Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vagrants & Beggars. Article III, 21/08/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part C

Article III, written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign on 21 August, 1879. Part C
The illustrations I have used were not published with the original article.  The etchings are those of Walter Geikie - Google Books
"Previous to the passing of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, a considerable number of vagrants or beggars came the way of Badbea, out of the way as it was. There used to be several of these impotent, and we might say impudent class of beggars, who had to be carried from place to place, reminding us of the men "sick of the palsy and carried by four," and also the important "man laid at the beautiful gate of the temple." These persons were carried on a hand - barrow from place to place. If they came from the west, they were carried to Ousdale, and there laid down at the door of the shepherd, who was the sole occupant of the place in our day. By him and his family, the party would be conveyed to the nearest house in Badbea, and so on, from house to house till he reached the end of the village, when he had to be sent on to Berriedale Inn, which was the nearest point, and there they were lodged.

There were also a few sturdy lazy beggars who came our way at a time, and they were even worse to get quit of than those who needed to be carried.
Caithness Chair
I remember one of the last - named class coming our way one afternoon, and pretending to be a "dummy." Our parents happened to be from home, which the fellow seemed to notice, for he took up his abode at the fireside, and out of there he would not move. We could talk to him as we like, but he paid no heed to us. We did not like his presence in the house, and no one about hand but we young folks, so we fell on a plan by which we thought we could get quit of him. We had some powder in the house, which we took, and laid a train underneath the dummy's chair, and carried the train a considerable distance from him, so that in setting fire to it we would not be near him. We left the door open at the same time, anticipating that he would make for the outside. We got all things in order and then set to the match, when the whole thing exploded, and as there was a considerable quantity below the chair, the powder having been put in from behind, it raised the chair with great force, and threw the occupant to the floor, who, as we expected, made for the door, which as soon as we got him out, we shut and barred, so that he did not get in again. It cured him of his dumbness, as we heard him uttering very refined expressions outside.

But many a child of God found food and shelter in Badbea, especially at the communion seasons at Berriedale. We have seen ten or a dozen people lodged in our house on such occasions, from Thursday to the following Monday, and John Badbea would have as many entertained in his house. The prayer meetings held in the evenings, after returning from the day's services, were on such occasions the most sweet and solemn we ever witnessed, and it would be sometimes one and two o' clock in the morning before people would disperse. These were indeed precious times, and I believe no one who enjoyed them can ever forget them. As I have already said, the Badbea people were simple and kind - hearted, and were ready at all times to extend a helping hand according to their means, to any one of whom they saw stood in need of help".

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Peats. Article III, 21/08/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part B

Article III, written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign on 21 August, 1879. Part B.

Note: this extract was also included in the blog ‘For Peat’s Sake” but I have included it again in the interests of publishing this series of the letters of A Native of Badbea as a complete set. The illustrations I have used were not published with the original article.

“Another great day with us was the day "John Badbea" got his peats carried home. On such occasions there came horses from Braemore and Houstry to lead worthy John's peats to the stance where the peat stack stood, a little above the house. There was not a road or track by which carts could be used, and the peats were therefore carried in a sort of hamper called "crubags" on each side. It was a sort of four- square thing, about 2 feet 6 inches long, perhaps 2 feet deep, and about 18 inches wide. It was open at both ends, and was slung by a piece of rope fixed to a sort of rude saddletree set on the back of the horse which carried one of these "crubags" on each side. It is surprising what quantity of peats could be packed into a couple of these. 

Going For peats - Barra 1910
There might be 30 or 40 horses engaged in leading the peats on these occasions. Three or four, even six horses were tied to each other's tails, and one person leading them. To us it was a real post of honour to be leading these horses between the stacks and the hill, when those who brought the horses were employed in building the peat stack, or loading the horses at the hill. In this way all the good man's peats were carried to the stance and built up ready for the winter in one day, and all was done gratuitously both the labour of men and horses being given free of charge.”

John Clifton, The Land of Heather.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dunbeath Market. Article III, 21/08/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part A

Article III written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign on 21 August, 1879, Part A. The illustrations I have used were not published with the orginal article.

"I am not sure that my rambling recollections of Badbea will be the means of attracting any visitors or tourists to the place, unless they are attracted to it with a view of "seeing the nakedness of the land" - yet to a native, and I speak for myself in particular - it is endeared by a thousand fond associations which can never be effaced. Here I spent my childhood, and as previously stated, remained till I reached the years of manhood. The tender care and watchful upbringing of godly parents are things not easily forgotten. The innocent enjoyments and simple habits of our younger days rise up before us, after years have changed the colour of our hair, and sprinkled our locks with a silvery tinge, and when surrounded with associations and engaged in employments which present a very strong and striking contrast with those of our youthful days.
But it may be asked, what enjoyment could be had in such a place and under such circumstances as have been described? Well, we must admit that there were not many. There was real and true friendship between us all, young and old; and when the long dreary winter casts its mantle over us, we had cheery firesides around about which we assembled, and listened to and told tales of fairies, ghosts, and witches, in all of which we were firm believers.

Unknown Fiddler Blair Athol 
Collection 1858 
Am Baile Facebook

Not infrequently, also, was the long winter night whiled away listening to the strains of Jamie Sutherland's violin, and sometimes varying the enjoyment by trying to dance to music, which differed as much from the laws of real music as our movements on the floor did from the laws of dancing.

Threshing using flails. McIan
We had one day in the year to which we looked forward with an unusual amount of interest, and expectation, and that was the day of the Dunbeath Market - the November or Little Market, as it was called. There was a great amount of preparation on the previous evening, when our wares for sale at the market were put in order. These consisted of different kinds. "Supplies and flails," by which most Caithness farmers threshed their corn crops in those days, formed a considerable part of our merchandise; but there were other things, such as bread baskets, potato baskets, and rashes, to supply the household lamp, during the winter nights. After a fruitless attempt to enjoy the night's sleep we were up, and ready for the road by four o'clock in the morning, and generally arrived at the market stance, when we would be the only occupants. As soon as the people gathered, we did our best to dispose of our goods, after which we held away to "cheap John's" stand, and invested part of our cash in a clasp knife, which had a greater attraction for us than any other thing we saw there."

Old Scotsman selling besoms or heather brooms

Potato Baskets

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Badbea Conditions. Article II, 31/07/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part B

Article II written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign July 31, 1879 Part B

“It is strange how people can accommodate themselves to circumstances, and how we overcome difficulties where we have no control over the circumstances in which we are placed. I remember well when John "Badbea" was the only person in the place who could sport a watch, and yet the time could be calculated with as much accuracy, both by night and day, as if everyone in the place had a watch or a clock. The hour to suit the proper state of the tide in the darkest night could be calculated when going to sea with the small-line, or the hour to start for church - which was four miles to Berriedale and eight miles to Helmsdale, where we oftenest went - could be arrived at with perfect accuracy, as well as the proper time to go to our work, should we be employed in working for the laird, where we had to be very punctual. One could scarcely believe it, unless they actually saw it, how accurately this could be done.

Edge of the World 1936. Foula, Shetland people 

on the way to kirk.

Fishing was the principal employment of the inhabitants, and had they had the facilities to dispose of the proceeds which exist now-a-days they could have done well by it, as there is not a better spot for haddock fishing in all Scotland than that which lies right opposite Badbea. I have seen the hauls of haddock so great that the very starfish were carefully picked off the line, and cast overboard lest the boat would be too deeply loaded. Tons of fish could be landed in a day were there an outlet for them. I have seen as high as 800 dried haddocks in our house at one time, and those who had no one to prosecute the fishing for them, such as widows with young children, had their share every day laid aside for them as soon as the haul came ashore. They all got their turn alternately, so that they never wanted fish from one year's end to the other.
The steep hillsides at Ousdale that Badbea workers were 
forced to clear  by Donald Horne
There was some trifling work to be got occasionally on the estate, but the rate of wages was very low. One shilling per day was the rate for the best worker till within the last 25 years or so, it was not uncommon thing for a person to have to travel two or three miles to his work and only be paid 1s. There was no such thing as weekly or fortnightly pays - not even monthly - not even payment once in six months. Twelve months was the shortest time, and frequently two years elapsed before a penny could be got. If any young man had the courage to go and work beyond the bounds of the estate, where he would be better remunerated and regularly paid, his parents would suffer for it by being turned out of their house and lot at the next term. There was a system of tyranny and oppression practiced long ago by lairds that could scarcely be believed in our times.

Badbea proper had a good space of hill pasture at one time that was very useful, and enabled the people to rear a few cattle, which, when sold, helped to pay their rents, and supply them with other necessaries; but the laird set his eye upon it, and seized fully one - fourth of it, separating it from the rest by a deep ditch and high paling. There was no proportionate reduction made in the poor people's rents for this. Then a few years later there was a five feet stone dyke run along the face of the hill behind the houses, only a few hundred feet distant, enclosing them as in a pen. The rocks and the sea on one side and this dyke on the other deprived them of three- fourths of their hill pasture, and yet there was no reduction in the rents. By this state of matters the poor people were driven to a state of perfect desperation, but there was no redress. They dare not remonstrate, however respectfully, unless they wished to be turned out altogether. Latterly, so palpable was it that the poor people could not exist in this miserable state that the usual way was taken of dealing with what was considered superfluous population. One half of them were turned out of their lots which they had cultivated, some for forty years, and others for thirty years, and though, as I have already said, a stranger would think very little of it, yet to those born and bred in the locality it had charms that no other place on earth possessed, and to be turned out of it was no ordinary trial. I believe, however, none of them would wish to go back to it again if they had to go through such trials as they had to endure at the hands of their superiors".
Badbea with the stone dyke in the centre right

The photos and illustrations were not published with the original article

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hazardous Badbea. Article II, 31/07/1879 - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, and Neighbourhood - Part A

Article II written by Alexander Gunn, aka A Native of Badbea, was printed in the Northern Ensign on  July 31, 1879.
Article II Part A
"In my previous remarks on Badbea I gave a description of its whereabouts, which would enable a stranger to find his way thither, but I believe he would think very little of it having seen it. There is nothing very attractive about it. It is a barren, rugged spot. Behind stand low hills, with innumerable boulders cropping through the earth, the spaces between covered over with brown heather. Seaward it is bounded by high rugged, perpendicular rocks, on which the storms of winter expend their full force as they majestically roll in from the German Ocean, till the spray sometimes flies over them, reaching even to the houses above. There is access to the shores below only here and there, and that same is not of a very tempting nature. The great wonder is that serious accidents do not occur more frequently. The young folks, in my time, could run along the face of these dangerous rocks like rabbits. The traffic to and fro from the shore, both summer and winter, by those engaged at the fishing was very considerable, and those giddy tracks, which did duty for roads, were used in the darkest nights with as little concern as if they were turnpike roads.
Black Highland Cow and Calf
Sometimes an unfortunate cow or stirk slipped their feet when they ventured too far to get a mouthful of the sweet grass which grew luxuriantly on the cliffs, and, of course, were dashed to pieces on the rocks below, to the great grief and loss of the owner, who could ill afford to lose one of his herd.
There were two or three fatal accidents to some of the inhabitants as well. One of these, a man named George Duncan, was returning from Berriedale, after finishing his day's work at the Established Manse, then in course of erection, and in the darkness of the night he lost his way and fell over the side of Berriedale Head. His non-arrival at home that night as usual caused much uneasiness to his family, and as soon as daylight set in next morning there was a messenger dispatched to Berriedale to make inquiry about him, when it was found that he was seen in the gloaming, making his was in the direction of home. It was evident from this that something serious had happened to him, and a search party was sent out with a view to the finding of his body. On searching the shore to the east of Badbea, his mangled remains were found where I have already indicated; and, strange to say, a number of years afterwards a son of his, a lad of about ten years of age, fell over the rocks right below his mother's house.
Cliffs at Badbea
Source: Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned report No. 148
With Permission
He had a very narrow escape, but an intrepid neighbour risked his own life, and went down to where the almost lifeless lad lay, took him up on his shoulders, bound him to his own body with a rope, scaled the previously inaccessible cliff, and laid him down on his mother's knee. The generous kind-hearted man who risked his own life to save another was John Gunn, who died a few years ago, at the patriarchal age of 89; and it is only doing justice to his memory to mention his name in connection with this accident"
Note: See Blog 41 for more information on George Duncan
The photos and illustrations were not with the original article