Friday, October 30, 2015

The Miller of Berriedale - George Fraser - A Supplementary Chapter – Part A

The article The Miller of Berriedale was written by “Onlooker” in reply to Mills and Millers by “A Native of Badbea”. As it gives such an interesting description of George Fraser (who was still alive at the time of writing) and a little bit about his wife Bell, I have decided to include it in this series of Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea and Neighbourhood.

It was printed in the Northern Ensign on 4 March 1880. The letter is so long I will blog it in Part A and Part B.

To The Editor of the Northern Ensign

SIR: - I last week’s Ensign “A Native of Badbea” gives a brief sketch of George Fraser, the miller of Berriedale. Natives of the dear old place – famous for its natural grandeur, and the Swiss-like beauty of its scenery – who are readers of the Northern Ensign, cannot fail to be deeply interested in the graphic, historical, geographical, and pleasing biographical “Recollections” which have graced its pages of late, from the fertile pen of this ancient “Badbeaite.” For my own part I have to say that I have been exceedingly interested in these articles. They have, moreover, to a large degree been very instructive. The writer’s chaste reference to a near relative of my own showed me that he can compress many facts in a few well-chosen sentences. But to write the history of the “Miller of Berriedale” and not to introduce any reference to Bell, the miller’s wife does seem matter for grave astonishment, and a seeming want of gallantry on the part of the “historian.” I hope it may not appear invidious if I should, in the following brief notice, seek to supplement what has already been given of the miller’s history, with a few personal recollections of the man, and a kindly word or two about his wife Bell.

Through forty years of faithful service, of unswerving honesty, and almost, I may add, of stern integrity, has George Fraser reigned a little king in his sphere at Berriedale – a man of great physical proportions, possessed of strong mental qualities, stout-hearted enough at times when he “opened-fire” on some poor unfortunate soul who, by laziness, or perhaps through the unpardonable sin of whispering in the Gaelic tongue to a fellow workman, had thereby excited his ire – and nothing opened the floodgates of his wrathful indignation more than when he came upon any of his workmen indulging in idleness, smoking, or, above and beyond all else, chatting in Gaelic. Nothing seemed to be more obnoxious to his notions of “good manners” and “honesty” than for his men to drop the English and begin to speak in what, to him, was the unknown tongue. Then was the time to “stand by for squalls.” The Miller’s invectives, at such a supreme moment, were none of the choicest. They were sufficiently pungent to make the hairs stand on end upon the head of everybody within earshot, and liable to be affected by strong expressions. During one of these vocal storms at the mill, I have seen the truant youths of old Berriedale flying in all directions, like chaff from the thrashing floor. These volleys came forth spontaneously, roundly, and in successive detonations loud enough to be heard above the grinding stones of the mill, or the hissing saw as it cuts its way through the beech log on the bench.

Bishops Lydeard Mill - Meal Floor Bishops Lydeard Mill - Spur Wheel and Wallower
Bishops Lydeard Mill - Meal Floor Bishops Lydeard Mill - Spur Wheel and Wallower

Nevertheless, George Fraser, on the whole, was a kind-hearted man. His wrathful moods were shortlived, and burned quickly out in their unique fierceness. Beneath a rough surface was a large, warm heart that glowed with kindness and encouragement, especially to the young and rising generation around him. “His bark was aye waur than his bite.” George was neither a smoker nor a snuffer. I well remember, though it is many years ago, of often looking up the portentous inscription on the lintel of his work-shop and mill doors – “No smoking allowed here,” and woe-betide the luckless wight who dared to infringe on the stern orders by lighting his “cutty” within reading distance. His only safety and peace of mind lay in his heels. Although an abstainer from tobacco and snuff, George was by no means a good Templar: on the contrary, he had all his life long a strong predilection for the “national beverage,” and the hearty style with which he was wont to toss over his glass at the old inn table was one of the incidents of his life to be ever remembered by those who have witnessed such a customary event, followed by a smack of relish and a loud “guffaw” of laughter bursting up from his broad, open chest, which made roof and rafter ring, and might be re-echoed by hill and valley.

To Be Continued.

A Merry Meeting Geikes image electric scotland

My Comments:
  • There is some query about this mill being a meal mill and/or a saw mill but I wonder if the comments about the noise of the grinding stones and the hissing saw suggest that it was used as both – is this possible? The old maps call it a ‘Corn and Saw Mill.’
Golspie Mill stones
Old mill stones at the Golspie Mill
  • The No Smoking Rules seem to me to possibly be associated with safety as much as anything else. I have included a couple of photos of the workings of other mills and it is clear that a great deal of the ‘machinery’ was wooden. A fire in the interior of a mill would have been disastrous for anyone inside. Sparks in the dry chaff would also be very dangerous.
  • Noting the wooden working parts, floors and walls of the mill explains also why George’s skill as a joiner (he calls himself a carpenter in the 1861 census) were so useful.
  • George Fraser married Isabella Wink of Elgin in Latheron on 28 November 1832. Correction: In my previous blog I quoted Roydhouse who wrote that George Fraser married Isabella Wink in Moray – that seems to be incorrect. The marriage record says they were married in Latheron.
  • There were two daughters of the marriage. Margaret married Andrew Logan and they migrated to New Zealand c.1865. Betty married James Sinclair, master-mason of Berriedale. James Sinclair was the informant at the deaths of both George and Bell.

George Fraser 1 George Fraser 2
George Fraser 3 George Fraser 4

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