Throughout the coastal towns and
villages of France, Belgium, Scandinavia and the Baltic States
are to be found almost forgotten historical links with Scotland.
One of the least known to Scots perhaps, but not to the Dutch is
the link with the picturesque little town of Veere.
Veere is in Zeeland, near Middelburg
on the now landlocked ‘island’ of Walcheren. It has a small
picturesque harbour, which once gave direct access to the North
Sea. Old fortifications have defined its layout, dominated by
the huge Church of Our Lady (Grote Kerk) and by the elegant Late
Gothic Town Hall. Many buildings recall a prosperous period in
the town’s history when it was the centre of the wool trade with
Scotland and Scottish merchants lived here.
The Scots had
their own ‘dutyfree’ inn and water supply, dug in 1531 to supply
the wool merchants with 40,000 gallons of good water; the
elegant Tudorstyle building can still be seen and continued to
supply the needs of the people of Veere until 1931. Housing was
also put at the Scots’ disposal. The so called ‘Scottish Houses’
are two of the buildings occupied by traders that have been
preserved. One, ‘Het Lammeken’, (‘The Little Lamb’ a reference
to the wool trade) was probably built in 1539 by a Scot named
Joos Olivers. ‘De Struys’ dates from 1561 and was originally the
mirror image of ‘Het Lammeken’, but over the years extensive
alterations have been made. The Scots not only lived in these
houses but also used them as business premises. Nowadays they
are preserved as a museum; in the future an exhibition of the
Scots story will be opened.
Scottish Kirk on foreign soil
In 1612 the Scottish community was given the right to establish a chapel
with a graveyard and to appoint ministers and elders. This was the first
Scottish Kirk established on foreign soil and linked directly with the
General Assembly in Edinburgh. Its first minister was Alexander MacDuff,
who took up his charge in 1614. Four engraved silver communion cups,
made by a local silversmith, were in use from 1620 to 1798. In 1875 they
were offered for sale as ‘old silver’ and bought by a wealthy landowner,
who presented them to Manchester Cathedral in 1893, where they remain.
Veere thus became in the 15th and 16th centuries the main port for
Scottish commerce with Flanders, Holland and Brabant. Wool was the major
import, next to coal, hides, whisky, flax, grain and fish. Exported to
Scotland were cloth, tiles, leather, brassware, wines and spirits. There
is a reference to a ‘very good, tame lion’, which was sent to the
Scottish king as a gift from the people of Veere!
Evidence for a settled Scottish community is provided by the story of
Sir Thomas Cunningham, who was born in Veere in 1604 and lived there all
his life, becoming both Scottish Conservator and Mayor.
The Napoleonic period saw the end of the
wool trade and the Scottish Privileges. The Scottish Staple was based on
privileges which did not accord with the principles of égalité espoused
by the new French influenced Batavian Republic. With the coming of free
trade, Veere’s prosperity and wealth had already declined. In 1798 the
Scottish community in Veere had dwindled to 15 souls; the Kirk was
closed and the minister, Rev. James Likly of Aberdeen, was expelled. The
elders wrote to the Presbytery in Edinburgh: ‘How much we now regret the
loss of public worship in our own language, the dispersion of our
congregation and the loss of our Pastor, so justly esteemed and
respected by us (...)’.
The 1st of December 1799 saw the
cancellation of the Scottish Staple Contract. All persons under the
former jurisdiction of the Scottish Court had to leave the Republic so
the Scots quit Veere and returned to their own country. The Scottish
church was demolished in 1837 and remains of it could be seen until
1950. It is hoped that the foundations will be incorporated into an
extension of the Dutch Reformed Church, to be built in about a year’s
The title of ‘Honorary Conservator of the Scottish Privileges in the Low
Countries’ was revived when Veere celebrated its 700th anniversary in
1996; the title was granted to Mrs Winifred Ewing, Member of the
Appropriately it was the Scots of the 52nd (Lowland) Division who
liberated Veere in November 1944, and this event was commemorated with
the unveiling of a memorial in November 1998 attended by invited
Dutch archaeologist, Christina Polderman and
Veere town archivist Peter Blom have founded a
Scotland-Veere ‘Stichting’ (organization) to foster closer links.
They are also interested in exchanging records of the medieval trade
with Scottish historians with a view to a future exhibition.
Visit their web site at