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 dwelled?

   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.]

   Dome other coaches included the 'Thane of Fife', the 'Coupar Angus Caravan', the 'Saxe-Coburg', and the 'Fife Royal Union'.  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   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 ripped 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 at a time.  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 who 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


 Sources

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).