Sunday, 22 April 2018

Lost Music of Ancient Times

The Harp of Pictland?

 To say that the past is largely an unknown territory is a cliche and also terribly true.  Beyond several generations the broad, recoverable richness of the past - beyond the mere record of facts - is irrecoverable. In nothing is this more true than music.  Several Pictish stones in Angus show evidence of the harp as a musical instrument:  stones from Aldbar, Monifieth and Aberlemno.  Of these, the depictions on the monuments at Aldbar and Monifieth are more clear. Yet the three harps on the different stones are all different shapes, which begs the question about whether there was a wide variation in the instrument as used in Pictland.  The most contentious representation must be the Aberlemno stone.  At the bottom right of the monument there is, what seems to be, a figure with a c shaped object which might be a harp.  Simon Chadwick on his website about early Gaelic harps thinks that this is a harp akin to modern Burmese or ancient Egyptian instruments and points out that the scene depicted above this may be the story of St David.  If this is so and the figure has a middle-eastern harp, how did the creator of the scene in Angus know what it looked like?

   The stone at Monifieth more clearly shows a harp, the figure again at the bottom of the stone.  Monifieth being a noted early ecclesiastic site, the figures represented above may well be clerical functionaries, but we have no idea (if that is the case) how harp music may have been integrated into early church ritual. 

Monifieth Pictish stone, with harpist at the bottom.

   At Aldbar, the represented harp stands alone midway up the stone and the human figure may well show both clerics (the two at the top) and laymen (the figure with the animal and the mounted man). It may well still portray a biblical story or scene.  

Aldbar Pictish stone.

A Whisper of Lost Melodies

   Even at a relatively early date, music was a well travelled commodity and musicians and story-tellers could even travel between countries if they were exceptionally gifted.  The Treasurer's Accounts of Scotland contain numerous entries detailing payments to many musicians, including - on Friday 23rd July 1490 - the payment of a large sum 'to the King [James IV] to gif the Fransche men that playt' for him' while he was staying in Dundee. Travelling east from Perth in 1497 James IV gave a payment of 14 shillings 'in Fowlis in Angus, to the harpar thare, at the Kingis command'.  The royal lodging is likely to be the mansion or castle of the Gray family there (predecessor of the current 17th century Fowlis Castle).  Whether the harpist was a resident family musician is of course unknown, as is the music he is likely to have played to the king of Scotland.  Going back further, the early Celtic mormaers and succeeding earls in Angus would have had poets and musicians to entertain them, magnify their deeds and commemorate their ancestry, but all trace of these locally has long gone.  

The Sang Schools

   Both Brechin and Dundee had educational establishments in the early historic period linked to churches.  Song Schoolds were founded in the Middle Ages in many countries to foster the training of priests and choristers who could fulfil musical functions within the mass.  In 1522 Elizabeth Masoun or Scrymgeour granted an annual rent from a tenement in St Margaret’s Close, Dundee, to assist the chaplain of St Thomas.  Part of the revenue from this altar was assigned in 1553 to support the master of the Sang Sckule in Dundee.  Such activities were discouraged by the reformed religion, but Dundee's school survived for many decades, as payments in the burgh records show:

1602.  Item to the Maister of the Song Scule – lxxx lib.1621, 1622.  Item to Mr John Mow, Maister of the Music Schoole for his fie and house mail (rent) – ijlib.1628.  Item to Mr John Mow, Masiter of the Music Scule for his fie and house mail – ijc lxvj li xiijs.  Iiijd.1634. The same as in 1628.
   Dundee later had three burgh schools, including the English School which had been established by the Town Council in 1702, although it had possibly derived from the Sang School, founded long before the reformation. The bishop of Brechin from 1426 to 1454 was John Crannoch, apparently an ambitious man, who sought to elevate the prestige of Brechin Cathedral by instituting a college in 1433.  His sang schule was enriched by the Earl of Atholl with a yearly endowment of £40 for four priests and six boys to sing masses for his kindred.  The boys were clothed in purple and white, shorn of hair and admonished to strictly behave.  Their welfare was entrusted to two resident chaplains, one of whom had to accompany them everywhere in public, presumably to enforce good behaviour.  Again, the school survived the reformation and morphed into a public school in later centuries.  The College Yards in Brechin's retains a memory of the school.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Do Shining Streams Dream of Radiant Ladies?

   The Paphrie Burn in the north of Angus is no-one's idea of a roaring river or an awesome body of water, but someone once  thought it was amazing, because its name comes from a Pictish root cognate with the Welsh pefr, which means 'radiant' or 'beautiful' (Inverpeffer near Arbroath derives from the same word).  The valley of the burn is in an area packed with ancient associations.  To the south is the Mansworn Rig, scene of a bloody encounter* and to the east are the hill-forts, the Brown and White Caterthun.

   A ghost goes here, about its solitary business in this small glen of the radiant stream, or at least it did until the land was changed in the late 19th century.  There is nothing so resonant as a dead ghost.  But at least the tale remains, and here it is, as told by the Rev. Frederick Cruickshank in Navar and Lethnot, The Story of A Glen Parish in the North-East of Forfarshire (Brechin, 1899):

In a hollow part of the road betwixt Menmore [Menmuir] and Lethnot is, or rather was, for recent improvements have done away with it, a place called the Leuchat Pool.  The burn running down from it to the Paphrie is still the Leuchat burn.  There is a well known tradition that close by this Pool a Tailor, once on a time, killed his sweetheart.  She has ever since haunted the place, and is recognised by her dress of light grey, which has given her the name of "the white wife."  Many persons passing by on dull evenings have seen her.  One of the Leightons of Drumcairn told me that he was riding across the Tullo hill on a moon-light night, when the spectral figure presented itself to his view.  He knew at once what it was, but to make sure he struck at it with his whip which went through the seeming woman without meeting any obstruction. His courage then gave way, and he set off up the brae as fast as his horse could go.  The figure kept an even pace with him for a little way, and then all at once disappeared.  I remain to this day under the impression that I once saw her myself.  I had been at the Manse of Menmore dining with my kind and hospitable friend, Mr Cron, and was walking home.  The time might be past eleven, but the night was not dark.  On reaching the Leuchat Pool, i saw a woman, clothed as above described, seated on the bank at the right hand side of the road.  I spoke to her in the usual manner, but to my surprise she made no answer, and got up, taking her way towards Menmore.  I did not think of the "white wife" at the time, and am not sure if up till then I had heard the story.  I took it for granted that it was some poor benighted traveller like myself, who was taking a rest by the road-side, and recognising me she was afraid to speak lest her voice should betray her.  But since that time I have come to the conclusion that if such a spectre haunts the place, it was certainly visible to me that night. [Navar and Lethnot, 299-300.]
[Author Adam Watson, incidentally, derives the name Leuchat from An Fhliuchad, 'the wet place', Place Names in Much of North- East Scotland, p. 107.]

   The Rev. Cruickshank, the son of a weaver from Kirriemuir, was born in 1826.  He became the incumbent of Navar and Lethnot in 1854 and resigned as minister in 1905, dying three years later.  Apart from the parish history quoted from, he also wrote Historic Footmarks in Stracathro (Brechin, 1891).

   As a footnote, it should be noted that White Ladies are particularly prone to haunt burns and other water features, though the Angus variant, in Dundee, Claypotts, House of Dun and Balnabreich generally dispenses with this rule of nature (apart from Benvie, possibly).

Tale of the Mansworn Rig

 On the eastern side of Tullo Hill, Menmuir is the Mansworn (i.e. Perjured) Rig.  It received its name after a dispute between two landowners.  Both men brought witnesses to the place to swear that the land belonged to their respective masters.  One servant swore to God that he was standing on his employer's ground, which so enraged the Laird of Balhall that he pulled a pistol from his belt and shot the man dead.  When the body was examined it was found that he had filled his shoes with soil taken  from his master's land so that he could truthfully swear his oath.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Church Bells (Joy and Music or Death and Darkness?)

The Folklore of Bells

Who would have thought there were things so dark and mysterious in the history of church bells?  If folklore generally bells are sometimes the means of banishing Satan and all dark powers, transmitting the power of goodness as well as pure sound. Slightly more supernaturally, in some places bells are heard under the sea, having been sunk in a shipwreck, forever tolling for their own  loss.

   Bells were sometimes given human names and attributed with powers to scare malevolent forces away.  It was said of the great bell in the church of Nuremberg in Germany:

By name I Mary called, with sound I put to flight,
The thunder crackes and hurtfull stormes and every wicked sprite.

The ropes at rest - for ringing the bells or hanging some unfortunate?

Hell's Bells?:  Stealing the Peals.  Continental Bells. Death at Navar

   In 'real life' there is a surprising association of criminality and dark acts sometimes associated with church bells.  Never as numerous in Scotland as in England, it seems that certain sacrilegious individuals viewed them only for their net worth as metal to be melted down and sold on.  So we have a record in the burgh archives of Dundee in 1560 when the Baillies ordered 'James Young to exhibit and produce before them the bell of Kynspindie, whilk was arrestit in his house to the effect they may do justice thereanent.'  Young was evidently a shady opportunist taking advantage of the redistribution of Church belongings at the Reformation and had misappropriated the church bell from Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie.  He did not respond to the demands of the Dundee authorities, so he was required 'to deliver to Archibald Dowglass of Kynspindie his bell or pay him the sum of twentie pounds.'  There is a tale untold about how he transported the conspicuous object from the village to Dundee and how he was caught.

   There was another bell theft a few months later when it was recorded:  'William Carmichell to deliver to the parochiners of Lyff their bell, taken by him frae certain persons wha wrangously intromittit therewith.'  Whether or not Liff ever got its original bell back is a mystery.  The current kirk bell  was cast in the Netherlands by the Burgherhuis foundry at Middleburg (which later also provided the bells for Liff's neighbours Benvie and Lundie, the latter dating to 1617.).  This foundry also cast bells for the Angus kirks of Farnell (1662) and Panbride (1664).  Oathlaw's bell (1618) waqs also made in Europe, as was that of Rescobie (1620, from the foundry of Andreas Ahem).   The first known bell at Kettins was cast by George (Jooris) Waghevens and was made in 1519. Monikie's bell, unusually, is of Scottish manufacture, made at Aberdeen in 1718.

   Cornelis Ouderogge of Rotterdam made Navar's bell in 1655, which was later given to Arbroath Museum.  It had remained in the kirk of Navar until that building became ruinous after the union of the parish with Lethnot in 1719.  It was then hung upon a tree in the churchyard.  While the bell was being tolled for a funeral the clapper later fell out and struck a young lad from the family of Wyllie of Tillyarblet and killed him on the spot.  In 1773 the locals erected a tower for the bell and here it remained until 1827 when it disappeared for a time.

   Knelling of the Passing Bell.  Dundee and Brechin Chime In

  There was a widespread superstitious connected with the Passing Bell, though tolling still happened at funerals under the sway of Presbyterianism.  Dundee's authorities at one time decreed 'that ony person [who] cause the gret bells to be rung for either saul mass or dirige, he sall pay forty pence to the Kirk werk'.  But, at another time, 'The bell is decernit till ring friely for all neighbours and comburgesses at ony neighbours decease without any contribution, except twelve pence to the sacristan ringer alanerly.'  This latter fee was also sometimes dispensed with as a matter of respect.

   In medieval times, the ringing of church bells occurred at different times.  Prior to the Reformation the kirk of Dundee possessed 5 bells, on which 'six score and nine straiks' were given three times a day, to call to 'matins, mess, and evensang'.  It was no easy matter for those people who actually swung the heavy bells.  On 10th November 1590 the burgh of Dundee recognised these concerns:
The Council, understanding the grite and continual travels and lawbours quhilk Charles Michelson hes in ringing the bells and attending on the Kirk at all occasions, and the exignitie [insufficiency]of the duty quhilk wes appointit of before for that service, quhairupon ane person can not lieve honestly, now appointit to him yearly aucht pennies to be upliftit of ilk neighbour having ane fire-house within the burgh, at sic time and season of the year as he sail think expedient... [The History of Old Dundee, Alexander Maxwell, 1884, 292-3]
   Three years later a new bell was bought on behalf of the burgh, probably from the Netherlands.  Apart from the instances above, the bell or bells were also chimed to mark the curfew.  Dundee's curfew was rung at 9, but later changed to 10 in the evening.  Brechin's bells began ringing at 4 in the morning and the last was rung at 8 in the evening.  The Beadle rang the 'little bells' on Sunday morning to announce the time for prayers and the 'great bell' in the steeple at the start of preaching.  The last bell rung at 8 marked the beginning of curfew.

The tower of St Mary's Dundee, the 'Old Steeple'.

Forfar's 'Lang Strang' and the Jealousy of Dundee

   Forfar's 'Lang Strang' bell has a special place in the affections of Forfar people and dates from the mid-17th century.  Two brothers, Robert and William Strang emigrated to Sweden and made a good living for themselves there. (They are generally supposed to be sons of Provost Alexander Strang of Forfar, but may have been his brothers.)  The Forfar brothers donated two small bells to their hometown, which were called 'six o' clock' and 'eight o' clock', and in 1657 donated a massive new bell to the burgh.  The elder Strang in Stockholm, Robert, commissioned Gerhard Meyer to cast a great bell to give to Forfar.  Before it was completed he died and his brother William took over the project. Robert also bequeathed 10,000 merks to the poor of Forfar.

   A popular story says that the bell was shipped from Stockholm to Dundee, but the people of Dundee were so jealous of Forfar's bell that they tore out the clapper and threw this 'silver tongue' into the River Tay.  Undaunted the Forfar folk collected their bell and improvised a new clapper which served for many years until local craftsman David Falconer produced a new one, which serves to this day.  Lang Strang is fulsomely praised by Alan Reid in The Royal Burgh of Forfar (Paisley, 1902), p. 136:

Swung 'high in the belfry' of the parish church, the large and graceful object is not to be seen without some trouble and exertion, but it repays seeing quite as much as it does listening.  Its great size - some three feet by four - as also its massive brazen build, commands attention; but the ornamentation and inscribing are equally interesting.  The Strang quarterings appear on one side, with these words:  'This bell is Perfected and Augmented by William Strang and his Wyfe Margaret Pattillo in Stockholm, Anno 1656.'  On the opposite side may be read:  'For the glory of God and the Love he did bear to his Native Toune Hath Umql. Robert Strang Friely Gifted this Bell to the Churche of the Burghe of Forfar, who Deceased in the Lord in Stockholm on the 21 daye of Aprill, Anno 1651.'  The words 'Me fecit Gerat Meyer, Anno 1656,' appear among the quotations from Scripture which occupy the upper and lower circumferences of the bell.  To bring forth the full volume of tone which 'Lang Strang' is famous requires a considerable exercise of strength and skill. Many an ambitious young Forfarian has had his mettle tried by the 'tow-rope' of the giant.
   The traffic of bells with Sweden was not entirely one way.  The Courier newspaper reported on 27th November 2013 that  a pair of Swedish Lutherans turned up in Carmyllie and announced they had found a bell inscribed with the village name just outside of Stockholm.  The theory runs that the bell found its way to Sweden soon after the  first Jacobite rising in 1715.  The Earl of Panmure had ordered the bell to be rung so enthusiastically that it was reported to have cracked and so a new bell was installed in the kirk in 1716.  So the bell marked with Carmyllie's name in Sweden may be that original bell, but no one knows how or why it ended up there.

Lang Strang

The Kettins Bell:  The Mystery of Marie Troon - Mercenaries, Monasteries, Bogs, and Theft?

   Another bell with continental associations and an even stranger tale stands in the kirkyard of Kettins.  The bell has the inscription:  'My name is Marie Troon and Mr Hans Popenuyder  [Popen Reider] made me in 1519.'  This Hans is possibly to be identified with the cannon-maker who supplied the cannons for Henry VIII's warship the Mary Rose. There is no proven connection between this foreigner with Kettins (or the Flemish monastery mentioned below).

Since the church was redesigned in 1893, the bell has been houses in a small separate turret, but was incorporated into the main building before that date. The first strand of mystery revolves around how a 16th century bell with an apparently blatant European origin can to belong to an 18th century church.

  Architect Alexander tried to unravel the story late in the 19th century and gave the traditional origin of the bell as relayed by antiquarian Andrew Jervise:

The traditional origin of the bell, as given by Jervise, is that it originally belonged to the Abbey of Cupar-Angus, had been removed from there, and lost or hid in a bog or myre at Baldinnie, a short distance south of Kettins, whence the bell was rescued by one Ramsay, and by him presented to the Kirk of Kettins, and he, in respect of the gift, acquired for his family a right of burial within the church. In proof of this story, Rev. Mr Fleming states that the burial-place of the Ramsays was immediately underneath the belfry. ['Notice of the Bell and Other Antiquities at the Church of Kettins, Forfarshire,'  Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 28 (1893-4), 90-100.]

   From that point, however, the story gets impossibly entangled.  One theory states that the monks at nearby Coupar Angus had possession of the bell and buried it purposefully before it was taken to Kettins church for safe-keeping.  However, there was a considerable time lapse before the closure of the abbey in the mid 16th century and the appearance of the bell and gift of it to the kirk in the very last years of the 17th century.  If Marie Troon is equated with 'Mary Enthroned', some argue that this connects the bell directly to the Abbey of Coupar, dedicated to St Mary.

   By the end of the 20th century it was widely theorised that the bell had been cast in Belgium and there was a small trickle of visitors from that nation who came from that nation to see the bell.  Flemish historians believed that the bell came from the monastery of Our Lady of Troon in Grobbendonk, near Antwerp, and was looted by soldiers. This connection had already been made in the late Victorian era by David MacRitchie, as told by Alexander Hutcheson:

half an hour's walk from Grobbendonck, there is a small hill which gives its name to the surrounding farm, viz., 'De Troon' or 'The Throne.' The farm-steading is part of an old monastery known as 'Maria Troon.' The Priory of Canons-Regular of Maria Troon was foiinded in the year 1414 near the village of Ouwen, now Grobbendonck, on the river Nethe, one hour's journey from Herenthals . . . But in the year 1578 it was attacked by the Dutch soldiers of the province of Herenthals, and burned to the ground. The monks were dispersed, and ultimately, in 1587, united themselves with the monks of St Martin's Priory at Louvain.

   How the Marie Troon actually made its way from the Low Countries to Strathmore, however, is far from apparent.  Some people say the Marie Troon was first used on board a ship and was possibly stole while the vessel lay in Scottish waters; others believe it fell into the hands of traders who sold it on to the Hallyburton family who had connections with Dundee and Kettins. Hutcheson however points out that the bell is too large to have practically served that purpose.


   Things took another turn when a well-manner delegation from Grobbendonk came to Kettins in the early 21st century and asked if they could have their bell back.  Among those pressing for the repatriation were Paul van Rompaye, a local councillor, and Martine Paelmon, a member of the Belgian parliament.  However, a compromise was hammered out whereby the Belgians indicated they were prepared to accept a bell made from a cast of the original.  Crisis and diplomatic incident averted.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Colin Sievwright the Weaver Poet and Queen Scota, Ancestress of the Scots

  A post of two halves, this one, and only loosely connected, I'm afraid.  Let's first look at the Brechin-born 'weaver poet' Colin Sievwright.  Born in Brechin in 1819, son of a hand-loom weaver, he was the eldest of a large family.  His parents were Solomon Sievwright and Martha Burnett.  He started work in the East Mill Company at the age of eight and was paid a shilling per week for seventy-two hours' work.  He married Annie Mackenzie in 1842 and they had four sons and one daughter.  The year before his marriage he was recorded in the census as being a resident in Kirriemuir, working as a weaver.  By the time of the census in 1871 he was living at 21 Dundee Loan, Forfar, and he was employed in a factory as a starchmaker, though he pertinently - and proudly - listed his subsidiary occupation as 'poet'.

   And a poet Colin Sievwright certainly was, a member of that peculiarly Victorian breed of artisan bards who flourished all over Great Britain.  The merits of this brand of poetry are hard to judge as a whole, and I admit that 19th century poetry in its entirety is not something which I love.  Colin published four books of poetry:  The Sough O' The Shuttle (1866), A Garland for the Ancient City:  Or, Love Songs of Brechin and its Neighbourhood (1873), New Lilts O' The Braes O' Angus (1874), Rhymes for the Children of the Church (1879). Sievwright's work covered subjects such as the beauties of natures and the characters of rural life.  He wrote in both Scots and English and the following (from his 1866 book) gives a flavour of his work, describing the (then) ruined castle of Inverquharity:

Auld Kirrie, Cradle of the Nation?

Scota - First of the Scots?  Dream Queen?

   In his introduction to his poem 'View from the Hill of Kirriemuir' (again from his first collection), Colin Sievwright provides some surprising information about Kirrie Den which seems to take us to a very remote place in Scotland's past:

At the entrance of this delightful arbour [where the Gairie Burn issues from a ravine at the west of the town], on your right hand as you ascend the banks of the stream, there is to be seen a little cave in the rock beautifully overhung with 'the ivy evergreen,' and known to the people in the neighbourhood as the Queen's Chamber, where it is believed that Scota Eta, a daughter of Pharoah king of Egypt, and the first who swayed the royal sceptre over Caledonia's hills and glens, found a shelter, when in the course of one of her Royal perambulations she was overtaken by the double calamity of darkness and drift.  In this little chamber we are told she passed the night in perfect safety, while her bodyguard lay encamped on the holm on the opposite side of the stream.
   The tale of this mythical queen goes back very distantly indeed into the murky past of both Irish and Scottish origin myths.  In one version of these confusing tales, Feinius Farsaidh and his son Nel were intrepid heroes and linguists who took the sacred Gaelic language from the Tower of Babel.  Nel made a good career move by journeying into Egypt and hooking up with the Pharoh's daughter, Scota:

He went into Egypt through valour
Till he reached powerful Pharoh,
Till he bestowed Scota, of no scant beauty,
The modest, nimble daughter of Pharoh.
  Following the drowning of the Egyptial leader in the Red Sea, Nel and Scota's son Gaidel Glas led their tribe west, into western Europe, and they were named Gaels in honour of him.  But how the Queen of Egypt happened to be encamped in Kirrie Den is anyone's guess.

Scota:  Any resemblance to any character, actual or fictional, is purely co-incidental.

More Classical Connections in Kirriemuir, the Graeco-Pictish Conspiracy

   Caddam Wood is the name of a noted Scottish country dance tune, and it is an actual case near Kirrie where - possibly - a Greek nymph once sported itself. (The wood features in The Little Minister, Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel by J. M. Barrie).  But there is a more elusive mention of the place (elusive to me anyway) in The Barrie Inspiration by Patrick Chalmers (1938), which states:

There is a legend of Caddam, borrowed from the Greek mythology, which tells how a god pursued a Greek nymph there, which was an unco' thing to happen in an Auld Licht Parish.      
 Further details of this Doric tall-tale are sadly unknown to me.  But I have a theory which may revolutionise the ethnicity of the entire Scottish race.  We know that Lallans was a name for the Scots language, and before that it was known as Doric, signifying a metaphorical connection with the wild, rural country of uncultured highland Greece.  But what if there was an actual, real DNA connection?  We know that Usan on the Angus coast was supposed in a so-called tall story to have been founded by the mighty Ulysses.  It all fits together.  It is too coincidental that we also have this story, however slight, of the minions of Pan cavorting in the Kirrie glades.  The Picts were neither Celts nor Scythians, but actually a lost tribe of noble Greeks, lost in time.  Case proved; enough said, except to state that less knowledgeable commentators may blame the transference of classical culture on a misinterpretation of local lads and lassies to the noble efforts of local dominies back in Victorian times, but that is quite simply not the case.

Sievwright himself.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Man With The White Sandshoes (and a Purple Man too)

   I've put out a call for information today via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. to see if anyone can provide me with any additional information regarding "The Man With the White Sandshoes".  This character is a kind of urban legend, whose supposed activity stretched over many decades in the mid to late 20th century.  In summary, he was a nameless but terrifying apparition - I'm not sure whether human or ghostly -who terrorised people in Dundee by chasing after them, for unknown reasons.  Generations of children had him whispered about by cold blooded siblings and older associates who took delight in instilling mortal fear in more gullible bairns.

   A cursory investigation shows that the character (archetype?) is familiar in other parts of Scotland, most in the west, where he was sometimes known as "Sandshoe Sammy".  More intriguingly, the same character also featured in the urban parts of North-East England.  I always believed that the spectre was well-kent in Dundee, but there is no mention of him in Geoff Holder's well researched Haunted Dundee.  

   In my childhood the Man With The White Sandshoes was active in the environs of Balgay Hill, in the gloaming and after dark. he ran on the roads and wooded pathways of the hill, running after random unfortunates who happened to be unlucky enough to have strayed into his domain.  A favourite spot of his apparently was the iron bridge which joins the two sections of the hill.  This was also a favoured haunt of the White Lady (whose actives are admirably detailed by Holder), but I don't know whether there was any connection between these two creatures.  A particular target of the Man was any nurse who happened to walk through the hill, on the way to or from her shift at Victoria Hospital, to the south of Balgay.  What he would do if he actually caught anyone is also unknown.

   The apparition is alleged to have haunted the area around Dunmore Street, in Kirkton, in the 1950s.  Beyond Dundee, there is a wonderful tale from North Lanarkshire/East Dunbartonshire online, related by someone who used to venture every Saturday with an associate or two, 'years back', from Moodiesburn to Kirkintilloch, an isolated country route.  The narrator says that one winter weekend day he crossed the road, 'just before the countryside part', and saw what he thought was a severed hand in a glove perched on the top of a dyke.  However, it turned out to be a glove cleverly packed with ice by a clever prankster.  He and his friends started speculating that the hand was real and the work of a serial killer they decided to call "The White Sandshoe Man", and for months joked that this horror was pursuing them.  Months and months later he found another snow packed glove on the same wall, only this was from the other hand.  The killer punchline was that it was the middle of a July heatwave - how could it have got there and not melted?

   The story is intriguing for its many folkloric elements.  Did he merely pluck the name of the bogey out of the air, or was the character floating about, metaphorically or actually, in the local ether?

   The Glasgow version of the origin of the soft shoe man is more emphatic.  During the blackout in World War II, there was a man who used to lurk around in the enforced darkness of the Garnethill area, and he would pounce on stray women and strangle them.  He was never brought to justice.  His method was made effective by his wearing sandshoes and therefore he was nicknamed Sand Shoe Sanny and became a terror to successive generations of weans in the locality.

   A variant on the name of the prowler is "Sand Shoe Sanny", not Sammy, readily explained by the fact that sannies are Scots slang for sandshoes. Another rogue tradition says the same was "Sandshoe Wullie".  One Glaswegian swore that this character lived near the public baths in Elvan Street:  

He wore a long coat and a bunnet and...walked with his hands in his coat pockets.  I never ever saw this person or new [sic.] anyone who had actually seen him... Whenever we were in the Shettleston area from Wellshot Road down to Cree Street we were always extra vigilant...
   On the same online message board another contributor ("weegieghost") gave the variant name for the ghoul as "Flannelfoot".  Is this a throwback to a primordial, noiseless bogle from before the time when the ubiquitous sandshoe came into being?  One of the functions of the being, of course, was to keep children in line, away from certain areas and home by a specific time, or else.

   Possibly the Sandshoe Man (was "Plimsoll Samuel" his given name, I wonder?) was a regional variant on the shadow being known around the world as The Silent Man or The Still Man.  This is a stalking figure who murders victims for reasons unknown and seems to feature in folklore as far afield as Germany and other places in Europe.

   Be that as it may, the Scottish version is very distinctive.  Fair enough wearing sandshoes for fleet movement, but why particularly white sandshoes?  Surely that would just draw attention to the runner.  One source states that the anonymous man wore one black shoe and one brown one, which is nearly as attention seeking.  How the story began is anyone's guess, but my mind is drawn to tales of "Jack the Runner", one of the many haunters of Glamis Castle (itself not far from Dundee).  This creature ran wildly across the lush and eerie lawns in front of the castle and is reckoned by some to be the spirit of the famous family monster, taking a forlorn chance to escape from its family captors.  Maybe there is a link here to an archetype?

+++++++++ Respondents' Roll of Honour from Facebook, etc. +++++++++++++++

   In response to my request for information, the following members of Dundonian History for All on Facebook have kindly provided the following: 

SN:  'As children we were told we had to be asleep before the man in the white sannies came, never told why!!??'

MH: 'I think perhaps there was a pedo or murderer who wore white sandshoes and mums and dads all over used it to help keep the children safe. I was frightened by a man wearing white sandshoes at Lochee park. My pals and I gave him a wide berth but looking back he was probably on his way to play tennis in the park.'

AP:  'I used to live at 36 North Ellen Street up three flights of stairs and sometimes had to take a meal down to the old lady on the ground floor. At the bottom of the stairs was an alley way out to the rubbish bins and the man in the White sannies used to hide in there having a smoke.'

MB:  'He lived next door to us, and apart from the white Sannie’s his nose was purple wi the drink.'

JD:  'My parents when they were children were told to watch out for the man in the white sanshoes. That would've been 1940s. They told us in the 1970s the same story but they said he wore red clothing.'

MT:  'While at primary school in the early 60's someone in the playground would shout "Here's the manny in the white sannies! We would all run for cover. The other one was the "purple man".'

GD:  'At Dryburgh Primary in the sixties we were scared of the Purple Mannie but never saw him.' (RF, a contemporary at Dryburgh Primary, also recalls the Purple Mannie.)

DM: 'My dad told me about the man in the white sand shoes was a flasher when he was young. Used to creep about in sandshoes so kids didn't here him coming and when he got close he would open his rain coat and be naked.'

MG states that his wife 'was told about him when little apparently he would creep up behind women to scare them wearing sand shoes so not to be heard doing this'.

   Several people remember at least one person in Dundee singing a song about the Man With the White Sandshoes, but the words and tune are probably now lost.

  JC informed me by email that her memory of the White Sandshoe Man was when she went to Mains School in 1940s: 'he used to wear a long raincoat and he used to stand on the golf course looking over to our school . I’ve never forgotten him.'

   The Teeside version of Sandshoe Sammy was very evident in the 1970s.  As in some Scottish instances, in England the name also sometimes became attached to a real person.  In Middlesbrough, a lonely figure who always carried a carrier bag and wore sandshoes which were too big for him (and, therefore, presumably useless for running?). The figure, in various whispered forms, was known in the city from the 1940s onwards.  What connection there was between this area and Glasgow, in terms of this tale, are not clear.  But a tale from a contributor to The Partick Times (Summer 2015) also states that Sandshoe Sammy was a name given to a real person, who stayed at Exeter Drive.

Anyway this man, maybe he had something wrong with his feet, but for whatever reason, he wore huge, big sandshoes and he always wore a coat and he had a beard. He wasn’t frightening or creepy, but there was something odd about the man and he was always called Sandshoe Sammy. People used to follow him and shout at him. I remember when he died they had to ask people to go to his funeral because he didn’t know anybody. Somebody went round the doors telling people, and a lot of the neighbours went.

Some Sources and Further Reading

Holder, Geoff, Haunted Dundee (Stroud, 2012).

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Celtic Relics - The Kingoldrum and Guthrie Bells

   This post concentrates on those evocative but elusive ancient items associated with the ancient church in Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere, hand bells.  Previous posts have mentioned several of these which were located in Angus.  St Medan's Bell was associated with Lintrathen and Airlie and there are records of its hereditary keeper, who resigned it to the Ogilvy family, in the 15th century.  Tragically, it was mistaken for scrap metal in a local sale in the 19th century and destroyed.  The Lindsay family owned St Fillan's Bell, though its hereditary keepers were the Durays of Durayhill, dempsters of the Laird of Edzell.  Sadly, this bell has also been lost.  Francis Eeles described the two forms of early bells from the Celtic tradition.  The first type was formed from a sheet of iron bent into a quadrangular shape, with rivets up one or two sides, coasted with bronze or copper, with a handle on the top.  A later type was more regularly bell-shaped, made by a complete casting.  Around 20 early quadrangular bells made of iron or bronze have been survived in Scotland, and around twice as many from Ireland, and the consensus among scholars is that they were brought into north and eastern Pictish territories by the family of Iona.

   Hand-bells were the only type known during the early medieval period as the technology necessary for casting free hanging bells such as were later used in church towers etc. was not known.  Hand-bells, whatever their precise use, were rung by striking, rather than being made with clappers.

The Kingoldrum Bell

Detail of crucifixion from sculptured stone at Kingoldrum.

      The church and lands of Kingoldrum, north-west of Kirriemuir, were one of the early royal grants to Arbroath Abbey  in the early 12th century and seems to have been an established power centre as there are fragments of sculptured stones there (though there are no records of the site in earlier records). While the kirk of the parish  (which is no longer in use) was built in 1840 it sits roughly on the same site as its medieval predecessor, on a prominent mound and within a large, circular graveyard, which may indicate a very early date, though to my knowledge there has been no archaeological investigation to confirm this.  Like Airlie, Kingoldrum was dedicated to St Medan, who had an attested early cult locally, and there was a well (now lost) dedicated to this cleric nearby.  Gaelic seemed to flourish alongside Scots for a long period in this locality.

 In 1843 an old scellach or bell, made of sheet metal, was found here.  A bronze chalice and glass bowl were recovered beside it. Warden reports that:

A curious bronze cross and chain were found in a stone cist near the Church.  These and the bell were presented to the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries by the Rev. Mr Haldane, the minister of the parish, but the chalice and bowl have disappeared.  In another cist was a skeleton doubled up, with a rude bronze armlet on one of its wrists.

   The Kingoldrum Bell is now housed in the National Museums of Scotland (NMAS KA3).  Incidentally, the Rev. James Ogilvy Haldane was minister of the parish from 1836 and died in 1891. The enthusiastic minister also donated other finds from his parish to the Museum of Antiquities:  an axe and urn (in 1880 and 1887 respectively), fragments of sculptured stones and metal relics (1867), and, most significantly, a beautiful carved stone ball in 1884, further enhancing the rich archaeology of the area.  His father, William Haldane, had been minister of Kingoldrum before him.

Ball of conglomerate (3" diameter) found in Kingoldrum by the Rev. Halldane.

   Daniel Wilson reports the finding as follows:

This ancient bell was dug up in 1843, and contained, in addition to its detached tongue, a bronze chalice, and a glass bowl - the latter imperfect.  the bell is of the usual square form, made of sheet iron, which appears to have been coated with bronze, though little of this now remains.  It measures 8 by 7 inches at the mouth and 9½ inches high, exclusive of the handle.  Unfortunately the value of the discovery was not appreciated, and both the chalice and the bowl, it is feared, are now lost.

     In Scotland in Early Christian Times, Anderson adds the following, lamenting the loss of the other unique items found:

A curious cross-shaped ornament or mounting, decorated with enamel and a portion of a bronze chain of S-shaped links, dug up near the place where the bell was found, and three sculptured stones from the same site, are also in the Museum.  It is impossible to determine with certainty what the two articles, which are described as a chalice of bronze and a bowl or goblet of glass, may have been.  We can only regret their loss, all the more to be deplored that nothing answering to this description has ever been found in connection with any other remains of the Christian period.  No chalice of the early church exists in Scotland. [The  metal finds mentioned here were donated by Haldane in 1867.]
Kingoldrum finds, illustrated in Scotland in Early Christian Times.


The Guthrie Castle Bell

   The ancient bell which was kept (for centuries, one assumes) at Guthrie Castle is now in the National Museums of Scotland (NMAS 1922: 40). It is interesting that we have another example here in a church relic in the hands of a secular landowning family, which means that the sacred object was intimately connected with the hold a particular kindred had over the land they owned. Unlike Kingoldrum, there does not seem to be much evidence that Guthrie was an important focal point of secular or ecclesiastic power in the Pictish era or immediately afterwards.  The Guthries, like the Ogilvys, were a family whose name originated in Angus. However, although they held Guthrie itself and various other local estates, they did not become enobled or play such a prominent part in national events like either the Ogilvys or the Lindsays.
  The Guthrie Bell is one of only two enshrined bells which have survived in Scotland.  (The other was from Kirkmichael-Glassary and is also now in Edinburgh.)  Eeles confirms this bell is of the earlier type, described above, and must have been both early in date and associated with an important early saint, from the 8th century or earlier.  His unsupported claim that the bell and shrine must have originated in either the west or the north of Scotland can certainly be challenged. 

   The bell itself is made from iron and stands 8 and a half inches high.  Its shrine completely covers it  and is made up from four plates richly decorated by ornaments.  There are indications that the shrine has been renovated several times. There is an inscription on the shrine which reads Johannes dlexandri me fieri feisit, and made have been made in the 15th or 16th century reconstructions.  Francis Eeles summarises his thoughts on the history of the two objects:

The bell itself is probably the relic of some important saint whose
fame came down till late in the mediaeval period. It may well date from
before the ninth century.
It was probably enshrined early in the twelfth century, to which
period the figure of our Lord crucified and the small apostle, probably
St John, belong.
In the fourteenth century the silver plate with its embossed decoration
was made and the crucifix and attendant figures were remounted upon it.
Late in the fifteenth century or early in the sixteenth, John the son
of Alexander made a second reconstruction, changing the position of
some of the figures and adding others.
In the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries the loss of some figures may
have occasioned a further re-arrangement of the rest in the manner
in which they now exist, including the refixing of the inscription plate
upside down.

The Guthrie Bell shrine, based on illustration in Anderson's Scotland in Early Christian Times.

Selected Works and Sites Consulted

Anderson, Joseph, Scotland in Early Christian Times, The Rhind Letters in Archaeology, 1879 (Edinburgh, 1881).

Bourke, Cormac, 'The Hand-bells of the early Scottish Church,' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 113 (1983), 464-8.

Catalogue of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (revised edition, Edinburgh, 1892).

Eeles, Francis C.,  'The Guthrie Bell and its Shrine,' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 60 (1926), 409-20.

Laing, Lloyd, Late Celtic Britain and Ireland, c. 400-1200 AD (London, 1975).

Warden, Alexander, Angus or Forfarshire, volume 4 (Dundee, 1884).

Wilson, Daniel, 'Primitive Scottish Bells,' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 1 (1851-54), 18-23.

Silver plate attached to front face of the Guthrie Bell.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Angria the Pirate - Dundonian Scourge of the Indian Ocean?

On the face of it,  regarded phonetically, Angria seems a good name for a historical pirate and the name is associated with a particular seafarer in the Indian Ocean of the 18th century who successfully defied the might of the English East India Company for nearly four decades.  The original behind the character was Kanhoji Angre (otherwise Conajee Angria), who was certainly a native of the Indian sub-continent.  He was admiral of the Konkan navy on the western side of India and died undefeated in 1729.  What are we to make of then in the claims in various sources that a British naval commander encountered Angria the Pirate in this region in the year 1750 and found out - astonishingly - that the apparently Asian seaman had an incredibly detailed knowledge of his home town.

   According to the account in Dundee Delineated (1822), in the year 1750, a certain Captain Crichton of Dundee was 'captured by Angria, the famous East India Pirate' and the following strange conversation between the two men took place:
Angria. - Where do you originally come from?
Crichton. - From Dundee, in Scotland.
Angria. - Ay! ay! from Dundee!!! Then pray, where does the Cross of Dundee stand?
Crichton. - Near the west end of the large square, opposite the new Town-house.
Angria. - How many steps are in it?
Crichton. - Six steps, and all go round about it.
Angria. - Quite right.  Where stands Monk's holm?
Crichton. - On the south side of the Nethergate, and east from the Hospital, opposite to   Girzie Gourlay's stable.
Angria. - Right again.  Where stands the Machlin Tower?
Crichton. - Just at the west end of the broad of the Murraygate, on the north side, where  they have lately erected a public Well, - to be called the Dog Well, from Archibald Doig, a merchant, who has been at the expense of erecting a dog on the top of it, cut out of a solid stone.
Angria. - I am much obliged to you for this information, being news to me.  But, pray, where stands St Pauls?
Crichton. - On the south side of the Murraygate, immediately opposite the Machlin Tower.
Angria. - Do you know St Roche?
Crichton. - Yes.  We call it Semmirookie.  At the east end of the Cowgate, on the north side, near the Den burn.

     Upon which Angria answered. - Well, Captain Crichton, because we are townsmen, I give you your liberty and your ship in a present.


   Before looking at the background of this extraordinary story, it's as well saying that the truth or otherwise of this legend has entirely eluded me so far.  Following the death of Kanhoji in June 1729, the dynasty was inherited by his eldest son Sukhoji who ruled until his death in 1733.  The Angrian territories were later divided between other brothers and half-brothers, which was the situation still when Captain Crichton encountered his Scottish 'Angria' in 1750.  

   The story of the encounter between Crichton and Angria, whether fictitious or not, was repeated in various printed sources in the 19th century, such as Charles Rogers' Traits and Stories of the Scottish People, and even made it into the footnotes of the Dundee poet Joseph Lee's Tales O' Our Town in 1910.  nearer to the time of Dundee Delineated was James Edward Alexander's work Travels from India to England (1827), which reports:

We passed the island of Severndroog, of Golden Rock, the strong hold of the famous pirate Angria, who (which is not generally known) was a native of Dundee, in Scotland.  He was originally the admiral of the Mahratta fleet, and afterwards cruised on his own account.  He and his descendants were the terror of this coast for many years, and caused it to bear the appellation of "the Pirate  Coast".
    The truth behind the matter eludes me.  Strangely, and probably coincidentally, Charlotte Bronte's juvenile adventure tales set in a fictional land called Angria, features a character named 'Sir John Martin Dundee'.  

   Did a Dundonian really serve with the successors of Angria and possibly even adopt his family name.  Like the origins of that other Dundonian pirate Captain Kidd, the truth is out there somewhere, but buried as covertly as an old sea dog's treasure chest.