|From an undated clipping, Dundee Telegraph, approx.
Genuine, Heathen Cannibals"
R. D. Fox recalls the thrills of Hogmanay, 1906
"Overgate That Street of a Hundred Joys"
My old school atlas, which I re-discovered the other
day, made me think of much more than changed frontiers, vanished empires and fallen
I also remembered that Hogmanay, 1906, marked the end
of my schooldays
It had been a severe winter, with Dundee and district taking
the full brunt of heavy snowstorms.
In the city itself snow was piled in heaps at the kerbs,
leaving the pavements slushy and treacherous.
During the late afternoon of Hogmanay I had been engaged by a
licensed grocer as an extra message boy, delivering "New Year stuff" in a
Babbits powder box.
The usual order was a bottle of whisky 2s 6d; a half
bottle of rum 1s 3d; 6 bottles of tupenny 1s; total 4s 9d.
Most customers handed over 5s and told me to keep the
After I had delivered my last order, and with my "New
Year" money safely tucked in my pocket, I joined the Hogmanay throngs in Murraygate.
At that time shops could remain open until 11 p.m. and some
of the grocers even beyond.
Loudest among the raucous voices of the street hawkers were the cries of
"all the latest pantomime songs a penny."
These sheets contained not only the current pantomime hits
but also songs suitable for New Year parties.
"The Old Bull and Bush," sung by Florrie Forde, was
being acclaimed as "Neers Song," but it was strongly challenged in
popularity by "Whats the Use of Worrying Father?" sung by Rose Elliott,
"the sweet singer of sensible songs," then appearing at the Palace, in
Nethergate. I remember the words
Whats the use of worrying father,
Lifes too short they say,
You may be down at the present time
But your luck will change some day.
Its a long lane that never has a turning,
So cheer up and be gay.
The sound of the steam organs in Greenmarket usually had an
irresistible attraction for me.
But I decided to postpone these pleasures and made my way to
that street of a hundred joys Overgate. Normally our parents forbade us youngsters
to enter this thoroughfare.
Nearly every kind of merchandise being sold by the hawkers
was quoted in relation to a penny.
"Sweet Seavile oaranges fower a
"Sweet rosy aiples six a penny."
"Home-made toffee penny a quarter."
"Lucky first futs penny each."
It was the custom then for young men to carry imitation
soldiers swagger sticks at New Year time.
Costing a penny each, they were used mostly to tease girls by
knocking their hats off.
The Overgate, at holiday time, had many side shows housed in
empty shops a waxworks, the worlds tallest woman, a crackshot calling himself
Captain Texas, a Mexican knife-thrower called Pedro Gonzalez, a fire-eater dressed as
Mephistopheles and called Captain Wallace, a flea circus, and "real"
At the entrance to the flea circus a well-known local
character had been engaged as a "barker."
He assured the crowd that "The flechs yell
see here are a Dundee flechs, a bred an catched in Paddy Rocks
I marveled at the patience and skill that had gone to the
harnessing and training of these insects to pull little carriages which they did
with jerky leaps.
Further up the street the "cannibals" were getting
an incredible build-up.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thems real, genuine,
heathen cannibals, no lang captured in the wilds o Timbuctoo."
I forked out my penny admission. When a sufficient number had
gathered inside a curtain was drawn to reveal two little black men looking like pygmies.
They had sheepskins round their waists and wore tackety boots
much too big for them.
As their "manager" banged on a tom-tom they stamped
their feet, uttered piercing yells and brandished large meat bones which they gnawed from
time to time.
I suddenly remembered that I had promised my Uncle Harry to help him carry
his wonderful, newly acquired gramophone over to our house.
He was one of the first people in Dundee to own one.
Early gramophone discs, in addition to a label embodied a
A voice boomed out of the huge horn giving the title of the
song, the singer, and ending with "Columbia record" or "Edison-Bell
I have memories, too, of the rich feast of entertainment laid
on for the younger generation at New Year time apart from the perennial attraction of the
We had Hamiltons Excursions, that world tour on giant
rolls of painted canvas at the Kinnaird Hall, with exciting lighting and mechanical
effects. There was a grand carnival with side shows in the Drill Hall.
On New Years Day there was a ten-hour non-stop showing
of films in the old Royal Exchange from midday until 10 p.m.
The pantomine "Little Red Riding Hood" was being
staged at Her Majestys Theater.
In the Gilfillan Hall we had Calders Cinematograph.
Over and above, we had our annual Sunday school soirees and
Since these happy days in a carefree and uncomplicated world
six decades of Hogmanays have come and gone.
None has ever seemed as happy.