Saturday, 6 June 2015

Place Rivalries (Part Three)

Following earlier posts about places in Angus which had an (un?)healthy dislike of each other [see post on 22nd December, 2014], it seems there is more water in the well of inter-community mutual suspicion.  Perhaps it was a citizen of Forfar who said the following about neighbouring Kirriemuir:

                                                Faare are ye gaen?  To Killiemuir!
                                                Faare never ane weel fure [fared]
                                                But for his ain penny-fee [wages].

    Forfar folk in the past had many names tagged onto them, from the harmless - the Loons - to the baffling - Deevil Burn Me.  Forfarians were also called the Spooters, from the 'spoot' of Forfar Loch.
    One slander nicknamed the county town Brosie Forfar, from the excessive eating and drinking of its inhabitants.  The large number of lawyers once found in the burgh were collectively called the Drunken Writers of Forfar.  When the townsfolk, in the early 19th century, decided to drain their loch, a meeting was called to decide how to proceed.  When it was argued that normal means of drainage would be too expensive, the landowner, Lord Strathmore, suggested that they throw a couple of hogsheads into the loch and let the Drunken Writers sup up the water along with the whisky.  Thankfully, neither this ingenious scheme nor any other was attempted and Forfar Loch is still there.
   An old, forgotten proverb runs:  'Do as the cow of Forfar did, tak a standing drink.'  The standing drink, more commonly called the deoch an dorus, was drunk by guests just before leaving.  The saying's origin goes back to a dispute involving a cow and a tub of ale.
   A Forfar woman had just brewed a large quantity of ale, which she put into her back garden to cool off.  When she went out to check it, she found the tub empty and her neighbour's cow staggering and staring strangely.  Outraged, she started beating it with a stick.  When the cow's owner heard it bellowing, he rushed out and demanded that she stop assaulting the animal, but the woman refused and said she wanted compensation for her beer.  The man refused, so the ale wife sued him in court.  The baillie who heard the evidence asked whether the cow had been standing up or sitting down when it drank the ale.  The woman said that she hadn't seen, but assumed that the cow had been standing up.  Hearing this, the baillie said that there was no case to answer:  the cow had merely partaken of the standing drink, the ancient custom of hospitality in Scotland.  With legal cases like that, it is no wonder that Forfar took to drink.

   Rivalry between Forfar and Montrose came to a head when the minister of the latter town defected and went to Forfar.  The Rev. Skinner was just settling into his new kirk when he heard that the Montrose folk were saying that he had been seduced by a better wage and a supply of pork fat.  He wrote an angry letter to Montrose kirk and showed it to his grandfather (another minister), who composed a more pithy riposte:

                                               Had Skinner been of carnal mind,
                                               as strangely you suppose,
                                               or had he even been fond of swine,
                                               he'd ne'er have left Montrose.

   Perhaps the kindest rhyme concerning Forfar is an observation about the local speech patterns, now perhaps extinct:

                                              By fu, and fat, and far and fan,
                                              ye can tell a Forfar man.

   In the middle of the 17th century two Forfar men exiled in Stockholm sent back to Forfar a magnificent bell for the kirk.  Sadly, when it was unloaded at Dundee docks, the bell was seized by town officials.  A fight ensued, during which the bell's clapper was torn out and tossed into the River Tay.  Eventually the bell was allowed to go to Forfar, but only after Forfar agreed to a bizarre deal:  the Forfarians were forced to buy all the land they travelled over between Dundee and Forfar.  And that was how a road in Dundee became known as the Forfar Loan.  The bells of Forfar are said to be the oldest in the county.  Three of them were donated by the Stockholm merchants, William and Robert Strang, sons of a former Provost of Forfar, in 1657.

   Dundee's authorities frequently clashed with competitors upriver and along the coast, like Perth, Montrose and Arbroath. Perth and Dundee had been at each other's throats from early times, fighting over which had the right to cargoes entering the Tay and which was the second most important burgh in the realm.  The dispute raged for centuries, sometimes with civic dignitaries brawling in the streets. In 1601, a messenger from Perth was met with insults and snowballs in Dundee, prompting Perth to complain to parliament.
   Montrose traders were in trouble as early as 1289, when Aberdeen and the Moray burghs moaned that Montrose had interfered with Aberdeen's fair every year and severely dented their profits.  Montrose later tried to muscle in on Dundee's trade, but in 1584 an arbiter to parliament fixed the southern limit of the town's trading precinct at the Dichty Burn.

   One of the best known stories of inter-town rivalry tells how Arbroath folk became known as Red Lichties.  When  red stained glass was introduced for coastal safety lights, Dundee was the first to put a red light on its pier. This safety measure won the admiration of sailors and made Dundonians boast about its cost.  News of this innovation infuriated Arbroath Council.  The Provost himself was sent to spy of the light belonging to the Tay Water Willies of Dundee, as they were known.  The red glass baffled him, but he was determined to give Arbroath its own red light.  Back in Arbroath, the whole council assembled at the breakwater.  The town painter was instructed to give the existing white light a coat of paint and Sandie Swankie, the boatman, was obliged to go out to sea and report how the new red light appeared.  After one coat of red paint was applied the Provost called to the boatman, 'Fat div ye see?'  And Sandie shouted back, 'I see a reed lichtie, sir.'
   The Provost was so carried away that he turned to the painter and said, 'Od, man, gie't anither coat an we'll lick the Dundee folk yet.'
   But Tam the painter applied so much paint this time that the light was totally obliterated.  Sandie nearly drowned in the darkness, trying to get back to shore, and the councillors grazed their shins and bumped their noses along the dark breakwater.  The name Red Lichties has been used ever since.  Some in Arbroath maintain that the name actually comes from a red light hung up in Arbroath Abbey as a warning to shipping, but this is merely a whitewash of true events.


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