‘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)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Foundry Lane (29 December, 1888)

The following is one of several articles on the poorest areas of Dundee which were published in ‘The Peoples Journal’ from the end of 1888. The area around Foundry Lane is the focus of this article.

The purpose of the journalist was to reveal the terrible problems facing those living in the slums (“rookeries”) of Dundee and is spelled out in the introduction to the first article in the series:

It is my purpose to direct attention to both classes of insanitary buildings—the old and the new—and to describe from personal inspection the hovels and “rookeries” of this city. The evil has grown so rampant that the Police Commissioners, on the repeated suggestions of the Medical Officer of Health, have at length begun to move in this matter, and my object is to assist them as far as possible in their investigations. In the course of these inquiries, I shall be able to reveal a side of social life and its environments the existence of which is little suspected by a great many people resident in Dundee.

Foundry Lane has long been known as a notorious locality, and out of it a large number of our jail birds have come. The Seagate at its Eastern extremity divides itself into two narrow thoroughfares—the Northern being the Blackscroft and the Southern Foundry Lane. Betwixt these two streets, especially towards Peep o’ Day Lane, some of the most wretched dwellings in Dundee are to be found. The entrance to Foundry Lane is about 18 feet in width, but between 60 or 70 yards Eastward it narrows till the roadway, including the selvage of pavement, is only 10 feet wide. At this point the Southern line for a considerable distance is an irregular wall, formerly the elevation of dwelling-houses, the openings of which have been filled with brick so as to form a continuous wall—the Northern boundary of Messrs Gourlay Brothers’ foundry. After passing the foundry the Lane opens out into a decent thoroughfare, with width sufficient for two carriages to pass. The buildings on either side are rather irregular but seem to be fairly habitable, many of the houses being occupied by railway employees and labourers at the Harbour. It is not till one ransacks the closes leading from the Lane that the absolute insanitary condition of the locality becomes apparent.

The “Lower Craft.” as the name implies, is below Blackscroft. It is an irregular range of hovels about equi-distant from and running parallel with the buildings facing Blackscroft and Foundry Lane, and extending from Rattray’s Close on the West to Blackscroft School on the Fast. The “Lower Craft” is indicated by the figures in our sketch. Some of the houses are thatched which of itself suggests their ancient origins; others are more or less covered with slates, grey and blue. The whole are dirty, ill-kept, and unwholesome dwellings and the surroundings are in keeping. The landlords and factors—reputable citizens, I understand—seem to have only one object in view—viz., to get as much revenue out of the property as possible, caring neither for the health nor the comfort of the tenants. No one who has visited the place could but say that the tenants might make the place more clean and sweet, but it is evident that the people have made up their minds that it is useless on their part to try and improve a ruin.

A Late Breakfast.

Entering by Ramsay’s close and turning round the corner of a rather respectable-looking brick tenement I came upon the buildings which I wish to describe. A stone staircase in a very dilapidated condition led to the houses on the first flat. The steps of the stair were very much worn, and the railing seems to require very little force to send it to the area below. The landing, which at one time appears to have been a solid piece of pavement, was in fragments, and these were clamped together by pieces of iron. On entering the building I found that a passage led to two miserable houses, one on each side of the doorway. Turning to the left, I entered with some difficulty a most miserable abode. To all appearance the house consisted of one room, in which were two beds, one of them in a recess, with very little else that could be called furniture. Close to the fireplace sat a meagrely clad woman, who, as she stated, was taking her breakfast, the meal consisting of a jug of tea, a plateful of butcher’s parings, and a slice of bread. Beside her was a bright-eyed little girl, who with her fingers was assisting herself to some of the beef. Three cats were scampering about the floor, and one of them, evidently wishing to participate in the savoury meal, jumped on the back of its mistress and sat there. The room was exceedingly dirty, and the beds were destitute of mattresses and curtains. Th flooring gave way to an alarming extent, and each step I took I fancied I was to go through the boards. A beam which ran along the centre of the roof seemed to sustain a great weight from above, as it was bent in the centre, measuring from the lower point to the floor 5 feet 9 inches. Close to the fireplace was a door, which the woman stated was the entrance to the “coal cellar.” There certainly were coals in the place, but it also seems a temporary receptacle for the refuse of the household, and when the door was opened an overpowering stench issued into the living room of the family. For the privilege of staying in such a bunk I learned that the family had to pay 1s 10d a week. The house at the opposite end of the lobby was of the same description, but not nearly so dirty. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Foundry Lane (29 December, 1888)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Hawkhill (22 December, 1888)

The following is one of several articles on the poorest areas of Dundee which were published in ‘The Peoples Journal’ from the end of 1888. The area around Hawkhill is the focus of this article.

The purpose of the journalist was to reveal the terrible problems facing those living in the slums (“rookeries”) of Dundee and is spelled out in the introduction to the first article in the series:

It is my purpose to direct attention to both classes of insanitary buildings—the old and the new—and to describe from personal inspection the hovels and “rookeries” of this city. The evil has grown so rampant that the Police Commissioners, on the repeated suggestions of the Medical Officer of Health, have at length begun to move in this matter, and my object is to assist them as far as possible in their investigations. In the course of these inquiries, I shall be able to reveal a side of social life and its environments the existence of which is little suspected by a great many people resident in Dundee.

The locality in the Hawkhill district, Dundee, known as “The Blue Mountains” is anything but delectable. How the district should have been so named is a mystery to me, except that the appellation was used as a term of reproach. There are no characteristics of a mountain about the place, except that the houses are built on a rising ground. Nor does the visitor experience the pure, invigorating air of the mountains. On the contrary, no sooner does he approach the locality than he is disgusted with what he sees, and sorely oppressed with the vitiated atmosphere which floats around and within the pends leading to the place. “The Blue Mountains” forms a very old district in modern Dundee. It could scarcely have existed at the time when the Laird of Blackness could see from the East windows of his residence what was going on at the West Port. Still it is an ancient locality, and has evidently been built when capitalists had more regard for their pockets than for the health of those who occupied their tenements. “The Blue Mountains” is bounded on the East by Johnston’s Lane, on the South by Hawkhill, on the North by Scouringburn, and extends Westward to a line running from Whitten’s Pend on the South to Scouringburn on the North. The space covered is a sort of gusset, as shown on the above sketch. There are three entrances to this slum—one from Barron’s Court, off Johnston’s Lane; another from Munro’s Pend, Scouringburn; and the third by Whitton’s Pend, Hawkhill.

Barron’s Court

is a dirty, dingy, and forbidding enclosure. The houses surrounding the open space are dilapidated and ruinous in appearance. On the North side of the Court the houses are reached by a spiral stone stair, but the platforms are of timber; and from the appearance of the iron railing of the lowermost platform it would seem to have served another purpose before it was transferred to the court. The railing is coped with a piece of wood which would be a discredit to a cattle court. The occupants of the upper flat have nothing to keep them from falling into the court below but a rickety wooden railing, which is not extra strong. There fearful and wonderful platforms are supported by a wooden “upright” or support, which is very much the worse of wear. Most supports taper towards the top, but in this care the order of things is reversed, and the thin end of the upright as at the bottom. It seems to have served as a “rubbing-post” for adults and a pillar on which the youths of the past generations have tried the edges of their knives when they had them. At any rate there is scarcely three inches of the plank left, and should it give way when the inhabitants are out taking the air the results might be of a serious nature.

On the South side of Barron’s Court there is a second staircase leading to wretched dens, which look into this court and also to Johnston’s Lane. The staircase is a square building, but the stair itself is spiral. It is lighted by a square hole, which might at one time have been a window, but now the upper sash (without glass) is the only part of it left, the lower portion being closed up with boards. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Hawkhill (22 December, 1888)”