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).

Nobel's Explosives Factory,© RCAHMS

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.

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


7.2 Household and home

Writing about 'homes' in the past always runs the danger of becoming an act of ill-informed nostalgia for an imagined and idealised 'stable' home and nuclear household. Archaeologists can qualify and illuminate any such facile narrative. People have lived in different areas and in different ways across Scotland throughout this and earlier periods. They have not always lived in families, nor have they always lived 'at home'; and it is important to distinguish these different kinds of entity. A household may include family members, servants and workers. A home may contain a temporary community united by their beliefs, purposes or circumstances, such as those living in barracks or on a ship, in a poor house or an asylum. This period sees the growth of a distinction between the places that people live and the places that they work leading, by the 19th century to a radical disjuncture for many people between working life and family/home/spiritual/social life. The spatial separation between home and manufacturing work is evident in the replacement of small workrooms or shops within homes by often large factories, to which the workers would travel. This trend was accompanied by changes in the way that the 'person' was conceived and the relationship between craftspeople and the goods they produced. For middle-class professionals it often meant moving one's practice from the home to an office, particularly in the growing cities. This led to the development of the 'suburban ideal' as the suburbs became places of home and family. Diane diZerega Wall (1994) has documented this process in New York, pointing out that the separation of home and work also contributed to the ideology of 'separate spheres' in gender relations, as city centres became increasingly masculine spaces, and suburbs more feminine. This is, of course, an overstatement and a middle-class perspective: for poorer families female work outside the home was also normal, but it would be informative to investigate the degree to which a feminine home and masculine workplace was still an aspirational value across society.

The separation between home and work changed class relations between employers and employees. Those employing large numbers of people often attempted to exert some influence over their workers' home lives. This could be in the provision of housing that encouraged its inhabitants to be industrious, sober and devout (through the provision of kirks and chapels, and control of the sale and consumption of alcohol): in the case of Owen's New Lanark various other facilities including an Institute for the Formation of Character were also supplied.

The significance of separation of work and home needs to be qualified with the recognition that other patterns were also common. Some occupations had always required that the workers come to a particular place: mining and shipbuilding are obvious cases; and in industries such as mining and mineral extraction the separation between home and work was more a factor of change in scale than the nature of the work, as small-scale workings were replaced by large-scale ones and a larger workforce, sometimes working shifts, was more likely to be housed at least seasonally in barracks. Seasonality in work and home places should also be considered: the use of shielings and similar seasonal exploitation of land for pasture or agriculture seems to vary locally and it is interesting to see how that changes (and where it does not) with Improved forms of land exploitation.

Architectural techniques and materials - both polite and vernacular - can provide insights into custom, economy and aspiration. In the case of timber buildings of the early modern period, for example, despite palynological evidence for areas of 'ancient' pinewood and well-documented evidence for exploitation of native pinewoods, albeit affected by issues of quality and difficulty associated with transportation (Stewart 2003, Smout et al. 2005), the Scottish post-medieval buildings investigated to date do not contain old slow-grown pine. Where timbers are native or are thought to be native, they come from young trees which started life in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, possibly from plantations established by landowners (Mills 2008). Slow grown wood may have been destined for specialist uses such as ship-building or for export.

In rural areas the places of the rich and of the poor are interesting in their modes of contrast. Wealthy landowners lived on large estates in fine houses and gardens. While there is extensive art historical literature on the design of these houses, there is extensive opportunity for archaeological approaches to their use, especially those which reflect the long-term history of changes and adaptations in the locality. Recent work on the technology of country houses illustrates this potential (the Virtual Hamilton Palace Project ( is an important example of an up and running study of a major household). The creation and reproduction of the relationships of class were organised through material culture among other things and the technologies and spaces through which they were made are worthy of study.

The process by which the laird's house of the 16th and 17th centuries changed from requiring some form of tower at the focus of the house to one that would be recognised as a house or mansion has been touched upon by various researchers, but it too has regional trajectories chronologically that need to be better understood and the influences that played upon them internally and externally.

The aristocratic house also changed in other ways. It evolved from the intimate terraced gardens of the 16th-17th centuries (currently being worked on by Marilyn Brown at RCAHMS) to the elaborate avenues and parterres of the designed landscapes of the later 17th and 18th centuries. At the same time physical changes in the environment of the great house are important. The change from the hunting parks and forests of the medieval period to the deer park as part of the polite environment of the designed landscape needs archaeological and ecological research. Deer were not the only domestic animals, however: how far and for what reasons cattle or other animals were kept in park enclosures should be addressed.

Of course, most people in rural areas were not rich. The lives of the rural poor are often under-documented, or can only be seen historically as refracted through legal or financial records. Archaeology plainly has a contribution to make here in examining the experiences and the texture of life for the rural poor through their things and places. This need not only mean that archaeology can reach the parts that history cannot reach, but that textual sources should be worked with closely to integrate all sources of evidence for the study of the past. In selecting houses and settlements for archaeological research more effort should be exerted to identify study areas with good documentation. For instance, in Islay there are abandoned 18th-19th-century townships for which there are 1850s inventories of the woodwork and data on the occupants.

It is becoming apparent from work in Bute and Aberdeenshire that there are social hierarchies in rural settlement that find expression in the pattern of settlement and in the type of buildings that were occupied by different types of tenant, from cottar to crofter or tenant. For the rural population, especially the tenant, the house was both the core of the working farm and the household. Archaeology has barely yet touched upon these differences, which regional studies of field remains and targeted excavation could address. The ubiquitous myth of the byre-dwelling as the paradigm of a pre-Improvement farmhouse needs to be tested. Some evidence from the Western Isles suggests that this was an Improvement of the 19th century, while regional studies in mainland areas such as Caithness and Aberdeenshire have not found the byre-dwelling to be the house-type there. Similarly the extent and nature of transhumance in Scotland needs looked at more closely (see see section 8 'People and Landscape').

In towns and cities the places of the poor have often not survived, or their archaeological investigation presents problems given rapid changes in urban landuse and the complexity of urban stratigraphy. One of the challenges is to impress upon colleagues in planning departments that 19th-century working class housing, where it survives in inner city areas, is potentially of considerable archaeological value. Moreover, the popularity of the back-to-back houses in central Birmingham (owned and managed now by the National Trust) and the tenement house museum in Glasgow is testament to the interest of the general public in the way of life of ordinary people.

The everyday lives of ordinary people may be evident in their rubbish, even when the architectural evidence of their homes has disappeared. The rubbish pit is a ubiquitous feature of urban archaeology, and analysis of its contents can demonstrate the composition of the household as well as some of their aspirations. From the 19th century, the disposal of rubbish was more likely to be centrally organised, at least in urban areas, and to involve the removal of waste from the area of the households which produced it. Even before this time the predominance of organic materials in everyday life and construction, and habitual recycling of these materials at the end of their life (see soil management below) mean that the archaeological record is limited by preservational biases. Sediment chemistry can provide some insights into the distribution of activities within buildings and the redistribution of materials from hearth to field (Wilson et al. 2005, 2009), although unfortunately preservation conditions appear too poor to rival the sensory insights into living conditions, use of space and social hierarchy provided by insect remains in floor layers in the North Atlantic islands (Buckland et al. 1992). Cesspits and drains appear more valuable sources for revealing the range of foodstuffs, pests and hygiene. Dickson and Dickson Dickson and Dickson (2000) have dealt with the medieval period; similar syntheses for later periods are needed, though archaeological reports and grey literature are likely to provide useful snapshots, e.g. flax-retting on Lochtayside (Jennifer Miller, pers. comm.). Soils deepened by manuring, together with written sources, can provide insights into the development of urban areas (Golding and Davidson 2005), as well as an interesting point of comparison with written regulations on the disposal and value of waste at the rural-urban interface (Davidson et al. 2006).

WWII graffito on the wall of the Engineering Works in Leithen Cresent, Innerleithen, which was painted by Polish soldiers billeted there. Ephemera such as grafitti are often very valuable indiciations of the experiences and values of people who have left little other written (or drawn) record of their intimate and personal lives © RCAHMS

Research in housing does not and should not stop at the 19th century. The interdisciplinary study of 20th-century urban housing is an interesting area to begin pulling apart questions of the relative impact of public and private agendas on housing provision. Twentieth-century slum clearance generated new estates and new forms of housing such as the tower block. Twentieth-century slum clearance generated new estates and new forms of housing such as the tower block (see the tower block resource and Docomomo Scottish chapter:

Ongoing dialogue with historians, architects and sociologists is necessary to identify where archaeology can make useful contributions to an understanding of modern housing.

It would also be interesting to consider how far folk practices are evident in 'modern' homes: are there apotropaic deposits or artefacts?  Such folk practices are notoriously poorly identified and may be misidentified or discarded when uncovered (Hoggard 2004; Merrifield, 1987; Crossland 2010). To what extent are older conventions of domestic architecture followed even when the function of the home has changed?  The persistence of a ‘best room’, parlour or spence might be one example of this.  The need to have a room suitable for entertaining guests or for use on holiday and ceremonial occasions was often sufficiently keen even in the 20th century that the everyday indoor business of the household was all conducted in the kitchen or family room, despite the consequent crowding.

Housing needs to be understood in its social and geographical relationship with places and relationships of work. The case of miners' rows is a good example of these relationships.


See also the ScARF Case Study: Miners Rows