‘Scottish Characters — Old Peter, A Deeside Notable’ (29 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century.

Old Peter was one of the best-known characters on Deeside. Redolent of the soil, he had all the characteristics of the pawky Scot. The keenness of his wit, the readiness of his repartee, and the humour of his stories made his name famous and many of his sayings proverbial over a wide district. But alas, most of the spiciest were too gross in subject and too coarsely treated to be fit for the reproduction. Sprung of a race of brawny blacksmiths, he dated his earliest recollection to fleeting from his father’s vengeance for some youthful peccadillo, and with childish, ostrich-like eagerness hiding his head under a cornstack, but leaving his bare posterior uncovered by its petticoats, a ready prey to the improvised tawse of the ragged ends of his father’s leather apron. Although bred to the business he preferred the free air to the stithe of the smiddy, and indulged his taste for roving by acting as drover to the Southern markets. He never wearied of telling how he evaded tolls and pontages by swimming his droves through the Tay or Forth, himself clinging to the tail of the hindmost steer, or the straits to which he was put to provide sustenance for himself or his flocks by the way, being reduced sometimes to dining off “cauld steer” made in the heel of his shoe—i.e., a little oatmeal mixed with cold water. But that he qualified his cold water when he could is told by the following incident:—On one occasion he was seen by a minister to whom he was well known, lying prone and drinking water from a roadside rivulet. “What are you dong, Peter?” said the minister. “O, I’m makin’ toddy.” “But where’s the whisky, Peter?” “O, i drank it last nicht, an’ noo I’m mixing them.” Once in his sweethearting days he won a wager that he would visit his ladylove one night after a fail of snow, and yet no one would suspect his nocturnal escapade. This he accomplished by tying his shoes on his feet heels forward, so as to leave all the tracks pointing away from the house.

By and by he married and settled down on a small croft in the midst of a wide expanse of moorland, densely covered with broom and whins. Here he developed into an expert smuggler and poacher. Knowing the haunt of every bit of fur and feather, he always kept the pot boiling. Successive lairds and keepers winked at his delinquencies for the sake of his independent bearing and conversational charm. After they had hunted the moor with varying but generally indifferent success. Peter’s grand chance came. “They’ll not be back to-day again.” So an hour after their disappearance he would shoulder his gun and soon return with a fat hare or a brace of partridges. He seemed to know exactly where to find them, but he had no compunction about shooting a hare on her form or partidges on the ground.  TO a neighbour he was always generous in sharing his spoils of the chase, often bringing a pail of hare soup and handing it with a mysterious air to the guidwife to be hidden from the youngsters, as he whispered—“Mony ane can tell a tale wha canna lift a lid.” Standing in a very exposed situation, his house formed a convenient outlook for the appearance of the gaugers, and all Peter’s ingenuity was often exercised to outwit them. Once having a sack of malt hidden in the barn, and seeing the gauger coming, he commenced taking one of his small stacks into the barn, and when the gauger accosted him with—“Well, Peter, have you anything concealed to-day?”—he said—“Oh, ay, there’s a sack o’ maut aneath the mow there,” at the same time leisurely and unconcernedly carrying in and piling the sheaves on the top. So impressed was the gauger with his nonchalance that he thought Peter was only chaffing him, and left without further search. On another occasion, seeing the gauger coming. Peter hastily buried a eask in the kailyaird, and was busily engaged hoeing his kail when the exciseman arrived. In these exploits he was ably seconded by his wife, who was an apt pupil. IN the cosy fireside corned a most canningly concealed contrivance existed for fermenting the wort. This when in full operation made considerable noise, so once when in active use a surprise visit of the gauger nearly led to detection. Ut the goodwife smothered her motherly feelings, and so persitently pricked her young child—an infant in arms—with pins that his noisy squalls not only deafened the gauger but materially shortened his visit. At another time, seeing a suspicious horseman approachong, she hurriedly donned a huge cloak, fashonable in those days, and concealing a “greybeard” of whisky under each arm, she walked thorugh a narrow footpath amongst the whins, dropping the compromising kegs in the thickest bushes, only to find on reaching a neighbour’s house that the suspicious stranger was the doctor! Peter had no love for children, and used to prompt the older ones when tired rocking the cradle to drop a pinch of snuff in the eyes of the infants. The effect was magical.

Peter delighted in a little “cow-couping,” and was perhaps as honest and veracious as the majority of that class. He firmly believed in the existence of some inherent defect in every animal offered for sale. “They either puttit or ate claes!” Once taking a rather lean animal to market, he was accosted by a probable purchaser, “That’s a gey thin ane, Peter.” “For as thin’s she is ye canna see through her,” was his ready answer. “Oh, I mean she’s gey an’ peer.” “Though she’s puir she’s no gettin’ aff the parish yet,” he replied again. Poter’s brusque satire made him dreaded, if not covertly disliked by his compeers. Of a man with an erect carriage he would say, “Ay, there he goes, carrying his head as if he owned thousands. Perhaps so he does—though they’re live stack.” He was a veritable Munchinsen as to his hunting, shooting, and fishing adventures, claiming as his own various ancient exploits—such as killing three wild geese at one shot with the ramrod left in the gun. Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Old Peter, A Deeside Notable’ (29 December, 1888)”

‘Scottish Characters — Jock M’Cue’ (22 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century.

Private M’Cue, better known among his intimates as “Big Jock,” was a bit of a character in our regiment, from which he retired not so very long ago. By way of introduction, I shall relate a story of which Jock was the actual hero, which went the round of every Scotch regiment a few years ago, and eventually, I believe, found its way into print.

At the time the incident happened Jock was a recruit of a week’s standing in one of our Northern depots: and while in the hands of a drill sergeant on parade, he drew upon himself the notice of the Sergeant-Major by his inattention. The Sergeant-Major was a very little man, and coming up to Jock, who was looking about and did not see him, he seized him by the shoulder, turned him round to the front, and shoved his chin upwards till his gaze was fixed on the sky above. “Now, my man,” said he, “that is the position of a soldier; see that you keep it.” “And have I always to be like this,” sad innocent (?) Jock. “Yes.” “Weel, Sergeant-Major, I’ll bid ye guid-bye, for I’ll ne’er see ye again.”

During the few months Jock remained in the depot he proved a thorn in the side of his more immediate superiors by his assumption of stupidity and habit of getting drunk regularly every pay night. On one occasion when standing half-drunk by his berth at roll call, he was the recipient of a torrent of abuse from his pay sergeant, who wound up by asking Jock if he thought the non-commissioned officers of his company had nothing to do but look after him. “Weel, sergeant,” was the reply, “yer non-commissioned officers micht as weel be lookin’ after me as be n the puirshoose.” As the pay sergeant was known to have emerged from a charity school, and was besides universally unpopular the hit told, and Jock had more peace afterwards.

One afternoon Jock and some cronies having got half fou’ in the canteen, resolved to finish the spree in the adjoining village. They proceeded to leave barracks, but were met at the gate by a lady who took a great interest in the welfare of soldiers, and was much respected by them in consequence. Saluting her they attempted to pass on, but their evident hurry and disinclination to speak at once caused the lady to guess what was the matter, and hurry back after them with an invitation to tea at her house. She was well acquainted with all but Jock, and as she would not be put off, the whole party accompanied her to her residence, which was not far distant. At the door they were met by two young lady visitors, who, after seeing our friends settled down to their tea, prepared to enliven the meal by singing a hymn. While doing so one of our soldier friends, with the laudable desire of making the best of his position, quietly appropriated a large jar of jam which had been placed near him on the table, and began surreptitiously to sup it with a table (not tea) spoon. This was too much for Jock, who, after looking wistfully at the jam for a short time lost patience: and while the singing of the hymn was in full progress he seized a loaf near him, and flung it across the table at the offender’s face shouting, “For G—d’s sake, man, hae some decency afore folk.” Thereafter, in the language of the newspaper reporter, the meeting broke up in confusion.

After some months spent in the depot, Jock, with others, was sent to join his regiment in Egypt, and early brought himself under the notice of his officers. Jock had been taken to the orderly room as second evidence in a case of drunkenness, the prisoner being a crony of his own, and was asked if the man had been drunk when he was arrested. “Weel, sir, he had yill [beer],” was Jock’s reply. The Colonel was more French than Scotch, and had not the slightest idea what Jock meant. This was exactly what was intended by our hero. He was tried again, this time by the Adjutant, “Was the man drunk? Yes or no?” “Weel, I wadna like tae say the man was drunk, but there’s nae doot he had yill, sir; the man had yill.” After another attempt to get a precise answer, equally unavailing, Jock was dismissed as incorrigibly stupid. Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Jock M’Cue’ (22 December, 1888)”

‘Scottish Characters — Stronie Gordon, An Aberdeenshire Notable’ (15 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century. Here the focus is on an ‘astronomer’ named Robert Gordon from Fyvie in Aberdeenshire.

Among the many characters in humble life that were so common over the country a few years ago, and whose lives have not hitherto been written, none were better known in the North of Aberdeenshire than Robert Gordon, the wandering astronomer. In the parish of Fyvie and surrounding district, to which he mostly confined his wanderings, his simple, witty, and genial disposition always made him a welcome guest wherever he went. Gordon’s title of astronomer, or “Stronie,” as he was generally called, arose form his claiming to have full control of the elements, and any favour asked by Stronie was always to be repaid with suitable weather. Rain or sunshine, frost and snow, were all mixed up in Stronie’s wallet, and according to his statement you had only to mention what was wanted and he had full power to supply it. Of course his promises were very seldom fulfilled, a circumstance which often got him into trouble with his benefactors, but he generally contrived to bring himself out of the difficulty with flying colours. At the time I refer to he was rather past middle life, with no fixed place of abode, but simply wandered from place to place, always taking care to call about meal hours. During the summer season he would often lie for whole nights in the open air and talk to the stars, but his general resort was the farmer’s barn or other outhouse. Never could he be induced to sleep in a house with a fire in it or even the comforts of a bed. He had his regular place of lodging as he wandered through the country, and he claimed access to these more as a right than a privilege. One night the late Mr Maitland, of Balhaggardy, was showing him into the barn for the night, when Stronie, after making up a bed of straw for himself in a corner, lighted his pipe and was proceeding to lie down among the straw and take smoke, when the farmer called out, “Stonie, fat on earth dae ye mean lichtin’ yer pipe there? Ye’ll burn the hale toon. Man, ye serly dinna min’ whaur ye are?” “Ay, fine that; I’m just in my ain barn, Maister Maitlan’, an’ the suner ‘at ye shut the door frae the ootside the sunner I’ll win to sleep,” said Stronie with all the coolness imaginable.

He had a great love for spirits, and every opportunity of indulging in a drop of the mountain dew was eagerly taken advantage of by Stronie. One Fyvie market-day Stronie asked three farmers who were standing together, to give him a penny each to enable him to get a drop of the “cratur,” which, after a good deal of chaff, they consented to do, providing he in return would send them favourable weather for the harvest. This Stronie promised, and, taking the coppers, was just in the act of moving away when one of the farmers remarked that he might count himself lucky. Stronie turned round, and lifted his old tile hat, saying, “Thank you, boys; thank you. I suppose ye think ye’ve dune something gran’ to pairt wi’ a copper to an auld man; bit I’ll tell ye fat it is, I’ve gotten mair frae auld Laird Sangster for as muckle sunshine as gar a skape o’ bees cast nor ‘ve gotten frae a’ the three o’ ye for a hale hairst o’ dry weather. Hooever, I maun bid ye guid day in the meantime an’ a guid market to ye, an I’m sure gin thieves dinna ripe yer pouches yer ain han’s winna heirie ye.”

A few weeks after Stronie came as usual to the farm of Westertown to lodge for the night, and, as ill luck would have it, rain was falling in torrents, and harvest work for the time being was completely suspended. The farmer, who was one of the three he had met in the market, threatened to turn him out of doors, to find lodgings elsewhere, as he had failed to fulfil his bargain for dry weather.

“Hots, hoots, hastie man, dinna be ower hard on the puir auld astronomer,” said Stronie; “faith, I tell ye I’m hardly to blame this time. I had the cloods as weel tied up as ever I had a’ my life, bit thae rascals o’ herd loons lowst a’ my strings.” This had the desired effect, and Stronie was allowed to remain. Stronie one day entered the public house at Wartle known as the Drum Inn, and ordering half a gill of rum, drank it off, threw down the twopence on the counter, and was hurriedly turning to leave, when the innkeeper, Peter Rothnie, called him back, “Look here, Stronie, that winna dee; ye want a penny.” “Na, na, Peter, ye’re clean wrang this time,” said Stronie, “I think, gin ye look richt, its yersel’ ‘at wants the penny.” Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Stronie Gordon, An Aberdeenshire Notable’ (15 December, 1888)”

‘Scottish Characters — Gingerbread Robbie’ (8 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century. Here the focus is on a character from Kircaldy.

It has been remarked that in most towns and villages some one is known as the local “character.” The lang town of Kirkcaldy, in ye kingdom o’ Fife, in this respect is no exception. Within the last half-century it has known several Scottish celebrities in humble life, famous for their wit, humour, or other idiosyncrasies. From this number we select one, who was well known throughout the length and breadth of the land. Wherever the was a market, or fair, from John o’ Groats to Maidenkirk, there was he present, the leading personage to attract crowds of old and young, male and female. His nickname was “Gingerbread Robbie.” The incidents about to be recorded are real, and were seen and heard by the writer at the market or fair held in the Linktown of Kirkcaldy a few years ago. In this town the fair is held twice a year, on the third Friday of April and on the third Friday of October.

“Gingerbread Robbie” was a confectioner. He travelled about from fair to fair, and had a way all his own of disposing of his wares. He did not stand at a stall, like his brothers in trade, and supply customers who might patronise him with their custom. No. This slow process did not suit his lively, pushing temperament. He erected a sort of platform with his boxes and sold off his eatables in the auctioneering style. See Robbie, then, a stout-built, broad-chested, short-necked, smiling-faced little man, about five feet in height, standing on the top of his boxes, about to proceed to business. He takes up a large cake, and says—“Now, ye young lads and lassies, here’s something for you. This is a splendidly got up volume of Chambers’s Information for the People. Just look at it. It is beautifully bound, not in calf oh, no, but in bullock’s, blood and sawdust.” (Great roars of laughter from the vast crowd around him.) “Who says a shilling for’t? Nobody bids a shillin’! Then who says sixpence for’t, and that till’t?” (taking up a small cake of gingerbread and putting it on the top of the other.)

A young man from the country calls out, “Here, Robbie,” “I kent that lassie beside ye,” says Robbie, “would get to invest a sixpence on this concern. See how she’s laughin’. Now, gie her the whole o’t, mind that, and be sweet till her as ye gang hame the nicht, and ye’ll ne’er regret it. Gie her a bit smourik now an’ then, an’ ye an’ her will be as happy as twa doos in a dookit.” (Immense shouts of laughter from the vast multitude.)

Robbie takes up a package of sweets, and thus addresses the onlookers—“Now, friends, here’s a lairge bit o’ real loadstone. It’s attractive pooer is juist marvellous. It’s a fack. Just try it. If any young man just touches a bonnie lassie on the shouther wi’t she’s catch’d [illegible] shure’s a herrin’. Now, wha among ye a’ s[illegible] -een pence or a shillin’ for’t? I’m shure [illegible] -ear. Do ye think sae? Weel say n[illegible] a sixpence for’t, an’ a’ that tae[illegible] -n,” placin’ three or four cakes o’ [illegible] along side o’t. “Here,” cries a dandy-lookin’ chield, “here’s a saxpence, Robbie,” “Hae ye a bit lassie nae?” says Robbie. “Ay, hae I,” replies the youth, lauchin’. “I thocht that,” adds Robbie. “Then gie her that frae me,” handing him a nice piece of orange-peel cake. “Tell her that’s frae her auld sweetheart. Mind ye, she’s fond o’ the lads, so keep a sharp e’e on her. I’ve tell’t ye; for ‘deed I like her mysel’, she’s baith bonnie an’ guid.” Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Gingerbread Robbie’ (8 December, 1888)”

‘Scottish Characters — Johnnie A’thing’ (1 December, 1888)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century. Here the focus is on ‘Johnnie A’thing’, grocer of Perthshire.

In a combative little village something less than a day’s march from the Fair City there lived a few years ago a well-known worthy locally known as Johnnie A’thing; and by that name we will know him here. He was of an eccentric disposition, and had as much wit and humour at his disposal as kept the village in good humour from week’s end to week’s end, and many of his sayings and practical jokes have become public property.

John A’thing was a grocer and spirit-dealer, and his shop was one of the most remarkable medleys that was ever dignified by the name of grocery. He was wont to say himself that he “sell’t everything frae a needle to an anchor, an’ bocht onything frae laddie’s bools to cannon-balls.” Cheese, butter, ham and eggs, bottles of beer and sides of bacon, pots and pans, pencils, pens and pen-knives, girdles and gridirons, walking sticks and watches, fish and fishing rods, augers and axes, spades and shovels, and numerous other articles of the most incongruous description were piled up side by side in a confusion that seemed confounded to the untutored eye; but Johnnie himself knew what was what and what was where well enough to suit the purposes of his trade. His customers were always readily supplied with whatever they called for, unless when he couldna be fashed, which happened at times, and then he did not hesitate to bid the astonished would-be buyer to “gang yont the street a bittie, yont the street, yont the street; there’s naething worth o’ buyin’ here. Gae East the wey, East the wey; they maun keep a’thing guid whaur the wise men cam’ frae.”

But in spite o’ this at times unbusiness-like peculiarity of his, and mayhap because of it, he did a roaring trade for many a long year, and especially when the railway was making between Perth and Aberdeen, as the navvies came to him in scores to have a crack, a laugh, a snuff, and a dram over their purchases. His shop window, like the shop itself, was worth going miles to see, as the articles placed there for show were piled up a couple of feet deep, and could be counted by the thousand, pocket knives being predominant; and the boys of the village were never tired of pressing their little noses against the panes to feast their eyes upon the unattainable treasures, and discuss the relative merits of the different knives. But “everything comes to those who know how to wait,” saith the old saw, and this truth was exemplified one-never-to-be-forgotten day, to the satisfaction of all the boys around, by the window, over-burdened with its riches, falling into the street. In the twinkling of an eye, as if a telegraph message had gone round the village, all its rising generation were gathered around the spoil like wasps around a honeycomb. John took things coolly, and stood at the door tapping his snuff-box, looking upon the scene as if it were an every day occurrence. But his better-half being less of a philosopher than her lord and master was at once in the middle of the melee making her tongue and hands ring about the ears of the little wretches with Amazonian vigour. Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Johnnie A’thing’ (1 December, 1888)”

‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)

The following is the second article which discusses the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Further Revelations.

Second Article.

Men Huddled Together Like Beasts.

Conversing at Abernethy with a Tay fisherman of over 50 years’ experience, we were informed that the bothies on the Earn and on the Tay down to Newburgh were pretty much the same as those we had visited. He said the proprietors would not allow their dogs to bide in them, much less their horses. They should be ashamed to allow their men to reside in them while they were in such an uninhabitable condition. The men were just huddled together like beasts. He understood that not long ago Dr Niven, Newburgh, had been appointed to examine the lodges on the Mugdrum estate, while Dr Laing had been asked to perform a similar duty in regard to those on the Earn.

On the Glove fishing station six men are employed at present instead of seven as usual. In the bothy there are seven beds. There is a great lack of ventilation. Light is provided by a little window which does not open. Here, too, there is no water supply and the men are frightened to use the Tay water. There is a general want of repair throughout at this lodge.

The Hen is another station which belongs to the Rev. A. Fleming, and the tenant is Mr Dunn, Newburgh. The bothy measures fourteen feet by eleven feet, and has a sloping roof about five feet high at the walls, and rising to between six and seven feet in the centre. Its peculiarity is that the door is not in the sleeping apartment. Before entering it you have to pass through a storeroom. The sleeping-room is so small that, when its seven occupants are all in the floor, there is just about standing room. For want of sufficient accommodation, the men have to take their meals in detachments. The heat just now is so great, they say, that unless they fall asleep at once after going to bed they seldom sleep at all.

Change in Fishermen’s Habits.

In the course of a conversation with Mr Pitcaithly, Elcho Castle, one of the largest tacksmen on the Tay, and a fisherman of from 50 to 60 years’ experience, several interesting items of information were gleaned. He says that with a little pressure the proprietors are improving the lodges year by year, but that much yet remains to be done. A sanitary officer has been in the district recently, and as a result of his visit there has been more whitewashing than usual. Some 30 or 40 years ago the fishings were leased by fewer tacksmen, and the bothies, many of which were never intended as permanent residences, were used principally by the men during working hours for cooking purposes only. In those days, he added, the cooking was not extensive, brose and porridge being the principal articles of diet. Now a days these are little appreciated, and in their place large quantities of tea and coffee and butcher meat are used. At that time the wages averaged 8s 6d to 9s; now the average pay is from 18s to 20s a week, some of the men having boot money in addition. When the fishings were broken up and the different stations belonging to one proprietor let separately, the men began to reside more in the bothies. Under the present system many more men are employed now than formerly. For example, on Seggieden there are at present twenty men whereas 30 or 40 years ago there were only five or six. While the bothies in many cases are very far from what they should be both as to accommodation and sanitation, he thinks the men might with a little trouble make themselves much more comfortable by being a little more cleanly in their habits. They never opened a window, and shovelled on coals on the fire till the place was like an oven. Contrasting the state of the lodges now with their condition in his younger days, he said that he recollected of a tent being erected with the bed sheets inside the wooden hut on the Hen station to prevent the snow getting in. He question whether the men were better off now than they were when thye had lower wages. In too many cases it all went on meat and drink. A great alteration for the better had been made by the passing of the Forbes M’Kenzie Act, for there were not nearly so many men that came drunk on the Sunday nights as formerly. Last year the Town of Perth renovated a number of their bothies. In Millhurst and Incherrat new beds were fitted up, the floors were laid with concrete, and the walls were whitewashed. The lodge on Seggieden, although not one of the best, has one privilege which a large number of the others want—that is a capital supply of excellent water. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)”

‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)

The following is the first of two articles which discuss the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Disgraceful State of Matters.

First Article.

The saying that property has duties as well as rights declares a principle which, in the latter end of this nineteenth century, is likely to be driven home to some purpose. Well had it been for property, and well, too, for the common weal of the kingdom, had this plain but important precept been more put into practice since it first became a watchword of political progress—since the time when Thomas Drummond, as Under Secretary for Ireland, applied the words in condemnation of the unreasoning rapacity of the landlords in 1839. Much has been done at variance with this rule, but signs are not awanting that change is imminent. Sharp work will be made with many sacred and cherished rights of property, which too frequently represent wrongs of the people; and amongst these the sacred right to maintain human rookeries will certainly receive but short shrift.

A New Species of Piggery.

One way or another the public are fairly alive to the miseries of the hovel in city and the miseries of the bothy in rural life, but to the riparian proprietors of the Tay belongs the credit of creating a new species of piggery to which the attention of the public may usefully be turned. At the instance of this newspaper a voyage of inspection was made last week among the lodges which stud the backs of the Tay between Perth and Dundee. Of these hovels—for by no other name can many of the wretched structures be more fitly described—there are over a hundred, and more than thirty were made the subject of personal inspection, while enquiry concerning the conditions of their lives when at work was made among the fishermen at various other points along the course of the river. The result in brief is the revelation of a state of things hitherto unsuspected, and which, as more particularly set forth below, proves that beyond all doubt a portion at least of the “property” of Perthshire is inattentive to its duties in a degree which decidedly constitutes a public scandal. For seven months of the year, from the beginning of February till towards the end of August, a period embracing the extremes of cold in winter and heat in summer, some hundreds of men are lodged in rickety buildings, which at the best could only be considered as a better sort of pig-stye—so constructed, so dilapidated and dirty, so utterly devoid of all comfort and convenience, that no person, let alone a laird with the amour propre peculiar to his class, would think of devoting them to the accommodation of a dog or a horse in which be took ordinary interest.

One Small Room for Seven Men.

With few exceptions these lodges consist of one small room, which in the average case has to accommodate from five to seven able-bodied men. In combination with the disagreeable nature of their work, the plight of these men is truly such that one is inclined to think that surely the salmon fishers of the Tay touch bottom rock n their experience of material discomfort. Wet, tired, and weary, they are forced to spend the period of rest and largely of leisure in a small and stuffy apartment, one hour in which to an ordinary mortal is almost enough to neutralise the benefit derived form a day in the open air. At once kitchen, dining-room, and dormitory, these hovels present to the eye of the stranger a scene of dirt and confusion of which no real conception is possible apart from personal experience. In very few is any provision made for ventilation, and the majority have only one small window nailed down to the sash. In each case the greater part of the space is devoted to wooden boxes divided by boards into sleeping bunks. In some of these beds hay and straw are used for bedding like common litter, and though a mattress was not unfrequently to be seen, the conditions under which life was necessarily led in the majority of cases obviously forbade the introduction of good material into such dens.

Uncouth and Unclean.

To some extent it may indeed be considered a necessity of the case, or at least an almost unavoidable feature, that the interior of these lodges should present an uncouth and far from comely or clean appearance. The bulk of the men employed at the salmon fishing are not and indeed can hardly afford to be, very finical in their ideas of what constitute comfort while actively employed employed on the river. But located as they now are, comfort if it exists at all has reached the irreducible minimum, and an apathetic regard to the ordinary decencies of life is a natural outcome of this circumstance. No doubt part of the want of tidiness apparent is attributable to the carelessness of the men themselves. In many cases the bothies would be dirty however arranged or constructed, and whatever the facilities for keeping them clean.

Rats and Vermin.

But as things now are, men desirous of having order and cleanliness around them are disheartened by the abominable nature of their environment. In no case was a table or chair to be seen in the bothy, for the good and sufficient reason that in most of them there was no room where such could possibly have been set. Rats and other vermin abound; water for drinking and cooking has frequently to be carried great distances; and very often the atmosphere of the apartment is rendered insufferably foetid with the steam and smoke from wet clothing set out to dry before large fires put on for the purpose. Under such conditions it is only natural to find straw strewn about, a mountain of ashes piled up in the fireplace, lumps of coal and miscellaneous rubbish scattered all over the floor, and little hillocks of rubbish, composed of egg shells, tin boxes, and other material, defending the approach to the lodge from every direction. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)”