Ayrshire History

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Servants in Ayrshire 1750-1914

Jean Aitchison, Servants in Ayrshire 1750-1914, (AANHS, Ayr, 2001), ISBN 0 9527445 5 4, 5.00, 144 pages.

Jean Aitchison has been a weel kennt face in archives and libraries in Ayrshire and beyond for many years, en route to her M.Phil. The AANHS has been fortunate to share the fruits of her research, in this handsome and affordable publication. Many aspects of servitude are explored here, including the dynamics of the master-servant relationship, the mechanics of hiring and firing, and conditions of service. A glance at the copious references shows that the author has trawled a diverse range of sources exhaustively, including acts of parliament and the general assemblies of the Church of Scotland and Free Kirk, estate and family papers, tax records, published diaries and lives of servants and families or individuals they served, and newspapers. Most of these would appear obvious sources of information to researchers in the subject, and, in other circumstances, might provide a view of servants largely from employers and the authority of the church and state. However, the indefatigable author has extended her study to less obvious sources such as burgh records, poetry and song. kirk session minutes, oral history recordings, and poorhouse records. As a result she is able to convey something of the experience of servants in wider world, migrating and emigrating, committing crime, suffering illness and poverty, and pursuing leisure and literacy.  The monograph is amply illustrated, competently indexed, and contains useful appendices, including a list of employment agencies extracted from postal directories, 1845-1915; the rules and regulations of Ayr Female Friendly Society, 1804-5; tables of wages and prices from first two Statistical Accounts and the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in Scotland, 1844; and transcripts of servant tax returns in the National Archives of Scotland, 1787-8.

Rob Urquhart