How a Parish was lost to the Parishioners
A LOCAL EXAMPLE OF A NATIONAL ROBBERY.
Summary of a Lecture on "The Lands of Turriff in History," delivered by MR. JAMES LEATHAM in the Picture House, Turriff: The first edition, reprinted from the Turriff Circular, is now exhausted, and the interest in the subject being enhanced by recent political developments, we reprint the address, and in doing so pass the pages through The Gateway, in which they had not previously appeared
MR. LEATHAM said his subject had been suggested by the paper on "Teind" read to the Mutual Improvement Association by their esteemed Town Clerk, Mr. Stewart, an estimable man and an impartial public official. Mr. Stewart discussed the matter from the point of view of the lawyer, the landed proprietor, and the farmer, but he (the speaker) would like to discuss it from the point of view of the public interest.
Mr. Stewart had gone back as far as the reign of David First for the origin of the institution of teinds in Scotland. But they in Turriff had to go even further back than that for the first endowment of the Church locally. Turriff, like the lady in the song, had "a lang pedigree." The original name of Turriff was "Turbruad," meaning in the Gaelic (according to one interpretaion) the broad headland or mound. Turbruad and its church figured in the "Book of Deir," one of the oldest Scottish books in existence. It was a book kept and added to by the brethren of the early Celtic monastery of Deir, founded by Columba, with his associates Drostane and Congan, some time between 565 and 597. That was six hundred years before David's time, David dying in 1153. In that record there is mention of a grant of land to the monastery by Gartnait the Mormaer of Buchan, being witnessed by "Domongart, ferleighin of Turbruad," the ferleighin, or man of learning, being a high officer in monasteries. So that Turriff must have been a considerable settlement even in Celtic times, or it would not have had a ferleighin.
In this ancient book there is a reference to Turbruad as the seat, in 1132, of a Celtic monastery dedicated to St. Congan, and by 1214 Marjory Countess of Buchan gave the revenues of the lands of Turriff—that is, the revenues of the lands belonging to the Church of Turriff—to the Abbey of St. Thomas, of Arbroath. She could give only the revenues. She could not give the lands themselves, because under the feudal system she was only the holder of the lands, not their absolute owner who could dispose of them as her personal property. This Marjory inherited from the Celtic Mormaers, and her grant was confirmed by King William the Lion and by Adam, the Bishop of Aberdeen. Aberdeen city was a favourite place of residence of the Scottish kings, William the Lion having a palace where Carmelite Street now ran from the Green to the railway station.
Alexander Comyn, the son of Marjory, when he became Earl of Buchan, founded a hospital at Turriff for "a master, six chaplains, and thirteen poor husbandmen of Buchan," giving it in 1273 the lands of Knockikuly, wherever these where. This hospital was re-endowed by Robert the Bruce with the lands of Petty in Fyvie in 1328, the charter being granted at Kinkel' in perpetuation of the memory of his brother Sir Nigel Bruce, who had been hanged and drawn by order of the English king, Edward the Hammer.
With six chaplains and a master, it might be supposed the thirteen poor husbandmen were well provided with ghostly counsellors ; but the six chaplains did much more than preach. Every monastery or hospital was a school and an almshouse as well as a church. The wayfarer could and did go to the monastery, and in the refectory he could procure supper, and he would receive as a matter of course a night's lodging, including bed and water to wash his feet, which the tired pedestrians of those days would find not wholly unwelcome.
The master and chaplains would have the provision of all those comforts.
Then the clergy of those days were the doctors as well. Some of the "chaplains," also, would have the management of the land at Petty, not as mere keepers of accounts, but as actual supervisors of the work. The monks were very good landlords as well as very good farmers. The many "granges" throughout the country were simply old monastic granaries. In the gardens attached to these old houses they would often find that apple trees would have a platform of stones beneath them to keep the roots from striking down into the cold till.
The Celtic Monastery of Turriff, with its ferleighin, or man of learning, doubtless had a school or a scriptorium in addition to its church—perhaps both a school and a scriptorium. The scriptorium was the writing-room, where books were written and illuminated by the monks, there being no printed books then.
The Lands Involved.
He did not know the extent of the lands which belonged to the church of Turriff in those days—the church as distinct from the hospital—but it was fair to infer that they included all the lands that subsequently passed through various hands to the owners in the neighbourhood. They would come to that presently.
The Church of Turriff was thirled to the Church of Arbroath it was made a prebend of the Cathedral of St. Old Aberdeen, "its revenues being then assigned to prebendary," as Pratt says; and he adds: "The charters of Turriff show that the feus were held of the incumbents, as immediate lawful superiors, up till the Revolution, when Episcopacy was abolished, and lands held of churchmen were appointed to be held of the King."
What became of the hospital and its lands historians do not tell us. He would like to see son of the old title deeds! It was conjectured that the hospital, stood about the sites now known as Castlehill and Castlegreens, and that its ruins may simply have got the name of "the castle."
Episcopacy was the established religion for a time, and there was record of a grant by Andrew Hay, the rector of Turriff, of "seven roods of land to the chaplain and master of the grammar school in 1546." The Earls of Erroll had now got a footing as landlords in the neighbourhood, and they found them not only "consenting" to this grant of seven roods of land, but they also found at another date Mr. Andrew Skene, prebendary of Turriff, making over the customs of the markets to the Erroll family on condition of their paying £100 Scots as salary to the schoolmaster. As the pound Scots was of the value of twenty pence sterling only, this salary was only £8 6/8, though of course money was much more valuable then than now.
What a Monastery Was and Did.
So that the church was then, by its possession of lands, in a position to give to the community many benefits which it did not give now. Through the teinds it took rather than gave now. The monastery and the hospital of Turriff were hotels, schools, the home of the surgeons, and the centre of what poor relief there was, as well as churches. The alienation of their lands meant in time a school rate, a poor rate, and the teinds. Sir Walter Scott, High Tory and High Churchman as he was, had stated that at the Reformation one half of the land of Scotland belonged to the church. And it was the most valuable land. The monastic estates were regions of peace and improvement and civilization when the abodes of the nobles were dens of lawless violence, where, as at Frendraught near by, the laird positively burned down a portion of his own house with his guests in it, so that he might get rid of neighbours whom he hated.
How the Transfer Was Made.
John Knox had unfolded to the Regent Moray a hold and just scheme whereby education and the relief of the poor might be handsomely provided for out of the confiscated monastery lands, as well as providing for the new Presbyterian ministers. "It is a pious imagining !" said Moray, and one could imagine the tone of his voice and the expression of his face as he said it. He had quite other views as to the disposal of the lands.
They had seen that the lands of Turriff belonged to the Church of Turriff and were used for public purposes during many centuries, and they had also seen that the Earls of Erroll had got a footing in the neighbourhood as proprietors so early, at latest, as 1546. That was 13 years before the Reformation was formally begun by the rioting of the rabble at Perth in 1559; but the new opinions had long been making such progress that in 1545 Norman Leslie and his followers had stabbed Cardinal Beaton, the head of Church and State both, and had hung him over the battlements of his own castle at St. Andrews.
The monastic system had been breaking up for years, and the heads of the Church had been selling out, as the landlords were selling now, because they saw that the end of the system was at hand. He (the speaker) had no doubt but that the Errols became the superiors of Turriff in the same way as other noblemen had acquired possession of church lands elsewhere.
Let them turn for a moment to the account of the movement in general. The historian Tytler, afterwards Lord Woodhouselee, wrote of this period (1561) that--
Notwithstanding the full establishment of the Reformation, the Protestant ministers were in a state of extreme poverty, and dependent upon the precarious assistance of their flocks.
There was no word of teinds there! Tytler continued--
The revenues of the Church were divided between the nobles who had appropriated them and the Romish prelates who still retained part of their ancient wealth.
The lands of Turriff were vested in a prelate—the Abbot of Arbroath ; but Arbroath was then a long way off, and there was nothing to prevent the Earl of Erroll from coming in as one of the trustees, or " commendators " as they were called, who got control, extensively, of the Church lands at that time. It was possible that Lord Erroll bought some of the lands of Turriff then, but hardly likely, as they would see. Tytler continues--
On the meeting of the General Assembly the ministers determined to use their strenuous efforts to procure some support out of the ecclesiastical revenues ; yet the attempt was resisted by many of the barons who had been zealous supporters of the Reformation, but loved its plunder better than its principles.
Yea, verily, continued the speaker. The Reformation was carried, both in Scotland and in England, much more from love of plunder than love of piety. Tytler said
After some consultation, however, an act was passed ordaining the annual revenues of the whole benefices in the realm to be calculated, and out of this gross sum the Catholic clergy consented to give a third to the queen, being permitted to retain two-thirds for themselves. This third [that is, the first third] was to be applied to the maintenance of preachers, the endowment of schools, and the increase of the revenue of the crown.
But please note what follows--
Before this proposal was made, the funds of the Church, prefiasay immerse, had been greatly dilapidated. On the overthrow of Popery, the bishops and other dignified clergy had entered into transactions with their friends or kinsmen by which large portions of ecclesiastical property fell into private hands ; in some cases sales had been made by the ancient incumbents ; . . . the crown, too, had appointed laymen to be factors or administrators of bishoprics and livings : so that by these various methods the property of the Church was so much diffused and curtailed, that the third of all the money collected fell far below the sum necessary to give an adequate support to the clergy. There was much fraud also practised in making up the returns. . . . It was asserted that the only effect of the change was to secure a large share for the lay proprietors of church lands.
He (the speaker) ventured to say that the mode of the transference of the church lands in general was the mode by which the lands of Turriff in particular came into the hands of the Earls of Erroll. It was a considerable property. It included the Delgaty estate and castle, which were sold by the fourteenth Earl of Erroll for £20,000 in 1763. Delgaty would be part of the lands of Turriff as granted by the Countess Marjory to the Church of Turriff. So that that £20,000 worth was part of the property of the burgh of Turriff. All that the Earls of Erroll had given them was their family motto "Serva jugum" (Preserve the yoke). This motto, which figured along with the Cross of Turriff as the town's arms, was an anachronism regarded as the motto of a town. The proper Erroll arms consisted of two very heraldic husbandmen with their ox-yokes. The yoke figured there because the founders of the Erroll family were a father and two sons who were ploughing on the day of the Battle of Luncarty, and, finding the Scots fighting men flying from the Danes, with their ox-yokes they beat them back through a pass in the hills, with the result that the Danes thought it was a new army and lost heart and were defeated.
It was a very creditable origin; but the property the Errolls had acquired in various ways had done them little good. They had long since had to part with their original estate in Perthshire, as well as their property in Buchan. Turriff was a burgh of barony as early as 1512, so that it did not need to flourish to the world a mongrel motto partly borrowed from the Erroll cognisance, and wholly devoid of sense. A plough, an ellwand, and a treacle-can, with the motto, "By merchandise we flourish," would be a more appropriate coat-of-arms for Turriff. End of the Erroll Connection.
To finish the story of the Erroll connection, it ended in 1762, "the magnificence displayed by the fifteenth earl in conducting the affianced bride of George III., Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, to England, involving an expenditure that compelled him to dispose of his Turriff properties, which," says Pratt, "then passed into the hands of the Earls of Fife. In 1889 the superiority of the feus of the town and lands of Turriff were sold by the Duke of Fife to Messrs. Francis George, solicitor, Banff, and Alex. George, solicitor, Macduff (brothers). In 1899 Mr. John Hutcheon of Gask purchased from the Messrs. George the Market Hill, with a small field adjoining (extending in all to eleven acres), and presented it to the town as a recreation park; it is now known as the Hutcheon Park."
The speaker dealt at some length with the appropriation of the Abbey lands of Deer by the Earl Marischal of the period. He pointed out that there was much scandal about it at the time, the Countess dreaming that she saw the monks "pyking" down the foundations of Dunnottar Castle with their penknives, and presently she saw the ruins of the castle heaped in the sea. She wept and remonstrated with the Earl, and he, to quiet her fears and silence scandal, founded Marischal College, putting over the gateway the scornful motto "They haf said, quhat say they, lat them say." The houses were now ruins nevertheless—both Dunnottar and Inrtigie castles. The Fergusons of Pitfour, who still later got possession of the Abbey lands, now let their own house to American millionaires, and the Earls of Erroll had to do the same with Slains Castle. [The castle itself has now been pulled down.] There was an old English saying that what was got over the Devil's back was lost under his belly.
When the Labour party came into power the right of the public to the lands of which it had been deprived would again be enforced; and the question of title, of original title, could not be barred in the court of equity by any Statute of Limitations. ‘Lapse of time’ said Mr Leatham, ‘does not make wrong right. You may multiply 0 by any number of millions but you will never make it 1. The original acquisition was a usurpation, and there need be no qualms of conscience about the nation resuming its right.’ The nation would not treat the present holders as their predecessors treated the public – with the open contempt of the Marischal motto. The chances, indeed, were that the consideration would be only too indulgent and liberal to the expropriated. The men of Britain had defended Britain from many a foreign invader or would-be invader, and while the danger was present they were promised that Britain would be made a home fit for heroes to live in. Now they were told to emigrate and leave the idle rich and the profiteers in possession. Some would go, but enough would remain to enforce, sooner or later, the long-delayed reckoning.
Wagging the World from Turriff. An attempt at an Industrial-commercial organisation.
The east Aberdeenshire town of Turriff has less than 3000 of a population, and there are none of the industries in the town that bring men together in large bodies, such as weaving sheds or boot factories. An implement works sends out threshing-mills to the ends of the earth; but for the rest we are mostly engaged in catering to the immediate requirements of an agricultural population. The town is very countrified. The shop-keepers – and we are a town of shops – deal with farmers; two days a-week we are overrun with farmers; two nights a week we have the cycling farm servants present in force. We live in an atmosphere of cattle and crops, and not a few men in business in the town have direct farming interests, having their own little flutter in the crop-raising or stock-breeding field.
Wherever I have been since leaving my own native city twenty-three years ago there has always been some local industrial obsession. In Manchester it was spindles and cotton; in Peterhead it was herrings; in Huddersfield it was looms and tweeds; in East Yorkshire it was market gardening, and the local elections turned upon dung. Now in Turriff, it is said, it is cattle and turnips.
But there are citizens of the world even here. George Durward, a master tailor in a small way, is a keen Socialist who has worked and lived in various parts of the outer world, Glasgow and Dublin among them. He is a member of the local school board, has helped greatly to organise the farm servants, and his shop is a hotbed of discussion and friendliness, he himself being the incarnation of uncommercial good nature and helpfulness. Babbling over with projects that have no relation to his own prosperity, he has just introduced a motion at the school board which will admit of much more discussion and publicity than it has received; though it has by no means suffered neglect in the locality either. Here is the motion, which unfortunately has not become a resolution, the board having decided that its duty was not to legislate but to administer, not to initiate suggestions but to receive instructions from the higher authorities, and do its best to carry them out. Mr Durward moved: -
‘That the board express its approval of the following resolution, and submit it to the meeting of citizens; - That whereas the existence of so many small traders catering for the same class of wares is most un-economic, both in man-power and working expenses, the Board recommend that the production and distribution of local requirements be centralised for the period of the war, and that the profits accruing from the centralised establishment be divided among the traders in proportion to the amount of business they were doing before the war. For instance, on tailor’s shop instead of eight could, if properly organised, supply local needs and liberate upwards of a dozen men for national service, with considerable saving in working expenses. The same economy of man-power and working expenses could be effected in almost every other trade. And whereas the presence of so many able-bodied men in Turriff on market day suggests that our present agricultural power is not being taken full advantage of, we recommend to the Board of Agriculture the advisability of substituting for the present market system an establishment of agricultural bureaux composed of a valuator appointed by the farmers, one by the butchers, and another by those supplying keepers. Such bureaux would effect the transfer of fat and keepers, and thereby prevent the waste of man, horse and motor power. The School board undertakes to maintain the children attending school of those volunteering for national service who find the minimum wage of 25s per week too small to meet their family requirements.’
Now, there was nothing in the world, except one thing, to prevent that resolution being carried into practice. That one thing was the willingness of the tradesmen concerned. Durward himself is a tailor with plenty of work to do, if his public pre-occupations and his interest in discussion would allow him to attend to it. Yet he was willing to go and take a seat on the ‘board’ at the largest tailoring establishment in the town, where, he says, there is ample room for all the tailors in the town, and where the work could be carried on with obvious savings in working expenses of various kinds. How far that would apply to other businesses is not a question of principle, but only of detail or of degree. The little town is mainly a centre of distributors rather than manufacturers, the boot retailers, the grocers, chemists, standing cheek by jowl on opposite sides of the street, for all the world as Charles Dickens the Socialist described them in ‘Great Expectations’ some scores of years ago:-
‘Mr Pumblechook appeared to conduct his business by looking across the street at the saddler, who appeared to transact his business by keeping his eye on the coach-maker, who appeared to get on in life by putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker, who in his turn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stood at his door and yawned at the chemist. The watchmaker, always poring over a little desk with a magnifying glass at his eye, and always inspected by a group in smock-frocks poring over him through the glass of his shop window, seemed to be about the only person in the High Street whose trade engaged his attention.’
It isn’t quite so leisurely as all that. There is work to be done even by the distributor who has only to take goods in and pass them out again without adding anything to their value. But the way in which all the traders in a small town unfailingly muster to the frequent funerals shows that they have plenty of leisure.
In varying numbers of shops the same stocks have to be duplicated and stored in duplicated shelves, jars, boxes, nests of drawers. Dozens of doors have to be opened every morning, dozens of fires lit, dozens of floors have to be swept, windows cleaned, goods dusted, safes opened, books taken down, blinds pulled up, travellers interviewed, and time wasted in waiting for custom. All these places are within a few minutes’ walk of each other. The whole effective distribution could be managed from a fraction of the establishments, and thousands of pounds might be saved in the mere volume of duplicated stocks which have to be kept in waiting for occasional, and, it may be, rare customers.
If the business of the community is ever to be really organised the waste of distributive commerce are the first of the great national wastes that must be tackled. Every attempt to draw attention to this matter is immensely valuable, since it prepares the mind of the public for the municipalisation that must come sooner or later, war or no war.
This resolution, however, left the matter to the voluntary principle; and that, as always, is of no use, even in time of war. Why should Mr Pumblechook give up his life of leisure and relative independence in order to become a servant? Naturally he asks, with Shylock, ‘On what compulsion must I?’
And so, I suppose, he must be left either to a heavy-handed Government ukase or to the multiple trader who comes along and just quietly takes away his trade till at last the blind comes down or the shutters go up.
The Seamy Side of Life in an Old Scots Town.
Turriff in Ancient Times
Sidelights from the Barony Court Book
Recorded by James Leatham
The minute book of the Barony court of Turriff, the existence of which was known to few till recent years, covers the period from 1734 till the abolition of Heritable Jurisdictions in 1748. The proceedings of each Court are usually prefaced by some such entry as the following:
Court of the Lands and Barronrie of Turreff, Delgaty and idoch, pertaining heritably to a noble and potent Countess, Mary Countess of Errol, Great-Constable of Scotland, and the honourable Mr Alexander Hay of Delgaty, her Ladyship’s husband, for his interest, holden at Turreff, the 7th day of December 1734, years, by My John Henderson, their Chamberlain Bailaie, specially constitute by hi Bailierie, George Urquhart in Turreff, procurator fiscal, and Mr William Hacket, Schoolmaster of Turreff, Clerk p.a. (The ordinary clerk was Sylvester Keith, Town Clerk of Turriff.’) Gilbert Bagrie, officer and (blank) Dempster.
The officials remained practically unchanged during all those fourteen years. About four or five Courts were usually held in the course of the year, and the number of cases at each Court was generally small.
The Erroll family had a long connection with Turriff. They are said to have been superiors of the burgh from 1412 to 1762. In 1446 William Hay of Erroll obtained the patronage of the Church of Turriff for that of Erroll, of which his grandfather had been deprived, and this grand was confirmed by James II, in 1450. The Church of Turriff belonged to the Abbey of Arbroath, to which it was gifted by Marjory, Countess of Buchan in 1210. James IV, with the consent of the Earl of Errol, granted to Thomas Dickson Prebendary of Turriff, a charter in 1512 erecting the whole churc lands, the town, and the glebe into a burgh of barony, and constituting the prebendery superior of the burgh and titular of the teind with power to the burgesses to elect bailies and other officers, with a right to have a market cross and to hold a weekly market on Saturday at the cross and public fairs at the feast of St Peter, called Lammas, and at the feast of St Congan on 13th October. The charter granted to the inhabitants the freedom to buy and sell wine, wax, leather, woollen and linen, broad and narrow, and all other merchandise, and to have in the burgh, bakers, brewers, butchers, etc. The customs of the markets were subsequently conveyed to the Earl of Erroll by Andrew Skene, prebendary, on condition the Earl pay £100 Scots as salary to the schoolmaster.
Lady Mary’s Well.
Mary, Countess of Errol, succeeded her brother Charles, 12th earl, on his death in 1717. Burke’s ‘Peerage’ and Anderson’s ‘Scottish Nation’ do not refer to her marriage with Alexander hay of Delgaty, merely mentioning that she married in 1681 Alexander Falconer, second son of Sir David Falconer of Newton, Lord President of the Court of Session. She died without issue in 1758. The Lady Mary’s Well, still pointed out below the castle quarry in the grounds of Delgaty Castle, may have received its name from this lady. Delgaty Castle was purchased from the Earl of Erroll in 1763 by Peter Garden, Esq. of Troup, and sold by his son Francis in 1798 to Earl Fife. The Earls of Erroll formerly lived at Delgaty Castle. They had also a lodging in Turriff (now occupied as a solicitor’s office.)
Many families in the north of Scotland lost their estates through their adherence to the Stuart line in the risings of the eighteenth century and it was his devotion to the Brunswick line, it is said, that led to James, 13th Earl of Erroll, parting with his possessions in the Turriff district, he having been appointed to conduct Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg, the bride of George III, to England, and the magnificence he displayed on that occasion proved beyond his means.
The great market at Turriff has long been called Porter Fair; but in ‘Aberdeen’s New Prognostication’ for 1708 appears under a list of fairs for October,’ ‘Cowan Fair at Turriff.’ It is interesting to find the following advertisement in the ‘Prognostication’ of the same year:-
These are to give notice that there are two New yearly Fairs granted by Act of Parliament to the Right Honorable the Earl of Erroll, Lord High constable of Scotland, to be holden at the town of Turreff, in the shire of Aberdeen One of them (called St John’s Fair) is to begin the first Tuesday of December yearly, and to continue (at the said place) for three days. The said Tuesday being for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendable goods and merchant wares; and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of malt, cattle and horses. The other (called St Ann’s Fair) to be holden at the said place, also is to begin yearly upon the last Tuesday of march, and to continue for three days, the said Tuesday for all sorts of cloath and stockings, vendible goods and merchant wares, and Wednesday and Thursday for all sorts of cattle and sheep. And both the said Mercats to be three years custom free.
The cases that came before the Barony court were varied in character, breaches of the peace and of mill and moss regulations being the most frequent. The sanction of the Court had to be given to regulation tending to the advancement of husbandry, the improvement of dwelling-houses and the reformation of the manners of the inhabitants by suppressing swearing and Sunday trading. More serious cases occasionally appeared as stealing and murder, but during those years the extreme penalty of the law seems never to have been carried out; in fact, it was only during extremes that Barony Courts, unlike Courts of Regality, had the full power ‘to [unclear] pit and gallows,’ such power being latterly exercised only when the [unclear] was taken red-handed, or the thief in fang within the bounds of the [unclear]
Riding the Stang
One case in the Court Book covering the period 1734-48 is incompletely recorded, but appears to have been one of ‘riding the stang.’ The barony found that the pursuer had received no wounds, but had been carried in a shameful manner through the town of Turriff, and thereafter that he had been ‘carried on a tree,’ a mob accompanying. The accused number, were ordained to acknowledge their sorrow for breach of the peace, and to pay £10 Scots to the pursuer and to remain in the Countess of Erroll’s prison in Turriff during the bailie’s pleasure. They were liberated however, the same day on payment of one shilling stg. Each as dues of court and jailer’s fees, and on Alexander Rhind, mason, Banff, and others becoming security for their good behaviour in future.
Harbouring ‘Extraneous Persons.’
The bailie had no scruple in banishing undesirables from the bounds of the barony. David law was decerned in 1736 to remove himself, his wife and family, from the town of Turriff, and furth and frae any part of the Countess of Erroll’s jurisdiction as being a person unfit for society. He had been complained against for harbouring ‘vagabonds and other extraneous persons’ on market days, also for carrying off peats from the Black and Green Mosses, and for keeping a horse and pasturing it on the tenant’s lands. His spouse, Janet Taylor, was also brought to Court from prison, to which she had been committed for using threatening words to some of the inhabitants of Turriff, and enacted to remove herself from the town of Turriff all the days of her life. On his petition David law was liberated for eight days in order that he might dispose of his effects before removing himself from Turriff.
In 1741, as appears from the Barony Court Book, Patrick Gerrard was banished from Turriff and other lands belonging to the Countess of Erroll in the parishes of Turriff, Monquhitter, and Auchterless for stealing a pan full of ale. In June of the same year, Margaret Joass was charged with stealing hards from a stand on the market day, but the case could not be proved till the bailie ordered her to prison, there to remain on three quarters of bread and three chopins of water a-day till next Court Day. On reappearing in Court two days after she confessed the theft, but meanwhile two persons reported having lost their purses in the market, and the purses being found in Margaret’s custody when she was apprehended, with money amounting to £40 2s Scots, the bailie pronounced sentence of banishment, never to return under pain of a month’s imprisonment and burning on the cheek, and that she remain in prison till Monday at twelve of the clock and then to be dismissed in a graceful manner by beat of drum to the Den of Balmellie; and the bailie ordered the officer to mount two of my Lady Erro’s halberts to prevent her doing her the least abuse by the mob.
‘No Visible Way of Subsisting.’
On 2nd April, 1742, the bailie found that Patrick Thomson had no visible way of subsisting, and that although he should offer himself to work to the inhabitants, none of them incline to employ him, and, further, he was represented as bankrupt and not worth the King’s unlaw. The bailie ordained him to remove himself, his wife, and children, at Whitsunday and prohibited the hail inhabitants from buying, lending or selling with him after Whitsunday, under penalty of £3 Scots.
‘Not Proper Inhabitants.’
Robert Massie, Margart Cormack, and John Ross were also dismissed as ‘not being proper inhabitants.’ The last case of banishing was that of Ann Baxter on 27th June, 1747, who was also expelled for theft.
Peats, turfs and mosses gave the Court much trouble. In 1744 the bailie granted to each possessor of an oxgate to have two spades’ casting yearly, and the half-oxgate people in proportion, and each tenant paying 100 merks Scots rent to have three spades casting. Several persons in Turriff who had no land nor warrant to cast peats came to the Countess of Erroll’s mosses with horses and creels and back creels, and carried off peats and turfs. The bailie authorised the moss grieves and the officer of Court to cause such persons pay a fine of £10 Scots each, or if they fail to do so, to seize their creels or packets or any other machines for carriage for the first fault… and for the third fault to seize the horse or mare to the gate of the mansion house of Delgaty or the cross of Turriff and expose the same for sale after two hours’ previous intimation.
Even the minister complained that they stole his peats in the moss. In 1739 William Woodman, in Nether Smiddieseat, was charged with selling his portion of the moss of Greeness to James Watson, Mill of Gask, who left his peats on the bankhead all winter in rickles. The bailie fined him £50 Scots, but as he acknowledged his fault, the fine was modified to 10shgs stg. And on this the bailie gave him back a crown.
The tenants were often in Court for disregard of mill regulations. Thus William Murray, in Mill of Ashogle, decerned to pay to James Wilson, in Hilltown, a firlot of meal as damages for losing half a boll through insufficient grinding of three bolls of meal.
In 1738 Mr Thomas Hay, at Mill of Turriff, complains upon George Allardyce, tacksman upon half an oxgate in Turriff, that he had clandestinely withdrawn the mixtures of the grain thirled to the Mill of Turriff and gone to the Mill of Gask therewith oft and divers times. Going to the Mill of Gask, he found a boll of malt belonging to George Allardyce being ground by James Watson, tacksman of the Mill of Gask, and he apprehended the said George Allardyce on the Street of Turriff, bringing home the said malt, and he seized the horse and the said malt and deposited the same in the hands of George Urquhart, procurator-fiscal, where it remains. The bailie decrees the said boll of malt and sack belong to Thomas Hay, tacksman of the Miln of Turriff. The horse to be returned on payment of 10s stg. (The fines are mostly stiff, even if the pound Scots was but 20d stg.
Actions of lawburrows figure largely in old Scottish Court books, and we have several instances here. Breaches of peace were common, especially at markets. James Fowlie, in Bartle Chaple, and John Fowlie in Black-stocks, acknowledged that they struck John Fordyce of Gask on the face with a hazel rod in the common market of Turriff on 7th December, 1737 to the effusion of blood. They were fined £50 Scots each. The bailie, for certain reasons known to himself, compounded the fines for £18 Scots which they paid. John Fordyce acknowledges he struck John Fowlie over the head with a cane after receiving opprobrious and provoking language, and was fined £50 Scots. The bailie is to grant modification as he sees fit.
In 1738 John Gillespie, slater, was fined £50 Scots for beating Mary Panton, servant to Sylvester Keith, town clerk. Mary Panton was fined £50 Scots for striking John Gillespie with a stone, but in respect of being a woman and that no blood or bruises appeared on the body of John Gillespie, the fine is also modified to 10s stg. John Gillespie’s fine is modified to 10s stg.
John Arthur, gardener in Turriff, was charged with beating and bruising Isabell Smith when shearing upon the Fald of Darrow, but not compearing he was fined £10 Scots for contumacy.
The fines were occasionally more moderate. In 1741 William Smart in Hillhead, was fined 9d stg damages to James Innes, merchant in Turriff, for riding away one of his workhorses in a clandestine manner.
A Rowdy Town Clerk.
Sylvester Keith, the town clerk of Turriff and the ordinary clerk of this Court, was charged with having, in the house of George Urquhart, procurator fiscal, beat and bruised William Fordyce, Esq. of Culsh, in publick company, contrar to all law, good manners, and Christian way of behaviour. He was fined £50 Scots.
No reference is made in the Court Book to the Rebellion of 1745-6 but reference is sometimes made to soldiers. On 28th July 1743, several persons in a mob were accused of attacking William Elder, sergeant, and William Berry, corporal, in the Hon Major-General James St Clair’s Regiment of Foot, as they were returning home from their quarters from their duty in the market of Turriff for beating up for Volunteers to serve His Majesty.
On 23rd June 1747, compeared before the Court, Lord Adam Gordon, Captain of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot, commanded by General John Mordant, and represented that his sergeant informed him that George Tennant assaulted one of his men when on duty in recruiting for His Majesty’s service, and rescued a young man out of his hands who had consented to serve His Majesty. George Tennant is committed to prison till he present the recruit. Tennant was afterwards liberated on payment of three guineas to Lord Adam Gordon and the jailer’s fees.
How a man confined to prison was to produce a recruit, and the ethic of Lord Adam Gordon’s perquisite of three guineas, are matters not disclosed.
Cure and Assythment.
On 9th October, 1740, John Young, soldier in Colonel Symon Dimcourie’s Regiment of Foot, was charged with drawing his shable and cutting James Skene, farmer’s son, to the effusion of blood, as the latter was going to the Castlehill on the first day (7th) of the Cowan Fair. He was fined 3s being the least that Dr John Gatherer alleges can cure his wounds, also £3, Scots in the name of assythment, also £6 Scots as a fine for his transgression, or be carried back to prison. John Young declared he was not able to pay the fines, and was willing to return to prison, when the said doctor declared he would cure the boy gratis, and James Skene’s father passed from the assythment, and the bailie discharged his fine upon condition of John Young’s good behaviour in time to come and passed the dues of Courts, except 2s stg, which John Young paid down at the bar.
No Common Fowl.
On 17th May, 1738, John Arthur, gardener, was charged with shooting a cock belonging to Slyvester Keith, town clerk, which he found in his yard throwing up some green bear. The said cock was of an uncommon kind, not an ordinary fowl. He was fined £10 Scots. He was also fined £50 Scots for bearing firearms without warrant from the Countess of Erroll.
The Bailie had sometimes to deal with more serious offences. In 1742 William Davidson was found in possession of a horse suspected to have been stolen. After public intimation was made throughout the kingdom, as also at seven or eight nearest adjacent parish churches, the horse was sold by public roup for £29 Scots. Davidson was put in the stocks in the Tolbooth, but escaped.
Margaret Noble, feuar in Turriff, being accused of child murder, and being secured in her house and put under guard, because it was not convenient to carry her to prison, considering she was but a few days brought to bed, and she having made her escape at the change of a new guard by opening the door of the house with a false key, she is declared fugitive.
An Epidemic of Wickedness.
About the year 1741, Turriff seems to have been in such a bad way that the feuars felt called upon to enter into a Bond of Association that on pain of forfeiting their feus they would let no houses to any person that could not produce certificates of moral character and show an honest way of living. The object of this course was to retrieve the hon0ur of the town and the good character of the feuars, seeing that the judgement of God which seemed to be impending, may be prevented, for the voice of Providence may be sensibly noticed by any thinking person, when two inhuman murders happened in the place within the space of ten or twelve weeks. The Bond is entered in the Court Book, in which twelve feuars have their names signed, they making their initials only, as they cannot write. The feuars are Robert Skene, Alexander Gray, George Duffus, James Innes, George Urquhart, Alexander Fyfe, John Piri, Alexander Thomson, Alexander Fenton, etc.
The bailie also prohibited the hail tenants and feuars from setting any of their houses to single unmarried women unles in the same house there is a female of good report and honest character.
A few years later, for reformation of the manners of the inhabitants, the bailie determines to put in execution the Act of Parliament against swearing, that no person whatever shall swear an oath from and after the date of these presents. The bailie is likewise informed of the common practice of the merchants of Turriff selling and retailing goods on the Saboth day, which practice ought to be supprest in a Christian land. Therefore the bailie prohibits all the merchants retailing any sorts of goods except to the sick and in case of necessity, when the military is passing or repassing, under the pain of £10, etc. Not the least important duties of the Barony Court were in passing Estate Regulations.
In 1737 encouragement was given by the Barony court to the tenants to substitute stone and lime for faill walls to their dwelling houses, enacting that the tenants at removal shall have the benefit of meliorations on certain conditions. Encouragement was also given to them to fence their fields.
No person was allowed to keep horses unless they had land to support them, except some persons that were useful in providing fish, etc for the town.
The Town’s Herd.
Several regulations were made regarding herding and to prevent cattle straying on sown land. There was a town’s herd, George Anderson, by name, and his fee was paid proportionally by the twenty-four oxgates. It amounted to £7 Scots a-year or a piece of grass in the Fear (Feuar) Ward of that value, which grass in 1739 was in the hands of the possessors of eight oxgates, who thus paid to the herd 17s 6d Scots each. The grounds of the outfields being overrun with whins and heather, especially the Upper Hill Ward, the proprietor resolved to take that ward out of the township hands, but a friend of the township interposing, it was ordained by the bailie that a cow-fold be put up yearly by each plough upon the most barran of the outfields, that the heather and whins be razed by burning, and that the said field sow four bolls of oats at least, under the penalty of 10s if any persons possessing the plough that is to put up the fold that year.
The hail inhabitants in Turriff complained in 1757 against Wiliam Brands for not ringing the bell at five o’clock in the morning and nine at night. He answered that he had had no salary for two years although formerly he had the custom of the Saturday’s market and something from the town besides. The bailie finds the said custom of ringing the bell at the said hours for the profit of the inhabitants and orders that it be revived and continued in all time coming, and fix William Brand’s salary at 15s stg yearly, to be levied of the hail inhabitants.
In 1741 the bailie passed an Act anent the weight of butter. Being informed that it had been for some time past the common practice in Turriff to sell butter, cheese, and tallow 10 ounces to the pound, or 10 pounds to the stone avoir, weight, to the great loss of the inhabitants, the bailie ordains that henceforth they be sold at a rate of 14 ounces to the pound and 14 pounds to the stone, conform to the weight lately regulated by the Dean of Guild of Aberdeen.
No Room in the Kirk
The last entry in the book is of date 30th January 1748, where, on the complaint of Sylvester Keith, tacksman of the Mill of Ashogle, and others, that they had no room within the choir of the kirk of Turriff, which properly belongs to the Countess of Erroll, but which is possessed in a great measure by those that have no right, the bailie apportions seats to the complainers and ordains those having no right to remove their desks against Whitsunday, with certification if they are not then removed that the bailie will order to turn them out of the choir.
This month, in the shadow of the Turra Show, we look at Leatham on Farming/Agriculture in Gateway and beyond. While James Leatham was not a farmer, he had a lifelong interest in agriculture. While working for the Peterhead Sentinel in the 1880’s he had a regular column in which he wrote as a farmer - Archie Tait. This may have been the first of Leatham's many writing aliases.
A quick trawl through the Gateway Index (which I’m still in the process of compiling) shows that articles on Harvest, Agriculture and Farming were frequent.
Over the 15 year period from 1923 to 1939 there are 22 dedicated articles as follows:
NO 134 Oct 1923 The Meaning of Harvest. The Only policy for Agriculture. An Address by Mr James Leatham p18
How the Railways Might help Agriculture. British Railway freight ‘the highest in the world’ p23
No 147 November 1924 1924 Farming Inquiry for Aberdeenshire p8
Dec 25 Railway Rates and Agriculture. By Jacobus p23
No 170 Oct 1926 The Parlous Plight of Agriculture. And the Tried and Proved Remedy. By the Editor. P1
The Brittany of Scotland. A Constituency of Farming and Fishing. How we are fixed in East Aberdeenshire. A difficulty Surmounted. By James Leatham. P9
Vol 15 No 172 Nov 1926 Speed the Plough p24 Cut-Throat Farm. By J.D.B p25
No175 Mar 1927Farmers Decline State Assistance p8
No178 June 1927 Compulsory Co-operation for Farmers. The East Aberdeenshire Resolution. What Other Countries are Doing. By O.M. Kile p24
No 184 December 1927 Orkney Farmers £180,000 for Eggs in 1926 p24
No 187 March 1928 The Farmer’s Friend p11
No192 Aug 1928 A Yorkshire Farmhouse – Cross Purposes p11
No 194 Oct 1828 Can Britain Live Without External Trade? Are Agriculture and Crafts Enough? By the Editor p10
No 197 Jan 1929 The World’s Oldest Farmer. John Chinaman’s Intensive Cultivation. By Adam Warwick p23
No 200 April 1929 Ireland Capturing the Egg market. State Intervention in Irish Agriculture Generally. Better than Barricades p25
No 211 Mar 1930 The Supreme Issue of the Hour. Stop the Wrecking of Agriculture. By the Editor p1
217 Sept 1930 The World’s largest Farmer on Russia p23
No 220 Dec 1930 Communism in China. Farmers For Soviets in Self-Defence. By Maxwell. S. Stewart p26
No 222 The Pioneer and the People. A workers’ farm that Failed and Why. The story of an Experiment. By Herbert Watson p10
Farmers hard to Please p32
No 236 Sept-Oct 1932 Vol 20 The Farmers’ Strikes. The Remedy so simple as to be incredible. By the Editor p1
No 241 Mid April 1933 Farm Carts and Heavy Crops Versus Sailing Ships And Poor Crops. The Australian Grain Ships arrive p8
No 260 Mid November 1934 Does Import Control mean just higher rents? A reply to a farmer’s odd attack. By the Editor p1
No 263 Feb 1935 Why Farm Wages are low p4
314 July 1939 British Bread the Cheapest in the world. No wonder if farmers need subsidies and men leave the land. By Jacobus p11
These show us some patterns and development of thought and I suggest will give something of a picture of the state of farming (at least from one perspective) in the interwar years.
It is certainly enough to remind us that there is plenty of politics in agriculture. For us in a rural community it is just as important as for the urban majority though perhaps in different ways. But export markets and things like the CAP are simply today’s versions of earlier issues/problems. I often wonder what Leatham would have made of it all today.
There are two major pamphlets which Leatham published on Farming – they were updated and the editions I have read are revised but they both date from 1925/6 You can download them from above and reading them gives us something of a snapshot of how interesting articles from the past can be – even if you don’t buy into the political angles or answers, there is still much of historical interest to be learned from reading them. I hope that some time in the future I’ll be able to pull together all Leatham’s writing on farming/agriculture and see what comes out in the wash!
I conclude by suggesting that keeping a record of the agricultural past is important. Turriff and District Heritage Society work hard in this respect. I would like to point you toward Allan Stephen's work pulling together the 150th anniversary of the Turriff Show and the society's participation in the Aberdeen Angus Trail. I wonder:
What else might we do to preserve the past for the future in terms of Turriff and farming?
The Deveron Press.
Not everyone can make it to Turriff for the Little Red Town Talks, so in case you missed out, here is the text from the 2nd TURRIFF TALK Schooldays, Shakespeare and Socialism – delivered by Cally Wight of The Deveron Press on 13th July 2016.
This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It has got me (among others I’m sure) wondering what he has to say to the modern world? I knew (and loved) Shakespeare well from my earliest teens till my late twenties. I then learned some things about commodification and fell out of love with him. Not necessarily his fault. It’s what people have ‘done’ to him.
So when I came across Leatham’s 17 studies of Shakespeare I was intrigued but not immediately enthused. Shakespeare has been in the past too long for me to claim any close relationship to him. But I read Leatham’s wee pamphlets and found an interpretation completely at odds with anything I was taught (or thought) in the years when I ‘knew’ Shakespeare. I can only suggest that Leatham is offering a socialist interpretation of Shakespeare, which is something I’d neither thought about nor come across before. But I find it is interesting to look back and see what Leatham was ‘doing’ with Shakespeare. I think it’s quite singular.
In broad terms, in the early years of Socialism, Leatham uses the work of Shakespeare in an educational context… and it all started here in Turriff.
Leatham first produced his 17 Shakespeare studies in Westwood School magazine around 1905 and they were subsequently published as 2d pamphlets. They also feature in the Gateway from 1913 till 1925. I’m currently putting them all together in one volume for publication. I’m working largely off the 2nd editions which came out around 1925. I cannot say how much revision there is between what was written in 1905 and 20 years later. It’s something I still have to explore.
Leatham’s connection with Westwood School started in 1905 but it’s not clear when he actually wrote the Shakespeare’s first. (Or rather, how late he was still writing them) He began to publish them in The Gateway in 1913 but I don’t know if the series was ‘complete’ before then. Certainly he revised them a number of times – and I am not sure how different the editions are from one another. So to a great extent this is the blind leading the blind. But it’s the best I can do for now:
Let’s first look at Leatham’s study on Macbeth. It is titled ‘An Up to Date View of Macbeth’ and dates from 1914. (though I am using the 2nd edition from the 1920s)
In this study, Leatham suggests that Shakespeare didn’t deal with contemporary issues, instead he writes:
‘Pleasing the Court.
In ‘Macbeth’ Shakespeare went back to a dim and scarcely historic period for his events and personages.
To us ‘Macbeth’ is not so much a creation of the imagination which might have taken any shape and course at the will of the poet, but a narrative of inevitable happenings which could have no other upshot than they have in this drama.
Viewing the play as the Tragedy of Ambition, authors have canvassed the characters and motives of Macbeth and his wife, not merely on the presented elements, but as if there were more in them than meets the eye. Was Lady Macbeth the stronger and more cruel of the two? Did she inspire Macbeth from motives of personal ambition, or was she merely his accomplice out of the love and loyalty of a wife who, in her husband’s advancement, finds her complete satisfaction, without thought of direct honour or profit to herself?
When Murder was in Fashion.
On the presented elements, the tragedy is plain enough in its meaning. Macbeth was an ambitious general and the readiness with which he took the hint of the witch as to his being king of Scotland shows that before he came under his wife’s influence he more or less embraced the idea. His successful generalship, his kinship to Duncan, the readiness with which the Crown fell to him as of right when Duncan was slain and his sons fled, showed that his title was a natural one, and suggests that his thoughts must frequently have turned to the possibility of his succeeding to the Crown. Macbeth lived in a barbarous age, in which, especially in Scotland, murder was almost a recreation, not only then but for centuries afterwards.’
In his study Leatham goes on to looks at the ambition of women. He draws parallels between contemporary and past – notes that Elizabeth I had just died – and it makes me wonder was she a lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s mind? Or was Mary Queen of Scots? Who knows?
I guess my point is, we read something and we think we know a lot about it because we assume the version we’re reading is ‘the’ version. This is no more the case with Leatham than it was with Shakespeare. Time, revisions, editors all mediate and change (often mangle) the original – sometimes beyond all recognition. We have to bear that in mind when we read, as much as we have to bear in mind that you cannot truly retrofit. Shakespeare’s view of ‘nothing’ was different from ours so that when in King Lear we have the quote ‘nothing comes from nothing’ we have to remember that he had not the advantage of Berkley’s Argument for Immaterialism, which came in the 17th century and suggests that nothing exists outside our imaginations and that things only exist when/because they are perceived – which heads us towards a more current quantum view of life.
Instead Shakespeare is looking backwards and referring to a variation of an ancient Greek philosophical and scientific expression, in itself the opposite of the biblical notion that God created the world (which is a whole lot of something) out of nothing (Genesis 1:1) So King Lear is showing himself to be pre-Christian rather than dealing with materialism – or commenting on quantum physics or the Big Bang theory. Shakespeare neither discovered nor predicted the Higgs Boson Particle.
Back to Macbeth – Leatham looks at the ambition of women in some detail in his exploration of the play. Leatham was quite outspoken against Women’s Suffrage in a couple of things I’ve read – I’m not sure if he was being genuine or provocative – you can’t always tell with Leatham – but at times his stated views in ‘Education and the Enjoyment of Life’ are enough to make a feminist’s hair curl!
He also makes the point that we know Shakespeare and his plays so well that they are almost part of our consciousness. If we set Macbeth against the quintessentially English play Henry V (I’m using the Gateway 1914 edition) we find that the latter is an anti war play published just before the start of the First World War. We have to assume that the war he is railing against is the Boer War (1899-1902) and/or the First Balkan War 1902. It reminds us that war is always with us.
One of the Shakespeare plays I (think) I’ve known best is Hamlet. Leatham’s take on it is interesting and unusual (to me at least). I’m using the Gateway 1915 edition titled: The Truth About Hamlet and it covers both the history from which the play was taken – he sums it up:
‘Such, in outline, is the Hamlet story in its squalid barbarity.’
Then continues to explore ‘the motive’ of the play. It’s interesting (to me at least) that for us Shakespeare, and especially Hamlet is a deeply ‘psychological’ play – Hamlet’s ‘dilemma’ is certainly one that rang existential bells with me as a teenager. But Leatham isn’t fundamentally interested in it from this aspect. He is more concerned with the way revenge is portrayed. And the ‘contemporary’ issues of the First World War are to the fore in his ‘interpretation.’ He writes:
That the play of ‘Hamlet’ has revenge for its motive does not seem to strike the average reader as a vicious feature. This is not remarkable when it is remembered that, in spite of so many centuries of Christian teaching, revenge is still an avowed motive in professedly Christian countries, and liberal elements of the venegeful spirit still linger in our punitive systems. Popular rage against certain classes of offenders exhausts itself in suggestions of ingenious torture, the idea being that matters are mended, that the equities are adjusted, if the culprit may himself be made to suffer pains akin to those he has inflicted on others. A passenger ship is treated as a warship and sunk at sea on the poor plea that it is carrying 4,500 cases of ammunition. Thereupon the baser section of the press, with the natural blackguardism of unregenerate man, advises reprisals on perfectly innocent people of the same nationality as the pirate-murderers, on the principle, apparently, that two sets of wrongs make one right. The death penalty would really appear to survive mainly because, as Carlyle urged, society still believes that it has to revancher itself upon the murderer by murdering him. In the early stages of the South African War, the avowed motive was the avenging of the Majuba, just as in the early days of the European War General Joffre, speaking in Alsace, publicly declared that this was a war of revenge. The newspapers, even churchy sheets, daily print statements as to something or other being avenged. In the sphere of politics, again, Irish and other Home Rulers, instead of being exhorted to do their duty on the clear political merits, were basely asked to ‘Remember Mitchelstown!’ and avenge it by giving their votes against the party in power at the time the Mitchelstown shootings took place. Political retribution is natural and needs no excuse: but the use of such catchwords as ‘Remember Mitcheltown!’ shows the extent to which the idea of revenge is inwoven with our thoughts.
…the critics still discuss the play of ‘Hamlet’ and the character of the Prince from the barbaric point of view, which assumes that revenge is quite in order as the motive of a drama.
Two Rival Theories.
There are two rival theories to the character of the Prince. The accepted view is that Hamlet is a waverer, that the native hue of his resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. One set of critics appear to be dissatisfied that Hamlet did not go straight from his interview with the Ghost and impale his stepfather as he reeled off to bed after his carouse.
Another smaller and less hasty class argue that Hamlet was too just a man to take such summary measure upon the mere word of a spirit, who might, after all, ‘be a devil.’ Hamlet, they argue, wished to go by the evidence, and would have the proof as complete and convincing as it could be made.’
In my day, interpretations of Hamlet were that it was all a question of moral choice: ‘what is the right thing to do?’ ‘How does Hamlet know whether action is good or not’ - maybe you were taught other interpretations. It leads me to think that the suggestion that Shakespeare is all things to all men is not the sole reason his work has endured for 400 years. Indeed it may only have endured for 400 years because we reinterpret it to our own circumstances. Shakespeare may (or may not) be an expert at universalising the individual – but we should be aware of the changes that have been made by our own retro-fitting of his ‘themes’ and dramatic dilemmas. It may be what we make of him rather than any innate feature which is why we revere him. Which is an interesting thought especially with regard to the next play I’m going to look at.
Published in Gateway during the War we have Coriolanus The Soldier Type in Action. It was published in Gateway in - 1917 –while in the thick of war. (I’m using the 2nd edition, 1925) Reflecting on the nature of being a soldier.
I saw Coriolanus at the National Theatre in the 1984 and it had a huge impact on me. I was 21 years old. What it taught me was that people set someone up to be a leader, because they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. And then, when they have that leader, they destroy him. For me, rather than having a ‘heroic flaw’ (which was what I was taught about Shakespeare’s heroes at school and university) Coriolanus was a man whose goodness was turned into a flaw by others.
Leatham’s interpretation is completely counter to my own. He sees Corolianus as true to soldier type – a true militarist – a firm believer in ‘might is right’ and all the worse for that. He says:
‘The Real Enemies.
Robert Louis Stevenson, settled in Samoa, on a great occasion found that to the bickering Samoan chiefs he could give no better advice than to stop their tribal fighting and make one good road across the island. In the same way it seems that a duty much more exigent on the German people than making war on their neighbours was to make war on the filth of their own sewers.
To those nearer home who still cherish romantic views of war, very similar advice may be tendered. One of the disgraces of Britain, and especially of Scotland, is the degraded housing of its people. To extirpate ignorance, disease, and mere filth; to give the ‘rank-scented many’ the time and taste and convenience to bathe their bodies and to clean their teeth, is better as an elementary duty, a mere starting-point, than to bear oneself with game- cock courage in a quarrel which may be of our own making. In the most martial of his plays - Henry V – Shakespeare makes his warrior-king utter a sentiment by which the character of Coriolanus may be sufficiently tried and tested.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility.
Coriolanus, so far from being modest, or still, or humble in time of peace, appears to us in all situations as the man of flouts and jeers. After the manner of the true soldier type, he had no vocation for peace.’
Of course, Leatham’s Coriolanus is mediated through the eyes of current war. The ‘war’ immediately preceding ‘my’ Coriolanus was the Falklands War. Our current interpretation would doubtless take the Gulf/Iraq Wars as its centrepoint.
It is interesting to wonder why and how we glean what we do from Shakespeare. I don’t know if my interpretation of Coriolanus was derived from a particularly potent dramatic performance or from the text. In any case that text was being ‘mediated’ both by the actors/director and me the audience. And all of us carry our own cultural ‘agendas’ be they deliberate, hidden or unconscious. What does all of this prove? Nothing except perhaps that as Simon and Garfunkel so appositely put it ‘a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.’ I had a certainly at 21 which I don’t have at 53. Which seems to be the wrong way round. My present observations are that it is hard to look beyond our own personal prejudices and ‘learn’ something from others – even from Shakespeare – perhaps especially from Shakespeare. I’m sure in 20 years I’ll say something different. And that is one problem of publishing. To some extent you are committed by what you say – we can’t always make revisions – and even if we do, we can’t guarantee that people in the future will read the ‘right’ version of what we write.
I guess the final point to leave is, ironically a quote from Macbeth:
‘Nothing is but what is not.’
Full list of Leatham's Tuppeny Shakespeare Series:
LEATHAM’S SHAKESPEARE STUDIES:
(with dates of first publication in Gateway)
1. Hamlet (June 1915)
2. Merchant of Venice (March 1913)
3. Macbeth (Feb 1914)
4. King Lear (March 1914)
5. Julius Caesar (May 1914)
6. Henry V (July 1914)
7. The Melancholy Jacques (Sept 1914)
8. Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oct 1914)
9. The Tempest Dec (1914)
10. Coriolanus Feb (1917)
11. Richard II Nov (1919)
12. King John March (1920)
13. Henry VIII Dec (1920)
14. Taming of the Shrew Sept (1923)
15. Othello (Jan 1924)
16. Romeo and Juliet (April 1925)
17. Richard III (Sept 1925)
A century ago James Leatham moved from Hull to Turriff and began a serialisation called ‘Twixt Desk and Shelves’ in his magazine The Gateway. This is the first episode, exactly 100 years after it was first published:
Twixt Desk And Shelves
I. There’s nothing so funny as folk.
First published in The Gateway in July 1916
‘Come on here! I hinna had a lift this lang time,’ said a strong man, showing a double row of natural ivories. He had come forward out of pure neighbourliness, and as he hoisted his end he spoke as if it were quite a privilege to be allowed to heave at heavy boxes and still heavier machinery.
‘Some grand willing lifters in this part of the country,’ said the Printer to whom all this dunnage belonged; and he smiled encouragement to his strong helpers, as well he might.
‘What was ye deein’ pittin’ a load on the cratur like that?’ protested a cross carter to the goods foreman, who had accompanied the last load. ‘She cam up the brae wi’ ‘er belly nearhnan’ trailin’ on the grun’, ruggin’ at it.’
The foreman, be sure, had his answer ready, and just as surely the others joined in the dispute. Altogether there was some stir and a good deal of curiosity among those who happened to be about as the lorries discharged load after load of this heavy cargo at one or other of the two doors that gave admission to the premises. These consisted of two long sheds which had been occupied by a cycle agent, now called to the colours. Built of wood and concrete, the whole front, practically, consisting of windows, the premises were lined with V boards, which had just got a coat of distemper above the varnish, and the outside was now painted in cheerful green, red, and white. They formed part of a terrace, the other end of which was occupied by a monumental sculptor, whose craft was freely represented in granite tombstones of diverse shapes, sizes and hues, from the ‘Bon-Accord black’ (of Sweden) and dark, spotted Labrador pearl, up to whitest Kemnay. There were ‘In Loving Memories’ in every kind of Gothic, Italic and squab Sans-serif lettering, scattered about the railed-off half of the terrace, in which a crane and a bogey or so competed with them for place. A little glass-cased shed adjoining the road contained a display of wreaths, crosses, and other trappings of woe. But the sculptor was a very hearty man, with a cheerful hail to passers-by in the road below; and to this emporium of the memento mori a further element of cheerfulness was added by the day-long rookity-coo of pigeons. Two pairs of brown-and-white pouters straddled among the obelisks and flew noisily over the urns and crosses. There was, however, a touch of the profession even about the sculptor’s pigeon fancy. Most fantails are white; but the sculptor’s pair were of funereal black.
It is one of life’s ironies that people who are content to live under leaky thatch should have a canopy of carved and polished marble or granite over their rotting remains when dead; that the Egyptians, for instance, should have put mountainous pyramids of hewn stone over their wicked and foolish dead Pharaohs, while they themselves festered in mud huts amid swarms of vermin. But the sculptor of St Congans did not give all his granite to the insensate dead. He kept some of it for the appreciative living. His own house was of granite. The polished door-jambs were of many well-blended hues; a miniature battlemented parapet of the polished stone overhung the doorway; a masonic emblem shone from the crown of an arch over the front gate. Another gate which gave entrance to the terrace had its pillars surmounted by two enormous polished balls of the precious stone. So that the dead did not have all the honour and expense.
It was, all the same, a cheerful corner, resounding to the noise of vehicular traffic all day, to which on mart days was added the lowing of much bestial and the excited shouting of those that gain a livelihood as propellors of horned beasts. Birds sang loudly in the belt of tall trees that shot up on the other side of the road; and the whistle of trains that passed near by brought an extra sense of the world-stir.
The printer’s new premises stood, as so far indicated, on a terrace raised up and railed off from the road, their elevation placing them well in view of all men. They were lean-to sheds built against a high bank; and the passers-by grinned when the read the undernoted announcement, printed in bold red letters on a white screen that ran across the lower portion of one of the wide windows, which was divided into four compartments by matter-of-fact mullions of painted wood:
The St Congans Press. Henry Haldane. Printer and Bookseller. Office of the Pelican
They grinned, and he grinned also, but on the wrong side of his face. The state of popular enlightenment was apparently on all fours here with that of the English country town he had just left. This was a matter of no direct importance to a butcher or baker, since the ignorant had their animal needs as well as the enlightened, whereas it was with the noblest part of man that a bookseller made his account. In his own native city there were ‘Presses’ galore; but these people had evidently never noted the signs or imprints of the printers who called their establishments the Caxton, Bon-Accord, St Nicholas, Adelphi, or Rosemount Press.
With the perverted menatality of those who do not see the humorous when it is there, they saw only an occasion of smiling where the absurdity existed only in their own minds. They were amused apparently at the idea of a Press being established in a town of less than three thousand inhabitants. They doubtless overlooked the fact that in a smaller town lower down the railway a printer had been established for years. Nay, he could have told them of a very considerable printer which for two generations had sent out chapbooks that were sent all over the north country, and much general printing was also turned out of this office, which was quite in the open country.
Those who smiled were thinking of the word ‘Press’ solely as applied to newspapers; and they were amused, doubtless, at the idea of a newspaper being produced in two lean- to sheds in a little country town. The printer was annoyed to think that Scotsmen, even in the country, did not know that newspapers formed only one branch of that great civilising agency the Press. Anyhow, the sheds were long and lofty and well lit, and had he felt any inclination towards the production of the ephemeral journalism of new potatoes, large gooseberries, and small presentations, there was room and to spare for even that.
As it was, the part of his stock by which he set most store lay in rough parcels closely packed along four shelves that ran the whole length of the larger shed of the two. These parcels consisted of his own publications. Some of these had gone through edition after edition, selling away steadily year after year. There was always something just out of print and calling for reproduction. At one period he had set up a press at a farmstead, and, with the whole household assisting, he could scarce keep pace with the demand.
His acquaintances sometimes remonstrated with him for wasting his time at what they were pleased to call the mechanical business of printing. In widely varying forms of appeal, they represented that he ought to give all his time to writing; that many men with less ability were making thousands a year by their pen; and that (this was the only disinterested line taken) his facility as a writer was a great trust and responsibility which he had no moral right to bury in a country printing shop; that his writings, properly marketed by a regular London publisher, would sell ten times as well, and he could produce ten times as much of his own proper work. And so on.
To all this his usual reply was that he liked to work with his hands; that he grew fat and soft sitting at a desk; that the years he had given to weekly journalism did not justify a continuance in sedentary work; that if William Morris cared to dye wool and weave tapestry; if Tolstoy wanted to make boots; and if Sir Walter stuck to his dry legal work through all his literary success, surely he, a much smaller man than those giants, might be content to do work which was endlessly varied and not at all dry in itself. There might be some doubt about the value of anybody’s writing – the writing of even the front rankers – but the man who made boots or dye woollens or printed handbills was meeting the test of everyday utility. He was in his vocation whoever might be out of it.
And so here he was today, helping the lorryman with the parts and packages, doing comparatively little damage to a new grey suit, and at the end of each bout of lifting, drawing the corks of the bottles of beer and stout with which the helpers were regaled.
The strong man with the big teeth took his bottle and glass shamefacedly, as if he would rather not have it supposed that he had had any such recompense in view when he came to lend a hand.
The fact seemed to be that all were genuinely interested in the new enterprise. They listened eagerly and asked questions as the machinery was lifted into the approximate places where it was to be erected.
The printer thought this natural enough. He remembered his own wonder as a boy as to how printing could be done in all its uniformity and beautiful exactitude. There were still arts and processes about which he was not too old to be curious. He would, for instance, like to know much more about zincography, the moulding of architraves, the hammering of copper, silver point engraving, and many other processes about which he had not had favourable chances of learning.
The cycle maker’s sign had been painted out, his own emblazoned screen was prominent enough, and the whole appearance of the building seemed to him altered; but for weeks he had slow-spoken callers who were loth to accept the new regime.
‘Could you men’ a burs’en tyre?’ said a lass one day in a hopeless tone which indicated in advance that she knew what the answer must be.
‘Oh, you’ll easily get your tyre mended, ma’am’ said the new tenant, smiling. ‘There are two cycle agents in the High Street alone. This, as you will see, is a printing office and bookseller’s shop.’
She did not go. More time was evidently required for the new order of things to soak into her mind.
An absurd old rhyme came into his head as she stood, and as he hated to talk about the weather, he said, ‘Your question, reminds me of an old strowd. I wonder if you know it.
‘Hae ye ony men aboot yer toon,
Hay ye ony men ava,
Hae ye ony men aboot yer toon
‘At could mend a broken wa’?
Ring a riddle nickadarie,
Ring a riddle nicadkee.
Do you know it?’
She went off as if she were insulted by the question.
A previous tenant of the place called in one day, displaying a very offhand manner. Strolling in, he immediately asked, ‘What are you going to do here?’
Printer: It is the business of a printer to print, and the business of a bookseller to sell books. I am a printer and bookseller.
Casual caller: Who are you going to print for?
Printer: There must be lots of printing to do in a complete town of over 1000 population, with three churches, three lawyers, three chemists, a higher grade school, a provost, a town council, a school board, gasworks, a parish council, and a score or two of shops. But I may have all the world for my market if it comes to that.
Casual Caller: Eyh?
The printer took no notice of this rude interjection. He remembered as a boy having seen a captain of militia give a man a sounding welt on the face for just such a form of address, and he (the onlooker) had been thoroughly startled and impressed by the well-deserved chastisement. He had forgotten that this kind of rudeness was rather distinctively Scottish (though he suspected it was Colonial as well), and he did not like being reminded of it now. The abstract countryman was perfect, but the concrete one was often not a little of a boor, who behaved as if the word ‘Sir’ or any other courtesy would blister his mouth.
Some of the most dexterously courteous and tactful people he had known belonged to the shire in which he now stood. He had known one man – a retired draper – who had always addressed his gardener as ‘Mister Adams’ and his whole demeanour was in keeping. Rochester’s celebrated poem on ‘Nothing’ enumerated Scots courtesy among the painfully non-existent things; but the printer had always resented the imputation. Yet – after all, here was the thing showing up, undeniable, and very objectionable. If a person spoke distinctly, within hearing range, and there were no noises to drown the sound, then the person who failed to hear might be deaf, but was more probably just wool gathering. In speaking to a deaf person one raised one’s voice, and got the pitch sooner or later. So if it was wool-gathering the apologetic ‘Sir’ or ‘I beg your pardon’ was only courteous.
By ‘Eyh?’ was something of a local institution apparently. He had been working indoors one evening while a painter and a neighbour worked outside. When one made a remark the other never failed to say ‘Eyh?’ At the other end of the building and with a wall between him and them, the listener heard the first remark; but the two men working side by side never seemed to hear it. The result was that the one person who was not engaged in the conversation had to hear it all twice over. Thus:-
Painter: They say he’s left five thoosan’’
Painter: They say he’s left five thoosan’
Stonecutter: Oh he’ll hae left the dooble o’ that.
Stonecutter: He’ll hae left the dooble o’ that.
That kind of thing kept up for half an hour rather tends to get upon one’s nerves. In his wage-earning days the printer remembered that if an office man failed to catch a remark twice running, he would be sharply requested to ‘wake up’ or ‘take the wax out of your ears.’ But, other men other manners, evidently. He had known men say ‘Eyh’ at every remark who would answer you presently without having the remark repeated, if you just waited; which showed that it was not a case of failing to hear, but simply an objectionable mannerism arising from a kind of mental laziness, or a contemptuous disregard for your company.
However, these were spots on the sun. Every place had its drawbacks. As he looked across at the belt of woodland on the other side of the road, with the green fields showing beyond it, while the birds warbled their cheeriest, he felt there were compensations here at any rate.
To find more episodes of 'Twixt Desk and Shelves' oinline the first 10 episodes are being serialised online at McStorytellers (episode 2 HERE)
Originally published in 1916 this article forms part of a series of talks given to the Turriff and District Heritage Society in June 2016 as part of the Deveron Press Centenary Celebrations. where the aim is to acquaint (or reaquaint) locals with Leatham's commentary on the local community and its history.
Some friends of ours went to Turriff and got badly beaten on the bowling-green. But that did not spoil their appreciation of the town. ‘I would like to live yonder,’ said a bowler who seemed to speak for all the others. He may have had many desirable features in view. There is first the fine surrounding country. Even Samuel Johnson, scornful as he was regarding the treelessness of the east of Scotland in his day, would have to admit that there was plenty of fine timber in the neighbourhood of Turriff. He would meet, any day, a traction-engine dragging several trunk-laden trucks of the red, odiferous pine.
Rolling ridges of fat corn-land are watered by streams large and small, the chief of which is the Deveron, that flows northward to the Moray Firth. He would see every detached house with trees about it, big or little. Farm-homes of red stone snuggle cosily on the hillsides. The railway touches Turriff in a hollow; but such are the undulations of the ground that many parts of the neighbourhood are still lower than the railway line. The town itself is built on the face of a hill, a black wood standing behind the white chalet-like houses that are now rising one by one along the ridge in the middle distance. Everywhere are the trimmest of trim gardens and velvet lawns. Creepers of vitis, wisteria, clematis, or rambler rose wander over the house-fronts, with sometimes and admixture of pear (and occasionally cherry) bearing fruit as I write, though the pears have not reached the ripe or taken the russet hue that they will show a month hence. All doors stand open; and noting the signs of care and comfort, you wonder how it is done, for there do not seem to be any large businesses about. When you come to pay Turriff prices, and learn about Turriff wages, you well understand some of the mystery.
The condition of the People.
One summer night a painter was working about my place after hours, not because of any importunate demand of mine, but because his employer was busy.
‘I hope you will be paid time and half for this,’ I said.
‘the De’il a fear o’ me!’ said he, with the brusque candour of this part.
‘Sixpence an oor for day time and overtaime baith!’
‘And how long is the working week?’
‘Fifty fowre oors,’ he answered.
‘How long is the apprenticeship?’
‘It’s hardly labourer’s wages. And you’ll have short time in the winter. But it’s your own fault. There’s nothing to be got without combination. At present prices, twenty-seven shillings a week is equal to about eighty shillings in normal times. In Aberdeen the rate will be eightpence or ninepence an hour, with extra for overtime. And everything except house rent is cheaper in the city… Yet I suppose the Aberdeen employer sometimes takes country work from the local people.’
‘Ay,’ said my man briskly. ‘I never could understand what wye they did it; but they dee dee’t.’
It was not difficult to understand; but it was no affair of mine, and I let him resume his whistling. One can’t withhold a certain sympathy for the bottom dog, even when, with a family of eight, he whistles upon sixpence an hour in war-time. It is only common decency to wish to see the people around us well-fed, and well-schooled; and even with gardens, twenty-seven shillings a week, with the sovereign worth less than fourteen shillings, does not exactly represent a standard of comfort for an imperial race.
But Turriff poverty hides itself decently in ‘lanes.’ The town has no slums, no unlet houses, none of the more obvious signs of private vice and civic decay.
A Red Town.
Turriff is different from other Buchan towns in respect that it is built not out of the drab granite which makes Peterhead especially look cold, but of warm red sandstone from the quarry of Ardinn. It suggests the yellow brown brick of English towns; and doubtless will be not less durable.
There are a few sawmills about, and the roughish timber that goes into farmers’ out-houses will be comparatively cheap in the neighbourhood. The result is that where elsewhere they build of brick and roof with slate, in Turriff they use wood and corrugated iron, both painted a red-brown. One wonders what they did here before corrugated iron was made.
A ‘Smart’ Town.
In a guidebook Turriff is amusingly described as ‘a smart town. ‘ What this means would take some defining.
Turriff is ‘smart’ in the sense that its business men are keen. It is also ‘smart’ if you please, in the sense that it is musical, has a choral society, and that if a bazaar falls to be held, palmists attend and rope in fees from the ‘castles in the air’ in the most approved metropolitan style. But from anything I have ever noticed of Turriff men, they take as long to clinch a bargain as other people. There is no undue smartness in their general social, civic and commercial attitude.
In some respects, indeed, Turriff is delightfully old-fashioned. In its High Street the houses are dumped down on the principle of a lightning zigzag or dogs-tooth outline, which the pavement closely follows. The important shops have practically no shop windows. The enormous open shop front of indecent exposure leads to no end of spoiled goods, and must give the shopkeeper somewhat of the feeling of a fish in an aquarium tank. The chary Turriff shopkeeper adheres to the old-fashioned, modest window, scarcely, if at all, bigger than the windows of his house, which is overhead and next door.
The quiet taste is shown also in the manner of signboards. The correct sign is of raised gilt letters, by no means obtrusive in size, and well spread on the house front. Some shops have no sign at all, but a modest gilt-lettered inscription on a fanlight over the door. In these days of splash with paint and print, I like the quiet style of it. If folk are blind they will see you name as readily in decent print as if you filled the landscape. To the blind it matters not how big your letter may be.
All the Frivolities.
Turriff is a business place, but it is also a place where pleasure is not neglected. The Club brings the potent, grave and reverend seigniors together; and seigniors who escape the net of the Club are gathered in the bowling-club, or a curling club, or a Debating Society, or one or other of the associations not exactly innumerable, but at the same time not readily to be enumerated.
The earliest mention of Turriff is in the Book of Deir, where, in 1132 it appears as Turbrand, the seat of a Celtic monastery of which Cormac was abbot. Dermongart [excellent name!] was the ‘ferlughin’ [wielder of the ferule that is}, scribe or teacher of its school. Marjory, that oft quoted daughter of the last Celtic Mormaer of Buchan, who married William Congan. In 1210, and became Countess of Buchan gave the church fee, with its income, four years later, to the monastery of Arbroath. By this time the Celtic monastery had probably ceased to exist. A son of the Congan’s founded an Almshouse at Turreth (what spellers they were in those days) in 1273 for the accommodation of ‘a master, six chaplains, and thirteen poor husbandmen of Buchan.’ The husbandmen of the thirteenth century must have been a tough lot if it required seven ghostly counsellors to keep thirteen of them going with religion; but probably there was plenty of outside work for them that was not contracted for! ‘Some houses,’ says Dr Pratt, ‘called Abbey Land or House of the Refuge’ (Majestie Dieu) mark the site of the Almshouse founded by the Earl of Buchan. ‘The Monks Gate’ (says Mr Moir) is still known by that name.’
A picturesque ruin is all that remains of the later church, which was built by Alexander Lyon, Chanter of Moray (son of the 4th Lord Glamis) who died in 1541 and ‘lyeth buried in the quier of Turreffe’ where a memorial now mostly hidden from view, exhibits his initials ‘A.L.’ and the family name.
Turriff has plenty of ancient history connected with it, albeit that history was chiefly made about the time of the ‘Trubles.’ Again and again in the early part of his narrative Clerk Spalding has occasion to mention it.
For one thing, the first blows of the Covenanting struggle were struck here. One of those blows would appear to have been fatal, and it was dealt from the roof of Towie- Barclay Castle, which stands to-day as peacefully among sylvan surroundings and affords an excellent view of the whole countryside.
The pleasant old tower was anciently the residence of the Tolly-Barclays, a family which provided Russia with a general to baffle and harass Napoleon in the Moscow expedition of 1812. The old house is in a very excellent state of preservation and shows what might have been done with other Buchan castles, given proprietors of means and taste. The wings and outbuildings, long since disappeared, and the old roof, with the topmost story, has also gone. But the tower containing the groined banquestting hall, with other interesting stonework, is still intact and in use, and, under the auspices of the Governors of Gordon’s College, to whom the castle belongs, a scheme of improvements is being carried out with the view of increasing the attractiveness, interest, and utility of the old fortalice. In the dining-hall religious services are held, and other apartments are used as offices and storeplaces. A stone stair gives egress to the flat, asphalted roof, where embrasures innocent of cannon preserve the castellated appearance of the old tower.
An early Barclay took 500 followers from Turriff to the Crusades. Only ten returned. The incident is thus referred to in the Rev Andrew Chalmers’ beautiful and too-little known poem ‘A Red Cross Romance’
Then Ythan heard the call for aid,
This Knight its sons to duty waking,
And he, of Barclay’s house the head,
His castled home forsaking,
Upraised on Turriff’s Temple brae,
The crimson sign of Calvary’s anguish,
And marshalled there a brave array,
The Soldan’s pride to vanquish.’
A spirited description of the battle with the Saracen host concludes:
Then fought the valiant knight alone,
With mighty arm his broadsword sweeping,
As if Jerusalem’s tottering throne
He singly held in keeping.
But pierced by spears in breast and brain,
Uz harpen ducmo* loudly calling,
With banner staff that brake in twain
He slew a foe in falling.
‘Well done,’ the Paynim Sultan cried,
‘No hand shall harm nor tongue deride.
His grave shall be on Tabor’s side,
That banner staff beside him.’
With water from Tiberius Lake
His dust-stained, wounded forehead bathing,
In softest abroad, like snowy flake,
His stately form enswathing.
On levelled spears to Tabor’s brow,
A band of turbaned warriors bore him,
Where softer seven long centuries now
Each rising dawn shines o’er him
*[but a stranger in the earth]
The First Shot.
It was from the roof of Towie-Barclay that the first shot of the Covenanting struggle was fired. On the 8th of May some of the King’s followers appeared in Buchan to beat up against the Covenant. Before coming by way of Turriff they paid a visit to Ellon and tried to get the Laird of Kermuck to abandon the Covenanting cause. The laird was found ‘in his own house of Arduthie,’ and with him were ‘the lairds of Watertown and Auchmacoy, with about eighteen persons.’ Kennedy ‘returned answer he could not perjure himself and leave his covenant. However, says Spalding, ‘they did no more wrong to him, and some went in and drank friendly in his house.’ On the 10th this same company, to the number of eighty horse and sixty foot, came to the place of Towie-Barclay, with the intention of removing from it ‘such arms, muskets, guns, and carabines as the lairds of Delgatie and Towie-Barclay had plundered from the said young laird of Cromartie out of the place of Baolquholly; but it happened the Lord Fraser and Master of Forbes to see their coming, so they manned the house of Towie, closed the yeatts, and shot diverse shot frae the house head where [by] a servant of the Laird of Gight’s was shot, called David Prott. The braons, seeing they could not mend themselves [query, did they try to mend Davy?] left the house, thinking it no vassalage to stay while [until] they were slain, syne without more ado rode their way. ‘But here,’ says Spalding, ‘it is to be marked that this was the first time that blood was drawn since the beginning of the Covenant.
The Raid of Turriff.
The foregoing episode arose out of a Royalist visit. But the Covenanting lords had paid Turriff itself a visit several months previously. There was Trot of Turriff and there was a Raid of Turriff. The Raid was first. It took place on the 14th of February 1639, and the Raider was the Earl of Montrose, a stalwart for the Covenant. According to Spalding, ‘The Earl of Marischall was not there himself, but his men, tenants, and servants of Buchan and Mar was there; and likewise the young Earl of Errol, his men about the number of eight hundred well horsed, well armed gentlemen and on foot together, with buff coats, swords, corslets, jackits, pistols, carbines, hagbutts and other wapins.’ These wapings were snugly and handily planted round the inside of the churchyard walls; and matters being thus comfortably arranged, the heads of the Raid sat down as a committee, acting under the Table of Central Committee of the Covenant, ‘for stenting the country and numbering the men.’ And now came what might have led to serious trouble.
An Armed Reconnaissance.
The Marquis of Huntly had been about this time at the burial of his aunt, the Lady Foveran, and hearing of the sederunt of the committee of Turriff, ‘some evil-disposed person informed him that he durst not be there that day.’ Incensed at this challenge, Huntly mustered his followers to the number of ‘about two thousand brave, well horsed gentlemen and footmen, albeit wanting arms, except sword and shot.’ The marquis advanced upon Turriff on the north-west side, his force in battle array; and, the companies looking to one another, without any kind of offence or injurious words.’ Having made his demonstration and tacitly invited the Covenanters to tred on the tail of his coat, Huntly disbanded his force, and went himself to Forglen. Thus the Raid: now for
The meeting committee had adjourned after the Raid, to meet again at Turriff on the 10th of the month. With this gathering in view, the Covenant party began to assemble by the 13th. Among them were, again, the retainers of Earl Marischal and the Earl of Errol. By this time the Royalist lairds had determined to do more than make a reconnaissance. Some eight hundred of them assembled, and taking out of Strathbogie, the Marquis of Huntly’s place ‘four brazen field pieces,’ they advanced rapidly and quietly upon Turriff, resolved to strike at the Covenanters before these had assembled in full force. By peep of the day on the 14th they had come to the town of Turriff and presently the trumpets gave tongue and the drums began to beat. Says Spalding, ‘The Covenanters, whereof some were sleeping, others drinking and smoking tobacco, others walking up and down, hearing the noise of drums and trumpets, ran to their arms and confusedly to array; and by this time the Covenanters and Anti-Covenanters are in sight of one another in order of battle. There were two shots shot out of the Earl of Errol’s house against the barons, which they quickly answered with two field-pieces, then the Covenanters began on hot service, and the barons also and many musket shot; then the barons shot a field-piece among them, which did no skaith, but frightened the commons; at last another field-piece was discharged, which made them all take flight for fear, they followed the chce.’
There is a slight ambiguity here as to who fired, and which ‘they’ ran and which followed. We know from other sources that the sprinters were the Covenanters.
Spalding continues: ‘The Lord Fraser was said to have foul foldings.’ (Is this seventeeth century for ‘hard lines’? Or does it mean that my lord, like Tam o Shanter, ‘skelpit me through dub and mire? Or what does it mean? In any case, Lord Fraser ‘wan away.’
The Trott was not entirely a harmless affair, nor did all the Covenanting lords have the luck of Lord Fraser, despite his ‘foul foldings.’ A number of the lords, among them Echt and Skene, were taken prisoners, and some were hurt and some slain.
A Person in Trouble.
The minister of Turriff at this time was the Rev. Thomas Mitchell. He had not managed to clear the town, and Spalding relates how the Royalist commanders on their return to Turriff from chasing the Covenanters, ‘fleyed’ Mr Thomas Mitchell. It appears that the Rev Thomas was creeping above the sylling of the churche, with his sonne disguised in a womans habite, whilst the souldiers were discharging volleys of shotte within the churche, and piercing the syling with their bullets in several places.’
It is not clear whether it was the parson or his sonnne who was in ‘a woman’s habite’ – would this mean petticoats? – but it seems tolerably clear that the ‘souldiers’ knew there was game on the upper side of the ‘sylling’ and that the ‘fleying’ was done on purpose.
The streets of Turriff are quiet enough today - except it be Porter Fair – but they must have been fairly lively with ‘three or four shotte’ from ‘feeld pieces’ and ‘a salvo of their muskets’ flying ‘alonge the streets.’
The Covenanting debacle is the less creditable when we learn that they had such commanders as Sir William Keith of Ludwharne, and Sir William Hay of Delgatye, the latter have been ‘bredde at the warre.’
The citizen ‘souldiers’ of today ‘let flee’ their ‘salvoes’ at the Knockiemill range; Lord Erroll’s Lodging no longer give forth artillery fire; the church of St Congan’s has neither ‘sylling’ nor even roof to protect a minister today, and although Turriff has a Castle Street, a Castle Hill and a Castlegreen, it has not now, and apparently never had, an actual Castle. It is a prosaic, prosperous town of shops and banks, of churches and good inns, and a population of over two thousand souls. It has a severely plain market cross, erected near the site of the ancient Crucem de Turriff, is lighted with gas at 6s 10d per 1000 cubic feet; and law-abiding township as it is, is policed by a sergeant and a constable upon whose hands time is reported to hang heavily; though there have been occasions when a certain notorious white cow provided them with more work than they could do.
In Buchan but not of it.
Turriff is in Buchan, but is hardly of it. It is near the border – so near being outside the charmed circle between the Deveron and the Ythan that it runs a narrow squeak of being outside it altogether.
Considering its small size, it is a wonderful centre. As one thinks of its commercial steadiness, the absence of any element of gambling from its trade, and the way in which it feeds and is fed by miles of prosperous country on every side, from which a network of roads converge upon it, of the town itself we may emphatically say, as is said in an inscription on a lintel in one of the wynds running off the High Street:
For Others Thou Was and for Others Thoul Be.
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