The Puzzle of the Paisley Pensioners

This short blog uncovers the story of Anchor Pensioners 1965, a recent addition to the moving image catalogue, and illustrates how public engagement is key to understanding some of the unique archival material in the Library’s collections.

The film came in to the archive a few years ago as a consequence of a house move.  Other than the information supplied by the donor (that the man who likely filmed it was a William Pattison) and the title on the film itself, which we assumed connects it to the Anchor Mill in Paisley, very little was known about it.  The fact the film was silent simply added to the mystery.

It was in relatively good condition, and technical staff at the Kelvin Hall were able to clean and digitise the 16mm black and white film safely for online viewing.  What next?

An initial summary was compiled:  ‘’Women arriving in a hall. They are greeted at the door and handed a programme.  General views of the women seated in the hall. More women arrive. Gv’s of the pensioners in the hall, a few men are also in attendance. Scouts arrive. Gv’s of those seated in the hall waiting as more people arrive. Girl Guides take coats. A nurse is also in attendance. Pensioners exit the hall for tea. Gv’s of pensioners seated a rows of tables for afternoon tea. The End’’

So far, so not very exciting!  Cataloguing audiovisual material can be a time consuming business, especially when there is so little accompanying information.  With the film dating from the mid 1960s it was likely someone could help us identify the film further, so we published it online and got in touch directly with the local community via various Paisley and Renfrewshire groups on Facebook.  Within a matter of hours, some fascinating detail about the film came flooding back, as well as the inevitable memories. 

Examples of the feedback are:

  • Confirmation from several people that the location is the Anchor Mills canteen off Seedhill Road.  ”It’s the extension to Kilnside House which was the canteen for the mill workers. Kilnside House itself housed two separate canteens, one for managers and one for under managers and office staff. Same menu for all. Lots of segregation back in the day.”
  • The event in the film was the annual Christmas Party for pensioners, many of whom may have worked as ‘mill lassies’.  The ladies were issued with a ticket as they came in and the meal was a Christmas ‘thank you’ from the firm.  
  • At the beginning of the film, the gentleman in the uniform was Mr Arthur Baird who was a Fireman at Anchor Mills and stayed in Anchor Buildings. The Anchor Guides and Scouts are taking the coats of the pensioners.
  • ”I worked in the canteen as a baker in 1965. We would be baking for days getting ready for the Christmas party. It was a very long day for us behind the scenes. Each person got a bag of cakes and mince pies when they were leaving. They definitely enjoyed their Christmas party.”
  • ‘’That was fascinating to watch. I kept thinking they were all my gran!’’
  • ‘’One of the best films I have seen of the people of Paisley.’’
  • ‘’My great aunt Annie Reid early on!’’
  • ‘’Know any lip readers?’’

The film is now coming back to life as it is shared online in the community and further afield.   It is no longer ‘general views’ of women taking off their coats and rain macs and sitting down to tea and scones, but a valuable record of the community and social traditions that formed around this important thread mill in Paisley.  The puzzle pieces are coming together!

In this interview, filmed for Renfrewshire Leisure, curator Ann Cameron speaks about why local community films remain important. Renfrewshire Leisure is also hosting Reel Life, a short festival that celebrates the image obsessed enthusiasts who have made a great contribution to local visual culture in Renfrewshire.

Find out more about how we document local films at the Library’s upcoming event Local Films Go Global: An Example from Aberdeen.

Explore a selection of films about Paisley and Zoom into Renfrewshire with the National Library’s digital collections.

With thanks to Paisley Oor Wee Toon & Environs, Paisley & Renfrewshire Old & New, Paisley Thread Mill Museum and Renfrewshire Leisure’s PAC to the Future