Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 6 (June and July 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.

4th June 1892

Kilts v. Breeks.

We have as much matter in type on this “Kilts v. Breeks” controversy as we shall be able to publish for two or three weeks to come, and the “cry is still they come.” Anything further that may come to hand will have to be disposed of in the briefest way possible, as there are other questions of vastly more importance than the mode of covering a Highlandman’s legs that have for a long while been waiting for discussion.

Cease Fire!

            Admirers of the kilt, “Cease fire,”

Throw up the sponge, an’ then expire;

Our very patience now you tire

About your kilt.

Breeks are a dress for every nation,

For men of every clime and station,

They suit our every occupation—

Not so the kilt.

See kilty in a gale of wind.

With tartans flying far behind;

His thin, sharp knees sae hack’d an’ sore,

And you’ll not want it any more—

The tartan kilt.

Hiram Meek. New Deer.

 

What the Kilties Have Done.

Sir,—The controversy on the above very interesting subject still rages in your much esteemed paper, and it must be admitted that a great deal of spite and ill-feeling have been bandied about. The upholders of the kilt have allowed their patriotism to run away with their common sense, as they have uttered much that, to put it mildly, would have been better left alone. But although some of them have erred, it is left to the breek champions to “take the cake” for foolishness and inaccuracy. Take for instance “Tom Brown,” who boldly asserts that the Saxon race “have always been far ahead of the Celt in civilisation, literature, and art.” Well, Mr Tom Brown & Co., please tell us why, if we were such barbarians,

The Immaculate Southron

came to Scotland to look for a king? Does he know that Scott, Burns, Blackie, and Byron are probably more read than any other authors he can put forward? He may object to Byron being claimed as Scotch, but he was by descent and sentiment a thorough Scotsman. I needn’t take up space naming famous Scotch artists, in every way at least equal to any of his much-boasted Saxons. Tom Brown also draws attention to

Flodden and Culloden;

but I think it won’t be a difficult matter to “knock holes” in the contention that they in any way minimise Bannockburn, for “Tom Brown” must bear in mind that at Flodden the English army was superior in both numbers and discipline, while the Scottish King made the terribly foolish mistake of allowing the English time to get on at least equal terms with him. Had Bruce or Wallace been there, the “Sassenach” would have sung another tune. As it was, the Scots kept their ground until night. That is more than can be said regarding the English at Bannockburn. “Common Sense,” too, tells us that he “read with great amusement, &c.” Well, all I’ve got to say is there is mighty little amusement or common sense either in his effusion, and it would be well if he would take the advice he so thoughtfully gives to “Highlander,” viz., make himself more acquainted with the history of our country. Does he know anything about the war we had with France in Egypt? Does he not know that it was our

Gallant Black Watch

that saved the day at the Battle of the Pyramids, as they entirely annihilated the French cavalry, who were doing terrible mischief? He won’t know, perhaps, that the 42d, when receiving the cavalry, opened their ranks and allowed the cavalry to ride through them, and then bayoneted them almost to a man. The “gay Gordons” weren’t idle either the same day. Again, I would draw “Common Sense’s” attention to the Crimea. At the Alma, after the most of the English troops had endeavoured to storm the heights, and even the immaculate Household troops were unable to get up, Lord Raglan, as a forlorn hope, sent orders to

Our Grand Sir Colin

to advance his brigade and see what he could do. That sublime charge, probably never equalled, was performed as steadily as if on parade. The first of the brigade to cross was the superb 42d, who only halted for a moment to “dress,” and then they advanced where others had failed, and—to quote Mr James Cromb—”it was this single Highland regiment against the field.” I think it is a pity that Sir Colin didn’t do as he at first intended—that is, to use a company or two of the 42d to save their own flank. I am certain they could have done it; but Sir Colin, with a true soldier’s eye, saw a better, or at least safer, plan, and interposed the brave Sutherland lads, who were advancing to the rear of the 42d and to the left. But why continue? Let “Common Sense” peruse Mr Cromb’s book, and he will gain some very valuable information. Let us just look for a moment at

The Indian Mutiny,

and see what the kilt did there. The gallant 78th fought the whole time in their Highland dress, and, as is well known, gained for themselves the proudest title in the British Army, the “saviours of India.” Havelock, although an Englishman, had the greatest confidence in their powers, and never was his trust betrayed. During the Mutiny, too, did the Black Watch, although suffering from cholera, march the enormous distance of 87 miles in three days? And yet we hear of doing away with the uniform that was worn by such men! In conclusion, let me say to

The Opponents of the Kilt

that should it ever come to pass that a Government was mad enough to order the disuse of the kilt, they had better take away the names too, for what would a Highlander be without his kilt?

Stand fast by your tartan, lads,

And let the nation know

That still beneath the Highland plaid,

True Scottish blood doth flow.

Rise for your rights and let them know

The garb our fathers wore

Is dear to every Scottish heart

Within our rock-bound shore.

That written a few years ago by Mr A. Dann, of Edinburgh, strikes the keynotes of all leal Scottish hearts.—I am, &c.,

Black Watch. Langholm.

 

Scotch Egotism Reproved.

Sir,—I am afraid “J. T. H.” had been indulging in Scotch whisky hot before he wrote in defence of the kilt and the superiority of Scotchmen. He asks who would have the presumption to even breathe that an Englishman was equal to a Scotchman? I have mixed a good deal among Englishmen, and I can honestly say that they are equally as good as Scotchmen—in some respects better. For one thing, they lack that spirit of egotism that a large number of my brother Scots seem to possess, and I am sure every unprejudiced Scotchman will agree with me on that point. The persistency with which some of your correspondents claim all the honour for Scotchmen of deeds done by Highland regiments is absurd, when it is a well-known fact that they are largely composed of Englishmen and Irishmen.—I am, &c.,

Fairplay. Newcastle-on-Tyne.

 

“Hersel’” & Co. Receive a Clamehewit.

Sir,—If low slang and scurrilous language constitutes a good writer, the calumniators of the kilt have not their equals outsides of Billingsgate. If we dare to defend ourselves when they attack us with their foulest venom and their keenest fangs, they call us turbulent, bombastic, and prideful, and style our garb the habiliment of the savage and the cattle lifter. Highlanders are a peaceable and law-abiding people, and only administer chastisement when a few benighted scribes and would-be critics become senseless, churlish, and intolerant. If Highlanders were to allow ciphers like “Hersel’” and his effeminate backers to assail their garb and character with impunity they would be unworthy of their ancestors who defied the Romans to bring Caledonia under their degrading subjection the same as they brought the rest of Britain. They would also be unworthy of the names of the men who upheld the honour of the Highlanders and their garb at Corunna, Fuentes d’Onor, Toulouse, Waterloo, and Alma, and who were often highly complimented for their bravery, discipline, and good conduct by such famous Generals as the Duke of Wellington, Sir John Moore, and Sir Colin Campbell. If we had our cattle lifters in the Highlands in “the good old times” we had and still have the cheat, the sneakish hen stealer, the garroter [sic], and the body lifter in other places, and dressed in nothing less than that highly civilised thing called the “breeks.” The good character of the Highlanders is so well known, their garb so famous and venerated, that the raving of a few shankless, chestless, and brainless fanatics, who probably belong to a different and inferior species than Scotchmen, cannot do either a grain of harm. I hope Scotchmen will not be so easily hoodwinked as to help to put down the only garb and regiments we have that are not English and claimed as belonging to England.—I am, &c.,

Lochaber. Continue reading “Correspondence on ‘Kilts v. Breeks’ Part 6 (June and July 1892)”

‘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)”

‘Bodkin Invests in Live Stock’ (24 August, 1861)

The following is one of the many epistles of Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the people’s journal in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland.

Maister Editor,—Tibbie bein’ far removed frae the lichtsome society o’ Mrs Davidson, their visits to ane anither are of needcessity like angels’, “few an’ far between.” Tibbie has a wonderfu’ likin’ for society, no that she is either a gossip or a gadaboot by ony manner o’ menas, but, like a’ the daughters o’ Eve, she has an affection for some faithfu’ freend o’ her ain sex, with whom she can tak’ sweet coonsel in the midst o’ domestic tribulations, an’ to whom she can confidentially communicate ony little bits o’ odds an’ ends that she canna weel keep on her ain stammack, an’ wouldna juist like to tell to the world at large. As wad be gathered frae my last epistle, oor immediate neebors are no exactly the kind o’ cattle that either honest man or woman wad care aboot makin’ freends o’, an’ so it has come to pass that we haud nae intercommunication wi’ them except when it is necessary to prevent them frae brainin’ ane anither, or mischievin’ themsels, as was the case when I tane the conceit oot o’ Mr Phelim O’Grady, the week afore last. When we pass ane anither at the stair fit, we eschew a’ manner o’ salutation. As for me, I seldom let my een licht upon the gude-for-naething ne’er-do-weels; an’ Tibbie, I’m very sure, pursues exactly the same line o’ policy. Mony is the complaint I get frae Tibbie, puir body, that she has naebody to speak to; an’, as my mind is completely absorbed for the maist feck o’ the four-an-twenty in the mysteries o’ my profession, it’s as clear as daylicht that I hae but little time either to hear or to rehearse what micht tend to Tibbie’s amusement an’ edification. Hoosomdever, to mak’ a lang story short, an’ no to use vain repetitions, as the heathen do, bein’ alang the Nethergate last Saturday nicht, in pursuit o’ my lawfu’ business, I was attracted to a shop windock at the tap o’ Union Street, wherein there were sundry four-footed beasts an’ creepin’ things o’ the earth that were perfectly new an’ strange to my “Dictionary o’ Useful Knowledge.” So, after stannin’ for a while, an’ admirin’ their marvellous anatomy, an’ their desperate attempts at locomotion, an’ failin’ to mak’ oot to my ain entire satisfaction the preceese pairt cut oot for them to play in the mysteries o’ creation an’ Providence, I steps into the shop, an’ quoth I, “My woman, wad ye be kind eneuch to gie me what enlichtenment ye can anent thae creepin’ cattle ye hae in the windock? I’ve seen nae that few ferlies i’ my lifetime noo, baith i’ the vegetable, the animal, an’ the mineral kingdoms, i’ the heaven aboove, ‘i the earth beneath, an’ i’ the water oonder the earth, but that live stock o’ yours completely surpasses my comprehension. Do they belong to the parten tribe? or are they a species o’ ootlandish snail buckies?” “Ou na,” quoth the young hizzie, laughin’ in her sleeve at my simplicity, “they are tortoises.” Ay, ay,” quoth I, “they are tortoises, are they? an’ hoo d’ye cook them?” quoth I. “Cook them!” quoth she, laughin’ ootright, “They are no for eatin’, sir.” “Yea, yea,” quoth I, “they’re no for eatin’, are they no? An’ what is the use o’ them, then, if I may speer?” “Ou,” quoth she, “they are kept by folk fond o’ curiosities for amusement.” “Juist that,” quoth I, “they’ll be keepit by auld maids na’ lonely women, instead o’ cats, parrots, an’ lapdogs.” thinkin’, an’ thinks I, here wad be a fine ploy for keepin’ Tibbie oot o’ langer. The kittlin that she caused Jeames Witherspoon to lay violent hands on near Auchinblae, had it survived, wad hae been a sort o’ society till her; but, alas! the thread o’ its brief existence was oontimeously cut short in the deep waters o’ Powburn mill-dam. Mony a lang molygrant has Tibbie poured oot aboot the loss o’ her tortoise-shell cat; but here was a tortoise itsel’, an’ surely, thinks I, that will be muckle better than an imitation thereof. So the short an’ the lang o’ the business was, I was resolved to hae ane o’ them for Tibbie’s edification; but I was equally determined to tak’ possession o’t in a manner strictly in accordance wi’ the requirements o’ the eight command, for I could never gi’e in my adhesion to the principles whereon Tibbie an’ Jeames Witherspoon ackit when they tane the tortoise-shell kittlin captive, on oor spring-cart expedition through the Glen o’ Drumtochty. The only exuse that I could think o’ in extenuation o’ the enormity o’ their transgression on that occasion, was the undooted fact that not only Tibbie an’ Jeames Witherspoon, but even I mysel’, had dippit ower deep in the Athol brose at Knowgreens, no to mention the sups o’ mountain dew we had imibed on the tap o’ Strath Finella. Even that was but a human excuse, hooever, an’ wadna stand either the crucible o’ soond morality, or the fiery furnace o’ the Ten Commandments. Hoosomdever, seein’ the rebuke they got in the mill-dam sae speedily after the perpetration o’ the iniquity, I wad fain hope they repented o’ the error o’ their ways, an’ therefore naething father need be said on that score, the mair sae as even the very best o’ men an’ women—an’ I dinna mean to say that Jeames Witherspoon an’ my Tibbie are no to be reckoned in that category—are liable to gang astray at tmes, for, as Burns remarks—

“To turn aside is human.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Invests in Live Stock’ (24 August, 1861)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’; Dudhope Street (9 February, 1889)

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 Dudhope Street 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.

There is a belt or zone of old Dundee lying between Constitution Road on the West and Dens Road in the East, in which there still remains standing some of the worst dens and hovels in the city. The houses are congested, factories and workshops have been erected far too close to the dwellings, and the sanitary accommodation is quite inadequate. Of course where work is to be found the people naturally look out for houses conveniently situated, and tenements are occupied which, if placed in remote localities, would not have an occupant.

Irvine Square.

There are many objectionable localities in the zone I have spoken of, but this week I mean to confine my attention to the district bounded by Bell Street and Baltic Street on the South, Ireland’s Lane and Paradise Lane on the West, Dudhope Street on the North, and Wellgate on the East. Irvine Square is a most unsavoury spot, especially towards Bell Street, where, in one corner a public convenience has been placed. The houses entered from Bell Street are in good order, but those on the East of the Square have only to be seen to convince one that the sooner the space is cleared the better it will be for the general health of the town. On the West there is a large factory. About the middle of the Square, on the East side.

Soapwork Lane

breaks off. The houses up to the boundary of the buildings erected on the improvement sites present a very ruinous appearance, and it is only after one has burrowed into a dark close about 5 feet 6 inches in height that he finds out that human beings still occupy part of the ruin. At the end of the close referred to there starts a series of wooden traps leading to the hovels above. After starting the ascent a subdued light becomes visible descending from a skylight through an iron grating in the landing on the second flat. This glimmer, of course, only serves to make darkness visible, and does not prevent one from falling over children on the stairs. The houses are mostly of one room, and have only a single qualification to recommend them as human habitations—there is more light than is usually found in dwellings of the class. The walls are all broken and black with dirt, and the ceilings show some signs of decay—they bulge ominously, and look as if they would be the better of “tapping” in several places. One cleanly old woman, who occupies a dark “but” and a “lighter” but poorly-furnished “ben,” informed me that she “juist washed down the wa’s because the factor would dae naething in the way o’ mendin’.” She lifted several folds of linoleum near the fender and showed me that there was no hearth-stone. “You should feel the cauld wind that comes out there,” pointing to the hearth, “and yet the factor has promised for years to put in a stone.” I learned that this woman pays 2s a week for this hovel. If she had fairplay I feel confident that her house would do no discredit to a much more pretentious property than the one she now occupies. The reason she stops in the midst of squalor and dirt is that her husband, an elderly man, is employed in the neighbourhood. The other houses on the stair are all dirty, and are inhabited by poor people. Here is a view of one of them. Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’; Dudhope Street (9 February, 1889)”

‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Ash Lane (26 January, 1889)

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 Ash Lane on Lochee Road (near the Verdant Works) 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.

Ash Lane is well named. It is essentially the place of ashes, dirt, and rubbish of every description. The houses, too, seem crumbling to decay, and some of the people look as if they would not be long in returning to “dust and ashes.” Ash Lane and Ash Street are partially lined with hovels which would do credit to the mountain sides of Donegal. Indeed the “brogue” is freely spoken by the denizens, and were there a hillside near, instead of the high walls of a mill and the slanting roofs of the houses, one would imagine he was in that wild region. I was told I would see in Ash Lane some of the most primitive houses in Dundee, but I was disappointed. The proprietor of these has evidently been reading the Advertiser, and has judiciously closed them up before opportunity was afforded of describing them. Judging from an outside view, the “houses” internally must have been of novel construction.

The hovels on the West side of the Lane are not far behind those on the East, the only difference being that an attempt has been made by the builder to give them the outward semblance of houses. The buildings have been made into one-roomed houses, and are tenanted by very poor persons who work in the mills. The attic rooms are the worst. These are small, badly lighted, and have no means of ventilation. Where there are children the stench is overpowering. One of the garrets I visited was half the size it should have been, measuring about 9 feet by 15 feet. The slanting roof left very little room for a full-grown person to stand upright; yet in this den a man and his wife and two daughters live. The house, which is kept by the youngest daughter, a girl of twelve, was comparatively clean; but I must explain there was little furniture in the place on which the child could practise cleanliness. A ricketty stair with a worse than ricketty railing led to two similar houses.

I remarked to the proprietrix that the stair seemed dangerous, especially if any of her tenants tried the ascent when under the influence of liquor.

“An’ sorry a bit I wid care,” she replied, “for then they moight [sic] perhaps have in their stomachs what should hev paid me rint.”

Close to the foot of the stair was a most unsavoury ashpit. I said to the proprietrix that it appeared to me a very dirty hole to be so close to the houses.

“A dirty hole, did ye say? Faith and it cost me £7. It is what I call a bonnie, muckle midden if the ‘scaflies’ wid only keep it clean.” Continue reading “‘The Dens and Hovels of Dundee’: Ash Lane (26 January, 1889)”

‘Old Stories Retold: The Thorter Row Murder’ (12 November, 1887)

The following was part of a series of historical tales about Dundee which appeared in ‘The People’s Journal’. A key tenant of the paper was to promote self improvement in its readers and articles pleading for sobriety were common—this can be seen as a moral story in that tradition.

On the peaceful Sunday morning of August 5th, 1838, an event occurred in Dundee which not only made a profound sensation in the town itself, but was the cause of much commotion throughout the country. What this was we shall endeavour to set forth, and our task will be made easier by the fact that the scene of this dreadful occurrence has remained unchanged since that day. Proceeding to the East side of Thorter Row, still a well-known and busy thoroughfare, we turn up a narrow entry and find ourselves in a small court, closed in on every hand by tall houses, with grimy smoke-stained walls and many broken windows stuffed with rags, showing that they are occupied by the poorer classes. Looking inquiringly around, we should then have found the keynote to this story and the spring from which its incidents flow in the fact that into this little, desolate, squalid, poverty-stricken court no less than three public-house back doors opened. Today, thanks to better habits and wiser legislation, there is nothing of the kind, but in 1838 it was considered no disgrace but rather a right and proper thing for people, even in the highest circles, to drink till late and go to bed under the table, and their habits were naturally imitated by their poorer fellow-countrymen. With such facilities close at hand need we wonder that the people living in this court were poor, miserable, ignorant, wretched, and steeped in vice and crime? Would it not rather have been amazing if they had been anything else? Now to our story.

The History of Woods.

Just in the middle of this court, facing us as we enter, stands a house isolated from its neighbours, with a cellar below, and a short outside stair leading to the door. This house was occupied by one Arthur Woods, whose career we must trace for a little. He was a native of Ireland, the son of a small farmer there, who seems to have given Arthur a fairly good education. When about 30 years of age Woods came to Scotland, and started in business in Glasgow as a hawker, a trade which was of considerable importance and respectability in a time when communication between town and country was not so easy as it is now. Woods married a woman named Drew; and owing no doubt to the fact that this wife’s father carried on a business as a fish-dealer in Perth, he settled down in that city. Several children were born to him, but only two—a boy and a girl—lived to grow up. About the time of his son’s birth Woods came to Dundee and started in business as an auctioneer. Here his ready native wit, good education, and powers of “blarney” stood him in good stead. He soon had an immense business, and enjoyed a considerable reputation among his fellow-townsmen for uprightness, energy, tact, enterprise, and—most noteworthy of all—for sobriety. Having got into a good connection with wholesale dealers in Dundee, Woods now bought the extensive business of an auctioneer named Taylor, and seemed to be on the highway to fortune. Elated by his success, Woods turned his attention to larger speculations than any he had yet engaged in, and here his good fortune began to desert him. Taking with him a large stock of valuable goods, he went to Aberdeen, and proceeded to sell them in a public hall in the Granite City. This adventure turned out disastrously, and just about the same time his wife’s bad behaviour caused him great trouble and uneasiness. She frequently left him, and finally went to stay with her friends in Perth, where she met with a fatal accident. Fresh business speculations brought further losses, and Woods, discouraged and disappointed, turned, like many another out-worn spirit, into the way which led him to ruin and death.

He Took to Drink,

and went downhill with wonderful swiftness. With his children Woods went back to Ireland, where he stayed and for a year or two, then returned to Dundee, and confided his little ones to the care of their grandmother in Perth. Woods had now a fair chance of retrieving his character and regaining his former respectability; but his bad habits had got too strong a hold upon him to be shaken off without a great effort. That effort he does not seem seriously to have made, and the downward course continued. He got odd sales to conduct in the Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturday evenings; but even this humble employment left him, and he was forced to make a living as a street porter, occupying his frequent leisure house in the making of straw mattresses. At this point Woods made another fatal mistake. He married a woman of worthless character named Hourietta or Honey Young, and the union, as was inevitable, deteriorated him still further.

Father and Son Hastening to Ruin.

John Woods, the son of Arthur by his first ‘marriage, was now growing up, and having been reared under such adverse circumstances, he turned out a very bad young man indeed. He also carried on the business of a hawker, but having no character, he made a very poor living. His stepmother having taken a dislike to him did all she could to make dispeace between him and his father, and seems to have been only too successful in carrying out her base designs. Both father and son drank to excess, and fighting and quarrelling were nightly occurrences in the miserable home in Thorter Row. On the sultry evening of Saturday, 4th August 1838, one of his old-fashioned watchmen passing down Thorter Row heard the sounds of fighting and quarrelling in Woods’ house. This, however, was nothing unusual. It only meant that John and his father were drunk, so the sagacious watchman went on his way. Had he been near enough to have heard the words spoken he would assuredly have interfered with all speed. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold: The Thorter Row Murder’ (12 November, 1887)”

‘Bodkin Escapes from his Foes.’ (15 June, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ of Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the people’s journal in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland.

Maister Editor,—Last week has been anither busy ane wi’ Tibbie an’ me. O’ a’ the ills that ever cam’ ower me this flittin’ business has been the warst by far an’ awa’. Of we could only foresee what is to happen, hoo mony things we do an’ say wad be left undone and unsaid! But, alake! we are short-sichtit mortals, an’ canna forecast the results o’ the very next stap we tak’—whether it may land us in happiness or misery. If Tibbie an’ me had kent what we ken noo, we never wad hae thocht o’ flittin’ frae oor auld hoose, where we had spent sae mony lichtsome happy days, an’ gane to that bug-infested abomination to be made the victims o’ thae hatefu’ blude-sookers. I’ve learnt frae dear-bocht experience that it’s no the brawest hoose that’s the best hoose, even as it’s no a gowd that glitters. Tibbie has gotten her stammagust o’ fine hooses an’ parlous, an’ a’ that kind o’ trumpery; an’ costly as this spring has been to me, I’ll hae time to mak’ up my leeway again afore Tibbie seek to play anither ane on the same key; sae it winna be a’ lost i’ the’ end o’ the day maybe. But withoot farther preface, I maun gie ye a scrift o’ hoo we pairtit company wi’ oor freends—the bugs.

Weel, ye see, on Monday nicht was a week, Tibbie made her bed i’ th’ sofy, as she had done on the previous nicht , drawin’ a cordon sanitaire round her roose wi’ the floor o’ brimstane as afore, but somehoo or ither, by slicht or by micht, her enemies brak through the blockade an’ bore doon on her at full sail, pitchin’ their poisoned darts intil her carcase in a manner that dings me to describe. Tibbie groaned, an’ grat, an’ faucht, an’ flayt the haill nicht through. Sometimes she wad fa’ on a doverin’ o’ sleep—for she was sair dung for want o’ rest. Puir body—but nae sooner was she quiet for five or ten minutes. Than her adversaries began wi’ their auld pranks. A’ that nicht I didna sleep an’ oor though a’ the bits o’ gloffs I got were eekit thegither; but when mornin’ cam’, I says to Tibbie, “This will never do,” quoth I; “we maun see to the end o’ this wark, an’ that without mair parley aboot it, juist. We’ll leave thae bugs to their ain meditations, an’ tak’ oor creep.” Tibbie had been o’ the same opeenion, though she said naething, an’ sae she tried to manifest her acquiescence in my remark wi’ a smile, but, wad ye believe it? her physog was sae swelled an’ thrawn, that it was physically impossible for her to cruik her chafts into the similitude o’ a laugh, though her soul’s salvation had dependit on the issue. Aucht o’clock strak, an’ quoth I to Willie Clippins, “ye’ll gang your wa’s doon, my man, an’ gie my compliments to Maister John Clinkscales, the grocery man at the fit o’ the Shuttle Raw, an’ tell him to haste ‘im up immediately, that I want to speak till ‘im.” “Ay, ay,” quoth Willie, ever ready to execute my orders, like the obedient loonie that he is; “it’s yon man wi’ the muckle wame that stands atween the door cheeks wi’ a white apron on, an’ a pair o’ spartickles on his nose?” “Juist the very man,” quoth I; “noo scoor awa like a twa-year-auld, an’, gin ye fa’, dinna tak’ time to rise again, an’ be sure ye deliver the message as ye’ve received it.” Willie gaed aff as like lichtnin’ as his muckle tae, that is scarcely a’thegither haill yet, wad permit; an’ here I maun tell ye that had brocht us sae muckle vexation. In the coorse o’ a quarter o’ an oor, Mr Clinkscales made his appearance, puffin’ an’ blawin’ like a pair o’ smiddy bellis, for John is ane o’ thae chields that seem to hae mair gut an’ ga’ i’ their composition than onything o’ a mair etherial essence. I bade the body sit doon till he recovered his breath, an’ Willie Clippins I dismissed to the ither end, shuttin’ baith the doors on us, for it disna do to let fools an’ bairns hear a’ ye have to say. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Escapes from his Foes.’ (15 June, 1861)”