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16 October 2014
Social Change: Employment 1945 to 1979

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John Byrne

John Byrne’s mural from Stoddard carpet factory.

Stoddard mural by John Byrne courtesy of Paisley Museum and Art Gallery

As a major employer in central Scotland, many families had relatives, friends and neighbours who worked in carpet factories. Many Scots began their working careers there, before moving on to other jobs. As a young man in the 1950s, the writer and artist John Byrne worked in a carpet factory in his home town of Paisley. He has written about his experiences and painted images of where he worked.

These sources are useful and valuable as this artist is an expert eye-witness who used his experiences to produce interesting pieces of art based on his employment in a carpet factory.

An extract from the foreword to John Byrne's 'The Slab Boys'. The play was set in 1957 and published in 1997.

Photograph of the film set  'The Slab Boys’ by John Byrne.

Set from the film "The Slab Boys" courtesy of Paisley Museum and Art Gallery

I'd taken advantage of my parents not being around to throw in the academic towel, scrape together a portfolio and sally forth into the great wide world to secure a position with A.F. Stoddard & Co., carpet manufacturers of Elderslie, as a 'slab boy'. I assured the aged ones that indeed it was a job with prospects – within weeks I could be perched at one of the large, Dickensian desks, sporting a grey nylon smock, and battering out scrambled egg designs by the square furlong – but, alas, my lyricism fell on stony ground. And small wonder, for the truth was that I was stuck in a cubby hole with another couple of dunces in hand-me-down dustcoats, given a palette knife, and ordered to grind about forty tons of assorted powder colours on big marble slabs for a bunch of ingrates who, in turn, blootered out the paper patterns that kept the shuttles flying in the weaving sheds that we could just glimpse through the clatty window above the sink in the slab room. It was truly the most numbingly boring job in the entire universe. So much for my wanting to pursue an artist's life. But, like I said at the start, it's funny how things turn out. I did get to Art School and, a long time later, decided to write about that time as a slab boy.
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