A Ramsay picnic: Miners’ Gala, 1941

The Ramsay family, Ravenscraig Park, Dysart, Scotland. In the foreground, gg grandfather, David Skinner Ramsay

The Ramsay family, Ravenscraig Park, Dysart, Scotland. In the foreground, gg grandfather, David Skinner Ramsay

My mum showed me this photo for the first time recently, and I was first of all struck by the fact that the man in the front – my great grandfather David Skinner Ramsay – always looks incredibly cheerful in photos. Great grandad was about 64 when this photo was taken. He was born in Dysart and seems to have spent his whole life there, working as a coal miner and dying in 1948 at the age of 71.Β  He and his wife Mary Fisher were married for 50 years and raised seven children – six sons and a daughter.

David Skinner Ramsay and Mary Fisher; their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

David Skinner Ramsay and Mary Fisher; their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

He was a coal hewer – one of the men who worked at the face, cutting coal from the seam. Even by mining standards, it was considered a dangerous job.

His sons,Β  including my grandfather (also called David Skinner Ramsay), followed him in to the pit, and it is my grandfather who is also in the picnic photo. He too looks happy – holding court with his family.

I recognise some of the others in the photo. My grandmother (holding the baby – my Aunt Sandra) is next to the pram and my great grandmother is the lady in the had with her back turned. I don’t know who the lady in the patterned dress or the girl on the far right are, but I’m sure the two little girls are my mother and Aunt Margaret and the girl in the dark dress holding the cup could be my Aunt May.

The other thing that stuck me about this photo is that the family is having their picnic in the middle of a field, surrounded by passersby and people just milling around — and they seem totally unselfconscious. Off to the left there are three women; hats, gloves and possibly a fur — obviously staring — and the Ramsays just carry on with their picnic.

It made me think about my childhood picnics and wonder what my parents were thinking.

My father loved picnics and even built a very clever portable table out of ply and timber. When opened out, this was large enough to seat our family of five and when folded away it had space inside for the little camp stools he also built, and the whole thing fitted in the boot of the car. Ingenious; but not exactly the wicker basket and tartan rug that other people seemed to manage with. I think at one stage we also had a little camp stove and kettle, so our picnics more resembled children’s tea parties than the “real” picnics” we kids had read about in stories.

Of course the other problem with the table-thingy was that it was really heavy, so we always had to picnic very close to where the car was parked (often actually in a carpark), with a consequent lack of atmosphere – not to mention privacy.

I think the era of the fold-out picnic table co-incided with my brother Craig and I entering our teen years, when family outings are a source of unendurable embarrassment anyway. I suspect that my mum really didn’t like picnics (sitting on the grass, bugs in the coleslaw, germs generally) and that they were a result of it being too expensive to take us all to eat in a cafe. The table was probably my dad’s attempt to make the experience better for Mum. For us it was social death.

During the shoe down the river story sessions with the boy-child, amongst his favourites were my stories of family picnics. I suspect he thought I was making them up. After all, how many families really picnic right outside the Thames Fire Station – just in case an engine comes out? Or on the edge of a field where a game of cricket is in progress (because that’s where we could park the car – not because any of us was even slightly interested in cricket).

So looking at the Ramsay family, happily enjoying their sandwiches in the middle of the field, I found myself admiring both their lack of self-consciousness and the fact they seemed quite contented just sitting on the grass.

But for me, the best picnic ever was on top of Mt Hobson with the Big T; a bottle of wine, baguette, cheese, grapes and some very sticky chocolate cake. And not another soul in sight. Perfect!

12 thoughts on “A Ramsay picnic: Miners’ Gala, 1941

  1. Enjoyed it! My great grandmother had been a Fisher and gave all her 4 children the middle name Fisher. She was born in Bristol in 1863 but I don’t know much about her parents. So I am looking for Fishers, too.

    • Thanks Jenny. I haven’t found any “travelling” Fishers in my tree. Since Bristol was such an important trading port you’ll probably have much better-travelled ancestors than I do. Good luck with your searching. πŸ™‚

  2. A large, happy family cheerfully having lunch in the field, how could anyone not enjoy that. If I was part of the crowd milling about – I’d be jealous.

    • Thanks. Everything I’ve heard about the Ramsay family is that they were happy (and numerous). My mother remembers huge picnics and parties and Christmases with all her cousins. Must be lovely to have so many members of a family living close by.

  3. I so love this photo of your Ramsey picnic that I *liked* it immediately then needed to go off and do other things. That night it came to me again, in my dreams, and reminded me of other photos I’ve seen around that same era but here in South Australia where many people “disgorged” from various forms of public transport at the same time and descended upon the picnic ground “en masse”.
    It looks to me as if your Ramsey family were well settled in and enjoying their picnic whilst the “Johnny-come-latelys” were only just starting to “get their act together” πŸ˜†
    It also seems to me that your great grandfather was a man who knew what he was about, enjoyed and cherished family and loved his life and what he’d achieved. Maybe I’m being fanciful, but that’s how it seems to me.
    Thanks for the sharing Su Leslie… it reminds me to look more closely into the pics of my Ancestors as you have done so beautifully with this precious photo of yours.

    • Thank you so much Catherine. I always love your comments, and now you’ve got me thinking about picnics and whether I have more photos on the same theme. My mum once told me that her Ramsay family living locally was large, and they used to hire a bus to take them all on outings. I don’t think that’s the case in this one – she has written “Miners’ Gala, 1941” on the back, but I’m sure I have seen others with “just” the family.
      I vaguely remember being taken to similar picnics when I was really little. My dad worked at the Rosyth Naval Base, and I suspect they held picnics for workers’ families too. It seems to be a “thing” that companies did. Do you think the Australian picnics you’ve seen photos of were works’ outings, or more a case of people taking advantage of a bank holiday to all go to a beauty spot. We get that here a bit at a beach called Long Bay. It’s a regional reserve and in summer busloads of people arrive and “set up camp” for the day.
      I think my Ramsay Great Grandparents were very family-oriented. It’s their headstone I posted a few weeks ago that says “worthy of remembrance” – and I think that says it all.
      Thank you again; you’ve given me more to think about (and ask my mum about), and reminded me how much detail we can find (and how many questions!!) in our treasured photos. πŸ™‚

  4. Oh… from what I’m remembering Su they were always “works picnics” … eg. “the butchers picnic” etc… The notion on a “bank holiday” seems very foreign to me and not something I remember as being any part of our South Australian hols… More something celebrated in “the mother country” I reckon πŸ˜†
    In fact you’ve reminded me that I do need to go in search of a photo of my Grandpa with his 4 grandchildren (me included of course) at the “Waterside Workers picnic” at Largs Bay, South Australia not long after his beloved wife, my Nana died. Lots of childhood memories associated with that photo which it seems I really do need to explore and begin to understand more fully now, as a very aging adult … πŸ˜‰
    By the way… I loved your recounting of that pic-a-nic with “the Big T”. Brought back memories of me and my hubbie, way back before Adam was a boy, pulling the hub cap off his precious car which he punched holes in, made a fire and cooked a few “snags” which we devoured with great relish. There’s a whole new story there for another day. Thanks for the reminding luvvie… πŸ™‚

    • Oh Catherine; now I really want to know more about the hubcap barbie! The Big T and a friend constructed our first UK BBQ out of some bricks “liberated” from a building site and an abandoned manhole cover. I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell the tale! But I guess. That’s Antipodean ingenuity!
      Sorry about the “bank holiday” – they’re not called that here either . It’s a hang-over from my UK days as you guessed.

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