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Kirkintilloch Town and Parish

Whoever is tired of railways, tramways, telegraphs, the electric light, and all the artificial means of bothering people who wish quietness; let him visit Waterside, a village lying ajxrnt two miles E.S.E. of Kirkintilloch, near the road leading to Gartshore. We warn him, however, in case he may choose to drive there in his carriage and pair, that he need not contemplate flying through the place like a meteor, and going right on. That is too fast for Waterside ; any one driving in must turn round and drive out again the way he came.

Pedestrianism suits Waterside better, and a footpath leaves the main road at Merkland, which makes the journey from Kirkintilloch somewhat shorter; and from Lenzie the village pan be reached by the footpath and iron bridge across thef Bothlin.

Merkland is the scene of the life and death of the poet, David Gray.

Immediately on leaving the main road, and entering the footpath is a building like , a very small chapel, neatly built of substantial square stones ; this is a burying place or sepulchre built by the late Mr. Thomson of Merkland, in which. his own remains, and those of several of his relations—including Rev, Dr. Blakely—are interred. The building bears date 1840. It is built on the side of a hill, and in consequence of part of the foundation giving way, it has had to be fastened together by two iron bars.


The walk from this to Waterside along the bank of the Luggie is simply charming, the only feeling being that it is too short. On the opposite side of the river the bank is higher, and the ancient mill of Duntiblae or Drum-teblay—which has been repeatedly referred to—appears in sight It was long occupied as a “spade forge” by the late Mr. Andrew Hill, who here made spades and shovels of unequalled quality, which were always in great demand over the West of Scotland. His successor, Mr. John Goodwin, still carries on the manufacture in the old name, and we are informed keeps up the good old established reputation. The old mill was originally a meal mill,1 and was burnt about fifty years ago—Mr. Forrest being then miller— when a storey was taken off the height of the walls, and such was the excellency of the workmanship, that the lime was more difficult to unloose than the stones. Immediately above the old mill are the remains of a distillery, and beyond that, at the dam across the stream, is another mill bearing date 1779, originally a lint mill, but now converted into a forge, being an auxiliary of the old mill.

The dam intersects the river opposite the village, and was built in very ancient times to supply the old mill. It has the effect of giving a beautiful water-fall.

The village of Waterside is picturesquely situated on the right bank of the river, with only the public road intervening, and the whole scene is uncommonly beautiful. The houses here are regularly built and slated, and a substantial building of two storeys bears the inscription :— “Waterside Subscription School, erected May 24th, 1839. Wm. Aitken & Co., contractors.” It is now superseded by the Board School, and is used as a public hall. The rest of the village is quaint and peculiar, being the production of a former age, and untouched by the modern spirit of improvement. The houses, in some places, appear as if they had been dancing the polka, and retained their positions when the music stopped. Some have their fronts square to the road, some the gable, and others one corner. The outhouses in some cases front the road, having apparently moved round from the back. Many of the houses have thatched roofs, with quaint gables and windows, and a growing crop amongst the roof-straw. Slates have supplanted thatch altogether in a goodly number, and others have both slates and thatch in particoloured pattern.

There are no fluctuations in this interesting place, not even in population, which in 1871 was 426; in 1881, 420; and 1891, 446.

The inhabitants rule their own affairs, undisturbed by Provost, Magistrates, Dean of Guild, or Commissioners, and have no local taxes. Being in the county of Dumbarton, they are subject to visits from the county police, and inspectors of weights and measures; otherwise they have been left in peaceful tranquility. The advent of the county council, however, is about to bring them into contact with the outside world. Water has hitherto been supplied by wells pretty numerously sunk, and from the river Luggie; although that beautiful stream is now too much polluted to be useful for any domestic purpose. The county council have determined that the water supply is inadequate for the purposes of health, and have arranged with the Commissioners of Kirkintilloch to furnish water; so that Waterside will shortly feel the effects of sanitary legislation, and its accompaniment of taxation.

The community appears to have had its origin in the art of weaving, being up till a recent period almost wholly composed of members of that craft; and from their isolated position, resemble the inhabitants of a Highland glen of last century, where the whole clan lived in undisturbed solitude and security. The Waterside people are not all of one surname, of course, but the surnames are few in proportion to the number of bearers; and the same Christian and surname are often borne by three, four or more individuals. As a matter of necessity, therefore, nicknames are used as distinguishing epithets, such as “Elder John,” “Deacon Stirling,” “Mason Will,” “Mucrae Davy,” “Kaury” (left-handed), etc., on the same principle as Dandie Dinmont called his terriers:—“Auld Pepper and Auld Mustard, and young Pepper and young Mustard, and little Pepper and little Mustard.” A stranger, therefore, seeking a person whose proper name is only known to him, is often sorely puzzled; and a new postman requires about a week to learn the intricacies of the navigation.

As may be supposed, the Waterside folk are essentially clannish, and intermarriage amongst their own community is frequent: some think this has had a detrimental effect, but the village has the reputation of being a healthy one, and the proportion of aged people is large.

Neither a hotel, public-house nor prison exists in Waterside, and it is time that Sir Wilfrid Lawson knew this—it would cheer his heart. Not that we mean to give out that all the inhabitants are teetotallers, for that we do not know; and we rather think that some of them will agree with the “Bard of Chapel Green,” who said:—

“A wee drap in the corner o’ a press,
Keeps in the credit when a hoose is bare,
A visitor returns wi4 noble grace,
After twa biddens, to a wee drap mair.”

We have said that the people are clannish, and along with that Scottish characteristic is their equally Scottish feeling of sturdy independence. As a community or as individuals they will “tak’ dunts frae naebody.”

This truth found the late Mr. Thomson of Merkland to his cost. The foot-path leading along Luggie-side to the village—which we have described—was on his lands, and has existed from time immemorial. Mr. Thomson, however, seems to have fretted at the thoroughfare, and resolved to divert the traffic into a different channel. He first consulted the neighbouring proprietors, who made no objection ; and then made a new footpath along the turnpike road, reaching the village from a different point; his neighbours again meeting and declaring their satisfaction with the new road, and agreeing that the ancient foot-path should be closed. Accordingly it was shut up by a fence being erected across it, and hand-bills pasted up warning pedestrians against trespass.

The Waterside people, who had never been consulted in the matter—although they were the parties most deeply interested—were naturally indignant, and having met together, marched in a body to the obnoxious fence, and tore it up, tearing also the hand-bills down.

Mr. Thomson, however, was not to be baffled, and speedily erected another and much stronger fence, fortified by a wide and deep ditch. The Waterside men, however— whose disposition Mr. Thomson seems not to have known— again held a meeting; and as the war was becoming hotter, their combative spirit rose in proportion. They soon turned out in a body, and, preceded by their band of music, marched to the seat of war. It is not recorded what tune was played on the occasion, but we should think it must have been “Hey tuttie, taittie,” as played by the Scots at Bannockburn, or, possibly, “Hey! Johnnie Cope.” The engagement, however, was successful for the Waterside heroes, as they soon demolished the strong fence, and filled up the ditch. Mr. Thomson—who might represent King Edward on the occasion—standing on the top of the hill, watch in hand, eyeing the whole proceedings. Whether he wished to ascertain the time it took to destroy his defences is not known, but he had several friends with him as witnesses of the assault. Three of the assailants were soon after summoned to the court at Kirkintilloch, and fined.

What were the poor weavers of Waterside to do now? How could they fight against a rich landed proprietor like Mr. Thomson of Merkland? Rob Roy said “a willing hand never lacked weapon,” and so it turned out on this occasion. An inhabitant of Waterside had a friend in Kilsyth, an intelligent man, who “kent a heap,” and forthwith he was despatched to consult the man of wisdom.

After hearing a detailed account of the whole proceedings, the Kilsyth gentleman advised his friend to consult a lawyer in Edinburgh, whose name he gave, and who would likely take up the case on spec, if he found it hopeful. This was accordingly done, and the gentleman learned in the law, after visiting Waterside, and considering the whole case, agreed to prosecute it on his own responsibility.

Accordingly a summons was served on Mr. Thomson, in name of Malcolm Pollok, John Pickens, and John Shaw. The case being purely one of prescriptive right, no witnesses were required, and it was speedily decided in the Outer House of the Court of Session, in favour of the pursuers. Mr. Thomson was not satisfied however, but waited till the last day for lodging an appeal, which he did, to the Inner House, which again gave a decision against him.

Both roads remain open till this day, so that Waterside gained on all points. A curious legal opinion was given after the case was settled, viz., that if Mr. Thomson could have proved that he had spent sixpence in repairing the old footpath the decision might have been different.

The inhabitants of Waterside also fought a tough contest with the Barony Parochial Board, to preserve their right of way to Lenzie, but both parties came to an agreement to substitute the present road for the old one. The new road is carried over the Bothlin by a handsome iron bridge, from which a view of the surrounding scenery is unequalled.

Another matter notable in the history of Waterside is the life and death of the gas work.

At a time when the weaving trade was good, a movement was made to have a gas work, and a meeting of about a dozen of the principal inhahitants was held, when it was resolved to erect a work. Subscriptions for £20 were received, and a number of shares issued at £1 each, the balance required being borrowed. The work was erected, pipes laid throughout the village, and for some years everything seemed to work smoothly, a dividend of 5 per cent, being regularly paid on the capital. By and by, however, times of adversity came—paraffin oil was coming into use, and some preferred it to gas, and cut off their gas connection. Dark rumours ran of people burning gas and paying nothing; the dividends ceased, and the meetings became stormy and recriminative. There was no supervision of the works or pipes, the only official being the man who made the gas at 12s. per week; and at this crisis he had the boldness to apply to the chairman of directors or “preses,” as he was called, for a rise of wages. The preses was so astounded at the demand in the circumstances that he flatly refused an advance, and said he would rather do the work himself. On consulting his brother directors, they applauded his noble resolution, and thanked him for his patriotic spirit; and he forthwith commenced his self-imposed duties.

As he knew nothing whatever of making gas, he got a friend—who had been a year at the occupation—to come for a few days and instruct him. Very soon after he was left by himself, however, whether from the damper being up when he supposed it was down, or from some other cause inexplicable, the retort was partially melted, and had to be replaced. In a short time the new retort was found to be twisted, and in despair the preses went to his co-directors, and intimated his wish to give up his job. They, however, were in no way dissatisfied, and not only encouraged him to go on, but advanced his wages on the spot to 15s. per week. Another new retort having been built in, he proceeded with his operations, but ere long was dismayed to find a crack in it. He at once summoned a friend to consult with him, and devise what should be done, who advised him “to fire up well, and perhaps the crack would close again.”

What between leakage at the retort, and leakage all along the line, the gas work did not live long. It was sold off, pipes and all, and the shareholders not only lost their £i shares, but had to pay about 6s. additional. The only things that now mark its former existence are the chimney stalk, and the gas pipe carried on wood across the river to Duntiblae forge, which still remains, like the belfry at the Old Aisle to mark what has been.

Our readers must not infer that the inhabitants of Waterside are a turbulent community, although they inherit the strongly-marked characteristics of the Scottish race of fifty years ago. They are tenacious of their rights, but have always been an intelligent and orderly people, and are all, or nearly all, members of the various churches in Kirkintilloch. Weaving has been their staple occupation in the past, and nowhere could operatives be trusted to turn out better work; and as the wives generally carried the finished webs to the manufacturers in Kirkintilloch, it was a pleasant sight to see them with snow-white caps, carrying the goods carefully wrapped in pure white sheets. This is now more rare, as weaving has become a sorry occupation, and all the young men naturally seek employment at the various collieries and public works in the neighbourhood.

The educational wants of the village are well supplied by Gartconner School in the immediate vicinity.

One very common name in Waterside, “Stirling,” has a romantic origin.

The clan MacGregor were despoiled of much of their lands in the sixteenth century by the Earls of Argyle and Breadalbane, who managed to get them engrossed in charters, which they easily obtained from the Crown, and thus constituted a legal right in their own favour without regard to justice. The MacGregors naturally resented this, and were not slow to retaliate with the sword, and a feud began which lasted for about a hundred years, the MacGregors becoming more and more desperate and ferocious. The clan had also a long-standing quarrel with the Colquhouns of Luss, and a battle was fought at Glenfruin, in which the MacGregors, although greatly outnumbered, were victorious. A party of students, who were merely spectators, were said to have been all killed by a gigantic MacGregor after the battle, and this so roused the Government that an act of the Privy Council was passed, dated 3rd April, 1603, by which the name “MacGregor” was expressly abolished.

Three of the clan had been living in Stirling, and came to Waterside to take up a permanent abode. They called themselves “Stirling,” no doubt on the principle that one name is as good as another, and it was suggested by the town they had just left. One of these men got quarters at Muckcroft, and the other two settled down on the little hill immediately to the south-east of the present village of Waterside., Notwithstanding the bad name which the clan of their origin had acquired for turbulence—but which there is little doubt was originally due to oppression, which drives wise men mad—the whole three 4‘ Stirlings ” proved to be quiet and industrious men. A disciple of Darwin might, however, find traces of their characteristics in their descendants.

Waterside has always produced noted curlers. The first club was formed in 1820, by William Jamieson, then the miller of Duntiblae, who was president \ and the other members, so far as can be gathered from the memories of the oldest inhabitants, were George Jarvie, a blacksmith; and Andrew, John, William, and David Stirling; not necessarily brothers or cousins, although all four bearing the same surname.

They had every facility for perfecting themselves in the game, as the president made a pond on the mill-lands adjacent to their homes, while time was accounted of little value; the result being that during hard frost they were always at it—one winter, in fact, they curled every week-day for six weeks in succession. The weavers, however, generally worked at their occupation from dusk till twelve each night, and devoted daylight to the roaring game—at that period they could earn 2s. to 2s. 6d. in six or seven hours.

It is not to be supposed that the wives would look calmly on while their husbands were spending so much time at play instead of work, and on one occasion the women held a meeting to devise measures to amend such an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The result of their deliberations was, to go out over-night, and plentifully besprinkle the ice with salt, and next day was worse than a thaw for the curlers, who had to stay at home.

The smith’s wife was remonstrating with her husband one morning for spending so much time away from his work, he being determined on another day’s curling. He put forward as an excuse that iron could not be worked during frost, and she being sceptical of this, he took her into the smithy, heated a piece of cast iron in the fire, and began to hammer it, when it flew into pieces. This ocular demonstration enabled the smith to carry out his intention.

The old Borderers who lived by cattle-stealing got a strong hint from the lady of the mansion, when her larder was becoming bare, by her presenting at dinner a covered dish which contained only a pair of spurs. The wife of a Waterside weaver gave her husband a hint in the same vein. He came home one night very hungry after a day’s curling. She had the table spread and the pot boiling briskly, but to his surprise she lifted out of it, not a piece of beef or mutton but a curling-stone, and gravely placed it before him.

The president must have been as great a wag as the smith, although lamentably unscrupulous. A decent woman, a neighbour of his, had set a hen on a valuable lot of game-fowl eggs which she had procured. The president quietly abstracted the eggs and substituted duck eggs in their room. In due time the eggs were hatched, and the president went to see the “chickens,” He ventured the remark, “Nannie, they’ve surely gey braid nebs?” Nannie answered, “Braid or no’ braid, they’re the rale game.”

A tinker called on him one day with a fine young bull-dog. Having duly admired it, he told the tinker that the dog had only one fault—his tail was too long, and advised him to cut an inch off. The tinker agreed with this, and asked him if he would do it while he held the dog. He declined this, however, but offered to hold the animal while the tinker himself performed the operation with an axe. All being ready, and the axe poised to give the blow, the president watched the decisive moment, and had the cruelty to push in the dog’s body, which was nearly cut in two by the blow. The president at once ran out of the door, and not a moment too soon, as the tinker, without hesitation, flung the axe at him.

William Stirling, known as “Muckcroft,” was the best curler of his day about Waterside, and an equally noted curler of that period was James Lowrie, mason, Kilsyth, who is still remembered by many. At length the two champions met and played a match, when “Muckcroft,’’ being victorious, said to his opponent, “I’ve ta’en the brush frae the tod the day.”

At a match between Waterside and Campsie Clubs William Stirling had the last shot to play; his opponents had a stone on the tee, partially guarded by two others, with only a narrow port between ; he sent his stone with such force and unerring aim that it brushed aside the two guards, and split the stone lying on the tee into pieces.

The original or “Old Club” joined the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1853, and in 1857, there being forty-two members, a new or “junior” club was formed, which existed till 1887, when there were so few curlers that it was resolved to amalgamate the two clubs. The old club won eleven district medals, one provincial medal, and three parish trophies, viz.:—a silver cup presented by Bailie Wallace, a gold locket presented by J. W. Burns, Esq. of Kilmahew, and a valuable gold medal presented by Sir Archibald Orr Ewing, Bart., M.P. for the county.

The junior club won ten royal district medals and one provincial. Since the two clubs amalgamated they have won three royal medals.

The fox is called “Todlowrie." In “The Fortunes of Nigel,” King James calls on Ritchie Moniplies, who was behind the arras, “Todlowrie, come out o’ your den.’*

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