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 Twenty-Nine

GOING back a little in time, some account must be given of a day never to be forgotten by those who took part in it;— that of the Royal Review of the Scottish Volunteers in 1881, twenty-one years after the first great gathering a Scotland before the Queen. The contrast was extraordinary. The Volunteers were there in greater numbers than in 1860, there being no fewer than 40,624, of all ranks present. But oh! how different was the scene. The Queen, with that kindly consideration which she always showed, chose an afternoon hour for the Review. She had been informed that the arrival of the troops was so arranged that the parade could be held before luncheon, but she preferred to hold it later, saying that she had been distressed to know that a few weeks before, at the English Review in Windsor Park, several men had been smitten by sunstroke, the day being so hot! Most unfortunately her very kindness led to her Volunteers being exposed to a very different evil from that which she dreaded. Up to two o'clock the weather, though gloomy, was not wet, and had the Review been held before noon, it would have been finished before the storm burst. As it was, broke out with fury about half an hour before the time appointed. No ordinary words can describe that downpour. It was one of those occasions when the all is not in drops, but in streams. I have often described it by saying that the water came down like "pipe stems." There had been nothing seen in the Queen's Park to compare with it within the memory of man, and the parade ground became a sea of mud before the march past began. About thirty paces from Her Majesty's carriage the troops marched through a running stream high up over the ankles, which had the curling wavelets on the surface that one sees in a swift-flowing millrace. So frightful was the soaking power, that long before a third of the battalions had passed the royal standard, the vast crowd on the hill surged down for home, and it was with great difficulty that they were held back by cavalry, while the Volunteers dribbled through the space between the Palace garden wall and the crowd from the hill, making their way in twos and threes through the lane kept by the troopers, and doubling up into position as they reached the open part of the Park. One good came out of this evil. It was a very crucial test of discipline, and that so many thousand men, soaked to the skin, were successfully kept in hand, recovered from the break-in up of their ranks, and marched past successfully, and were afterwards earned to their homes, many of them having to travel hundreds of miles in their drenched clothing, without there being any serious failure in good conduct, led many military men to form a much higher opinion of the capacity for discipline of the Volunteer than they had ever entertained before. There were, if was


reported, two hundred deaths traceable to what was gone through on that day, and I know myself a gentleman who contracted evil in consequence, which has at times troubled him up to this hour, after more than thirty years have passed away.

The matter has also its amusing side. A friend of my own, who was a strict teetotaller both before and after, told me that on the Review day, on getting home, he had a big rummer of hot grog, a thing he had never touched before, tie did not tell me whether he enjoyed it. Probably not, but he benefited, on his own confession. Another amusing incident occurred to the Queen herself. Her trusty servant, John Brown, whenever he saw the rain streaming down, raided the quarters of the maids of honour and the ladies' maids of the royal party, and carried off an armful of umbrellas, to the number, it was said, of thirteen. He took them with him in the rumble of the Queen's carriage, and whenever the pelting of the storm caused an umbrella to leak, he handed a dry one over the back of the carriage. I have no doubt the whole thirteen were used, and that he wished he had brought more. What the maids of honour and the other maids said to one another, and said to John Brown, history does not relate.

The name of William Chambers will ever be remembered with gratitude for the noble work he did in restoring the interior of the Cathedral of St. Giles, from the discreatable partitioning to which it was subjected in a period when taste in relation to buildings was at its lowest ebb. We are told of the great Dr. Johnson, that when he was brought to St. Giles', after it had been divided into sections, he said: "Let me see this which was once a church." The restoration was in every respect worthy of the ancient structure. Unlike what was done to destroy the character of the outside by facing it up with polished stone, the old walls were restored from their daubings with plaster to their impressive ruggedness, nothing being done within to mar the massive simplicity which is its best feature as the central church of Scotland, a land of a strong and rugged race—a feature which may well be preserved in Scotland's old buildings, having as they certainly have, a dignity of their own. They cannot be improved by covering them up either inside or outside with uncalled-for elegances, unsuitable to their character. The 'tasty' enrichment of the modern decorator is out of place. Those who were present in St. Giles at the ceremonial, on the occasion of King George's visit, for installation of the Order of the Hustle, when the beautiful new chapel was used for the first time, must have felt that the great church, in all its simplicity, was in its place as suitable for a solemn Scottish act of worship on a State occasion as was Westminster Abbey in its place for a royal coronation. Indeed, it may be said to have been a finer sight, there being no great wooden galleries, as were necessary in the Abbey. We owe it to Dr. Chambers, not only that the restoration was made, but also, and quite as much, that it was done without any serious tampering with the building as it stood in the days of John Knox. And all recognise with thankfulness the admirable work of Sir Robert Lorimer in the new chapel of the Order of the Thistle—a gem indeed.

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