Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 1 (December and January 1891-1892)

In ‘The People’s Journal’ for the 5th December 1891, an article was publish reporting on a plan to merge the Queen’s Own Cameron (79th) Highlanders with the Scots Guards and in consequence replace their kilts with breeks. The exploits of the Highland Regiments of the British Army had become one of the most important outlets for Scottish national pride. The thin red line at Balaclava, Waterloo and many other world famous battles amplified the image of Scots as a warrior people, and it was the kilted regiments portrayed in paintings and verse which made them distinct from the other nations of the British isles (especially the English). This potential de-kilting of the Cameron Highlanders also came at a time when modern Scottish nationalism was being born as calls for Home Rule intensified. All this made the proposal to remove the kilt, this great symbol of Scottish prestige, a contentious issue with readers. The paper received months worth of correspondence, some tongue-in-cheek, others apparently with a surprising amount of vitriol. The arguments for and against the kilt presented by readers gives a brilliant insight into how late 19th century Scots saw themselves, or at least how they hoped Scotland was viewed internationally.

5th December 1891

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and the Tartan. A Protest.

[By a Special Correspondent.]

Again the War Office is ruffling the temper of the Camerons. It is proposed to link the old 79th to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt! “The bodies wi’ the breeks” was a satirical impromptu played by Glenorchy’s piper, Findlay M’Ivor, at the battle of Altimarlach, by which he expressed the kilted Argyllshire men’s contempt for the trousers men of Caithness. And now the War Office, in the face of all tradition, experience, sound advice, and right feeling, proposes to reduce one of the most distinguished of our kilted regiments to the ignominious position of being were “bodies wi’ the breeks!” Will the Camerons tamely submit to the change if t is attempted to be forced upon them? We should hardly think so. Ought they to do so? Certainly not. Far be it from us to say a word against the gallant corps—the Scots Guards—to which it is proposed they should be linked, but the step would mean a humbling of justifiable Highland pride, a suppression of a glorious individuality, and a disregard for traditions that have inspired to victory on many a red-dyed field. It is time the country raised its voice against this wanton pottering and tinkering on the part of the War Office. It is good neither for the country nor the army. The complaint is raised that recruiting is going down. Little wonder. For a dozen men, in the Highlands at least, who would willingly range themselves under the colours of the 79th, there are probably not two who would become members of a corps vaguely described as the “Third Battalion of the Scots Guards.” …



12th December 1891

Kilts or Breeks?

Sir,—Will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper? I am sorry to read in the People’s Journal of the 5th inst. That it is proposed to link the old gallant 79th Highlanders to the Scots Guards, and to abolish the kilt. Surely never! The Commander-in-Chief had better think twice before he attempts to commit such a rash act. If he does abolish the kilt, he will ruffle the temper of all true-hearted Highlanders. It is a true saying that

Satan finds some mischief still

For idle hands to do,

and certainly it will be a daring mischief to begin tinkering and pottering with Highland regiments. The fact of the matter is the English don’t know what to scheme to over-ride everything Scotch. Were it not for the Highlanders Scotland would have been unheard of at Waterloo, Corunna, or Balaclava, as at Trafalgar or Aboukir. There were Lowland regiments at these battles, but John Bull has pocketed all the glory for them. The 79th Highlanders is the most national of all the Highland regiments. Wake up, Cameron men! Don’t be trampled on in this way.—I am, &c.,

An Old 79ther. Barnet, Herts, 1891.


2nd January 1892

The Kilt Denounced.

Sir,—I am surprised that any of your intelligent correspondents should be so far left to themselves as to say anything in favour of that trashy thing they call a kilty dress. All honour to our brave and heroic men who have rendered so much valuable service to Queen and country, but what on earth hae this contemptible thing got to do with it? Nothing more than my granny’s petticoats. Indeed, to me the kilt is well worthy the name of any asylum deserter, or some simpleton who has got a piece of tomfoolery to perform at a puppet show; no doubt the silly kilt might add to the fun considerably. But worse still when we see an old fool strutting along our streets exhibiting his rheumatic knees. We wonder whether he is compos mentis or not. Awake, ye mothers, wives, and sisters, and help us to get this weak-minded rag of a thing banished from the face of the earth, and you will greatly oblige



9th January 1892

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—I reply to the letter which appeared in your last issue denouncing the kilt, will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper for these few words in defence of the garb of Old Gaul? The kilt is and was the Highlander’s dress in the North of Scotland until a number of years back. But now I see it condemned by “Hersel’” just as if it was an old useless hencoop lying on a dung heap. He, or she, never saw a right kilt on a fool. His uniform would look more like a woman’s petticoat than a kilt. The noblest dress a person can put on is the kilt, or the Highlander’s dress. Who, then, is the kilt’s enemy? Is it the trousers? No. Is it the breeches? No. Who is it then? He who does not know anything about a kilt or its style.—I am, &c.,

Geo. M’Phee. Bridgepark, Muir of Ord, 2nd Jan. 1892.


16 January 1892

Kilt v. Breeks.

The Kilt Defended.

Sir,—“Hersel’” must be a right down ignoramus, and surely knows nothing about the kilt dress, or else he would be aware of the fact that when the legs are bare from infancy and exposed to all kinds of weather their muscles are developed and hardened; and moreover, in consequence of the lower part of the body being exposed the whole body is better able to withstand the cold and the inclemency of the weather than one whose trunk and muscles have been wrapped from his childhood in perhaps 2 ins. thick  of the stuff which “Hersel’” grannie’s petticoats were made of. If “Hersel’” is an Englishman, I do not wonder at him calling the kilt a trashy thing, for the simple reason, many of his forefathers quaked on seeing 4 ins. square of the tartan kilt. And if he is a Scot, which I hope he is not, I am bewildered at the insulting tone of his epistle, and would earnestly request him to keep within the shade of his grannie’s petticoats, of which, I have no doubt, he knows more than of the good old Highland garb, which I and every true Scotsman should wear with pride.—I am, &c.,

J. T. Henderson.


Sir,—In the last week’s Journal “Hersel’” has exploded with hatred to the kilt. Such rotten ideas will, I fancy, not get much support North of the Tweed. It is impossible to tell from the signature whether “Hersel’” is a male or a female or a hermaphrodite; but one thing apparent to all your readers is that “Hersel’” has spindle shanks or “scabbit” knees, or some other physical defect which “Hersel’” wishes to hide inside her “trooser.” “Facts are chiels that winna ding,” and one fact is that rheumatic knees is an unknown complaint among habitual wearers of the kilt. “Hersel’” is either joking or is greatly mortified at not being a good model for the kilt. The fable of “The fox and the grapes” can be aplied to this case especially well, I think.—I am, &c.,

Callum Brogach. Kildonan, Sutherland. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 1 (December and January 1891-1892)”

‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)

This was one of a series of portraits of significant local figures that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1891. While this was not a competition winner, prize of one guinea was given to the best profile of a “well known man”. There are some lovely details about the Tay Ferries here, particularly that after eight o’clock those wanting to cross the river could hire out a small bout for 6s 9d.

There is nobody in Newport better known or more highly respected than Mr John Jackson, who for so many years has had charge of the parcel delivery work in connection with the Tay Ferries. Born in Dundee in 1820, Mr Jackson came to Newport at the age of ten, so that for the long period of sixty-one years he has been a resident in the beautiful suburb on the Southern shores of the Tay. He is almost the oldest inhabitant, there being only two others who can dispute the claim with him—Miss Gibb and Mr Robert Just. Mr Jackson’s father, Charles Jackson, carried on the business of a shoemaker in Dundee and Newport. He was a staunch Baptist, and for forty years, with unfailing regularity, he attended the Baptist Church at Tayport.

Newport Sixty Years Ago.

Sixty years ago, when Mr Jackson first came to Newport, there were no churches, no shops, no schools, and no resident medical man. At that time communication with the South was by stagecoach, and the delivery of parcels coming by coach was attended to by Mrs Brand, whose storehouse for articles arriving by coach, and also for bales of flax from Dundee by the ferry steamer, was the building opposite the pier now partly occupied by the Mission Hall. Mr Jackson entered the service of Mrs Brand, and was for some time engaged in delivering parcels on a hand-barrow. The last boat for Dundee left at eight o’clock, and those who wanted to cross the river after that hour had to hire the cutter, which was managed by four men, of whom Mr Jackson was one. The charge for a single trip was 6s 9d, and Mr Jackson has sometimes made as many as three trips in one evening. In due time Mr Jackson was promoted to the post of Piermaster, and at the same time looking after the delivery of parcels, a duty which he has always discharged with punctuality and despatch. When the daily newspapers were started in Dundee he undertook their distribution in Newport, and all those who have had dealings with him will testify that his branch of his business also has been attended to with unfailing regularity. The punctual appearance of the Dundee Advertiser on Newport breakfast tables every morning for so many years has been largely due to the efforts of Mr Jackson.

The Tay Ferries.

Mr Jackson has seen many changes in the Tay Ferries. When he first entered the service the Ferries were under the charge of the commissioners of Woods and Forests, and the boat on the passage was the Princess Royal, a twinsteamer, with a single paddle in the centre. The Princess Royal had a very large deck for goods, and could carry eight or nine hundred passengers, but she had no saloon; and when a saloon was added her engines were found to be too light for the extra weight, and she was discarded in favour of the Fifeshire. Afterwards the Forfarshire came upon the passage, and then the Dundee. The Newport Pier and the sea wall to the East were built in 1821-22. By and by the Ferries passed into the hands of the Scottish Central Railway, then into those of the Caledonian Railway, and finally they were taken over by the Dundee Harbour Commissioners, and placed under the charge of a Committee, of which the first Convener was the late Mr Harry Walker. Mr Jackson has served under six Superintendents—Captain Scott; Messrs John Leitch, Morrison, Cookston, Ritchie, and Captain Methven. Among those who have commanded the steamers in his day were Captains James Duncan, David Milne, and John Edwards. Another old Ferry hand is David Davidson, who, like Mr Jackson, was in the service of Mrs Brand. Mr Milne, the Newport Piermaster, has been twenty years in the Ferry service. Continue reading “‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)”

‘Lord Tam’s Wife: A Penicuik Story’ by James L. Black (18 July, 1891)

This story by James L. Black of 35 Concrete Buildings, Penicuik, netted a prize of one guinea by winning ‘The People’s Journal’ local story competition.

“Man, Andrew, you that’s been born and brocht up here aboot, can ye gie me the richt meaning o’ the saying ‘As braw as Lord Tam’s wife?’”

“Ay, brawly that, she wis a great lady, heiress o’ hundreds and thousands, and guidness kens what a’ besides. My faither wis at Howgate Schule wi’ Lord Tam, and mony a time I’ve heard the auld folk tell the story.”

“But whaur did she come frae, and whaur did she get the siller?”

“Hooly, hooly, Jamie, ca’ cannie and I’ll gie ye the haill shots o’t.” Andrew then told the story as follows:—

Ye maun understand Lord Tam’s faither farmed Wast Haugh ower in the muirs there. The place is doon noo, but ye can see some o’ the ruins and the auld hedge that grew roond the steadin’, but the land is divided. Some gangs with Kingside Edge Farm and some to Fa’ Hills; but in Lord Tam’s time they keepit a fell guid stock o’ beast and a pair o’ horse.

Weel, Eppie Paton, Lord Tam’s mither, ye ken, wis as grippie a woman as ye wid hae met wi’ in a day’s journey, slaving and toiling frae morning tae night, keeping puir auld Rob and the callant working three men’s work onywey. And even in the haytime and harvest time when the diel’s buckie o’ a crater wid hae breeked her coats and wrocht wi’ the scythe or forked and bund [?] till she wis hardly able to gang aff the field.

And what wis a’ this for, think ye, but to mak’ their muckle sumph o’ a son a gentleman. “Tam,” for he wisnae ca’ed “Lord” at this time, wis kept at the schule till he was man muckle, and then sent into the toon to be a clerk. Hech, howie, afore the twelve months were oot he wis hame tae Wast Haugh again. Effie said his health couldnae staund the confinement; but a’body kent Tam wis hame because Tam wis nae use awa’ frae hame. And dae ye think he wis noo putten atween the stilts o’ a ploo and gaured work for his brose? Na, na; my fine gentleman walked aboot as croose as ye like wi’ his braw toon’s claes, and Effie and Rob worked harder than ever.

But noo I’m gaun to tell ye aboot Lord Tam’s wife. He wisnae lang hame frae Edinburgh when Eppie turned no weel, and Rob had to hire a servant; but deil a ane wid bide ower a week or sae—they couldnae stand Eppie’s tongue. Hooever, at the back end o’ hairst Rob managed to engage a lassie wha had been working at Auchindenny Mill, and for a while things got on better. Nelly Baxter they ca’ed the cummer; and my certy she wis a game yin—never tired, but aye workin’ and workin’, till even Eppie wis in love wi’ her and took the lassie into her confidence, telling her a’ the grand things she was gaun to dae for Tam, and hoo rich he wid be, and hoo clever he wis, and it wis Tam this, and Tam that. Weel, Nelly sune saw hoo the land lay, and got into the crack o’ the whip, and began to sing Tam’s praises as loud as Eppie hersel’. Continue reading “‘Lord Tam’s Wife: A Penicuik Story’ by James L. Black (18 July, 1891)”

‘The Standing Stone of Achorachan; A Glenlivet Tradition’ by Avon. (25 July, 1891)

The following tale won its author the prize of one guinea from ‘The People’s Journal’ for the best local story. On OS Maps the grid reference for the standing stone is NJ 20965 27764, across the River Livet from the Glenlivet distillery and by the farm of Auchorachan. Pleasingly, the standing stone can still be seen atop the brae.

By the main road through Glenlivet from Ballindalloch Station of the Speyside Railway to the village of Tomintoul, the capital of the Banffshire Highlands, the distance is fifteen miles and a half. Between these two places a conveyance runs to and fro daily. The scenery of the Avon (locally A’an) and the Livet is very pretty; the air of the district is pure and bracing, and the number of visitors to Tomintoul (the Square of which is 1100 feet above sea level), is increasing year by year.

If the traveller through Glenlivet will pause a few minutes in his journey nearly opposite the farm of Achorachan at the eighth milestone from Ballindalloch and look Northward down the valley I shall have pleasure in pointing out an object, and in narrating a tradition regarding it. Turning half round to the right, the object to which I would especially direct your attention is that upright stone on the face of the brae, in the middle of what is at present a field of turnips. It is about 200 yards from the road, stands about 6 feet out of the ground, and is apparently composed of grey slate. If that stone could speak, it could no doubt tell many a strange tale of earthly change and vicissitude. As it cannot speak, however, in articulate language, I propose to speak for it, and to rehearse the last remarkable incident in its long and eventful history. The tradition is still quite fresh in the district, and is often referred to, especially by the older folks.

Sixty or seventy years ago the farm of Achorachan was tenanted by a certain Captain Grant, a retired military gentleman. Though a native of Glenlivet, he had spent a good many years abroad, and had seen hard service in those dire campaigns of which Napoleon was the moving spirit. As a military officer he had been accustomed to be obeyed, and like many others, civilian as well as military, he liked to have his own way. Continue reading “‘The Standing Stone of Achorachan; A Glenlivet Tradition’ by Avon. (25 July, 1891)”