Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Bottomless Well. Updated Information on Angus Wells

   Since I last wrote something about wells in Angus, new information has come my way.  Most importantly was my own mistake, repeated several times, that Corryvannoch Well was on Mount Keen, when in fact it is on Mount Blair. 'Well done' to Kevin Greig for pointing out this glaring error, which somehow crept into my first post on wells and was subsequently repeated.  Kevin is incidentally responsible for the excellent Stanes Wi Names website which examines known named stones on the Glenisla area.


Nineteenth Century Renaissance of Wells

During the 19th century several wells and springs in Angus (and of course elsewhere) were saved from neglect by local lairds or other dignitaries in the community after sometimes centuries of decline.  At the Reformation wells were no longer seen by the authorities as places where people could rightfully resort to for health, pilgrimage or other semi-religious reasons.  Many local people would naturally have thought otherwise and continued to go to these places without sanction of the kirk.  But the special aura of many of these places was diminished and many places were eventually no longer visited if not entirely forgotten.  But because wells in Angus generally had no elaborate architecture surrounding them, they survived intact the destruction which was inflicted on ecclesiastical buildings by protestant mobs.

   In the 18th century there was some revival in the idea that certain water sources had healing value, though the reasons for this were likely to be understood as scientific and not superstitious.  Few springs in Angus however aspired to being full-blown spas or were promoted as such.  There was perhaps a lack of upper class clientele sufficient to promote such places.  Later rejuvenation of wells came about partly as a recognition that these places - stripped of religious significance now - still represented a link with the culture of the past.  The concept of beauty spots came into being, along with the idea that it was healthy and beneficial to go to quiet and restful country locations, if only for a little while, to escape the growing hurly-burly of increasingly industrialised town and city centres.

   One of the first wells to have a face lift was St Causnan's at Dunnichen.  Unfortunately the patriotic fervour of George Dempster got the better of his common sense and he attempted to re-name the spring Camperdown Well after Admiral Duncan's famous victory over the Dutch.  Elsewhere however the old wells survived with their names and dignity intact and their makeovers consisted sometimes with a discreet addition of a plaque, or just clearing away obscuring vegetation.  
   
   One such rescue mission at a well site in the Victorian era was undertaken at the Hays Well, Arbroath,  The well was named after former meadow lands east of the Abbey of Arbroath, which contained water renowned for healing properties which 'many a fevered invalid longed [for].'  It was described by J McBain in Arbroath: Past and Present (1887), 35-37:

Within the last year it has undergone a considerable change.  Around the old well an area of two acres has been generously gifted by the young laird of Tarrie.  This ground was laid out as a miniature park in order to provide work for the unemployed during the previous winter... The cistern, being underground, is invisible.  It was opened about forty years ago, and...it had all the appearance of having been built at the same time as the Abbey, and was evidently used as a reservoir for supplying that ancient institution with water.
   Years previous to this late Victorian re-ordering, the site had been renovated to some extent by local man William Souter.  In 1841 a structure, replacing older building work, was placed around the well, funded by public subscription.  But either some locals or the tutelary guardian of the well itself objected to Souter's tampering and removed a statue of the goddess Flora from a lintel above the door of his house and placed it on the well.  The criminal responsible was never apprehended.

   Hays Well also became part of that other great 19th century pastime of scientific investigation.  Dr Brown included the well into a long study of the temperatures of spring wells.  He found that the Hays Well water varied in temperature throughout the year, as did the majority of wells he studied. However, the water at Silverwells and the Nolt Loan Well stayed constant.

   McBain also reports that the condition of the Mossy Well at Arbroath caused indignation in the local press in 1850 and suggestions were made to dignify it with an enclosure.  A third well in the area which became appreciated as a beauty spot in the era was the Ladle Well, near Horologe Hill.

   

Updated List of Angus Wells


The list below has been added to and changed slightly since the last published list.  As before, names in square brackets denote locations of wells, not their specific names.  Wells new to this list are in italics and underlined.  


Some of the new information derives from Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticae, volume 6 (1925). There is still no claim that this represents a comprehensive list of all wells in Angus.


1. Aberneathan Well, two miles NW of Kirriemuir.  Possibly from the Pictish personal name Nechtan,  either St Nechtan or King Nechtan?

2. Agricola Well.  At Castleton, Eassie, a reputed Roman site; supposed to have been named by locals after the Roman general, but more probably given the name by a local antiquary.

3. [Balmossie Den], near Broughty Ferry.

4. Barrel Well, Brechin.

5. Batties Well, Haughead, Arbirlot.

6. Battle Well, Battle Drum, Montreathmont Moor, Brechin.

7. Beardie’s Well, Brechin. A well which was on the north side of the Nether Wynd in Brechin, supposedly the property of the Earls of Crawford.  This well was therefore supposed to be linked with Alexander, the 4th Earl of Crawford, one of whose nicknames was Beardie.

8. Bell’s Witter, Clach of Glentaire, Clova.

9. [Benvie]  Well haunted by the White Lady since plague times. The well, at one time, was called 'The Medicine Well', though this may not have been its 'official' name.

10. Blackshank Well, near Aucharroch, Kingoldrum.  Marked as ‘chalybeate’ on maps.

11.  Blind Well, Kingoldrum.  One of the earliest attested wells in the county.  This name appears in a document of 1458 from Arbroath Abbey and has the equivalent Gaelic name Tybyrnoquhyg.  Adam Watson reckons this refers to water ‘out of sight due to vegetation’.  The later form of the name was Tipperwhig, though the English and Gaelic names may not in face be equivalents, in which case there is a chance that Tybyrnoquhyg/Tipperwhig comes from Tobar na Cubhaig, well of the cuckoo.

12. Bradwell, Kettins.  Warden, Angus or Forfarshire, vol 4, points out that there is a charter dated 1292-3 in which a charter of about 1292-3, in which Hugh of Over, Lord of Ketenes, granted ‘his well in his lands and Abthenage of Ketenes, called Bradwell, with its aqueduct bounded, and servitude of watergage" to the Abbey of Cupar’. This was also called Bride’s Well, near the Stoneye Cottages to the east of the Dundee - Coupar Angus Road. The water travelled to theAbbey by an aqueduct and  fed into ponds containing fish.

13. Bra Well, Stracathro.  According to Alexander Warden, Angus or Forfarshire, volume 5, this was also known as Braul’s  Well and St Brude’s Well.  But it had been ‘drained long ago’.  It seems more likely the name is derived from St Rule than Brude, though the latter presents more intriguing possibilities.

14.  Camperdown or Cammerdown Well, Dunnichen.  This was renamed after  the late 18th century naval encounter won by Duncan of Lundie. It was originally St Causnan’s Well (there was a St Causnan’s Chapel nearby.)  Causnan again is a colloquial form of Constantine.  Local dignitary George Dempster took it upon himself to give the spring its new name following the battle.

15. Camp Well, near the site of supposed Roman site at Campmuir, Kettins.

16. Cardinal’s Well, south of Lownie Hill, near Dunnichen.  Local tradition says it was named after Cardinal Beaton, who favoured this spot.  The cardinal is also associated with many castles in Angus. It was said that the water from the well was conveyed for some special use at Arbroath Abbey, which makes no sense as there was an abundant source of water closer to the abbey.  However, it may reflect  a lingering, if muddled, tradition of the special powers inherent in the water here.

17. Carlin Well, Craigton of Airlie.  Now vanished and named after the Cailleach, the Old Hag of Scottish Folklore. Adjacent is Carlinwell Farm.

18. Cartyheugh Well, Kelly Den, St Vigeans.

19. Cattle Well, Lochmill, near Kirriemuir.

20. Chapel Well, near Whitemire, Aberlemno.

21. College Well, St Michael’s Mount, Brechin.

22. Corryvannoch Well, on the slopes of Mount Blair.  The most famous healing well in Angus where pilgrimages would be made and sick children carried.

23. Craig Well, Lundie.

24. Crew Well, near Auchtertyre, Newtyle.

25. Cuttle Well, the Den, Kirriemuir.  One of the more conspicuous and best loved wells in Angus, it has been damaged in recent times by land slips and is ripe for restoration.

26, 27. Docken Well, Glen Quharity.  Also called Dockan Well, Docan Well, Docken Wall.  There is a nearby East Docken Well (also on the slopes of Cat Law).

28. Dripping Well, Arbroath.

29. Droustie’s Well, Lochlee, near the home of the Dark Age saint.  Also, more formally known as St Drostan’s Well.  It was located in a field named ‘Piper’s Shade’ and cured all sorts of diseases.  When some jealous healers poisoned the well some locals stones them to death and buried them in a circle around the spring.

30. Duckladge Well, Lintrathen.

31. Dundas Well, Pitlivie Moor, Arbirlot.

32. Falcon Well, Glen Quharity.

33. God’s Well, Arbirlot.

34. Golan Well, Auchenchapel, Glen Isla. 

[Hangie’s Well, Cargill.  This is a  dubious example, cited by Andrew Jervise in Memorials of Angus and the Mearns, in that Cargill is in Perthshire and not Angus (so we won't count it), though Jervise states that it may have been in Angus once.  The well was on the property of a local hangman and, when it was excavated, a large number of human bones were found here.  So good a tale that we forgive the Perthshire-ness of the location.]

35. Hassock Well, North Whitehills, Forfar.

36. Helly Well, near Shelterfield, Arbirlot.

37. Hays Well, Arbroath. 




38. Hen Well, east of Finavon Hill.  Note nearby place-name Henwellburn.

39. Hogg’s Well, Fairy Knowe, Dunnichen

40. Holy Well, Balnaboth, Cortachy.  Near ancient church ruins.

41. Holy Well, Broughty Ferry.

42. Hore Well, Lundie.

43. Horse Well, Smithton Hill, Lundie.

44. Iron Harrow Well, south of Hayston Hill, Tealing.

45 Jenkin’s Well, in Balrownie Wood, Menmuir.

46. King’s Well, Carmyllie.

47. King’s Well, Newtyle, north-west of Newbigging.

48. [Kirkden Well] renowned for reducing swelling in feet and legs.

49. Knellock Well,  Gallows Hill, Inverarity.

50. Lady Well, Auchterhouse.

51. Ladle Well, Arbroath.  Possibly once Lady Well?




52. Lady Well, Brechin.

53. Lady Well, Dundee.  Perpetuated in the name of the pub Ladywell Tavern and in the Wellgate, Dundee.  ‘The Well of the Blessed Marie de Dundee’ was a holy site in the medieval burgh and was one of the primary water sources for the city until it was demolished on the construction of Victoria Road in 1872.

54. Lady Well, Farnell.

55. Lady Well, Chapelton, Menmuir.

[Note also the place-name Ladlewell, east of Forfar:  possibly another corruption of Lady Well?]

56. Lammer Well, St Vigeans.(Same as Lanuner Well?)

57. [Logie-Pert]  well in kirk-yard, used to treat sores.

58. Lunan Well, Lunanhead Forfar.

59. McComie’s Well, Glen Isla.

60. Madie's Well, on the banks of the Lunan, Kinnell.  Nearby was Madie's Heugh.  Possibly a corruption of parish patron St Maelrubha (or other wise Magdalen?).

61. Maid’s Well,  Rescobie.  Possibly connected with St Triduana who once reputedly lived here.

62. Marywell, Craig parish (anciently Inchbrayoch), close to the coastal village of Usan.

63. Mary Well, Kirriemuir.  Recalled in the local name Marywell  Brae.

64. Mary’s Well, Edzell.

65. Mary’s Well, St Vigeans.

66. Matty’s Well, Panbride.

67. May’s Well, Dunnichen.

68. Medicine Well, Idvies, also known as Medicie Well.

69. Medicine Well, Montrose.  This was, for a short spell in the 18th century, a fashionable spa.

70. Meg Blair’s Well, Lochlee.

71. Monk’s Pool, Kirkton, Lochlee.

72. Monk’s Well, St Vigeans.

73. Monks Well, Glen Isla, Corryvannoch.

74. Mossy Well, Arbroath.

75. Murdiewell, Glamis, place-name.

76. Murleywell, Eassie, farm name.

77. Naughty Well, Kinnell.  Is this a colloquial corruption of an older (Celtic?) name?   The well was close to the ancient chapel of Bolshan.

78. Neil's Well, near the kirk of Kingoldrum. Note nearby place-name Kennyneil.

79. Nettle Well, near Edzell.

80. Newton’s Well, Glen Isla.

81. Nickie’s Well, Witchwood, St Vigeans.

82. Nine Maidens’ Well, Bracken Bruach, Auchterhouse.

83. Ninewells, Dundee.  Close to the River Tay, on the west of the city.  Now commemorated as the name of the largest hospital in the region.

84. Nine Wells, Finavon.  On the hill above the old kirk.  A burn trickles down from the spot.

85. Nine Maiden’s Well, Forfar.  Located in the vicinity of Craig O’ Loch Road.

86. Nine Maiden’s Well, Kirkton of Strathmartine.  Near the kirk, this is importantly in the vicinity of the folk-tale of Martin and the Nine Maidens.

87. Nine Maiden's Well, Cortachy.  Near the church.

88. Nine Wells, Glamis.  The supposed home of the Nine Maidens, in Glen Ogilvy, was located within Glamis parish.

89. Nine Wells, close to Peallock Quarry, Lunan.

90. Nine Wells, Oathlaw (latterly Finavon parish).

91.  Nolt Loan Well, Arbroath.

92. Our Lady’s Well, Edzell. 

93. Our Lady’s Well, Glenisla. (The church was dedicated to St Mary.)

94. Our Lady’s Well, Milton of Carmyllie.

95. Our Lady’s Well, Oathlaw (Finavon).

96. Pater Well, near Deerpark Cottage, Kinnaird.

97. Paterlochwell, near Cottarward, Dunnichen.

98. Peatmire Well, Black Wood, Arbirlot.

99. Purdie’s Well, near Ochterlony, Rescobie.

100. Queen’s Well, Glenmark, Lochlee.  Re-named in honour of Queen Victoria, but originally named Tobar na clachan gualaich, the well of the white Stone.

101. Raistane Well, Kingoldrum.  Another well which is mentioned in a document of Arbroath Abbey, 1458.

102. St Aidan’s Well, Fern.

103. St  Aidan’s Well, Kirkton of Menmuir.

104. St  Andrew’s Well, Monikie.

105. St Andrew’s Well, Lintrathen.

106. St Anthony’s Well, Auchterhouse.  On Henderson Hill, marked as ‘disused’ on modern maps.

107. St Bride’s Well, Kettins. (Kettins church also dedicated to St Bride.)

108. St Bride’s Well, Templeton, Newtyle.

109. St Columba’s Well, Shielhill, Kirriemuir.

110. St Fergus’ Well, Glamis.

111. St Innen’s Well, Fern.  Located in a place named Wellford.

112. St Iten’s Well, Menmuir.  The name is probably a corruption of Aidan, the patron of Memuir parish.  

113. St John’s Well, Guynd.

114. St Kane’s Well, Monifieth.

115. St Laurence, Edzell.  (Edzell church dedicated to this saint.)

116. St Madden’s Well, Airlie. Also called St Medan’s Well.

117. St Martin’s Well, Bridgend, Lethnot.

118. St Martin’s Well, St Martin’s Den, Logie.  Famous for curing scurvy.

119. St Mary’s Well, Arbroath. 

120. St Mary’s Well, Lethnot.  Silver coins were found in this well (in the 18th or 19th century?), reckoned to be pre-Reformation votive offerings.

121. The Mary Well, Lintrathen, adjacent to The Mary Well Park, a field name.

122. St Mary’s Well, Oathlaw. Near  the top of the Gallow Path, near Oathlaw.

123. St Mary’s Well, Rescobie.

124. St Medan’s Well, Kingoldrum.  (The church was also dedicated to this saint.)

125. St Medan’s Well, Glamis.

126. St Medan’s Well, Oathlaw (latterly Finavon).

127. St Murdoch’s Well, West Drum, Brechin.

128. St Ninian’s Well, Arbroath.

129. St Ninian’s, Mains (formerly Strathdichty).

130. St Ouret’s Well, Brechin, on the North Esk near the Stannochy Bridge.  This is a name without parallel.  Paul T Hornby notes similarites to a similar Basque surname and the Gaelic word ùruisg (https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/st-ourets-well/), but its uniqueness and lack of documentary parallels means this is very much a mystery.

131. St Peter's Well, Tealing.

132. St Ringan’s Well, Arbirlot. (or St Ninian’s Well.)

133. St Sinavy’s Well, or Sunny Vie, near Mains Castle, Dundee.

134. St Trodlin’s Well, Rescobie.  Named after Triduana.

135. St Vivian’s Well, Fern.

136. Scots Well, Lochee.

137. Scotston Well, Auchterhouse.

138. Seggie Well, Carmylie.

139. Silver Hill, St Vigeans. Note place-name Silverwells.

140. Sinruie Well, Kirkden (formerly Idvies). Corrupted from St Maelrubha.  The well was also known as St Malrubh

141. Sod’s Well, east of Grange of Conon, St Vigeans.

142. Springwells, St Vigeans, place-name north of Silverwells.

143. Tannie's Well, Kinnell.  Another well whose name may be a corruption of an older name.

144. The Timber Clach, place-name in  Glen Isla.  May possibly derive from An Tiobair Chlaich, the well of stones, though there is not currently a well here. (Place-names in Much of North-east Scotland, Adam Watson, London 2013.)

145. Tobar a Chinn, GlenIsla.  Well of the Head.

146. Todcairn Well, Glen Esk.

Todcairn Well, 1910.


147. Tothel Well, West Mill, Dunnichen.

148. The Tottler, Milton of Conon, Carmyllie.

149. Well of Bowhale, Glen Isla.  Name from Gaelic buachaille, herdsman.

150. Whey Wells, Fern.

151.  Witch’s Pool, Kirriemuir.

152.  Wormiehills Well.  Well and place-name near Arbroath.


You may wish to consult these previous published posts on wells:




Saturday, 18 February 2017

Death at St Vigeans: The Minister's End

On 15 November 1725 the long-standing minister of St Vigeans parish, north of Arbroath, put a rope around his neck and took his life.  Almost unheard of among clerics in the 18th century, the supposed facts of the tragic death are detailed below in a contemporary letter (culled from Analecta Scotica, ed. James Maidment, 1837).*  Strange as the circumstances are, local rumour perhaps also linked the tragedy to the peculiar atmosphere of the kirk and the folklore associated with it:

REVEREND DEAR SIR. – By last post, I have my brother’s of the 11st instant, in answer to what I wrote at your desire, with respect to the Minister of Aberbrothick Presbytery, who had made away with himself.   His name is Mr Thomas Watson:  he was Minister of St Vigons, about two miles from the Presbytery seat.  My brother writes he was of his acquaintance, and knew his character befor this.  He writes he was bot of mean parts, but had some thing of a popular gift.  He was never look’d on by serious people to be much taken vp with religion, and had a likeing to the other syde of the house, but was sober, and on good enough terms with his Paroch, and with his family, - was keen in gathering the world, and has left more than twentie thousand merks behind him upon houses in Montrose and Aberbrothick.  This temptation, according to my brother’s information, was, (as you heard), he had a sister who inclined to marry a man in that corner, and he was doing what he could to dissuade her it, and from being uneasie to the elder brother, whereon she cutt her own throat with a razor, and this was more than a year agoe.  Upon this he turned melancholy, and continued so till he brought himself to that fatal end.  When they found him, they fand in his breast a paper write with his own hand, wherein he desired that he should be buried in such a place of the churchyard, and that such a man should make his coffin, and that a hundred punds should be given to the poor.   My brother writes, hes information for all this is good.  If you desire any thing farder, he will doe what he can to satisfie you, but hopes you’ll pardon hes not writing directly to yourself, for he is much straitned of time.  I am,
                                                                                                                                Rev, Dear Sir,    
                Ham. Jany. 19,                                                                                    Your most humble
                      1726.                                                                                                      Servant,       
                         To the Rev. R. WODROW.                                                          ALEX. ARCHER.




   Thomas Watson had studied at St Andrews University, graduating in 1689.  He became a minister at St Vigeans in 1702.  In Arbroath and its Abbey (1860), David Miller wrongly states that the death of the minister took place in 1726.  But he gives the details that WAtson  killed himself ‘on a tree, some distance north-east from the church; and was interred, not below the pulpit like his predecessors, but at the bottom of a turf dyke betwixt the lands of Newgrange and Newbigging.’ He left beind a wife, Margaret Maitland (or Marjorie Mathie).  Newgrange was afterwards Letham Grange and the tree on the boundary was some distance north of the kirk.  Possibly Whether this tree still remains is unknown.  Possibly due to a misinterpretation of the letter above, or confusion with his sister, some sources state that the minister also cut his throat. The reluctance to bury a suicide in consecrated ground is of course centuries old and perhaps has as much to do with decorum in this case as superstition.


   The tragic death became entangled in the lore associated with the old 12th century kirk (built on a mound on the site of an early Christian chapel).  There were structural problems with the building which meant that services were disrupted for a long period, but this became part of a local prophecy that a kelpie inhabited a pool beneath the kirk mound and prophecied that the congregation would sink down and be drowned after services were restored.  This was actually expected when the kirk schedule was fully restored in 1736.  The kelpie also allegedly prophesied the self-destruction of a minister.  (See my earlier post 22.5.15).  There was some delay also in finding a successor for the unfortunate priest.  A probationer named Tobias Martin was eventually appointed in 1727, but he lasted only four years and his successor John Burn only officiated for a short period between 1731 until his death in 1734.

   It would make a neat and tidy ending to this entry to link the por spirit of the priest with the ghost which was seen at nearby Letham Grange during World War II.  Now a golf resort, service personnel were stationed there during wartime.  Several WRENS who were sleeping in the old balroom reported seeing a grey, insubstantial figure at night while staying there.  It wore a wide hat and had a high collar.  The owners reported that it was unwise to sleep in that room.  Unfortunately for symmetry, the present house here was built some time after Thomas Watson’s time.  So unless his spirit wandered from the place he was and migrated into this later building, the lingering ghost is not him.




*  Another suicide affected the incumbent of Monikie in the 17th century.  The son of the Rev John MacGill apparently drowned himself in  January 1660 while at St Andrews, studying divinity.

Monday, 13 February 2017

To See Ourselves...Through A Glass, Darkly? Outsiders’ Views on Dundee and Angus


A peculiar thing happened to me around 18 years ago while I was sitting in a pub in Bristol city centre (no longer there, the establishment soon afterwards was swept away by ‘improvements’).  In all honesty several strange things have happened to me in public houses in various places.  But this was different.  I was hovering on the brink of sobriety, having drunk two pints (either Guinness or Newcastle Brown, McEwans 80/- being almost unattainable in barbaric England).  I was – as they say – ‘minding my own business’ – keeping myself to myself etc.  It was early afternoon.  There were a few other people around, but it was not crowded.  By accident I tuned in to the conversation of two men at a table nearby.  They were talking about drug rehabilitation issues and the experiences they had gone through in that demanding line of work.  Fair enough, God bless them.  After reeling off a few horror tales and bleakly comic anecdotes about junkies and detox units, they began talking about where in Britain was the worst for hardcore drug problems.  A few places in England were mentioned, plus Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Then the one man says to the other something along the lines of, ‘You know, the worst place I ever saw was Dundee.’
   Now this set off alarm bells.  Dundee is where I come from.  How could they have known?  Was it an elaborate practical joke, or had they sized up my accent and somehow launched into a sinister game?  But the pair had arrived after the point where I had gone to the bar and I had spoken to no-one since.  What were the chances of these two psychically latching on to my hometown, reading my mind, and launching into a diatribe about Dundee?  More fat-fetched than that supposition was the idea that it was some kind of cosmic co-incidence being played out hundreds of miles from Dundee.

   On and on they went about how the junkies of Dundee were below the underbelly of any lowlife addicts anywhere else in the U.K.  I stumbled out, in a state of paranoia, soon afterward, feeling outraged for my hometown and for myself. A few more pints and I would have been tempted, unwisely, to add my own opinion. It wasn’t even true, or was it?




   Scots may look on the dark side about themselves and all that concerns them.  As the Aberdonian poet Alexander Scott (1920-1989) pithily put it in his poem ‘Scotched’:
Scotch Optimism
Through a gless, Darkly.

Scotch Pessimism
Nae
Gless.
  The Scots do no want anyone else discussing their short-comings, real or imaginary, for they live cheek by jowl with constitutional darkness. It is still necessary sometimes to listen to opinions on oneself from someone outside the national bubble.  Two visitors to Angus, nearly four hundred years apart, give different perspectives on the Angus they witnessed. 


   We have already, in a previous post, encountered the ‘Water Poet’ John Taylor, who walked on foot from London to Scotland in the early 17th century and published his adventures as The Pennyles Pilgramage in 1618.  On the way north, as previously stated, Taylor stayed in a ‘sluttish’ inn in Glen Esk and suffered the attentions of either bed bugs, lice, or some other blood sucking insect life which took a delighted fancy to his soft southern flesh.  Coming back from Braemar, Taylor reached Brechin and again had a disturbed night, but for a different reason that that which unsettled him in Glen Esk:

...a wench that was born deaf and dumb came into my chamber (I being asleep) and she opened the bed, would feign have lodged with me...I think that either the great travel over the mountains had tamed me; or, if not, her beauty could never have moved me.  The best parts of her were, that her breath was as sweet as sugar-candian, being very well shouldered beneath the waste; and as my hostess told me the next morning, that she had changed her maiden-head for the price of a bastard not long before.  But howsoever, she made such a hideous noise, that I started out of my sleep, and thought that the Devil had been there: but I no sooner knew who it was, but I arose, and thrust my dumb beast out of my chamber, and for want of a lock or a latch, I staked up my door with a great chair.



   Taylor, having escaped one of the Seven Deadly Sins, went onward to Forfar and Dundee next day.  He should have counted himself lucky for the poor lass’s misguided attentions:  by all accounts, and his own admission, he was no oil painting.


   Moving forward into the 21st century we have some American evidence to consider.  Several years ago I stumbled across a blog written by an American woman who had settled in Dundee.  There were few posts, but among these were some wonderful photos of Balgay Hill and cemetery and some interesting insights about the architecture and culture of Dundee.  I would certainly have quoted this directly and supplied a link, but its author has evidently deleted the blog and so – one of the wonders of the digital age – this resource has vanished without trace forever. What struck me when reading her observations is how absolutely different her perspective was, even to the extent of regarding the architecture of tenements, flats and houses of the city as idiosyncratically unique.  Judging from her excellent photos, I think she may have settled in the Logie area, between the city centre and Lochee. Pity her record has been lost in the ether.

     Another American who settled in Angus was Belinda Rathbone who authored a semi-breathless account of her marriage to the owner of the Guynd near Arbroath entitled Living With the Laird (subtitled 'A Love Affair with a Man and His Mansion.').  I must admit, hearing about and then reading this book, my hackles were raised on account of my personal prejudices.  Guynd was owned by a member of the Ouchterlony family who had been resident on the estate for centuries, but like many of his ilk he had been educated in England and the residual Scottishness in him appeared to be a very thin veneer.  Also, like may others of the distressed gentry, there was a heartbreaking array of symptoms associated with being distressed gentry:  lack of staff, crumbling infrastructure in the mansion, and perhaps a pervasive underlying sense that the surrounding world, especially the local world was being a teeny bit harsh in its regards and interactions with the Big Hoose. 



   Before I castigate myself as being too harsh towards this social commentator, I would nevertheless have to take into account her attitude towards her new surroundings. First impressions of the rundown  house itself are not happy: ‘the centre-piece of a system gone to seed, deeply suggestive of the forbidden desire to give up and give out’.  To be fair, the book is a well-written account of a very small corner of the country and the strange tribe of landowners who still own too much of our native soil.  Does the rest of the work instruct us in anything?  Take this description of the denizens of Arbroath:  ‘Everybody on the street looks about sixty, slightly stooped and grey haired...The clock stopped around 1950.  If they aren’t sixty they’re sixteen...’  The lack of jovial Anglo-Saxon inns is bemoaned, missing the fact that Arbroath is anywhere but jovial olde England.  Low life types from Dundee and caustic insights about the benefits system and the nanny state are hardly the insights which might compensate for a less than riveting roll call of the author’s domestic struggles in a fading mansion.  But the author knows her market and it is certainly not one which inhabits the neighbourhood of the Guynd.  Tellingly, the writer bailed out of Scotland after a few years and wrote her tale from the distance of America and at least had the decency not to do so with rose tinted glasses.

   An even darker side of the interaction between 'native' and 'incomer' is the targeting of those people who come into the new community in order to start new lives and who, for a multitude of reasons, rub up their new neighbours their new neighbours the wrong way.  It's one thing to snigger at White Settlers and their funny accents and assumption of superiority.  Next thing, there might be a nascent campaign of intimidation - as evident by the Settler Watch poster which appeared in various places in Angus in 1993 - after after that, a small step into a full-blown hate campaign. Thankfully no major incidents of that kind have happened, yet.




Saturday, 11 February 2017

Forgotten Daughters of Angus: Clementina Stirling Graham and Lady Pitlyal


Clementina Stirling Graham is a name all but forgotten, though she lived a long life and died as recently as the Victorian era.  Though perhaps her life was not crammed with notable events, she was a well-loved character in her own area and beyond.  The Grahams of Duntrune House were an old landed family who took a full part in the history of the area.  Clementina’s father, Patrick Stirling of Pittendriech,  adopted the surname of his wife, Amelia Graham,  adding it to his own after she inherited Duntrune from her brother in 1802.  Their child Clementina was born on 4 May 1782 in a house in the Seagate, Dundee, then the most prosperous street in the burgh, where her father was a prosperous merchant.

  Although the Grahams were long representative in Angus, though at Duntrune were less rooted to that place than their near neighbours and relatives the Grahams of Claverhouse and Fintry. (They were therefore related to the famous/infamous Graham of Claverhouse/Bloody Clavers.)  Duntrune had passed through several families, notably a branch of the Ogilvys and the Scrymgeours, before  passing to the Grahams in the 17th century. 

   Clementina (1782 - 1877) was famous in her time as a society hostess in Scotland and the author of several books, very different in character from each other.  In 1829 Clementina translated from the French a work by the Swiss author Jonas de Gélieu, The Bee Preserver, which was widely acclaimed for its system of honey producing without harming bees.  She was a society figure in Edinburgh, associated with the cicle who produced the Edinburgh Review, and herself inherited the small estate of Duntrune when her brother William died in 1844. Clementina was allegedly attached to  a young man who died at sea and she never married afterwards. For most of her life, after the gaiety of society life in Edinburgh, she seems to have enjoyed a sedate life in Angus. 


   Clementina was still a teenager when the formidable Lady Pitlyal entered her life and took over, for a  while at least.  Who was this shadowy noblewoman and where did she come from?  The title of Pitlyal comes from a rather small and inconspicuous little body of water in the Sidlaw Hills near Auchterhouse, otherwise known as the Round Loch, and the kindred were a branch of that omnipresent Angus family the Ogilvys.  Unlike those toffee-nosed nobles mentioned above, Lady Pitlyal adhered to the old-school type of Scotch noblewoman, determinedly auld-fashioned in her manners, speech and attitude.  This was not to say she was not shrewdly intelligent, and certainly she was enigmatically witty.  One saying she is credited with is the following, which certainly prefigures Oscar Wilde.  ‘The only way to deal with temptation,’ said Lady Pitlyal, ‘is to give in to it.’

   The story of Lady Pitlyal’s fame in Edinburgh society in the early 1820s was described decades later in Clementina’s book Mystifications, which was first privately printed in 1859.  She describes Lady Pitlyal as follows:

She was a sedate-looking little woman, of an inquisitive law-loving countenance; a mouth in which not a vestige of a tooth was to be seen, and a pair of old-fashioned spectacles on her nose, that rather obscured a pair of eyes that had not altogether lost their lustre... She was dressed in a Irish poplin of silver grey, a white Cashmere shawl, a mob cap with a band of thin muslin that fastened it below the chin, and a small  black silk bonnet that shaded her eyes...   Her right hand was supported by an antique gold-headed cane, and she leant with the other on the arm of her daughter.


   Among the people who were graced with a visit by the Lady was Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), afterwards Lord Jeffrey.  Turning up unannounced the elderly, couthy Angus auld-wife spun the lawyer a yarn about a tangled dispute about land ownership which she hoped he would resolve.  Following that came this quote from the renowned mystical manuscript, discovered in the deepest windswept Sidlaws, known as ‘The Prophecie of Pitlyal’, whose allusive and mystical rhymes have been a little known enigma for centuries.

When the crown and the head shall disgrace ane anither,
And Bishops on the Bench shall gae a’ wrang the gither;
When Tory or Whig,
Fills the judge’s wig;
When the Lint o’ the Miln
Shall reek on the kiln;
O’er the Light of the North,
When the Glamour breaks forth,
And its wild-fire so red;
With the daylight is spread;
When woman shrinks not from the ordeal of tryal,
There is triumph and fame to the house of Pitlyal.
Francis Jeffrey



   Jeffrey was even more confused by this olde-worldy mystery.  But Lady Pitlyal’s last request threw him into utter bewilderment.  Breaking off from more elevated subjects, Lady Pitlyal requested if he knew any good and honest supplier of false teeth in Edinburgh.  Fearing he had misheard her, the judge had to ask her to repeat her request several times.  After he gave her the details of several good dentists, Lady Pitlyal and her daughter vanished into the night.  It was only after she had departed that Jeffrey realised he had been duped.

   The garrulous old wifie was none other than the mischievous teenage Clementina who invaded the presences of the great and good in the capital to get a rise out of the ‘Mystification’ caused to her victims.  This series of subtle and gentle pranking did not come to the attention of the general public until it was highlighted in the book called Mystifications, first privately published in 1859.  Supported by her admirer Dr Brown the book then became something of a surprise hit in Britain and Anerica, running into several editions.  These days it is almost entirely forgotten, and though it is a product of its day, it remains an enjoyable evocation of its era and the central heroine.  Her high-spirits made her a favourite of Walter Scott and many others and she attracted the attentions of many eminent people throughout her life.  (Thomas Carlyle stayed at Linlathen House, neighbouring Duntrune, in July 1852 and met Clementina while there.)

Lady Pitlyal, scourge of Edinburgh.


   Clementina’s youthful excursions into mystification or guising followed a well-trodden hobby among the upper-middle, noble and even royal classes.  There was a long-standing custom of disguising yourself as a joke and going incognito among unknowing people, unusually commoners.  This pastime arguably goes back to the antics of the ‘Commons King’ James V, wandering unknown among his subjects (though his father James IV actually dabbled in this habit).  Now, what was the motive of toffs in pretending to be peasants?  Was it a by-product of class guilt, whereby they sought, psychically, to redeem themselves for betraying their nation, bowing down to the Act of Union, plus adopting plummy English accents instead of their ancestral ones?  Probably not.  They were rich, bored, and needed something to do. Although this niche area of pranking was indeed practised in England, it reached the point of perfection in Scotland.

   But Clementina’s impersonations were a more of a fond remembrance of a type of Scot was was becoming an endangered species even in the pre-Victorian era, the self-consciously ‘auld farrant’ Scot who adhered to the native manners and attitudes inbred in their predecessors through hard centuries of experience. They were the class which contained lairds and supplied the legal profession and were  commemorated in Dean Edward Ramsay’s Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character (1858).  Although the latter focused on the humourous side of the diminishing Scottishness of the Scot, it is a reminder of how much prevalent anglification cost the culture of the country.

   Miss Graham grew into the genteel lady that Lady Pitlyal was assuredly not, though she was focused on the well-being of her estate.  Dr Brown wrote a tribute to her the day after she died on 23 August 1877 (published in his Horæ Subsecivæ):

This gifted, excellent, and  most delightful old lady, the perfect type of a Scottish gentlewoman, died yesterday afternoon...at her beautiful seat Duntrune...above Broughty Ferry, overlooking the Tay, with the woods of Ballumbie on one side, and those of Linlathen, her dear friend Mr Erskine’s estate, on the other, and with St Andrews and the noble tower of St Rule standing out clear on the sky line to the south, Miss Graham was in her ninety-sixth year... she was as gay and truthful and artless as a girl...
   When Dr Jenner’s great discovery [of vaccinating against Smallpox] was first announced it immediately attracted Miss Graham’s interest and... she used to reide about on her little white pony vaccinating with a needle every child whose birth she heard of in the neighbourhood.  We have been told that in this way she protected from the terrible scourge of smallpox not less than about 300 infants.  One farmer fiend had been one of her early patients.  So carefully was it done that it used to be said that none of those operated on by Miss Graham ever took smallpox...
   In her own county, where everybody knew her and she knew everybody and who their forebears were, she will be long remembered.



   Unfortunately, the last sentiment is no longer true, but Clementina certainly deserves a place in the notable people born in Angus. Following her death the estate passed to her relative John Lacon, who died in 1894.  Duntrune House is now a rather splendid looking small hotel (whose website details can be found listed on the right).



Duntrune House