Another book by David Willox which is quite short and simply entitled Characters, we believe this book may have been intended to be part of his other book, Reminiscences of Parkhead, It’s People and Pastimes, in which he describes the characters as “worthies”
Robert Tennent, daft Rob, as he was familiarly called, was usually a harmless being except when roused, which happened sometimes and then it was wise to keep at a distance from him.. He was usually dressed in a badly fitting moleskin, his jacket being of the half-coat, half-jacket style with large side pockets of capacious size usually stuffed with bread, cake, scones and crusts of which he was continually munching. He went about barefooted as a rule and was continually on the move and was a particular favourite with the women folks. He addressed them in the most familiar manner and his calls were many and welcome, though he was always on the “prouching” tack, a piece of bread or a “bawbee” never came wrong to him, and the familiar kiss of his hand to the donor was the highest return of thanks he could make. He was a simple being and harmed no one if left alone, and was one of our most familiar characters for many a day. Ultimately he was removed to Barnhill Poorhouse, where I presume he found a less precarious, and more comfortable home than he had been accustomed to.
John Maxwell was a mute, and when I knew him first, lived with a married brother who had a family of sons and daughters. They had a dour loom shop in the Great Eastern Road. Jock ca’d (wound) the pirns for the family and although paralysed on one side he discharged his duties in very efficient manner. He was an odd looking man about six feet high, spare of build, and considerably distorted on one side of his face, indeed rather a gruesome looking customer to us youngsters, but I understand as harmless as a child. It was a very wicked doing, but on one occasion some of our practical jokers got he and Daft Rob to fight. They got a greater fright than did the combatants. Jock would have strangled Rob to death had they not been parted. Rob instinctively avoided Jock ever afterwards. One might wonder that a man so handicapped as Jock was, should be an expert at anything, but in this case he was an exception. Not only was he one of the best pirn winders in the district but at making dragons (kites) he was unapproachable. His dragons were the envy of old and young and happy the youth who could secure one of Jock Maxwell’s dragons.
James Angus was a Cartwright who, after serving his apprenticeship commenced business on his own account on a very small scale at first but by the dint of perseverance and industry, gradually extended until he became one of the leading Cartwright’s in the city. Several of our townsmen have served under him, his present successor, James H. Kelly being one of the most notable who has greatly developed and extended the business until at the present day it is known as one of the most up-to-date establishments of the kind in Scotland. James Angus served his time with a Mr. Livingstone in a little shop at the corner of Burgher Street and Great Eastern Road. He was a man rather below rather than over the medium height and although not possessed with any outstanding talents, had the knack of getting on. He died possessed of considerable property and it was said, not all derived from the exercise of the gouge and saw.
Big Tom Strachan, as he was usually called, was a blacksmith. His smithy stood near the foot of Burgher Street, adjoining an opening that gave access to the pawn, the same opening serving as a yard for ringing cart-wheels. He was a man of over six feet in height, muscular and well developed both in limb and body. He took occasional bouts on the beer and then he seemed to be dangerous. He had a little hammerman named Charlie Hendry, a midget compared with Tom, and as sure as the two of them got on the beer together, they were sure to fall out and fight, Hendry usually getting the worst of it. I have saw the little fellow bleeding like a sheep but still willing to continue to fight until forcibly taken away. Tom met his match on at least one occasion, but whether the encounter diminished his task for fisticuffs or not, I am unable to say. There used to perambulate our street an Englishman called “Cheap John” selling, sometimes delft, at other apples etc. etc. How he and Tom fell foul of each other, I am unable to say, probably they had both been tippling and promiscuously at the public house bar and fell foul of each other over some little breach of etiquette dear to the sons of Bacchus, be that it may, they fought several rounds on the public street, but were parted without any definite result. This did not suit Tom. He was as dour as he was strong and determined to have it out. He followed John along Great Eastern Road until they reached Hamilton’s park where he overtook him and charged him to mortal combat. John nothing loath, left his barrow standing in the street and accompanied Tom into the park where they both stripped, the Englishman to the bare belt down to the waist and Tom with nothing but his trousers and shirt on, and then they set to. I saw the fight but was too young to understand the finer points of the game. We youngsters judged from who was under-most in the falls, of which there were several and certainly not to Strachan’s advantage from our view. Both were bleeding and their faces considerably swollen and I have no doubt both were pleased when the cry police was raised and the crowd hurried the combatants away in different directions. How the affair might have ended had it lasted much longer, no one can tell, as opinions were divided. One thing was certain, Tom never challenged Cheap John again, for he had found that he was anything but cheap.
I have some delicacy in dealing with the above, firstly, because Johnnie Turner as he is familiarly called, is still with us, hale and hearty at eighty five years of age, and secondly, because he is a distant relative of our own. Although not born in Parkhead, he claims it as his home and lastly so, having spent about eighty years coming and going among us. For that long period he had been constantly a resident here, carrying with him through all the years a character of the highest respectability, quiet and unassuming in demeanour, and inoffensive in his manners. He has made and retains quite a host of friends who prize his friendship as a privilege to be desired. He is not voluble in speech but his remarks and conversation are marked by percipienty of thought and reasoning that leaves an impression of truthfulness upon his hearers that only renders confidence in his advice. Johnnie, like many other of his townsmen was brought up to the weaving, indeed in his day, there was said to be about fifteen hundred hand-loom weavers in Parkhead. I am not sure that there is a single one today. After many years at the loom he drifted into one of the mills in the Bridgeton district as a Beamer where he wrought regularly until about twelve months ago. In his youth he was one of the most light footed and expert jumpers in the whole neighbourhood, indeed I have been told that he could even excel those I have already extolled as our crack jumpers. In later years he became a very expert draught player and had the distinction of drawing an occasional game with the celebrated “Herd Laddie” but his native modesty kept him from claiming any credit for so doing. May he be long spared to enjoy a bit quiet game and share in the elicities of his many friends.
I only refer to the two following worthies as showing the vagaries that sometimes afflicts humanity. Glass Willie I never saw, but have often heard of his deep rooted conviction that he was made of glass or some such brittle substance and how it gave rise to many tricks being played upon him such as putting some little obstacle in his path over which he would never step lest the shock should break him, even a straw was sufficient to divert his course as he would walk round it, not over it. Poor body, his life must have been a continual dread to him.
Was so called because of his assumed proprietary right to all the horse droppings within his observation. Those he carefully collected for his little patch of garden, and any luckless youngster bent on the same errand of collection , if he happened to approach Willie’s newly deposited treasure was sure to be hunted off without ceremony “gae wa’ an’ get dung o’ yer ane” he would exclaim with al the vehemence of a man who sees his preserves being invaded.
Archibald McLean, as I knew him, was a little man of five feet four or five, spare built and active. He was nominally a weaver, but could turn his hand to anything that came in his way. He was a pretty wet hand, the public house claiming more of his time than the loom. It was on these latter occasions, that he was seen and heard in all his glory, then he would work himself up to such a pitch of heroic patriotism, and expatiate on the antiquity and doings of the Clan McLean to such an extent that he seemed to think that the McLean’s were the only people on the earth worth considering, and the beauty of it was that he seemed not only to believe it himself but expected others to believe it as well. It never seemed to dawn upon him that there was anything at all incongruous in a descendant of the kings and princes of Isla and Jura to be humphing in a pickle of coals to a neighbour for a copper or two or running a message for a glass of beer or a “half” of whisky and Baldy did both of these. He hung a lot about Johnnie Murray’s pub and wherever he saw a cart of coals couped Archie was there to offer his services for the price of a dram. He occasionally took spells at the loom but these were intermittent. He would “toast” or draw a web for a neighbour but the money received for those jobs seemed to burn holes in his pockets and he seldom managed to carry it home. He had a well-doing family, three daughters and one son who managed somehow to keep the house fairly comfortable, and Baldy himself not altogether neglected. Archie stood good natured, light spirited old soul, even in his cups, and we youngsters used to have no fear whatever in calling after him as he staggered along, “Noble Archie” He took this rather as a compliment of the highest character would stop and striking his breast with his hand would exclaim “ Aye ma cullen”, I’m noble Archie, not withstanding his inherited rank, titles, and honours, and his prospective inheritance of lands , and many millions of accumulated funds did died poor and forgotten for anything, but his goodness of heart and buoyancy of spirit.
Micky McLean as he was nick-named, was a well known character about the place. Why he was so called, I am unable to say, but he seldom got anything else. While Micky did not indulge in such long and frequent spells of drink as some of the other worthies, he occasionally took a week on the randan as it was called and at these periods he was unmatched in the arts of raising the wind, he was considered one of the cutest men in the town, and the man who could get the weather gauge was no dult. He had a four loom shop in the Great Eastern Road, and not withstanding his occasional blowouts, was pretty comfortable. His family were well doing and seemed to keep the shuttle flying while the head of the house was dallying his time in the public house or otherwise engaged in an equally questionable employment. He and “Lord Kilmun”, James were brothers but there existed a marked difference in their habits. James was staid, settled and industrious. Micky was volatile in temperament, shift in disposition, and one of the best card players in the district.
Sandy Gardener was one of our local “twisters.” He was very near sighted and had a considerable stoop in his shoulders. He was a steady man and could always be relied upon for doing his work well. He usually wore a black apron speckled over with the dust of whiting he used in his calling. He went about bare headed and only donned a bonnet when he went on a visit to his son which usually took place about every three months, then we thought it an extraordinary thing to see Sandy with his large with his large blue bonnet and its proportionally large “Strawberry Toure. ” I think it was only on such periodical visits that Sandy indulged in an extra dram. On the whole he was steady and well doing and at his death it was said he left a bit “Guid Hugger.”
Rabbie McPhee was another of our local “twisters” and “drawers.” He was a little man full of parley humour, fairly well read, and usually possessed of all news of the town. Indeed his calling lent itself to the acquisition of local news, travelling from shop to shop in the execution of his duties. He was well advanced in years when he took up with Nannie Bryson, a widow with three or four of a family. In the better years of their connection they lived in the “Ree” and though continually haunted by the spectre of poverty, they seemed a happy family. Nannie had two or three children by Rabbie, the last addition being twins, and I have heard on the morning of their birth, there was hardly a rag in the house to cover them or to make saps when lo! A carriage drove up to the door and out stepped a gentleman with a blue envelope in his hand enquiring for Nannie Bryson. The gossips were thunder struck. They could not conceive what had happened. They knew Nannies’ circumstances and sympathised with her in her distress. They had not long to overcome their curiosity. The unexpected visitor was a lawyer who had called to inform Nannie that by the will of a client of his, her uncle, of whom she had not heard of for years, she had been left several thousands of pounds under certain restrictions. The immediate wants of the house were instantly relieved and where want and suffering had reigned, comfort and plenty took their place, but unalloyed happiness is hardly possible and it was not to be in Nannies’ case. One of the above restrictions above mentioned was that Nannie and Rabbie should part forever. The condition was hard but there it was in black and white and in such terms that all the ingenuity of the law could not alter. Poor Nannie, what was she to do? She had been happy with Rabbie though living from hand to mouth but she owed a duty to her children as well as to Rabbie and she must not condemn them to eternal poverty and hardship for the gratification of her personal feelings. The matter was long and anxiously discussed by Rabbie and her and he like the second Brutus resolved to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his little commonwealth. They parted never to live together again but Nannie was not forgetful of Rabbie. He was well provided for, for though the will prohibited their living together it didn’t prohibit her from making such provision to Rabbie as kept him in comfort all his days.
Sneckem as he was nicknamed was remarkable for nothing that I know of but a wildness and recklessness of living that made him a sort of outcast. His mother, Granny Dunsmore, and he lived together but how they lived I cannot tell, probably the little she earned from pirn winding helped to keep things moving. He was said to be one of the most expert pick pockets known and likely this accounted for his flushness of money. Sometime in later years, I knew him as an underhand ball furnaceman in the rolling mills and even among the rough lot there he was looked upon with some degree of reserve.
Of George Crawford I have little to say beyond the fact that he is still moving about at the age of fully ninety years. He was always looked upon as one of the steadiest and most industrious hand-loom weavers of the district, a little man with a heart big enough to face the battle of life without flinching and to rear a large family in comfort and respectability. It is Geordies class that gives tone to society and forms the backbone of our community. He is bright and cheerful to the present day. May he long continue so.
Jock Jardine was one of the Crystal Band already referred to, and though one of the youngest members of that talented combination, could drain his glass along with the best of them. He was what is called a shuttle tip maker, a sort of blacksmith and was said to be one of the best tradesmen of his class. He could make good money but for his irregular habits might have adorned society. He was a beautiful singer and though of Irish extraction could render the songs of Bonnie Scotland with a taste and feeling that might have earned him a nitch in the temple of Scottish Music. He was a capital foot runner and could hold his own in many athletic exercises but oh! He became a woeful wreck. Talents of no mean order and a frame of the most perfect mould were corrupted and debased to the last degree by hiss addiction to drink. He became mean and sordid in his disposition and cruel at least towards his own family, poor things. Young as I was and poor as I was, I pitied the often. He was well connected and his people, especially the older brother, tried repeatedly, but in vain to reclaim him. What became of him ultimately I cannot tell. Read, mark, and digest.
John Humbold was said to be one of the most accomplished cracksmen of his day, a tall handsome man about six feet in height. We occasionally had a visit from him and invariably set my father on the spree if he was not already on it and then he would disappear perhaps for months at a time. His occasional visits to our house were not conducive to our comfort. We had our house searched on several occasions for stolen property suspected to be in our possession as a result of these visits but I am happy to be able to declare that never a single article was found to incriminate us. When a depredation of more than an ordinary character was committed the wiseacres usually attributed it to the Humbolds. There were three or four brothers of them all said to be “tarred wi’ the ane stick.” Be that as it may, John was certainly the gentleman of the lot. Anyone to have seen him faultlessly dressed with his black swinger, and silk tyle hat, his kid gloves, and boots of the finest morocco would never for a moment have thought that they beheld one of the most accomplished cracksmen of his time.
Little can be said of Sandy Buchanan, and I only include his name her because of the lessons that may be derived from his career. Sandy was the son of very respectable parents. They kept a small licensed public house that stood on the roadside between High Carntyne and Lightburn. It was a most unpretentious one storey building away from the allurements of city life and surrounded by green fields for miles around. If anything could contribute to the proper upbringing of a family, Sandy’s surroundings should have done. So not withstanding all the advantages of a comfortable home, well doing parents and rural surroundings Sandy fell into evil habits. His early manhood was marked by occasional wild pranks that brought upon him the severe censure of his anxious parents and the doubtful head shaking of his few neighbours. He drifted from bad to worse until at last he became the associate of companions deeply steeped in crime. How I came to know him was from his an occasional visit he paid my father. He was then a quarryman and took frequent spells of drinking. The end of it was he got involved in some serious case of house breaking or other robbery and had to stand trial before the Lords. This ordeal was too much, even for Sandy’s hardened nature and a day or two before his trial he decided rather to face the Great Judge of all than those appointed by law and hung himself in his cell. Another example of the unaccountable waywardness of the human heart and the awful consequences of evil companionship.
Will Leishman was our local doctor and a good one too. He has been known to makes clocks speak and tell the time that have been dumb for years. Unlike “Auld Tam Frew who carried his smiddy in his hat” Will carried in his “pouches” (pockets) and how in the name of wonders how he could select the proper instrument of repair from such an assortment of pins, screws, wheels, spindles, nuts and nails besides other accessories too numerous to mention was a mystery to all who saw him employed and to see him after his job was finished, sweep the whole plant of repair into his several pockets without any apparent regard to order or selection only heightened the mystery. Will was a bit of a wag and practical joker, good natured and ready with an answer especially when “half on. On one occasion Will appeared with a piece of sticking plaster on his nose and some brother wag thinking to take the rise out of him exclaimed “my guidness Will what’s wrong wi’ your nose?” “Oh it’s just a bit gravel rash that cam’ oot on it an I thocht it best to keep the cauld oot” “You were wise to dae that Will, caulds are sometimes guy expensive to deal wi” remarked his friend with a meaning twinkle in his eye which Will noted and duly appreciated at its real worth. “Weel” replied Will that depends on the treatment I’ll bet what you like mine’ll no cost as much as it has cost you to paint yours. His friend, like Will had a beautiful proboscis of a bluish red colour that showed he was no stranger to the strength and potency of the dram. How he relished the retort I have no means of knowing. He like his friend Will, have since long passed away where there is neither painting nor plastering.
James Cuthbertson was one of the most skilful weavers in Parkhead. He had a four loom shop in Browns Land where I wove under him for some time yielding 25% of my earnings in return for the use of the loom and his supervision. The class of the work was of the “button steak” order considered one of the most advanced branches of the trade. He was a man of regular and steady habits, deeply skilled in the complicated mountings of webs and was often consulted by others less gifted than him.
Sam Harper is one of the few it has been my pleasure to note as a “brand plucked for the burning.” He used to be one of the wettest mortals in the whole district, so much so that as a hanger about Johnnie Murray’s he has been known at election times to run all the way to the Exchange from Parkhead several times in a day to get the state of the Poll which was published from time to time as the voting proceeded, the distance the double way, of quite four miles, for a glass of whisky. But Sam reformed in his latter years and became a total abstainer of the most pronounced type. In his latter years he became keeper of the Parkhead Public Halls and discharged his duties there with the most scrupulosity and integrity, remaining a teetotaller to the end. He died much regretted and respected. He was quiet in demeanour, unobtrusive in manner and obliging in disposition.
I have now reached what I intend shall be the last of these character sketches, at least for the time being. In dealing with them I have felt as if it were living my youth over again but with a deeper sense of light and shadows that surrounded the figures that so variously performed their little parts in the grand drama of life. James Martin as he appeared to me in my younger days was a sturdy, robust fresh looking man, light of heart and full of energy. He was hand and glove with most of the old weavers about the place, had a strong bias for political discussion and could keep up his end of the argument with a flow and vigour of speech that overwhelmed it did and convinces his opponents. In his early days ne was strongly radical and I have often heard him at the street corners among a group of idle weavers expatiating on the blessings of the repeal of the Corn Laws and the extension of the political Franchise. He gradually toned down as he grew older until at last he emerged as a fully fledged Tory or as he himself called it radical conservatism. He at last managed to fight his way into the Town Council as a member for an east end ward where he retained his seat for many years in spite of strong opposition at times. He usually spoke in fairly broad Scotch and could meet the hecklers at their own game, his arrows of mother wit and biting sarcasm often piercing the thickest hide and entering the dullest intellect. He rose to the magistracy and disponed justice to some years with an impartiality of mind and soundness of judgement that won for him a name that lived long in the memories of a far wider circle than that which elected him. His memory has been perpetuated by the erection of a drinking fountain on Glasgow Green opposite the Peoples Palace.