Collection SOHC 7 - Chemical workers oral history project

Identity area

Reference code

GB 249 SOHC 7


Chemical workers oral history project


  • Digital copies 2016 (Creation)
  • Original recordings and transcripts 2004-2005 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

8 interviews (c.9 hours 39 minutes duration) on 9 audio cassettes; 8 transcripts (Microsoft word)

Context area

Name of creator

(b. 1956)

Biographical history

David Walker completed his doctorate on ‘Occupational health and safety in the British chemical industry, 1914-1974’ in 2007. He has been a member of the Scottish Oral History Centre since 2010. His publications include

  • 'Working in it, through it, and among it all day: chrome dust at J & J White of Rutherglen, 1893-1967’, \Scottish labour history\ 40 (2005): 50-69
  • '"Danger was a thing that ye were brought up wi": workers narratives on occupational health and safety in the workplace’, \Scottish labour history\ 46 (2011): 54-70

Name of creator

(Established 1995)

Administrative history

The Scottish Oral History Centre (SOHC) was set up within the Department of History at the University of Strathclyde in 1995. Since its foundation the SOHC has been involved in a wide range of teaching, research and outreach activities designed primarily to encourage the use of ‘best practice’ oral history methodology in Scotland. Until 2005, the SOHC was directed by Professor Callum Brown, since then by Professor Arthur McIvor.

Archival history

Transferred in 2015 and 2016 from Scottish Oral History Centre (SOHC) (Acc 1487 and Acc 1529). The project's original SOHC ID was SOHCA/022_Chemical Workers.

The original recordings were made in 2004-2005 using a cassette recorder. In 2016, they were digitised to uncompressed, unaltered 24 bit/96kHz BWF format for preservation. Enhancements were made to improve sound quality when necessary and 16bit/48kHz MP3 copies created for access.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Eight interviews conducted by David Walker in pursuit of his doctoral research on ‘Occupational health and safety in the British chemical industry, 1914-1974’ (PhD thesis, University of Strathclyde, 2007:

The oral history project was designed to capture the human experience of working within the British chemical industry. The desired outcome was to find respondents with a range of job descriptions that had worked in different types of plant. Although comparatively small, the cohort interviewed represents a good coverage of the industry in that the plastic, chromate, explosive and fertiliser sectors are all represented.

In total, nine respondents were interviewed with one, Richard Fitzpatrick, being interviewed twice (Mr Fitzpatrick was 87 years old at the time and grew visibly tired during the first interview). Three respondents from Cheshire (who were related to one another) were interviewed as a group. Normally interviews were conducted on a one-to-one basis in the homes of the respondents although wives and other family members were also present in all cases, with the exception of one of the anonymous respondents from Dumfries who was alone.

The average age of those interviewed was 71, with birth dates ranging from 1917 to 1945. The employment histories of the respondents ranged from the late 1930s to the late 1970s.

All those interviewed were asked standard questions at the outset such as the respondent’s name, date of birth, where they were born, if they had brothers or sisters, if they had children, at what age did they leave school and what was their first job. Thereafter, in a relatively unstructured manner questions were asked of the respondents about the experiences they had in connection with the chemical industry.

With the exception of one former manager of a chemical plant all the respondents had worked as process workers or were related to family members who also worked as process workers. Why no former directors or technologists came forward to participate in this study cannot be explained by reference to the design of the recruitment material. One reason that may explain the general problem in recruiting respondents was made by two former process workers from Dumfries who admitted that their former colleagues had seen the recruitment article published in the local press but had refused to make contact because they were fearful that Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) would stop their pension if they talked to an outsider. Although ICI would not take such a step it is nonetheless interesting that former employees of the firm offered this as the reason for not sharing their memories.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Two interviewees requested anonymity. Otherwise no access restrictions to transcripts and digitised recordings. No access to audio cassettes.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

    Language and script notes

    Physical characteristics and technical requirements

    Finding aids

    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    Existence and location of copies

    Related units of description

    This collection is part of the Scottish Oral History Centre Archive.

    Notes area

    Alternative identifier(s)

    Access points

    Place access points

    Name access points

    Description identifier

    Institution identifier


    • English



      Accession area