Saturday 15 April 2023

O is for Occupations

Hello! It’s Day 15 of my April A To Z Blog Challenge.

O is for Occupations in Victorian Scotland.

And…It’s a ‘numbers’ game today! It had to happen sometime. I find getting to grips with some (appropriate) numerical data can help me set a better, more believable, scene for the era I'm writing about.

Margaret (the main character in my current writing set in Victorian Scotland) cannot remain at school beyond twelve to become a pupil teacher, due to a dramatic change in family circumstances. Her parents must find her a job. However, for Margaret's future further down the line in the novels, it cannot be just any job! (It's planned as a 3-book-series)

To get an idea of what jobs were actually available at the time for young females, I had a good look at a Prime Source named the Pigot’s Directory for 1837 for Milnathort and Kinross, both towns being on the same listing, This is the nearest date I can access. The Post Office related Pigot directories list the main point of contact for a business, so the jobs for females contained in it are few, and are of a slightly more 'elevated' status.  (Possible jobs working in the local woollen mills; on local farms; or as domestic servants are therefore not listed on Pigot's directories. )

The Pigot Directories list all of the local professions and trades for a geographical postal area or parish. I found shop owner/managers; what we’d currently term self-employed professions or trades; the gentry; the clergy; and schoolmasters.

There are approaching sixty people mentioned who lived and worked in Milnathort, thirteen of whom are grocers, though only two, or perhaps three, are female. There's a Miss Reid [grocer]; Miss Robertson [grocer]. A Miss Reid is also listed as under Linen &Woollen Drapers and Haberdashers. (Whether as proprietors, paid managers or actual owners is unknown)

Did a Miss Reid sell groceries as well as linens in the same shop? Or is it a sister who runs the other shop, or even an unrelated person named Miss Reid? I have no way of checking, at present, but I’m sure there were many females who worked behind shop counters, or assisted in some other way in other professions, especially if they were offspring, or spouses, of the owner or proprietor. I can't see a small town like Milnathort (population about 1,500) having thirteen grocers/ general stores, so perhaps a few of the people named worked in the same larger shop? There are questions galore!

Would Margaret get a job in any of the shops belonging to those females? Possibly, but if the establishments are very small it's unlikely those women would need much help.

Milliners Shop 1832

Other Jobs for females

Kinross, a little over a mile away from Milnathort and close enough for people to walk between to go to work, has more female proprietors. 

A Mrs. Kirkland and a Mrs. Thomson are associated with a hotel/ and or inn in Kinross. If Margaret worked for them, she'd essentially be a domestic servant, doing cleaning, or perhaps serving in a tap room. Her father is trying to avoid her ever having that kind of job! 

Three female milliners and dressmakers are listed for Kinross, but none from Milnathort. It looks as though the females of Milnathort either made all of their own clothing, including hats, or they walked to Kinross to buy what they needed. Either of these jobs are possible for Margaret, as her mother has ensured she can sew very well.

There are females in Kinross who have a school – the Misses McGregor who do ‘boarding’,  and a Jane Greig who runs a Day school. I wondered if any girls from Milnathort went to Kinross for their schooling with Miss Greig? However, to work for them, Margaret would have to have already become a pupil teacher with a certificate to prove it, and that is what she now can't afford to do!

Beamish Museum

In Kinross, there’s a Mistress Mailor who is a Ware Dealer, as in a seller of general goods and unspecified merchandise. Perhaps, if the shop is big enough?

Some of the names listed, I find are amusingly appropriate. There’s a Mrs, Beveridge who is a Vintner in Kinross, and a Mister Glass is a Vintner in Milnathort.

There are no actual confectioners shops listed in Pigot's for Kinross or Milnathort, but I'm sure that Margaret would come across something like this in one of the larger towns in Fife, and definitely in Edinburgh. Being a shop assistant in this kind of 'luxury' goods shop would be a more prestigious employment. The city of Edinburgh now becomes a better possibility for a job for an upwardly-mobile young lassie!

The males listed for both Milnathort and Kinross cover professions and trades similar to today like painters and plumbers. However, many of the trades listed are no longer common like saddlers; smiths; tanners; tinsmiths; wrights. Even the term 'glaziers' has gone out of fashion, though in 2023 there are still plenty of firms who will install new windows. However, making repairs to a single pane of glass might be difficult nowadays. 

Women working in any of these 'male' jobs would have been extremely rare, so not something I could contemplate for Margaret who has had more years at school than most girls of the era. However, the data does make me ask lots of interesting questions. 


There were a lot more farriers around in the 1840s and 1850s than today, there being many more horses used for transporting people and goods. There are a good number of carriers of various kinds of goods operating from their own houses as a start point in both Milnathort and Kinross - probably like many of our delivery drivers of today! And those carriers may well have owned their own horse/s. 

There are still plenty of ‘fleshers’ shops around, though we now term them butchers. There was one for Milnathort in the list, and three for Kinross. Does that mean people ate more meat in Kinross? Or were there just more people in Kinross who could afford to buy meat? 

I don't have population figures for Milnathort and Kinross for the same year but Kinross was not much bigger. [Kinross was 2062 in 1841; Milnathort was 1605 in 1846] From the Pigot listings, it looks like Milnathort may have been less-well-served by trades and professions than Kinross was, though to be fair, since the distance between was so small, it was maybe just a matter of a shorter or a longer walk to buy what was needed.

But back to Margaret and her new job.  I'm writing fiction, so it's a much less common employment that she finds, and being a tutor is much more suited to her skills and aspirations! An additional bonus is that it's in Edinburgh, a big city with lots more possibilities than a wee country town. 

Till tomorrow, enjoy your reading! 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)