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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter XI


Local Jealousies between County Towns—Curious Nicknames— Aspersions on Brechin—Origin of the Term 'Reed Lichties' —A Sapient Toon Cooncil—Blin' Hughie of Dundee—The ' Spooters' o' Farfar—Celebrities—Singer Jeemer—Peter Reid and the famous 'Farfar Rock'—The Drawl of the Mearns— Primitive Social Manners—'No the Whisky but the Here's t'ye!'—The Handloom Industry—Weavers' Rhymes—Bailie Fyfe and the Auctioneer—A Vanishing Bottle—Drinking Orgies and Wild Wagers — Amusing Instance of Local Jealousy.

Local jealousies were very rife before the advent of railways had toned down the asperities of isolation, and the stupid suspicions of imperfect knowledge. The various towns in a county each imagined that its own interests demanded the disadvantage of a neighbour; and the modern liberal free-trade doctrine, that the greatest common good means the greatest individual good too, had not yet penetrated the consciousness of the little cliques and petty rings that arrogated to themselves the right to represent the public sentiment. Thus, for instance, Montrose looked with suspicion and distrust on Brechin, and vice versa.

The Montrosians were named 'Gable-Enders,' as many of the houses bordering the broad and picturesque market-place were built with their gables facing the open street. The Brechiners were generally designated by their detractors, from a fine scorn of their main industry,—the handloom linen-weaving,—'the Creeshie Wyvers o' Brechin.' Gross imputations on their honesty were often made. It was said that when the 'creeshie wyvers' went out for a holiday the good-wives in country parts, on hearing that a Brechin contingent was afoot, would run hastily to the hedgerows and clothes-lines to take in the family washing, with the warning cry—

'Tak' in yer sarks, guidwives, for here comes the Brechiners.'

In a mixed company, on one occasion where the majority happened to be worthy burghers of the much-maligned city of linen weavers, a rather vehement expression of this popular aspersion had been made by one of the company. An indignant remonstrance had at once been made by the Brechiners present, one of whom, with clenched fist and an angry glare in his eye, had asked the offender—

'Do you mean, sir, to say that there are nae honest men in Brechin?' apparently with a view to an ultimate resort to a more forcible style of argument.

The Montrose man looked over his opponent, and then, with true Scottish doggedness and caution, responded—

'Weel, sir, I'll no be sayin' that there's nae honest men in Brechin ; but I will say this, sir, that it's michty far atween their doors.'

The dwellers in Bonnie Dundee were and are known as 'Tay Watter Willies,' while the douce burghers of Arbroath are still known as 'Reed Lichties'; and they got that name in the following way.

The march of improvement had reached the somewhat sleepy town of Dundee; and as red stained glass, although a very costly commodity then, was coming largely into use for danger-signalling, and denoting leading marks for navigation by night, the Dundee Harbour Board had considered it wise to erect, at considerable expense, a fine red light at the end of their pier. Of course local rumour magnified the cost and splendour of this innovation. The skippers of the coasting craft, and generally those 'that did business in great waters/ hailed the light as a great convenience; and it was felt by the Arbroath Council that their borough was to some extent eclipsed by the superior enterprise of their rising rival. So the worthy provost trudged all the way to Dundee to see this famous 'reed licht,' about which so much had been heard. He had a good look at the lamp, the colour of which puzzled him exceedingly, as he had never seen such stained glass before. On his return to his native town he reported to his council that there was no reason in the world why Arbroath also should not, with the aid of a little 'reed pent/ put itself even with the despised and detested Dundee.

The 'toon penter,' also a Tarn, was called, and away the whole municipal body marched in the gathering gloaming to the white-lozenged glass lamp at the end of the breakwater in which the usual oil lamp was even now dimly burning. The provost ordered Sandie

Swankie, the boatman, to put out to sea to report, in these words—

'Haud aff to the bar, Sandie, an' lat's hear fat ye see'!

'Ay, ay, sir!' said Sandie as he bent to his oars.

'Noo, Tarn,' said the provost, addressing the painter, 'gie the white lozen' a coat o' reed pent.'

No sooner said than done; and as the ready brush overlaid the white glass with its ruddy coating, the appreciative councillors stepped back to watch the effect, while the provost hailed the boatman, now rocking on the tumbled waters of the bar. 'Fat div ye see, Sandie?'

A hoarse nautical bellow came back. 'I see a "reed lichtie," sir!'

At this, the delighted provost turned to Tarn, and said:

'Od, man! Gie't anither coat, an' we'll lick the Dundee folk yet'

Again Tarn applied the brush, but this time with such generous goodwill that the red lead utterly obscured the light altogether, and poor Sandie in his boat nearly got drowned trying to make his way back in the dark, while the 'toon cooncillors' barked their shins and grazed their noses stumbling along the breakwater on their obscured way home.

Ever since the Arbroathians have, in memory of that attempt at sapient economy, been dubbed 'Keed Lichties'; but on the whole, they accept the cognomen with rather a good-humoured tolerance.

Dundee had its notoriety, no less than the other towns, and the Dundee original was a character known as 'Blin' Hughie.' When the benevolence of his native townsmen had become somewhat exhausted by his importunities, Hughie would wend his way to Forfar, or some other of the neighbouring towns, 'jist,' as he naively would say, 'jist tae gie ma ain toun a bit rest ye ken.'

Forfar, the ancient county capital, a chief seat of the handloom linen-weaving industry, manifested just the characteristics I have been endeavouring to portray (somewhat feebly and sketchily I confess) in connection with Montrose and the other burghs I have mentioned.

The appellative bestowed on the burghers of Forfar was sometimes 'deevil burn me,' or occasionally 'the spooters,' so named from one of the narrow streets known as 'the Spoot', a haunt of weavers and their multitudinous offspring. The Forfar drawl is probably the broadest in all broad Scotland, if we except the Brechin brogue, which is possibly even more long-drawn and unmusical. The Montrose accent had an element of picturesqueness, not altogether unmusical, as if the lapping of the water on the town piers had to some extent affected the very speech of the burghers; but Brechin and Forfar were unmistakably 'dreich' and harsh in their very speech.

One of the many notable characters of Forfar was a peripatetic ballad-singer, whom many of my readers will remember, and who went by the name of 'Singer Jeemer.' He was so called on account of a knack he had of ending off his words with the syllable 'er.' The following conversation will illustrate this peculiarity.

'One day,' says my friend Mr. Dunn, 'I forgaithered wi' this worthy on the plenstanes in front of Peter Beid's windie, and noticing that Jeemer's airm was in a sling, I asked, "Fat's the maitter wi' the airm, Jeemer?"

'"Ainner!" said he—"maitter eneucher? I gaed awa' H Brechiner, t' singer at a concerter, fell doon a stairer, broker airmer, near boncherder a' thegitherer''. [Nearly butchered altogether.]

But the most notable worthy of Forfar, and one whose name will always be associated with the history of the benevolences and philanthropic movements of the burgh, was that worthy old citizen, Peter Reid. What Scotchman has not heard of Peter Reid's Forfar Bock? Some forty years ago, maybe fifty, Peter kept 'a sma' choppie doon the Spoot,' the thoroughfare now known as Castle Street. Peter's fame arose from the excellence of a rare confection he used to manufacture, in the shape of innumerable little sticks of what Scotch people call ' rock.' These were about four inches long, and the diameter of a thick pencil. To the boys they represented the acme of every possible delicacy. My friend Dunn again writes me: 'In later years,' he says, 'I bought many a packet, but it hadn't the taste of my youth. The demand became too great for Peter to make it in the back shop, and what was made at the sweetie works was fushionless. I ance played rather a trick on Peter—ay, man, it must be forty years ago. I reminded him of it many years afterwards, as he was showing me over the noble hall, which he had built, endowed, and presented to his fellow-townsmen. Peter used to make up for Saturday night's sales a quantity of " oak " as we called it, each stick being neatly rolled in a piece of whity-broon paper, with a corkscrew twist at each end. These he put in glass canisters, which were placed in the window. One of his peculiarities was, that he would not give more than one stick out of the canister to any one buyer. Now I wanted three or four sticks, but Peter refused to alter his custom for me, and on my rather peremptorily repeating my demand, he ordered me to clear out of the shop, and wouldn't give me any at all. I managed to raise a few shillings, and converted these into "bawbees," and then with the connivance of a few sympathising youngsters, who kept trotting out and in at frequent intervals, I nearly cleaned out Peter's canisters. He eventually, however, dropped on the game, and stopped the supply, with a clout on the side of the head to one of my commissioners, remarking:

'"Gin I had that deiTs buckie, Jamie Dunn, I'd gie 'm a sark fu' o' sair banes."'

He was peculiarly independent, even when he had become a wealthy manufacturer. The threepenny packets of Forfar Kock became known to the extreme limits of the British Empire; but if any one wanted five shillings worth, he had to stow away the twenty packets over all his pockets, for not a scrap of paper or bit of string would old Peter provide to make a parcel. The old man too had a fair stock of dry Scotch humour. A lassie one day, using the ordinary colloquialism, asked across the counter for 'a bawbee worth o' Peter Reid/

'Ay, ma lassie, which bit o'him wad ye like?' said Peter,

The awfully sluggish and long-drawn mode of talking common to the ordinary people in these weaver towns may be exemplified by the following dialogue which took place on 'the stair-heid' in one of the back streets of Forfar. It is now but seldom that one hears a married woman addressed by her maiden name, but in my young days it was the rule and not the exception. For instance, our old servant Geordie Fender's wife, a comely, rosy-cheeked, little woman, was always known among her familiars not as Mrs. Ferrier, but invariably as plain Bell Tindal, that being her maiden name. Meg Morrison' might become by marriage, we will say, Meg M'Intyre, but Meg Morrison she would still remain to the end of the chapter; and so Jess Masterton might marry Tammie Hodgie when she was two-and-twenty, but she would still remain just Jess Masterton and nothing else. And now to our promised dialogue. The dramatis persona are Lizz and Mag.

Scene—Stair-heid, doon the Spoot.

Lizz. Fine day the day, Mag.

Mag. It is that, na.

Lizz. Ony noos?

Mag. Nae muckle. But fat div ye think Jess Masterton hed till her dennery esterda'? (of course no printing can give any adequate idea of the fearful, long-drawn drawl with which all this is said).

Lizz. I'm shure I dinna ken. Fat wis't?

Mag. Od, 'ooman, can ye no guess?

Lizz. Gae wa' wi' ye. Fu' could I guess?

Mag. Weel, than, she hed staik!

Lizz. Staik! Set her up wi' staik! Like her incidence, I'm shure, as if parritch wisna guid eneuch for the like o' her, and her jist fillin' pirns for Jock Sootar.

This homely dialogue illustrates quite a vanished type of provincial life in Scotland. 'Staik' or butcher meat was almost an unknown luxury; and to 'fill the pirns' for the weaver husband was the never-ending task of the patient housewife in the intervals of washing, mending, baby-tending, house-cleaning, and other domestic operations. Life was indeed of a most primitive type. Wants were few; amusements, save of the rudest kind, almost unknown. Hard manual toil, from morn till night, without intermission, was the common lot of the patient, frugal operatives, and all the modern ameliorations of the artisan's condition were absolutely unknown. No wonder, then, that many a poor, toil-worn, weary workman sought such relief as might be found in the seductions of whisky-drinking; and indeed there was some reasonable meaning in the pithy excuse of the old weaver. Recognising that the only social relaxation he could possibly enjoy was when he met his cronies to interchange ideas over a tumbler of toddy, on being reproached by his good minister for having allowed himself to be overcome by the seductions of the potent national spirit, he said, as the minister expressed his astonishment that he would allow his love for whisky to overcome the better part of his nature :

'Ah, meenister, it's no the whisky, it's the ' here's t'ye ' that dis a' the mischeef.'

There was the recognition of a profound social truth and sound philosophy in this reply; and none of the more modern developments of our social life are worthy of a higher meed of grateful recognition than the splendid efforts which have been made by both Church and State, as well as by private munificence, to provide worthier and more acceptable means of wholesome recreation for the working bees of the hive, whose share of the honey is yet far below what they deserve and still comes far short of what they righteously are entitled to. But this is opening up a wide subject, and might lead me far afield from my reminiscences.

I may here jot down a well-known rhyme which aptly describes the incessant clatter which filled the whole of these weaver towns with a deaving din, while the swift shuttles plied their noisy tasks. Busy looms were set up in almost every dwelling in the least fashionable parts of these county towns; and in nearly all the villages the shuttles and treddles kept up the same noisy racket from earliest morn till long past 'dewy eve.' The yarn for the webs, or 'wobs,' as they were locally called, had to be brought either on the weaver's shoulders or on his creaking wheelbarrow from the yarn mills. The 'pirns' which contained the woof had to be filled by the deft hands of the busy housewife, whose task it also was to make the paste or 'batter,' with which the web was liberally anointed, so that the ponderous beam of the loom could work easily backwards and forwards with the greatest saving of effort to the patient, industrious breadwinner. Many a poor tired-out weaver, with aching back and slender frame, racked by a hectic cough induced by the unwholesome atmosphere of fluff and dust and vitiated air in which he had to toil every day for nigh on twice eight hours at a stretch, would straighten his poor weary limbs at the end of a hard week, and repeat almost as if it were a psalm, the weaver's well-known refrain—

'Clitterty clatterty,
Pull up for Saturday;
My wob's oot, nae pairns tae fill,
And Monanday, batter-day.'

Another of the common rhymes among the 'wyver folk' was as follows:—In answer to the kindly salutation, 'Fu are ye the day?' the waggish reply would not unfrequently be

'Geylies, brawlies—nae vera weel— Thank ye for speirin'; fu' are ye yersel'? Jamie's ill, and Johnnie's waur, Sandie, he's extror'nar'; But for masel', I canna tell, I'm jist aboot the ord'nar' !'

Among the Forfar notables I must not forget to retail an anecdote of one of the most notorious of them all, the famous Bailie F------. The bailie was a large owner and breeder of stock, and one of the ten-tumbler-at-a-sitting worthies, of whom the ancient burgh could boast not a few. In the pursuit of his special calling he had occasion at times to rent pasture-lands for the use of his numerous purchases in stock, and naturally he was ever on the alert to take advantage of any good grass parks that might be in the market to let. It so happened that some fine well-grassed pastures had been advertised as available for agistment purposes, and the worthy bailie was very anxious to get them for his own cattle. He tried to make a deal privately with the owner, but was told they were to be put up to auction. On the set day, therefore, the bailie, who was well primed with the national beverage, found himself in the auction room. The auctioneer began expatiating in the usual way on the desirable property he had to sell—eloquently described the lie of the land, the fine shelter, the excellent watering facilities, and so on, to the accompaniment of a running fire of contradictions and depreciatory comments from Bailie F------. The more the auctioneer vaunted the excellence of the pastures, the less chance the bailie saw of his getting them at the low price he had decided to pay for them. At length the auctioneer began to show how dry the season had been—how pasturage was almost at a premium—how this particular agistment was so close to market, so well preserved, and so on, that bids began to come in rather briskly, much to the irate and half-fou' bailie's disgust. The auctioneer, who knew his business well, did not of course allow the bailie to have things all his own way, and at length, pointedly addressing him, made some very pithy and telling remarks about the succulence and abundance of the grass, and that this was a chance no sensible man would let slip. The bailie, now fairly wroth, suddenly exploded, with the following outburst: —' Oh haud yer tongue, ye haiverin' eediot. Gerse ! gerse! Fine gerse! Dod, man, Nebuchadnezzar, wad hae eat'n't a' up in a fortnicht!' Amid the roars of laughter that filled the room the irate bailie was allowed to become the purchaser.

Let me give yet another of one of this happily fast-vanishing type. An old fellow, one Arthur G------, had married a young wife, and she had so far managed to keep him in pretty good order; but one luckless evening for her, Arthur met an old crony with whom he had 'given resolution a treat' several times, and nothing would satisfy him but he must press his unwilling companion to accompany him home. Home they accordingly 'stauchered,' and Arthur was ternporarily abashed by the reproachful looks of his young wife. They sat down to the tea-table, and, the whisky again asserting itself, Arthur insisted on the bottle being produced. The friend was really sorry for Mrs. G------, and tried in vain to back up her efforts to keep the old man from absorbing any more of the potent liquor. However, Arthur was obdurate, and to avoid a scene the poor woman had to produce the bottle. Still the proprieties must be observed, so she asked Arthur to say grace before beginning the meal. The association of ideas produced a quietening effect on the drouthie auld carle, and, as he reverently bent his head, closed his eyes, and began to intone the grace, the guidwife slipped the bottle behind the cushion on the sofa, hoping that her man might forget his imperious demand for more drink. However, as soon as Arthur opened his eyes again he stretched out his hand for the bottle, but finding it gone, he turned to his wife and said, 'Feth, guidwife, I'm thinkin' it's mair needfu' I suld "watch" than "pray" in your company.'

Associated with the drinking habits, another vice was most fashionable, among the richer classes at least— that was an inveterate propensity to make absurd and foolish wagers. Some of these were most outrageously extravagant. At certain stages of a debauch men would dare each other to perform all sorts of extravagances. If the challenge were not promptly accepted, the refuser had to pay the penalty of losing the bet which generally accompanied the wild and riotous defiance. Some of these recorded bets are almost incredible, were they not supported by indubitable testimony. One of the best, perhaps, is that of which the humorous and eccentric Jamie Sim of Pinlathie was the hero. The fun had been waxing furious. One young laird, dashing his peruke in the fire, had yelled out, 'Wigs i' the fire for a guinea,' and the company had heaped the fire with wigs. Roused to drunken emulation, another young laird of the company cast off his coat, and pitching it on the fire, cried, 'Coats in the fire for five guineas.' No sooner said than done. But the laird o' Pinlathie put a stopper on the mad frolic by coolly taking out his set of false teeth, and pitching them in the fire, calling out, ' Teeth i' the fire for thirty guineas.' He won all round.

The local jealousy between town and town of which I have spoken is amusingly illustrated by the following anecdote. A worthy burgher of Perth and a Newburgh man had got into a rather acrimonious dispute, over their toddy, anent the merits of their respective towns. The Perth man vaunted the virtues of the beautiful Tay and the noble expanse of the city links. The Newburgh man insisted that their water was purer and clearer, and the breezy heights about their town put the links of Perth completely in the shade. The Perth man renewed the attack by speaking of their busy streets and the volume of their trade. As Newburgh happened to be a favoured changing stage for numerous intersecting lines of mail coaches, the Newburgh man was able to score a point by insisting that 'mair stagecoaches gaed through Newburgh in a day than cam' tae Perth in a week.' This put the champion of the 'Fair City' on his mettle, and swelling out his chest with conscious dignity, he rather pompously delivered what he considered a clincher.

'Ah!' said he, 'but oor provost gangs aboot wi' a chain.'

'Dis he?' drily responded the other. 'Aweel, we lat oors gang aboot lowse.'


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