Friday, 25 March 2016

Rhymes and Rivalries: Water, Place Prejudice, Death

Not all Angus folk were regarded as equal in the halcyon days of long ago.  Previous entries have shown that ‘Angus bodies’ (as inhabitants of God’s own county were once known) frequently regarded their near parish neighbours as untrustworthy, suspicious, or just downright different.  At one time apparently the lowland inhabitants of Strathmore and the Mearns looked upon the inhabitants of the northern glens with undisguised mistrust. There was once a common slur in Angus and the Mearns which ran:

                                      We may ken ye’re a Glenesk man            
                                      by your scraggy face.

 There was story about a man from the glen who wandered into an eating establishment in Stonehaven.  During his dinner he looked up and thought he saw a neighbour from the glen sitting opposite.  He immediately shouted out the jibe about the scraggy face then everyone in the dining room suddenly stared at him.  What he had actually encountered for the first time in his life was a mirror, hung on the wall opposite him!

   Some of the old rhymes of Angus have lost their meaning because the things they speak of have altered forever or in some instances they refer to places which have also changed their names. Sailors were once guided back to the Angus shore by the sight of Barry in the distance, known centuries ago as Fothmuref, which locals corrupted into Fettermore:

                                         The braes o’Fettermore
                                         has been a gude ship’s shore.

     In olden times too the provision of clean water and the disposal of waste effluent was a difficulty for people, especially in larger towns before the provision of proper sewerage or piped water from purpose built reservoirs.  The hazard of couped oot urine and worse from upstairs windows from chanties or bed pans must have been common, and even the supposedly warning shout of ‘Gardyloo!’ might not have always prevented a stinky soaking.


   Before Dundee got most of its drinking water from the purpose built reservoir at Monikie, the townsfolk had to rely on the various wells around the burgh; among the most trusted was the Lady Well at the foot of the Hilltown.  There may have been a common belief that that springs named after saints were somehow assured of being pure and safe to consume.  But enterprising Dundonians began to draw water on a commercial basis from various sources and there grew up competition between rivals, which each claiming that their water was the best.  The major players in the Dundee water war were those who exploited sources at Logie and Invergowrie. Each firm drove barrels of their water through the streets and shouted out the benefits of their product.  One would bellow:

                                  Invergowrie’s crystal spring
                                  for Tea surpasses everything!

    Their Logie rivals would retort with this doggerel:

                                  Of a’ the wells that’s here aboot
                                  there’s nane compar’d  to Logie Spoot!

   Those were the days of unsophisticated marketing techniques!

   Other things that have vanished from certain districts over the years are certain families which may have resided there for umpteen generations.  In the parish of Stracathro there was a notable interconnected branch of the Martin family who occupied a large cluster of neighbourhood farms and outsiders were warned that they should be careful what should say to one farmer about another because they were all inter-related:

                                     Crawhill an’ Ba’hill,
                                     Rochie an’ the Greens –
                                     a’ thae three are friens.

   It was a proud and honourable boast among some kindreds that they had farmed the same soil for centuries.  The Spences of Balgavies, Aberlemno, were one such, proud of their longevity in the region, as attested to by an inscription on a tombstone dated in 1756, erected by John Spence in memory of his father and mother:

                                     Here ly’s an honest old race,
                                     Who in Ballgavies land had a place
                                     Of residence, as may be seen,
                                     Full years three hundred and eighteen.

   The Spences occupied their farm from the year 1438, and it was passed down from father to son until the year, 1820, after which some of the family removed themselves to Broughty Ferry (and may have been related to the writer Lewis Spence).

   Another boast sometimes found on local tombstones is extreme longevity, sometimes coupled with allegations of extreme fruitfulness.  Gilbert Mille died in Newtyle in 1675 and was said to have fathered twenty-six children by two wives.  Despite all this effort in procreation he still managed to reach the grand age of 100.  The inscription on his grave also contains an acrostic forming the patriarch’s name:
                                     Great is the wonders God hath Worked
                                     In Heaven, and Earth, and Sia;
                                     Lykuays he many mercies hath,
                                     BeStoued Wpon Me.
                                     Euen in this World, an Hundred Years,
                                     Remain’d I honestlie;
                                     Tuo Weded Wives the tym I had;
                                     Much Comfort was to Me.
                                     In Wedlocks Band ue Procreat
                                     Lauffully Ws Betuix;
                                     Loues Pledges, Whos Right number wer
                                     Euen tuo tymes ten and Six.
                                              My Spritt to God, I do commit,
                                              My Body to the Graue;
                                              When Christ shall com and jidg shall sitt,
                                              Shall them Both Recauie.

      Epitaphs often provided an outlet for unsung poetic endeavour in long past communities.  The oldest recorded gravestone in the kirkyard of Kirkden has this simple but satisfying inscription:

                             Heir lyis ROBERT DVTHIE, hvsband to
                                   Evphane Gvdlet, somtyme in Balmadie, who died
                                   In Descm 1667, and of his age the 47:
                                             I rest in hope
                                            And shal Aryse
                                            To reigne with Christ
                                            †Above the Skyes.

   The profession of the Scotts at Balmossie, Monifieth, was waulking, or fulling cloth, hence the punning inscription on one of the family’s tombs (now lost):

                                  On earth I waulked for many years,
                                  But here I now do sleep;
                                  Where I shall waulk when I away,
                                  To you’s a mystery deep.

   This last rhyme takes us back even further in time and is alleged to have been made by no less that King James IV, when the lands of Keillor, near Auchtertyre, were granted by him to the guidwives of the Haddon family who had entertained him.  It takes the form of a reddendo, conditions of tenure for the land grant which were, in this case, rather unusual.  The family would have had difficulty supplying a rose at Christmas or a snowball at Lammas (August first).  James IV was unaccountably fonder of wandering about the neighbouring county of Fife, otherwise we would have had more rhymes like this one:

                                  Ye Haddons o’ the Moor,
                                  ye pay nocht
                                  but a hairen tether –
                                  if it’s socht,
                                  a red rose at Yule
                                  and a sna ba at Lammas.

Keillor Pictish symbol stone, Kettins parish (now in Perthshire, but historically part of Angus).

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