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,
'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
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
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
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
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
Scene—Stair-heid, doon the
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.
Mag. Od, 'ooman, can ye no
Lizz. Gae wa' wi' ye. Fu'
could I guess?
Mag. Weel, than, she hed
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
'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
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—
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.'