Saturday, 20 May 2017

Monastic Settlement in Strathmore - Coupar and Kettins

Coupar:  Angus or Perthshire?  The Meaning of the Name

Coupar Angus is not the sort of place which looks like it has a split personality, being to all appearances like a pleasant, douce town sitting in central Strathmore.  Now firmly ensconced in eastern Perthshire, it was not always so.  Until the late 19th century the parish was split between the ‘Fair land of Gowrie’ in Perthshire and neighbouring Angus.  The county border formerly ran right through the town, marked by a minor waterway. (Since the 1890s it has been wholly contained within Perthshire.)  The Cistercian abbey of Coupar was built on the Angus side of the divide.  These days barely anything now survives of the fabric of this great building which once must have been the most spectacular edifice in the whole broad valley of Strathmore.

   The mysteries of the place are not immense in the scale of things, but quietly intriguing.  First is the meaning of the place-name itself.  We can probably dismiss the suggestion that Coupar's name derives from ‘Coo byre’, as suggested by the Rev Charles Roberts, and his alternative theory that the name could be a corruption of St Cuthbert also seems unlikely.  Also doubtful, to my mind at least, is the suggestion that the name comes from ‘copar’, a Flemish word signifying someone who traded commodities.  Victorian historians Andrew Jervise and Alexander Warden  took the name as being derived from Cul-Bharr, or rear-of-the-ridge.  Yet another suggestion is that the name comes from Gaelic cobhair, meaning sanctuary, and suggesting that there was some kind of religious settlement nearby.

The Early Abbey

  Coupar Angus was a daughter-house of Melrose and the fifth Cistercians house in Scotland, all in the 12th century. The saintly uncle of the king, Waltheof, the abbot of Melrose Malcolm IV, is reckoned to have been the person who lay behind the decision to erect a new monastery at Coupar Angus.  Although the abbey was founded by King Malcolm the Maiden in 1164 as a house of the Cistercians, could there be a much earlier Christian foundation nearby.  Cistercians often founded their houses in desert places (Novalia, or unbroken ground, as enshrined in the statutes of the order) which was not the case here. The monarchy had a royal manor here. There is also a repeated suggestion that there was a Roman marching camp on the site of the later abbey, but this has never been conclusively proven.

 More interesting if the proximity of the site to the border of the counties of Perthshire (Gowrie district) and Angus – which may well represent the border between ancient Pictish provinces – possibly points towards an earlier Christian settlement.  Borders between kingdoms and regions were sometimes chosen as Christian sites to install spiritual buffer zones between semi-antagonistic neighbours.  More than that, borders were liminal areas where there were fault lines in supernatural as well as temporal power which could be used by religion.  Meigle, to the north east of Coupar is one such place.  I would very tentatively suggest that Kettins to the south-east of Coupar is another.
   King Malcolm granted the White Monks his lands at Coupar. In a charter he later granted the monks coal, and privileges in the royal forests in Glenisla and elsewhere.  Malcolm’s brother King William at a later date extended the abbey’s land ownership in the area, bestowing lands of
of Aberbothrie and Keitheck, plus two ploughgates of land in the district of Rethrife (Rattray), and the marsh of Blair (Blairgowrie). Later benefactors of land to the abbey included the powerful Hay family, based in the Carse of Gowrie and successive Earls of Atholl. 

   At the start of the 14th century the abbey controlled more than 8,000 acres.  There was a setback to the material wellbeing of the abbey when King Edward I confiscated the furniture and silver of the institution and possibly also imposed English monks into the settlement.  In the beginning the Cistercians farmed the land themselves, in conjunction with lay brothers who oversaw agricultural work at the abbey’s granges.  But in the 1300s the number of lay brothers ceased and the practice of leasing lands to secular tenants began.  The last record to lay brothers in the records of Coupar Angus is in the year 1305.

      During the previous century there is a record of a lower class of un-free labour tied to the land.  A document of King Alexander II signed on 17 February 1248 empowers the monks of Coupar Angus to recover their fugitive neyfs in Glenisla.  These neyfs or native were natives of any given area who could be bought and sold with the land they lived on, though they were not actually slaves. Their status may have included a poorer class of tenants who leased land.


   To the south-east of Coupar, Kettins stands out as a place of some importance, certainly in Pictish times.  There is an inscribed Pictish symbol stone here, now on the north wall of the kirkyard, having been rescued in 1865 from centuries of misuse as a footbridge over the Kettins Burn.  Its citing points to the place being of some importance as a place of secular power in the early medieval era. Clues as to the significance and relatively early date of church activity at Kettins can also be found in the term abthen, which refers to land given over to churches.  There is not an abundant record of these places, but there is a significant number in Angus.  There was the Kirkland of Inverlunan, ‘commonly called abthan’, and also the Kirkland of Old Montrose which had the term attached to it.  In some instances the religious ruler of a territory is designated as ab, so there was Nicholas ab of Monifieth, Maurice ab of Arbirlot. 

   Keittins' ancient church stood on a mound and was designated to St Bridget, both signs (though not infallible signs) that the church was ancient.   The foundation was re-dedicated by David de Bernham, Bishop of St Andrews in 1249.  Half a century earlier there is a charter witness mentioned named Ferbard, capellano de Ketenes.  It was one of six chapels on the area which became subordinate to the Abbey of St Mary at Coupar Angus.  In a charter of about 1292-3, Hugh of Over, Lord of Ketenes, granted ‘his well in his lands and Abthenage of Ketenes, called Bradwell, with its
aqueduct bounded, and servitude of watergage’ to the Abbey of Cupar. Bradwell is a corruption of [St] Bride’s Well.  Malcolm de Ketenes appears in a number of charters around 1270 or 1271.

Three Brothers of Kettins

   Also in the thirteenth century the place was home to three brothers, one of whom was an eminent churchman.  There are records of three brothers John, Robert and Ingram of Kettins who were present in the University of Paris in the 1340s.  The last named brother is identical with the priest who is commemorated in a monument in Tealing, not far to the east of Kettins, in the shadow of the Sidlaws.  Contemporary with the Paris record there is another mention of Ingram when, on 25 January 1345, Pope Clement VI authorized the abbots of Cupar and Scone, and the prior of St Andrews, to grant Ingram de Kethenis ‘the church of Blaar’, evidently Blairgowrie.  The siblings were nephews of John de Pilmore, Bishop of Moray.  Through the recommendation of the king and queen, Ingram was granted a benefice at Aberdeen, and further church positions were attained, culminating in the archdeanery of Dunkeld.  Ingram ended his days in the church of Tealing, north of Dundee.  His monument is set into the north wall of the church there and is thought to be one of the earliest monuments in the English language north of the Forth. 

Hier : lyis : Ingram : of : Kethenys : prist. :
Maystr : l : arit : ercdene : of ; dukeldy : made :
I : hys : XXXII : yhere : prayis : for : hym : yat :
Deyt :hafand : LX : yherys : of : eyld : in :
The : yher : of : Cryet : MoCCC : Lxxx

‘Here lies Ingram of Kettins, priest, Master of Arts. Made Archdeacon of Dunkeld in his 32nd year. Pray for him that died having sixty years of age in the year of Christ 1380’.

   At an early period the Hospital or Domus Dei of Berwick held the revenues of the church at Kettins. By the end of the 14th century the living of Kettins was granted to the Kirk of the Red Friars in Dundee, and in the following century was transferred to the Red Friars Cross Kirk at Peebles. 

Coupar Justice.  Proverbs and Punishment

   Long after the abbey of Coupar literally fell into dust, ‘Coupar Justice’ became a byword for the stern treatment of offenders in the area. In this way, Coupar became as infamous as Jedburgh in the borders, where ‘Jethart Justice’ was another name for harsh treatment by the law.
 (Admittedly there may be some confusion with Cupar in Fife in these traditions.)  Locally there were several layers of legal administration. A self-elected jury of local men, The Court of Burlaw, met every week to regulate mundane disputes.  On the next level was the Baron-Bailie Court whose official was appointed by the district baron.  The Court of Regality and Justiciary once occupied the site on present-day Queen Street in the town, though earlier it seems to have  dispensed its justice outdoors, at Beechwood to the north of the burgh, in the early days of the Abbey.  The Court of Regality was presided over by the abbot, though it was delegated at times to a bailie-depute (a role which eventually became hereditary).

  Tales of the actual harshness of local law-giving are scarce. Alexander Warden, the historian of Angus, gives one example, worth repeating, albeit with the caution that it represents its Gaelic protagonist in a semi-comical racist way.  Warden says that a certain Baillie John was strolling around Beechwood when he encountered a Highlander and engaged him in conversation.  Without revealing his own identity Baillie John found out the man was due up before him for some crime that day.  He asked the man whether he was actually guilty of the crime he was accused of.

   ‘Oh, aye, she’s guilty,’ the Gael said happily.  ‘But there’s nae proof.’
   Did he mean to lie to court that afternoon?  Of course he did, the man said, because ‘there's mercy wi' God Almighty, but there's nane wi' Bailie Shon’.
   Fast forward to that afternoon, when the ashen faced Highlander faced Baillie John for real.
   ‘Will you swear now that you are not guilty?’  the judge asked the accused.
   The man thought for a minute and then tried to brazen it out.
   ‘Yes,’ she’ll swore,’ asserted the Highlander.
   This ploy evidently nonplussed the dispenser of justice, since instead of sentencing the man he declared,
   ‘Go home, you rascal, and never let me see your face again; and tell your friends in Kirkmichael that there is some mercy in Bailie John as well as in God Almighty!’ [Warden, Angus or Forfarshire, vol. 3,134-5.]

   Several writers another tale of harsh judgement.  According to this, in 1699 the hereditary bailie of Coupar, John Ogilvy, was told that a notorious thief named John McCoul was in the town:  ‘ane person of bad fame and open bruit a thiefadder’.  He was ordered to be arrested and hanged straight away.  The man’s friends were outraged by this act and demanded reconsideration.  So the body was ordered to be exhumed and the court was convened, on 25 August 1699.  There the dead man was formally sentenced to death and ordered to be executed the following Thursday.  Whether the earlier monks were quite as hard-line in their judgements as the laymen who succeeded them is unknown. The story was repeated in the Dundee Chronicle, written by a correspondent from Coupar Angus who stated that he had the record of the case lying before him as he wrote.  [Ancient Things in Angus, 101-2, Rambles in Forfarshire, 203, Dundee Chronicle, March 1836].

Ogilvy Bailies

   The Ogilvy family, in the person of James, Lord Ogilvy,a great secular power in the area, were granted the role as secular bailies of Coupar Abbey by Abbot Donald Campbell in 1539 and they held this role until heritable jurisdictions were formally abolished in 1747. As early as 1460, however, Patrick Ogilvy of Pearsie was appointed bailie-depute of the monastery.  For the loss of the privilege John, 4th Earl of Airlie, was awarded £800 in compensation.  The Ogilvys also gained the role as porters of gate-keepers to the abbey.  At an earlier period another family served in this hereditary function and took their surname, Porter, from their employment.  The Ogilvys gained this lucrative office as late as 1589, when on 12 March a contract was agreed between William Ogilvy of Easter Keilor and John Faryar, porter of the abbey and adopted son of Robert Porter.  On 26 May 1590 the charter of the office was confirmed by Faryar and Porter, to William and Archibald Ogilvy life-rent and fee.

Proverbs on Coupar

   Coupar also features in other local proverbs, whose meaning and origins now seem rather opaque.  It was locally said of stubborn people who would not be diverted from their chosen, foolish path: 
 He that will [gae] to Coupar maun [gae] to Coupar. 
But why should someone resolutely doomed to failure go particularly to Coupar Angus? Nobody knows.

  Another, arcane twist on the saying runs: 
He that will to Coupar maun to Coupar, though Killiemuir [Kirriemuir] had sworn't.

   And why did Coupar particularly get a local reputation for being a draconian centre of punishment?  Perhaps it derives from the strict measures which the institution enforced on its tenants, from runaway serfs to tenants reluctant to keep their land in order, ingrained into the Strathmore psyche over the course of several centuries? Another possibility is that the speedy justice and sometimes summary execution which followed in the area was a necessary mode of law enforcement which operated in the area and was designed to meet the lawlessness which filtered into the area from the north, when Highland caterans raided Strathmore for cattle and spoils.  But does something darker linger in the collective memory here?

Massacre in the New Church
   In the year 1186, when the church of the abbey was not yet fully completed, there was a sacrilegious event which violated the abbey.  On 17 November that year, the Chronicle of Holyrood related that:
the peace of the holy church was outraged at Coupar, by the violence of Malcolm, earl of Athole; because Adam (surnamed also Donald’s son), who was the king’s outlaw, was seized, and one of his associates – a nephew – was beheaded, before the altar; and the rest, fifty-eight in number, were burned and killed in the abbot’s dwelling.

   The exact circumstances of this mass killing are unclear.  Adam McDonald was a representative of one of the kin-groups who were rebelling against the established monarchy.  He and his men had probably sought sanctuary in the newly established Cistercian precincts, but were ruthlessly extinguished by the king’s representative, Malcolm son of Madach, the second Earl of Atholl.  The assassinated man may have been a son of the rebel contingents of the MacWilliam family from Moray who were in rebellion and attempting to claim the throne, but there is no firm certainty he came from this family. Donald MacWilliam certainly rose against the crown in Ross the following year.

   This early massacre was undoubtedly the worst bloodshed the abbey was to witness, but there were other outbreaks of violent anarchy in later centuries.  In 1479 the resident monks were attacked (two actually held captive for a time) by a gang sponsored by Alexander Lindsay, son of David, Earl of Crawford. The event involved ‘spulzeing of thair horses parking at thair place, and chusing of thair servandis’ and damage to property.  Lindsay was warded in Blackness Castle and some of his henchmen were warded elsewhere, while eight other followers, such as Lindsay of Baikie and Shangy, were summoned to appear before the Sheriff of Forfar.  The decline of the social structure of the abbey went hand in hand with a diminishing respect of those in the area, particularly powerful men who saw the undefended monks as easy prey.   Around the time of Lindsay’s was there was another attack led by Robert Hay, son of the laird of Tullymet.  He carried off a hundred head of cattle and oxen and four horses from the abbey’s land of Pert.  He was heavily fined for his depredations.

Decline of the Abbey, Last Years under Abbot Donald Campbell

     The abbot at this time was Donald Campbell, fourth son of Archibald, second
Earl of Argyll, and he supervised the final decline of the institution, from 1526 to 1562.   (One of his brothers, incidentally, was Alexander Campbell who married the widowed Lady Glamis.  He died trying to escape from Edinburgh Castle.  His wife was burned to death as a witch.) Campbell played an important role on the wider national stage, being part of the secret council of the Earl of Arran.  His later appointment to the See of Brechin was deferred because of suspicions about his religious loyalties.  Until as late as 1553 Campbell seemed to be intent on regulating the declining monastery in accordance with orthodox Catholic procedures.  He and the fifteen remaining monks in the institution signed a solemn bond in which they promised that, ‘God being their guide [they would] lead a regular life, and...order their manner according to the reformers of the Cistercian order...’  But by the end of that decade Campbell had literally abandoned his habit – ‘put on secular weed’ – and was attending the Protestant Convention of Estates.  Furthermore, he alienated the church lands he administered and gave outright gifts of abbey lands to each and every one of his five bastard sons:  the properties of Balgersho for his eldest son, Keithic for the second son, Denhead for the third son, Cro(o)nan for the fourth, and Arthurstone .  He had earlier granted part of the monastery’s lands at Lundie to his cousin John Campbell of Lundie.  Two of the last abbot’s sons were interred at Bendochy: Nicol Campbell, who died in 1587 aged seventy, and David Campbell, who died three years earlier.

Protestant Violence?

   The most fatal violence done to the abbey was its physical destruction, possibly commenced in the Reformation, when the mob which tore down the Carthusian monastery and other Catholic churches in Perth likely did the same at Coupar.  The exact process and sequence of destruction at Coupar Angus Abbey is not clear and was likely piecemeal and certainly assisted to a large extent by locals looting the valuable building stones of the abbey over a long course of time.  Much of the older part of the town of Coupar Angus, as well as some building work in nearby places such as Arthurstone, likely included masonry from the abbey buildings.  An account of the Chamberlain in 1563 mentions the fact that remedial building work had been undertaken at the abbey, which suggests there had been some sort of attack leading to damage.

   The extent to which Coupar Angus Abbey suffered physically when the reforming storm fully hit Scotland is difficult to determine.  The seething religious foment of the nation is captured in the following lengthy quote by Lord Herries, which captures one contemporary view of what was happening in this region in 1559:
Now aryses tumults upon tumults, killing of priests, sacking and pulling doune of churches, ruining of statlie Abbacies, and other glorious buildings, dissolving hospitals; all in confusion.  in a word, these antient buildings and brave fabricks, monuments of antiquitie, and marks of pietie, which for many hundred years have been a building, shall, in few months, be destroyed and rased to the ground!  The ornaments and riches of the Churches fell to the share of the commone rable; the estats and lands were divyded amongst the great men, by themselves, without right or law; which they resolve to maintain by the sword!
   The first storme fell upon Saint Jhonstoune [Perth], in this same month of May.  John Knox…was the occasione; whoe, by a seditious sermon, sturred up the people to furie and madnes; who encouradged them to pull doun the Churches…Wherupon they run out in confusion, killed the priests, broake doune altars, and destroyed all the images and ornaments.  From that they fall upon the Relligious Houses and Monasteries; those two goodlie Abbayes of Franciscans and Dominicans…were pulled dounde and made levell with the ground in two dayes; and all there riches made a prey to the people!  But the Abbau of Charters monks stod longer, by one day.  The next storme fell upon Couper.  Thos people, upon notice of this busines at Perth, fell lykwayes upon there Church; which they spoyled and ransackt, and chased away the priests.’ [Memoirs, 37-38.]

   But did Coupar Angus Abbey actually suffer the same extremist tsunami as nearby Perth?  A document found in the charters of the Dukes of Argyll suggests that Abbot Duncan cannily came to terms with the lords at the head of the Reforming juggernaut, or that he was forced to do so.  This is the unique document that the abbot signed:

Thir ar the pointes that the congregatioune desyris of my lord of Cowper.   Imprimis that he incontinent reforme his place of Cowper Putting down and birnyng oppinlie all Idolis and Imagis and tubernaculis thairin destroying and putting away the altaris.  And that na mess be thaire done gereaftir nowther privilie nor opinly.  And that the superstitiouse habit of his monkis with their ordour ceremoneis and service as you call it be removit.  And that na prayeris be usit in the kirk bot in the inglishe toung.  And thai according to the scriptouris of God.   Item that my lord with all his freindis and folkis at his hale powar assist and mayntein in counsales conventionis and parliament als wele as uther wyse the furth settin of the evangell of cryst and meynteinyng the congregatioyne in thair leberte and to the doune putting of all ydolatre abhominationes and papistre.  And that his folkis at this present and at all utheris tymis being requirit pass fordwart with thair congregatioune to the forth-setting of the glorie of god.  And alswa that my lord in all placis of his dominioune sall endewoyr himself to the forthsattin and executione of the premissis.   Item that ane wryting contenyng the heids abufwrittin as thai ar heir contenit subscrivit with my lordis hand be send incontinent to the congregatioune togidder with the same tollaratione.                                                                        (Signed)          D.  Abbot of Cupr

   The historian Jane Dawson has drawn attention to the uniqueness of the arrangement between abbot and reformers at Coupar.  There was a chance, after that pacts, that the abbey buildings might have survived more or less intact.  But it was not to be.

   Following Campbell’s reign of transition, various secular individuals gained control over the valuable earthly possessions of Coupar Abbey.  By an Act of Parliament in December 1607, King James VI sought to ‘suppress and extinguish the memories of the Abbacie’.  He erected the abbacy into a temporal lordship in favour of James Elphinstone, son of the secretary, Lord Balmerino, and enobled him with the title Lord Coupar.  A painting by Balmerino of Coupar in 1607 shows a remaining tower within the abbey precinct. It is stated that Coupar himself was ‘a weak man of mean capacity, who went by the epigrammatic cognomen of “that howlit Cowper”.’ [Strathmore, Past and Present, McPherson, 41.]

   The remaining structures in the abbey precinct appear to have been further damaged in April 1645, in an onslaught by an Irish royalist force of 200 men led by Montrose’s lieutenant Alexander Macdonald.  Their damage and plunder was an act of revenge and intimidation against Lord Coupar because of his Covenanting views.  During this raid the parish minister Robert Lindsay was slain and a defending party of cavalry under Lord Balcarres was routed. 

 Lord Coupar died without issue in 1669.  He was buried in Coupar without any religious ceremony whatever and the property eventually devolved on his nephew, John , 3rd Baron Balmerino.  The latter took legal action against his uncle’s widow to repair damage to the rotting remains of the abbey buildings, but this was not undertaken, because John Ochterlony of the Guynd, wrote in the Account of the Shire of Forfar, circa 1682, wrote that the abbey was in a sweet spot but nothing remained of the buildings but rubbish.

Remaining Mysteries, or the Mystery of Remains?

   Much of the later building work in Coupar Angus sensibly utilised the available stone from the former abbey.  The town steeple was built in 1769 on the site of the old prison of the Court of
Regality.  Its lower floor was used to confine of prisoners.  Coupar’s kirk was rebuilt in 1878-9 on  the site of the abbey. John Carrie wrote in 1881 about the scant remains of the abbey and its last occupant over forty years previously:

What now remains of the Abbey...consists of a single vaulted apartment, with one or two slender, but finely pointed arches.  It was visited in 1838 by a person of antiquarian tastes, who found it then occupied as a workshop by an humble sculptor and painter.  His productions, however, possessed considerable merit...About the year 1830 some vaults, probably sepulchral ones, were accidentally discovered, but the authorities soon afterwards shut them up again. [Ancient Things in Angus, 102.]
A Secret Tunnel? 

   A more elaborate, though possibly related tradition was recounted by James Cargill Guthrie. He stated that an old Coupar man informed him there was a secret tunnel or passageway leading from this last remaining fragment of the abbey and the south-western Sidlaw Hills.  It was found by workers excavating a very deep drain.  One of the men, more brave than the others, volunteered to explore the passageway to the north.  From his point of entry he traced it to the remains of the abbey and returned to tell his fellows.  But for his second foray he re-entered the tunnel and ventured south.  He never returned from this second adventure.  His friends waited days for his reappearance, but when all hope was gone they sadly sealed up the entrance to stop anyone else following him to their fate.  

   A variant states that the poor, lost original explorer was a woman, not a workman. Was this story inspired by the discovery of weems or souterrains at Pitcur nearby, although the latter places lies several miles south-east of Coupar?  It is said that in 1982 a local mason actually found the underground connection between Pitcur and Coupar Angus. The mason told the tale to Martha Jane Sievewright, who told it in The Abbey of Coupar Angus (1983), and re-told by Maurice Fleming.  Tunnels, real and imagined, crop up regularly in folk tales and the association with a human unwise enough to enter the Underworld and paying the price links the story directly to a legendary source.

Folklore Afterword:  The Ghost of Dron

  Those who prefer their history unpolluted by folklore can safely disregard this last piece. It concerns an ancient track named the Priest's Road which runs south from Tullybaccart on the main Coupar to Dundee road, road across the Sidlaw Hills.  It is a lonely route, though it may once have been used by the monks of Coupar going down to the fertile coastal plain of the Carse of Gowrie where they held lands, or indeed across the River Tay to the abbey of Balmerino where their brother Cistercians.  The pathway crosses the current Angus-Perth border very close to a chapel at Dron.  The chapel is little more than a graceful arch standing alone amid scanty, lesser masonry.  It is an evocative place, but perhaps not entirely as bereft of company as one might imagine.  Between here and Tullybaccart, on the Angus stretch of the ancient Priest's Road, there is sometimes seen a solitary traveller dressed all in white.  He may be a bee-keeper, as some have thought, though there are no hives nearby.  Or he may be someone else.


Campbell, N., ‘Two Papers from the Argyll Charter Chest,’ the Scottish Historical Review, vol. 21, No. 82 (Jan. 1924), pp. 140-3.

Carrie, John, Ancient Things in Angus (Arbroath, 1881).

Dawson, Jane E. A.., The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots (Edinburgh, 2002).

Dowden, Rev. John, ‘Note on Ingram of Kethenys, with observations on his monument in the parish church of Tealing,’ Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., 37 (1903), 245-51.

Fleming, Maurice, The Ghost O’ Mause and Other Tales and Traditions of East Perthshire (Edinburgh, 1995).

Gibson, Colin, 'Nature Diary' [article on Dron Chapel], The Courier, July 1994.

Guthrie, James Cargill, The Vale of Strathmore, Its Scenes and Legends (Edinburgh, 1875).

Herries, Lord [John Maxwell], Historical Memoirs of the Reign of Mary Queen of Scots (Edinburgh, 1836).

Hutcheson, Alexander, ‘Notice of an early inscribed mural monument and of an undescribed sculptured stone in the parish church of Tealing, Forfarshire,’ Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., 30 (1895–96), pp. 41–8

Laing, Margaret, The Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus and its Place in Scottish History, N. D.

McPherson, J. G., Strathmore, Past and Present, Perth, 1885.

Myles, James, Rambles in Forfarshire (Dundee, 1850).

O’Sullivan, Jerry, ‘Abbey, market and cemetery: topographical notes on Coupar Angus in Perthshire, with a description of archaeological excavations on glebe land by the
parish church,’ Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 125 (1995), 1045-1068.

Rogers, Rev. Charles (ed.), Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey of Cupar Angus, 2 vols. (London, 1879).

Warden, Alexander, Angus or Forfarshire, 5 vols. (Dundee, 1880-1885).

Sunday, 7 May 2017

'Fake Folklore' = False Tradition?

If I can borrow (and alter) a trope from a famous half-Scottish current leader of the free world:  is there any such thing as ‘Fake Folklore’?

Put it another way:  how can you classify a superstition/tradition as genuine/real/legitimate?  And, are ‘made up’ traditions actually better than ‘real’ ones. Who would want to invent these things anyway – haven’t they got better things to waste their time with?  False trails in folkore are as disappointing as those in other area of study, I suppose, and certainly leave you feeling hard done by.  It is worse to be hoodwinked on purpose than to be the victim of your own or someone else’s error.  It you ever come across Alexander Lowson’s book called Tales, Legends and Traditions of Forfarshire (1891), do not bother to delve inside or (God forbid) buy it.  Among a decent amount of standard, recycled stories readily found in other sources, there are a fair few inclusions which Lowson had blatantly made up.  One of these I included, with caution, in a blog post dated 28 November 2015:  Lost Houses of Angus:  Redcastle (
 A fairly implausible folk legend set down in Victorian times states that Sir Walter wanted to acquire a giant to be his servant, but he could not find anyone large enough in Scotland.  Someone told him that there were many men of enormous height in Sweden, so he set sail for that country immediately.  On his way to Stockholm the Scottish knight slaughtered a gang of pirates who tried to board his ship.  But Sweden was a disappointment to him, full of men no bigger than they were back home.  Just before he departed he attended a tournament and there he happily encountered a ten-foot man named Daniel Cajanus who was entertaining the crowd by wrestling with two normal sized men. The Scot swiftly acquired the giant's services and also employed his friend, Linicus Calvus, a three-foot Danish dwarf whose father had been a Greek orator.    The Swedish giant made an immediate impact in Scotland and won his master a prize of £1000 by beating a Norman knight in a joust at Leith.  At home at Red Castle, Daniel always stood guard behind Sir Walter's chair.  One evening there was a banquet and the knight noticed that his little servant was missing.  He was distracted from asking about the dwarf when his cook brought in a great pie.  After Berkeley cut open the crust, Linicus jumped out and made a graceful bow, much to his master's delight.   The following November, Vikings made a surprise attack on the coast.  They tried to storm Red Castle many times, but the giant Daniel always repulsed them.  But finally the huge man was overpowered and killed.  The broken hearted dwarf died the next day.

    This story later found its way into a respected, if non-scholarly compilation of lore pubished in the 1970’s (Reader’s Digest Folklore, Myths and Legends of Great Britain (1973)).  Other ‘fake tales’ from Lowson are occasionally recyclyed elsewhere, but their artistic quality is even less marked than the story above.

  More frustrating than outright falsehood are slip ups which also get repeated down the years. Much wonderful material is contained in Eve Blantyre Simpson’s Folk Lore of Lowland Scotland (1908), but she also included the following passage when talking about the fairies (p. 93):

The invisible and alert fairies...were always mentioned with a honeyed tongue.  The wily, knowing not where they might be lurking, were careful to call them “the good neighbours,” “the honest folk,” “the little folk,” “the gentry,” “the hill folk,” and “the forgetful people,” “the men of peace.”  Klippe is the Forfarshire name for a fairy.  A well-known minister of the church of Scotland related, this century, at a dinner in Edinburgh, how his father had met a klippe in a bare moor-land in Forfarshire, a little brown-faced elf who started up on the path before him, walked before him awhile and then vanished.

   Now either Simpson or her informant was wrong, or she misheard him.  The term Klippe occurs nowhere else, except in references that ultimately derive from her work.  There is no such thing as a Klippe (though of course fairies do exist).  The Scottish National Dictionary includes the word, with the wise warning that it may in fact be a mistake for Kelpie.

  Some traditions are not so much false as out of place. The quote below comes from The Folk-lore Journal, 1(1883 p. 30), concerning something which happened in the Lochee area of Dundee:

Curious Superstition in Lochee.—Hooping-cough being rather prevalent in Lochee at the present time, various cures are resorted to with the view of allaying the distress. Amongst these the old "fret" of passing a child beneath the belly of a donkey has come in for a share of patronage. A few days ago, two children, living with their parents in Camperdown Street, were infected with the malady. A hawker's cart with a donkey yoked to it happening to pass, the mothers thought this an excellent opportunity to have their little ones relieved of their hacking cough. The donkey was accordingly stopped, the children were brought forth, and the ceremony began. The mothers, stationed at either side of the donkey, passed and repassed the little creatures underneath the animal's belly, and with evident satisfaction appeared to think that a cure would in all probability be effected. Nor was this all, a piece of bread was next given to the donkey to eat, one of the women holding her apron beneath its mouth to catch the crumbs which might fall. These were given to the children to eat so as to make the cure more effectual. Whether these strange proceedings have resulted in banishing the dreaded cough or not has not been ascertained, and probably never will be. A few years ago the custom was quite common in this quarter, but with the spread of education the people generally know better than to attempt to cure hooping-cough through the agency of a donkey.—Aberdeen Evening Gazette, 24th August, 1882.

   Superstitious cures for whooping cough are common everywhere and often involve contact with animals (ferrets, for instance, in the north of England).  The idea behind the act seems to be transferring the cough from the child to the animal involved.

   But was this tradition above native in fact to Lochee?  By the late Victorian era the area had swollen in population from a mere hamlet to a substantial village before it was submerged within the conurbation of Dundee.   Camperdown Street runs parallel behind the High Street and is adjacent to the now defunct Camperdown Works, at one time reputedly the largest jute factory in Europe.  Workers at the mill came from the surrounding Angus countryside, wider parts of Scotland, but there was a very substantial immigration of people from Ireland attracted to work in the area.

   Apart from an instance recorded in Neilston, there are sparse records of superstitious cures for whooping cross involving donkeys or the like recorded in Scotland.  But the superstition did indeed linger in parts of Ireland right until the end of the 19th century.  The journal Pediatrics (vol 61, February 1978) reports on a cure for the disease (also called the chin cough) from 1898:  
Some donkeys are believed to be possessed of curative virtues in a much higher degree than are others. A man living in County Cork owned an animal which could boast of more than a local reputation. This man used to lead his donkey through the streets of the City of Cork, crying out: "Will any one come under my ass for the chin-cough?"
The occurrence in Camperdown street seemed undoubtedly to have been imported by mill workers from Ireland.  Whether, in the current climate we will be forced to hand back all non-native customs and associations to their non-British places of origin, is another matter.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Changing Shore - Coastal Names, Erosion and Wrecks

The place-names of Angus are a complex mixture of Pictish, Gaelic, Scots and English.  They can inspire indifference, intrigue, frustration, even humour. In almost all of them, you can journey back to a previous period, and quite far back if you’re lucky.

   But with many coastal names we are faced with, well, erosion.  Can we contend that, because the coast changes and shifts, alters significantly over time, then the names here also alter with greater rapidity than those further inland? Possibly this has something to do with the supposition that the coast is the outward facing zone, most prone to immediate contact with new cultures and actual incomers.  Some of the natural features of the sea zone also have a folksy, whimsical element often missing from settlement names, and these seem to all be fairly recent.  Were there previous, similar names (now lost) in the Celtic languages?

Lunan Bay
  The natural features near Arbroath and northwards that have fairly prosaic names include the Dynamite Cave, named of course because it was used to store this material.  There is a small bay on this section of the coast called the Mariner's GraveThis apparently commemorates a shipwreck which resulted in several fatalities. Survivors were rescued by a party from Arbroath led by a man named Butcher.  The marks of their ropes on the cliff top were long evident here.   Not far away is the Stalactite Cave and also a headland known as the Monk and Maiden’s Leap.  This apparently received its name from a poem by an early 18th century poet called David Balfour.  I have not read this poem, nor would I be in a particular frenzy to find it.  It sounds like a product typical of its era, full of melodrama and light on the meat of human interest.  From summaries I have ingested, here is an example of the story in the poem:  local lass Mary Scott had lost her mother and was ‘comforted’ by a clergyman. She became pregnant and the ungodly abbot arranged her murder. Following her death the priest went mad and died.  Both were buried nearby.  So much for happy endings.  Elopements and romantic entanglements between randy friars and miscellaneous maidens are a staple of a certain kind of pulp fiction folklore through the ages, but it is all a bit soap operatic for me, I’m afraid.   Slightly more intriguing is the Mermaid Kirk, the name of another natural feature on the coast nearby.  This recess, enclosed by rocks, is also known by the more prosaic name of the Pebbly Den.

Scurdie Ness

   While there was a fair share of smuggling and excise evasion in the past in Angus, the geography of the coast did not particularly lend itself to large scale smuggling operations here.  In places like Cornwall and much of Devon, smuggling embedded itself not just into the local economy over a long period, but was hardwired in a real sense into the regional culture.  No so in much of Scotland, Angus included.  Battles with officialdom regarding illicit substances were more often conducted well inland, involving illicit peat reek stills in the wild hillsides.
   One name on the Angus coastline area we are considering remembers long-lost smuggling ventures however.  Close by the lighthouse at Scurdie Ness, and near where the South Esk meets the North Sea, there is a small and neglected creek named Johnny Main’s Harbour.  Its alternative name is the Creek of John Mayne.  Apparently it was named after an old smuggler who frequented these parts, though yet again I must admit I have found no significant details about this place or the person who left his name here.  (The place-name is noted in Ebb and Flow, Aspects of the History of Montrose Basin, Montrose Basin Heritage Society, 2004, 35.)  The name reminds me rather of the King of Prussia Cove in Cornwall, where I stay, named after the nickname of the notorious smuggler John Carter.  Is there anything more haunting, in place-name terms, of a place named after a person whose life has utterly vanished from the memory of the landscape in which he dwellt?
   Another, fortunate side effect of the Angus coastal landscape is the lack of shipwrecks which are recorded to have occurred along this coast.  This did not prevent some parishes of being looked on askance by their neighbours as being nests of wreckers who profited or guilty of positively encouraging wrecks.  Such a place was the parish of Barrie.  The Rev David Sim of Barry reported, in the Old Statistical Account, that:
Vulgar report has sometimes involved...the people of Barrie in a charge of inhumanity to shipwrecked mariners; but more truly may they be characterised as dupes, by their compassion to 100 pretended shipwrecked. – The oppression must be grievous indeed, which can drive them from their native soil.  A sort of maladie de pais rivets them to their place of birth.
   It has to be said that there is no particular record of cut-throat activity in Barry regarding survivors of shipwrecks.  Traces of other shipwrecks along the coast here are so faint as to be insubstantial.  David Mitchell in The History of Montrose (p. 99, 1866) speaks about a local tradition vaguely concerning a fleet of ships – the ‘Catteson Ships’ – which came to grief along the Angus and Mearns coast at some time in the past.  Strangely, it was never discovered where this unfortunate fleet came from.  But the disaster proved to be a bounty for local people.  The cargo contained all sorts of useful household goods, from chests of drawers to tables and a distinctive load of yellow bricks which were very welcomed by coastal communities in north Angus and the Mearns.  As it happened there was a season of scarcity caused by crop failure in the country when the ships came to grief.  It so happened that the corn in the fields was infested with weeds at the time which were ground up with that crop which had an unusual soporific effect on the country folk, so that the resulting food was called the ‘Sleepy meal’.  A few decades earlier the shipwrecks and strange crop failure may have been linked and attributed to the agency of the Devil.  The same author records the loss of 17 ships, driven ashore between the mouths of the North and South Esk at the beginning of the 19th century.  By this time of course the suspicion that witchcraft was the sponsor of disaster was not credited by the vast majority of the population.  

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Before the Days of Steam - the Stage Coach! Plus the Amazing Captain Barclay

Before the days of steam there was the stage coach.  But even at their height there were too few vehicles probably to constitute any kind of golden age of travel.  There was allegedly an attempt in 1678 to link the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh with  a regular coach service, but it is said to have failed due to lack of interest.  A century later there was only one regular stage coach running between London and Scotland.  This set out from Edinburgh only once a month and took upwards of a fortnight to reach London.

   Coaches died not reach out into the provinces of Scotland, Angus included, until later still and their nascent popularity was crushed by the advent of the railways.  By the advent of the 19th century there were coaches running internally in Angus as well as connecting the county with the rest of the country.  James McBain (in Arbroath, Past & Present, 1887) informs us that the ‘Commecial Traveller’ coach departed from the White Hart Hotel to Dundee every morning at 6.30, returning at 4 pm. There was also the ‘Highlander’, running between Dundee and Montrose, plus the ‘Hope and Industry’ running on the same route, which connected with Fife coaches running to Edinburgh.  There was also the ‘New Times’ running between Aberdeen and Perth (via Dundee), which carried mail.  These mail coaches of course carried armed guards.  McBain tells the story of one guard who was so infuriated by the habit of a toll-keeper on the West Links Toll who was in the habit of locking his gates at night and falling asleep, thus impeding the passing of the coach.  The guard tried and failed on several occasions to awaken  the ‘tollie’ with a blast from his horn and had to clamber down and shake the man awake.  But, as this did not deter the toll-keeper from continually dropping off, the guard eventually lost his temper and discharged his blunderbuss into the toll-house window, with the effect that the man never fell asleep again. (Arbroath, Past & Present, 177.)

   In their heyday the coaches presented a magnificent sight:

The old-time long-distance mail coaches were drawn by four fine horses, which were changed at the official stables and inns every eight or ten miles.  The pace was ten miles an hour, including stoppages and changing horses.  The coach had accommodation for four inside and from six to eight outside passengers.  The guard, who like the driver, wore a scarlet coat, had charge of the mails, and was armed with a business-like pistol.  No one was allowed near his perch - a circular seat fixed to the coach, and commanding the opening of the mail box.   It was a stirring sight to see the coach arrive in town.  The four high mettled horses, the guard standing in the box blowing on his tin horn, and the bright buckles and plates on the harness glittering at every motion of the animals.  When the coach reached the Commercial Hotel [in Brechin], the post-master was waiting, with his two or three small bags securely closed by big red seals and received as many in exchange.  A banker or two would also be present with the drawings for headquarters in Edinburgh.  The letters and money bags were locked up by the guard in his box...Now all was hurry-scurry.  the ostlers were taking out the horses and putting in the fresh ones, which had been standing by already harnessed - the liberated animals quietly trotting, unattended, or led by some of the ever-ready boys to the stables...
[Glimpses of Men and Manners About the Muirside, D. H. Edwards, 1920, 50.]

   There was also the ‘Champion’, running between Aberdeen and Perth and the ‘Braes of Fordoun’, on the route between Aberdeen and Dundee. Other celebrated coaches included the ‘Defiance’ and the ‘Union’, running between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, plus the ‘Sir Henry Parnell’, running between Brechin and Dundee, via Forfar.  The ‘Defiance’ left Brechin at nine in the morning and reached Edinburgh by half past eight at night.  On the northwards journey it took four hours to reach Aberdeen from Brechin. This coach travelled at an unrivalled speed and its operators took pride in the fact that it always arrived within minutes of its advertised schedule.  The ‘Union’ preceded the ‘Defiance’ on the route, travelling onward to Edinburgh via Fife, but there was a period of overlap between the two services and competition between them.   The ‘Defiance’ had as its coachman David Troup and its guard was John Burnett, well-known characters in their day.

   David Troup was reputedly a cautious driver and he did not brook criticism or advice about the performance of his duties .  When an acquaintance once told him that he thought it inadvisable to travel because of floods brought on by a storm, Davie treated his old friend with disdain.  He had heard this same sage but unwanted advice from a tailor in Forfar, ‘and ye are only a souter!’ But on this occasion he was wrong.  The vehicle got caught in the waters near Unthank Brae and had to be towed back to Brechin, where it was storm stayed for two weeks.  When the driver retired he took over the Eagle Inn in Brechin and his time there was remembered in doggerel verse:

Gen ye gae doon tae Davie Troup’s, There ye’ll see the Eagle –That’s the way the money goes, Pop goes the weasel.

   Apart from David Troup, the Cook family of Arbroath were also employed on the ‘Defiance’.  There were three of them, Charlie, John and Alick, sons og Charles Cook, manager of the Star Hotel in Arbroath.  There were also, extraordinarily, guest or amateur coachmen who took charge to benefit from the dizzying speed of this new-fangled transport.  One such was Captain Barclay of Ury.  He was in charge of the coach on its second journey and managed to overturn the vehicle at the North Port Distillery.  Luckily, no-one was injured.  On the same journey a passenger remembered the Captain racing a hare on the North Water Bridge.  He and two gentlemen jumped down and captured the animal, with Barclay exclaiming, ‘Aye, aye. The “Defiance” is now outrunning hares.  The like was never heard of.’

Young Captain Barclay.

   Captain Barclay (Robert Barclay Allardice, 1770-1854) was actually something of a formative speed demon, or he would have been if transport technology had allowed it.  Born in Stonehaven in the Mearns, but raised in England, Barclay early found a talent in covering great distances by foot.  In November 1800, for instance, he covered 64 miles in 12 hours.  The following December he entered into a wager with the Angus laird Mr Fletcher of Ballinshoe - himself described as 'a gentleman of turf notoriety' - to cover 90 miles in 21.5 hours.  He stood to win the handsome sum of 500 guineas, but unfortunately he was so ill with a cold on the start day that he could not go on with it.  The wager was repeated the following year and he stood to win an astonishing 2,000 guineas.  According to his biographer:

the ground chosen for the performance of the match was the line of the road from Brechin to Forfar...He accomplished sixty-seven miles in thirteen miles in thirteen hours; but having incautiously drank some brandy, he became instantly sick, and consequently unable to proceed.  He now renounced the bet, and the umpire retired; but after two hours rest, he completely recovered, and could easily have finished the remainder of the distance within the time.
[Pedestrianism, or An Account of the Celebrated Pedestrians during the Last and Present Century, William Thom, 1819, 103.]
Not put off by this bitter defeat, the captain continued his gruelling sporting lifestyle and famously completed a 1,000 mile walk over 1,000 hours for an apt prize of 1,000 guineas in 1809.

Old Captain Barclay.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Forgotten Sons of Angus: The First British Balloonist, James Tytler

For a pioneer in both flying  and literature, James Tytler is sadly neglected figure, but one whose life was sadly inconsistent for all his intelligence and striving.  Born in the manse in the upland Angus parish of Fearn, James died, near dissolute, in the United States of America.  He led a restless, unsuccessful life which serves as a warning to those who similarly drift from one intellectually challenging but unfulfilling task to another.  Sir James Fergusson notes that Tytler lived a life of ‘occasional notoriety but general obscurity’. Tytler was, at different times, a chemist and apothecary, surgeon, printer, mechanic, journalist, inventor, songwriter, editor, poet and pamphleteer.  He was, in essence, the classic 'lad o' pairts' gone wrong.  His claims to fame rest on his ferocious energy in editing the second edition of the Enclyclopedia Brittanica and the fact that he was the first person in Briton to ascend in a hot air balloon.  For the latter accomplishment he was ridiculed rather than lauded and derisively nicknamed ‘Balloon Tytler’.

   Tytler’s father George had migrated to Angus from Aberdeenshire and young James (born in 1745) should have led a similarly sedentary life.  He first tried out a career as a preacher, then went into medicine, studying at the University of Edinburgh.  In 1765 he accompanied a whaling ship named the Royal Bounty from Leith, serving as its medical officer, but he curtailed his studies on his return, forced by the necessity of supporting his wife to set up business as a chemist.  This business was not successful and he fled into England, running from creditors, and his problems were exacerbated by an alcohol problem.  He had five financially demanding children by the time he dared return to Edinburgh, but he was hardly more successful during his second period in the capital than he had been previously. 

   Forced by the demands of sustaining his family, Tytler turned to writing.  This was hardly more lucrative than previous careers at first and he ended up in debtor’s sancuary in Holyrood.  But in the newly intellectually exploding Auld Reekie, James Tytler preferred the low company in the alehouses and shebeens to any of the new luminaries making themselves known in the town.  By the mid 1770s he had written several books and was engaged in setting up short-lived magazines as well as reviewing the literary efforts of others.  His wife left him, and for a while he sought debtor’s sanctuary in the Abbey of Holyrood, but soon afterwards he latched onto a secure if not well-paid career of writing articles and editing others for the Encyclopedia.  He was engaged in this work for over six years and the remuneration of 16 shillings a week was hardly princely, even then. His efforts at editing and composing many of the articles in this 9,000 page edition were prodigious and revealed Tytler’s true talent.

   Further ventures into the writing of books, periodical publishing, poetry composition kept him busy and barely fiscally afloat for a few years.  But it was in 1783, according to his biographer Fergusson, that James Tytler became seriously fascinated by balloons.  In October and November that year there were several pioneer flights in France sponsored by the paper-maker brothers Montgolfier.   Since one of Tytler’s failings was that he was ‘incapable of reticence’, his fascination with new fangled manned flight became well known in Edinburgh and his scemes to get airborne himself was a matter of satire long before his plans came to fruition.  As a premininary for his own flight and, as a means of raising funds, Tytler set about demonstrating the ascent of a 13 foot fire balloon in Edinburgh as his published advertisement  in the Edinburgh Courant (on 19 June) states:

On Monday next, the 21st current, will be exhibited
         AT COMELY GARDENS   BYJAMES TYTLER, CHEMIST,A FIRE BALLOON, of 13 Feet in Circumference,  AS A MODEL OF    THE GRAND EDINBURGH FIRE BALLOON, With which he intends to attempt to attempt the Navigation of The Atmosphere. At this exhibition is intended to give the public a demonstration of the principles upon which the Great Balloon will ascend, it is not necessary to Confine it to any particular hour. – The balloon will therefore be repeatedly exhibited from Eleven o’clock forenoon till Three afternoon, and from Four till Seven in the evening...

   Admission for the Edinburgh curious was sixpence, though subscribers to the scheme would be admitted gratis. 

   Due to lack of funds principally the demonstration was postponed until July and took place at a new venue, the Register House in Edinburgh.  Although the somewhat ugly barrel shaped balloon did fill with gas it also filled up with sparks which burned several holes in the fabric, necessitating the spectacle to be curtailed.  News of these initial attempts at elevation was conveyed to his native county  and, on the evening when news of the failures arrived, a group of strolling players was on stage and exclaimed the line:

   ‘What news?  What news?’
   His fellow actor not only fluffed his line, but gave as a response the actual news about     Tytler:   ‘News!  News!  Why Tytler and his balloon have gone to the devil!’
   The audience broke into an explosion of laughter and derisive cheers.  So much for local loyalty.

   A further attempt at elevation, back at Comely Gardens, was similarly unsuccessful, despite his trying to tie in with the excitement of Leith races in August 1784.  The Caledonian Mercury reported the fresh  failure:

A gust of whirlwind, as if sent by divine command to blast the hopes of this devoted projector, attacked the Balloon, drove it hither and thither, and by compressing it on all sides, soon reduced it to a state of flaccidity;  some rent were made, which prevented any further attempt that night.

  A crowd of drunken race goers then descended on the scene and torched some of Tytler’s equipment.  But, after another failed attempted, came the historic breakthrough.  On Friday  27 August 1784 Tytler himself successfully too to the air, the first person in the British Isles to actually fly.  At five in the evening the air filled contraption soared into the air.  The spectators gave a rousing cheer.  James Tytler proudly waved his hat as he floated to a dizzying height of 350 feet.  A second flight happened several days later and several other follow-ups fizzled out.  It was all downhill from there.  By March 1785 James Tytler again sought the refuge of sanctuary at Holyrood Abbey.

   In 1785 there were several ascents in England, but little recognition was given to James Tytler.  Late in that year one of those who made the pioneering English ascents, the Italian Vincent Lunardi, came north and made balloon flights in Scotland.  He met Tytler and made condescending references to his fellow pioneer.  The restless, thwarted Tytler ventured for a while to Glasgow, helped with the third edition of Britannica, went back to Edinburgh and encountered Robert Burns.  By the early 1790s, stirred by revolutionary France and the atmosphere in Edinburgh, Tytler was involved in radicalism.  It caused him to flee to Ireland where he remained for two years.  In 1795 he emigrated to Salem in Massachusetts. 

   This last era was no brighter than the preceding few years.  Tytler and his second family settled on a sparsely settled peninsula called Salem neck and made a small income from preparing medicines for apothecaries.  Still, he tried several other ventures including a treatise on the Plague and was working towards a new geographical work when he met his end.  On Sunday, 8 January 1804 a very drunk Tytler blundered out into a storm and entered the house of a neighbour named Oliver and borrowed a candle from him.  It was his final human venture.  His body was found in the water on the shore on the following Wednesday.  In his eulogy his friend Mr Bentley truly states that ‘he was eccentric.  The incidents of his life had not impaired his industry, and his thirst for universal knowledge varied too often his pursuits.’

Lunardi mets Tytler, according to a contemporary cartoon.  A meeting of equals?

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Ogilvy Name, Near and Far

Although this post is mostly devoted to the fortunes of the Ogilvy family in its various guises, at home and abroad, we can start with a salutary warning about the dangers faced by that creature which was dangerous in itself, the Scot Abroad.  Although the widely travelled Scot seems a bit of a cliché in historical terms,  from the Middle Ages onward the Scot did turn up in strange places, at different times, in guises like the itinerant traders who settled in Poland or the soldiers (mercenary and otherwise) who served in France, Sweden and further afield.

   Some odd things befell these emigrants on occasion.  Take for instance the incident at the court of Tsar Boris Godunov in 1599.  One of the latter’s associates was entrusted with the construction of a new fortress and began boasting that he was in fact as powerful as the tsar in his own area.  The hapless man, Bogdan Bel’skii, was dragged back to Moscow and suffered a cruel and bizarre punishment.  Tsar Boris had a Scots officer named Gabriel perform a humiliating punishment on his underling:  if front of the court Bogdan had his huge bushy beard torn out by the handful by the hapless Gabriel.  This Scot may have been a certain Gabriell Elphingstone, a 'valiant Scottish captain', who migrated to Russian from Swedish service.  A band of Scots and English who were unwise enough to laugh about the drunken antics of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in a previous generation were punished, when Ivan heard about the insult, by being made to pick up five or six bushels of peas from his floor, one by one.  But afterwards they were given a good drink and sent on their way.  Life was evidently strange in Russia in those times. 

   Conspicuous among the Scots who sought their fortunes or merely livings abroad were the Ogilvy family.  Although the name had its origin in Glen Ogilvy in the Sidlaw Hills, the family of course spread itself out in Scotland at an early date.  There was an early settlement of the Ogilvy family in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire for instance.  One native of the latter was the Catholic martyr St John Oglivie, executed for his faith in Glasgow in 1615.  He was educated in Germany and Moravia and travelled in Belgium and France before seeking leave to return to his native land where he met his death. 

   One Ogilvie was certainly was from Angus was George Ogilvie who hailed from Muirton near Kirriemuir.  He served the Hapsburg crown and was based in Moravia.  A son of the fifth laird of Airlie, he probably raised men for continental military service in his native county in the 1620s.  The lure of fighting abroad was not so much for adventure as an economic necessity to stave off starvation or at least poverty.  Records from Dundee in 1527 show that Ogilvie was rounding up ‘ydlle and maisterlesse men’ in the burgh to fight abroad.  George Ogilvie himself served first in Scandinavia before moving further south and he became a highly respected and successful military commander. 

   Less fortunate than George Ogilvie was the Scots lady recorded in Kiedjany, Lithuania, in 1635.  She was a certain Mrs Ogilbina (Ogilvy), who was a recipient of alms.  Who she was and what happened to her are unknown.  Other far-flung members of this family are recorded, but in bare records which give little detail of their lives.  A little girl named Katarzyna Ogilvy was baptised on 13 March 1640 in Wilno (Vilnius); her father is named as Jakub.  Her brother Andrzej was baptised on 25 November 1644, while another brother, Alexander, was baptised on 26 May 1648.  Among the military Ogilvys recorded in the same region is Wilhelm Ogilvie, a lieutenant in the private forces of the Radziwill family in the 1660s.  In the following century there was George Benedict Ogilvie, a Field-Marshall of the Polish-Saxon army, who served in the years 1701-10.  In 1790 Captain John Ogilvy was a captain in the Polish army.  Some sources state that a full 50% of the population of Kėdainiai, one of the oldest Lithuanian towns, was Scottish in origin at one stage and they remained a distinct community into the 19th century. 
   Another concentration of Scots was in the eastern Polish region of Podlachia, home to many Scots in the 17th century.  A Father Gall from Parish informed W. Cramond that

a great body of Ogilvies emigrated en masse [there]...They are said to have done to enjoy the free exercise of their religion.  It is certain that a colony of Ogilvies is there now, and has been there for a long period.  And, curiously enough, I met an English gentleman in Paris some years ago who assured me that the statement was correct, for he knew all that country well.  I asked him simply whether he knew any Scottish families settled there.  ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘and they are all Ogilvies.’

   Cramond’s informant Father Gall noted a number of Ogilvys in the records of St Nicolas Platz, Prague, including :

Jacobus, Lord Ogilvy, spouse of Joanna de Forbes.Patrick Ogilvy, ‘dominus de Muirton’, husband of Isabella Murray, who died at Danzig in October 1712, aged 62.Isabella Joanna, Baronissa de Ogilvy, wife of Julius Weickardum of Heussenstein.Georgius Benedictus Liber Baro de Ogilvy. Plus around ten others.

   At least another dozen people of the name of Ogilvy/Ogilvie can be found in the records of Prussia and other parts of eastern Europe.  One of the later individuals was Thomas Ogilvie, who died at Riga in 1836. 
  At this stage it is worth mentioning, as a pedantic point, that the original form of this family name was Ogilvy (with a plural Ogilvys), though an early variant was Ogilvie(s).  Another, less common mutation is Ogilby.  One individual who sported the latter name was a ‘cunning Scot’ named John Ogilby , the mysterious author of Britannia, an atlas of England published in 1675.  Ogilby was reckoned to have been born in Edinburgh, though his father took him to London at an early age.  It later transpired, through a chance meeting with the son of the Earl of Airlie, James Ogilvy, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 1650s.  Ogilby was informed that he was the secret son of the earl and had been born in Airlie Castle.

Glen Ogilvy


Bajer, Peter Paul, Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 16th-18th Centuries, The Formation and Disappearance of an Ethnic Group (Leiden, 2012).
Cramond, W., The Scottish Antiquary or Northern Notes and Queries, Vol.  VII.
Dobson, David, Scots in Poland, Russian and the Baltic States, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2000).

Worthington, David, Scots in Hapsburg Service, 1618-1648 (Leiden, 2004).