, it put an end to our Palais dancing evenings, or rather to mine. My friend Betty still went with another girl.” (p.17) Margaret writes of her memories of dancing with her friend Betty in the evenings, but her new waitressing job meant that she could no longer go out with Betty, who had seemingly replaced her easily with a new girl. Although Margret brushes over this memory in her memoir, it was bound to have been an upsetting time for her. This is a further testament to her resilience and determination when it came to employment; Margaret was willing to sacrifice her social life and her friends in order to earn her keep and make something of herself, showing the importance of labour to her. This admirable attitude to work was seen in many people of working-class backgrounds during the 1900s, recreational activities could not be a priority, and like Margaret, many put their own enjoyment and happiness on the backburner in order to stay afloat.

When reading Margaret’s memoir, I was happy to learn that her brother Chick also left the abusive household in Glasgow, and was now working ‘travelling up and down the country on lorries and was perfectly happy.” (p.19) Chick visited Margaret in her new life, and although she reports that he is ‘perfectly happy’, she writes “I was sad as he was a clever boy” (p.19). This shows that Margaret constantly wants the best for her little brother, who she has provided for since they were both children. Margaret had always described herself as ‘not very clever’, but here she puts her brother before herself, wishing him a better job due to his intelligence. I was pleased regardless to read that both Margaret and Chick were living happy adult lives after escaping the dismal conditions of their tenant home and earning money for themselves.

Overall, Margaret’s memoir is a great insight into the life of an incredibly hardworking working-class woman who values the importance paid labour and providing for not only yourself, but family members too. Throughout the course of her life, Margaret worked in terrible factories with poor working conditions, Hostelry’s, cinemas, worked as a maid, and even a driver during the Second World War. Reading her memoir and seeing how she went from earning pennies doing chores for neighbours as a child, to owning her own home and providing for her family after running away with only a pound, was greatly inspirational for me. Margaret Watson is a credit to the working-class women of the early twentieth century.

Secondary sources
Cleland, J (2009) The Rise and Progress of the City of Glasgow, Read Books
Zweiniger-Bargielowska, I (2014) Women in Twentieth Century Britain, Routledge

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