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A Scots Boy's World Sixty Years Ago
Chapter IX. Other Holidays


In the last chapter I have set down some recollections of a boy's summer holidays—spent for the most part near Aberdeen—in the fifties and sixties. Enjoyable as these were I think they were hardly considered complete without a few added days spent at the ideal country manse of a ministerial uncle who, for sixty years, went in and out among his people as guide, philosopher and friend. He was the very soul of hospitality and ever received us with open arms. His pony-pheeton, fishing tackle, books, and well stocked garden were freely at our service, while a crack with his highly original factotum "Weelum," whose sayings were proverbial throughout the district, was itself a diversion of no mean order.

About the middle of the latter decade these began to take wider sweep and the impressions received increasingly gripped the imagination. It was as far back as 1863 that a first trip across the border was made. It was to the house of an elderly and prosperous Liverpool merchant who was prone to sententious remarks, combining shrewd wisdom with a reverent spirit. Two of these survive still for what they are worth. One was to the effect that many things had necessarily to be "considered from a commercial point of view," and the other was that few things were more objectionable than mere "pious platitudes from the pulpit." Possibly it was to show us something far removed from this that he drove us on Sunday to the chapels of the Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown and Mr. Birrell, father of the late Irish Secretary, the two leading nonconformist lights of the city. I rather think the former was not at home, but the latter has often been recalled as an ideal of calm and thoughtful moral earnestness. Rightly or wrongly I remarked on the large proportion of the congregation who wore spectacles! Though young enough at the time, I was allowed fullest latitude to roam about the streets and docks at my own sweet will, an experience which proved of astonishing interest. A chamber concert in St. George's Hall, and a visit to a large manufacturing establishment were among the other good things provided by way of entertainment.

Though such a journey was well calculated to broaden one's horizon, it was completely eclipsed, two years later, when father took myself and a brother on a first visit to London. Educationally nothing could have been more timeously planned. The metropolis seemed further off then than it does to-day, if judged by the number of hours taken to complete the journey. A carefully written journal of this expedition is before me from which I cull a few particulars which have a certain interest after so many years. We travelled by the Glasgow and South-western Railway, whose terminus then was in Bridge Street, starting at 3-3 p.m. and not reaching Euston till 5-5 p. m. on the following morning. Humorous
scenes along the route are touched off with keen enjoyment-a porter being shaved on Lochwinnoch platform with a railway bill for winding sheet, a fantastic trio of sporting toffs in excited conversation at Kilmarnock, &c. The Covenanting region of Ayrshire arouses interest at almost every stopping place.

At Carlisle a disconcerting incident with its happy outcome is given at length. It appears that owing to some accident on the preceding day a wretched borrowed carriage was being attached to the south-going train into which we had to change. So disreputable, indeed, did it look that an honest railway porter would not ask us to enter it, but found better accommodation in a superior class. By and by, however, a martinet of a stationmaster came along to examine tickets and, while he blandly expressed regret at the uncomfortable makeshift he had to offer, insisted that we must make the best of it. Just as he was hustling us into the unsightly compartment, he was suddenly arrested in his purpose by the guard of the train whom we had not observed, but who recognised father as his minister and friend. A few words from him sufficed to reinstate us in comfort with many bows and apologies from the great man.

A graphic account follows of the "Limited Mail" overtaking us like a whirlwind at midnight as we stood in a siding at Warrington, and of the uncomfortable drowsiness in the small hours of morning when one wakens up to find that it is only his foot which has been truly asleep while reassuring himself as to the identity of his travelling companions. Hugh Miller, whose "First Impressions of England" had evidently been studied, is repeatedly quoted with due appreciation. In London itself the dinginess of the brick buildings and the shabby appearance of the omnibuses is contrasted with those in Glasgow. The first overpowering impression of St. Paul's from Ludgate Hill is worthily commented on, and even yet I frequently find myself repairing to the same spot in an endeavour to recover the same experience. The steady hum and nimble movement of the street traffic, the amplitude and beauty of the parks, the yellow and gold of the equipages on their way to a levee at Marlborough House, "such as I have seen in books of Whittington and his Cat, but which I did not believe existed except in fancy," are all duly dwelt upon. The Polytechnic where "Pepper's Ghost" was in the ascendant with five different exhibitions for a shill- ing! the Egyptian Hall where Arthur Sketchly reigned supreme, and the Zoo with all its living wonders seem to have been enjoyed to the full, yet the Crystal Palace, seen in exceptional weather and during a great Whitsuntide musical festival, evidently carried off the palm in youthful estimation. Westminster Abbey is characterised as "illustrated history." At the Tower, inscriptions, gateways, cannons and beefeaters are all described, together with the jumbled conversation of a tipsy man who talked volubly to the armoured Knights! South Kensington is declared to be more interesting than most museums because it contains " less of antiquities and fossils and more of modern painting, specimens of foods and manufactures and models of recent inventions, public buildings and shipping."

Through the kindness of Mr. Murray Dunlop, M.P. for Greenock, and draftsman of the Model Trust Deed, we were fortunate in obtaining admission to the Strangers' Gallery in the House of Commons at a full dress debate. There had been serious riots in Belfast, and an enquiry into the conduct of its magistrates was being demanded by a Major O'Reilly, while a strenuous defence was offered by Sir Hugh Cairns, the city member; by Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary; and by Sir Robert Peel, the Irish Secretary. Mr. Whalley, the voluble Protestant member for Peterborough, vigorously insisted that the enquiry should be made wide enough to include the conduct of the popish clergy amid derisive cries of "Oh! Whalley, Whalley!" Lord Palmerston and Mr. Gladstone were both in their places, but took no part in the debate. Finally a division was called for, when supported the motion and 132 voted with the Government. Sir Frederick Smith then followed with a rambling speech on Harbours and Piers with the ill-concealed intention of talking out Mr. Berkeley's annual motion in favour of the Ballot which was the Tory bogey of the day, it being seriously contended that its introduction would tend to sap British manhood and to endanger the British Constitution! Last of all the interesting fact is noted of having twice seen Lord Brougham as he was entering and leaving the House of Lords.

In following years holidays assumed a more varied complexion, now to the Ayrshire coast and now within reach of the Trossachs, while a single day spent in Killiecrankie in the blaze of its autumnal glory proved a fresh revelation of the beauty of God's earth and an incentive to more diligent study of it. By and by a further departure was made which was to give bent to many a subsequent tramp. Opportunity then presented itself for a short walking tour in North Wales, which naturally led to further note-taking, to be inflicted later on some unoffending juvenile literary society. Beginning at Chester with its quaint "rows" and venerable cathedral, the journey is continued by rail as far as Bangor, passing over the scene of the then recent appalling railway accident at Abergele. The first sight of Menai Straits and the great bridges is duly referred to, and at still greater length a conversation with the aged John Roberts, stationmaster at Treborth, who had been associated with Father Mathew in his temperance campaign and who had also, curiously enough, had a remarkable interview with Louis Napoleon, discussing international rivalries and peace problems from Waterloo downwards. Alas! that in the immediate future the unstable Emperor was to allow himself to be involved in a sanguinary European War which cost him his throne! Llanberis and Snowdon, Bettws-y-Coed, Conway and Carnarvon, and The Great Orme's Head perambulated in a terrific storm, made a great impression and pled for fuller acquaintance with such insistence that as many as three brief runs were made to the Principality within the next few years.

An odd conceit which has added not a little to the retrospective value of some of these rambles may perhaps be referred to; so frequently was it indulged in as almost to constitute a family failing. A wet afternoon or a wearisome walk would be enlivened by throwing together in rhyme some humorous account of special incidents by the way. These jeux (Cesprit assumed great variety of form. Some-times members of the party would contribute a line in turn, the idea being that each should endeavour to throw the onus of continuing the narrative upon the one who was to follow. The result, as might be expected, was an incongruous medley retaining, however, recognisable traces of many an amusing episode. At other times more elaborate attempts would be made to preserve in permanent form the atmosphere of a more lengthy excursion in the rhythm of Macaulay, Longfellow, or Sir Walter Scott, not unfrequently evolving a creditable mosaic of mutual memories to be referred to with renewed zest, as occasion offered, in the days to come.


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