7.3 Workplaces

Places of work include not only the factories, plants and yards of industry, but a range of other locations which constituted ‘the workplace’ for people in the past. Of course, for many people the workplace was the same as the home – this is true for many farmers, for example, but also of for some forms of manufacture, service and seasonal work.

The move from home production to factory or workshop based industry is one characteristic of the industrial revolution (see chapter 2; Palmer and Neaverson 1998). Working in a factory entailed remodelling the worker in terms of their exchange value within a capitalist system, epitomised by the inclusion of clocks and bells on factories, evidence of the new capitalist segmentation of time and an emphasis on the measurability of labour. It also transformed relationships between working people and the owners of the means of production. Spatial analysis of workplaces during the ascent of capitalism notes the emergence of designs that facilitate surveillance and control, as well as the rational organisation of production into stages. Nevertheless, the archaeological study of workplaces can also sometimes pick out the voices of the workers, who did not always submit to new capitalist regimes of production, but instead circumvented or subverted the intentions of the bosses (for an English example see Belford 2001).

A black and white aerial photograph of a flat landscape covered with square and rectangular buildings and earthworks

Nobel’s Explosives Factory,© HES

The previous theme – People and Things – considered the impact of mass production and factory-based industry on the world of material goods. Scotland’s industrial archaeology is testament to the country’s great productivity under the factory system.

Remains of factories such as the Nobel’s Explosives Factory, situated between the sea and the River Garnock, west of Irvine, are still evident in the landscape, although most of these buildings are now demolished and the sites cleared. The Nobel works were so vital that during World War I,  a coastal battery was built on the shore to defend against possible sea-based attacks. The factories themselves also need to be considered and the way that they organised both the industrial process and the relationships between workers and their managers, as between workers and their products. The emergence of a class based social order was closely related to the development of industry in factories. The space of the factory could be organised to constrain physical movement of the worker, and to enforce bodily and time discipline through supervision. The use of artificial sources of power, and particularly of light (gas, argand or electric) enabled capitalist exchange of labour time to cut free of normal constraints of the season or time of day. In Scotland, where the discrepancies in day length between summer and winter are quite pronounced, this had an even greater effect than in England or continental Europe.

As well as structuring working and home lives, industry also affected working and living environments, although the literature on landscapes and environments, particularly in urban areas, is limited. The sulphur released into the atmosphere by iron-working and coal-burning reduced air quality and caused the acidification of sensitive upland freshwater systems, especially lochs, over the period c.1800-1850 (Flower et al. 1987, Battarbee et al. 1988, 1989, 1996, Jones et al. 1989, Birks et al. 1990). Water acidification increased concentrations of toxic inorganic aluminium and in some instances, the deterioration in water quality adversely affected fish stocks and fish reproduction, with implications for higher predators, including humans (Birks et al. 1990, Kernan et al. 2005) In addition, industrial air pollution contaminated water with metals, like lead and zinc, soot particles and persistent organic pollutants. Lakes in closer in proximity to industrial areas have been more strongly acidified, but even remote lakes were affected (Battarbee and Allott 1994, Fowler and Battarbee 2005). Activities like lead mining caused strong localised pollution, but at water-powered sites, heavy metals were also distributed to the wider area, including lochs (Farmer et al. 1997) and valued floodplain soils (e.g. Hutchinson 2003).

Despite indications of pervasive pollution signals, even in remote areas, there is a lack of research into the effects of industry (e.g. mining, hydro, forestry) on the environment and landscape or the associated health impacts that can be compared with regulatory and health and safety literature (e.g. Mills 2010) or complex debates over development of natural resources and landscape aesthetics (for example, see Payne 2008 for 20th-century hydroelectricity development; van Oosthoek 2001 for the history and development of forest planning in Scotland).

Waste was an inevitable by-product of production and home life. Organic ‘waste’ products were a valued commodity for agricultural communities. Reuse of manure, bedding, hearth, building and roofing materials (e.g. turf, heather, peat) was key to agricultural productivity. This is evident in emerging urban areas, like Elgin where the use of town waste on the burgh’s arable lands from at least the 17th century up until the mid-19th century created deepened topsoils (Davidson et al. 2006). Even in remote areas, similar practices enriched soil fertility, but in some areas this raised concentrations of heavy metals in cultivated soils to levels that would be considered harmful to human health (Davidson et al. 2007, Meharg et al. 2006).

Given the advances in understanding of human health based on techniques such as isotopic analysis of bone, it would be valuable to use a combined documentary, geochemical and archaeological science approach to assess the health impacts of changes in living conditions, industry and working environments (e.g. Meharg 2005, Stride 2009 and also the Research Framework Document produced by the Archaeological Science Panel).

To identify the criteria that constitute a workplace, it is also necessary to define what constitutes ‘work’. This involves stepping back from androcentric assumptions about work as paid engagement in the commercial economy and needs to reconsider the often unpaid contributions of women and children to the domestic economy. Other models of working can include seasonal- or life-phased patterns of working.

A black and white photograph of the inside of an engine room showing a man sitting on a chair monitoring the equipment

The winding engine at Lady Victoria Colliery, servicing the then deepest pit in Scotland, © RCAHMS

The Lady Victoria Colliery was opened in 1893 as Scotland’s first super-pit. It ceased production in 1981 and now effectively represents the technological and social developments in mining from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. Owing to its formidable origins – boasting the largest winding engine in Britain with a shaft of 500m depth (which was pioneering for its day) – the colliery survived until the end of deep-mining in Scotland. As a result, it captures both the emergence of new technologies – the transformation from 1,000kW steam turbines to a 5,000kW generator; the 1954 Egon Riss Gantry from the Pithead to the Baths and Canteen; the 1960s Thickener and Fines Treatment Plant; and preserves areas such as the Picking Tables and Smiddy which remained largely unchanged throughout the Colliery’s lifespan. By ‘reading’ the site, one can trace developments in coal production and processing as well as changing attitudes to working conditions and health and safety.

See also the ScARF Case Study: Transhumance and Shielings



Case Study: Transhumance and Shielings

Comments 3

  1. Missing references

    The references to Donaldson et al. should read Davidson et al.:

    Davidson, D A, Dercon, G, Stewart, M and Watson, F 2006 The legacy of past urban waste disposal on local soils, Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 778-783.

    Davidson, D A, Wilson, C A, Meharg, A, Stutter, C, Edwards, K J 2007 The legacy of past manuring practices on soil contamination in remote rural areas, Environment International, 33: 78-83.

    Other missing references:

    Battarbee, R.W., Curtis, C.J. & Binney, H.A., eds. (2005) The future of Britain’s upland waters. Proceedings of a meeting held on 21st April 2004, Environmental Change Research Centre, University College London, downloaded from http://www.freshwaters.org.uk/resources/documents/upland_waters_2005.php.

    Birks H.J.B., Juggins, S. & Line, J.M. (1990) Lake surface-water chemistry reconstructions from palaeolimnological data, in The Surface Waters Acidification Programme, B.J. Mason, ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 301-313.

    Kernan, M., Rose, N.L., Camarero, L., Piña, B. & Grimalt, J. (2005) Contemporary and historical pollutant status of Scottish mountain lochs, in D.B.A. Thompson, M.F. Price, & Galbraith, C.A. (eds.) Mountains of Northern Europe: conservation, management, people and nature, The Stationary Office Scotland, Edinburgh, 89-98.


    I can supply the Farmer et al. and Hutchison references but don’t have them to hand so will add these later.


  2. Missing references 2

    Farmer, J.G.; MacKenzie, A.B.; Eades, L.J.; Kirika, A.; Bailey-Watts, A.E. 1997 Influences on the extent and record of heavy metal pollution in sediment cores from Loch Tay in a mineralised area of Scotland. Journal of Geochemical Exploration
    58, 195-202.

    Hutchinson, S.M. 2003 Environmental archives of heavy metal pollution or contaminated land? A case study of former water powered industrial sites in South Yorkshire, UK. Journal de Physique IV, 107, 645-648.

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