City Of Discoveries — Episode 01

Jennet Marshall drew her shawl around her rake-thin shoulders and braced herself for the walk to Sooth’s Mill.

She knew William, her husband, was pretending to sleep in the bed she’d left 20 minutes earlier, but she simply whispered a goodbye as she lifted the latch and slipped out on to the passageway.

He wasn’t the only man left behind by a working wife in Dundee, but it was a thing he bitterly resented.

She hugged the damp wall of their shared tenement stairwell and tried not to let her boots ping. William had insisted on banging nails into their soles and heels when she slipped and fell on the ice last week.

The boots did grip the cobbles better, but they were noisy and some folk were still sleeping in this dark early-morning hour.

She turned away from the mill and made her way off Hawkhill a wee bit. Getting up 10 minutes earlier meant she could walk in a loop around streets where the houses had gardens, and pretend she was back in the countryside.

In January there was no greenery or blossom, but there were trees. She loved to walk below them where they stretched across the street, dreaming about the summer canopy to come.

It would be different this year in the city. She sighed over their move from Carnoustie. There had been no choice when the handloom-weaving ended.

Women were attractive to employers because they were cheap. Men like William were more expensive to employ.

A paperboy rushed out of one garden gate and dropped his bundle.

“Here,” Jennet said. “I’ll help you.”

“Thanks, missus. There’s a lot the day. Thae publishers have brocht out a new ane and everybody wants a copy or three.”


Jennet and William hadn’t a penny to spare for news, and how she missed her reading. She glanced at the number on the gate: 59. Were they buying three copies of the one paper?

“What’s it called?” she asked the lad.

“‘The People’s Friend’,” he said and rushed away.

“‘The People’s Friend’,” Jennet murmured. “Aye, some of us people are in sair need of a friend.”

She’d lost time talking to the lad and by the time she retraced her steps, Hawkhill was thronged. A mass of women and children moved towards the bulk of the great mills.

Jennet hardly knew any of her fellow workers by name, but one or two faces were familiar because they were in the same section.

They worked under foreman Drew Fleming, whose rough voice and uncertain temper kept them all in fear of their jobs, but who kept the overseer sweet because his outcomes were good.

Soon the press of folk was so great that Jennet was caught on either side by two women. She recognised the older one by the green stripe running through her blue shawl, and nodded when she spoke.

“Jennet, isn’t it?”

“Aye. You’re Meggie?”

“That’s me, an’ this here is my sister, Torie. Are you getting the hang of your loom, Jennet?”

The mill gates materialised out of the dark street. A few lamps cast a glow on the women’s heads, in their shawls and the odd man’s cap.

“We’ve seen that devil Fleming hanging o’er you.”

Jennet suppressed a shiver. She’d thought the foreman had been paying her unnecessary attention, but had hoped she’d imagined it.

Last week, he’d come up behind her and run his hands across her hair. When she jumped out of his way, he’d growled at her.

“Whit are you about, quine? I need to see that your hair is tightly held. Dinnae want any quine scalped on my shift.”

The man’s family had come from Aberdeen when the mills began expanding, and his accent was all but impenetrable to Jennet.

Not so the lustful look in his eyes. She knew what that meant.

She’d thought about telling William of her fears, but decided things were bad enough between them.

“He does pay particular attention, and he seems to think I need more supervising than others,” Jennet said quietly.

“He would. Listen, we’re behind you. Eh, Torie?”

“That’s right. Dinna let that man away with onything. Dinna let ony man away with onything.”

Jennet looked at Torie.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.