20-year employee helps Dundee jute museum Verdant Works celebrate its 20th birthday

When Dundee jute and social history museum Verdant Works celebrates its 20th birthday this weekend with a special tea party, one person who’ll be raising a teacup will be Margaret Dallas. Margaret, the long-time cleaner at Verdant Works, is celebrating 20 years at the museum and a long association with the city’s jute industry.

Verdant Works, which weaves tales of jute together with the lives and work of the people of Dundee, is inviting the public to a tea party this Sunday September 25th at 3pm in its refurbished High Mill building on West Henderson’s Wynd in the heart of Dundee.

As a born and bred Dundonian, Margaret’s association with Dundee’s jute industry goes back more than three decades. Her first job out of school, at age 16, was working at Baxter Brothers’ jute mill, where she would wheel bobbins over to the bobbin winders. She left Baxter Brothers at age 18 but returned to the industry a number of years later with a job at Tay Textiles at New South Mills on Brown Street, where she spread jute bags onto crates.

The Dundee jute mills gradually declined and the mills were shuttered. So when Margaret applied for a cleaning job in 1996 at Verdant Works, which Dundee Heritage Trust had just re-opened as a museum, it felt more than familiar. The award-winning Verdant Works is so-called because when it was built the area around it was green fields.

Margaret, 58, is one of two cleaners who keep a massive space – including the office, the museum and the newly refurbished High Mill – spick and span. Their job is to carefully clean around the glass cabinets that hold the museum exhibits, most of which were donated by residents of Dundee. Their extendable feather dusters are designed to reach high into the spaces that once buzzed with the sound of machinery.

Margaret said of her own time in the jute mills: “It was really hard work and I was only 16 when I started. That’s why I only lasted a couple of years the first time. But my sister worked in the jute industry all her life and she loved it. She got married while she worked in a mill and in those days they used to dress you up in wedding gear and wheel you through the town in a barry. It was a special sort of hen do, without all the drink they have now!”

Margaret added: “I’ve seen a lot of changes over the 20 years I’ve been at Verdant Works. When I started there was just the museum and the office. It’s been built up a lot since and last year they added High Mill, which is a fantastic space.”

Verdant Works’ 20th anniversary tea party is a ticketed event that includes refreshments and live music and is open to all ages. Waitresses dressed in Victorian costume will be on hand to serve a selection of sweet treats and refreshments to the accompaniment of live jazz music.

The Verdant Works buildings date back to the mid-19th century and are owned by Dundee Heritage Trust. The Trust opened the museum in September 1996 and completed the second phase a year later.

Dundee is considered the home of the jute industry in Scotland. Verdant Works once employed 500 people, making it the 16th biggest employer in Dundee’s jute industry at the time. The restoration of the 25,000 square feet jute mill was a labour of love that took six years to complete and retains many of the mill’s original features.

Anna Murray, Audience Development Officer with Dundee Heritage Trust, said:

“We’re looking forward to kicking off our 20th year at Verdant Works with a good old-fashioned tea party. This museum not only tells the story of the jute industry, it tells the story of Dundee and of people like Margaret, whose work and family are deeply connected to the jute mills. We’re inviting locals, whether they have links to the jute industry or not, to come and help us celebrate what we promise will be an exciting year for Verdant Works.”
When: Sunday September 25th at 3pm. Open to all ages.

Where: High Mill, Verdant Works, West Henderson’s Wynd, Dundee DD1 5BT

Cost: £7.50 / £6 concession, includes tea/coffee and a selection of cakes.

Please note: The High Mill is unheated so dress accordingly.

Buy tickets at: Verdant Works or online at www.verdantworks.eventbrite.com