Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Deil o' Glenisla

The Deil o’ Glenisla had many names back in his days of his glory:  the King o’Lintrathen, Bamff, or just plain Ramsay.  Nowadays he would be wearing a security tag on his leg, but a few generations ago he was honoured as a lovable rogue in print (in Blairgowrie, Stormont and Strathmore Worthies by Henry Dryerre (1903) ) and celebrated as a sort of local Rob Roy.  James Ramsay was born in Dundee and claimed descent from the Ramsays of Bamff, which has never been established.  For whatever reason, he relocated to the Kirkton of Glenisla and terrorised north-west Angus and the neighbouring parts of Perthshire with his unique brand of criminality for over forty years.  Being in an upland parish provided Ramsay with the ready opportunity for whisky smuggling and he was often outwitting the hapless gaugers (excisemen).  One story has him journeying down a lane in his horse and cart when he spotted the gaugers laying in wait up ahead.  He quickly removed his stash of spirits and hid them beneath some pig manure and allowed his goods to be searched by the officials when they stopped him.  This violation of his civil liberties later came in handy, because, when he retrieved the whisky from the farmyard, he also carried away three or four chickens that ‘persisted in getting in is way’.  The official search of his transport gave him the perfect alibi that he had not stolen the creatures.  Removal of livestock became a speciality of the Deil.  On one occasion he purloined a cow and sold it at market before the enraged farmed noticed it was missing and on another occasion he audaciously drove a dozen sheep all the way to Dundee and sold them there without being caught.



   Maybe it was a mark of the man, a peculiarity of the district, or the habit of the age, but whenever a local person noticed that some article was missing, he went to the Deil and engaged in a bit of polite word play.  The victim never accused the Deil, only happened to mention that they had a lack of a certain item, then the Deil would kindly hand them back the possession he had stolen.  But if it happened to be an item of foodstuff, then there was no chance of retrieving it.  A publican stole back his own spade from the Deil’s cart one day when he wasn’t looking and had to get it back again the same day when it was stolen off him again.  When the minister gave him a lift on the back of his horse on the way to Kirriemuir market (with the warning to behave himself), the Deil pranked him when he was asked to dismount.  Instead of getting off, he dug his heels into the horse, making it career off, with the furious minister and himself.  As they vanished into the distance he shouted to the amusement of the crowd:  ‘Ha, ha!  Juist see here – the Deil’s awa wi the minister!’  Another trick was the occasion when he ordered two pairs of boots from different cobblers and only had one of each pair delivered, promising to pay cash on delivery for the pair when he had enough money to get the second shoe.  Of course, he matched up the left and right shoe from each pair and never bothered to pay for the remaining shoe of each pair.  He was happy with the slightly odd pair of shoes in his ownership and declared truthfully, ‘And far wad ye get a cheaper pair?’

   The farmer of Pitewan rather trustingly asked the Deil to go to a local ironmonger and get him to fit a pair of iron rings for his cart and deliver them to David Grewar the blacksmith, at Pitmuddie.  On the way to the smiddy the farmer met the Deil and asked him if he got the rings.  ‘Deed did I,’ said Ramsay.  ‘Jist look at them.  Man, aren’t they rinnin roond fine?’  The rings were of course fitted to his own cart and he sped off away from the infuriated farmer before anything could be done.   How the farmer must have chuckled at the lovable rogue who robbed him blind!

   More pathetically, Ramsay enraged his landlord to such an extent that he was evicted, which of course he refused to comply with, so all his furniture was removed and he was turfed out.  The ramshackle house he inhabited was then razed to the ground, so Ramsay camped nearby in a hole in the ground and evidently thrived under the circumstances until he had enough money to move into a new house at Dyke End, Lintrathen, when the winter set in.  His horse occupied one end of this dwelling and he the other – though there was only one entrance.  In this poor house he dwelled for many years and actually endeared himself to his neighbours, to some extent, despite his honest failings.  His health failed him when he neared the age of 70, around the year 1855, and he was taken into the care of relatives in his declining years.  When he died he was interred in his adoped and beloved haunt of Lintrathen.


Friday, 15 April 2016

Wells Once More

I knew this would happen - and it’s entirely my fault.  No sooner had I feverishly compiled a ‘hot list’ (or should that be ‘wet list’?) of over a hundred famous and not so famous wells and springs in Angus and satisfied myself that it was over and done with, then a new batch of well information came to my attention.
    Never mind that I added a precognitive mention in the previous post that the Well List was liable to be un-comprehensive.  Secretly I was smug and thought I had done the job properly.  But that turns out not to be true, and I apologise.
   Here is more details about the Wells of Angus.  Wells which have been mentioned before are marked with an asterisk.

Starting in the north-west, near the parish church of Glenisla which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, there was a Lady Well.  There were at least five other Lady Wells in Angus, as previously noticed.  The Glenisla well was filled in some time before the late 19th century.  After noting this fact, the historian of Angus, Alexander Warden, cryptically remarked:  ‘There is a perennial spring which cannot be filled up, a well of living water, out of which all are invited to drink, without money and without price.’  The Rev James Watt, author of the parish entry in the New Statistical Account, noted that the Lady Well was usually 48 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Corryvannoch Well*, also in the parish and at the foot of Mount Keen, was two degrees cooler.  Watt repeats the tradition of people visiting the Coryvannoch on the first Sunday morning of May, especially about day break, to cure sick children.  They would leave a trinket in thanks for its watery wonder working.  But he noted that people no longer believed in it by his time.  Nobody drank from it, except perhaps ‘the passing shepherd, or those whom curiosity, arising from its former reputation, induces to pay it a visit.’  A formerly popular ‘mineral spring of the chalybeate kind’ in Panbride parish had become neglected in the 18th century, as noted in the Old statistical Account.  Among the many oddly named wells was the Crew Well, near Auchtertyre, parish of Newtyle.
   Other once renowned holy or healing wells were losing their aura with the ‘common’ folk by the Victorian age, although bookish folklorists were backfilling their interest by documenting historical associations with these once renowned places.  Many of the amateur collectors of lore were local clergymen, though those who contributed to the Statistical Accounts in the 18th and 19th centuries only mentioned local beliefs and antiquities as a sideline to other matters concerning their parishes.  The haunted well at Benvie*, west of Dundee, was noted by the Rev George Addison in the New Statistical Account, as being ‘formerly in great repute as a tonic, and was applied externally in cutaneous disorders, but is now entirely neglected’.  In the same source, the Rev James Headrick mentions a small chalybeate spring in his parish that helped stomach complaints, though he does not comment whether it was well or poorly frequented. On the borders of this parish and Kirkden * parish was a perennial well which helped with swellings and ulcers which had effect when doctors’ cures had proved ineffectual.

   A few named wells note previously mentioned include St German’s Well at Kinblethmont, which may have a connection with the Knights Templars who once owned this land.  Another well in the burgh of Dundee was St Francis’s Well, which was piped to provide water for one of the town’s religious houses in pre-Reformation times.  Another well with possible religious associations in Monk Mudie’s Well at the foot of Carmyllie Hill.  Who was Monk Mudie?  I don’t honestly know.  The Bra Well*, previously mentioned at Stracarthro, seems to be synonymous with Braul's Well, which the historian of Angus, Andrew Warden, states was also known as St Brule's Well.  This in turn, he states, derives from St Rule. 
   Near Battle Drum Wood there is a Battle Burn, Battle Cairn and Battle Well.  All of these mark, reputedly, a bloody encounter between Romans and Picts.  The burn was polluted with blood for much of its length and, for centuries, herdsmen used to throw a bit of bread into Battle Well, just in case the water turned to blood.  The act possibly records some forgotten superstition.
   King’s Well*, near Keillor, Newtyle, is supposedly the place where Macbeth halted as he fled northwards from Dunsinane.  (Also in the same parish is the Crew Well near Auchtertyre).
    The well in Balmossie Den, by Balmossie Bridge and the eastern entrance to Lintrathen House and on the banks of the Dichty is the Cauld Water Well*, also known as The Wishing Well or the Cat Craig Well.  No wonder I got it wrong in a previous mention.  The Cat Craig is a nearby rock.  The stone surround of the well is inscribed:


                   Whosoever drinketh of the water shall thirst again.  T E 1847



A well with too many names?   Balmossie Den.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Forgotten Sons: Captain Maule Ramsay and Right Wing Extremism

This is a difficult one.  Some people deserve to be remembered not for their great deeds, fortitude or admirable characteristics, but for the opposite of all these.  Take the man who wrote this verse, someone born into an honourable, upper class family, who lived in a castle and enjoyed every advantage in life, but who lowered himself to this:

 Land of dope and Jewry
Land that once was free
     All the Jew boys praise thee
Whilst they plunder thee
Poorer still and poorer
Grow thy true-born sons
Faster still and faster
            They’re sent to feed the guns.


Land of Jewish finance
Fooled by Jewish lies
            In press and books and movies
   While our birthright dies
Longer still and longer
Is the rope they get
     But – by the God of battles
      ‘Twill  serve to hang them yet.

Written on House of Commons notepaper in 1940 by Member of Parliament for Peebles, Captain Charles Maule Ramsay, the doggerel was sadly indicative of the views of its author.  Until the later 30s this Unionist MP seemed one of many dull but worthy members who restricted their political interests to the sometimes narrow concerns of the rural communities they represented.  But something happened to Ramsay which turned him from this path to a more sinister direction.  He became convinced that the Bolshevik threat from communist Russia posed an imminent threat to Great Britain and indeed the whole of western civilisation.  The only bulwark he imagined that would save the west was Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.





   Many thousands of people in Britain similarly feared totalitarian communism and many of these people overlapped with those who did not want the UK involved in another world war.  A darker segment of opinion admired the policies and practices of the fascist states, though some of these fell away when the realities of the brutality of the German regime became clear in the press.  Others still discarded or at least parked their extreme right-wing inclinations when war was actually declared.  Yet still there were self-declared fascists who persisted in actively subverting the war effort after this time, while declaring themselves acting in the patriotic best interests of the nation.  The title of the fairly recent study (1998) of this subject says it all:  Patriotism Perverted, Captain Ramsay, the Right Club and British Anti-Semitism in 1939-40, by Richard Griffiths.



   Ramsay, born in 1894 into an old Angus family, had his home at Kelly Castle, near Arbroath.  This castle stands near the River Elliot in Arbirlot parish.  An alternative name for it was Auchterlony (or Ochterlony) Castle.  Built in the 15th or early 16th century, it was a stronghold of the Mowbray family, but later housed a branch of Ochterlonies, one of whom was said to have been the reforming zealot who burned down Arbroath Abbey. Some of his uncontrolled bigotry perhaps passed down to the later owner of the property. The Irvines and Stewarts later held the house, then it passed to the Ramsay family, Earls of Dalhousie, whose principal seat is Brechin Castle.  John Gilbert Ramsay, 16th Earl of Dalhousie (1904-1950) was a close relative of Captain Ramsay’s.

   Ramsay became convinced that Jews were subverting the capitalism system for their own evil ends, principally through a cabal of rich financiers based in New York.  Correlated with this delusion was the opposing theory that Jews were at the very centre of the Soviet system and were hell bent on destroying British civilisation from the other direction, physically and politically.  The latter belief showed a great fear of being under the godless jackboot of Stalin and his associates; another contradiction given that even the most rabid anti-Semite could not argue that the Jews were godless.

   After being involved in a number of extreme right-wing organisations, Ramsay founded the secret Right Club, consisting of like-minded members of society who were mostly pro-German, anti-Jewish and convinced they were doing the right thing.  In the run up to the war, Ramsay's already inflammatory anti-Jewish rhetoric was fully reported in the local press in Arbroath without a scintilla of censure.  The same was true of his equally rabid wife, Ismay.

   Modern Scotland sometimes harbours the delusion that the extreme right-wing is mostly if not exclusively an English ailment.  But there were plenty in the 1930s, 40s and beyond north of the border who disparaged the foreigner, the Jew in particular, and wanted the latter punished in some way for their apparent apartness. It is a mark of Ramsay's alleged great charm and upper class influence that even the Liberal MP for Montrose Burghs, Lt. Col C. I. Kerr, was influenced by him to some extent.  Kerr expressed some dubious opinions about Jews, but swiftly withdrew his remarks in the press.  Another Angus luminary impressed by Ramsay was the 11th Earl of Southesk, Charles Carnegie (1893-1992), quoted as saying that Ramsay 'was a very loyal, patriotic man'. Carnegie was a member of Ramsay's Right Club.




   The Captain became ever more careless in his crusade as the war went on, linking up with a fascist-inclined official at the American Embassy named Kent and narrowly avoided being charged under the Official Secrets Act.  However, he did fall foul of Defence Regulation 18B and was interned along with other potential traitors like Oswald Mosley.  Ramsay has the distinction of being the only MP to have suffered that ignominy, though the imprisonment did not change his views.  After being released in 1944 he lost the seat he had represented since 1931 in the election of 1945 and published his chilling historical 'Jew wise' historical thesis and personal political justification, The Nameless War, in 1955, the year in which he also died.

   Freedom fighter that he imagined himself to be, he dedicated his book to those who had signed the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath.

   Gone, but not forgotten.  And God forgive those who condoned him, Angus and national.




Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Worry of Worthies - Dafties and Characters from Long Ago

Dundonians of a certain age might remember Barrack Street Museum.  Downstairs was a newspaper archive and upstairs there was a series of displays, including the famous Dundee Whale.  Was there competition between this museum (now sadly closed) and the main museum in the Albert Institute?  Both certainly boasted eye-catching exhibits which make the modern ones seem very anaemic in comparison.  (My favourite from the main museum:  the lovingly preserved Old Toll Bar interior from Lochee.  Why is this in storage now?  Maybe I just love pubs too much.)


   Barrack Street featured a series of small, fascinating dolls whose heads were made from dried apple, shrunk and dried so they almost resembled miniature human features.  Maybe my memory is playing tricks here, but I’m almost sure they actually existed.  The figures depicted a range of ‘Dundee Worthies’ from the 19th century, characters remembered in city lore because of their very public and persistent eccentricities.  There were people such as ‘Glass Bottom’, who had the probably unique delusion that his posterior was made of crystal and would never sit down on that account.  How did he sleep, I wonder?  Wrapped up in pillows and bolsters to safeguard his fragile bum?  Then there was ‘Teapot Tam’, whose mania was to tip himself over at regular intervals along the street, imitating the action of a pouring teapot. 
   It would maybe be politically incorrect to have such commemorations of mentally subnormal people on display in the 21st century.  But ‘worthies’ or ‘naturals’ were an almost celebrated part of the community, whether it be larger burghs or country districts and there is a whole genre of popular literature, from Scotland and beyond, that details the charming and unique dafties who were colourfully ever-present in Victorian times and previously.  A related category of writing revels in ‘couthy’ or ‘kail-yard’ characters, whose rural adventures were lavishly detailed in exaggerated ‘Doric’ language, all of which appears very tiresome to modern tastes.  Folklorists and historians may regret that so much local history writing falls in to this dubious variety instead of ‘genuine’ local information.  But it’s probably hoping for too much to wish for the past to be perfect.
   Dafties, Worthies, Village Idiots were an omnipresent fact of life, like it or not.  Literature on the subject draws a sometimes fine balance of admiration and derision, sometimes hinting that such ‘naturals’ were not always as daft as they would like you to think.  There is always the suspicion that some of those afflicted people were playing up to the part, a winking admission that there was a strain of street smartness which helped them survive.  Worthies in another sense also applied to local dignitaries, particularly eminent parishioners and townsfolk who were shining examples of religious piety.  This is another strand of regional literature which is very hard to digest.


   The ‘Dundee Worthies’ were celebrated in a book of that name by George Martin (1934), recently reprinted.  Other examples of this kind of book are almost too numerous to detail.  One of the best books, and one which is not really typical of this type is Blairgowrie, Stormont and Strathmore Worthies (by Henry Dryerre, 1903), which to be fair concentrates on admirable local characters rather than village idiots, albeit in an occasionally condescending way.  Among the genuinely interesting ‘men of imagination’ are former Angus luminaries such as James Gibb, ‘Old Gibbie’, who was schoolteacher at Kettins and also a self-confessed provider of grain for illicit distillers in the hills beyond Alyth.  He got his regular employment as a dominie by being subjected to phrenological  examination by the local laird, Lord Douglas Gordon of Hallburton.  His cranial lumps proving him well qualified, he was the local teacher for 48 years, and died in 1875.  Another personality enlarged upon in the book is the ‘Deil o’Glenisla’, whose exploits I will detail in the future. (Those with more localised taste could try Carnoustie Sketches, by James Fotheringham (1889).)


James Gibb, 'Old Gibbie', Kettins schoolmaster, scientist, curio-hunter, whisky smuggler (amongst other things).

   There is no doubt that those afflicted with mental or physical ailments were obliged to use their infirmities in order to survive.  One of the most remembered characters in North Angus in the 18th century was Jock Gudefellow, a legless man who used to pull himself around the countryside on a cart, and who terrified many a farmer’s wife into providing him sustenance.  He died in 1810 and was buried in Lethnot kirkyard.  One farmer’s wife panicked when he appeared at the door and she did not have anything at hand to feed him, so she cut up a bit of shoe leather and served it up to him.  His verdict, after he had consumed it, was that it was tough but tasty. James Bowick of Montrose commemorated Jock, in a bank-handed way, in these lines contained in his work Character and Sketches (1824):

                                       There's he who slid from Perth to Aberdeen
                                       Upon his hands and buttocks as they say:
                                       JOCK GUDEFELLOW was the creature's name, I ween,
                                       Who ofttimes scared the children from their play;
                                       But now the fearful wight hath passed into the clay.

   Behind such tales is a flotsam of scavenging humanity, twisted into strange shapes by poverty. And it was not just the congenitally weak who were afflicted.  Local Angus records in the early 18th century mention a series of gentlemen beggars, forced to travel from place to place cap in hand because of economic and social circumstances.

Another way of looking at things, is the interest in local characters from auld times reflects a supposedly better age when peculiarities were allowed to flourish unfettered by standards imposed by the evil pressures of modern life.  Another aspect of the good old days syndrome.


The redoubtable-looking Auld Grannie Fox from Carnoustie (though she was actually born in Kirriemuir).  By the end of the nineteenth century she had around 200 descendants in the town.