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A Dundee Lass
In the Howe o’ Strathmartine


The Piper o' Dundee

The Piper cam’ tae oor toon
Tae oor toon, tae oor toon,
The Piper cam’ tae oor toon,
And he play’d a bonnie lee.
He play’d a sprig, the laird to please,
A sprig brent new frae ‘yont the seas,
And then he gi’ed his bags a squeeze,
And he play’d another lee.

Chorus
And wasna’ he a rogie, a rogie, a rogie;
And wasna’ he a rogie,
The Piper o’ Dundee?

He play’d "The Welcome o’er the Main,"
And "Ye’se be fou and I’se be fain,"
And "Auld Stuart’s back again,"
Wi’ muckle mirth and glee.
He play’d "the Kirk," he play’d "The Queen."
"The Mullin Dhu" and "Chevalier,"
And "Lang awa’ but welcome here,"
Sae sweet, sae bonnilie

It’s some gat swords, and some gat nane,
And some were dancin’ mad their lane’;
And mony a vow o’ weir was ta’en
That nicht at Amulrie.
There was Tullibardine and Burleigh,
And Struan, Keith, and Ogilvie,
And brave Carnegie, wha but he,
The Piper o’ Dundee?

The Barronie of Hilltowne

Growing up at the Top o’ the Hill, just beyond where Strathmartine Road begins at the Hilltown , a wee bit past Dens Road and Kinghorne Road, above the clock at Mains Road, at the foot of Hill Street, "The Piper o’ Dundee" was one of my favourite songs. And as I read it now, not having sung it for many years, I realize this piper was a rebel. A Jacobite, I’ll bet, and in his time the kind of person I’d probably like to hang our with!

I think people at Church who know me term me "an independent thinker." I think people at work who know me term me a social worker who is a bit of a "cage rattler" or a "pot stirrer," in kinder moments and maybe even a "rabble rouser" when I’m on a tear or some kind of crusade to make my little bit of the world into what I think is a better place. And when I realize that my Granny’s Granny was raised by a Highland (Stanley and Errol in Perthshire) mother who was born not so long after the great rebellions of the 18th Century – the French and American Revolutions and the ’15 and the ’45 Rebellions – I understand why "The Piper" would leave such an impact on a wee lass in the 1950’s.

Strathmartine Road stretches from the Hilltown all the way out to Downfield. There’s many a time my mother and I would hike out to Baldovan, (where the Borstal or "bad boys school" was) often with Laddie the collie, then down past the farms to, sorry, folks, here it comes, I can’t not say it, Bammie Doon, where the mental hospital was, and then back up to catch the Number 20 bus home. Other times we’d take the 22 out to the terminus, then hike on down to the Sidlaws, basically tracing the steps of Martin chasing the dragon down the Strath. (That story my granny gave me I’m going to tell in "Tales and Legends" – and you can’t skip on ahead if you’re one of my installment readers on the Web at electricscotland.com, because I haven’t got to that section yet – even though the raw materials, and the pictures, and the memory prompters are all there waiting in "Section 12": this is Section 6, so we’ve got a wee bittie to go.)

The Hilltown began as just that, Hill Town. According to the Reverend William Cumming Skinner, of Hilltown United Free Church, in his history written in 1927, Hilltown was a Barony and Dundee was the City, which later took the Hilltown into its governance. Skinner writes "’The Hilltown of Dudhope’– called the Rotten Row – was first created into a ‘Burgh of Barony’ by a charter from Charles I, in favour of Sir James Scrymseoure, the twelfth Constable of Dundee, and second Viscount Dudhope. It is dated the 4th September 1643."

I spent many happy hours playing down at Dudhope Castle. Of course, in my time it was nothing like the illustration above, but it still stood firmly in the park. Not too far away from the castle was a children’s playground – with swings, a chute, (or slide), a maypole, and a merry go round that we’d try to get to go as fast as it could round and round and round by running and pushing and jumping on and enjoying the ride, holding on for dear life, and rejoicing that you weren’t one of the unfortunates who fell off and landed on the hard ground! (Yes, indeed, I was a wee terror!)

And, believe it or not, somehow or other I once got inside the castle – can’t remember if I paid for part of a tour, or just sneaked or charmed my way in – and got to see the "Spiked Maiden." I have no idea where I managed to get the Reverend Skinner’s great 1927 book of the Hilltown and Dundee. I’m just grateful I grabbed it to hold on to and be able to share Dundee with my family. He has a much better description of the Maiden than I could ever give you:

…The public hanging on the Cragies Gallows belonged to milder days than those represented by the "Nurenburgh Maiden" exhibited in the museum at Dudhope Castle. It came there from a collection formed by a Mr Lumsden, who lived somewhere in Fife, and may possibly have returned to its primal home after many days of wandering. It is of iron and formed like an Amazon Maiden, into whose bosom you go to be pierced through and through with iron spikes. Whether she rolled herself down the hill with her victim enclosed we do not know, but that game would only be on a line with what was common practice in the torture of criminals in other parts."

James V. may have seen it when he visited the Fortalice about 1540, and afterwards crossed to Skye to visit the ""Macdonald of the Isles" at Duntulm Castle. There he would be shown the "three Cnocs" –the Hill of Judgment or Pleas, the Hill of Counsel, and the Hill of Hanging. In the old days there, as elsewhere, it was on such Cnocs that the Chief sat in state, dispensing advice, justice, and punishment. There, clad in his Coat-of-Mail, or Luireach, with conical helmet, bearing the three eagle’s plumes and badge of his clan, the Chief was enthroned, his right hand resting on the pommel of his Claymore, thrust upright into the ground beside him. There, occupying the Hill proper to the specific matter in hand, he meted out stern justice as he sat – a terrible figure of inviolable majesty, well calculated to strike awe into the hearts of the clansmen. James was no doubt also shown the "Barrel Hill," and possibly given a demonstration of its effectiveness in torture. Inveterate criminals generally suffered torture before that death came to their relief, and the common saying that "hanging is too good for him" is just a relic of our ancestors’ way of thinking – and acting. The victim was enclosed in an iron barrel studded with spikes pointing inwards. The side of the barrel opened like a door to receive its guest. When closed the spikes passed through he body of the victim. The barrel was then rolled down the Hill of Hanging, and the sequel can be easily imagined."

Skinner’s book has more than just torture and hangings in it. There’s a great chapter on wedding and birth customs, and wonderful historical details about the role of religion and free trade in the development of the Hilltown, along with chapters on industry, education and folk lore, some of which I might add in to future chapters of this Scrapbook.

The Hilltown, dated about 1905, published in a 1977 edition of the Courier.
The Hilltown, dated about 1905, published in a 1977 edition of the Courier.

This picture of the top of the Hill, with the Hilltown Clock in the center towards the back, and the pub in the left foreground, looks just like I remember our part of town as I was growing up. I remember people as friendly, helpful in the shops, and I felt safe running up and down Hill Street, going across the street to help groom the Clydesdales in the big pend where they were stabled; crossing the road right where those tram lines are to go to the meal man for dog food for Rex, our Airedale, or to get other messages for my mother or Granny. This is really where my character was formed, on listening to stories from my Granny or being reminded to "take a telling" from neighbours as well as family and teachers when I went just a wee bit too far in my adventuring.

My daughter, Tina, gave me a book with poems, and quotations and stories that, if you read it carefully, gives wonderful background and descriptions of Scotland and her people. It’s not quite a "wha’s like us, damn few and they’re a’ deid" kind of book, but the contents certainly stir my blood and confirm to me that to be a Scot is to be one of God’s chosen. Here’s a few extracts from Scotland, An Anthology, by Douglas Dunn.

Plurals
Behind all this is the peculiarity of the Scottish character, and there is probably more whigmaleerie written about that than about anything else. Scots are supposed to be dour, canny, pawky, coarse, fly, stingy, pedantic, moralistic, and drunken all at once, combining the severity of Calvin with the lasciviousness of Burns. They are characterized as a mixture of the legendary Sawney Bean, the grotesque Galloway rogue who consumed human corpses and lived in a cave, and David Livingstone (an ancestor of mine), who darned his won frock coat neatly in the African jungle. They are, as the saying goes, like dung – no good unless spread – and there is no doubt that Scots do get spread to a quite amazing degree over the face of the earth. There has always been a drift away from the stoney barrenness of the home ground out into the expansive world, yet for wandering Scots the homeland never quite disappears. The odd thing is that almost everything said about the Scots is true, but never the whole truth – their character has so many sides to it.

Alastair Reid, The New Yorker (1964).

John Buchan at a Lectern
We will take the prosaic side first. We Scotsmen are a commonplace folk, fond of sticking close to the ground, and asking a reason for things and a practical justification. We take a pleasure, a malicious pleasure, I am afraid, in pricking bubbles; and though we are very sentimental ourselves, we like to pour cold water on other people’s sentiment...

…Now I want you to turn to the other side of the Scottish character, the side which is as far distant as possible from the cautious, prosaic, worldly-wise side. I have been talking about. With all our prudence, our history is a record of the pursuit of lost causes, unattainable ideals, and impossible loyalties. Look at the long wars of independence which we fought under Bruce and Wallace. If we had had any sommon sense we would have made peace at the beginning, accepted the English terms, and grown prosperous at the expense of our rich neighbours. Look at the wars of religion, when for a refinement of dogma and a nice point of Church government the best of the Lowland peasantry took to the hills. Look at the Jacobite risings. What earthly sense was in them? Merely because Prince Charlie was a Stewart, and because he was young and gallant, we find sober, middle-aged men, lairds, lawyers, and merchants, risking their necks and their fortunes to help a cause, which was doomed from the start. We have, all of us, we Scots, a queer daftness in our blood. We may be trusted to be prudent and sensible beyond the average up to a certain point. But there comes a moment when some half-forgotten loyalty is wakened, and then we fling prudence to the winds. The truth is that we are at bottom the most sentimental and emotional people on earth. We hide it deep down, and we don a mask of gravity and dour caution, but it is there all the time, and all the stronger because we hide it so deep.

John Buchan, "Some Scottish Characteristics’ in W. A. Craigie et. Al., The Scottish Tongue (1924).

We lived around Strathmartine Road for generations. According to birth, marriage and death certificates and Census records I’ve been able to find, the McIntoshes and Beats and Benvies and Morrisons lived in Bucklemackers Wynd, Wellingtron Street and Hospital Park as well as Hill Street and on the Hilltown Road itself. The Forbes lived at the Downfield end of Strathmartine Road and my Granny’s granny, Jessie Hackett Beat, took her to St Salvador’s Church. Jessie and her daughter, Auntie Chat (Charlotte) had a pottery shop and a fishmonger on Kinghorne Road. And even though our home in Hill Street was torn down to build multi-stories and we were moved to St Mary’s when I was about 15 or 16, and enjoyed having electric light instead of gas mantles, and lots of hot water and a bath in its own room and not a zinc tub we brought in from the lobby and filled up in front of our kitchen fire, I’ll always think of myself not only as a Dundee lass, but as a Hilltown girl.

Another Courier picture, the Hilltown in my time. And there’s the Clock, and the pub, and the road to the meal man and the Number 20 bus heading to the City Center.
Another Courier picture, the Hilltown in my time. And there’s the Clock, and the pub, and the road to the meal man and the Number 20 bus heading to the City Center.

I get sentimental when I play "The Miles to Dundee" and think of the "howe of Strathmartine" being behind me in that childhood sense. I think of hiking up Hill Street to the top of the Law or down the Hill to the Wellgate and town, the busses I caught and the ones I missed, the frequent rain and the warm summer sunshine and the snow that too quickly turned into slush on those steep braes that lead and encircle the Hilltown, and most of all, "my ain folk" of shopkeepers and neighbours and schoolfriends and my ancestors who were all part of my growing years. And I wish I could go back in time like a character from Wells’ "The Time Machine" or Diana Gabaldon’s "Outlander" novels or TV shows like "Sliders" or movies like "Somewhere in Time" and spend a few hours there once again before returning to my family of seven children and the ever growing number of grandchildren they’re bringing in to my life here in America.

But that can’t be done. So, I read books and make this scrapbook, and write my stories, and seek out my ancestors possibly because, according to Robert Louis Stevenson, "For that is the mark of the Scot of all classes: that he stands in an attitude towards the past unthinkable to Englishmen, and remembers and cherishes the memory of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation." (Weir of Hermiston, 1896).

And now we come to the modern Hilltown, and the view from a multi story built probably on the land I played around at the bottom of Hill Street –

And now we come to the modern Hilltown
And there’s the Number 20 headed doon the toon.
And there’s the Church where I was christened.
And there’s the clock that I could see from our bedroom window.
And there’s the Hilltown brae and the Tay Brig off in the distance.

The Wee Lassie frae Dundee?
And isna’ she a rogie,
a rogie, a rogie;
And isna’ she a rogie,
The Wee Lassie frae Dundee?