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Kirkintilloch Town and Parish
Bellfield Cottage, Kirkintilloch


What native of Kirkintilloch, now in the “sere and yellow leaf,” does not remember the familiar names daily and hourly in use among the inhabitants “when we were young?—Mr. Thomson of Bellfield, Mr. Bartholomew of Broomhill, Major Berry of Unthank (now Waverley Park), Mr. Inglis of Walflat, Bailie Freeland, Bailie Gemmil, and Bailie Dalrymple? the last-named gentleman being now the only survivor.

The beautiful suburb of Bellfield—which was named by Mr. Thomson after an aunt whose maiden name was Bell—although not then studded with handsome villas, had visitors who were afterwards known to fame. Fortunately Dr. Hedderwick was one of these, and he has given us his reminiscences:—

“What a host of happy recollections rise to my mind at the name of Bellfield Cottage, Kirkintilloch! It was a hospitable abode, and its proprietor, Mr. William Thomson, a liberal, sagacious, and unique landlord.

He was a bachelor, lame, and limping in his gait, delighting in the society of young people of parts, and keeping a singularly open table. At every week’s end, from Saturday till Monday, he had seldom fewer than ten or a dozen guests.

To be an artist, a musician, or a man of letters, was an “open sesame” to Bellfield. Of his numerous circle Mr. Thomson was himself the autocratic ruler, very precise and stem in his household regulations, but outside of these allowing the largest amount of freedom, and, even latitude.

Daniel Macnee, pushing to the foremost rank as a portrait-painter, and already renowned for his social qualities, was one of Mr. Thomson’s frequent visitors. His rich geniality, and the amazing collection of stories which he told with a dramatic effect amounting to genius, rendered him the delight of all societies. In one of his anecdotes he described himself as brought professionally into contact with a plain-spoken Scotch farmer. A neighbouring gentleman had his horse at the farm, and it was arranged that Macnee should make a sketch of it, with a plough-boy on its back, so as to make the effect more picturesque.

On presenting himself, the artist was thus accosted :—

“Is’t you that’s come to tak’ aff oor Jock an’ the meer?”

A reply in the affirmative was of course given.

“Man,” continued the farmer, “ye’re a big buirdly chiel; ye micht Le workin’. The only painter ever I kent was a bit humphy-backit cratur. Thtrewas some excuse for him ; but as for you, ye micht be haudin the pleugh.”

From this it may be inferred that in person Mr. Macnee was of superior height and build. His countenance was capable of great variety of expression ; he imitated all sorts of people, but gave offence to none; indeed, he was almost as much valued for his vigorous good sense and judgment as for his variety and brilliancy as a raconteur.

But if Macnee was facile ptinceps as an entertainer, there were some others who gave no little hclat to Mr. Thomson's lively board. Horatio M ‘Culloch, a great master of Highland landscape ; John Sherriff, young, good-looking, and of fair promise as an animal-painter; and Robert Maxwell, an amateur in still life, but leading a life the reverse of still,— all made Bellfield from time to time jovial. Maxwell, in particular, had mimical and musical gifts which rendered his society something to be coveted. Among those whom he could portray to the life was Mr. Thomson himself, the excellent host who was beloved and respected by us all. This became known to the old gentleman, who one merry evening insisted on being treated to a little of his own "counterfeit presentment.”

“I can understand," he said, “an imitation of any one with some peculiarity of manner; but for myself, having no peculiarity at all, I do not see how imitation is in my case possible.”

This was spoken with a prim and staccato but not unpleasing mode of utterance peculiar to him, which Maxwell, after much pressing, proceeded to echo in an entertaining, though no doubt somewhat exaggerated style.

Mr. Thomson scowled, and at the conclusion remarked, “A good personal imitation I enjoy above everything, but I can see nothing amusing in a gross caricature.” Though the resentment thus exhibited was easily laughed away, the imitation was never, so far as I am aware, repeated.

Among those, too, whom I occasionally met at Bellfield were Dr. Macnish, the racy and ingenious “Modern Pythagorean” of “Blackwood,” and Andrew Macgeorge, a more local celebrity, of literary and antiquarian tastes, and possessing a bright and facile pencil for caricature. But strangers of wider note had likewise been now and then attracted thither. A Russian prince had been Mr. Thomson’s guest, while his small drawing-room had rung with a voice which had fascinated the capitals of Europe—that of the famous Madame Past^, for whom Bellini had composed “Norma,” and one or two of his finest operas.

A large album formed one of the usual attractions at Bellfield Cottage. To this all and sundry were invited to contribute. Eminent artists from a distance sometimes adorned its pages, and any one looking over the volume with an apparent lack of appreciation was apt to irritate Mr. Thomson to an extent which he could hardly conceal.

That the laird of Bellfield was easily moved to anger I discovered on my first visit. We were at breakfast, and he noticed that the hot ham-and-eggs had been served on cold plates. It was too late to correct the mistake, and we all protested that it made little difference. “Little difference?” he exclaimed in an excited tone,—"doited deevils!”

Truth to tell, Mr. Thomson was one of the most amiable of men. His flashes of anger were momentary; his benevolence shewed itself always. One Sunday afternoon in August I had a walk with him in the direction of Kirkintilloch. We had not gone far when we met a couple of decent men, probably handloom weavers belonging to the village. He was not conscious of having seen them before, but he stopped, made an affable remark about the weather, and then handed them the key of his garden, mentioning that the “gooseberries were ripe,” and that they might “enjoy a little treat.”

They looked astonished, profusely thanked him, and after being assured that they were entirely welcome, were requested to “hand the key into the house on leaving.”

I ventured to express a hope, as we strolled on, that the men would do nothing unworthy of the privilege he had given them. But his answer was characteristic. “I have always observed,” he said, “that if you put confidence in human nature, that confidence is never apt to be abused.” In the evening when we were all assembled, Mr. Thomson proposed to read aloud for our edification either a sermon or one of Burns’s poems. The young rogues—we were all young then—declared a preference for the latter; when he selected and read with much unction the “ Address to a Mouse,” accompanied every verse with a little ejaculatory comment, such as “ There’s a world of fine philosophy there !” and concluded by exclaiming, “O Lord! it’s worth a thousand sermons.”

It was easy to perceive from the pathos of the worthy man’s voice that he intended no irreverence. He was impressed with the beautiful moral of the poem, and his exclamation was pious and sincere.”

We may add a characteristic and authentic anecdote of Mr. Thomson.

He was rather fond of making alterations on his house, and liked to have tradesmen working about him; and, as was the custom at that time, they were occasionally treated to a dram by the hands of Mr. Thomson himself.

On one occasion he had a squad of joiners employed, among whom was “Baldy M‘Keoun,” who happened to get the first glass of whisky of the round that day. The second man declined to have any as he was a teetotaller.

Mr. Thomson, whose old-fashioned courtesy forbade him to offer a rejected glass a second time, calmly raised his arm, poured the whisky on the ground, and after having refilled the glass passed it to the next workman.

Baldy, who was very fond of whisky, was horror-struck at the operation, and his face was a picture.

After Mr. Thomson left he expressed himself strongly at what he thought foolish waste, and wound up with, “Davart, did he never think I could hae ta’en anither glass?”


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