In 1920 Ex Baillie David Willox wrote a book called Reminiscences of Parkhead that was his memories of the shops, public houses, and the people of Parkhead. Parkhead History would like to hear your memories of Parkhead. The games you played, school days, work and the church you attended, just e mail us at email@example.com or get in touch through the contact button.
At the oft repeated request of my dear son Charles, presently residing in America, I set myself to write down a few of my recollections of the past in connection with our family. These must necessarily have little interest for the ordinary outsider but to one of the family they may interest if they do not instruct.
Who has not felt the desire to know something of their forebears either male or female, even in the humblest walks of life and especially after the careless and sportive days of youth and early manhood passed away?
Speaking for myself, I must admit that in my early years I was so taken up with passing events of boyhood that I had no thought, or at least very little, of prying into the past, my young thoughts being mostly taken up with the amusements of the passing hour and dreams of the future.
In writing these Reminiscences, it occurs to me that I cannot do better than write them out under the following headings, the Place, the People and the Pastimes of Parkhead, commencing as far back as I can remember, say about 1850. I would then be about 5 years of age, having been born on 3 June 1845.
Parkhead was then in 1845 a small weaving village in the east of Glasgow, about two miles from the Glasgow Cross. It consisted of one main street running east and west, called Great Eastern Road and another called Westmuir Street, running due east from the Sheddons (Parkhead Cross) with other streets converging on the Sheddons (cross) such as, Dalmarnock Street, Burgher Street, New Road now Duke Street, west from the Sheddons, we come to Elba Lane, Reids Lane and Stewarts Lane, on the Southside and Burn Road on to the Northside at what we call the west end. The houses in this direction, especially on the south were mostly one storey on the north they were mostly two storey, many of them thatched and some tiled with red course tiles but these coverings for the houses have now almost totally disappeared and have given place to the more modern and artistic slate covering.
There were few shops for the sale of goods in this small stretch of the Great Eastern Road which we may call the west end and they were of the most unpretentious character. Window dressing had not in those days attained the excellence it now has when it may be considered one of the fine Arts. You might come across a bit small window packed with an indescribable assortment of miscellaneous articles without regard to either time or place, mostly appealing to the juvenile fancy for purchasers, such as, half-penny keek shows, marbles (bools), of various colours, Tops, Peeries, false faces, and valentines. ‘Old Brody’s’ was perhaps about the only shop that made any pretence to supplying the general wants of the community. It stood almost on the identical site of the Clydesdale Bank of the present day, facing the top of Dalmarnock Street (Springfield Road). This with the exception of two or three bits of small green groceries was about all the facilities there were for purchasing the necessaries of life, while in the same stretch there were four pubs on the opposite side. All I remember were another pub and a butcher shop. The rest were hand loom weaving shops.
Dalmarnock Street runs south from the Great Eastern Road it was anciently called dry thrapple, but why it was so called I cannot tell. Even in my early days it hardly ever got any other name than dry thrapple, especially among the older people. It consisted then principally of one story houses, mostly of one room and kitchen, entering off the same close as a four loom shop. Some four loom shops had the house above, which were attics, some which still remain. On the west side of the street was a wide and deep goat or ditch, with a fairly high hedge, beyond which were little patches of garden ground, then the houses and larger garden spaces behind. At the top nor-west corner was a large open space called Gib’s yard, usually containing a large stock of timber, among which we youngsters used to play at some little risk of getting injured, and not infrequently of being chased. Off this street, near the site of the palatial Newlands school, was one of the finest wells in the whole neighbourhood called ‘Carrick’s Well’. The water was good and plentiful, even in times of extreme drought, but my impression is that it was a private well, and was situated in one of the gardens, outsiders probably having to pay a small sum for a supply. I have been told that in later years when digging for the foundation of the Newlands School the workmen struck the source of this well, and it was only after great trouble and considerable cost they overcame the difficulty of stemming the flow of water into the foundation. The last houses on this side of the road going south were three or four neat little cottages and beyond that a fairly large sized park, where in later years I used to herd. On the other side of the street, the east, there was nothing remarkable apart from a number of weaving shops, and an opening or lane called ‘The Stiles’ a nice little rural pathway that led into Burgher Street. This has been swallowed up in the present Dechmont Street, and large four storey tenements, which are continued down the east side of Dalmarnock Street to the Caledonian Railway round and along Thomson Drive (Whitby Street) to the Coach Road (Helenvale Street).
Let us pass through ‘The Stiles’ as it was then, with its beautiful hawthorn hedge on either side, into Burgher Street, which is closely associated with our (Willox’s) family history. A considerable portion of this street was an then an open green at the south end, with a few one storey weavers’ shops and dwellings on the west side. But the first house on the opposite side was rather pretentious for those days, consisting of one block with two dwellings of room and kitchen, each with a mid-room and one house had a four loom shop beneath, and the other had a six loom shop.
I have never clearly understood whether the whole of the whole block belonged to our ancestor ‘William Willox’, or only that portion inhabited by him, namely the room and kitchen and mid-room, with the six loom shop beneath. I am strongly inclined to believe that the whole block was built by and originally belonged to him, as he seems to have been a man of some standing and character in the district. But more of him by-and-by, when I come to deal with the people. It was in the mid-room that my grandfather and grandmother took up house when they married. Both grandparents were Willox’s, and were cousins. My grandmother’s full name was Jeanie McGregor Wardrop Willox, which is somewhat significant of other connections. No wonder my fancy clings round Burgher Street. I myself was born between Burgher Street and Dalmarnock Street in a place called ‘Nae Place’. When married first I took up house in Burgher Street and Jeanie, my daughter was born there.
I have now for some years owned a little property at 48 Burgher Street. But I haven’t finished with the street yet. Immediately joining our old man’s house were two or three red tiled houses, and what is now called McEwan Street, in those days, was called ‘Juck Street’. It was entirely occupied by weavers, mostly all four loom shops, with dwellings above.
The opposite south side of the street was unbuilt upon, and made an ideal playground for the young weavers. With the whole open country for many miles east and south before them, it ran and runs yet, from Burgher Street to Helenvale Street, there is little to note. On the right we come to the ‘Big Land’, three or four stories high (still standing) with weaving shops below, then the Smithy owned by ‘Big Tam Strachan’, and then the pawn building, with a joiner’s shop at the corner. At the opposite or west corner stood a decent two storey building, occupied by Dr. Wm. Young, the only doctor we had in the place in those days. What a glorious time the old women must have had then compounding drugs and bringing hame weans. The doctor’s house and the adjoining buildings right west to Dalmarnock Street all disappeared to make room for the Savings Bank Building and the adjoining four storey tenements.
We will now pass along Duke Street going north and starting from the Cross (Sheddens). Duke Street was then called New Road. The first and almost only building of any note then was the ‘Gushethouse’, owned and occupied as a licensed place by George (Geordie) Honeyman, who had the reputation of dabbling in more things than whisky. He was, besides being a liquor merchant, a water merchant as well, and sent carts through the vilaage with large water butts, retailing the precious article at so much a ‘stoup’. There were a few one storey houses extending from his premises down the street in one of which a maiden lady named Agnes Paterson kept a grocer’s shop. She did an extraordinary amount of business for such a small place, probably because she gave ‘tick’ (trust). Her shop was a favourite one of the Forge’s labourers. I believe her trust was often misplaced, and she met with many losses and disappointments.
There were no other buildings on this side of the street, and a low broken stone wall or dyke ran most of the way down to the old Forge gate at the junction of the back road.
Coming back on the east side there were two or three 2 storey buildings, one of which was a school called ‘Corkey’s School’, from the fact that the Schoolmaster, Mr. McAuley, was said to have a cork leg. he was said to be a splendid teacher, but rather severe as a disciplinarian. I was not long under him. One could not get learning for nothing in those days any more than you can now. The corner building right opposite Honeyman’s, where we started from was a white-washed one, two stories in height, I think part of which was occupied by Jock Arbuckle as a barber’s shop. Mrs. Arbuckle on busy occasions did the ‘soaping’ and Jock did the shaving. I used to get my hair cut there, the charges were a halfpenny for shaving and one penny for haircutting. There was no picture house in those days in the New Road, nor was there a public hall.
We will now take a turn down Westmuir Street, and note some of the changes that have taken place there. This large and beautiful range of four storey tenements, commencing on the corner of Duke Street, was built by Messrs Watson, an old Parkhead family, and took the place of some old buildings, such as I have already described. This building at the corner of Gray’s lane or Gray Street (Dervaig Street), you will notice is only two stories high, and is presently occupied by the Watsons themselves, as a licensed grocery business. In my youg days it was but a very small concern, kept by the present Watson’s father ‘Rab Watson’. I cannot say positively if it was licensed then, but I think it was. Old Watson sold all kinds of grocery goods, and in addition grain and feeding stuffs for horse and cattle. He must have done fairly well, for besides leaving them a good business, which under the able managementof the younger Watsons, has developed into its present gigantic proportions, with, I have heard it said, a turnover of not less than £600 per week.
The top flat presently occupied by the Watsons was once a school room, under the management of a Mr Malloch. This school by-and-by was removed into larger premises, and found accommodation for the use of the tawse in a little hall adjoining the Watson’s premises in Gray Street. Mr Malloch having occupied the ministry, the school was ruled over by James Jarvie. But James, I think must have been fond of the ‘maut’ (malt), as he didn’t retain his position long, and drifted back to the loom.
Gray’s Lane in those days ran, and runs still from Westmuir Street down to what is now called East Wellington Street, on the north side of which, nearly opposite the foot of Gray’s Lane, stood the old ‘Waster’ coal pit, a pit of considerbale antiquity even in those days. It was said the coal used to be brought to the surface in baskets by hand, and the workings were said to extend underneath as far west as the cross of Glasgow. I remember the pit working, but my earliest recollections of it, the method of raising the coal was mechanical, and by direct lift, not by hand in baskets, and though it was said women used to work there, I never happened to see any.
Returning to the top of Gray Street at its junction with Westmuir Street, we bend our steps eastward. From the corner, for a considerable way down Westmuir Street on either side, were a number of weaving shops. Those on the south side were mostly two stories of the usual type, the shops below and the dwellings above, with two or three going closes, which led into ‘Steen’s Court’, a triangular space that lay between Westmuir Street and Great Eastern Road. There were two or three closes on this side of the Court, and a Court entrance into it as well as on the south side. These through closes offered fine facilities to us youngsters in our games of hide and seek, hurly burly, smuggle the geg, etc. etc.
On the north side from Gray’s Lane right down to Ravel Raw (Row), were a series of one storey houses, with one two storey one about half way between the two places named. This was occupied by Jack Marshall. The low buildings, which I presume had originally been weaving shops, were occupied by James Waddell, as a Comb work, which was then, I think, the only place of public employment in Parkhead, except the Forge, which was then a very small concern compared with what it is now, in these days of hundred ton guns, armour plates and mighty shafts and throw cranks.
The Ravel Row ran, as it still does, north to its junction with East Wellington Street, and nearly opposite Ravel Row, on the south side of Westmuir Street, stood the Old School Pit, bounded by Pump Riggs, now Sorbie Street, then a narrow hedge lined pathway running between Great Eastern Road and Westmuir Street. The Old School Pit is one of my earliest recollections, with its stone built engine house, and its massive cast iron beam protruding, working up and down loke some gigantic pendulum moving the wrong way. From this point down Westmuir Street, there was little of interest to anyone. A series of low one story buildings on either side. The first opening on the left hand now called Nisbet Street, was then simply an open space, then some low one story houses where the present Parkhead School stands, and adjoining the Back causeway, which led down to the ‘Black Engine Pits’ two in number, and quite near to each other. These Pits were situated just where Beardmore’s large engineering (G) shop is built, and gave employment to quite a number of colliers, for whose accommodation a long row of one story houses was built, running east and west. This was called ‘Colliers’ Raw’ (Row) and was occupied by quite a colony of relations, mostly Haddows, Baxters, Tennants, Winnings etc., some of whose descendents still live in the neighbourhood. Woe betide the luckless wight who fell foul of any one of them. The whole clan were in arms at once.
The next opening is Winning’s Row, and opposite on the south side of Westmuir Street stood the old gaol. Why it was so called I cannot tell, unless it was from its dull and dismal appearance and its foreboding outline. The houses were very small, and had the name of being very unhealthy. Quite a little den of people lived here notwithstanding, and they were nearly all swept away during one of the visitations of cholera. We youngsters had always a sort of passing fear on passing the dismal looking den. it has long since disappeared, all but one of the Gables, which still stands, and forms the boundasy line of my own property in Westmuir Street. We have now reached the entrance to the Quarry.
In my early years it gave employment to quite a number of men, and it was here the soldiers from the barracks used to practice ball firing at cloth targets. It was quite an event in our young lives gathering the lead after the soldiers left. The quarry was also a great source of supply to the boys of clay for making crackers, which formed like the shell of a pennypiece, and gave a fairly good report when thrown upon the pavement with the opening downwards. There were two or three deep and treacherous holes here, where we used to sail rafts made of two or more pieces of wood with a cross piece or two. This was a highly dangerous pastime, and occasionally lives were lost, but what dangers will not the young adventurer.
East of the quarry stood the Caroline Pit, perhaps the most important in the whole district, where engines, in addition to raising great quantities of coal and other material, had to pump an immense amount of water out of the underground workings. Here on the burning ash-heaps we used to roast potatoes, and oh! what a palatable morsel they were.
We will now retrace our steps, and, starting from the usual point (the Sheddens) take a stroll east along Great Eastern Road in the Tollcross direction, and note some of the changes that have taken place there within the last seventy years.
The large four story building that forms the gushet house has taken place of a two story one that stood there, the under flat of which was occupied by Gib (Gilbert Watson) as a baker’s shop and dwelling house, with the top flat occupied as a dwelling house and post office. The entrance to this was by an outside stair, rising from Great Eastern Road, with the bakehouse adjoining, a low one story building, then a cart entrance leading into Steen’s Court, now altogether done away with.
On the opposite side of at the corner of Burgher Street stood a two story building, the ground flat occupied as a cartwright’s shop, and the top as a pawnshop, the latter owned by Charles Gallacher, a typical irishman, ready and witty. On either side the few buildings there, were of the two story class, weaving shops on the ground floor, and dwellings above, the latter of the one room and kitchen class. These extended almost to the Coach Road (Helenvale Street), with one 1 story house, where the plasterers’ yard now is. The houses on the north side of Great Eastern Road were of the same class as those opposite along to Montgomerie’s Opening, opposite the Coach Road. This opening which led to the Bowling Green, the old Parkhead Bowling Green, one of the oldest in Glasgow, was familiarly known as the ‘Old Bog Hole’. It was on that green that I first saw the game of bowls. Little did I think with childish interest, that I myself would yet become an enthusiast of the game. It was a break away from the old club that formed Belvidere Bowling Club, with their green down Elba Lane, on ground now occupied by Barr’s Lemonade Works. The same opening gave entrance to a bakehouse. Halfway between the Sheddens and Montgomerie’s Opening was the beaming room where the weavers had their webs beamed. This was a process of winding the web as it came from the warpers on to beams or rollers approximately to the width of the cloth when woven. The beaming room was on the top (second) flat, and adjoining on the same stairhead was alittle hall or room where public meetings were held, the only place of public meeting then in the village apart from the school room. This was quite an important centre in those days, and although it was ony 30′ or 40′ long by about 15′ wide, it met nearly all the local requirements of the place and was fairly well taken advantage of.
Montgomerie’s house was a licensed place of call, and was much frequented by carriers. It is still a licensed place, presently occupied by Samuel Hay Gardner. At one time there was a little hall, or rather a large room attached, where dances were held, and was much patronised.
On the opposite side of the road froming the corner of Helenvale Street stood Brown’s land, a dull uninviting two story building, consisting of weaving shops and dwelling houses, with a large arched pend leadinginto a small court with three or four outside stairs leading to the houses above. The Public Library and Washhouse now cover the place. We may as well dsipose of Helenvale Street while we are here. There was then little to arrest the attention, old Hay’s Farmhouse and Steading, with byre and barns adjoining Brown’s Land, which still stand as a momento to former times. A little further south stood McEwan’s Cottage, with a little flower plot in front, railed in. The railing and plot were in after years removed, and the cottage still stands naked in front, with an oil work adjoining the north.
We now come back to ‘Juck Street’, now called McEwan Street, already referred to, and going south enter the Coach Road leading to London Road. The Coach Road then was a beautiful carriage way between two nice hedges with fields on either side, and was originally, I believe, the main access to Belvidere big House. This stood in its own grounds, which with other buildings now form the well known Belvidere Hospital.
We will now return to Great Eastern Road, and passing eastward, we come to a long row of one story houses with attics above. These were mostly all of the weaver’s class of shop, and were known by the name of ‘Shinty Ha’, dear old ‘Shinty Ha’, every foor of which is hallowed ground to me, as the best known of my boyhood playgrounds. The houses stand on the south side of Great Eastern Road, at a considerably higher level than the causey, fronted by a dyke with openings and steps opposite every door. The dyke was a favourite source of amusement. It rose some two or three feet above the building level of the houses, and we boys used to take great pride in being able to run along the top, leaping across the stairways, and sometimes leaping from the building line right over the wall to the causeway on the other side, which was considered by us no mean deed of daring.
On the other side was a long row of two story houses, all weaving shops below, with one outside stair entering from the back. In the front street there was one outside stair. This rwo ran along until its junction with Sorbie Street (the Pump Rigg) and has undergone little alteration to the present day (1920), except that the weavers have all disappeared. A public house stood at the corner, there is still a licensed house there yet, but it is not used as a place for sitting down now. It was then occupied by Alexander Farmer, a blacksmith to trade. He was son-in-law to George Honeyman, already referred to, and was said to have killed a man at one time in a quarrel, and while in a fit of passion. Farmer’s public house was really the last house on that side of the road between Parkhead and Tollcross, ecept the U.P. Manse, which stood a little off the road opposite the Ree. The Manse still stands, broken up into small dwellings, the entrance to which is off Crail Street. There was no Crail Street in those days, all beyond were fields and hedges on this side of the road as far as Mackinfauld Road, beyond which I do not intend to take you at present.
We will, therefore, return to ‘Shinty Ha’, known sometimes as the high dyke. There were quite a number of characters lived in ‘Shinty Ha’ in those days, some of whom I have occasion to note when I come to deal with real people. At the end of the row there was an opening into the fields called Duff’s Opening, then another house or two. These and the row itself have undergone external alteration, and present the same outline to the eye today as they did when I was a boy.
We are now in the neighbourhood of the Hay Loft, but before proceeding farther, let us glance at the other side of the road. A hedge ran all the way fown there, lining the street, and was supposed to fence in Hamilton’s Park, so called from the farmer who created it. The Parkhead Junior Football Filed now covers the greater part of it. It used to be a favourite resort for us, even though it was prohibited, for chasing bumbees and butterflies, and occasionally a game of rounders.
The Hay Loft was simply a small cluster of weavers’ shops and dwelling houses, but the little one story house to the east and facing Great Eastern Road, was of different character. That was the ‘White House Inn’, and was occupied by Alexander Anderson. He seemed to do good business, and his place was the last place of call between here and and Tollcross for the carters and carriers going east. A terrible tragedy was enacted here, which afterwards overshadowed the place with a gloom that never lifted, and it gradually went from bad to worse until at last its roofless walls were all that remained of the ‘White Horse Inn’. The tragedy was the murder of Mrs. Anderson by her husband in a fit of drunken passion. I remember the first intimation of it I had while playing at Granny McPhee’s fireside. A neighbour woman came rushing in, exclaiming ‘uh! Bell, Bell, Sandy Anderson has killed his wife.’ I was a small boy at the time, and the alarming intelligence thus announced, had not the same import to me as it might have to older minds, but the cry of that woman occured to my memory, and is likely to remain with me as long as I live.
The Inn derived its name from the signboard above the door, which bore the representation of a white horse painted on a large board, supported by tall wooden beams, one on either side of the door. I was too young to be interested in the after fate of Anderson, but it is my impression that he got fifteen years transportation. A large crowd turned out for the funeral of Mrs. Anderson, I remember seeing it. She seems to have been highly respected by neighbours, and bore an excellent character among them for thrift and well-doing.
It was in a shed or old stables at the Hay Loft that the wonders of the magic lantern were first revealed to me. Someone kindly disposed towards the young gave an entertainment of this kind, and I was there. What a treat; never had my young eyes beheld such wonders, and the rapture of that hour were with me for long afterwards.
We have now reached the neighbourhood of the ‘Ree’ the last place I intend to deal with in these rambling notes. The principal portion of the Ree consisted of one story houses, with a back land at the south east end, and one or two detached buildings of similar character. They had probably been collier rows at an earlier period, and consisted of a ‘but and ben’, all earthen floors, reeking with damp, and they must have been very unhealthy.
At the time I write of, these houses were exclusively occupied by weavers and their families, the one apartment serving as ther living room, where eating, sleeping and all other domestic concerns were carried on. The other served as a workshop for two looms, with a small bed, in some instances, squeezed into a corner. How it was possible for people to live under such conditions is a mystery to me now, but the houses were all inhabited, and there was seldom one to let.
At the south east side of the ‘Ree’ was the Ree Road, a passage between two hedges, running south towards the London Road. This seemed originally to have been a cart or carriage way, and was a favourite place of recreation. It made a fine walk for the weavers in their intervals of their labours. At the east end were a few weavers shops and dwellings, and behind these was one of the best draw wells to be found in the while district. It was fairly deep, and required a pretty long rope to reach the water, which was clear, cool and plentiful, even in the hottest weather.
I have now reached the end of my notes on the place, and will have something to say of the people.
The People of Parkhead
You will have gathered from the foregoing that the inhabitants of Parkhead in those days were principally of the weaving class, and there were quite a number of highly respectable families among them. Among the oldest, if not the very oldest of them, was our own family, and as that is the main object of your interest, I shall try and tell you all I know of them. Much of what I may be able to tell you only came to me in a fragmentary manner, and is only of a traditionary character.
There seems to have been two branches of the Willox family, the one represented by the old William Willox of Burgher Street, my father’s grandfather on his mother’s side, and Sergeant David Willox, my father’s grandfather on his father’s side, so that my grandparents were cousins, my grandmother being the daughter of William, and my grandfather the son of David. So far as I know, William Willox’s family consisted of 3 or 4 daughters and one son. These were Jeanie, my grandmother, Elizabeth; I don’t know the names of the other daughters, Alexander, (Swift), and he (the old man) seems to have been a widower for some years. Before his death the family were all brought up to the weaving trade, under the old man’s care, and it seems to have been a fairly bien house, the old man himself being well to do, and having excellent character. Indeed he seems to have been a sort of aristocrat among his class, and as I have been told, was one of four who had a Parliamentary vote in the village, the then whole voting power of the district. Think of it now, with its many thousand voters. I understand it was quite an event when the old man went to vote. The candidate’s carriage drove up to the close mouth, and a crowd would gather round to see him driven off. It must have been interesting to see the old gentleman step into the carriage, with blue swallow tailed coat, his knee breeches, and silver buckles on his shoes. This is no figure of imagination; I have heard it hundreds of times, both inside and outside of our own family.
Jeanie married my grandfather, Elizabeth married on William Archer, and one of the other daughters married one of the name of Miller, the other I cannot tell you anything about. Alexander married a girl called White. He had only one son called William, of whom I lost trace. He went to the north of Ireland, somewhere about Newtonards. I cannot tell you anything of my grandmother, Jeanie, as she died long before I was born. Elizabeth (Leezie) whom I knew well, was a bit of a character, and was quite an interesting figure in Parkhead, a tall, muscular woman, as I remember her, thin and wiry, and active to her end. Everybody knew Leezie Willox, and some of the smart ones who thought to take a rise out of her were often overwhelmed by her ready wit and caustic replies. Poor soul, she had a lifelong struggle with poverty and hardship. I need not mince matters; her husband was one of the laziest men I ever knew. He did most of the planning for the household, and Leezie did all the prouching (foraging) or in other words, he made the balls and she fired them.
Alexander as he grew up seems to have fallen into evil habits; probably more so after the old man’s death, spells of drinking and idleness are not conducive to success in life. Drink seems to have been our family’s curse, though we may show many instances of sterling worth, strict integrity, sobriety and well being. Even before the old man’s death, things seem to have been going backwards with him. His family were growing up, and less amenable to parental control, while the domestic expenditure increased, so much so that he was forced to borrow money on security of the title deeds of his property, receiving a back letter from the lender acknowledging the temporary character of the loan. In one of Alexander’s drinking bouts, he handed this back letter to the lender for £5, thereby robbing his old father, and selling his own birthright for worse than a mess of pottage. This is how the property in Burgher Street was lost to the family, and occasioned Leezie a world of trouble in trying to recover it, even through the assistance of the Parochial Board.
Jeanie, my grandmother was a daughter of old William Willox, and she and her husband died within eight days of each other, leaving a young family of four, David, (my father), James, Alexander and Elizabeth, altogether unprovided for, to the mercy of their friends and the world. They were brought up in some sort of way, but almost entirely without education. Without the control of parents, they were careless of the education then offered. My father remained about Parkhead and became a good weaver. James also learned the weaving, but drifted into a seafaring life for some time, but ultimately came back to the loom. Sandy the youngest of the three brothers went into farm service, but ultimately went into pits as a miner, and settled down in Torphichen, Linlithgowshire.
Elizabeth was brought up by a Mrs. McNaught, who resided in Elba Lane, Parkhead. She also learned the weaving, and when grown to womanhood, formed one of my father’s family, and lived with us for a good while.
We are now getting nearer our own day. My father and mother married young, he about 20, she about 18. My mother had been left parentless also when she was but an infant, her mother dying, you might say, on childbed, the baby (my mother) being only about eight days old. Her father, William Dunn, left with a small family, married shortly after his wife’s death, but did not enjoy his second marriage long, until the Great Reaper gathered him also. Hence, I have never had the felicity of seeing any of my grandparents. The young widow, Mrs. William Dunn, became the second wife of Hugh McPhee, a widower with a family; hence the Dunn’s and McPhee’s became one family, living together until separated by marriage or death.
The McPhees’ were a very respectable family, and my mother was brought up like one of their own, receiving a fair education so far as being able to read and do a little figuring in a passable way. Hughie McPhee was a little man, about 5’ 3” or 4”, but stout and well proportioned, good tempered and as steady as a rock. He had a room and kitchen and a four loom shop on the Great Eastern Road, between Montgomerie’s and the Pump Riggs, and was altogether a bien and well doing man. In this home my mother remained until her marriage, and really never felt the want of her real mother and father. She was the favourite of the family, and it was much against their wish that she married my father, who was reported wild and improvident. They feared for the future comfort and happiness of their favourite, and their fears were, alas, too well founded, and their worst anticipations realised. My father, from the earliest, without being a thoroughly bad man, was thoughtless, careless of domestic comforts, and given to company. His work was often neglected, as were his wife and increasing family, of whom I was the first, being born of the 3rd June 1845. Hence my mother had the whole care of providing for us. She wove, washed and “ca’d pirns”, and did anything that would bring in an honest penny, sometimes helped by her mother (stepmother), and sometimes by a kindly disposed neighbour, who, seeing her struggle and knowing her poverty, lent a helping hand.
I have now brought these family notes down to the date of my own birth, and will henceforth deal with matters more under my own observation. I understand that as a child I was remarkable for nothing but getting wandered, and sitting much alone. I took up with any beggar woman who spoke kindly to me, and would follow them from door to door, holding by their skirts until some neighbour, knowing whom I was, took me home to my mother. Thus, you see, I have been “sib” with poverty of the very poorest class from my earliest days.
One incident of which I have often heard my mother speak, I must here relate, as it nearly disposed of the writer of these notes in rather a tragical manner. I was only an infant of a few weeks old when my mother gave me to a woman named Ann Ogg to nurse, so that she, my mother, might be able to earn a few shillings. She had a loom then in the McPhee shop.
Ann Ogg was fond of a dram, but was said to be a kind hearted woman. Her husband, John, was a pensioner, and Ann, one day, had gone to meet John coming home with his pension, taking me in her arms. How it happened I don’t know, but Ann had indulged too freely, and coming home, having to cross Camlachie Burn, then open at Crownpoint Road, she slipped and fell, and seemed to be in such a helpless condition that she and I must both have been drowned but for some gentleman who had witnessed the mishap, and rescued the drunken nurse and helpless child (myself) from a watery grave. I need hardly say that Ann lost her job, and I was transferred to safer keeping.
The first house that I remember living in was in “Shinty Ha”, through a close leading to a back-land of two dwelling hoses and four loom shops, with two outside stairs facing each other, and nearly meeting at the foot. One of these led to our house, a garret, the window of which looked into the street, Great Eastern Road, and the other led to the two houses above the weavers’ shops, and also a mid-room. These houses were inhabited by two families of the name of Brough, and the mid-room by Granny McAuley, and her son Robin. One of the two houses had been occupied for some time by a family of the name of Hill. Hill himself was so deaf that one had to roar into his ear to make himself heard. The Brough’s were very respectable people, well-doing, and seemed to move in comfortable circumstances. The boys were well clad, and were seldom seen without boots, while I ran about barefooted, bareheaded and in rags. Naturally, therefore, our family and theirs had little dealings, as the boys seemed to look upon me as a sort of outcast. I resented this, and one of them, John, and I became deadly enemies. He was year or eighteen months older than I, and inclined to tyrannize over me. This led to frequent tussles for superiority of the most determined character. Frequently if Jock and I happened to be coming down our respective stairs, we commenced making faces at each other till we reached the foot, when we met and got to grips at once. Then there was commotion in the little court, I remember on one occasion such a battle royal took place, and our legs and arms were so interlocked that it took the united efforts of all the old women in the court to separate us. Of course, with some of them I was the blackguard, the ragamuffin and nae’r-do-weel. He was the snob, well behaved, inoffensive, harmless boy. We grew wiser as we grew older, and each respecting the others fistic ability, we did not fight so often.
Our house was a single apartment, camp ceilinged with two set in bed places. The floor space was certainly not extensive, and our furniture was in keeping with it. The rent must have been small, but small as it was, there was difficulty in meeting it. It was often in arrears, which doubtless accounts for the frequent visits of the Laird, George Honeyman. Here we remained for some considerable time, my father irregular in his habits, and my mother weaving, ca’ing (winding) pirns, and sometimes doing a day’s washing. On the latter occasions we, the youngsters, could always depend on a meal, as she, in addition to her food, received 1/6 or 2/- in cash. It was while we were here, not withstanding all her thrift and toil, that she was induced to hire herself out as a wet nurse, into the family of Campbell of Camsarkin as I heard it pronounced. Here, as elsewhere, she became quite a favourite, and remained until the child she nursed was weaned, but her heart was still at home, poor as it was, with her own family. How we managed during her absence I cannot tell, but we got along somehow, through the kindness of the neighbours and Granny McPhee, who kept an eye over us.
It was while residing here, and during mother’s absence, that I saw the first house on fire that I had ever seen, right opposite our window. The fire originated in what was known as “Paddy Boyle’s Land”, and as the appliances for extinguishing fires in those days were of a primitive character, considerable damage was done indeed the place burned itself out.
What a day of rejoicing we youngsters had when mother returned home, with some little money, and many articles of wearing apparel, bed clothes, and other things given her by the kind people whom she had served, as marks of their appreciation. During my mother’s absence, and after her return, my father took spells of working in the Forge as a labourer. The wage for labourers there in those days was eleven shillings per week, but this magnificent sum did not all come home, George Honeyman coming in for a share of it. He, my father, was also a short time in a foundry in Hill Street, Gallowgate, probably a shilling or two more a week, making up for the difference he had to go to his employment. As I look back through the glasses of memory, in those days, now after something like seventy years, I shudder and wonder how we came through it all; thanking God that he blessed us with such a mother. Among the other changes which occurred here, was my father going to Torphichen, where he remained for some time, working in the Pits in the Armadale district. He took a house in Torphichen and wanted mother to go there too, but she refused, I think wisely, and so single handed she battled with her lot, and in some way kept herself and three or four children. About this time I learned to ca’ (wind) pirns, and between that and looking after the younger ones, I was of some assistance to mother, who wrought late and early at the loom, but oh! There was not much to be made of it.
After some time I found employment with old Hay, the farmer, in Helenvale Street, as a “herd” boy, where I remained for some time, but in addition to herding, I had other duties to perform of a much heavier character. About this time things must have gone hardly with my poor mother, as she had to remove with her two or three children into lodging with a neighbour, who had two or three of a family of her own. Thus there were two families crowded into one apartment. There seems to have been no law against overcrowding in those days, and as for sanitary authorities, I never heard of them. How we got on I cannot tell, it must have been a life and death struggle. I had scarlet fever here; think of it, scarlet fever in a single apartment, with two families crowded together, comprising three grown up people, and 9 or 10 children. It must have been a case of the survival of the fittest. I pulled through though, and I cannot remember that any of the others were stricken down at this time. The neighbours were very kind, and many little things were sent to comfort, amuse and sustain the invalid. Hay’s people, with whom I had been herding, were not unmindful of me, and sent frequently to enquire with more substantial tokens of their regard. The people with whom we lived were of the name of Lightening. Adam, the man of the house was a weaver and one of the more barefaced liars that ever breathed, but not an ill-doing man for all that, as I afterwards came to know him. His penchant for drawing the “long bow” was based on vanity more than any set purpose of evil, and his lies hurt nobody. He had a pin leg and stamped about with considerable dignity of bearing. His wife, Bell, worked at the tambouring, and though they were poor, in the kindness of their hearts, they could find shelter for those still poorer. I respect there memories, but never was in a position to reward their kindness while they were alive. The Lightening’s, as far as I know, have all passed away, and nothing remains of them except the remembrance of their kindness.
How long we remained with the Lightening’s I cannot exactly say, probably about a year. My mother continued at the loom, and seems to have been able to make ends meet in some sort of a way. It was after my recovery that I first learned to throw the shuttle. It happened in this way, during my convalescence, and after, I used to go over to her weaving shop, and sit for long spells beside her, listening to her stories of Auld Lang Syne, and her snatches of song as the shuttle flew from side to side and the dressing rods gradually crept towards the headless. I plagued her often with my questions, and persisted for a long time in asking her to let me try my hand. At last she yielded, and tied up the treadles to suit me. Then with one hand on the lay beside my own, and the other holding my right hand with the driving pin (pluck stick) in it, we made the shuttle skip across the sole of the lay, and I had thrown my first shot. We persevered in this way for a number of times, until she could trust me alone, with her overlooking me until I got a little command of both lay and driving pin, then she could leave me for a few moments.
As yet, however, I was totally ignorant of the other intricacies of the art. I gradually improved, and at last she thought of sending me as an apprentice to one Charles Johnston, to learn the trade thoroughly. This was not a success; I soured at it under the crusty control of Johnston, and threw myself once more on the loan of my companions, participating in all the pleasures and mischief’s incidental to boyhood. After a time I was sent to another task master, but if Johnston was bad, this one was worse. He even struck me, and of course, this I could not stand – sing ho: for the freedom of the fields. I left without notice and he neglected to give me a character. My mother, I have no doubt, had many an anxious thought concerning me. I got into Grant’s Mill, Mile-End, to learn the Rone piecing (no pay) then into a ropework, where I remained for a short time. The pay here could not have been excessive, as I left that, and went to the “tearing” in connection with the Block Printing in Millersfield, and from that to the machine shop, where I had 3/- per week. Here I remained for some time, but evidently not thinking my services not sufficiently remunerated, I left there and went Muir & Brown’s Printwork, about a mile further away, for a sixpence a week more. We must have been pretty hard up in those days, but we had never known anything else. The pay day, my pay day, was every Friday, between breakfast and dinner time, and my sister Agnes, used to come with my dinner on the Friday’s for the purpose of taking home my pay, probably to purchase a dinner for those at home.
Thus we struggled along, until my father, tired of Torphichen, and having no hope of my mother joining him there, returned and immediately took up a house in the Ree, in one of those mansions of two apartments I have already referred to. He set about putting up two looms, one for himself, and the other to let. It was quite a common thing for tramp weavers to hire a loom by the week, at 1/- per week, my mother ca’ing (winding) the pirns. This arrangement might have done very well, but there did not seem to be any improvement in his own character. His periods of industry were irregular and the allurements of company were too deeply rooted to be easily overcome.
The first house we inhabited here was the southmost but one in the east row, and like all others in the two rows, was damp and unwholesome, with earthen floors. The principal piece of furniture was the pirn wheel, a low stool or two, a rickety chair, and the remains of what had once been a dresser, with a few earthenware plates and bowls upon it. Furnish polish was a thing unknown. But my father was a handy man, and to supplement our stock of furniture, made a chair. I think I see it now, 4 paling stabs, two long ones for the back, and two short ones for the front, nailed together in some ingenious way, with rests for the bottom. Laugh at it if you like, but it was serviceable and steady as a rock, and covered by some old cloth or canvas, the crudities of its joins and the knots of its limbs were not seen.
He also made a stool for the opposite side of the fire. This was done by driving four pieces of stabs of equal length into the floor, which was earthen, and nailing a bit of plank on top of them. It had one sterling advantage over all its class, it would not topple over. This when covered over with some coloured remnant was rather attractive in its appearance, though somewhat deceptive, and furnished a standing joke in our family for many a day, which originated as follows: – Incredulous as though it may appear, in this scene of restricted accommodation and limited means, my father kept a dog (bitch), dear old Gem. I remember her well, a quiet, sagacious animal of a bulldog breed of a good class, and as intelligent as an old woman. We seem to have fallen behind in the payment of the license, and after repeated warnings and threatenings, two men called with a barrow to take away our things to roupe them. When they called, some warning of which we had, we determined that they should not find the dog in the house. It was put out through a broken window in the back apartment. The old grey faced “wag at the wa’” was hurriedly taken down, and hidden somewhere, but in the haste the weights were left lying under where the clock had hung. The coast now being clear, the unwelcome guests were admitted, but on opening the door, what was our horror to see Gem sitting at their feet waiting to get in. She had just gone round and through the close, and was the first to enter. The two men proceeded in the execution of their duty, in a somewhat businesslike manner.
“You keep a dog here?” This could not be denied. “Well the license is not paid, and we have the authority to sell off your furniture in default, but eying the surroundings, we are willing even now to make a compromise and let the articles remain of payment of five shillings.” “You can make what you like out of it, but there is not a sixpence in the house.” “Then we must proceed. We see you have had a clock here (pointing to the weights lying on the floor) where is it?” “Away getting repaired.” By this time a large crowd had gathered round the door, execrating the tyranny of the laws in general, and the hardness of the official heart in particular. Some bits of things were taken out and placed upon a two wheeled barrow, when one of the men, noticing what he thought was a cushioned stool by the fireside, made grab at it as a prize worth securing, but found it immoveable, and had some difficulty in hiding his disgust and disappointment. We have often laughed at this incident, and while we could look upon it as a good joke long after it took place, it was no laughing matter at the time. Whether being sick of their job, or despairing of being able to realize as much as would pay the license, as a last resort, the men said “look here, pay 2/6 to the barrowman, and we will let you have your things back.” “I have told you we have not a sixpence in the house.” “Can’t you borrow it then?” I’ll see you dead first,” replied my father with some heat. But some of the neighbours here interposed, and handed over the amount asked for, which was accepted, and our things were put upon the street. But my father was so indignant or so proud that he would not assist to carry them in. There was not much labour in rearranging them.
Speaking of our dog Gem reminds me of an incident that much affected me at the time. She had pups on one occasion which, probably being of a mongrel breed, it was resolved to destroy them. I, being the eldest of our family was appointed executioner. I was to drown them in the quarry hole, a task which I rebelled against with all the energy in my power, but my father’s apron was tied around me. And five or six little helpless things were put into it. Under threat of a mauling I was packed off greeting all the way. The journey was a slow one, though not far. I sat down by the side of the pond, and fondled and gret over them for a good while, but knowing that I dare not go home without being able to say I had accomplished my mission, I at last threw the little things in and cried as if heart would break. One little thing in its sprachling, came to the side. I lifted it out, and stroked it amidst my sobs, but was constrained to part with it, and returned it to its watery sepulchre whence I had taken it. This left a deep impression on my mind and heart, and rather increased rather than diminished my love of animals in after life.
About this time it was decided that I should be a weaver, and under the watchful eye of my father, I made rapid progress, with sundry slaps on the jaw, and such praise as “dunderhead, numbskull etc. etc.” I soon learned to throw the shuttle with some degree of proficiency, and in addition to “dress” my own web, besides some other important particulars, which raised me mightily in my own estimation, and gave me a zest for the loom. This arrangement bade fair, and might have added much to our family comforts, had my father only been steady, and kept an eye on me, but he went long and frequent spells on the batter, and I took advantage of these to run about with boys of a like disposition, often getting into trouble, being chased for trespass, and other misdemeanours, to the great grief of my mother, who must have had many an anxious moment on my account when out of her sight. Here I picked up some new companions, Wm. Morgan, John and James Murphy, brothers, and Patrick Fitzsimmons. John Murphy was perhaps two years older than any of the others, and the leader in every devilment, a fearless lad who would fight, and not always unsuccessfully with anyone stones heavier than himself. Wm. Morgan and James Murphy were two of the best “chippers” (stone throwers) that I ever saw. Their accuracy of aim was marvellous, and many a cat and dog paid the penalty. We were a wild lot, yet never committed to any serious crime, and certainly never came under the “lash of the law” though we often felt the toe of our parents’ boots on our after parts.
There were a few “unco” bodies about the Ree, two of whom I merely mention “Rouse the Bear” and Jock McPherson. The former was a sort of a half-wit, who lived with his mother. She was said to have occupied a situation at one time in the service of a gentleman of some social standing. “Rouse the Bear” whose real name was Adam Mair was of a down looking, sour repellent disposition, of electric temperament. One never knew the moment he might burst into blaze, and then the further from him the better. At first he seemed to take a fancy to me, or rather he tolerated me more than others, and I used to go into his shop for a few minutes just to pass the time. However, his mother asked mine for God’s sake not to allow me in any more, as Adam was in a fearful rage at me, and threatened to cut my throat.
He said I stood and whistled about him. This stopped my intrusions, and I am afraid, added one more to his list of tormentors. One had only to look at him steadfastly to extract some of the most fearful of oaths, with the enquiry “what the hell you were looking at.” Should you happen to cough in passing him “hell” nor you would choke “you bastard” was likely to be the sympathetic salutation, but the climax of all was when you shouted “Rouse the Bear.”
It seemed then as if the hell within him had burst in overwhelming force. The game was dangerous in the extreme. He was light-footed and reckless in the use of stones. The chase was exciting and hazardous, and many narrow escapes were made.
Another character of a less dangerous nature than “Rouse the Bear” was John McPherson, of whom I have treated at considerable length elsewhere (see Black Jack o’ the Ree) a poetical sketch of mine which has been in print for a considerable time.
It was in the Ree that my brother John was born, and it was here I remember teaching my brother Alexander to walk, as he was often placed under my charge. You might wonder that in a house of the dimensions that we lived in, that we should be able to keep lodgers, yet this we did. We had with us for a considerable time a man of the name of John Lawson, nick-named Jenny Kessock, a pretty wet hand, but evidently a man of considerable education and intelligence. He was a splendid reader, and often entertained our family by the stories he read, such as “Wilson’s tales of the Borders”, “The Life of Wallace” and numerous other tales.
The Scotch ones always had a particular attraction for me, and I have no doubts that it was here that the seeds of enquiry were first sown in my mind. He and I slept together in a small bed, which my father in the exercise of his constructive genius constructed behind the kitchen door, thus if limiting still further the floor space, helped to furnish the house.
Not withstanding my father’s designation of “dunderhead” and my extreme youth, I seem to have picked up a fair knowledge of the weaving trade, and passed from the plain one shuttle, two treadle class of work to that of many shuttles and many treadles, required in the weaving of flounces, shawls, petticoats, and shot-abouts, and even before I reached my twelfth year could adjust the webs of men who had a family. Indeed I seem to have been something of a phenomenon. The intricacies of the loom, though they puzzled me some, had a strong attraction for me.
Weaving in these days, especially in the evenings and dark mornings, was carried on under much greater difficulty than in later years. There was no gas light, and oil lamps were in general use, the light from which made the “darkness visible” and was attended with considerable danger, sparks from which were apt to fall or be knocked on to the web. I remember this happened on one occasion with me, and had it not been for the presence and promptness of my father, the result might have been disastrous
People in higher walks of life may well wonder how the poor eke out their existence, but there seems to be a genius of adaptation implanted in them at their very birth. Means and methods that would be totally ignored by the well to do, are developed by the poor until they may be classed among the fine arts. Let me give you an instance. Coals were sometimes at a premium, and could not be had. The supply at the pits may have been alright, but the wherewithal to purchase was wanting, so it was no uncommon thing for the youngsters to be sent to pit ash bings to gather cinders and chips of coal to eke out the domestic supply. Another method of securing the black diamond was, and this was a frequent one about the Ree, to offer about a finger length of small twist tobacco to the coal carters in exchange for a piece of coal, or a small hank of cord for cracks for their whips. We usually expected more for the hanks than the tobacco, and were not disappointed, at least, not often.
The Ree was well situated for this mode of barter, passing south along the Ree road, where there were no houses; we reached the London Road, then one of the main arteries of the city’s supply of fuel, and along which there was a great amount of carting, railways not being so numerous than now, and carting being the prevailing means of supply. On reaching the London Road we waited there until the carters came along, when all we had to do was expose our articles of barter, when a lump of coal was exchanged for the tobacco or whip cord. These transactions were intermittent, and not altogether without risk. The two farmers whose properties we had to pass to reach the London Road, objected to our passing that way, so we had to see that the coast was clear. Then we had to see that no one witnessed the transaction who was likely to interfere. We instinctively felt that we were doing wrong, but something of the same spirit that influenced the smuggler around our coast, lang syne, seemed to whisper we were doing right. Many a cheerful blaze from this source had gladdened and warmed the fireside of an otherwise cold and cheerless home.
The Ree Road, as I have already said, was a favourite recreation ground for young and old, and on Sundays it was particularly well patronised, groups reading the newspapers and discussing the events of the week, others expatiating in the merits of the principals in some prize fight, or the result of some cock fight. Talking of fighting reminds me that I once saw a real set dog fight here between our own bitch Gem and another. It was a most repulsive sight, and nearly ended in a man fight. I don’t remember which dog won, ours or the other, but Gem bore several marks of her opponent’s teeth, and I have no doubt the other had impressions of hers.
There was an unusual arrangement with regard to the gas here. One meter for each row of houses built into a little recess in one of the entries, under lock and key. Each of those using the gas took charge of the key in turn. The hour of putting on and shutting off the gas being fixed from time to time as required by the lengthening or shortening of the day, and all paying according to the number of lights they had. This arrangement seemed to work very well, but there was a danger, and a big one it was, that if any one neglected to turn off his burner at night when the meter was turned off, the gas escaped in the morning when it was turned on, at the great risk of suffocating those that had neglected to turn off their burners the night before. This danger had been foreseen, and instructions given to every one to exercise the greatest care and attention, but not withstanding these instructions and the awful consequences that might ensue, this very thing happened, and a whole family were nearly launched into eternity during their sleep.
A family named Devine had been working late one night, and taking advantage of every minute they had of the gas, found themselves in the dark by turning the meter off at the regulation hour. They neglected to turn off their burners, ad went to bed. They were late risers, and in the morning before they were up, the gas was turned on at the meter, with the result that it escaped through the unclosed burners, and soon filled the house, though it was anything but air tight.
Someone having occasion to call upon the Devine’s in the early morning, found the door unbarred, and a strong smell of gas pervading the whole entry. An alarm was immediately raised, and the door broken open, when it was found the whole family, six or seven in all were insensible from the effects of gas poisoning. There was an awful turn up in the Ree that morning, as one after another of the insensible family were brought out into the open air. The cause of this disaster was at once ascertained, the two shop burners had been left open the night before, and as soon as the gas was turned on in the morning, it commenced to fill the house, a narrow, narrow shave indeed for the Devine’s, and an object lesson for all. Doubtless all profited by it, but what precautions, if any, were taken to guard against future occurrences of a like character, I am unable to say.
We remained at the Ree for some considerable time, three or four years perhaps. Even at the present moment I could name almost every family then in it, but in passing, only mention a few. First the McDonalds, Willie one of the sons and I became very chummy. He was a wild boy and shrank from no devilment. His father was one of the best readers of Scotch stories I have ever listened to, and often when he and a group of his neighbours were seated in the Ree road, rehearsing the adventures of “Archie Armstrong on the storming of some borders keep or castle” I was an entranced listener, my young blood leaping through my veins with all the force and fire of dawning romance, or my eyes filling with tears over the sufferings and sorrows of Scottish Covenanters.
Another of the families was the Hendry’s, a Roman Catholic family. There were two sons and a daughter, William and Peter. The sons were cronies of mine, especially Peter the younger. The old man was very fond of a fighting cock, and kept one, a beauty, but some envious neighbour got another, and the two cocks, meeting, fought until Hendry’s beautiful bird was simply a bundle of bloody feathers. Oh, such a row as there was over it. Old Hendry went mad, he challenged the owner of the opposing cock to mortal combat, or any one who would take his part, but the turmoil blew over as such things usually do.
The Murphy’s, to whom I have already referred, lived in the back land. Old John, the father, was a bit of a character, though like the rest of us, steeped in eternal poverty. The following incident is told of him, the accuracy of which I do not vouch for. A peddling clock merchant called upon John one day, and insisted on selling him a clock. John pled his inability to buy, but the peddler would not be denied, and said he would just hang it up, and the payments could be made at one shilling a week, or so. After some haggling as to it’s price, the clock was hung up, what was called a beautiful American one in a finely varnished case. No doubt it looked grand, though somewhat out of place among the other articles of household plenishing, but whether it was a good timekeeper or not was never thoroughly known. The vendor was not well away when the clock was taken down, and sent off to the pawn, and furnished the last meal they had had for a long time. A week or so afterwards, the clock man called again for his first instalment, and not seeing the clock had asked John “What he had done with his clock” “oh” replied John, “the clock, we ate it.” “What, you ate the clock,” “Yes, and we could have eaten the man who sold it as well.” It is said that the vendor of clocks didn’t pause to ask for his instalment, but took an abrupt leave of John, and was never seen in the neighbourhood again.
Wee Harry Hutton was another of our local worthies. Harry disappeared sometimes, but usually turned up to his loom again. This was a great mystery for some time, until it was discovered that he went away on musical excursions occasionally, for the purpose of replenishing his larder. He played upon a tin whistle, and charmed the natives of distant villages by the exercise of his genius. He seemed to make a good thing of it, as often on his return from these excursions there was a “blow out” for a few days before he tackled the shuttle again.
I need hardly specify any of the other families as there is nothing of outstanding interest to note. Their home life was much alike, all were poor, but there are degrees in poverty as well as in the university, some were poorer than others. This depended very much on the industry of the family. Sometimes there was a run of good work, when there was a manifest improvement in the conditions. At other times there was dullness and scarcity. I remember while we were here, there was a period of dullness, entailing awful sufferings, work could not be had, we were starving. Soup kitchens were established throughout the town, and the Corporation of the city distributed among the suffering people little paste board tokens bearing the City Coat of Arms which was called “Wee Men” owing to a representation of Saint Mungo being on them. These were very sparingly distributed, and were accepted by shopkeepers as current coin. The Corporation also undertook the supply of coarse webs quality, called “Provost Webs” whereby a starvation remuneration could be made. I wove one of these webs, and thought it a Godsend to get it. We came through it all, but how I cannot tell.
Mrs. Auld, the U.P. minister’s wife was very good to the Ree people at this time. Through her influence articles of clothing were distributed among the most needful and deserving. Boots and stockings for the children, petticoats for the women, and blankets for the bed were carefully distributed, but let me tell you never one of these articles came our way. I suppose we were considered outside the pale of redemption, yet not a family in the whole place was more needful. Looking back on these times I cannot blame the minister’s wife or anybody else. My father’s improvident habits were sufficient to bar the door against all assistance of a charitable character, yet had they known my mother’s worth, thrift, care and sufferings, they must have lent her a helping hand.
Sometime after this my father and I went into the factory at Crownpoint to work. We remained there for some time. Then he took a four loom shop and room and kitchen in the Shinty Ha’ where we remained for a year or two. It was while here that I went to Torphichen. It came about in this way – my aunt Elizabeth, my father’s sister, who lived here with us, instilled into my mind the idea of trying to better my prospects as a weaver. I could never be anything but the companion of starvation. “Go to Torphichen” she would say, “and you may make big money in the pits. Your uncle Sandy will look after you and see you in a fair way of getting on.”
This reasoning was too much for me. I took her advice, and without a penny in my pocket, shoes on my feet, or a bonnet on my head, I set out on a tramp of something like 26 miles, ignorant of the road, ignorant of the place, and ignorant of the world. You will find a sketch of my experience on this journey in the autobiographical remarks in “Poems and Sketches.” After some time in Torphichen, I returned to Parkhead, and tackled the loom again, this time in the six loom shop, where my father had two looms. He had evidently given up the four loom enterprise already referred to, and our house was in Steen’s Court, a room and kitchen here.
My younger brother William died – poor Wullie – with care comfort and attention he might have been living still. He was a big-hearted, cheery boy, a favourite with all who knew him, and was said to be as “auld farent” as a man.
The six loom shop, as its name indicates, contained six looms. These were occupied as follow – William Fail, old Alex, Agnes Hammond, my uncle James (the sparrow), my father and myself. William Fail was a quiet, stout, steady man, but not too fond of work. Alex, the pensioner, lodged with him, and he was as deaf as the proverbial door nail, or almost so, and except at pension time was as regular as the clock. He used to watch me as I measured myself against the side of my loom, so anxious was I to become big, my chief ambition then to being a man.
Agnes Hammond was an orphan girl who had been brought up by Mr. and Mrs. McPhail. They had no family of their own. She was a good weaver and stuck very closely to her work. She remained with the Fails (McPhails?) until her marriage with Archie Harvey. The Fails owned three of the looms, and my uncle the other three, two of which were hired by my father. I wrought pretty steadily here, and made considerable improvement in my knowledge of the trade, not withstanding the frequent absence of my father.
I must have been about ten or twelve years of age about this time, and I think it was in about this time that I began to feel my want of education. I hardly knew a letter of the alphabet, any scrap that I had picked up a few years before had almost entirely vanished. It was my good fortune here to get acquainted with a lad named Mason, who was a few years older than I, and he spelled out some lessons to me, and showed me how words may be written on paper. I became interested, and gradually acquired a taste for information, which has been with me through life.
About this time or perhaps earlier, I began to be noted amongst my companions for “making poetry” as they termed it, which was simply a knack I had of turning the simplest phrases and incidents into rhyme, but this was a wonderful performance in their estimation, and one which some of them tried to imitate sometimes. James Mason used to scribble down some of my blethers as I rehearsed them to him, and he seemed to take as much pride in the task as I did. Thus it was that I afterwards had some pieces in print before I could either read or write, the “Penny Post” and the “Hamilton Advertiser” being the medium through which we enlightened an ignorant public. Oh! What triumph I felt on first seeing my initials in print.
Another source of instruction to me was my acquaintance with William Frame, a boy a little older than me, and one of my dearest companions. His family was rather better off than ours, and his education had not been so entirely neglected. He could read a little and write less, but his taste for information was equal to mine, and this further encouraged me to persevere. Latterly an epistolary correspondence was commenced between us, of a somewhat singular character. We delivered our own letters to each other personally, as we lived in easy reach, and often the writer waited till the correspondence had been read so as to help the reader to decipher the hieroglyphic characters intended to convey our meaning. Willie was much my superior at this game, but I closely followed and imitated as nearly as I could. We adopted this plan as a means of mutual improvement, and we both benefited by it. Our paper was any scrap of white paper we could find, and our lines were, well, varied in regularity, being written at all angles, but we improved and continued this novel correspondence for a long time.
On the same stairhead with Mr. Fail lived a very remarkable old woman, she lived alone in a single apartment. I don’t know what her right or full name may have been, but she never got anything but Granny Looggie, a kindly old body, not very tall, about one hundred years old. She died at the age of one hundred and three. We youngsters often used to go in and see Auld Granny. I understand she had some peculiar habits, one of which was putting the butter in her tea instead of on her bread. She was said to have followed her husband through all of the Peninsular War. What was her means of support I am unable to say.
There were four tenants on this stairhead, my Uncle James, William fail, Granny Looggie, and James Mason. The latter was my secretary; it was he who used to jot down my rhymes.
Parkhead changed somewhat in character about this time, indeed the change had been going on for some time. A great number of new weavers came about the place, chiefly from Girvan and Maybole. These were principally coloured weavers, that is, their work was of petticoat, plaid, shirting and skirt class, and was quite distant from the fine lawn and muslin work of earlier times.
Besides, the Forge began to extend and other collateral branches of industry were introduced, which brought a goodly number of “incomers” around the place, who, of a rougher character of the old, or original residenters, soon assimilated with the others, and became one people. There, however, always remained a mark of division between the colliers’ and the weavers, to such an extent as to culminate in an occasional stone battle, in which not only the boys of either side participated, but grown up men as well. I have good reason to remember those stone battles, being put “hors de combat” in one of them. A battle lasting intermittingly for three days took place on one occasion, and, of course, I was there and in it, until I was put out of it in the following summarily manner. I was in the front line of our side, and probably with the object of showing off a bit, I advanced against the enemy rather incautiously, and got pinked on the bridge of my nose for my temerity. I suppose I was knocked senseless – I might have been killed – and carried to the rear. Immediately the cry was raised that Davie Willox had been killed, and this stopped hostilities, for the time being, at least. I never took part in a stone battle after that and bear to the present day slight marks of my last one.
The old original families became lost as it was in the great influx of strangers that had taken place, chiefly English and Irish, or as Granny McPhee used to call the latter” Brish” but I remember a few of the old originals, whom I name, many of whose representatives are still with us, well not many now. The Willox’s, Brownlie, Barr and Arrol of Burgher Street besides Little, Fleming, Chalmers, etc, Turnbull, McNaught, Horn, Stout of the west end, Marshall, Rodgers, Wilson and Whitelaw of Dalmarnock Street, Hamilton, Howat, Carey and Turner of New Road (Duke Street), Marshall, Moffat, Miller, and McArthur of Westmuir, Lawson, McLean, McPhee, Riddell, Miller, Crawford, etc., of Great Eastern Road and Shinty Ha’. I might add to this list indefinitely but it could serve no good purpose, so I only mention such families as has come under my more particular observation. There are others such as the McEwen’s and Abernethy’s and others that I may mention as I go along.
Lang Willie Barr had a big family and had the six loom shop in the Big Land. He was a man of great respectability, and was an elder of Tollcross U.P. Church. I remember on of the Rev. Mr. Auld’s sons, David, learning to weave with Barr. How many ministers send their sons to learn weaving nowadays?
Brownlie was another decent steady going fold fellow, he lived “but-and-ben” with our old man, and had the four loom shop. Of the Little’s and Arrol’s, it is said that old Little so wormed himself into the good graces of Arrol that he. Arrol, left his little property at his death to old Little, cutting out his own son, Walter, who I suppose was a little wild, but who, as I knew him later turned out a good man. He was best man at my father and mother’s wedding. He, Walter Arrol, must have been married at the same time as my parents, as their first child, a girl, was born in the same hour as myself.
The Marshall’s of Dalmarnock Street
The Marshalls of Dalmarnock Street were another very respectable family. One of their daughters, Jeanie, I think, married James Hamilton of new Road (Duke Street), who in later years became a magistrate of the city – I was at his marriage. I will have occasion to refer to him more fully by-and by. On the other families in this street I have not much to say, they were mostly decent weavers.
The Turnbull’s, McNaught’s and Purdon’s
The Turnbull’s and McNaught’s of the west end, as well as the Purdies (Purdon) were of the same class and character. William Purdon was a boy much of my own age. After weaving for some years he went and learned the glazing trade, ultimately becoming a partner in the firm, and at the present day has the business in his own hands. The McNaught’s, above mentioned, and were the people who brought up my aunt Elizabeth. The Hamilton’s of New Road whom I have referred to, was of the better to do class, weavers, of course, but being steady and industrious, they were bien. I don’t remember what occasion it was that brought me into contact with the Hamilton’s, but the acquaintanceship had a considerable influence on my future life. A friendship was established between James and I that lasted through life, with the very best results to myself. The Hamilton’s were a teetotal family, and James never lay off me until I took the pledge and became a member of the same society as himself. The society met in the Beaming room, and was very sparsely attended. Douglas Baxter, timekeeper in the Forge, a man of more than ordinary intelligence, was our president, James Hamilton was secretary, and in course of time I became treasurer. This threw James and I much into each other’s company. He, being perhaps about two years older, and both able to read and write with every facility, was able to guide and direct me as to how I might improve my mind. His admonitions were not thrown away, I set myself to the task, and laboured at it for years. I cannot part thus with the benefactor of my youth, for he was such, without paying some little tribute to his memory. He was a lad of quiet and studious disposition, not too robust. He read extensively, and remembered much of what he read. This gave him a wonderful power over many much older than himself. On Temperance questions he was unconquerable, and being possessed of a natural flow of eloquence, he could just sit upon us rudimentary aspirants to knowledge, which he sometimes did, but always in the most forbearing spirit. Poor James, he was never robust, and as he grew in years, his trouble seemed to grow with him. It was thought the loom was too confining for him, and aggravated his chest trouble, and he was not strong enough to go into the Forge or tackle any other laborious employment. A friend, Mr. Hugh Reid, Draper, Parkhead helped him to purchase a horse and van, and he commenced to supply the neighbouring shops with eggs, fish and potatoes. He improved in health every day after, and being exceptionally steady, sterlingly honest and thrifty, prospered in business, if beyond his expectations, by no means beyond his desserts. Ultimately, he was returned to the own Council of Glasgow by his fellow townsmen, as one of the representatives of the Mile-End ward. I had the same honour conferred upon me a few years before by the electors of the Whitevale ward, singular, isn’t it that we should be thus thrown together again, as for many years latterly we had not much coming and going together.
Let me tell you of a little incident that took place here, which carries with it its own lesson. One day in the smoking room of the City Chambers, we happened to get onto the crack about old times, when he said “Oh! By the way Davie, do you remember you were treasurer of the Old Temperance Society?” now defunct. “Well, that James, and you were secretary.” He smiled and said “that was so.” “Well” he added, “there should still be a small balance of the Society’s money in your hands.” “Is that possible, James?” He said “yes.” “Well, I have no remembrance of it. God bless me it is over twenty years since then.” “Quite that” he replied. “And why didn’t you remind me of it before this?” “Well” he replied, “we haven’t been much in each other’s company during these years, besides the sum was small, and the Society has long since ceased to exist.” “It doesn’t matter for that, though I know no more about it than the dead in the grave, if there was money, it wasn’t mine, and it must be in the bank.” We went across to the Savings Bank, and after a little turning over of the books, there, sure enough, it was. The original sum deposited was, I think, five pounds, but with interest had now reached the total of ten pounds. We withdrew it, and getting a receipt from James, I handed him the money. I learned afterwards that he distributed it among some charitable undertakings. James’ memory has been perpetuated in later years by the erection of a public drinking fountain at the cross of Parkhead.
We will now take a cursory survey of some of the other worthies of the town.
Bob (Robert) Arbuckle was one of the most outstanding. He was a big powerful fellow, who sometimes wove a little, but was more interested in ferrets, game cocks, and fighting dogs. He and my father were very chummy, and were interested in many a set too, brought off in a quiet corner. It was in Bob’s house I saw for the first and only time in my life I saw a ferret kill a rabbit. Bob had purchased a new ferret, and anxious to try its metal and invited my father and one or two others to witness the performance. How I came to be present I cannot say, but I was there. A large empty chest was the arena, into which the ferret and rabbit were put, and it was not long ere the ferret seized upon the rabbit, which vainly endeavoured to get away. My sympathies were altogether with the rabbit, and the tears came to my eyes, young as I was, to see the poor thing done to death by his ruthless enemy. I have seen several cock fights in Bob’s house, both with the natural and steel heels, but cannot say that I ever became fond of the sport. Bob doesn’t seem to have ever made much headway in the world. In after years I used to see him going about with his brush and shovel, cleaning the closes and back courts.
Wm. Robb, carting contractor, was another well-known character, and although most illiterate was a good man. He took great interest in our Temperance Society, and was both warm hearted and open handed. He did a good deal of the carting for the Forge, especially the Rolling Mill department, and employed a goodly number of horses.
John Murray, nick-named the “Bailie” was a publican, but a man of sterling character. He was open, frank and free, yet somewhat reserved with strangers, but with those he knew he was affable, and though his trade made people poor, and kept them so, he was highly esteemed by them. Many a poor soul has been indebted to the Bailie for a lift over the stile of want, and many a needy family has reason to bless the Bailie for his kindness of heart. It was no unusual thing for him to take the money from his drouthy customers, refusing to supply them, and sending the money home to the wife of the drouthy one. He was one of the leading Freemasons in the town, and held high rank among them.
John Reid was another of the craft. He was a tailor in business for himself, and bore an excellent character amongst his neighbours. Had his customers all been a straight as himself it had been better for John, and he would have made fewer bad debts, a great part of his being on the instalment principle, he lost a lot of money. He did a big trade among the peddlers and millmen latterly, and lost heavily. He went to America at the wind up and died there. For some years before his death he seemed to be pretty tightly pinched, but retained his honour and dignity to the last. I knew him well as I grew up. He made most of my clothes, I paying by small instalments. He was long a leading member of the Belvidere Bowling Club.
Another of our town worthies I must not overlook was Peter Abernethy. He became a cork weaver, and had a four loom shop in the New Road, the site of which is now covered over by the extension of the Rolling Mills. Peter (or Holy Pate) as he was called, was an elder in Tollcross U.P. Church. He was a total abstainer, and took an active part in the social life of the place. Hardly any meeting of a public character was complete unless Peter was there. He could take part in debate with the best of them, and the beauty of his language was that it was always in the broadest Doric. He was shrewd and intelligent, and not without a considerable amount of sympathy for his less provident fellow townsmen. He prospered surprisingly, and ultimately had a great many weavers working to him. His webs were well paid, and he who could secure on of “Holy Pate’s” webs was considered lucky. A great impetus to his prosperity was his connection with a Mr. Burton, an East Indian merchant, who was credited with “setting Peter of his feet.” Doubtless this was the case, but the benefit must have been mutual, and it shows Burton’s discrimination in selecting such a worthy medium through which to develop his trade.
Peter was a good weaver, was steady and reliable, and his honesty had never been impeached. The business increased rapidly, and to an extraordinary degree. New and extensive premises were built in Dalmarnock Street, the ground flat being used as a factory of fourteen weaving looms, and the upper as a dwelling house and warehouse. Here Peter did a roaring trade, and evidently a profitable one. He bought in weft and was not too inquisitive as to how it was come by. This was called “bowl weft” and was supposed to be the surplus weft saved by the weavers from their allowance. In many cases he purchased his own weft, from his own weavers, without knowing it, and was sometimes greatly imposed upon. I have seen silk bobbins padded with cotton with two or three layers of silk on top, and passed upon him as genuine silk bobbins, but he soon tumbled to this trick, and others of a no less questionable character had to be adopted. It was said he had been known to purchase weft on his way to church, but I don’t believe it. He was a good man, and may be said to have been a public benefactor. His work was well paid, and all were anxious to get one of “Holy pate’s” webs. My father and I wrought in his factory and could make good money. The hours were regular and the conditions easy and comfortable. There were fourteen of us here, and a showing the mental status of them, I may mention that no less than two newspapers the “Herald” and “Morning Journal” were taken in, read and discussed by them. My knowledge f the loom was largely extended here, and my thirst for information greatly increased by listening to the discussions that took place.
Peter flourished for many years, and seems to have made a good thing of it. He had three sons, Alex, John and Peter, and one daughter. Poor thing, she became weak minded and was taken away somewhere. Alex was brought up as a warehouseman; John became a minister, and Peter, after having failed several times in his examinations for the medical profession, drifted into a clerkship, or something of that sort. In his latter years things did not seem to get on so prosperously with Peter, and latterly the establishment was dissolved. Peter died, and the other members of the family separated. The old wife, Mrs. Abernethy, was the last to leave the place in Dalmarnock, and she, good old soul, was thence taken to her last resting place in the Kirk yard beside her worthy and respected husband.
I have little more to say of the Abernethy’s, Peter and his wife retain a warm place in my memory, especially the latter. She was a kind motherly body, and in the early days of their struggled upward, when I used to run about their house, any little service I could render was amply rewarded by a hearty meal, a large piece of bread and butter, or perhaps a copper. I can never forget her kindness, and for her sake it has been a great pleasure to me that in later years I have been able to render some little service to some of her family.
In dealing with the people of Parkhead I must not overlook Andrew Stout; he was the landlord of the “Black Bull.” I mention him because of the fact that he was the pioneer of the lemonade trade here, indeed I believe it was his business which A.G. Barr bought, and developed into its gigantic proportions.
Andrew carried on his business of ginger beer, lemonade and soda water, working in a small four loom weaving shop, and he must have been a man of considerable enterprise to introduce and carry on such a trade for years until absorbed by the still more enterprising firm of A.G. Barr & Co.
Alexander (Sandy) McPherson and John Angus
Alexander (Sandy McPherson was the local slater and plasterer, and lived over the “Black Bull.” I don’t know that he is known for much beyond the fact that he fought a long drawn out battle with “Jock Reil” a carter whose real name was John Angus, a much heavier and stronger man than himself, but not so clever with the fists. I have often heard this battle spoken of, so it must have made no little stir at the time. It took place at the foot of Dalmarnock Street, in a small plantation that stood where the “pancake” foundry now is, and after seventeen or eighteen round, the men were separated, Reil almost if not entirely blind, and McPherson severely punished about the body, so you will see Parkhead was not without its fistic heroes in those days, as well as now, when one of our own name bids for the bantam weight eight stones six lbs. championship of Scotland. Jock Reil I only knew as an uncouth character, often hanging about the corners on the “booze” “a towsy tyke, both grim and large” to quote Burns’ description of a certain individual.
He always dressed in dirty moleskins, with a large blue bonnet on his head, with a large tourie on top. He was always an object of interest to me because of his fight with Sandy McPherson, of which I had frequently heard. While he had proved himself game to the heels, he was said to be one of the most harmless creatures in the town, and would share the last copper he had with anyone less fortunate than himself.
Passing over a great many steady old fellows, I must hasten on, but cannot leave this subject without mentioning a few others.
Old McEwan of Helenvale Street was quite an aristocrat of the place. He held considerable property, said not to be altogether properly come by. His name was freely associated with our old man’s property in Burgher Street, which came into his possession somehow. He was a stout old gentleman, and usually walked about with his thumbs in his waistcoat arm-holes, in quite a lordly manner. We youngsters stood in awe of him, as also did his tenants, especially those in arrears. He was very Highland spoken. We used to nettle him very much by shouting from a distance “who shot the bear?” The McEwan’s were on very friendly terms with old Hay, the farmers people, and while I was herd with Hay, I used occasionally be sent across to McEwan’s with messages.
One or two of the sons commenced as tobacco manufacturers in Stockwell Street, City, and Malcolm was raised to the dignity of being one of our City Fathers. He was talented no doubt, and astonished the members of that august assembly sometimes by the quaintness of his expressions, and the originality of his illustrations, especially when he told them that they appeared to him liker so many “eight day clocks” and only required to be wound up occasionally.
“Gib” Gilbert Watson, the baker, was another prominent townsman of ours, not that there was anything outstanding in his character, but a certain amount of quiet reserved dignity that commanded respect.
Dr. William Young and John Kirkwood
I have already referred to Dr. Wm. Young and his predilection for the company of old “Rubble” John Kirkwood, our local scavenger, and especially when they were both in maut.
Commonly called “Peasemeal Jock” was a crusty old soul, at least we youngsters thought him so. He was a grocer in Westmuir Street, and used to hunt us away from his door or window when we happened to gather there – a tall man with his white apron tied over his coat, coming well up to his chin, with a string over his head and around his neck, as you have seen people wear overalls. It was said he was very much afraid of dogs, and kept well within doors when they were about. Bob Arbuckle’s dog, Nettle, got to know this, how I don’t know, but she used to poke her nose in at his door and show her teeth. As sure as she did so, Jock would lift a scone or a biscuit, and, waving his arm out to the street, the dog would back out until Jock reached the door and made the scone play whir down the street, the dog breenging after it , as if at a steeple chase, until she secured it. She was never known to go a second time the same day, but she was one of Jock’s most regular customers when she was off the chain.
William Miller, the poet author of the “Wonderful Wean” was quite a known figure amongst us. He was tall and spare in build, distant in his manner, and invariably wore a long swinger coat and lum hat. I have been in his company at an odd time, and heard him recite some of his own pieces in Murray’s big room, which was sometimes used as a free and easy. Had I the wit then that I am credited with now; I would have courted his acquaintance. Poor Wullie, like many other sons of the lyre, while he could give pleasure to thousands, he could not keep himself in comfort. There were other poets belonging to the town, Rabbie Craig, and one of the name of Brackenridge. The latter, I have been informed was the author of “The Humours o’ Glasgow Fair” and kept a small school here at one time. I have never come across any of their works, and am indebted for my information to Alexander Little, who was some years my senior.
Sandy Little was a remarkable man in his way. There were four or five brothers of them, all talented in some degree, but Sandy to me seemed the most gifted of the lot, and from him I picked up a good deal of general information. He was extensively read, and knew some things of several of the sciences, was well up in geology and botany, and thereby could make a stroll into the country interesting and instructive. He could play the violin, could paint fairly well, and was one of the most graceful skaters I have seen upon ice. After serving his time to the weaving, he went as a traveller to Archibald Allan, another Parkhead man, who was in the provision trade, in about Candleriggs, Glasgow, and on Mr. Allan’s death, he became one of the partners. Sandy, while he could not be called a “boozer” took a good dram, and sometimes neglected his business, with the result that he sold out after a few years, and latterly lived upon whatever little capital he had. He was slow of speech, but quick witted, and many a would be politician and theologian have had to strike their colours to Sandy’s onslaught.
I have perhaps drawn out the individual sketches sufficiently far for you to be able to form a fair idea of the class of people to be met with in Parkhead, in the days of my boyhood, but besides those mentioned, a large number of steady churchgoing, God-fearing, people remain, and whom I have not mentioned. These were the backbone of the place, both socially, politically and morally.
Pastimes of the People of Parkhead
We have now come to the last division of these sketches, as I purposed, at the commencement of them, viz – the pastimes of the people. The pastimes of the people are as noteworthy as their inner or social life is. They not only show the mental bias of the community, but the intellectual attainments as well, in these respects.
Parkhead, at the time of writing of, would compare favourably with any village of a like size in Scotland. In politics it was strongly radical with a sprinkling of Conservatism, or Toryism, as it was then called, which kept alive the spirit of controversy, and led to many long and animated discussions at the street corners, especially among the weaving class. Among this class, the first half of the week was devoted more to play than work. The Mondays especially were entirely devoted to play, so much so that Monday was usually called “Lazy Monday.” Groups usually gathered at the street corners, particularly at the pawn corner – the corners were all named after the businesses carried on there – thus:- the pawn corner, the doctors corner, Honeymoon’s corner, the barbers corner and Gib Watson’s or the bakers corner. These were the principal corners, all abutting on the Sheddens, and it was seldom that some of these corners did not attract it’s group of loafers hanging about, ready to discuss politics, religion, the latest turn up in the town council, or the passing events in the current week in Parliament, the state of trade in general, and their own interests in particular. These gatherings were very attractive to some of us youngsters, and often did we listen in wonder to the impassioned eloquence of some modern Demosthenes as he scathingly exposed the shortcomings of our imperial legislators, or the rickety condition of the party in power. Jock Paterson was a noted exponent of the old Cornlaw School, and Pete McCutcheon was a strong upholder of use and want. They were both expert draught players as well, and seemed as evenly matched at draughts as in discussion. These two were the sort of big guns, but there were others of lesser calibre who threw in explosives of word shattering intensity that sometimes startled the champions bold.
Among the latter class of sharp shooters, Johnnie Donnelly, Willie Chalmers, and James McLean were prominent, the latter of whom was named Lord Kilmun, so called, I suppose, by his lordly and dignified bearing. He usually wore a dark green apron, while most of the others wore white ones. He was noted for heckling Parliamentary candidates, when they ventured to address their constituents, and was not easily put down. Donnelly and Chalmers were waggish in their dispositions, and turned many a laboured harangue into ridicule and laughter.
Old Charlie Gallacher, the pawnbroker, occasionally lent much amusement at these gatherings. He usually went about with a long black “swinger” and a “lum” hat. Both hat and coat might well have fitted a man of larger bulk, as they were two or three sizes too large for him. He was a great wag, was Charlie, and lent much amusement to whichever company he chanced to be in. Handball and rounders were favourite games, and many hard tussles were fought out at these. The younger ones mostly indulged in “louping oysters” and “table the duck”, “the wrong sow by the lug”, “hurley burley” and “smugglers.”
Card playing was very popular among the young men, and the stakes, though not heavy, were fought for as keenly as if the nation’s welfare depended on the issue. The stakes were usually what was called a smoke of tobacco, which is, about half a finger length of small twist, and sometimes led to the most acrimonious discussions, if not to blows. The banks of the Clyde being within easy reach were a favourite haunt, and there many an idle hour was passed in card playing or other amusement. The games chiefly in vogue with the card players were “catch the ten” and “First twentyfive.”
But there were other recreations of a less questionable character. A bowling green was started by-and-by, but it was principally the shop keeping class who patronised it, though an odd weaver now and then tried his hand. A great source of pleasure to many was the gardens. Nearly everyone had a garden, and much time and great taste was spent on the cultivation of flowers and pot plants. A flower show was held annually, and great rivalry existed among the exhibitors. The prizes were small, but keenly contested for. The care and watchfulness expended in the cultivation and protection of the various articles of growth was immense, and yet notwithstanding the greatest care, disaster sometimes overtook the favourites of the field, and the giant swede or the matured cabbage stock that had been looked upon as the first of their class, disappeared on the night before the show.
A story is told of an old gentleman noted for his raising of leeks. On one occasion he had a particularly fine lot, and as the show was approaching, he looked forward to not only securing the first prize, but to astonishing all his competitors in that line, but “man proposes, etc. etc.” What was his horror, chagrin and disappointment a morning or two before the show day to find that his beautiful lot of prize leeks had disappeared, or been altogether destroyed. Some midnight plunderer, envious of his promised honour, had spoiled the whole lot, and had not left a solitary leek that was worth lifting. On these facts becoming known, crowds of sympathisers gathered around, offering their condolences, and swearing vengeance against the depredator. Whom could it be? Many were the hints and head shakings, but none dared breathe their suspicions until some sharp witted forerunner of Sherlock Holmes pointed out that it must have been a one legged man, as there was only the impression of one foot visible on the surrounding soil, with impressions of what seemed tp be a pin leg. This was conclusive – it must have been a one legged man, what could be clearer? There was only one man in the village who boasted the possession of a pin leg and that man was Adam Ligtening. The thing was clear as daylight – he must be made an example of. The law was the proper vindicator of the sacred rights of property, so Adam was charged. His protests of innocence were laughed at, in face of the evidence of his pin leg, so the proper authorities were informed, and it might have stood hard with poor Adam had it not been discovered that the impression of the footmark on the soil, which the whole evidence depended on, was that of the foot which Adam had not got. The thief, if wishing to incriminate Adam, had left the impression of the wrong foot.
Among other pastimes that may be mentioned were, foot racing, jumping and quoit playing, the latter chiefly among the colliers. The jumping competitions were one long standing jump, or three flying jumps. Our best jumpers were James Crichton, William Purdie, and David Chalmers. The hop, step and leap were usually carried off by these three. One named Robb was our best crack quoiter, our champion foot racer was one named Wilson who belonged originally to Girvan but claimed Parkhead as his home. He was famous at one hundred yards, but sometimes tried one mile, and ten miles and was considered a crack at all distances. The champion ten miler was one named Bob McInstry, also belonging originally to Girvan or Maybole, indeed McInstry was famed all over the country, if not beyond it, and might be termed a champion of champions.
We had other racers as well. I remember a race taking place that caused a great deal of local interest. It was between James Wellwood, Parkhead and Kennedy Cook, Gallowgate, for heavy stakes. The distance was three hundred yards, and it was decided on London Road near the foot of the Coach Road. I have said that a great deal of local interest was exerted on this race, indeed the interest was far more than local, and much betting took place on the result. Wellwood was unknown to the racing world, but Cook was well known as a racer of some ability and he was trained under the watchful eye of his brother, Cochrane, one of the best sprint runners in the country. Of course, the Parkhead sports were almost unanimous in favour of Wellwood, but there was at least one exception, and he paid dearly for his want of faith in local ability. This was Sandy McPhee, a son of the Hughie, before mentioned. He was a bricklayer, well doing and well gathered. It was said he put every penny he had on Cook, and he got cleaned out as Wellwood won in a canter, as the saying is, and “scooped the pool.” It was an awful take down for the Cook element, as they had given odds against the unknown. Poor McPhee, even those who took his money were vexed for him, but Sandy was big hearted and honest – he paid every penny of his bets, and perhaps became a wiser man. He was a good soul, was Sandy, and once gave me a bit of sterling advice, I have now given you a sketch of the outer life of the people, but there was an inner life as well, far more lasting and fruitful of good than the excitements arising from physical exercise. That inner life was the cultivation of a healthy mental and moral development of the intellect, a cultivation of the principle of mutual help and forbearance.
There were two friendly societies in the town, the old and the young, so called in the difference in the date of their institution. Contribution to these societies was 1/6 (1s 6d) quarterly, and the benefits 6/- (6s) weekly during sickness. They were the means of doing a great amount of good, and the membership was composed of the most worthy and well to do portion of the community. The quarterly instalments were collected by a collector appointed annually, whose duty was also to deliver the aliment to those on the sick list. I was a member for a number of years, as was my friend, James Hamilton who was a very active member, indeed I think he held the office of secretary for a long time. It was quite a big day for them at what was called “the Deacons choosing”, that was the official installation of the newly appointed president. The streets were paraded by the office bearers and members, carrying the cash box and other emblems of office to the strains of the music of the fife and drum. They usually met in the beaming room, and dispersed there after the procession.
Another great source of improvement was the institution of the Scientific Association in 1838, whose meetings spread the seeds of scientific information broadcast in the form of lectures, and discussion on subjects far beyond the comprehension of many of us, but they sharpened our appetite for information. I often attended these lectures though I could neither read nor write at the time – they spurred me to accomplish both. The scientific lectures were at this time much beyond my comprehension, but one of the lecturers, who used to come frequently, I could understand fairly well, and followed him with deep interest. I refer to Mr. Wm. Moffat, professor of elocution, – his readings were the most entrancing I ever listened to, and fairly filled me with a desire to master the wonderful accomplishment of reading. This Wm. Moffat was the father of a very talented family, some members of which became famous in all parts of the country, and throughout the British Colonies. Graham Moffat, one of the sons, became famous as a playwright of great eminence, some of his plays having an extraordinary run in some of the leading theatres in the country.
Another important element of culture in connection with the association was the formation of a library. This library consisted of no less than 896 volumes, and was open not only to the members but to all residents in the district on payment “of a sum to be fixed by the Committee”. The rules of the said library, of which I have a copy before me, were;
The Library shall be called the Library of Parkhead Scientific Association
Residents in the district who may apply, if approved of by the Committee shall be admitted to the use of the books in the library on payment of a sum to be fixed by the Committee
Readers shall be allowed one volume at a time, and fourteen days for perusal thereof – if not returned at the end of that period, one penny will be charged for each week longer kept.
Any individual keeping out a book longer than six weeks shall be liable to be prosecuted at the instance of the Committee, who hereby receive full authority to do so.
If a book shall have sustained more injury than allowable for its perusal, and if a book is lost, a fine “equivalent to the value must be paid or the book replaced as the committee may think proper”.
These were surely easy terms upon which the acquirement of knowledge could be had, especially in days when newspapers were scarce and dear. By and by I became a reader, and little did I think that in after years the whole library would become my own property, which it did on the dissolution of the association.
The old economical society was formed much about the same time as the above. It was for the purchase and retail of groceries and provisions, and was managed by a committee of appointed members, who also appointed the salesman and his assistants. A drapery department was added latterly. The admission of members was by a vote, and the terms were easy. It is told that on one occasion on the proposal of a certain individual for membership, his proposer, seeking to impress the good qualities of his nominee upon he minds of his hearers, recommended him as a “Rechabite”, when instantly up jumped one of the listeners, to a point of order, exclaiming with more heat than discretion, “I won’er tae hear you, Tam Riddell. Jock McFarlane’s no Rechabite, he’s a decent man. I’ve kent him a’ my days, and I’ll no’ allow you or ony body else in my presence to ca’ him a Rechabite”. Of course a little explanation smoothed matters. This term Rechabite was entirely new to the defender of his friend’s good character, and, thinking it some impeachment of his friend’s moral character, he, like a true friend, took up the cudgels in his defence.
John Moffat was head salesman in the society, and was there for many years. He was a man of strict integrity, and was held in the highest esteem by the members. Under him several of our townsmen served their apprenticeship, and afterwards became shopkeepers on their own account, notably Allison Miller, James Forsyth, Hugh McColl and Dan Riddell, who succeeded him after his retiral. The most notable of these was Dan Riddell, who after some years as head salesman, and having started the drapery department, commenced business on his own account as a draper. Dan was a great reader, an uncompromising upholder of total abstinence, an though nominally an adherent of the UP Church, was a firm believer in the Anglo-Israel theory, and could expatiate strongly and intelligently on the lost ten tribes, claiming that we of the British Isles were the descendants of those tribes, and, therefore, the inheritors of the promises of God to His chosen people. Dan was another of those whose influence did me good, and whose example in some things I tried to follow.
Walking weddings and penny reels were common in those days. The wedding party walked in procession to and from the minister, the best man cleeking the bride to have the knot tied, and the young guid man cleeking his young guid wife home. These processions were usually headed by a fiddler or two, who discoursed music of a lively kind, thereby contributing a certain amount of cheerfulness to the proceeding. The interset was still further enhanced by the running of the braes. This was performed by two of the party running for a bottle of whisky, the winner returning and meeting the wedding party, and giving them a refreshment by the way.
The Penny Reels were quite a popular institution, and were indulged in at nearly all festive occasions, especially at New Year time and Fairs, and were usually held in the big room of some public house – the Black Bull was a favourite place. I think the usual way of getting these things up was for two or three to form themselves into a committee of management, and engage a fiddler at so much for the night. I think the publican lent the room for the sake of the custom. Each male dancer paid a penny and took his partner for the dance, either his sweetheart, or what was called a “pick up.” There were always a number of girls hanging about, and it needed little persuasion to engage them for a dance. They were happy gatherings, and though not conducted on the fashionable ballroom principle, they were exhilarating, to say the least of it.
I have now given you a fairly fully detailed sketch of Parkhead, its people and pastimes.
As your main object in asking for this information was to get me to trace the line of the Willox’s from as far back as I could to the present time, I now proceed to to take up our family history from where I left off some pages before, and give you an outline of my own career. In order to do so I am compelled to use a big “I” much more frequently than I care about, but there is no other way out. I promise you, however, to be as sparing in its use as I can. These pages are intended not for public perusal, but for the perusal of those of our family, who care to read them.
Well, after drifting about from one thing to another for some time, and having once more gone to the Armadale district and worked in the pits there, I returned to the loom for some time, and I gravitated into the old Forge. By this time I may have been twelve or fourteen years of age, and although I could have made far more at the loom, I determined to push my way into the iron trade. I entered the scrap house here at the rate of six shillings a week, but my mother was willing that I should, probably because it would keep me more regularly employed, and less upon the loom, because owing to the continuing irregularity of my father, I was too much my own master.
Are you aware that my father about this time enlisted in the 2nd Lanark Militia, doing a month or so’s training every year for 21 years, an annual excursion for some of the greatest weeds in creation? He never sent a penny home during these periods of masquerading, and when he came home at the end of his annual “training” as he called it, all that he brought home were some articles of his worn out “kit”. I am not exaggerating; I am toning down the worse than carelessness of his character. Of course my mother was slaving away all the time. I cannot understand how she pulled through.
I got on very well in the Forge. I soon got 8/- and then 10/- per week, and by-and-by to still further augment my income I went “underhand” at a scrap furnace with Michael Young but oh! It was fearfully hard and hot work, but Young was a good gaffer, and bore with me wonderfully well. At this time I almost funked, but Young cheered me up. I was terribly troubled with growing pains, and oh!, but I was tired, tired, at nights, but the money was considered good, some 3/6 or 4/- a shift, and braced myself to it as best I could, but it was killing me, and I was advised to take an easier job, at one of steam hammer, which I did at a much less wage. There I got on well, though only a labourer, but soon got promoted to the position of furnace man, with an increase of 3/- or 4/- a week. There I remained for some time, and would have been content, but an unfortunate occurrence threw our hammer idle, and I was sent to labour at one of the others. What was my horror to discover on receiving my pay that my wages had been reduced to the labouring scale. This was more than I could stand. I demanded my wages in full and was refused. I resolved, perhaps not wisely, to force the difference out of them, which I did by means of a Sherriff Officer’s letter, which secured me my money, but lost me my job. I was once more in what is called the “big shop”.
It was here, I think, that I resolved to learn the iron puddling, and for that purpose got Conn Rilely to initiate me. Of course there was no pay for this, a few days were sufficient to warrant me in thinking I could undertake the job on my own hook, so I found a forehand willing to employ me, the wage being 3/- a shift. I remained at the puddling for a good while and gradually improved. I went for a short time to Mossend, and puddled “underhand” to Wm. Jasp, lodging with one Peggy Brown. I seem to have been very unsettled. I had not yet found my proper bearings. The turning point came about in a very simple manner – coming home to Parkhead on the Saturdays as I usually did, a chap of my acquaintance called Wm. Crawford, proposed that he would go to Mossend on one of my returns to work. He would engage a furnace and we should work “levelhand”, that we should share the labour and earnings in equal proportions. This was a glorious opening for me. I had every faith in Crawford’s ability, so everything was settled. We got a furnace between us; we lodged in the same house, and ate and slept together. I am certain I reaped the greater part of the benefits of this arrangement. Crawford was untiring in his efforts to improve me, and I soon became a passable puddler. This continued for some time, until we both returned to Parkhead, and got a furnace each, and became fully fledged “forehand” puddlers.
I had by this time picked up a few scraps of information, and I was gradually improving. I could now read a little, and I was proud of it. I had begun to scratch on paper with a pen, not like the occasional scratches Willie Frame and I used to hand to each other, but into a copy book, imitating the headlines as nearly as possible. We were now living in the Burn Road. The gable of our house fell down one day, and left the interior exposed to the weather. No one was hurt, but it was a close shave. We had to flit further down the street, flitting was nothing new to us. This shift just equalled in number the years of my age, a fact that tells a tale too painful to rehearse. On the west side of Burn Road at this time there was a large nursery, owned by a Mr. Bennie. My mother had to go and work in that nursery for, I think, 1/- a day. It was while here that my mother took typhus fever, and was taken away to the Royal Infirmary, where she remained for several weeks. My sister, Agnes, was now able to do a little, and was earning a little in a mill. I fain would obliterate this horrid period from my memory, but it is burned into it in character that will never leave me until the Great Reaper calls me hence. Little Bella died while we were in the Burn Road. Another shift from the Burn Road to the Great Eastern Road, about 100 yards east of the Sheddens on south side. Here we remained for some years. It was a house of what may be called three apartments, a small room and kitchen, with a portion of the kitchen partitioned off, which served as a small shop for the retail of sweets, vegetables etc., etc. This in addition to her many other duties, my mother looked after. She also made broth every day and sold it as well as other little articles. She had a few regular customers who called for dinner and ran an account, which was supposed to be paid weekly. It was in this house that I made the greatest progress with my self improvement. I had now settled down to the puddling, and was beginning to get some decent bits of clothing. I was beginning to think myself a man. I was ashamed of my ignorance, and determined to improve myself. Every possible source of information was tapped, that I could. I went a while to a night school, I read everything I could lay my hands on, and was not above asking those who were better informed for the solution of any problem that puzzled me. I joined a mutual Improvement Society, I became a member of a Sabbath morning Bible Class, I attended lectures and public meetings, in short, I left no stone unturned.
My only dissipation, if I may term it so, was becoming a member of a dancing class, got up by a number of my acquaintances. I had no sweetheart, but my sister, Agnes, filled that gap. I was made secretary and treasurer of this club, and began to think myself of some importance. The responsibilities of early manhood were growing on me, and being altogether devoted to my books, with the exception of the above, relaxations, I was given the credit for being a well behaved , well doing young man. I hope I did deserve it, I tried to at least.
By this time things were beginning to move a little freer, not that my father was doing any better, but Agnes’ pay and mine with a little, though very little, from the shop, kept the wolf from the door, and our meals were more regular and plentiful though plain. Porridge night and morning, with a cup of tea and bread and perhaps a herring, or little mince collops, fine broth or potato soup for dinner. I began about this time to lay past a few shillings, and at a pinch could lend my mother a little from time to time. As we began to get our head above water, our shame increased at father’s conduct. Can you imagine what it is to a well doing family to have one of its members brought home occasionally in a state of intoxication, bawling and singing like a madman? No one can measure the shame, the agony, and the horror of such a thing but those who have experienced it. There was one redeeming factor in my father’s character which covered a multitude of bad ones – that was his good nature when in drink. I have never seen a man equal to him, in even, sociable, evenness of temper. I never once saw him angry in drink. It must have been this that made it all possible for my mother to live with him. Sober, he was stern and dour, with little to say, he made no fracas with his family, we rather feared him than loved him, but in drink we could do anything with him, and perhaps astonished ourselves with the liberties we took.
I never heard him read in my life. I have seen him take up a paper at an odd time, but after glancing at it for a few minutes would hand it to my mother, saying “I see there has been an accident somewhere. You might read it Bell”. My mother did all the reading, even in our poorest days we either bought or borrowed one or two weekly journals, Reynold’s Miscellaneous” and the “London Journal” in which there were running stories. These my mother read while the family clustered round her knee, the youngest one in her lap, and my father occasionally poking up the fire to give her light. She was a good reader, and I could soon follow the marvellous adventures and hairbreadth escapes of the heroes with interest and intelligence. I believe it was from these readings that I first got my desire for information. I remember my father promising me a new suit of clothes as soon as I was able to read the stories. I don’t know that this was any inducement to me. I was happy in my rags and nakedness, and was mainly concerned for the time being in the welfare of my favourite hero.
I think I might well draw these reminiscences to a close but it just occurs to me that I have said very little of my mothers family, and though I have not much to add, it is but right that I should tell you all I know. My mother had three brothers and three sisters, named John, David and William. Her sisters were Elizabeth and Nannie. John was a tape dresser in one of the mills, well to do and highly respected. David was twister and drawer, and was for a long time about Girvan, where he was well known. He was a great wag, brimful of humour, and a great practical joker.
William enlisted when young, and went abroad with his regiment and never was heard of afterwards. Nannie wrought in some of the mills, was engaged to be married to one, John Brough, but took ill and died on the eve of her marriage. I have heard she was a wonderfully good-looking girl, and as good as she was good looking.
Elizabeth went into service, and was fortunate in falling into a most respectable family, two old maiden ladies named Duncanson, where she remained many years, indeed until both the Miss Duncansons died, when they left her well provided for. She was married from their house, but remained living with the Duncansons, as her husband was a mate or captain, and went to sea immediately after the marriage, intending probably to take up house on his return, but he never returned, and it was believed he was lost at sea. She was now Mrs. Stanley and there was one child of this marriage, a boy named Alexander, with whom I became very intimate with in after years, until some slight misunderstanding took place between us, and we held no further correspondence. He became a clerk in the services of the Caledonian Railway Coy.
Of my mother’s fate I have already acquainted you, and nothing remains now but a few summary remarks. I have now brought my own career up to within a short time of my introduction to your mother, who, like myself, belonged to a very poor but decent family. They, like us had their skeleton in the cupboard, in the shape of a ne’er-do-well member, who, as far as thoughtless improvidence is concerned, would equal anything I know. You will remember him in after years, he lived with us, and you and he were bedfellows. You will remember what trouble we used to have with him when he went on the booze, and yet in his sober moods how obliging and serviceable he was, working with me in my infant business, at call either late or early. There is always some redeeming feature in the composition of even the worst characters.
In the foregoing jumble of facts, figures and incidents, I have tried to convey to you a true outline of our family history, not very pleasant reading for you perhaps, but if, as I know, you can discriminate between the superficial and the real, you may be able to discern much that may be useful top you and your family. Teach your girls to emulate the sterling good qualities of my dear mother, and your boy, David, and any other sons you may have, against the failings of my father.
If there are any other particulars you would like to be informed about, just let me know, and, if in my power to satisfy you, you may rely on your father,
In the foregoing letter I have dealt very fully upon matters that may have little interest to you, and have brought the narrative, if it may be so called, up to a period of within a few years of my marriage to your mother. What may be considered a continuation of my career you will find in my diary, which I had typed, and a copy handed to each of my family some years ago. That diary was commenced on 3rd June 1872, and extends with breaks here and there over a period of some years, and deals with some of the most important events of my life. I would advise you to re-read it, it will, I am sure, amply repay the perusal. Let me say in this connection the main purpose of that diary was to improve my mind, and the little I knew of the art of spelling, writing and composition. I found it a great benefit to me.
I had been dabbling a little bit in arithmetic and grammar for some time, my sole source of information in these two studied being “Gray’s Arithmetic” and Douglas’s Grammar”, and many a long spell I had at these two books, sometime in despair of ever being able to master them, and at others quite uplifted when I had solve d some simple problem.
I continued my method of seeking for information wherever it was likely to be had, and courted the company of those who were better informed than myself. Thus I gradually improved, and acquired a taste for reading that steadily increased as I went along. The reading greatly helped me in composition, and furnished me with a vocabulary that I had been very deficient in. Books became my best and most frequent companions, and I have never ceased to love them, even to the present hour.
A Crafty Calling
There was in the Ree a family of the name of Cherry. I only remember the old man and one or two sons, who, though they were nominally weavers, eked out their existence by a less harmless calling, which seemed to engross a good deal of their time, viz;- that of catching birds. You may think this rather a strange thing, but it is no less true than strange. Their method was this – they made what was called bird lime, a mixture of resin and tallow and other ingredients, which made a sort of sticky semi fluid into which they dropped a number of small twigs, upon which the unsuspecting birds alighted and were immediately entangled by the adhesive compound. They, the Cherry’s, were said to capture a great many birds of varying kinds in this way. These they sold, and it was no uncommon thing to see the Cherry’s going to the bird market with several cages full of captives, clean and spruce after they had been prepared for the market.
We youngsters used to torment the old man by shouting “wheetle them down” which had originated on one occasion by his calling to his son who accompanied him to “wheetle” (whistle) down a number of linties that were in flight. The son was an adept at imitating the call of birds, hence the order to “wheetle them down, two cocks and one hen, wheetle them down, wheetle them down” was the full cry, as we sought to rouse the old man or his sons.
Under this heading I intend to point out some of the evils arising from an over indulgence in alcoholic liquors. These have been the curse of our family, and even as far back as I can trace there has not been a single generation of our folks without some victim or victims of its accursed influence. I need not ask you to note the effects in my own days and home, and I don’t intend to confine my remarks to any one particular case, but to deal generally with its effects as I have seen them. There is hardly an evil under the heavens that it does not contribute to, it deadens the sense of shame, it blunts the feelings, it hardens the heart and makes light of the distress of others. It fires with a false courage to the preparation of deeds that blacken and debase the human character beyond all resemblance to humanity. There is no depth of meanness to which it cannot sink, its victims, no degree of crime that it cannot fathom, and no bondage that it does not impose upon its slaves.
You may think this strange and inconsistent language coming from one who is not now a total abstainer. You have known me well, and I venture to say you have never known me to be inconsistent or intolerant. I know both sides of the question from personal experience, and proceed to illustrate the aforesaid characteristics of the over indulgence of strong drink.
The Crystal Band
“The Crystal Band” so called by the better to do class of our community, was composed of a group of idle, loafing drunken characters, who hung about corners, preying on the sympathies and credulity of all who were likely to have a shilling in their pockets. They were specialists in the art of “raising the wind” as it was called. Begging was not beneath their consideration, borrowing was their chief lay, and any dodge except bare faced robbery was their stock in trade. Pawning was their favourite resource, even to the shirts off their backs, the very braces that suspended their breeches, and the socks of their feet had to serve in securing their liquor – everything and anything that would fetch a shilling had to go to quell their thirst.
A good story, for the truth of which I can vouch, is told, and I give you it here, without any embellishment whatever. Some of the band had met in Geordie Honeyman’s rooms. They were completely “on the rocks”, their credit was exhausted, and they could neither beg nor borrow a single “curdy” (farthing) anywhere. Not a single hank of bowl weft could be gathered wherewith to impose upon “Holy Pate” with and raise a few coppers. Every source of supply had been exhausted, their craving for drink seemed to increase with growing strength as the means of supply became less and less hopeful. As a drowning man is said to clutch at a straw in the vain hope of salvation, they seized with avidity the only remaining means of relieving their distress. They would clutch together such articles of wearing apparel as would raise the price of a drink, and one of their members would take the parcel across to the pawn and secure a shilling or two. The idea was glorious; it had been done before many a time and success had invariably crowned their enterprise. One had a semmit he could do without, another had a pair of socks, that the nimble fingers of a wife or daughter had lately woven for him, a pair of drawers if they were worth anything were a Godsend, anything that would turn a coin was welcome. Anyhow the parcel was made up, and one of their number was delegated to take it across to Charlie Gallacher’s.
Unfortunately on this occasion the office of “running the cutter”, as it was called, fell to my father, and what follows fully illustrates his easy good nature when in drink. Off he set with the bundle, promising to put off no time, but neither he nor they had calculated upon what followed. Standing at the doctor’s corner, which he had to pass on the way to the pawn were one or two other drouths equally dry and “rooked out” as the party in Honeyman’s. They saw him passing and knew his errand. They nodded as he passed, then exchanged knowing winks amongst themselves, and having allowed sufficient time to pass for the transaction between my father and the pawnbroker, one of the two hurried across to the pawn also, and stepped in just when my father was picking up three of four shillings in exchange for his pledge, with the following remark: – “My God Davie, you’re in luck this day, you’ll surely save a life”. “Damn it, I canna do that, I’ve just been o’er with twa or three bits a’ things we’ve managed to scrape up, an’ the boys are gasping till I gang back. “Can you no’ come o’er and tak’ your chance o’ a bucket along wi’ us? “I canna dae that, the big ane’s ane o’ your party, an’ he an’ I are no’ speaking”. He’d kick up Hell if he saw me coming in. “Come across to Judy Fulton’s an’ stan, us a half before you go back, they’ll be nane the was o’ it an’ I’ll never forget ye as langs a leeve”.
This appeal was overpowering, the old fellow agreed to stand him one glass, and over to Judy’s they went and were shown into a little snug where two glasses of whisky were called for, and drunk amid professions of friendship that would out last the crack of doom. Just as the glasses had been emptied, a head popped in at the door and a shivering wreck of a soul half apologetically exclaimed “Guid be thankit, I never saw sic a welcome sicht except when the glasses were fu’. “I’m just about awa’ wi’t, see ho’ I’m gaun’” and he shook in every limb, as if he would there and then totally collapse. These shivers were altogether assumed for the purpose of touching the heart of the party appealed to. Besides, this was the other drouth that had seen my father go up to the pawn, and who had exchanged significant winks with his companion. This was part of the plot, and it worked beautifully. My father could not see a fellow townsman die at his feet, while he could save his life, so three glasses of whisky were called for and drank, and the dying one soon became the liveliest of the three. His jokes were irresistible, and ‘ere long other three replenished glasses stood before them. By this time the liquor was beginning to take effect, at least it took from my easy osie parent al sense of responsibility with regard to the party he had left gasping in Honeyman’s, some of them without summits’ on their backs. The present moment to him was the only concern in life, the past was buried in oblivion, and the future was unborn. “Ring the bell, lets hae anither, to Hell wi the man that wad see a cronie perish as lang as he had a shilling in his pouch to relieve him.”
So reasoned this worthy trio, if, they reasoned at all. They perished the pack, semmit, drawers, socks, etc. etc. went over their throats with a facility that would have astonished any epicure. But what of the groaning and gasping party awaiting the return of their trusted messenger? Language cannot describe their state of feelings, and when hope had given place to despair, and the awful truth dawned upon them, the air became thick with muttered curses and threats, and there might have been bloodshed, but for the philosophic interposition of one of the cooler heads, with the remark: – “We might have kent better than trust yon silly bugger on onie sic errand, a wean could wile him when he’s on the booze.”
Thus ended an episode that might have ended in blows. Of course, the old chap had to redeem the articles above referred to, and you may rest assured that that would be off the first money he earned. Drink scores were always the first to be settled.
A Good Customer
One other little incident illustrative of how the “wind” was raised and I have done. Bob Fulton, the draper, had got in a large consignment of men’s shirts, a particularly cheap line, and to advertise the same had filled one of his large windows with nothing but shirts, with numerous tickets, all bearing the price, I think 1/1½d each “extraordinary value”. This caught my father’s eye, and at once he thought he could make a good thing of it. He purchased one of the shirts, and just went round the corner with it to the pawn. Incredulous though it may appear, he got 1/6d, a clear profit of 4½d. This went on for some time until quite a number of shirts had been purchased and thus disposed of, until one day Fulton, meeting my mother, asked her what Davie had been doing with all the shirts he had been buying of late. “What shirts, he’s naething but the ane on his back that I ken o’, are you no joking?” “Joking no, I’ll take my oath he’s bought not less than a dozen o’ shirts within the last eight days.” Weel, nane o’ them ever came into oor house, besides he’s been on the beer for mair than a week, an’ it’s no shirts he’s on the look oot for.” This was an eye opener for Fulton, and he determined to watch. He hadn’t long to wait, my father shortly appeared, and dumping down 2/3 on the counter demanded two shirts. They were handed to him, and off he set. Fulton, mentally resolving to keep an eye on him, observed that instead of going homewards, he turned the corner and up to the pawn, returning without any parcel. He waited a little and then had a conversation with his friend and neighbour, Charlie Gallacher. The whole procedure was soon explained, and the two of them laughed over how they had, in a sense, been done. Shirts instantly rose in price to their pawning value, and my father’s little ploy was burst, his calling as a dry goods merchant was gone, and his talent for “raising the wind” had to find some other outlet.
Jamie (James) Watchman was our local bell-man, who was usually hired to proclaim the loss of any article of value, to intimate any public meeting of importance, or announce the prosecution of any one found trespassing on prohibited land. Jamie was quite a big man in the eyes of the younger generation, and also in his own estimation. No doubt he had a good voice, and gave full play to his lungs in the performance of his duties. His fee, I think, might range from 1/- to 2/6 according to the length of the message and the importance of the matter. His modus operandi was to start at the Sheddens, perambulate all the streets, stopping about every hundred yards or so, and after several rattles of his bell, read out his proclamation. He was usually attended by a number of boys, attracted no doubt bt the jingle of the bell, and the mysterious threatening of law and punishment for trespass, or the reward offered for lost property found and returned.
Anyone seeing our splendid body of Policemen nowadays can have no idea of the difference that has taken place in their appearance, and that of Policemen of my boyhood. Now they are smart and well dressed, with their trim tunics and semi military helmets. They were a scarecrow looking lot, with wide frock coats and lum hats. They were odd looking dukes in those days, and I don’t know that they inspired with awe and dread of the majesty of the law to the same extent that is now felt, but I suppose they served the purpose for which they were formed quite as efficiently as those of the present day. Their duties also differed in some details, especially those on night duty. Lang syne the night policeman called the hours, the state of the weather in the early hours of the morning, somewhat in this manner:- “half past five, a fine morning, an’ a’s well. A story used to be told of one who had got a little mixed as to the full discharge of his duties, and not wishing to omit anything that might be of importance supplemented the call on one occasion with the further information that “an Irishman had been drooned in the Clyde, an’ a’s well.” Each night policemen were furnished with a pair of “clappers” for the purpose of giving notice of a fire. On the outbreak of fir anywhere, the policeman on that beat instantly started his “clappers” and conveyed the information to his neighbour on the next beat, who passed along to his neighbour, and so on, and so on. Thus the whole city was made aware in a short time. Sub- Policemen were men on probation, and sore looking characters they were, a pair of trousers of one colour, a coat of another, without regard to size or fit, tall glossy lum hats, which made them objects of merryment and derision to the juvenile law breakers.
The district police office was then in Stevenson Street, Calton, and I don’t think there could be more than one policeman for Parkhead night and day. His duties could not have been very onerous, at least until a large number of English and Irish labourers came about the place, in connection with the Forge and other places of industry which were introduced.
John Pettigrew was a poet of more than ordinary ability. He usually wrote under the nom-de-plume of R.H.P. He and I became pretty intimate, especially after I began to dabble in rhyme, and his influence did much to encourage me in the cultivation of the Muse. He was a few years older than I, and much better acquainted with the rules of metrical measure. He had a fair hand of writing, and was not altogether ignorant of the rules of grammar. He was a much more voluminous writer than I, and sent numerous pieces to the press. This did not discourage me, it acted as an incentive to me, and spurred me on to greater efforts, so much so that latterly we entered into what I may term a poetical conspiracy, that he should write a piece laudatory of his birthplace, Keppochhill, I think it was, under the name of McDuff, and I was to write a poetical criticism of it. This worked out well, and continued for a few weeks, indeed it drew others into the controversy, until the editor either saw through the game, or became tired of us washing our dirty linen through the medium of his paper. In this war of words, arranged in measure, I fairly held my own, and came out of the contest with far more confidence in myself than I had entered it.
Jack was irregular in his habits, he was a bit of a comic singer, and could do a turn at some of our local soirees. He laboured sometimes in the Forge, and at other times he went away for months at a time, working as a jobbing gardener. He travelled over a good bit of the country in this way, but usually drifted back to Parkhead. Poor fellow, this life sort of undermined his health, in latter years he became an occasional inmate of the city poorhouse. I tried to help him occasionally, but it was difficult to do so, as he was proud though poor, and besides, he became addicted to drink, and squandered any little he might get on the alluring drug.
His people were decent, and well-to-do, he had a brother, very steady, a joiner – another, William, connected with some of the papers. The latter went to Australia, I think, to edit some newspaper there.
Jack was the author of many pieces, some of considerable merit. He published a small collection of them by subscription at one time, price 1/-. I was appointed by him to collect the subscription, but it was not a success, and never having attained the Laureateship, he died poor, like many another worshiper of the Nine. The great mistake of many of our minor poets is in thinking they can live by their pen alone. They neglect to “keep the scuttle” going and starve while dreaming of fame.
On the same stairhead with the Lightenings, and next close to ours, lived a family of the name Harley, a mother and two sons – Andrew and peter. They had a loom or two underneath, but they carried on another business besides that of weaving, viz :- that of sand merchants. The latter was especially under Peter’s supervision. They the two sons, were grown up men. The method of manufacture was as follows: – they had a large slab of stone by the fireside, upon which they pounded pieces of white sandstone (the whiter the better) until they reduced the mass, (taking a little at a time) into a fine powder something like barley. This they, especially Peter, hawked from door to door at so much a pint and where there were so many earthen floors, there was good demand for it. A house was considered well “rede” up when the floor had been swept and a little sprinkling of sand over it. I refer to this matter because of the fact that it was at Sand Chapping that the first farthing even that I earned was at this job, and it was only a farthing. It came about in this way – some of us youngsters used to go into Pete’s and beat the sand for him. We sometimes got a few beans from him as a reward, sometimes a flower, and I suppose when we did extra well sometimes a farthing. Thus it came about that the first farthing I ever earned was at Sand Chapping. We had no regular engagement; we only went as the humour came over us. Hence there s a slightly misleading statement in my Autobiographical Sketch in “Poems and Sketches” where one would think I had been regularly employed. Wille Frame and I were frequently thus employed, much against our mothers’ wish, as we usually came away as white as millers with the dust, and as hungry as ravens.
Glasgow Fair Week for some years was a perfect carnival for us youngsters. The Fair was then held on Glasgow Green at the foot of the Saltmarket, and consisted entirely of a congregation of booths wherein the beauties of the historic art were displayed with an innumerable number of other attractions, such as “Hobby Horse, Waterloo Fly’s, London Boxes, Shooting Ranges, Nut Barrows, Sparring Booths,” and other accompaniments that usually attend such places. You can have no idea of how attractive the place was to us during their whole time of stay, about 7 or 8 days annually, and though they did not begin active operation until mid-day, Willie Frame and I were sure to be there shortly after breakfast time, and would remain there until 8 or 9 in the evening. You may ask what we did all that time. Time had no concern for us, we strolled about, picking up the discarded scraps of such eatables as we could find, pushing the hobby horses for the sake of an occasional ride, and watching the antics of the show. Men on the outside stared with undisguised wonder. The blare of discordant music had it’s attraction for us, and it was always with regret that we tore ourselves away in the evening, talking all the way home of the wonders that we had seen, the tumbling and contortions we had witnessed, and the beautiful dresses displayed by the actors. We sometimes tried to imitate some of their tricks, such as “turning the coach wheel” , “standing and walking on our hands”, making a button disappear up our sleeve by the jerk of the hand”, “striking attitudes and talking nonsense, supposed to be dramatic. You know what boys are , and how imitative they are apt to become, and we were only boys.
The Candy Man
I can hardly overlook the Candy Man, who, though only a visitor was a very important personage, in the estimation of the juvenile portion of our community, at least. He usually trundled a one wheeled barrow before him, supplied with all sorts of nick-nacks, Marbles, Jorries, Chuckies and Reddies, Bead Buttons, Pictures of the Gallations, windmills etc. etc. etc., including Salt and Whitening, but above all, he usually had a tray of candy, all of which articles he exchanged for “rags, bones and old iron.” While our parents usually bartered for Salt and Whitening, the younger fry went for the candy, and often when we were sent for Salt, we would ask for “a wee pickle Salt and a bit of Candy.”
Speech crying and ballad singing was another event that awoke a good deal of interest, especially the former. This was performed by some itinerant vendor of news, who usually perambulated the street shouting a the pitch of his voice, a full and correct account of some startling event said to be contained in the halfpenny sheets of which he had a good supply, the tit-bit of his calling being “awful murder at such and such a place” or “the last hours and confession of some noted criminal about to be hung.”
The ballad singers were something of the same class as the speech criers, but sometimes went in pairs, and to the accompaniment whiles of a flute or concertina, and were not without a certain degree of attractiveness. They were usually well supplied with an assortment of printed ballads, which they retailed at, I think, a penny each. Some of them were not bad singers; at least, they usually were loud enough. I remember two who used to come, not so much because of their personality, as because of a song they sang which took my fancy, and held it for many a long day. The theme of the song was the dying agonies of a soldier entitled “Young Jamie Foyers”. The melody was plaintive and heart touching in the extreme, and appealed to me in a way that no other had done.
I don’t know that I was ever able to procure a copy of it, but the refrain at the end of each verse is with me still – “and young Jamie Foyer is now in his grave.” I can only recall other two lines, the dying wish of the poor lad – “oh had I a drink of Baker Brown’s well. My pain it would cease, and my thirst it would quell” etc. etc. etc.
You may smile at the foregoing and wonder that so simple an incident should leave such a strong imprint on my mind and heart, but with me it appears as if life was made up of trifles, greatly outnumbering the so called important events.
Many, many years after hearing the above song, indeed after I was married, I happened to mention this incident to a friend of mine, while through at a bowling match in Lennoxtown, and he said “would you like to see Baker Brown’s well?” I said I would and he showed me it, as he said, the identical well mentioned in the song. It is in a garden off the main street of Lennoxtown on the south side of the street.
Under the above heading I intend to indicate a few of the means of which I acquired a certain degree of information.
I have already referred to my great desire for improvement. This desire grew upon me as I grew older year by year, and the means I adopted to satisfy it were various, and sometimes original. When able to make out some simple words of print, I marked out those I could not make out and asked someone to explain them to me, my mother often, but any one I could make a little freedom with served my purpose, and to impress on them my meaning, I repeated them several times and traced them on paper once I began to handle a pencil. This improved my reading, writing and spelling at the same time. Story books were my principal incentive to reading at first, and many hours I spent over the adventures of “Robinson Crusoe” after I had mastered “Jack the Giant Killer”, “The Babes in The Wood”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, etc. etc.
Thus I became a passable reader by-and by. My reading was what is called mostly to myself, that is, I did not read aloud, hence my imperfection in pronunciation, which is traceable to the present day. Books of a more solid and instructive character were tackled by-and by, and gradually I began to think that I knew something.
Of one thing I became quite certain, and that was, that there was a great deal that I did not know. The latter conviction seemed to grow upon me, but did not discourage me, indeed it acted as an incentive, to closer study, and greater efforts to become expert.
I went to night school for some time, conducted by Mr. James Garven. He took great interest in me, and under him I improved somewhat in writing and counting. An incident at this time took place which earned for me some notice of which I felt rather proud. It was this – on the Friday nights, Mr Garven usually gave out some exercise for the pupils to have ready for him on the Monday evening. On one occasion the exercise was to be an essay on any subject chosen by the pupil. I knew as much about writing an essay as I did about Timbuctoo, yet I did not want to be left out in the cold, and have the finger of ridicule pointed at me as the only “dult” in the school, so I penned him a rhyming epistle, the first four lines of which ran as follows;
At writing an essay I’ve ne’er tried my haun,
Sae I’ve scribbled doon a bit rhyme, man,
To show you I’ve neither been idle nor thrawn,
And complied wi’ your wish in good time, man etc. etc. etc.”
This effort gained a considerable amount of notice. Mr Garven seemed so well pleased that he not only read it out to the class, but evidently spoke of it to others, as he introduced me to one or two of his friends on one occasion. What became of the piece I don’t know, possibly Mr. Garven has it yet, or lost it. I have no copy of it, and forgotten all of it but for the above four lines above quoted.
Another means of instruction was becoming a member of a Mutual Improvement Society, the rule of which was tat a subject was taken up by one member of the affirmative side, and another on the negative, and every member present was expected to offer his opinion on either side after the two leaders had discussed the matter. I was a silent member for a long time, but latterly began to offer a few trembling remarks, principally of an enquiring kind. It was long before I ventured into the ocean of controversy. I was like a child learning to skate or slide upon ice. I kept pottering away at the margin of the lake to see how the ice was bearing before I would trust myself on the open sheet.
I have some indistinct recollection of the first serious attempt I made in taking part in a debate. I did not astonish my hearers with the profundity of my knowledge of the subject, their silence and attention to my remarks were rather an indication of their surprise that I had spoken at all.
I don’t remember what the subject was, but I remember that I felt as if I had a very severe shock of galvanic battery, pains, actual pains shot through my whole system, my sight seemed to leave me, even my sense of hearing became deadened, and in actual agony of both mind and body, I resumed my seat, not at all satisfied that I had brought our opponents to a conviction of their error, but it was all in the game. I knew I had many such trials to endure before I could hope to deliver my thoughts with the ease and freedom of such as James Hamilton, and other giants of debate, but dourness has never been one of the characteristics of my nature, so I determined to persevere.
The Sabbath Morning Class was another source of information to me after the Mutual Improvement style, but here the subjects were confined to biblical matters, and while there were opportunities for remarks, there were no discussions.
These meetings were restricted to 1 hour, 8 to 9am, and much good they did me. I copied the pronunciation of the best speaker, as I did at all public meetings, and thereby corrected many a slipshod expression of my own. It is wonderful what can be accomplished in this way by one anxious to improve.
My intercourse with Kames Hamilton, as I have already said, did me much good. Neil Kinibrough and Dan Riddell also contributed unwittingly to my improvement. These I might call my involuntary schoolmasters, our first acquaintance ripened into friendship, and our friendship lasted while they lived.
They have all gone now, and here I am, plodding along at the age of nearly seventy five, sometimes with moistened eye, as I recall their memories, and think of the many, many feasts we have partaken of.
Neil Kinibrough was perhaps the best read of all my acquaintances, and oh! What a memory he had. His mind was a perfect storehouse, and even Dan Riddell and James Hamilton had to acknowledge his wonderful grasp of historical facts, and the accuracy of his quotations. By and by I purchased Cassel’s Popular Educator, and posed long and earnestly over it, In several of the branches.
I had learned to smoke, and to enable me to buy books I laid down my pipe for twelve months and laid by my tobacco money every week for that period. I then bought several books with it, amongst others “Tindall’s Fragments of Science” and “Huxley’s Lat Sermons.” I was now beyond the “Robinson Crusoe” stage of reading and could tackle much more solid material, but the world of romance always held a warm place in my estimation. Especially Scott and Dickens’ portrayal of life and character, I drew inspiration from both these gifted authors, and they remain favourites with me to the present day. Scott did much to raise my patriotism as a Scotsman, and Dickens was ne less successful in cultivating within me a cosmopolitan regard for mankind generally.
I have perhaps said enough with regard to these Gleanings, to point out to you the means by which I acquired most of the little knowledge I posses, and the labour of perseverance required in the acquisition. “Nil Desperandum” and “Excelsior” may be said to have been my watch words through life.
It occurs to me in dealing with some of the characters I have known, and whose sayings and doings have had some influence in moulding my own character, I should not overlook my good old friend, Robert Roy. Roy was a ball furnaceman in the old Forge. He had originally come from the Port Glasgow district, but settled down in Parkhead, and remained there until his death, when well stricken in years.
He was rather a singular character, was Roy, in this respect that he was stone deaf, but could speak, though there was a peculiar intonation in his voice as a result of his total deafness. He had been thus afflicted for many years when I first became acquainted with him, and as I afterwards learned; his affliction was the result of his own foolishness in his youth. He had got drunk and lay out all one night, with the result that his hearing became so affected that ultimately he lost it all together.
I wrought under-hand to him for a good while, and to facilitate our communications I learned the dumb alphabet, and became very expert at it, in consequence of which Roy courted my company very much, as I could inform him of passing events, and he, like most deaf people was very inquisitive. Reading was his only recreation, and he read ravenously, so much so that in later years his sight became much affected but even then he read with the aid of magnifying glasses. He was possessed with a wonderful store of information, and from him I learned much, but he was very heterodox, and he and I often differed, not always to my advantage, no, his sarcasm was bitter and far reaching. He was a good husband and father to his own family, and though he made an occasional breakout, he kept a bien house. His family and he were always well and comfortably dressed, they wanted for nothing; everything was of the best and plainest quality, and plenty of it all. Superfluities were strictly barred, and his wife Nancy, entered into his humours in this respect, she was of a thrifty, gathering disposition and they were said to have a bit “guid nest egg” laid past somewhere. Indeed it was Roy who opened my first bank account for me. He took me into the National Savings Bank, and caused me to deposit ten shillings, the very first money I had in bank. The example was invaluable and worthy of imitation. You may be sure that a man of this stamp had considerable influence with me. We used to take long walks around the country. There seemed to be an element of romance in Roy as well as myself.
I remember on one occasion he and I sitting in Blantyre Priory, eating a bit of bread and “signing” over with a mouthful of spring water as the six o’clock bell was ringing the Blantyre mill people to their work. We must have left Parkhead about 4am, or before that hour, as the distance was about 7 or 8 miles. Sometimes it would be quite dark before we returned home, and on these occasions our mode of communication was as follows; I took his left arm under my right, and spelled my words up his left hand, instead of upon my own.
Talking of speaking on the fingers reminds me that many years afterwards when I was a magistrate, I was invited to attend a social meeting in the Mute Institute in Glasgow, and the Superintendant, getting to know that I could do a little on the fingers, insisted on me saying a word or two to the audience, all mutes. I gave them an address of ten or fifteen minutes. They were perfectly wild with delight, and the Superintendant informed me that I was the only member of the Corporation who had ever addressed his people in their own language.
Poor old Roy, he met with a sad end. He was knocked down by a bus or car on crossing the street, and was carried home bruised and bleeding to die. He was a strong minded, self willed, determined man, and though frequently warned against going about, he persisted in it to the last. This in his condition of total deafness and latterly of almost total blindness, was fraught with the greatest danger, and ended as above described. I missed him much, and mourned him long, and after many years have still to acknowledge how much I owe to him in curbing any conceit I showed, or any indications of vanity I displayed in matters of dress or personal adornment. “Poof, bubbles and trash” he would exclaim on my display of any little trinket, and though I might feel hurt at the time by his disparagement, in my inner soul I felt that he was right, and that, “all is not gold that glitters.”