Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Four

"Jim," said Christina, "do you think when we are married, we might live in town?"

"In town," said the Duke aghast. "In London, do you mean, and wear a tall hat all the year round?"

"London," said Christina dryly," will soon become depopulated, unless the fashion of gentlemen's headgear is altered:  Ihave never heard better reason given for not living in London, the capital, than that they would be obliged to wear a silk hat."—The Fortune of Christina Macnab.

(Sarah M'Naughtan.)

OF the male sex, we little fellows fared best. When the day came for the change from the skirt stage of ,i a-fancy, we were fairly well treated. ; he time of the trousers brought up over the sleeved close-buttoned waistcoat was no longer. I narrowly escaped that fearful dress, which we see in old pictures. 1 rousers, jacket, and waistcoat, with a peaked cap, made a sensible and neat costume.

he only difference i A the linen part of the dress from that of to-day was that the collar was spread out over the shoulders, and was often pictorially adorned with hunting or racing scenes, portraits of cricketers, or pictures of birds and beasts printed upon them. But we could not escape the absurdity on great occasions or Sundays of having a tall hat stuck on the head above a round jacket. When our parents adopted the most preposterous head-dress that was ever devised by what some would call "the wit of man," they might well have spared their children from a fashion so unsuitable to the very idea of boyhood. Doubtless we were rather proud when the day came that we were "to be like father," and were taken to the hatter to be fitted with our first chimney-pot. But where was common sense: The result is that today the old-fashioned etiquette of schools shows us a crowd of public schoolboys, in Eton and Windsor and elsewhere, Visiting their tuck shops with hats well on the back of the head and hands deep in the pockets, while all the other gentlemen in the streets wear their comfortable, sensible head gear, rminutely more consistent with what ordinary dress should be, convenient and neat. Of course someone will say, "But it s so smart. Well, I deny that. Whatever they maybe, on gala days, the lads who are compelled to wear cut-away coats and tall hats on ordinary occasions present themselves as anything but smart. Indeed they seem to affect a slovenly mien. If a grown-up gentleman walked down Piccadilly with his head well down and a tall hat on the back of it, and with his hands in his pockets, would anyone call it a sight indicating smartness? But it is not merely a question of smartness.

Divest the mind for a moment of the idea, if that be possible, that there ever had been a tall "chimney-pot" hat worn by any human being, and what can one imagine would be the reception given to a proposal to introduce it now. History does not tell us who invented it, or who was first seen wearing such a thing. But whoever he was, it is recorded of him that his appearance was greeted with indignation and so great an objecting crowd assembled that he was haled before the City Magistrate, charged with "conduct calculated"—in police language—"to provoke a breach of His Majesty's peace/' Yet the. day came when it had practically no rival. Everywhere <t asserted itself as the dominant in head-gear. In my infancy I saw :t worn by all ranks.

The clergy, the lawyers, the doctors, the country gentlemen, the town gentlemen, the tradesmen, the hawkers on the streets, all wore tall hats in varying stages of smoothness or dilapidation. Officials were all seen m tall hats, unless they had to carry shoulder burdens.

he tall hat was also ordered by authority for civil servants. When a host of postmen had to be engaged to deliver the enormous masses of letters, which were the immediate result of Rowland Hill's reform, and the introduction of id. postage, they were all paraded in tall hats, with bright yellow bands, cruel in hot weather, and ingeniously adapted to pour down falling rain from the brims on to the letters as the postman bent his head to read the addresses. The constable on his beat wore a tall hat, glazed on the top, and with two glazed strips down the sides. A single policeman trying to deal with exuberant youths or rowdies soon saw his hat used as a football, or found it crushed down over his eyes. A greater temptation to the unruly could not be imagined. The very signalmen and pointsmen on the railways performed their duties in tall hats, their work at that time being done on the ground. And in society the tall hat was worn by all classes.

In the country the very ploughmen and labourers wore the tall hat on Sundays, and at the hum blest funeral ''twas universal. Even the street beggar doffed a hat shining from water- brushing as he begged a copper.

It was the same in the region of sport. Not only in the hunting field, where it was favoured as a protection against a broken neck, but also in the cricket field, on the golfing green, and in the shooting-covers, it reigned supreme. Of the first All England Eleven that came to Scotland I saw at least one-half wearing tall hats, and the pictures of the early Forties show hats on the whole thirteen cricketers, and the two umpires, n the field. Even the soldiers did not escape, the Royal Marines wearing glazed tall hats, with strings at the sides, similar to those of an Anglican Bishop.

Two incidents I can recall, of one of which I was a witness, and as to the other I was credibly informed, illustrating how the tall hat being worn by the lowest of the low was utilised for business. A hawker, selling little ornamental chains for children, was endeavouring to make a sale at the carnage window to an aunt of mine, when, to show t is varied stock, he took off his tall hat and produced a coil of his wares out of it for exhibition. The other instance was of a gentleman on the Mound, whose, smart terrier dog followed him. An out-at-elbows individual accosted him, and asked if he would like a rat or two for his dog.

*The reader has doubtless seen the picture of the golfers at St. Andrews competing in the annual medal contest, which was painted by Charles Lees, R.S.A., in the early Fortius. All the golfers and all the spectators are depicted as wearing tall hats.

Assent being given, they went across to what was then vacant ground on the Mound, where, four rats were disposed of, which came from the man's tail and breast pockets. Being asked if he would care for more, the gentleman said, "I'll take every one you have," whereupon the salesman leaned forward and took off his hat, producing two more rats out of it, which had been seated on his head.

Fashion is a cruel taskmaster both ot man and woman. And much that it imposed upon both sexes appears to us to-day to be eminently absurd. But I think that some of the ladies would be wilhng to confess that not a few of the changes in their fashions, which have followed one another with kaleidoscope rapidity, were at least as absurd, if not more absurd than those of our mothers. Of these changes more anon.

Nor was fashion in those days confined to dress in the case of the male. There were strict face fashions also. Whiskers, generally mutton-chop, as distinguished from the later Lord Dundreary-pendants, were the usual hirsute ornament Mustachios were the head- mark of cavalry. There can be little doubt that if a clergyman had appeared in church wearing a moustache, his charge would have seethed with condemnatory excitement. Perhaps it may be thought to be an exaggeration to say that he would have been called before the Presbytery, to answer for so unseemly an offence against propriety. But I feel that I do not exaggerate. He would not have escaped censure. If any minister had gone the length of wearing a beard he might possibly not have been open to an actual libel, as on a famaclamosa of scandal, but he would most certainly have been dealt with in a drastic manner. Indeed, in those days, anyone who wore a beard upon his chin was a person to be stared at, and it would, I verily believe, have been a subject for discussion as to whether he was not a lunatic, unless his nose tended to exonerate him as being a rabbi. We used to look with wondering eyes at two "Joanna Southcott's men," named after a woman who was believed by her followers to be the chosen bringer-in of the second advent, after the manner of the first. These two were a remnant of those who shared this belief, although she had died some years before I ever saw them. It was part of their cult not to mar the beard; they were the only two persons who in my boyhood allowed their chin to be covered according to nature. All others, even <f for health reasons they required a natural covering to the throat, yet scrupulously removed every hair on lip and chin. It may give an idea of how rigidly special mariners were held to be essential to respectability, to recount what happened when Lord Justice-Clerk Hope was presiding in the Court of Justiciary  A solicitor before the Supreme Courts, who was called as a witness, wore Ins beard, by order of his medical man. When his examination was concluded, the Lord : ustice-Clerk turned to him, with a frown on his face, and giving him the full benefit of a gold-rimmed spectacles asked:

"You are a solicitor before the Supreme Courts?

"Yes, my lord."

"Am I to understand you are in practice?"

"Yes, my lord."

(After a pause) "Most marvellous!"

It was evidently considered that for a solicitor to be unshaven was almost a contempt of Court.

In this period, anyone whose dress had a feature different from what was conventionally looked upon as correct was certain to be stared at, and not unlikely to be mobbed.

So strict was the uniformity of dress that there were few persons who attracted attention by peculiarities of costume. wo who were not like other people I used to see upon the streets of Edinburgh when I was still a small boy. They were brothers, who called themselves Sobieski Stuarts. I was told they claimed to be the successors of the Royal Stuart family, but was assured that their claim was not genuine. With family Jacobite tendencies, and the memory of old Macdonald of Kitigsburgh being cherished, I naturally took an interest in the men, who were fine specimens of manhood. I hey went about in 49 d blue be-frogged frock-coats, such as were worn n undress uniform by officers of cavalry, and on a Sunday evening I saw two stalwart Highlanders from the regiment in the Castle, meeting the Sobiesk: Stuarts, giving them a military salute. My youthful mind concluded that the Jacobite spirit was in the private soldier as well as in us. But my impression now is that they took them for cavalry officers, and paid a simple military compliment. These Sobiesk) Stuarts disappeared from Edinburgh shortly after this time, and I never heard of them again.

Return to our Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus