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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XV - Manners and Customs of my Younger Days

UP to the end of the eighteenth Century, there does not seem to have been any general law or custom regulating the hours of labour. On the farm, in winter, there was very little that could be clone besides attending to cattle and horses. That, however, involved the preparatory labour of threshing daily the straw ration which was the only winter feed for cattle and horses alike in that day. The practice was to do the threshing in the morning before breakfast. That, at least became the practice from the time that nineteen year leases were introduced. From that time onwards, especially in the earlier years of the )case, great exertions were made, not only for drainage of the tillable acreage then existing, but for the extension of the arable limits, in the hope of reimbursement by increased production during the period of the lease. From that time, seemed to drop like a worn out garment all the sluggishness of primitive times, and thenceforward stood forth, transformed and ready for the conflict, the man of courage and of hope. From that time onwards, when weather permitted, all was activity on the farms. In the morning might be heard all over the district the "thud" of the descending flail, until that time-honoured implement gave place, on every farm, to the horse, or water-propelled threshing mill.

The flail found its last refuge on the farm attached to the Manse of Coldstone where its use persisted well into my own day. I can remember how its "thud, thud," reverberated through the parish, on still mornings, as the two alternately descending flails struck the floor in rythmic cadence now, with duller "thud," as each new sheaf was laid on the floor, and with advancing crescendo as the more pliant straw, gradually becoming separated from the grain, was spread more thinly on the floor, till the final stroke of the last jubilant flourish proclaimed that another sheaf had yielded its golden treasure. With toil and sweat, the heavy task is finished, the straw, fresh and sweet, is made into wisps or kindle, the grain separated from the chaff, the cattle are fed and the morning thresher, encased in under-clothing soaked in chill perspiration, sit down to their well-earned breakfast at break of day.

The working hours which had theretofore been indeterminate and exceedingly long, especially in summer, now became filled with an intensity and a forcefulness of labour, of which the fathers knew nothing. Soon therefore the labouring men began to think of the necessity of some general regulation determining the number of hours in a working day. Most likely that question had been first raised in the cities where the introduction of power machinery had begun to draw together into large factories, operatives from city and country alike. Amongst these would be found men of intelligence, whose voice would be first heard in advocacy of shorter hours. However that may be, the movement by and by reached Cromar. I do not know when the issue was first raised, but it must have been about the end of the second decade of the last century.

About that time, John William of Tamachar, already mentioned, would be about twenty years of age. When a young man, he was in the employ of Mr. Gauld of the Milton of Whitehouse whom I remember well. Milton was a good man and the father of a highly respectable family, one of whom became a minister who, as a young man came to Canada and died in the city of Hamilton some years ago. Milton was in some respects peculiar. Sometimes he affected, as some even in Cromar did, the use of the English tongue, but stuck most tenaciously to the long and irregular working hours. His hired man, on the other hand, was up to date and ready for the new style, which by that time was being introduced. Relations between the two soon became strained. Milton tells the story himself, somewhat as follows:—"I rose in the morning and called "John, are you rising yet?" He edges roon, takes oot his bit watchie and says, "It's not five o'clock yet," "Eight o'clock and home to breakfast, one o'clock and home to dinner, six o'clock and its lousing (quitting) time and wasna he a lazy wierdless, gutsy walgate! I saw him coming home about mid afternoon whee-whawing on top of his horses, I wondered what the stupid fellow meant."

Milton would not be alone in his attitude, though his is the only complaint that has reached my ear. The new style was soon found by experience, to be better, not only for the workman but for the employer as well, more work being accomplished in a ten hour working day than in one of fourteen hours or more, irregularly and half-heartedly occupied as had formerly been the case. Best conditions will always be realized when between employer and employee obtains mutual regard for each other's interests.


In the early part of the nineteenth century, the chief food of the common people of Cromar was prepared from barley meal, oat meal being then deemed a luxury beyond the reach of even people in moderate circumstances. Why barley meal should have been regarded as either more economical or less palatable than oat meal I have never been able to understand. Barley meal porridge was to me always acceptable as a change, while barley scones rolled out thin almost as grey paper, were in my day esteemed a luxury. Probably the scones of my acquaintance had been mixed with` butter or other ingredients foreign to the kitchen variety of a former generation to which I never had the pleasure of an introduction. From a neighbouring farm, with which I was, in boyhood, very familiar, comes a story, having as its setting two generations before my own, which sets forth two views, from as many different stand-points, as to the relative merits of the barley and oaten varieties of bread then in use. For some reason the supply of barley meal had been allowed to run out, and of necessity, recourse had to be had to the oaten variety of bread, then reserved exclusively, for the "ben" end of the house and for festive occasions only. The good lady of the house was, during meal time deploring the absence from the menu of the good bere bread, implying its superiority to the oaten brand. Hearing this, Geordie Wilson, who was somewhat of a wag, suspecting that the regrets so expressed, had reference more to the question of economy than to that of excellence, dryly remarked that any one who could not cat a good oat cake ought to get leave to want.

Except that potatoes had been introduced and the use of barley bread discontinued, I am not aware that the food on which I was, myself brought up, differed materially, finless perhaps, in the matter of abundance, from that in common use in the locality several generations before my own. Breakfast consisted of oat meal porridge and skimmed milk, always sweet, supplemented with oat cakes of the kitchen variety, baked without "hire" and eaten without butter or other accompaniment except skimmed milk. Dinner might be either mashed potatoes, kale and kale-brose, milk-broth (milk and barley), milk porridge (milk and oat meal) or (occasionally) "sowans," either thin enough to drink or boiled down to the consistency of porridge. For supper, porridge and milk, kale and kale-brace, or sometimes "brochan" or sowan4 would be served. Such and such-like, accompanied or supplemented on every occasion with dry oat cakes and skimmed milk to repletion, were the viands usually served in every farm kitchen. If tea, with more palatable accompaniments, was used in the house, its service was confined 20 a separate apartment, and there, only to the heads of the house and the girls and female domestics. On Sunday however, it was The custom, at least in some households, to add butter and some-'times tea also to the ration, but that was a late innovation.

The fare, as will be noticed was confined entirely to such materials as were grown on the farm, with the single exception of salt, and, except in winter, when milk was scarce, no meat was used. I am not aware that any element necessary for nutrition was absent. Certainly we, as youngsters were strong and healthy and enjoyed our meals with an appreciation and relish not inferior to that of the more daintily fed youngsters of the present day.


At the beginning of the 18th century tea had probably not been heard of in Cromar. There was a local tradition of an old lady, whose son had sent her from abroad, a pound of tea without instructions as to preparation and use. The poor woman, in her ignorance, supposing that the leaves were intended to be eaten, prepared the whole pound in the same way as kale, pouring out the liquid and preserving the leaves. After partaking of such a dish, she remarked that if the stuff had not come so far, she would say that she liked her ain kale just as well. In 1719, which must have been soon after its first introduction into Scotland, tea, duty paid, is said to have cost from 25 to 30 shillings, while loaf sugar at the same time cost one shilling and six pence a pound. That price, itself would forbid any extensive use of the leaf in the ordinary household at least, but considerations, other than price, conspired to forbid its welcome. Men who were accustomed to large libations of intoxicating liquor condemned it as a contemptible beverage. The medical fraternity looked upon it with much suspicion, if not disfavour, while as late as 1793, a minister of the Gospel mourns its introduction, and couples it with whiskey, as a means of corrupting the morals and debilitating the constitutions of the people. Under these circumstances, it is little wonder that it was some time before the cup that cheers, but not inebriates became common in Cromar.

As has been stated in a former chapter, the use of strong ale had, from the date of the adoption early in the 18th century, of whiskey as the national beverage, dropped almost to extinction and a home-brewed drink with an exceedingly attenuated basis of malt, come into popular favour for the ordinary purposes of domestic life. In the summer-time, and, especially in the hay and harvest field, it was deemed almost a necessity. In winter time also, when milk was sometimes scarce, it was used as its substitute. In this way, during and long before my day, ale in this modified form, whiskey and tea, had each its place in every hou'rhold. The common practice, at I obser%ed it, was to treat an ordinary ttcighl~our who might call, to a glass of n1e; to a cattle-dealer or other buiiness caller the refreshment offered w oulcl be «hickey. To gentlemen of importance would also be offered the stronger liquid, while to a lady would be offered a glass of wine. Tea at four o'clock would also be served to afternoon callers.

Sometimes the ale, through economy in the use of the malt element, would fail to conk up to the expectation of either the brewer or her guest as would appear from a story told of Geordie Wilson, whose preference for a good oat cake has already been noted. Geordie had been rendering neighbourly aid at a nearby farm and was being treated by the lady of the house, according to custom, to a glass of hone-brewed malt ale. It did contain a certain amount of alcohol, but the product had not conic up to the lady's own standard of excellence. So, by way of apology, she remarked that, for some unknown reason, the ale had failed to work. Wilson, after tasting the liquid, said with great solemnity, "Woman, it would be a sin to bid it work, it hasna strength!"


The amusements of early times seem to have been much in the spirit of the age. From very early times, dancing to the music of fiddle or bas-pipe would appear to have been popular. Some of the tunes played in my day seemed to have been old, or common in the days when my father was young. The most popular tunes were, perhaps "Monymusk," "The Braes o' Mar" and the "reel o' Tulloch," which, like all the dancing tunes in use were suited to the dance known as "The Highland Fling." Occasionally were held public balls which were largely attended. These were generally accompanied with drinking and were conducive to evil in many directions. Other meetings there were in private houses, however, which were open only to an invited few, which, when properly conducted and not too .frequent, seemed to me to present no objectionable features.

Other amusements among the young men, consisted in trials of strength, skill or agility among which was wrestling. In the olden time and on the faun known as The Parks of Coldstone, lived a man whose name I have not heard, but who, an account of his renown as a wrestler, was known as "The Cock o' Cold-stone." On a neighbouring farm called "Groddie" was a tenant, who, as usual in the locality was known by the name of his farm. "Groddie" had long been cherishing the proud ambition of wresting from "Coldstone" his laurels in a fair contest, and had for some time been issuing to Goldstone a challenge in that behalf. Coldstone scents to have been unwilling to gratify him, but at last yielded to his importunity. The result was not according to Groddie's expectations, and to Coldstone came the privilege of exultantly calling over his prostrate companion, "Far are ye noo, Groddie?" The answer came directly and honestly "Aneath you Cock o' Coldstone, far I never expected to be."

What was known as "the Sweer-tree (lazy-tree) was a test of mere muscular strength and determination, although the avoirdupois register of a contestant was not a negligible quantity. In it, the two contestants were seated on the ground, face to face, with lower limbs extended towards each other so that the soles of their feet met together, right against left. Centrally between the contestants, at right angles to the line of their extended limbs, and supported between the receding toes of their upturned feet was placed a rung. This rung, grasped simultaneously by each opponent with both hands, as it thus lay centrally between them was the destined medium by which the successful competitor should raise his opponent from the ground and thus demonstrate his muscular supremacy. Tradition has it that at Strath Girnock, over two centuries ago, lived a weaver known as "Muckle Fleeman," a man of tremendous strength, though of kindly disposition, whose claymore was the dread of the enemies of his clan, and who, at the sweer-tree had never met his match. His assistance was eagerly desired by his laird, whose name was Forbes, in his designs against a neighbouring proprietor of the name of Gordon. The weaver's fighting spirit was not easily roused, so the laird conceived the idea that a challenge to a round at the sweer-tree, with a word judiciously put in against the Gordons, might be made the means of inspiring his humble dependent with a zeal like his own. Forbes well knew that in such a contest, fairly conducted, he was no match for the weaver whose muscular strength seems to have been prodigious. He therefore arranged that one of his retainers should, as soon as the contestants were seated for the trial, quietly but firmly stand on the laird's coat tails which would be extended as he sat on the ground. Supposing that he well knew the measure of his opponent's capacity, the weaver was surprised that, at his first effort he had not succeeded in raising him from the ground. In a second effort he therefore applied his whole strength, when up came his antagonist with an alacrity that was a surprise to both contestants, but on the ground lay detached his coat tails severed from the garment by the strain. Though thus confronted by the mute testimony of the detached shreds of the employment of a fraudulent artifice for the procurement of an unmerited reputation, the laird was neither put out nor disappointed by the result. He simply assumed the pose of a much injured man, and boldly asserted that whatever credit the victor may have earned through the present contest as a man of muscle, he had surely lost entirely all credit as a weaver, erring that the mutilated condition of his coat was demonstration that the product of his loom would not stand the pull of an honest man. fie further warned him that if the victor could not do better work in future, it would be necessary to see whether better work could not be got from Johnny Gordon of Scurry Stane. "Wha!" says Fleeman, "Wee Johnny, the Laird o'Knock's weaver!" Needless to say, the laird had his way, but that is a longer story.

Other amusements were contests at putting the stone, throwing the hammer, tossing the caber, foot races, hurdle and sack races, and high leaping, with and without the use of a vaulting pole.


In early times originated the holding of public fairs or markets at or in the immediate neighbourhood of surrounding villages such as Tarland, Aboyne and Ballater, for the convenience of fanners and others desirous of disposing of or purchasing fans stock or other goods or chattels. At each of these centres 'ere held three or four such fairs every year, each having its appointed place on the calendar, and each bearing a distinguishing name. Two of these, being those held just before the terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas respectively, were what were known as "Feeing Markets," that is, to them would come not only fanners for purchase or disposal of farm stock &c. but also farmers and others desirous of hiring hands for fanning or domestic purposes and also men and girls desirous of being so employed and engaged. The term of employment was, almost without exception, for six months, and the bargain Was staled by the payment by the employer and the acceptance by the employee, of a coin of the realm as "arles" or earnest money. The bargain thus sealed, neither party could break or terminate, legally before the end of the term without sufficient cause. A feeing market, I never saw, to the reader must be left to imagine it for himself. It was, however, the one day on which employer and employed could meet on equal terms and weigh each the other on their respective scales. At the close of the day, it generally happened that the resulting assortment was, as usual in life, a drawing together of like to like—the faithful and competent employee to the just and considerate employer, and a corresponding conjunction between employer and employee of indifferent reputation.

In connection with all the markets were stands where were sold "sweeties," trinkets, toys and knickknacks. At these the lads treated their Iassies, and the children exchanged their little all for mouth organ, knife or a bite of ginger bread. Tents there were also where skilled performers of sleight of hand tricks astonished or fooled the natives.

In addition to these were vendors of intoxicating liquors, each with a tent of large dimensions for the accommodation of all and sundry, who, over a glass of whiskey or other beverage, alcoholic or other, might 'wish to conclude a bargain or entertain a friend. These tents were, weather permitting, open at both ends and free to all. Their only furniture consisted of one or two linen-covered tables, each flanked on both sides with a rude bench extending from end to end of the tent, making, together, accommodation for probably eighty patrons. To these benches cattle-dealers and others on business bent would repair to haggle over prices, or to effect a compromise by means of what was known as a "luck-penny" which was sometimes considerable, but gave to vanity, more precious sometimes than pecuniary gain,

opportunity to vaunt its skill as a bargainer. To further the progress of the agreement, recourse would be had to the aid of Bacchus and after its completion, the vendor must needs pledge, over a glass of more liquor, his wishes for good luck to the purchaser, who, in return, could not do less than similarly pledge his respect and good wishes for the vendor, his wife and all his kin. Here also would be found friends and acquaintances who, for the days o' auld lang syne would treat each other back and forth ad nauseam. In this way, the benches never lacked occupants and as the day wore on and the liquor began more freely to flow, the tongues more freely wagged, the expressions of mutual regard became more fervent, and as night approached, both drunk and sober, had to raise their voices in order to be heard at all. It is not necessary to say that not many drank to the extent of inebriety, at least to the extent that, in that day, was so regarded, but few there were who, on such occasions, were not in one way or other induced to drink more than was good for them, while, ever and anon, from the army of the so-called moderate drinkers alcoholism was claiming its recruits and victims.

On more than one occasion I was, from necessity, as a boy, a silent spectator and witness of the scenes here described and have only to say that it gave me, even then, a feeling of disgust. At such fairs, three generations back, free fights were frequent. No doubt liquor would have much to do, even then, with the trouble hut, in many cases, old feuds, inherited from fore-fathers long departed, had to be fought over again. A verse of a rude ballad commemorating one of these encounters, otherwise happily forgotten, conies to my mind:—

"The Louchel Bains may keep their dend
"Amo' their frost an' sna. man
"Wi' sticks and stanes we'll brak their banes.
"An' gaur them rin awa' man.

Willie Ley, the last survivor of such fights, I just remember as an old man of 90 or more. When recounting his battles o'er again, as he was fond of doing, this piece of flotsam from a far receding sea would gleefully tell how he "cam o'er the head o'him a leash," and so conquered. In this way he earned the sobriquet "Willie Leash." More than a century and a half has passed since Willie first saw the light, and his name and memory are fast passing into oblivion with the scenes and conflicts which he was wont so vividly to describe, but, in Scotland still persists the State-licenced sale, for beverage purposes, of the liquors which were the chief source of ancient lawlessness and still persist as the chief cause of the degeneracy and misery existing in the world.


The Newspaper, as we have it today, is of comparatively recent origin, although six centuries be/ore the Christian era Rome had a bulletin recording daily, the progress of her armies in the field, and in the 10th century of our era, the Venetian government issued a sheet from time to time for the enlightenment of such of its citizens as cared to pay for the perusal thereof a small coin called a "Gazzetta."

In England, the first newspaper had its origin about the year 1622. Scotland's first newspaper was the "Mercurius Caleonius," 1660, of which only ten numbers are said to have been issued. Its next successor was "The Edinburgh Gazette," 1699, which, I understand, still exists.

At what time Aberdeen's first paper appeared I have not learned. Among the records of the estate of Invercauld, however, is found a receipt, dated from Aberdeen March 26th, 1741, acknowledging payment of 18 pounds Scots, for "The Caledonian Mercury." from Mar. 1st, 1740 to Mar. 1st, 1741. Of a paper of that name in Aberdeen I have no recollection and its course may have been short. The Aberdeen Journal, which still flourishes, traces its own origin to the year 1747, or, as some claim, to 1746, the year of Culloden. For many years, the Government looked upon the newspaper press with much suspicion, and for long subjected it to inquisition and control that was subversive of true Iiberty. For purposes of revenue, and incidentally with the view of restraining its growing wealth and influence, a stamp duty of a penny a sheet was imposed in 1712. To this impost additions were made in 1756, 1787, 1804 and 1815, until the duty so payable on every copy issued amounted to four pence. This duty was reduced in 1836 to one penny per number, and in 1855 was completely removed.

During the continuance of such a tax, a cheap newspaper was an impossibility. Even the advertising columns, a source of revenue so important for the newspaper of today, must have been in those days of few subscribers and universal poverty almost negligible as a source of profit. Under such conditions, failures were inevitable, but even those ventures, most disappointing as they must have been to their promoters, had their part along with those that seemed more successful in opening the eyes of the public to the value of a newspaper as a means of information both as to general news and the progress of human thought in all parts of the world.

In the rural districts the price of a newspaper was beyond the reach of the common farmer, and the consequence was that not more than two or three in a parish could subscribe. By and by the hunger for the news of the day became insatiable and would not be content with such scraps as fell from the rich man's table in the shape of information gleaned at second-hand from minister or proprietor fortunate enough to be able to possess himself of a weekly paper. So the more intelligent and progressive farmers and others formed themselves into circles here and there, to procure in each circle separately, one copy of the precious weekly sheet. The circle to which my father belonged continued at least up till 1866, that being our last year in Scotland, though I question whether it survived to the end of that year. By that time newspapers had become much reduced in price, and means of carriage, cheaper than postage at a penny a number, had been developed. Most likely about chat time the circles all over the country ceased to exist.

Living nearer Newkirk, the place of postal delivery, than any of the rest of the circle, my father had the first look of the paper. In my earlier days, he read it in the chimney corner under the crusie lamp,—sometimes by himself, and some times aloud, making diligent use of his allotted time, for he had it for only one day. Early next evening, the folks of Loanhead, relatives and good friends of our own, Would call for it, and have its use for another day. Following would come successively the folks of I3ogarerie, Pittelachie, Wester Knocksoul (Uncle James' people) and, finally, the folks of Easter Knocksoul, by which time the paper's material part must have been pretty well used up.

During the lime of the Crimean War, the more distant members of the circle could not await the slow progress of the weekly luminary, but would anticipate its advance by meeting of an evening in some neighbour's house earlier lighted by its radiance. I can remember yet such meetings in our house, when every word that told of the suffering or heroism of "Our men," as it fell from the lips of my father, was eagerly watched by his interested auditors from whom would come, from time to time, responsive expressions of sympathy or of admiration, as the scroll that told of suffering or of gallantry was unrolled.
It is north mentioning that Mr. Michie, our Teacher, was instrumental in bringing Coldstone into connection with the library of The Mechanics' Institute of Aberdeen for the benefit of all who might care to become members, and that, from that source, we were able to enjoy, during the last three or four years of our stay in Scotland, a large extension of our means of information and culture. From about the same time, we had a weekly paper, all our own, in addition to the still continued use for one day a week, of a copy of The Aberdeen Journal. Our usual custom was to gather, in the long winter evenings, around the peat fire, under the suspended paraffin lamp, which had, by that time superseded the "Crusie," when one would read aloud for the benefit of all, while the younger members of the family, still at school, had a separate apartment for the study of their lessons.

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