Friday, July 31, 2015

Ministers in Berriedale and Public Penance - Article XI - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part B

Article XI written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 29 January 1880 – Part B

“Mr Cook was succeeded in Berriedale by Mr McLauchlan, who was the first to occupy the new manse and the new church. From him I heard the first sermon, of which I have not the least recollection, but I remember what I saw, if I forget what I heard. A young man and a young woman were that day doing penance publicly, by standing up in presence of the whole congregation and submitting to public rebuke from the minister.”

illus-131 repentance stool from Old Greyfriars Edinburgh
Source: Book of Curious Punishments of Bygone Days, by Alice Morse Earle. A repentance stool from old Grey Friars, Edinburgh

“That is a scene I could never forget. Such scenes are not to be seen in these times, but that is no proof that the sin for which this discipline was used has disappeared from amongst us. The matter is got over in a quieter and more private manner now a days."

"Mr McLauchlan was a very fine, affable, kindly person, and a tolerably good preacher, but he was not such an evangelical preacher as his predecessor. He was succeeded by Mr Campbell, who was well known to the present generation - a most amiable, kind, and simple-minded man - but not a great preacher. His other qualities, however, endeared him very much to the people under his charge.”

My Comments:
  • The new Berriedale church was completed in 1826. Alexander Gunn was born in 1820 so he was a very young boy when the Rev D. McLauchlan publicly rebuked the young couple and made such an impression on him.
  • Doing penance might seem a curious custom to us, but it was taken very seriously by the Church of Scotland. Adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, slanderers and Sabbath breakers could all be bought before the church. The penance usually involved the public humiliation before the whole congregation of the person or persons concerned, by admonition from the minister or elders. The offenders then had to make a public confession and to profess their repentance. Different parishes had slightly different practices for penance. For some the penance involved wearing a repentance gown of sackcloth or sitting in a special chair or stool under the pulpit, facing the congregation.

Sackcloth repentance garment
  • The ‘sins’ of unchastity or fornication were particularly punished, although the infant born would eventually be brought into the church family. The father’s name would be recorded but if the father was unknown to the minister, the mother would be put under a lot of pressure to name him. The record of the christening of the baby would often use words such as “natural”, “antenuptual”, “in fornication”, “begot out of wedlock”, which has followed the baby from that day to this. In contrast, regular christening records would often state the child was the lawful son/daughter of…


  • There was another layer of “governance” in the kirk – the “Kirk Session” which was composed of the minister and the elders and dealt with the moral behaviour of the parishioners and other matters eg poor relief or the provision of schooling in the parish. Minutes were kept of Session meetings - some of which are available to read in Scotland or on microfilms but are not yet distributed on the internet unfortunately.

The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk by Henry Lorimer 1891
This seems a solemn occasion, but to be brought before such a group of men to be disciplined would be very intimidating indeed I have no doubt.

29 1 1880 NE (Article XI) part A2 copy copy

1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ministers in Berriedale and a Fiddling Parson - Article XI - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part A

Article XI written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 29 January 1880 – Part A 
“In every place there are individuals who occupy a prominent position in the community where they live. There were such in Berriedale. The first I would refer to is the ministers, but unfortunately I cannot go back to a very remote period in my remarks regarding them. The list is far as I am concerned, begins with a Mr Hugh, or "Huestan," who lived in Langwell, and was considered to have been a very godly man; but he had one fault, which marred his other qualities in the eyes of the most serious of the place. The fault was that he indulged in practising occasionally on the violin or fiddle. One of his elders calling on him one day, found the violin and the Bible lying side by side on the table before the minister, and expressed his surprise at such an incongruous sight. The minister replied that the fiddle would not hurt the Bible, or the Bible the fiddle. But by and by this cause of offence was removed, as the minister one Sabbath on returning from church, seized the fiddle, broke it on his knee, and threw the fragments into the fire. He was asked the cause of this proceeding, when he replied that the Evil One intruded on him in the pulpit, by bringing some popular air to his remembrance, and that he was determined he would leave him no excuse for a similar temptation in the future.” 

Niel_Gow_-_Violinist_and_composer illo4
1787 portrait of violinist Niel Gow by Sir Henry Raeburn. The Fifth String by John Phillip Tousa. Note the devil in the rear

“Mr Hugh was succeeded by a Mr Sutherland, one of whom it might be said that he was not known for "muckle ill or muckle good." He was succeeded by a man of a different stamp, namely, Mr Archibald Cook. It would be a piece of presumption on my part to attempt to say a single word regarding the character of a man so widely known and so universally respected and esteemed as Mr Cook. He needs no encomium from my humble pen. He was a man of deep, fervent piety. He was one that lived near his Master, and of a tender conscience, and his ministry was much blessed and much sought after. He was a determined enemy to all manner of loose living, and the sin of unchastity was one which his very soul hated. It was during his ministry that the writer came on this mortal scene, and he was the one who performed the ceremony of christening me. He was much missed and mourned when he left Berriedale and went to Bruan, where he was equally blessed and respected.”

My Comments:
  • The violin has been associated with the devil in Western culture for millennia. In ancient Greek culture musical instruments were often associated with deities. One famous Italian violinist Panganini, of the nineteenth century, was said to have sold his soul to the devil and had many devilish tales associated with him.
  • In Scotland, from the seventeenth century, violin music was associated with dancing and the devil and thus disapproved of by religious leaders. One of ‘The Men’ at Badbea, the much loved and followed John Badbea Sutherland, had a great fear of evil and wrote many letters exhorting his followers to live plain and humble lives. He wrote in Feb 28 1840 “Oh to have a true desire implanted in the reins of the heart to get sin crucified, to get the right eye plucked out and the right hand cut off. The evil heart is full of evil weeds” and “it is good to get our idols spoiled.”
  • At Scottish weddings where it was usual to make merry while the violin was played, sometimes a church leader or ‘Session’ elder would be in attendance to make sure there were no excesses of gaiety. 
Zam-381 Rev George Davidson Latheron 1840s
  •  According to the Berriedale church website, the minister before Archibald Cook was the Rev George Davidson one of the men pictured here.
  • More information about Archibald Cook, including one of his sermons, can be found in Ministers and Men in the Far North by the Rev Alexander Auld, Olrig, 1869 at 
29 1 1880 NE (Article XI) part A1 copy

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mail Coach at the Berriedale Braes - Article X - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part C

Article X written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 15 January 1880 – Part C


“There was a good inn here [Berriedale] at this time, occupied by John Dow, a good landlord, and a kind obliging neighbour. There was also the mail coach carrying Her Majesty's mail, and having Angus Mackay, with his scarlet cloak, a guard, the sound of whose horn, as he approached Berriedale from either direction, was familiar to the people of Berriedale.”

Mail coach in a thunderstorm Gutenberg Mail coach 1804 Gutenberg files

“The road leading to and from Berriedale is very steep, and is called "Berriedale Braes" and it took a very steady hand to guide the coach in such sudden turns as that right below the graveyard, and also at the smithy, where the least false step would cause destruction to both man and beast. Coming from the west, turning in at the end of the bridge is very dangerous. Here on one occasion the driver lost control of his horses, when the coach came into violent contact with the parapet, overturning the coach, and causing the death of the driver.”

Berriedale Braes Hairpin bends at Berriedale
Berriedale Braes looking south. This is the same turn or hairpin bend, right below the old graveyard, that Alexander Gunn refers to. Berriedale Braes looking north. The road has been upgraded countless times but is still a steep climb and descent. The old Berriedale graveyard can be seen upper right just above the hairpin bend.

“Angus Mackay was well known and much respected by the travelling public, and many a weary pedestrian did Angus carry gratis on the sly. When spoken to on the subject by his superiors, his reply was "that he could not pass an old man or a bonny lass without giving them a lift." Angus was very much respected, and universally regretted when he retired from public life. But the days of red coats and mail coaches are past and gone, and so is the inn at Berriedale, where many a traveller found good and comfortable entertainment and cheer. There is nothing stronger than a cup of tea or coffee now between Dunbeath and Helmsdale, a distance of sixteen miles, with a long and dreary road, on a stormy winter day.”

The last mail coach leaving Thurso in 1873

My Comments: 

The first mail coach between Inverness and Thurso ran on 15 July 1819. Pulled by two horses, it left Inverness at 6am and was due into Thurso at 7.30am the next morning although it was often late. 
Berriedale in 1944

Geograph photographer Jim Bain comments on the Berriedale Braes:

The A9 is one of only two roads into Caithness and the other way is much longer and single track for much of its length. The railway is an alternative but not much used. At Berriedale the A9 is forced to drop around 150 metres from the moor and climb back up again inside a distance of 2 km. This photo shows the hairpin bend on the north side of the Berriedale Braes and looks out to the southern side of the dale. 

Whilst it is now much modified from the original layout especially down on the dale floor it is still a major obstacle for all heavily laden vehicles particularly coaches and heavy goods vehicles with a long steep drops to the dale floor to keep everybody alert. Note the emergency gravel traps on the southern side. There are none on this side. Taken from the old cemetery.

The following extract gives an idea of the time John Dow was Innkeeper at Berriedale.

John Dow The mail 1803
John O Groat Journal January 29 1841

A mail coach stopping at a way-side inn.
15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part cc 15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part cd

Friday, July 3, 2015

Langwell Strath and Berriedale shore - Article X - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part B

Article X written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 15 January 1880 – Part B

Langwell to Uagbeg map_0001
Langwell Strath from Langwell to Ouagbeg. John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland, 1832

Langwell Water Valley
Langwell Water Valley. Google Earth

“There was a meal mill at Langwell, and fine fertile fields capable of raising all kinds of crops in abundance. The Borgue of Langwell lay on the opposite side of the river; further up on the same side is Badaskerry. Opposite it stands Turnal, whose last tenant was a man of the name of George Gunn. Behind Langwell, is a fine tract of plantation, where I earned my first wages, engaged in planting this hillside, where I was paid at the rate of fourpence per day. After leaving Langwell, and passing Turnal, the traveller passes several fine haughs, once the habitation of a happy and industrious people, and then he reaches Brae-na-heglash. The ruins of a chapel is found here, from which the place derives its name. Further up the Strath is Ault-na-bea, or the "witchie burn," and at the extreme end, and adjoining the march between Sutherland and Caithness, is Uag of Berriedale. This is a distance of about ten miles from Berriedale, in a northerly direction, and all this distance was once inhabited, and the fertile haughs cultivated, and yielding splendid crops. 

Both straths were covered over with a thick copse of native birch, hazel rowan tree, sauch and alder, which imparted a very pleasing aspect to the landscape. But such a state of matters did not please the folk at Auchastle, and orders were issued to have the wood cut down, which of course was done, only a tree left here and there, giving the Straths a cold and barren appearance in comparison with what they previously had.”

Ruined cottage above Langwell  Brae-n-h-Eaglais Braigh-na-h-Eaglaise
Ruined cottage at Brae-n-h-Eaglais Braigh-na-h-Eaglaise
Langwell Water 3 In the Langwell Water Valley
Langwell Water Valley Langwell Water Valley
Ruined Cottage of Wag Aultibea from the South West
Ruins of settlement at Wag aka Ouagbeg Autibea from the south west. An old deserted estate cottage.

“At Berriedale there was a good fishing, the boats numbering thirteen. They landed and cured their fish for the most part at the pier at the back of the castle. But Mr James Horne took it in his head to have a salmon fishing there, and as a matter of course the herring fishing had to give way to the salmon fishing. Newport was next tried for the herring fishing, but the place was not suitable, and was discontinued, and this branch of industry, which afforded means of employment to a great many on the estate, and was the means of circulating a considerable amount of money yearly in the district, was abolished to gratify the whim of one individual.”

T02886 Berriedale shore
Berrydale 1820 William Daniell showing herring fishing activities. Berriedale old shore cottages before restoration
Old saw mill at Berriedale on Mill Road Turnal Burn
Old mill at Mill Road, Berriedale. This mill was originally built as a meal mill and converted to a saw mill at a later date

Turnal Burn
My Comments:
The Gaelic names of places have various spellings
  • Brae-na-heglash, Brae na-h-Eaglais
  • Aultnabea, Aultibea
  • Uagbeg, Wag or Uag of Berriedale
  • Borgue of Langwell
  • Badaskerry I think is Cnoc Bad Asgaraidh
  • A haugh is a riverside meadow.
Alexander Gunn continues his lament for the Clearances of the land at the whim of a few individuals. For Gunn every small settlement or place of a few cottages was not only a place that grew crops in abundance – but was a place that sustained real families and friends. Gunn’s own family were cleared from Badbea for no apparent reason. So the haughs aren’t just beautiful meadows by the river but deserted homelands, cleared by estate owners and their managers. And over again Gunn publicly names the proprietors - Sinclair, J Horne and D Horne - who inflicted their ‘transformation by eviction’ schemes on people who had been settled in areas for generations, causing them to be scattered far and wide. While many commentators suggest the croft farming was not sustainable anyway, as it turned out neither were the sheep farming ventures that caused so much hardship. And really, it was the cruel and heartless attitudes and actions of the landed proprietors that were, and are still, deeply controversial.

Alexander Gunn’s father John Gunn was the miller at Ousdale which closed after Auchencraig was cleared. He next became miller at the Berriedale mill for a few years – the mill was originally built as a meal mill and was converted to a saw mill at a later date – before he was moved on.

I am particularly interested in Ouagbeg as my great, great grandfather John McLeod was shown on his 1822 marriage record as being a shepherd in Ouagbeg. He went on to Rumsdale to manage the large ‘sheep walk’ there for forty years.

The development of the salmon industry by Donald Horne has a modern twist. At some point in the 1840s, after clearing the herring business out and changing to salmon fishing, Horne built some fisherman’s cottages and an ice house at Berriedale. From here the salmon were packed in ice and shipped to London. The old shore cottages have recently been restored by the Landmark Trust and are available for hire.

The Berriedale Shore Cottages restored by The Landmark Trust

The photos I have gathered from that wonderful site Geograph show the present day remnants of tracks, stone walls, old houses - all now deserted landscapes. In this overcrowded world of ours now such landscapes may seem picturesque and desirable but the stories of how they got like that are anything but, and are worth remembering.

15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part bb 15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part ca 15 1 1880 NE (Article X) part cb
1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B