Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Brochs of Angus: Tales Told and Untold and Treasures Lost.

Not far in each case from the north shore of the River Tay, in what later became Angus, invaders or settlers from the far north constructed three massive residential dry stone towers, which must have  impressed the local proto-Pictish farmers, who would have been utterly unused to seeing buildings of this scale.  These brochs, common in the northern mainland, the Hebrides, and Orkney and Shetland are rare in the Lowlands.  The Angus examples, at Hurley (or Hurly) Hawkin in Liff, Craighill in Murroes and Laws Hill near Monifieth are several miles from each other and all have complex occupation histories.  Craighill is the least known, though the few facts known about this obscure place are fascination.  In pre-historic times a multivallate fort was built here and the later broch builders constructed their tower on the western side of the hill.  Its walls were an impressive 4.5 m (15 feet) thick, enclosing a space of 10.6 m (35 feet).  Near the building’s entrance there is a carefully placed cup-marked stone, presumably an object of some importance symbolically or religiously, which had been found in situ by the incomers and which they still regarded as somehow significant to their chosen place of settlement.

   There are no tales that have been told about Craighill, or at least none that I am aware of.  Laws Hill is a rather magical place, now situated (like Hurley Hawkin) on private land.  On this hilltop, which has fine views over the country and the estuary of the Tay, an oval hill-fort was constructed in pre-Pictish times.  Not much of this can now be traced as the ramparts were robbed of stone during the 19th century, but again the broch builders came and settled here. The base of the broch can still be made out on the site.  Here, at Laws Farm in the 18th century, was found an intriguing object which cast new light on later history here.  While digging was being undertaken for drainage purposes in 1796, a tumulus was cut through, revealing a cist grave containing a skeleton and a unique bronze plaque carved with Pictish symbols.  More interesting still, this object later came into the hands of a Viking, who inscribed it with runes which have been read as:  [Gri]mkitil:  Tha[na: raist]:  Grimkitil engraved this.  The object was given by the tenant of the farm, Peter Roger, to his landlord, Sir Alexander Ramsay Irving of Balmain, but was later lost.  The grandson of the finder, James Cruickshank Roger, wrote a paper on this important object, published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (‘Notice of A Drawing of A Crescent-shaped Plate, which was dug up at Laws, Parish of Monifieth in 1796,’ P.S.A.S., Vol, 14, 1879-1880.)

   Now, one question raised is:  what happened to the plaque?  The owners of Balmain evidently lost it, because an enquiry in Victorian times was met with by a blank.  Does it still exist, dusty and forgotten, in some old loft in deepest Angus?  The sad truth is that it was probably melted down long ago.  But what does it say about the Viking presence on our coast?  The various tales of battles and settlements of Northmen in Angus are mostly fictitious and there was never any serious or long-lasting incursions of these peoples in Angus.  So how did the unknown Grimkitil happen to end up here, possibly buried with a bit of looted Pictish treasure on the Hill of Laws?  No-one will ever know.

   At least we have the drawings of the bronze plaque to show that it did actually exist at one time.  Sadly, this is not true of another item unearthed in the 18th century, at Arbirlot, west of Arbroath.  Here, in the Black Den where the River Elliot runs through, a gold crown allegedly belonging to a King of Picts was unearthed by a quarryman in the early part of the century.  He broke up this unique object immediately and sold a portion of it locally for £20 and sent the remainder to London to see how much it was worth.  But, the author of the Statistical Account of Scotland for the parish, the Rev. Richard Watson, reported in the 1790s rather cryptically:  ‘But by some unforeseen circumstance, he and his family were prevented from reaping that advantage, which might have been expected from so valuable a curiosity.’ The slightly sinister tone of this puts me in mind of the classic M. R. James ghost story, 'A Warning To The Curious,' where a buried Saxon crown has strange powers and supernatural guardians.  How much the Pictishcrown would be worth today is anyone’s guess.

   Hurley Hawkin is another fascinating site, situated on a promontory now at the bottom of a private garden.  Here there was a pallisaded site, followed by a promontory fort, and later a broch, which was itself followed by a Pictish souterrain.  King Alexander I is said to have had a castle here in the 12th century, and it was at Hurley Hawkin, around the year 1207, that he was surprised by a force of rebels and forced to flee.  He won the fight and returned here in triumph, as recorded by Andrew of Wyntoun in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland (c. 1420):

                             Hame agayne till Inwergowry
                             And in devotowne movyd, swne
                             The Abbay he fownded than of Scwne.

  Sadly, though Alexander I did indeed found the Abbey of Scone, he never lived in the Castle of Hurley Hawkin, for no such building ever existed.

Hurley Hawkin’s next significant appearance in literature is a semi-supernatural ballad from an unknown author*, recorded in Victorian times. ‘Meg O' Lyff, or The Hags O' Hurly Hawkin’ is well worth a read for its comic treatment of a shrewish goodwife:  

On Christmas Eve lang years ago,
A nicht o’ frost an’ waffs o’ snow,
A wondrous deed was done in Liff,
Which gaed the villagers a gliff,
And still remembered is by a’,
Wha seventy winters can reca’.

That nicht the sun, large, wild and red,
In anger socht his western bed,
And left ahint dark, gloomy clouds
To hap the earth in lichtless shrouds.
Then frae each cot the cruisie’s gleam
Shone 'mid the mirk wi’ fitful beam:
Yet gaily rose the weavers’ sound,
Fast finishing their daily round.

Up frae his loom leaped Johnnie Rough,
A simple bit o’ human stuff,
Wha had that nicht, ‘mid rack and moil,
Completed forty years o’ toil.

His web was dune, and frae his seat
He rose wi’ joyous heart and feet,
Took aff his apron, shook his hair,
And breathed a “God be thankit” prayer.
Into the kitchen-end he went,
And by the fire sat doon content.

But Meg, his ill-tongued, randy wife,
The plague o’ Johnnie’s wedded life,
Began to snap and glower and gloom,
And speired “Hoo he had left his loom?”

Quoth Johnnie, wi’ a timid look,
- For Meg’s fierce wrath he’d learned to brook -
“It’s forty years this very nicht
Since I began the weavin’ fecht,
I rose this morn afore the sun,
I’ve wrought fell hard - the web is done -
And surely, Meg, for aince, ye’ll be,
On Christmas nicht, at peace wi’ me.”

For twenty years puir John had borne
The lash o’ Meg’s ill tongue and scorn;
Scarce had a day gone ower his head
Since he unto the wretch was wed,
But inwardly he wished that she
Was laid whaur tongues in silence be.

Aft when his meekness roused her ire,
Her temper burst in spurts o’ fire;
She’d shak’ her fist and aftimes tear
A handfu’ o’ his silvery hair,
Or grab his beard or scart his cheeks,
And like a tartar wear the breeks.
Nae children graced their married life
To quell her love for din and strife.
And sae the little theckit cot
Was ca’d in Liff “that awfu’ spot.”

Quoth Meg, “And ye’ve wrocht forty years,
Ye guid-for-nothing, it appears
It’s noo your only heart’s desire
To sit and smoke beside the fire;
Ye lazy snool, and will ye dare
To lauch at me! Rise frae that chair!
Awa’ ye gang and lift your web,
Or else I’ll pu’ your wizzened neb.
Ye winna gang! Ye winna speak!
My sang, I’se gar yer haffets reek.
Rise frae that chair, ye doited coof,
Rise! Rise!”

Wi’ that, her muckle loof
Struck silent John a fearfu’ thwack,
That stretched him ower the auld chair back,
And broke his wee, black cutty freen’
Whase head among the ase was seen.

Quate, uncomplainin’, John sat still,
And let her rave awa’ at will:
Higher and higher rose her tongue,
Wild and mair wild her clamour rung,
Her big, projectin’ cauld grey een
Changed to a hue o’ sickly green,
Her upper lip, lang, deep and thin,
Stretched ower her jaw, like birsled skin,
While at her mou’ weiks, curds o’ froth
Hung as the symbols o’ her wroth.

And stampin wi’ her foot she shook
Her neive at John, wha feared to look
Upon the wild she-deevil form,
That ower his heed blew sic a storm.

Calm and demure, he heard it a’,
But ne’er an angry word let fa’
In sorrow at her senseless rage:
He bore it as becomes a sage.

The hour o’ ten rang frae the clock,
When at the door a sudden knock
Was heard, and then amid the din,
A yellin’ horde cam’ rushin’ in;
Gash-gabbit hags o’ hideous shape,
Wi’ een ablaze and mou’s agape,
And sunken chafts and girnin’ jaws,
And skinny hands that looked like claws.

They seized on Meg wi’ skirlin’ roar,
And whisked her through the open door.
Some grabbed her feet wi’ powerfu’ grip,
Syne on their shouthers raised her up.
Some filled her mou’ wi’ brimstane het,
To still the rage that gurgled yet.

Awa’ they flew like winter wind,
And left the weaver’s cot behind,
Nor slackened ocht o’ speed until
They stood on Hurly Hawkin hill.
Then on the ground puir meg they flung,
And round her danced and round her sung:

“We’ve got her noo,
What shall we do?
Sisters say!
We’ve got her noo on Hurly Hawkin,
What shall we do?
Skelp her! Skelp her!
Nane will help her,
Skelp her bare for temper brackin’,
Bring the chair
Sit her there
We will cure her randy talkin’,
This we’ll do
On Hurly Hawkin.”

That nicht on Hurly Hawkin mound,
Blue lowes rose frae the frosty ground,
And frae each lowe a deevil peered,
Wha at the deed the auld hags cheered,
And lauched and girned and squirmed and yelped,
And wi’ their tails the ground they skelped.

Wi’ mystic art a backless chair
Rose frae the earth amid a flare,
And clappin’ han’s aroun’ it stood
The fiercest o’ the beldame brood.

While ithers, skilled in tapes and stays,
Stript Meg o’ a’ her nether claes,
Syne tied her on the ebon chair,
To skelp her wi’ a vengeance rare.
Beneath their rags o’ bronze-like hue,
Each hag’s hand dived and quickly drew
A tawse that seemed a soople tongue,
Frae some wild randy lately wrung.

Around puir Meg wi’ shout and prance,
They danced as only deevils dance,
And wildly waved their arms and tawse,
And hobbed and bobbed and snapped their jaws.

Syne round their victim closing in,
They for a moment quat their din,
While ane, wi’ a’ her micht, cam’ whack
On Meg’s wee-roonded bonnie back.

In quick succession cam’ the rest,
And gae their blows wi’ fiendish zest;
Skelp after skelp wi’ awfu’ pith
Rang like the hammer o’ the smith.

Meg writhed and twisted wi’ the pain,
And tried to rise, but ‘twas in vain;
She tried to speak, alas, her tongue
For aince unto its dwelling clung.
Loud in the cauld nicht-air arose
The music o’ the dreadfu’ blows,
Which quicker, thicker, harder flew,
Until her skin was black and blue.

Oh! ‘twas an awfu’ sicht to see
Sae fair a back sae yerked wi’ glee:
Sae plump a form sae sadly tanned
By such a foul, unfeelin’ band.

Wi’ ilka blow Meg felt a dart
Straucht fleeing through her sinfu’ heart,
Which weel-nigh burst its yieldin’ wa’s,
For words to speak in pity’s cause.
But tears! the first she e’er had shed,
Rose frae her heart and heavenward sped,
Then wi’ a gasp that seemed her last,
She murmured “John, forgi’e the past.”

Then every hag stood still and mute,
And hid her tawse beneath her cloot.
They lifted Meg frae aff the chair,
And dressed her wi’ a kindly air.
Syne shouther-high they bore her aff,
Wi’ mony a merry shout and laugh.

And as the solemn hour o’ twel’
Was ringin’ frae the auld kirk bell,
Beside her John, asleep in bed,
His heart-changed Meg they deftly laid.

Then doon the dowie Den o’ Gray
The weird hags took their windin’ way,
And a’ was dark and a’ was still
On lonely Hurly Hawkin hill.
Next mornin’ John was proud to see
His Meg as loving as could be:
Yet never kent the reason hoo
Her tongue was sweet and couthy noo.
He never speired, for John was blessed,
And tore the past from oot his breast.
Sae mony happy years o’ life
He lived wi’ Meg, his ain dear wife.

* Addendum:   Since the time of writing the above I have found the poem in William Allan's After-Toil Songs (London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1882), 183-192.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Ghostliness in Victorian Dundee

What did restless people do for a quick fix of thrilling entertainment before mobile phones, the internet, television, even the wireless?  If you were of a particularly mischievous mind (possibly bordering on the criminal), you might have fancied dressing up as a supernatural being and scaring poor night-time travellers half to death.  Step forward the ‘phantom’ whose exploits were reported in ‘The Courier’ on Tuesday, January 16, 1883.
   This ‘ghost’ seemed to focus its attentions on the area between the Hawkhill and Blackness Road, particularly favouring the old, worked out Blackness Quarry (between Ure Street and Wilkie’s Lane, which the current Bellfield Street now transects) which was a kind of wasteland with a few dotted stables and wooden sheds.  The apparition was variously described, but most witnesses agreed it conformed to the standard Victorian supernatural stereotype:  a tall, amorphous dark and cloaked figure, with a slouch hat which concealed its undoubtedly hideous features.  The figure haunted the quarry area, gliding silently around in a sinister way and principally appearing to stray bairns and timid auld wives who happened to be wandering about in the hours of darkness.  In common with the phenomenon of mass hysteria which later affected the area around Craigie Quarry in the 1920s, the rumour of the haunting spread from children and old women to the whole population of the neighbourhood.  Soon the area was in a state of ‘chronic excitement’.  ‘Women became afraid to leave their houses at night either to go to the wells for water, or to their cellars for coal,’ the newspaper reported. Come the New Year and the ghost, or someone pretending to be him, followed one lady home and impertinently asked if she had any Hogmanay drink left in her house for him. 
   Next, one Sunday night, there was a massive explosion like a gunshot in the quarry.  Sceptics said it came from the London steamship docked in the River Tay, but a woman whose house adjoined the quarry swore that the concussion happened right under her window and that it shook her whole house.  Things reached a head on the following Saturday when a staid old couple walking home were alarmed to see a grim and solitary figure standing in a dark lane.  They hurried home and locked themselves in.  The next night an Irish ex-policeman, who was cynical about the unreal origins of the spectre, was sitting by his own fireside when a friend rushed in and said that the apparition was in the lane.  He opened his shutters and peeped out, seeing a huge dark figure leaning against a wooden paling.  The man grabbed his poker and rushed out to confront the figure, shouting out a demand to know who he was and what he wanted.  This was too much for the spirit, who fled through a gate into the quarry, splashed through a quagmire and vanished.
   The following evening a hapless gentleman on an errand of mercy got lost in the narrow lanes near the quarry and was spotted by some local women.  Encouraged by the recent bravery of the ex-policeman, they spotted and followed the gentleman, soon joined by other women and men.  Someone raised the cry, ‘That’s the man! Look up his sleeve; he has got a pistol there.’  The man protested his innocence, but the mob was angry.  Luckily the ex-policeman appeared and said that the creature he saw was twice as big as this unfortunate man.

   ‘The benighted gentleman was then set on his way rejoicing,’ ‘The Courier’ reported.  ‘Since then the “Quarry spectre” has disappeared from that neighbourhood.  Probably a wholesome dread of Paddy and the poker has induced him to abandon his nocturnal rambles.’

Sunday, 13 December 2015

McComie Mor

One figure in the Angus glens was much feared by outlaws and caterans:  Iain Mor Mac Thomaidh, or McCombie Mor, 7th chief of the Clan Mac Thomas (a sept of the Macintoshes).  In 1652 he led his family east over the hills from Finegand in Glenshee, Perthshire, and rented Forter from the Earl of Airlie.  The move may have been prompted by the clan’s reluctance to do business with the tax collectors of the Earl of Atholl.  It is rumoured that Atholl once employed an Italian swordsman to assassinate his tenant, but McComie ended up killing him.  McComie was a mighty man with a large family and a larger following.  A stone in Glen Prosen is called McComie Mor’s Putting Stone, or McComie’s Stone, and there is a nearby McComie Mor’s Well (and also a McComie Mor’s Chair, a rock in Glen Beannie.) At Beltane each year he and his kin moved up Glen Isla from his home at Crandart to summer pastures at Mount Keen. The fortified house of Crandart, about a mile and a half north of Forter on the right hand bank of the River Isla, became McComie’s principal home several years after he gained possession of Forter.  Sometimes McComie would wander off alone to meet the mermaid who inhabited the Crooked Loch.  She was a friendly soul who would rise from the water and sit by his side in the heather, whispering strange things in his ear.  Once she boldly leapt onto the back of his horse and they rode together down the glen, astonishing all who saw them.  Despite such flagrant behaviour, McCombie was happily married to a Campbell wife and supported the Parliamentarians in the civil strife of the period (despite have previously been a Royalist himself), which did not endear him to his Ogilvy landlords, who had been troubled by the Campbells.  Following the restoration of King Charles II, the Royalist Earl of Airlie took important grazing lands from McComie and bestowed them on the Farquharsons of Brough Dearg, his former neighbours in Glenshee.  This led to a long bloody feud. There were personal issues at stake also.  Robert Farquharson had once promised to marry McComie’s daughter, but afterwards changed his mind and wed Helen Ogilvy, daughter of Colonel Ogilvy of Shannalie, no doubt incensing the MacThomas clan. In the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1669, Robert Farquharson, with his brothers John and Alexander and around fifty men, launched a surprise attack on Crandart and captured McComie Mor.  Five of his sons who set out to rescue him were ambushed and the remaining two sons were forced to pay a ransom of £600.  In the following May the Farquharsons attempted to take possession of Robert McComie’s farm lands at Killulock.  Later that year the McComies later besieged Brough Dearg, but the enemy chief escaped.  Robert Farquharson was missing for months and was finally spotted by one of McComie’s followers in Glengarmie, Perthshire.  To his chief’s fury the man left Farquharson unharmed, without takeing at least ‘ane legg, ane arme, or his lyffe’.
   The climax to the feud happened in  January 1673.  Robert Farquharson took his dispute about the Glen Isla grazing rights to the Sheriff of Forfar, but McComie became aware of the visit and instructed his men to pursue the enemy with swords and pistols and kidnap him. A fight took place at Drumgley near the town, sometimes called the Battle of Padanaram.  A plaque in a field remembers the fray:

                                     McComie’s Field – Here in a skirmish with
                                     The Farquharsons of Brough-Dearg on 28th
                                     January 1673 were slain John and Robert,
                                     Sons of Iain Mor Mac Thomaidh, seventh
                                     Chief of the Clan MacThomas.

   McComie by this stage was too old to fight himself, but when he heard the news of his sons’ deaths he said, ‘I wish I had been but twenty years of age again.  I would have made the Farquharsons thinner south of the Cairn o’ Mounth.  I would have had a life for each of my two dead sons.’’ His daughter wept, but she was told by her brother Angus, ‘You have no reason to lament for them.  They got the life they were wanting.’  Several of Farquharson’s sons also died in the skirmish.
   The clan MacThomas departed from Angus after McComie’s death, before the 12th January 1676.  When two Anerdeenshire caterans met shortly afterwards, one asked the other what news there was.  ‘News and good news,’ the other informed him.  ‘Blessed be the virgin Mary!  Death as come to the great McComie in the head of the Lowlands, for as big and strong as he was.’  Some of the family took to farming in Fife, but the 15th chief, Patrick, was provost of Dundee in the mid-nineteenth century and became a prominent landowner in Aberlemno.
   Kingoldrum kirkyard in Angus has a memorial to the last of the Farquharsons of Brough Dearg.  John Farquharson lies here with his spouse, Elizabeth Ramsay of Baldovie, and their two daughters.  Their son, Thomas, last of the line died in 1860.  In his time he served as a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Angus.
   McComie’s Stone on the mountain of Mayar was still locally famous in the 1880s when local lads from nearby glens made a pilgrimage to see how far they could throw its formidable 35lb weight.  It was forgotten and nearly buried for over a hundred years before being rediscovered at the end of the 20th century.  Nearby there was another McComie landmark, a now vanished bothy named McComie’s Shelter.  There used to be two stones in Caenlochan which McCombie employed in a feat in strength and there are other Perthsire tales of his prowess, including one in which he overcame a rampaging bull in the Stormont area.  As well as the friendly mermaid, McComie also once encountered a kelpie in the River Shee.  One night he heard cries from the water, calling him by name, asking for help.  He brought a staff to help the foundering being and pushed it out into the water, but the malign kelpie pulled it and tried to drag McComie in to his death.  McComie was undaunted and gave a mighty tug.  The enraged water horse, fearing he would be imminently landed, gave a shout of rage and vanished.  Later, when he had removed from Perthshire to Crandart, McComie was out walking at Caenlochan when he saw a female water kelpie in Glascorrie.  He grabbed the protesting supernatural beast and determined to carry her home.  He knew that if he crossed running water the kelpie could break free, so he had to devise a long and convoluted path back to Crandart.  The she kelpie bargained for her release and the price that McComie demanded was some knowledge about the circumstances of his death.  The kelpie (or was she a fairy or even the confused mermaid we encountered earlier?) took him took him to the face of the hill above the house of Crandart and pointed out a large stone, telling him that he would die with his head above it.  The being was freed and McComie Mor removed the fatal stone and placed it in the wall of his house, under the head of his head, so that he could be assured the prophesy would come true in circumstances of his liking. 
   There is another strange, stone-related story at Crandart.  This stone forms the lintel of the lime kiln and was could not be manoeuvred into place by the strongman McComie and his sons for all their efforts.  In the end a suspected magician named Knox Baxter (also known as Colin McKenzie) came to Crandart while father and sons were struggling with the stone.  Sitting a little apart, he remained there and refused the invitation to accompany the family to dinner.  When they returned the stone was in its intended place and McCombie silently cut a silver button from his coat and handed it to Knox in silent acknowledgement of his supernatural assistance. 
   McComie once ambushed his eldest son, whom he suspected of being too gently on account of his Campbell blood.  Waiting for him as he journeyed from Glenshee to Glen Isla, McCombie pounced from the place that became known as McCombie’s Chair.  The boy, also named John, suspected that this fierce, sword wielding berserker was his father and demanded to know his identity as he defended himself.  At length he exhausted the old man and agreed to spare him, on condition that he revealed his identity.  McComie did so and young john told him off by saying that one of them could have easily slain the other.  Old McComie happily replied that it was no matter, since he not knew that his son would be a strong and worthy successor.
   Crandart House later fell into ruins and one inscribed stone from it was carried to nearby Balharry.  It carries the interesting inscription:

                                     I SHALL . OVERCOM . INVY . VITI
                                   GODS . HELP . TO . GOD . BE . AL .
                                     PRAIS . HONOVR . AND . GLORIE

Crandart Farm.  The 19th century building was constructed using materials from McComie's old home.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Caterans and The Battle of The Saughs

Into the 17th century the Braes of Angus were plagued by Highland thieves.  As early as 1562, Dundee Council acted against the selling of stolen bouks (carcasses), and in the following year the 5th Lord Ogilvy was ordered by the Privy Council to expel the marauding Clan Macgregor from the uplands of the county.  Things did not noticeably improve.  On the 17th May 1649, George Thom and his family were robbed of everything and left destitute by caterans in Glen Esk.  He was forced to travel ‘most humblie begging support’ through the kirks in the area of Brechin Presbytery.  Some people fared even worse.  Grewar’s Gutter, on Monega Hill, Glen Isla, marks the place where a man from Crandart fell to his death while being pursued by these caterans or hill bandits.  His brother luckily escaped by jumping across the chasm afterwards called Grewar’s Leap.
   Glen Lethnot was once particularly afflicted by caterans.  James Molison, the tenant of Craigendowie, was rumoured to be rich and this came to be known by the robbers.  They arrived at his house at midnight, but he barricaded the door against them.  They maliciously emptied the meal from his mill and drove all of his cattle off into the hills.  Eventually they cut down a tree and used it as a battering ram to gain entry to his house.  The farmer still refused to give them any money, even when they roasted his feet over the fire.  The robbers fled, taking Margaret Fyffe, the farmer’s wife, with them.  She was later released unharmed and lived to the age of seventy, dying in 1712 and was buried in Navar kirkyard.
   Some time in the late 17th or early 18th century the Battle of Saughs was fought in Lethnot.  A year before this event there was a skirmish, known as the Raid of Saughs, when a trio of Deeside caterans stole cattle from Dubb of Fern.  Dubb himself was kidnapped, though the men of Fern pursued the raiders and freed him.  One Sunday in the spring of the following year an ill omened band of thirteen men descended on Lethnot, led by a notorious Macgregor outlaw nicknamed the Hawkit Stirk.  The robber’s leader is supposed to be the same person as the foundling left on the doorstep of Muir Pearsie, in Kingoldrum parish.  The farmer’s wife heard the infant crying and roused her reluctant husband who complained that the noise was only ‘the croon o’ the hawkit stirk’ (moaning calf).  But the woman rose and found a child of only a few weeks old on her doorstep and brought it up as one of her own family.  The child’s origins were never known and he vanished from his adopted home when he was sixteen years old.
   In the battle the raiders were driven away by the locals, with John Macintosh leading eighteen Fern men chasing the Deesiders up the glen.  When the pursuers came within five yards of the enemy, they were fired upon.  Even though the shots were aimless one Fern man dropped his own weapon and fled.
   Macintosh and the Hawkit Stirk agreed to single combat.  The thief cut the buttons off his opponent’s coat and boasted he could take away Macintosh’s life just as easily.  One of the bandits treacherously shot and killed a Fern man, which led to general fighting.  Macintosh was knocked to the ground and would have been killed, but James Winter of Lethnot got behind the Hawkit Stirk and hamstrung him.  The bold cateran is said to have continued fighting on his stumps until Macintosh delivered a mortal blow. The Stirk asked the Fern leader to shake his hand in farewell, but his other hand concealed a hidden dagger.  Mackintosh saw it and finished him off.  The remaining thieves attempted to flee, but every one of them was slain.  One of them is perpetuated in the name of the hillside where he perished:  Donald Young’s Shank.  Only one Angus man died in the encounter. The Andrea Ferrera sword with which Winter injured the Stirk was in the possession of a solicitor in Kirriemuir in the 19th century, but is said to have been lost afterwards.
   James Winter later went to reside at Peathaugh in Glen Isla, while Macintosh returned to his farm at Ledenhendrie, where his landlord, the Earl of Southesk, built him a fortified house in case vengeful caterans tried to murder him.  He was made captain of the parish, incurring the jealousy of the former captain, David Ogilvy of Trusta, who had refused to join the Fern men against the raiders.
   One night, Ogilvy invited John Macintosh to Trusta and as he was leaving grasped his hand, then bellowed, ‘Gude nicht, Ledenhendrie!’  This was the signal for an armed band outside to pursue and kill his guest.  But Macintosh and his hound managed to outrun his attackers and hid for a while in a rock cleft in the Den of Trusta, known later as Ledenhendrie’s Chair.  From that moment onwards, Ledenhendrie went everywhere armed.  Even when he went to kirk he laid his loaded pistols before him. 
   The heroes of the Battle of the Saughs are remembered in inscription on a memorial in the south-east section of Cortachy kirkyard:

                      I. W. 1732. – This stone was ereceted by Alexander Winter, tennent in the Doaf in memory of James Winter, his father’s brother, who died on Peathaugh, in the parish of Glenisla, the 3d January, 1732, aged 72

                                  Here lyes James Vinter who died at Peathaugh
                                  Who fought most valointly at ye Water of Saughs
                                  Along wt Ledenhendry who did command ye day
                                  They vanquish the Enemy and made them runn away.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

More Miscellaneous Feuding

Previous mentions of ancient feuds in Angus concentrated on the conflicts between the powerful families of Ogilvy and Lindsay, whose bloody rivalry rumbled on and off for generations.  But there were of course others involved in the struggle for power and addiction to violence through the ages.  Early in the 16th century the Red Douglas kindred, Earls of Angus, delegated their authority as Barons of the Regality of Kirriemuir to Ogilvy of Inverquharity Castle.In 1524, Inverquharity ordered the Ogilvys of Clova to stop feuding with the Grahams of Mains Castle.  Forty-four years later the reckless Graham chief was ordered to come to Kirriemuir to answer the charge that he had kidnapped a follower of Ogilvy of Inverquharity.  Graham did indeed come to Kirriemuir, but with him were a band of 1,000 men, including a party of Lindsays.  They took over the town and forced Ogilvy to fleedback to his nearby castle at Inverquarity.  The wayward Grahams also maintained a long running rivalry wit the Fotheringhams of nearby Wester Powrie.  The latter were adherents of Lindsay, Duke of Montrose, and were angry that the Grays had been awarded the Sheriffhood of Angus after Lindsay’s forfeiture.  The Grays inflicted severe damage of Powrie Castle in 1490.

   The Lindsays wasted much time and energy in internecine fighting.  A Lindsay from Glen Quiech who pretended to be the heir to the lands of Barnyards was challenged by Lindsay of Finavon.  Finavon was slain and his killer fled, so the half finished castle of Barnyards was never completed.  A Lindsay Laird of Edzell was once forced into hiding when the Lindsay Earl of Crawford was after him.  Edzell hid in the wildness of Glen Mark, but the earl found him, so Edzell was forced to make a desperate leap across a gorge in the Water of Mark to escape.  He landed safely on the other side, but several of Crawford’s men fell to their deaths on the rocks below.  The chasm was afterwards called Egil’s [Edzell’s] Loup.
Inverquharity Castle, stronghold of the Ogilvys.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Grissel Jaffray, Last Dundee Witchcraft Execution

The sad case of Dundee’s last known witch to be executed rests on reputable but slight historical record.  The Privy Council records, under the date 11th November 1669 (a significant date, being Old Hallowmas, equating to the Celtic festival of Samain), that Grissel Jaffray was a prisoner in the Tolbooth in Dundee (which stood at the corner of the Overgate and High Street), who had been accused of witchcraft and an order was issued for her trial.  It instructed Dundee’s minister and town council that ‘if by her own confession, without any sort of torture or other indirect means used, it shall be found she hath renounced her baptism, entered into paction with the devil, or otherwise that malefices be legally proven against her, that then and no otherwise they cause the sentence of death to be executed upon her.’
   Grissel’s supposed crimes and the circumstances of her trial are unknown, but her fate is confirmed by the Privy Council Minute book entry which states that she accused several others before her own death:

Dundie, the twentie third day of Novr.,
1669 years.
   Anent such as were delated for witchcraft. – The minirs having also repnted to the Counsell, that Grissel Jaffray, witch, at her execution, did delate seal psons as being guiltie of witchcraft to ye, and therefore desired yt for yr exoneraon some course might be taken wt those belated:  The counsel, in order thervnto, therefore noiats the provost, the pnt baillzies, the old baillzies, deane of gild, .t ther, to meet wt the minirs .t to common wt ym on the sd matter, and to consider of ye best ways may be takin wt the delated.

   The actual fate of those people that she accused is not recorded, but the Privy Council agreed, on 8th February 1670, that the Dundee ministers could employ a ‘prover’ or witch-finder to discover witches by finding marks on their bodies. It was noted that ‘the Counsill approves, and consents the minrs send for the partie when they please.’  Who the finder was and who he managed to torment are mysteries, but there may well have been more deaths, directly or indirectly as a result.
   Very little is actually known about Grissel Jaffray herself.  A.H. Miller, in Haunted Dundee (1923), reports that he found in the records of Dundee the name of a brewer named James Butchart, born in 1594, who was made a burgess of the burgh in 1615 and who married Grissel Jaffray, probably an Aberdonian.  The couple had one son, a ship’s captain.  Although Butchard’s family was of French origin, they had been prominent in Dundee for several generations previously, as there is a record of Thomas Butchart, a baker, was a burgess of the city in 1526.  By the time of her execution, Grissel must have been advancing in years.  Miller  poignantly notes that the couple must have counted themselves fortunate to have survived the harrowing English siege of Dundee in 1651, only to have met a later nightmare at the hands of the authorities.  The three ministers who would have acted against the accused were Henry Scrygeour of St Mary’s, John Guthrie of the South Church, and William Rait of the Third Charge.  The latter was described as being ‘of known repute both for learning and piety’.
   The scene of the execution was supposed to have been in the Seagate, where the original Market Cross of Dundee once stood.  A large pile of ashes was excavated nearby in Victorian times, but Miller doubted the tradition that it was associated with the execution.  Grizzel’s house also survived into the late 19th century, in Calendar Close, a long narrow court on the south side of the Overgate, just east of Long Wynd (once called Seres Wynd) .  Miller also records the pathetic record of Jaffray’s widower James Butchart begging entry to the town’s hospital, which the minister’s graciously agreed to.
   As far as tradition is concerned, the couple’s son had the ill-luck to arrive back in Dundee on the day of the execution, and when he was informed of the cause of the black smoke billowed up from the Seagate he sailed away immediately and never came back to his home port again. William Marshall, in Historic Scenes in Forfarshire (1875), says that the arriving sailor was a close relative of Grissel. Shocked by the event, he set sail for India immediately, accompanied by his young son. They made a substantial fortune in India and returned to Scotland and purchased the estate of Murie in the Carse of Gowrie.  The captain may not have been the poor woman's son, because the name of the owners of Murie were Yeaman.  One of the most famous members of this family was the merchant and politician George Yeaman, who was a bailie and provost of Dundee in the early 18th century and later became a member of parliament.  When the estate was sold off in 1849, among the contents of the house were the the original chest in which the Indian treasure was transported back to Scotland and a portrait of the Dundonian sailor himself, which sold for 130 guineas.  Other sources suggest that the Jaffrays of Aberdeen were prominent Quakers who were persecuted for religious reasons.

   Whatever the truth behind all of this, a craving for facts is unlikely to unearth any other significant details now.  The ‘last witch of Dundee’ enjoyed a renaissance of fame in the 20th century, possibly due to Miller’s book.  The BBC’s Scottish regional wireless service broadcast a play about her on 15th January 1936, written by Philip Blair.  William Blain published his novelisation of the events, Witch’s Blood, in 1946, subsequently adapted for the stage by Dundee Rep.  Grissel’s fame has continued into this new century.  A mosaic in Peter Street, leading off the Seagate, plus a commemorative blue plaque now remember her.  There has been a further work of fiction, The CureWife, written by Claire-Marie Watson.  And there is a curious, false tradition incidentally associated with Grissel in the form of a ‘Witch’s Stone’ in the old Howff cemetery.  Coins and other relics have been left ere in recent years, although this seems like a modern phenomenon, possibly begun accidentally, and the place in fact marks the meeting place of one of Dundee’s old trade associations, with no link to the supernatural.