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Antiquarian Gleanings from Aberdeenshire Records
Compiled by Gavin Turreff (1871)

Here is one of the stories from this book...


Who among us that can number fifty or sixty summers having gone over their heads, and who have been born and brought up in Aberdeen, but recollects a small bookseller and stationer's shop, situated at the top of the then Narrow Wynd (now forming the line of Union Street), opposite the Pl»instones. This little shop had nothing of the decorative style in its exterior either to recommend or attract notice. None of your large windows, either straight or circular, were though necessary in those days to carry on the business of this little shop; yet, notwithstanding the unassuming appearance of the exterior, I will venture to affirm that, among all the booksellers shops in Aberdeen, there was not one among the number so universally known to the youngsters there, either high or low, rior of poor, as was the little shopie aside the Plainstanes. Who, also among the said class, but recollects the smart, active, cheerful little lady, who generally was to be found behind the counter in the said shop, as the acting manager of that department—Miss Christian Thomson. When I first knew this worthy family— and that was as soon as I could (by myself) toddle across from the one side of Huxter Bow to the other. Thomson's family-door being in that street—it consisted of Mrs. Thomson, her son James, and Misses Christian and Agnes, her daughters. This little shop should have been designated by some of these or such like sounding names, which establishments of this sort adopt at the present day, as “The Royal Juvenile Dept and Library” "The Victoria Emporium for Children's Cheap Books” &c.; for it was here where every youngster hurried to procure the favourite work which he long wished to have in his own possession. The shop had but one window—and that certainly for a shop was very small—and it was almost always literally covered from head to foot with the favourite schoolboy authors of the day. Occasionally the lower panes with these well-known coarse, yet attractive, prints of their day— such as “The Farm Yard oh Fire," “The Mad Bull," “Haymaking," “Harvest Home,” &c. Price Twopence coloured: One Penny plain. Printed and Sold by Carrington A Bowles, 45, St. Paul's Churchyard.” The prints of these homely subjects were, I have understood, to be found all over Europe, and, from the profits arising from their extensive sale, the children of the firm now live independent.

When these prints were not in the window, their place was occupied by those esteemed works, "The History of King Pippin,” “The Death of Cock Robin,” &c; "with cuts and bound in gilt, price one penny” And above these were the larger volumes of “The History of Lothian Tom,” “Wise Willie and Witty Eppie,” “The Sayings, and Doings, and Witty Jests of George Buchanan,” “Sir William Wallace.” And in the poetical department were to be found “Chevy Chase,” “The Cherry and the Slae,” “Sir James the Bose,” “The Dominie Deposed,” “Ajax’s Speech to the Grecian Knabs,” &c.

When we went to the shop to make a purchase (the money being in our hand), we stepped boldly in. “Weel, my laddie,” said Miss Kirsty, “fat is’t you want?” “Oh, I want ‘Lothian Tom,' or any other, as the case might be. “Is it in the window?” was the quiet reply. “O, ay; it’s up there.” “Just gang out then; chap wi' your finger on the window anent it, and I’ll tak’ it down to ye.” The ceremony was readily and soon performed, and the long-wished-for work delivered into our hand by Miss Kirsty.

It may be easily supposed that it was not every trifling occurrence on the street that prevented us from hurrying home to run over the contents of our. newly acquired addition to our library. Miss Christian Thomson seemed as if nature intended her to have filled this or a similar situation in life. She was possessed of a strong masculine mind, which she had improved by much reading. She was allowed, by those gentlemen who professionally frequented the shop, to be no trifling adversary in a debate on most general subjects of the day. Miss Kirsty had, unfortunately, in her younger days received an injury in the spine, and the usual consequences followed as to her personal appearance; but her ready wit, her smart repartee, joined to her general information, were far more than enough to counterbalance her want of personal attractions, and she passed through life sincerely esteemed and respected by all who enjoyed the pleasure of her acquaintance.

While the stationery department was thus managed by Mrs Kirsty, that of the binding was superintended by her brother. The binding shop was but a small apartment, with one window overlooking the Council Chamber door; yet, small as this apartment was, I have seen in it, besides Mr. Thomson and his two apprentices, half a dozen of the neighbours’ children all stowed away in it, some in one comer, some in another. It was a matter of surprise to the neighbours how Mrs. Thomson’s family could put up with the nuisance of so many children running out and in to their house at their pleasure. There were only two standing orders of the house: the one—to be sure to shut the door behind you in going out or coming in; the other—to be sure to dicht your feet weel on the bass. If any of the children were amissing, the first inquiry after them was made at Mrs. Thomson’s; and, if any apology was offered for the trouble given by the children, the reply was always to the same effect—viz.: “Tell Mrs. that we are aye glad to see the poor things; we would think ourselves out o’ the warld a’thegither if they wema rinnin* out and in as usual.”

It was the binding-shop, however, that was the great centre of attraction to us children, for Mr. James was a most successful auxiliary to us in all our little amusements. He could furnish us with paint—red, black, or yellow—to adorn and beautify the upper surface of our new tap. He could accommodate us with a piece of twine to tie on our new points on our fummel-sticks. He would also, on the promise of good behaviour, oblige us with a superior sort to be a string to our peer (spinning top); and, if the important affair of a dragon (paper kite) was on the tapis, his judgment was appealed to, to determine its size and shape, and, as was anticipated, the necessary material of paper and twine was also furnished by him. In fact, he seemed to enter into all our little enjoyments as one of ourselves; and I really think this worthy man felt little less pleasure in accommodating us than his little friends did in receiving his favours.

While this worthy family did everything in their power to contribute to the happiness of their little friends, and to their neighbours generally, they were also bright examples to those around them, in the performance of those relative duties which adorn the life of true Christians. They were ever ready to stretch out their hands to those who had none to help them; and the poor unfortunate individuals who were criminally confined in those noxious holes in the Tolbooth, were occasionally supplied by them with plain but wholesome food; and in every case of distress which came within their knowledge, their assistance was always ready.

The Thomson family was famous for possessing a beautiful and particularly small species of those spaniels generally known as “King Charles’” breed. They wore remarkable for the inside of the mouth being black. In my childish days they had two females named Fanny and Sally, and yelping little curs they were. At an after period, when I went down to Aberdeen on a visit, I had, along with my mother, the extreme pleasure of drinking tea with the kind friends of my childish days, the twa Miss Thomsons, then retired from business. I had, at the same time, the honour of receiving a puppy from them of the species alluded to, Miss Kirsty feelingly observing, that “the bit doggie would be a kind of keepsake and remembrance of Auld Langsyne, when perhaps she and her sister had baith worn awa!"

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