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April 17th 1906

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Blairgowrie Berry picker's Tin City

Early in 1906 a group of businessmen met in Blairgowrie to consider the question of accommodation for berry pickers. Court cases in the previous year had resulted in most unwelcome publicity to the area and it was felt that something needed to be done to attract a better class of picker. It was suggested that a spacious central building should be provided to accommodate at least 1,500 people.

By this ambitious project it was hoped to exercise greater control over the pickers “thus securing their better behaviour”  and “attract a more self-respecting and otherwise satisfactory class of pickers.”  It was also hoped to make money out of the scheme and farmers were invited to subscribe the £4,000 needed. The money was not forthcoming and the scheme never got off the ground.

But already a highly successful project had started in Essendy, about 3½ miles from Blairgowrie. The scheme was the brainchild of Messrs Keay and Hodge, local solicitors and prominent Liberal supporters much interested in the smallholding movement. Superior accommodation, and for the period it really was superior, was provided for “respectable women and girls”  for the picking season.

The buildings were stone built with wooden floors and corrugated iron roofs. The workers were only charged one shilling a week for their keep. Sleeping quarters consisted of large dormitories with large double iron bedsteads. This, according to one lady reporter was no problem as “a good girl chum is easily to be picked up.” 

The large dining room supplied cooked meals at what must have been, even in those days, very modest prices. Meat or mince and potatoes 3d, Soup 1d, Pudding 1d, Porridge and milk 11/2d, Plate of cold boiled ham or meat 2d etc. There were facilities for washing and drying clothes and specially reduced fares were arranged for railway travel with free transport arranged from Blairgowrie station to Essendy.

Picking was paid at the rate of ½p per lb and it was claimed that good pickers could earn up to 5/ - per day. Thus not only would they enjoy “the delight and pleasure of a few weeks spent in a delightful country district,”  but they would return with money in their pockets after their ‘holiday’. The aim was to get the ‘respectable’ picker and in this they were largely successful.

There is no doubt that for many this was a wonderful chance, perhaps their first chance, to get away from a large town and see some of Scotland’s countryside. Of course there were still pickers less respectable than those accommodated at Essendy. As the reporter in the Weekly Mail put it. “Now a word of warning. I would advise all young girls who may go to Blairgowrie not to mix indiscriminately with the workers on other fruit farms. A number of fruit growers employ a large number of men and as these come from all quarters it is advisable for young women to be on their guard.”  But of course!

The accommodation provided at Essendy set the standard for other growers. But as the years went by the ‘Tin City’ as the Essendy complex became known, became progressively more shabby. Eventually it was demolished to make way for a small housing development.

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