Archive for ‘Aberdeenshire’

October 8, 2019

The Power of Scotland

May 28, 2019

You can’t be a doctor you are a women: Scotland’s first women physicians

Men only medical lecture Glasgow

In ancient and early civilisations women physicians were accepted within their communities to practise healing but when medicine was professionalised through university degrees women found themselves excluded and their practical expertise scorned. Universities were for centuries exclusively male institutions of learning. The first chair of medicine at any university in the British Isles was introduced in Scotland, at Aberdeen’s King’s College, in 1497.

All kinds of obstacles were placed before young women attempting to enter the medical profession. Initially denied admittance to lectures, they were then tholled in some circumstances and confronted by male anger and hostility, sometime violence.

When eventually in the 19thc century women endeavoured to set up their own medical training facilities they faced reluctance from some male lecturers to provide classes. Undeterred these women stuck to their principles that women should have the opportunity to study and practise medicine in Britain.

By the eighteenth century attitudes towards female medics elsewhere in Europe were more enlightened.

Dorothea Erxleben was the first European women to be granted a decree to practise as a physician in Europe, in 1754. This was in Prussia. It took a century and a half for Scotland to produce its first graduate woman doctor, Marion Gilchrist from Bothwell in 1894.

Dr Marion Gilchrist

In England the London School of Medicine for Women was set up in 1874, its prime mover being the overbearing figure of Sophia Jex-Blake, and in 1876 a highly controversial Act of Parliament afforded females the right to gain access to the medical profession. Opponents of this Act included many women who thought themselves too feeble and inferior to the male species to cope with any professional career including medicine. Although Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Act she was staunchly opposed to any rights for women, not any that infringed on hers you understand.  

This Act meant women could now practice in the UK but not graduate in medicine here, kowtowing to those misogynist strongholds – British universities. British females were obliged to complete their studies at enlightened foreign universities. The first woman to be registered as a practising physician in the UK was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1859. From Bristol in England she took her degree at Geneva Medical College (incidentally she was also the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.) Blackwell has a fascinating history and I urge you to read about her life.

A substantial number of women had their ambition to practise medicine thwarted by prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. When in the later 19th century Edinburgh’s prestigious medical school opened its lecture room doors to female students it still denied them completion of their courses so Jex-Blake replicated the school of medicine for women in London with a similar one in the Scottish capital in 1886. The women behind it were known as the Edinburgh Seven and comprised of Blake; Isabel Thorne ; Emily Bovell; Edith Pechey , Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Mary Anderson.This small body was representative of a larger body of women equally determined to break through the male-dominated profession and offer help to people and communities in desperate need of medical assistance.

Agnes Henderson from Aberdeen lived in grand Devanha House along with her parents, fifteen siblings, several horses and a kangaroo. The Hendersons were progressive people; her father supported and campaigned for the right of women to study medicine at Edinburgh and Agnes came to know and befriended Sophia Jex-Blake but in one of those disconnects that affects people Agnes’ father, William Henderson, a Lord Provost in Aberdeen, did not extend his support to his own daughter’s ambitions.

However Agnes Henderson was her own woman, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and took her LRCPE and LRCSE – Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – a means of becoming registered with the General Medical Council for those prevented from taking the straightforward route through university medical schools.

Despite her top qualifications Agnes was unable to practise as a doctor in Scotland so this bright young woman took her brilliance to the Continent; to Brussels and Vienna and became a member of the Royal College of Dublin. From there she went to India where her wealthy father had funded a clinic in Nagpur (Bombay.) Agnes decided she would like to run it and so at the age of 53 Dr Agnes sailed to India. One reason behind her decision might have been a ban on women Catholics practising medicine (until 1936) and she had converted to Catholicism while in Ireland.

Many of the women who fought the system to practise medicine were driven by what they witnessed of the appalling conditions women and children in particular lived in through the Victorian era. Women, especially poor women, were oppressed by child-bearing – denied information and access to family planning, to abortion, to safe childbirth by the indifference of society they were at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of social and medical care and wages. As bad as life was for men it was worse for women and children.

Dr Agnes Henderson of the Mure Memorial Hospital

It is still the case that in parts of the world women are denied the health care they desperately need because of gender discrimination. So it was when Agnes went to India. She worked to employ her medical skills to help women and girls and at the same time spoke out against the white slave trade that exploited so many females. For her service to medicine and missionary activities in India Agnes Henderson was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.

Britain’s pioneering women doctors were often active in other areas of social improvement such as the women’s suffrage movement. Agnes was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, was also active in the movement and the pair along with Jane Taylour (Taylor) travelled to Orkney and Shetland to promote women’s suffrage there.

The British Empire created opportunities for early women doctors to practise. India also attracted Dr Isabella Macdonald Macdonald from Arbroath who graduated as a medical doctor and pharmacist in 1888 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Another who used her skills to develop health facilities for women in India was Margaret Ida Balfour. She was born in Edinburgh, her mother a Blaikie from the prominent family of Aberdeen Blaikies who were industrialists and one a Lord Provost. A year after completing her qualification as a physician at Edinburgh in 1891 Margaret Balfour travelled to India, to Ludhiana, and within two years she had helped create a medical school for women. Margaret Balfour spent her working life in India in roles that included assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals in Punjab and Chief Medical Officer of the Women’s Medical Service.  She, too, was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal for public service in India, in 1920.

Mary Anderson mentioned above as one of the Edinburgh Seven came from Boyndie in Banffshire in northeast Scotland. She, like Agnes, thwarted by the male stranglehold over medicine in Scotland went abroad to complete her studies – in Mary’s case to Paris after Edinburgh. She was forty-two when she completed her medical doctorate in France; her thesis was on mitral stenosis (heart disease) which disproportionately affected women. Mary Anderson went on to become a senior physician at the New Hospital for Women in London.

Flora Murray from Dumfries was another early Scottish woman doctor and in common with others who fought for the right to study and qualify she was very active in the women’s suffrage movement – in her case that included tending suffragettes forcibly fed in prison.  

The story of Dr Elsie Inglis is better-known. Born into a Scottish family in India in 1864 she studied at Edinburgh’s School of Medicine. She, too, was politically active and a supporter of women’s suffrage and advocate for social and political improvements in society in general.

Elsie Inglis went on to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee during the Great War which made it possible for women to become involved in the war. Elsie Inglis worked in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. It is there in Serbia she made the greatest impact, developing its health care institutions and was responsible for reducing the incidence of typhus. For that she was recognised there with the Order of the White Eagle (first class) and a memorial fountain in Mladenovac.

I’ve selected a handful of Scotland’s early women doctors who succeeded against the odds to push the boundaries that restricted smart and ambitious women in this country but two that must be included before I wind up are the sisters Grace and Martha Cadell.

The Cadell sisters were involved in Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh group but were thrown out of the course for being over-attentive to a patient and breaching Jex-Brake’s hard-and-fast rules. The Cadells challenged Jex-Blake through the courts and won, damaging the Edinburgh School’s reputation. Then they along with Elsie Inglis formed the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women – and prevented Jex-Blake from getting involved in it – soon after Jex-Blake’s own school closed down, in 1898.

In 1892 women eventually obtained the right to study at Scottish universities and Edinburgh born Jessie MacLaren MacGregor became one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University having begun her studies at Jex-Blake’s school. She was evidently extremely intelligent and highly qualified and she embarked on her medical career providing care for women and children in the capital, and to its working class women and their families in particular. Tragically Jessie MacGregor was only 43 when she died of acute cerebral meningitis in 1906 at Denver, Colorado in the USA where she had been working.  

Finally a word on Dr Mary Esslemont. She was a giant of the medical profession. Born in Aberdeen in 1891, her mother had studied medicine in those years when women were denied the ability to graduate but worked in her later years alongside Mary. Mary’s own career illustrated the backwardness of misogyny that denied women like her the opportunity to apply their skills to health and welfare throughout centuries of gender discrimination. Like so many women doctors, Mary Esslemont provided essential care to the poorest in society, and to the travelling community who spent time in Aberdeen. She was involved in establishing the NHS (the only woman on the BMA committee in talks with Bevan), was an assistant medical officer in Yorkshire, promoted family planning and free contraception, was a popular and enterprising general practitioner in Aberdeen – introducing child-centred practices from around the world to the city’s communities.

Being a feminist and determined woman seeking equality in the 19th century was a whole lot harder than it is today. There is still misogyny and now a different kind of gender politics which some see as threatening women from a different perspective. That’s the future. I deal in history.  

May 8, 2019

Poor Lexy Campbell, Lord Byron and the man who could raise the dead

Lexy Campbell was very young when she caught Lord Byron’s eye on a visit to his former nurse, Agnes Gray, in the village of Woodside, close to Aberdeen. Agnes and her husband, Alexander Melvin, lived in a first floor flat at 177 Barron Street, its back to the old turnpike road to Inverurie, as was the tradition. Following his visit the tenement was tagged ‘Byron Hall.’

A young George Gordon, Lord Byron, admirer of Lexy Campbell

I don’t know when that was but reckon she was around fourteen or fifteen, ten years younger than Byron; known in Aberdeen by his mother’s family name, George Gordon.

Lexy, Alexandrina Campbell was five foot three, fair with light brown hair and hazel eyes with a little mole on her right cheek. She lived near Agnes in Printfield, in the flat of a ‘very respectable spinster, called Nelly Calder. It was subsequently reported that poor Lexy’s reputation suffered following the attentions of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whose reputation is well-known but on this occasion he appears to have been innocent – well fairly innocent for she might have been tainted by the whiff of scandal that always hung about the poet and ‘Poor Lexy lost caste by this affair, and her subsequent history was unfortunate.’

When she was 30 years old Lexy Campbell was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) Australia along with 99 other prisoners from Britain on the ship, Harmony. Why? Well, it all started like this –

Lexy Campbell became the housekeeper, tutor to his children and perhaps mistress of the notorious Black Malcolm Gillespie. Dark haired with a dark complexion Gillespie was a gauger, an exciseman – employed by the government to collect taxes, for the purposes of this account we’re concerned with the whisky tax imposed on the spirit in Scotland by the British government eager to control the smuggling of foreign spirits and illegally produced whisky in Scotland – illegal in the sense of not paying the government’s tax. Originally from Dunblane, Gillespie worked in various districts including Collieston, Stonehaven and later went to live at Crombie Cottage at Skene, west of Aberdeen. He was a very successful gauger and for 28 years he was a scourge of local whisky smugglers, well-informed and knowledgeable on the whereabouts of stills and routes taken by smugglers. He’s credited with seizing 410 gallons on a single occasion and over his time as an exciseman he captured 22,751 gallons of spirits, 165 horses and 82 carts.

It appears the government didn’t pay their gaugers very much for Gillespie felt the need to make a bit more besides to maintain the lifestyle he thought should be his. But I’ll come back to that.

One of Black Gillespie’s adversaries was entrepreneur whisky man, John Duff – a prolific whisky maker and smuggler. One day with 40 gallons of whisky concealed in his house ready to be carted to Aberdeen for sale he was dismayed to spot the approach of the exciseman, Gillespie. Time was too short to shift the barrels of whisky so Duff frantically thought how he might prevent Gillespie searching his property.

Landseer’s romantic image of an illicit whisky still

This was a time when itinerant craftsmen took their skills around the countryside rather than folk going to them in a village or town. It so happened that a travelling tailor was at Duff’s house ‘whipping the cat’ i.e. engaged on making up clothes there.

This particular tailor was a Highlander although that probably has little relevance to his insatiable thirst for whisky. And no, he wasn’t persuaded to drink 40 gallons of the stuff in the time it took Gillespie to arrive.

‘There’s Gillespie, we maun try to save the drink. Will ye render assistance, Tam?’ John Duff asked the tailor.

The tailor agreed to help Duff when he was promised he would be paid as much whisky as he could drink in a week but on discovering the plan involved him playing dead Tam the tailor was less enthusiastic for as a Highlander he had sufficient respect for religion to worry about playing with fate and death.

However, he agreed and lay down on the long table with a napkin tied under his chin and a cloth spread over his face – every inch a corpse.

Gillespie marched straight into the house and was surprised to be greeted by a body laid out in front of the window and Duff and his relatives seated about in a state of mourning – their faces wet with tears and bibles in their hands as they sang a Psalm.

‘Oh, Mr Gillespie! Ye hae come to a hoose o’ mourin’. As ye see, we hae just been askin’ Divine aid to sustain us in this sair dispensation, but come inbye! Come inbye,’ invited Duff.

The two men talked a little about the dead man who Duff claimed was his brother newly returned home from America. Gillespie was well-informed about the people in the community he policed and was certain Duff had no brother. Suspicious, he enquired what the man had died from. Duff was dumfoundered and thinking fast thought it best to say it was something highly infectious to encourage Gillespie to leave but his mind went blank. He dropped his gaze and his eyes fell on the open bible in his lap. And he read the first words he saw.

‘’Nae ither than leprosy,’ he said.

‘Leprosy, did you say?’ cried an astounded Gillespie.

The gauger was more suspicious than ever and asked to see the corpse. Duff warned him he was taking his life in his hands but to go ahead.

Gillespie stepped up, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s much danger, for I am not very liable to infection.’ He lifted the cloth and was sure he recognised the man laid out who didn’t look very dead or diseased. It came to him that this was none other than the wandering and often drunken tailor he had seen weeks earlier. From his pocket he took out his snuff box and taking a pinch of the stuff pushed it into the nostrils of the ‘streekit’ man. The corpse sneezed, again and again, and sprung to his feet, tearing off the cloths around his face while the Duff family looked on aghast and Gillespie smiled.

‘What the devil gar’d ye stap yer langnailed fingers up my nose?’ demanded the risen corpse.

‘Man, I think you have reason to be thankful that I did so. If I had not, our friend here might have buried you alive. If you ever again fall a victim to the leprosy you now know the cure. Just try the effects of a pickle snuff,’ said Gillespie.

Then turning to Duff he told him he had just witnessed one of those miracles he read about in the bible.’ As for raising the dead Gillespie insisted he couldn’t do that but had come close, ‘for I have at least raised the ninth part of one… you thought the body only remained, and that the spirit was fled: you see you are mistaken. After such an error I could never pardon myself if I departed without searching the house. It is not known what further discoveries I may make. I may even find spirits absent from the body.’

And so it was that John Duff’s store of whisky spirit was discovered and confiscated and Duff dealt with by the courts which put a stop to his whisky smuggling career.

When it came to his turn Gillespie’s own court appearances must have raised a wry smile and a slàinte mhath or two around the straths and townships of Aberdeenshire.

In 1827 Malcolm Gillespie and George Skene Edwards were charged with forgery to obtain money. On his arrest Gillespie uttered, ‘Good God, I am a gone man. You must allow me to disappear and this will be all settled.’ He appealed to have the charges removed which was rich given his ruthless approach to those he apprehended. Before his arrest when he became aware the game was up on his forgeries he told one witness against him, ‘for God’s sake good woman, don’t do that, for, if the fiscal got notice of that, I might as well cut myself in pieces, or blow out my brains.’

The man with a craving for high living, or as high as a gauger cum fraudster could expect, who forged Treasury bills went on to try to defraud two insurance companies.

The home he and Lexy lived in, Crombie Cottage, he insured for £530 with one insurer and £300 with another. One or two others shared the house and all were implicated in Gillespie’s plot to burn down the house and claim insurance money on it. Gillespie took himself off to Edinburgh, presumably to give himself an alibi, leaving the others to arrange the fire by smearing the furniture with rosin, inflammable solid pine resin, jamming more resin between roof joists, pouring turpentine around and sprinkling gunpowder over surfaces. Coils of dry ropes were brought into the house to help it burn and one part of the thatch was cut to prevent a single area go up in flames.  On the night of 21 February 1827 all the participants took a dram of whisky then Lexy took a lit candle into the cellar and set it alight while another ignited the dry ropes.  

It was an elaborate plan and it worked. The house burnt down good and proper or in Gillespie’s words it was ‘genteelly done.’

On 30 April Gillespie was apprehended for his claim on the insurance companies. He, Lexy and the rest were held in Aberdeen’s tolbooth. By a majority verdict Gillespie was declared guilty of forgery and told to expect no mercy in this world. He bowed to both bench and jury. Gillespie retained hopes of a reprieve to near the end for he was much respected as guardian of the law of taxation by many a landed gentleman and MP but when that didn’t come the gauger became introspect and dejected. At the last moment he admitted his forgeries, protesting he acted honestly. He was executed on 16 November. When he stepped up to the scaffold he looked towards the west – supposedly towards Skene. Following his hanging he was cut down and transported back to Skene and buried there.  

The type of convict ship Lexy sailed on to Van Diemen’s Land

As he had been convicted on the capital offence of forgery Gillespie was not tried on fire-raising to defraud. His accomplices faced that charge but it was accepted by the court that Gillespie had been behind the plan so they were shown leniency – seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land – which is why Byron’s early love, fair Lexy Campbell, at the age of thirty found herself in the company of 99 others on a convict ship, Harmony, bound for Australia on 9 September 1828. Her fate there? I don’t know.

PS Thanks to John and Lesley who responded to the initial blog with links to information about Lexy. I had read previously she was from Ross-shire (like me) but dismissed this as it mentioned a place called Haries (which doesn’t exist) however it must mean Harris in the Western Isles which is in Easter Ross.

I didn’t find out much more about Lexy post-transportation other than she was described as well-behaved and married a man called Bryan. Grateful to readers and https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/about-convict-lives/about-convict-lives for this information and anymore is welcomed.

April 27, 2019

Oh look there’s a creepy guy in camouflage breeks with a mighty big weapon picking on a little unarmed roe deer

Good mixed shooting was once the boast of Aberdeenshire – perhaps it still is – bagging pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, mallard, golden eye, pochard, tufted duck, ring-dove, brown hare, rabbit, curlew, golden plover, green plover, dunlin, little stint, purple sandpiper, turnstone, redshank, moorhen, water rail and coot were given as examples of the sheer variety of species taken on a typical shoot in an article in the Aberdeen and District British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1934. Several of those birds mentioned are now struggling for survival.

Over millennia changing climate patterns in association with human interference have led to the disappearance of Scotland’s elk, the extinction of the auroch, an ox (Bos primigenius) which looked similar to our Highland cattle, lynx, arctic fox, bear and wolf as human habitation encroached on habitats and animals regarded as dangerous or simply fair game were hunted to extinction.  Wolves, greatly feared by folk in the countryside and probably with good reason, found a source of meat fairly easy to access were human corpses which drove some communities to bury their dead offshore if an island was handy. Obviously eating already dead people was preferable to attacking the living and not unlike human practices of picking up bits of animal corpses from butchers and supermarkets though without producing payment, of course. In 1427 a law was introduced in Scotland for three annual wolf hunts during spring and summer to help control/wipe out the creatures at a time that would be most effective – when they were producing and nursing young.

Several claims exist over when and where Scotland’s last wolf was slain. One killed at Kirkmichael in Banffshire in 1644 was certainly not it. Another last wolf turned up in Moray in the middle of the 18th century and that might have been the sole survivor till then but it’s likely the odd one hung on after this.

Capercaillie

There were herds of little wild horses roaming Aberdeenshire’s forests into the 16th century. Evidence found at Birse suggested they were likely crosses with domestic horse – similar to the state of our wildcats. How many true wildcats remain is open to speculation but surely scant few. As with practically every other species these lovely creatures have suffered vicious persecution by farmers, gamekeepers, estate workers and the usual suspects that take potshots at anything that moves. It is said the last wildcat on Donside was killed at Alford in 1862 and on Deeside at Glentanar in 1875 but it’s possible they weren’t all wiped out or that some migrated to the area, perhaps from Speyside, for there have been sightings of what may be the wildcat in more recent years.

Gamekeepers have earned a bad reputation as exterminators of wildlife – with good cause. We are all familiar with the curious coincidences of our raptors meeting their deaths over shooting estates while the courts continue to treat such crimes as minor, failing to impose deterrent sentences on those found guilty of illegal killings.

While about the worst that happens to an estate employee convicted of illegal killings is exposure in the press for a day or two life was once far more comfortable for them. Dealing with vermin aka wildlife was part of the job. In 1863-4 a single Donside estate keeper killed 30 polecats. Thirty years later it was extinct in the area. Pine martens were likewise persecuted and are now protected because of their scarcity. There are pine martens around today, including in Ross-shire but they aren’t common.

Outrage over the vast numbers of mountain hares being shot on sporting estates has been met with insistence from estate interests that there are plenty stocks of hares. That they cannot come up with reliable figures for their claims is worrying but not surprising. That Scottish government ministers consort with sporting interests is also worrying but not surprising.

The encroachment of human habitation and agriculture, the drainage of muirs and removal of large tracts of ancient forests force out birds and animals dependent on those habitats.  Vestiges of the old Caledonian forests can be found at Glentanar, Ballochbuie, Deeside and Speyside but what remains is a mere trace of the woodlands that once provided areas of safety and food for our wildlife pushing them upland to less suitable territory which lack food and reduce the chance of survival.  

The red squirrel has become a great focus for protection to the extent that its grey cousins are eradicated by local authorities around the country – the same local authorities who removed trees used by red squirrels so reducing their chances of survival. However, it isn’t so long ago the red squirrel had the same reputation as the grey and was regarded as a pest – rats with long bushy tails and a popular target for the pot-shotter. On the subject of rats the black rat notorious for spreading the plague in the early middle ages having arrived on ships from the East was in time ousted by the common brown rat another immigrant, this time from Asia in the 18th century.

Rats have proven themselves pretty damn indestructible although many people wish they weren’t. It’s interesting that there aren’t tweedy types who go on rat shoots on a Sunday afternoon but choose something a whole lot prettier and a whole lot less capable of escaping their shotguns.

The capercaillie is/was fairly spectacular with its dramatic plumage provided welcome variety in rural parts of Scotland but they have all but gone. The menace of an armed idiot has all but wiped them out.  Indeed they succeeded in the 18th century for the capercaillie vanished around 1760 and was reintroduced from Sweden in 1837. By the 1960s these large birds were numerous again and said to be common. I saw one once – in the 1970s near the Cairn o’ Mount. It might have been one of the last ones in the area for they sure aren’t common now. Their future here is on a very shoogly peg.

The extension of farming, grazing sheep and cattle and the prevalence of mono-culture grouse estates that treated every other animal and bird as vermin have been instrumental in stripping away so much of Scotland’s native wild species. We are all too well aware of the targeting of birds of prey over these areas with lots of tall tales circulating about the extent of lamb predation and insistence that high numbers of disappearing raptors over sporting estates is purely coincidental. Rambling types around Alford are only too familiar with aggressive heavies employed on Aberdeenshire estates, other similarly run estates are available, – same gun-toting, shooting jacketed gamies. Ordinary folk out to enjoy the freedom to roam in their own country are most definitely dissuaded from doing just that by these bullies and heaven help any wildlife straying over their property.

I’ve written before about the insatiable desire of types who crave to destroy life. My mother used to tell of fox cubs being bred near Dingwall which were transported down to England and released for fox hunting there – putting to bed the myth that the hunt was to eliminate local vermin. Another myth is that hobby shooters eat or sell to butchers and hotels what they kill. Regulations have all but stopped the hotel trade and huge numbers of birds and animals killed for the sheer hell of it are either dumped or buried.

Rabbits – they are everywhere, mostly dead on our roads, were imported from southeast Europe. In Aberdeen they were first released at the links near Donmouth. Another import this time from Asia is the exotic-looking pheasant. It proved so popular they were shot out of existence and had to be reintroduced

Some creatures turned up accidentally on these shores such as the tropical loggerhead turtle that was picked up in salmon nets at Pennan in 1861. It never made it home, somewhere equally dangerous but farther south, and numbers are now dwindling.  The purple heron that flew to Donmouth in 1872 never made it home either to southern Europe, Africa or Asia but was inevitably shot. A glossy ibis discovered at Fraserburgh was so strikingly beautiful it was also shot. It along with an American killdeer plover, which doesn’t kill deer but got its name from its call, ended their days as curiosities in Aberdeen University’s Natural History Museum – post execution.

Nowadays our Scottish golden eagles are pretty rare and exotic. In the ten years between 1776 and 1786 seventy of them were killed in five Deeside parishes alone, severely affecting their numbers. As for the white-tailed eagle, Scotland’s largest bird of prey, it was once numerous but determined persecution of the bird resulted in its extinction in the 20th century. It is being reintroduced, to the chagrin of some farmers.   Another recently reintroduced species is the red kite which has become a  fairly familiar sight over Donside and once more around Conon Bridge following a disgraceful episode in 2015 when a large number of raptors including kites were killed, many poisoned, around there. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to watch six of them soar over Strathpeffer. Meanwhile those criminals responsible for targeting them are keeping a low profile. The species once so common around Scotland were all killed off by the end of the 19th century. Peregrine falcons and ravens were all once very common and hen harriers, too, eventually succumbing to shooting and trapping.

It is not only large birds of prey which have fallen victim to the determined farmer, gamekeeper and the odd brainless wonder. Smaller birds have suffered from being labelled as farm pests. In 1930, Aberdeen County Council was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of them including: 65,000 rooks, 3,563 eggs and 601 nests; 7,442 wood pigeons, plus eggs and nests; 1,992 house sparrows and 704 eggs; 1,108 starlings; 897 gulls and eggs along with 1,500 brown hares and everyone’s favourite – although not Aberdeen County Council’s evidently – 175 red squirrels.

Britain’s biggest rookery was at Hatton Castle near Turriff where some 6,000 nests were counted in old beech trees and coniferous plantations during the 1960s. Each year around 10,000 of them were shot by local farmers. In the 1960s the curlew, lapwings, skylarks were very common and winter visitor, the snow bunting. I still see the odd one but not flocks. I spotted a curlew recently near Kemnay but those I used to see near Alford have disappeared. There’s a skylark hereabouts. Singular.

 Before 1850 the starling was a non-breeding migrant in Aberdeenshire, one of our rare visitors. It liked what it saw in beautiful Aberdeenshire and stayed – actually because the spread of land cultivation inadvertently provided food for starlings such as daddy long legs and grass beetles which meant they did well and so their numbers increased to the extent that within a decade it was classified as a pest. Their numbers have since declined greatly with modern methods of farming. Our farmers plough right up to fences and dykes leaving virtually no green areas to provide habitat and food for birds and small animals. With the disappearance of the starling goes their spectacular mesmeric murmurations.

Whether it was on land, in trees, in the rivers or seas animals and birds have been hunted down and systematically killed for profit, for food, for fun and for fats. Think fat think whales and seals. Northeast Scotland dominated the 19th century whaling industry in the Greenland Sea and Davis Straits – a dangerous business for all involved. On October 13, 1830 the Aberdeen Journal lamented the decline of whaling and loss of whaling vessels from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen and Aberdeen’s final whaling ship sailed in 1865. Of course that wasn’t the end of whaling, as we know.

A century later there was talk about the disappearance of mountain hares from our higher hills. This was a blow for the sportsman and woman who made do with blasting at the less prestigious brown hare, still numerous on the muirs. Despite being not much valued they were shot in their thousands. Social media has provided reminders that wildlife are not taken in penny numbers with pictures of trucks loaded up with mountain hare carcasses being taken off hillsides for disposal by sporting estate workers who say numbers of the mountain hare are high but have produced no credible evidence to back up their claims.

Our native red deer have consistently been popular with those who take to the hills for a spot of blood sport. In the 1960s around 10% of the red deer population was shot annually i.e. c.2000. There have been conflicting estimates of their numbers and the best means of controlling what are thriving numbers of them.

Roe deer are tiny animals; very timid. They are popular with creepy men in camouflage breeks, wax jackets and flat caps armed with huge guns that look like they’ve done a heap of damage in Iraq or Afghanistan.  In case you were wondering the little roe deer are unarmed.

The encroachment of humans, the adaption of the countryside to provide economic value will always put pressure on our wildlife. Add to this blend hobby hunters and climate change and the mix becomes toxic. Survival for so many species has been easy/tricky/impossible depending on so many circumstances but human interference arguably poses the most deadly threat to nature and that will only increase.

February 20, 2019

America – The Land of Opportunity – and death. The tragic case of Peter Adam.


All life lies in graveyards and it follows that sometimes an inscription intrigues and tantalises those of us who like nothing better than to wander around a cemetery with a camera and notebook.

There is a reference in Aberdeen’s Allenvale cemetery to ‘Poor Kate.’ What lies behind this poignant phrase I have no idea but when I came across another equally mysterious reference last weekend in Monymusk graveyard in Aberdeenshire I was tempted to probe behind its veiled reference.

ERECTED
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
PETER ADAM, MASON
SON OF GEORGE ADAM, DALMADILLY
WHO MYSTERIOUSLY MET HIS DEATH
ON HIS WAY HOME FROM FOX ISLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1872
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF AGE
AND LIES BURIED
AT PALMER MASS,US
AMERICA

The inscription goes on to include Peter’s parents – George and Isabella Reid and at the base of the gravestone is a message I can’t quite manage to decipher –

Peter Adams folks stone

Homeward with longing heart he sped To parents, Brothers, Sisters dear, Home, Home unto himself he said,   ?     ?     ?     not Home in Heaven so near

What happened to Peter was this 

He had sailed to America with his friend, Peter Murray, as a twenty-two year old to work there at his trade of stonemason. Stonemasons from across Scotland and specially from the northeast frequently spent months or years in America and Canada where their skills were sought for the rush of building taking place during the years of mass immigration of the 19th century and when the north American stone industry was only getting underway and in need of experienced and skilled labour. Many Scottish migrant masons settled in Canada and America like fellow-Scot, stonemason Donald MacLeod who was part of that mass exodus of the cleared and voluntary of the 19th century and who wrote about the brutality of the United Kingdom’s treatment of Highland Scots. Peter Adam was not forced abroad but chose to go for a time and this rather serious young man planned to return home to his sweetheart.

In September 1872 Peter, carrying the 500 dollars (equivalent to over $10,000 today) he had saved over the two years working in America, set out for Boston to catch a steamer back to Britain. The evening boat from Rockland, Maine was late in arriving and Peter missed his ship to Liverpool so he took himself off to a money broker’s office where he changed all but $200 dollars into gold which he hid about his person then boarded the night express train to New York to catch a ship home from there. Then he disappeared.

A week later some 80 miles west of Boston, at the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, a body was pulled from the Quaboag River. The victim had been stabbed in the neck and his jugular vein had been severed. Discovered sewn into an undershirt were two gold sovereigns and a gold watch and in a wallet in a trouser pocket was $7 along with a luggage receipt and train ticket to New York. The man’s boots had been cut open from top to foot – obviously when he was being robbed.

Peter Murray who had worked with the other Peter at Fox Island heard of the river corpse  which had been subsequently buried as an unknown person and suspecting it was his friend, Peter Adam, he insisted the body be exhumed and was able to confirm his identity. It was presumed the Peter Adam had been followed from the money broker’s office to the train where he hid his gold in his boots. He was then attacked, murdered, his boots cut open, the gold stolen and Peter thrown into the river from one of many rail bridges en route.

Quaboag River

Quaboag River

Peter Murray sent what remained of Peter Adam’s money, a mere $150 (perhaps $50 had been taken to bury him though that seems excessive) to the young man’s father back in Aberdeenshire.

Where the Peters were working was an area known as Vinalhaven and islands known collectively as Fox Islands. The granite they produced was called Fox Island. In 1872 over 600 men were employed quarrying and cutting granite on the Fox Islands for major building works primarily in Washington, Boston and New York.

The Granites of Maine (1907)

Granite areas of Maine c. 1907

Granite quarrying was a major industry and employer – in addition to Scots employed many of its workers came from Ireland and they formed the first Fenian Circle in Maine dedicated to liberating Ireland ‘from the yoke of England and for the establishment of a free and independent government on Irish soil.’ 

Donald MacLeod mentioned earlier, a stonemason from Strathnaver in Sutherland, was also conscious of yokes – of class and he wrote about the Clearances and the impact on Highland Scots of the practices of the vicious and ruthless British ruling classes. I mean to come back to Donald in a future blog. His experiences were different from men such as  Adam and Murray who were enticed away from Scotland to provide vital service to the stone industry in north America by agents of American and Canadian quarriers and mason workshops. Some went for the adventure of visiting a different land; some went for the money to be made there. Peter Adam’s motives are not known; perhaps he was driven by a combination of the two. He certainly saved much of his earnings which would have established a solid monetary foundation for his impending marriage. He was no flighty, immature young man for he was described as serious, religious and sober and we know he was cognisant of the dangers and lawlessness around him in north American when he took the precaution of hiding his gold and cash when he began his journey home. Sadly he would never see his native Aberdeenshire again – his family or his fiancé. He was robbed and killed and the perpetrators got away with their horrible crime.

It is interesting that Peter’s family shied away from declaring that their son was brutally murdered instead they chose to be ambiguous as if shielding themselves from the terrible reality of his death and his memory from being tainted by such horrible association. They might have added the words of the parents of Kate in Allenvale when reflecting on her life – equally ambiguous but suggestive of something tragic in her life –‘Poor Kate’ – ‘Poor Peter.’

Peter Adam folks full stone

February 1, 2019

Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

This blog came about after I was contacted by a reader whose family were involved with kelp preparation in the Hebrides before being forced off their land to make a life elsewhere. What I knew about kelp could have been written on a postage stamp until I looked into it further. This is some of what I discovered.

Much of the glass going into windows in Britain’s better-off households, to protect them from the elements was, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly manufactured using kelp produced by the poorest of people in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Highland Scots engaged in this process from very young children to the elderly and infirm enjoyed none of the protection of glass forced as they were through circumstance to live outside among the rocks on the seashore during the kelp season; enduring all weather conditions and blasted by wind, rain and sea or baked under the hot sun on exposed isles and coasts. When crofters were labouring at the shore they were not looking after their crofts which provided their food and so these failed from lack of attention and in any case the seaweed they traditionally used to fertilize the land was needed to be burnt to make kelp.

kelp

Seaweed used to make kelp

Glass and that other major product of kelp, soap, were made using potash and soda produced from burned seaweed; it was also used in calico production, for bleaching, for iodine, for producing potassium alum (an agent in a host of industrial uses) and for fertilisers. Glass used for bottles and drinking glasses was less dependent on kelp than window glass up until the 1830s. That this important trade has been largely ignored by historians and economic historians is surely down to its location – rural Scotland (Wales and Ireland.) Sadly, historians and social commentators indulge their own prejudices which are passed on through their works which have shaped our knowledge of the past. There has been and still is an emphasis on urban employment over rural – urban = good and significant / rural = bad and trivial.

Kelp production contributed in no small measure to the UK’s economy, it became a valuable commodity and was a major source of employment in rural Scotland with around 60,000 involved in kelp production in the Hebrides and Orkney (a similar number in Ireland.) In any measure this is a large number of people dependent on an industry which was essential to the UK’s production of glass and soap – so much so stones were taken to beaches to encourage seaweed to grow on them. Of course essential as the kelp industry was its lynchpin, the kelpers, were ruthlessly exploited. 30 tons of seaweed was needed to produce 1 ton of kelp ash. Something in the region of 2,000 tons of kelp was produced annually in the western isles in the mid-later 18th century. A laird’s cut was around £21 per ton with local workers paid something under £2 per ton at best and 4d (4 pennies at the other end.)

What is kelp? Nowadays we refer to a type of seaweed as kelp but originally this was the name given to the alkali produced from burning seaweed. Hebridean lairds allocated their crofters a small portion of seashore when kelp production was at its height. In addition to working the land crofters and their families were put to work by their lairds producing kelp. Lairds paid their tenant crofters an annual amount for each ton of kelp and the sums paid reflected what was set by agents working for glass or soap manufacturers.

Kelping was heavy work which required many hands to cut, carry, spread to dry and burn the seaweed in stone kilns (filthy work which led to blindness among kelpers.) Kiln fires burned for about 8 hours to produce kelp, dark blue and oily, which then had to be cooled over weeks.

For crofters whose smallholdings were inland kelp production meant moving their whole family to the shore, perhaps many miles away from their homes so forcing them to live on the seashore where they laboured both day and night by torchlight. Men had to go to sea fishing during the only time available to them, in the dark, to feed their families otherwise attempting to live off the odd limpets or shellfish they could find. There are reports of people eating seaweed but they could not eat the weed they needed for kelp. Oatmeal was the staple diet of Scots but on islands where it might not be possible to grow oats, or in sufficient amounts, having this most basic foodstuff was dependent on the arrival of boats from the mainland. Then again meal wasn’t free and these people had no or virtually no cash because their landlords paid mainly in kind, with goods rather than money. To obtain meal people had to barter the little alternative food they had such as cattle or fish. Because kelp required a lot of hands to produce it families were encouraged to have more children which meant more mouths to feed which was difficult at the best of times but when the worst came families were desperate.

During the long years of the French and Napoleonic wars the British government slapped hefty import taxes on foreign goods and British manufacturing became dependent on home produced kelp so Highland lairds forced their tenants into its production. The Highlands’ youth were also in great demand by the British army because of their height and strength but those families who sacrificed their sons in the British crown’s and government’s wars discovered there was no reciprocation for as soon as the Napoleonic Wars ended the government lowered the tariff on foreign kelp with the result that imports of Barilla or Spanish kelp devastated Highland production and pushed already impoverished people to utter despair. Not everyone did badly, in fact some benefitted – the usual people – London speculators and soap manufacturers. Greed was the winner and if the people of the Hebrides had to survive eating the seaweed that once was in such demand then so be it. Reports of terrible starvation, of children with ribs jutting out and bulging eyes in emaciated faces seem not to have lost any greedy government minister or capitalist manufacturer a minutes sleep.

So there it was British manufacturers preferred foreign kelp or adopted a different type of ash made from salt. Islanders lost the little income they depended on and their lairds lost a source of income. Something had to give. Lairds gave the people away. Forced them out. Burnt them out of their homes so they couldn’t go back. Young and old were forced onto vessels heading for North America. Lairds wanted to empty the land of people so they could replace them with sheep. It’s strange how loyalty is so often a one-way street.

reginald george

Reginal George the big spender

One notorious laird who cleared islanders as if they were detritus was Reginald John James George, chief of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald, at Moidart and Benbecula. Old Etonian Reginald’s father had previously flogged off most of the Clan’s landholding while Reggie spent his time furthering the domination of Britain abroad. He wasn’t familiar with Scotland and had no understanding of his estate or its people. But in an effort to play the laird he did develop a penchant for tartanalia.

You might recall that post-Culloden those symbols of the Highlands – tartan and bagpipes -were banned in an effort to destroy the very way of life of Highlanders. Once the British army eventually abandoned hunting down Highlanders as a sport and when the British government was certain the Highlands had been well and truly crushed faux Highland chic was invented in cartoon form with the appearance of George IV in Edinburgh in 1822 resplendent in a pair of bright pink tights and a mini kilt. He was encouraged in this pantomime by Sir Walter Scott and various other hangers-on including our Etonian Reggie George. It was absentee landlords who finished the job begun by the crown and government in London to destroy traditional Highland communities bound by kinship. The cleansing of the Highlands and islands continued unabated so the resurgence of tartan was neither here nor there. Its specific context and role had been destroyed for good. Time to indulge in games and make-believe.

Reggie discovered he just adored the Highlands, in his Anglicised head. He didn’t live in the Highlands, of course. His home was in the south of England or abroad and but he remembered ‘his people’ in Moidart and Benbecula when it came to collecting their rents which he made sure he received in full irrespective of the extent ‘his people’ were starving to death. In the years of the kelp industry canny landlords based rents not on croft land value but the value of a tenant’s stretch of shore with its seaweed. Self-indulgent Reggie wasn’t doing so well on the cash front either, for he loved to mingle with the rich and powerful and found he had to spend to prove he was one of them. So, like his father, he burnt through his estate’s wealth and was forced to sell his lands in Scotland in 1838 to Gordon of Cluny. Within a year he tried to persuade Gordon to allow him to keep the estate while allowing the new owner take up the old debts and manage the property for he thought it would be lovely for him to spend the remainder of his days among his affectionately disposed tenantry, ‘whose forefathers and mine have ever been united by ties of no ordinary degree of mutual attachment.’

You couldn’t make this stuff up but with the aristocracy you don’t have to – they’re delusional every one. Reggie’s affectionate tenants on South Uist and Benbecula saw him for what he was a nasty and grasping man who cared nothing for them. When the possibility of Reggie living on Benbecula was broached concerns were raised over his safety from his ‘clansmen.’ Such was their regard for this waster.

The tenants fared no better with John Gordon of Cluny; not only considered to be the richest man in Britain but a thoroughly nasty piece of work and not one who accepted criticism. Gordon’s takeover of Reggie’s estate was part of a long game, for worthless as they were to him then he saw a profit eventually. His other landholdings included tracts in Aberdeenshire, Banff, Nairn and Midlothian as well as the Hebrides but by 1848 Cluny’s Hebridean investment was costing him as he had to pay out nearly £8,000 in famine relief to his wretched tenants.

Another nasty piece of work, Patrick Sellar, the brute and factor who enthusiastically carried out the instructions of George Granville Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth the Duke and Countess of Sutherland. He was the willing hand that carried out many Highland Clearances evicting thousands of families, burning their cottages and establishing large sheep farms. Evicted tenants resettled in coastal crofts were forced to learn to fish and process seaweed. He tried to buy Clan Ranald lands on South Uist, Benbecula and Barra for his employer.

These people were all of a kind. Callously indifferent to human suffering and voraciously greedy. In 1851 Gordon of Cluny began to forcibly evict all his tenants to rid himself of responsibility for providing them with basic relief and with the prospect that sheep would better augment his already obscene level of wealth.

kilns on orkney

Kelp kilns on Orkney

In August 1851 the folk of South Uist were forced to attend a meeting at Loch Boisdale and from there they were grabbed and manhandled onto Atlantic-bound boats like so much cattle by the laird’s lackeys – his factors, estate agents and police. Angus Johnstone was handcuffed and forced onto the ship. Others ran in all directions to find hiding places so desperate were they to stay at home. In one incident a man hid in an Arran boat and was protected by the ship’s master who threatened to ‘split the skull’ of the first man to board his boat. This man survived this particular sweep of people. Most of those who ran were hunted down by men and dogs and dragged onboard vessels. Girls of twelve and fourteen from Barra evaded their persecutors and so the ships sailed to North America without them but with the rest of the family onboard – perhaps to a new life or perhaps to succumb to plague or smallpox during the crossing.

The venerable John Gordon of Cluny was, of course, a scoundrel. His promises were worthless. He told tenants he would pay their passage to Quebec where they would be provided with jobs and land. Reluctantly he paid the ship fees when compelled to by the government but reneged on the guarantees of work and land. So the islanders who left Scotland impoverished found themselves in unfamiliar Canada with nothing. This was no isolated example.

A Canadian newspaper, the Dundas Warder, reported on 2 October 1851
‘We have been pained beyond measure for some time past, to witness in our streets so many unfortunate Highland emigrants, apparently destitute of any means of subsistence, and many of them sick from want and other attendant causes.’

The richest man in Britain was a barbarian who brought incalculable misery, desperation and death to Highland Scots. Add the fate of the cleared people of Scotland to all those other acts of cruelty imposed on helpless communities throughout the British Empire and the slave trade and you have a large slice of British history that is too often glossed over for there is reluctance in many quarters to accept the immense harm created by the most powerful elements in the UK to the most helpless around the world, not least within the British Isles.

Next time you spread toothpaste containing kelp on your toothbrush or sprinkle dried kelp on your salad spare a moment to think of the people whose lives were destroyed by exploitative landlords who forced them to produce kelp when it was worth big money and speculators and the government who threw them to the wolves.

An excellent source is: The Jaws of Sheep: The 1851 Hebridean Clearances of Gordon of Cluny. James A. Stewart, Jr.
Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Vol. 18/19 (1998/1999), pp. 205-226

It can be read online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557342?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Shore ownership under udal law in Orkney and Shetland

December 30, 2018

Jobs for the boys – trade unions for the few not the many in a caveman’s world

 

David Miliband’s obscenely large salary of £425,000 as president of International Rescue is never far from the headlines. Some people think it a bit rich that a former Labour Party politician who represented the working class constituency of South Shields should be milking it big time from a charity but according to Huffington Post UK, Miliband doesn’t just rely on his charity retainer but as a public speaker he commands up to £20,000 a pop. Oh, and in case you were feeling that poor David doesn’t get the remuneration he deserves this Labour man of the people has or has had several other roles with major organisations to boost that deep, deep pocket of his.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Miliband
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilateral_Commission

As usual I digress. This blog is not about lucky boy Miliband but high earners, mainly men, who represent people who can only enjoy such excessive remuneration in day dreams – oh, and are associated with the party which claims to represent the working class – the Labour Party. All of them lucky boys. Very lucky boys in a lucky boys’ world.

Trade unions might be seen as levers expected to iron out inequalities between men and women but they’ve been fiddling around, whistling, staring into the great blue yonder and rolling their eyes for around a hundred years. And are still at it.

In 2018 everyone was celebrating women winning the franchise a century before. Trade Unionists were saying – quite right, women deserve equality with us men. Saying. Not doing.

Women got the vote some innocents believe because of the sterling work they did filling in for men during the Great War (and not because the government was terrified of women returning to their militant activities that got under the skin of politicians before the war.) Certainly women had proved themselves to be useful as well as decorative. Well, strike me down guv’nor.

And once the war was over trade unions (male) demonstrated the extent of their support for working women by supporting the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act, 1919 which ensured that so-called dilution of skilled labour – i.e. women and unskilled men who took over industrial production between 1914 and 1918 was rectified – by chucking women out of their jobs.

It's a man's world in the land of trade unions
Men were in charge of trade unions. Women were expected to know their place.

An 1891 report on the increasing number of women workers concluded they were a threat to men’s employment – ‘an intolerable intrusion’ and ‘his (man’s) only chance of escape from the evil effects of their relentless sweep is to be found in directing and controlling them’ (women that is.)

Some men, perhaps understandably for there is no question male workers were cruelly exploited, spent not a little of their scandalously low earnings in bars –

‘Aberdeen factory workers toil on from morn till night for a beggarly wage of 6s and 7s a week, and in Dundee I found that mothers and their families went to the mills to earn equally miserable sums, while fathers compulsorily exercised their energies on the street and voluntarily in the public-house.’

Women were less inclined to put their drink habit before feeding their bairns and it did not go unnoticed that not a few of these men were in trade unions and ‘could have lifted a finger to help their wives and children by demanding better wages for women’ but didn’t.

Influential trade unionist Tom Mann in 1894 spoke of women workers as industrial slaves but despite such recognition trades unions largely ignored the plight of women workers. The excuse went something along the lines of men were too concerned with their own difficulties (to support the least protected of workers.) 

In 1919 Aberdeen Trades and Labour Council voted against equal pay for men and women teachers on grounds that women’s work was less valuable than men’s. And, anyhow, women needed less money than a man for invariably she only had herself to keep whereas a man had a family.

‘That was the only reason she received less wages,’ explained W. King.

I think King was, himself, a teacher. He went on to say that the 70% of women teachers were responsible for lowering the salaries of male teachers! It didn’t occur to the intellectually challenged Mr King that if he supported equal pay there would be no lowering of salaries.

Along with other Trades Councils, Aberdeen’s, failed women. In 1920 a well-attended meeting of Aberdeen women workers agreed women had no voice through the trade union movement.

Ten years later in 1930 women campaigned to be able to work in all aspects of boot and shoe manufacture and receive equal pay but they were beaten down by the union by 124 votes to 8. No ifs or buts in that vote.

Another decade on and Scottish women were still having to demand equal pay. In a classic case of shiftiness the unions said they weren’t able to establish the principle of equal pay for similar work but were directing their efforts towards that end. No hurry boys, take your time, won’t you.

Thirty years later —–in 1970 – 1970!! unions were still doggedly anti-women workers insisting that equal pay had to be negotiated between unions and employers. The pay gender pay gap meant around 25% lower incomes for women.

British women were among the lowest paid in western Europe but male-centred unions still regarded equality of pay for women as a threat to men’s (their own earnings.)

Another thirty years plus – nearer forty years later and women in Glasgow were still waiting redress for decades of under-payments. Other local authorities had paid up but the city controlled for decades by the Labour Party dragged its heels. Not just dragged its heels but spent millions of pounds of public money – I repeat £millions – fighting the women’s action through the courts.

When at long last Labour was kicked out of Glasgow by the SNP a great clamour was heard from Labour politicians up and down the UK in support of the underpaid women workers. Cynical and hypocritical? No question.

And most of today’s trade unions 100 plus years from their inception? – surely now women have found equality and opportunities to stick their fingers into the profitable pies of grossly outrageous salaries enjoyed by union leaders? Hardly at all, it seems. Well, what a surprise.

There are women union leaders. A few. The General Secretary of the TUC is a woman. Frances O’Grady enjoys a big Desperate Dan sized pie amounting to around £152,365. She is the TUC’s first female general secretary in 144 years. “We like to take our time,” she says. You can say that again.

Being in the national leadership of unions affiliated to the TUC has its perks. Below is a mere snapshot of a long list of General Secretaries, their pies and gender. 

Grahame Smith’s salary as General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress is not easy to find, impossible for me, but The Herald did have a piece that suggested he earned around £70,000 for his STUC stint plus remuneration from sitting on the boards of other government-linked organisations.
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16599644.stuc-general-secretary-in-row-over-extra-three-jobs-on-top-of-union-role/

Accord: led by Ged Nichols, a bloke although its membership is over 71% female (2015 fig.) 98% of Accord shop floor reps are women but higher up the union ladder only 15% of its regional officers are and a mere 4% of its national officers. Man at the top Ged Nichols earns c. £140,000.

ASLEF: General Secretary Mick Whelan struggles on a paltry pie of c. £118,000.

The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union is led by another man, Ronnie Draper

Road Transport Union General Secretary is Robert Monks

Airline pilots union BALPA has Brian Strutton in the pilot seat earning c. £140,000.

77% women make up the membership of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists but nailing the post of General Secretary is Mr Steve Jamieson.

The GMB union made up of 46% women is led by two blokes – Tim Roache and Paul Kenny who together earned £263,000 in 2016.

A whopping 78% of UNISON, the public Service Union, are women but two blessed men are in charge – Dave Prentis and President Gordon McKay. Prentis gets something in the region of £117,000. I tried to find McKay’s salary but UNISON’s website didn’t have that information. It did include a table of proposed salary structures for the plebs in the union with the highest as far as I could see around £42,000. Last year McKay spoke about the union’s success in raising the wages of members, ‘£33 a week makes a real difference in people’s lives,’ he said. It certainly does for those on the lowest pay grades. What’s £117,000 divided by 52? £200 a week is even better but that’s for the few not the many.

Untitled

‘A Woman’s Place is in the CWU’ – Communications Workers Union (CWU) claims according to its leaflet which features lots and lots of pictures of women members. The CWU is led by a bloke, Dave Ward

USDAW, the union of shop, distributive and allied workers based in England and with a membership that includes 58% women, is led by, you guessed it another bloke, Paddy Lillis. Is it just luck men hold these top positions?

Christine Blower of the English teacher union NUT gets a canny £142,000. Christine is a woman. That’s a lot of money. Not many teachers get close to that amount over their careers.

Unite union General Secretary is Len McCluskey. No idea what he earns. Can imagine.

‘More than half the female officers in Britain’s biggest union claim to have been bullied or sexually harassed by fellow officials or members in their workplaces, a leaked internal study has found.

The report about the treatment and working conditions of female representatives at Unite also concluded that a quarter of employed officers believe allegations of bullying were not handled well by the union when they were reported.

Titled Women Officers in Unite, the report cited an official who said she felt increasingly isolated at work because of male officials talking among themselves. “I have to sit among colleagues who refer to our secretaries as the girls … [They] think it is correct to refer to black people as coloured, talk about chairmen, refer to women as a piece of skirt,’ one female officer said.

The old-boys network is alive and kicking unfortunately in Unite, where it is who you know and where they come from that matters.’
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/02/unite-union-female-officers-bullying-harassment-internal-report
(2 October 2016)

Misogyny has always been part and parcel of the trade union movement and evidently still is.

Most trade unions are based in England. Here’s a Scottish one – the teachers’ union the EIS whose president is A WOMAN, Alison Thornton, which is right and proper given over 77% of teachers are female but the EIS spokesman never off the telly is its General Secretary, Larry Flanagan. Flanagan earns just shy of £100,000.

The trade unions have proved to be nice little earners for many male members and a lucrative career structure.

Irrespective of whether a union represents a mainly female work force the tendency has been and remains for a man to lead it. Union leadership tends to be a boy’s perk. Women’s earnings and working conditions have always been of secondary concern to the unions they pay into.

il_570xN.1506270871_a5xf[1]

Trade unions emerged to defend workers’ rights – to protect skills and standards and the delineation of work – for workers read male workers. Women’s skills were regarded as inferior to men’s even when they were comparable such as seamstress/tailor; domestic cook/chef. The skill involved in knitting garments is never seen as comparable to, say, joining two pieces of stick together to make a stool. During the world wars women proved their abilities were every bit as good as men’s but that made no difference to attitudes towards women and their earnings. Indeed the work carried out by women during the World Wars intensified male unionists suspicion of women in the workplace (they couldn’t really argue anymore that women diluted skills) and the male-dominated unions worked hand-in-glove with industry managements to ensure protection for male employees. For long women trade unionists were not exactly welcomed or taken seriously and isn’t that still the case according to the Guardian piece above?

In recent times it is claimed that whenever women enter what has been regarded as a male preserve pay levels tend to decline. Women have traditionally been equated with low pay – even when they stepped into ‘man’s work’ during the First World War munitions workers were paid less than promised and a century of trade unions has done little to eradicate this state of affairs. As far back as 1918 Gertrude Tuckwell, a trade unionist, said men’s and women’s interests are identical. Don’t think that message got across to many of her male comrades.

In 2013 the TUC sent out questionnaires on equality issues to all 54 TUC affiliated trade unions. Only 36 returned them such was their concern with equality. The TUC site that explained this had a link to further details on equality and unions but unfortunately the link doesn’t work.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-tuc/equality-issues/equality-audit/equality-audit-2014-improving-representation-and

Trade unions have been self-protective and paternalistic. They have been complicit in keeping women workers’ pay low and in creating jobs for the boys. Just like David Miliband with his eye-watering extravagant salary paid by a charity UK trade union leaders who talk about workers’ rights and negotiate pay claims for their members, the many, increasingly look like the few whose earnings are approaching stratospheric levels with most of them earning in excess of £100,000. And for trade union leaders read mainly male, mate.

Jobs for the boys. Surely is.

 

Me? I’ve always recommended joining a union and have been a member of the EIS and Unison (but I withdrew from paying the political levy to the Labour Party.)

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2018/04/03/if-all-men-are-born-free-how-is-it-that-all-women-are-born-slaves-trade-unions-and-womens-inequality

October 23, 2018

Against the grain: Scotland pays the English Exchequer

It was regarded as oppressive to Scotland – tax that is – the malt tax in particular was exercising minds over what was seen as the high-handed treatment of Scotland almost before the ink was dry on the Union agreement.

whiskey-still[1] - Copy

To pay for their war with France the English government had introduced a malt tax and when the Union was agreed Scotland was temporarily exempted from it.

Between 1713 and 1724 the malt tax was expected to be a temporary tax which was voted for or against annually. But it was imposed on Scotland ‘with great difficulty’ to the extent a ‘Scotch peer had moved in the other House to dissolve the Act of Union’ – and the vote was tight with 55 voting on each side of the proposition that the Union be dissolved.

Article 14 of the Treaty of Union of 1707 specified that no part of the UK would be burdened unfairly with duties but that due regard would be made to particular circumstances and ability to meet responsibilities. Yet only six years after the Union what had been the English parliament and renamed the British parliament did –

‘actually impose a heavy burden upon Scotland, without any regard to the circumstances of the case, viz. the inferiority of Scotch grain, or the ability of the people , in that part of the United Kingdom, to pay a tax, which in several places was nearly equal to the value of the raw article.’

In other words a tax was imposed on Scots farmers that amounted to almost the value of their crop of bear barley. Bear barley was the principle type of barley grown in Scotland because of its climate and soil conditions, to an extent, but it was not as productive or as valuable as barley grown in most of England.

Support for the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 to return the Catholic Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain was boosted by resentment over the London government’s high-handed treatment of Scotland and the crushing fist of the Hanoverian monarchy. That Hanoverian crushing fist was liberally applied to Highland Scots at Culloden and in the brutal aftermath with Hanoverian redcoats unremitting campaign of rape and slaughter when forts, roads and bridges were constructed throughout Highland Scotland to more effectively control and repress the population -which they did successfully.

With the Jacobite rebellion suppressed and voices questioning Scotland’s treatment within the Union bludgeoned into silence the malt tax could be imposed without fear. In 1725 some consideration was paid to Scotland’s problems paying the tax and differential taxes were temporarily introduced with Scotland paying 3d to England’s 6d on a bushel of malt. But sixty years on arguments over the government’s unfair treatment of Scotland raged on.

Scots famers resisted the tax by not informing excise officers they were growing barley and refusing them admission to their grain lofts. And for most of them they had the support of local justices of the peace.  The tax led to riots and their brutal suppression which resulted in deaths and transportations. 

The Scots clergy, however, who had been exempted from all taxes on what was grown in their glebes (land attached to manses on which various crops were grown to provide food and income for ministers and perhaps local people) and who had never been charged any malt tax before volunteered to pay nominal sums to prevent more unrest among their countrymen and women. This squirming hypocrisy was seen as betraying the interests of Scotland – that driven by their hatred of Catholicism they were content to support the Protestant Hanoverian monarchy – brought in to keep the Catholic Stuarts out of power.

Not many Scots were in favour of the Union – not that they had any say in the matter and from its inception it was apparent Scotland far from being an equal partner would be subordinated to larger England whose parliament became the Union parliament with all of its traditions retained as if it was still English.

Over half a century after the imposition of the malt tax complaints raged on that Scots were effectively paying twice as much tax as the English.

Here’s a flavour from the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser in 1867 –

‘A certain class of English newspaper writers, and of Englishmen generally, can never be made to understand why Scotsmen should ever speak of Scottish rights, or have any notion beyond being regarded as a somewhat insignificant appendage to England.’

The author referred to the Union as a source of tension between Scotland and England and the levying on taxes imposed by an English-biased parliament. Obviously before the Union Scotland had its taxes and England its own taxes so everyone was happy, or not.

From the Union taxation was decided by what was still regarded as fundamentally the English parliament and the author went on to state that London treated Scotland as if she –

‘were a conquered country, in so far as it (Scotland) has been heavier taxed than the other divisions of the larger and wealthier neighbour.’

The issue of the malt tax still figured among complaints – the annual tax that had become a permanent tax with its detrimental impact on Scotland (and Ireland) – more so than in England. The argument was now less on the quality and value of barley grown in each of the nations than on what barley, or rather its malt, was made into.

Scots and Irish people when not drinking water – remembering that drinking water was often polluted before piped supplies made it into homes (for many that was not until the 20th century) so they drank whisky. In England beer was the national drink. It wasn’t that people drank all day and night but those were the national drinks (tea, coffee and cocoa were expensive luxury imports and the majority of people could not afford to buy them.)

Malt in Scotland and Ireland was used to produce malt spirits – whisky. This didn’t happen in England. Malt spirits or whisky was therefore being taxed by the Exchequer through the malt tax which given whisky’s importance in the diet of Scots and Irish penalised them far more than English consumers.

The consumption of malt and grain spirits in Scotland, England and Ireland for the year ending 31st December 1866 and the revenue derived from them through the duties paid were –

In England 9,515,040 proof gallons; pop c 20 million
In Scotland 7,691,760 proof gallons; pop c 3 million
In Ireland 5,910,061 proof gallons pop c 6 million

The rates of duty were similar in all three countries i.e. 10 shillings per proof gallon making the amount of duty paid in England £4,757,520; in Scotland £3,845,879; in Ireland £2,955,031.

Taking the population of each country into account this worked out per head of population per gallon tax as –

England paid tax of 4 shillings 9 penny
Scotland paid tax of £1- 5 shillings 1 penny.
Ireland paid tax of 10 shillings

Scots were paying far more per head of population than the English. It was said that the English people would not have stood to be treated so unfairly as to pay greater tax than the people of Scotland and Ireland.

‘That any nation should be made to pay at the rate of £1.5.1 a head on a single article of consumption is unparalleled in the annals of taxation, and no Legislature in the world ever made such an unfair and unjust use of its power as has the Parliament of the United Kingdom.’

What would English people say if they were compelled to pay a tax of £1 a head for their ale? They would not stand for it and nor should they. But Scots were being unjustly taxed and their complaints fell on deaf ears inside the parliament in London.

It was argued at the time that if the English were taxed on their national beverage – beer – at the same rate Scots were taxed on their national beverage whisky – high duties on tea and sugar and other commodities which made them too expensive for the majority of the population could be reduced to make them affordable.

From England the argument came that it was a matter of choice what Scots drank and they could drink beer so their complaint of being unfairly taxed did not stand scrutiny. This failed to tackle the question of why one drink in one part of the Union was targeted to be highly taxed while another was not, notably England’s drink.

Given it was the Scottish beverage that was taxed at a higher rate and the tax collected in Scotland in proportion to the population was greater then Scotland should be relieved of the burden of taxation on other taxes, it was argued. Instead Scots paid the penalty of their whisky being targeted for high taxation and were forced to pay the same rate for taxes which were made common across the Union – in essence they were being dealt a double whammy tax obligation.

‘Were the case reversed it would amount to this, that the people of England would pay £20,000,000 more of taxation than they do, and the people of Scotland would pay not more than two fifths of what they at present contribute to the national revenue. This would amount to £1 per head saving in Scotland imposed through the special whisky taxation.’

Suppose, it was asked, that England was a whisky nation and Scotland a beer nation would it be likely the duty on whisky would have been 10 shillings a gallon and no duty on malt liquors i.e. beer? The opposite would be the case it was argued – ‘Englishmen would never have submitted to be taxed £1 a head higher than Scotsmen.’

Why do Scots submit to such gross injustice?

‘We are sometimes taunted as a nation, by English writers, for our inadequate provision for the poor, but the additional taxation wrung from us by a Parliament in which there are nearly eight Englishmen for every one Scotsman would double that provision, and leave the whole of the eight hundred thousand pounds assessed for that purpose in the pockets of ratepayers.’

There were Scots MPs in the London parliament but they were accused of not being much interested in sticking up for Scotland unlike many Irish MPs who argued in the interests of their country. On the subject of the unfair taxation laws Scots MPs were largely silent.

High taxation of malt spirits led to illicit distillation – making their national drink affordable to Scots and so criminalised them.

We no longer have a malt tax as such but whisky is still taxed at high levels – currently around 76% of the price of a bottle of whisky is tax that goes to the Exchequer in London. Every day the London government collects around £9 million from spirit drinkers in the UK.

I suppose the government in London saw it could get away with the malt/whisky tax paid by Scots to enhance the services and infrastructure around London and so when North Sea oil and gas came along in Scottish waters it was a lesson well learned that the Scots could be ripped off without their MPs complaining. And they were right.

July 13, 2018

The Good Migrant: Scots who lived by their brains

Handsome, funny, cultured, considerate, sociable, well-read – his library contained over 1000 books mainly in Greek and Latin, a few volumes in French and Italian and lots in Dutch; only two were in the English language – a folio Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1610 and a King James Bible. Learned, definitely, and gifted with a superb memory. That was Gilbert Jack – once regarded as young iconoclast from Aberdeen. He died aged 50 of a stroke which paralysed him down one side and left him unable to speak during the remaining two months of his life. His death came as a great blow to the academic world for Gilbert Jack aka Jacchaeus, long-time professor at Leyden University, was an inspirational teacher of Aristotelian metaphysics.

Now I don’t begin to understand metaphysics. The more I’ve tried the greater my brain hurts but I think, but don’t take my word for it, it is a branch of philosophy that explores what lies beyond the here and now of the world- what’s out there but invisible to us; beyond the physical existence – such as God. The word metaphysics comes from the Greek metá meaning beyond or after and physiká, physics. In the 18th century the giant of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, argued against metaphysics, dismissing it as sophistry and illusion.

Gilbert Jack metaphysicsI don’t remember when I came across Gilbert Jack of Aberdeen. His name came up when I was scraning for something else. And not only his name but countless names of fellow Scots who became major figures in universities across Europe in the study of philosophy and medicine. I’ve thrown in medicine because the development of medicine in Scotland grew out of the close interaction between universities and colleges across Scotland and abroad and in any case Gilbert Jack was also an MD, having taken his medical degree at Leyden at the same time he was teaching there; his dissertation was on epilepsy – De Epilepsia.

The importance attached to education in Scotland led to this small nation punching well above its weight in the supply of talent to the world. In the centuries before the Scottish Enlightenment there was no less exchange of intellectual ideas across Europe which included Scots. Born in Aberdeen c1578 Gilbert Jack attended Aberdeen Grammar School before going to Aberdeen’s second university, Marischal College. He appears to have continued his studies at St Andrews before going on to Herborn in Hesse and Helmstädt in Lower Saxony and finally on 25 May 1603 to Leyden, the Netherland’s oldest university .

Within a year of arriving at Leyden, this brilliant intellect, a young iconoclast from Aberdeen, he’s been described as, was made professor of philosophy and logic and for the next 25 years he dominated Aristotelian metaphysics at the university (in his own time Aristotle’s ideas were not themselves described as metaphysics but first philosophy.) However, some of his ideas proved too challenging for Leyden and he was temporarily suspended from the university in 1619 for promoting the notion of predestination rather than free will – but I could be wrong.

Jack wrote up his ideas and proved as able an author as teacher. His first published works came out as 9 volumes in 1612: Institutiones Physicae, Juventutis Lugdunensis Studiis potissimum dicatae which sold well and republished followed by Primae Philosophiae Institutiones and Institutiones Medicae. These works provided textbooks for students elsewhere studying metaphysics and his fame spread. He was sought out and befriended by fellow academics and was invited to take up the chair in moral philosophy at Oxford University but he turned down the offer, preferring to stay at Leyden where he was content and where he had done the bulk of his work.

Today, Gilbert Jack would be regarded as a high flyer; celebrated by his contemporaries as a fine scholar, a grafter, popular lecturer and all-round good man. When he died on 17 April 1628 he left a widow and ten children to mourn him along with the world of academia. His fellow professor at Leyden, Adolf van Vorst, gave his funeral oration in Latin in which he praised his colleague for his contribution to philosophy, his attachment to Leyden and for being a thoroughly nice person.

Sadly forgotten in Aberdeen he was, nonetheless, celebrated as a philosopher and physician in the Netherlands; its most famous metaphysicians. Gilbert Jack was but one of so many Scots who went abroad and contributed to the banks of knowledge and learning enjoyed by succeeding generations but who are largely unknown at home here in Scotland: William Makdowell or MacDowell from Roxburgh, professor of philosophy at Groningen; Mark Duncan, also Roxburgh at Saumur in France; John Murdison at Leiden; Walter Donaldson a graduate of King’s in Aberdeen who went to Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Sedan; fellow Aberdonian Duncan Liddell, mathematician, astronomer and physician educated at the Grammar School followed by King’s College then built his life at Gdansk in Polish Prussia and Brandenburg University in Frankfurt with fellow Scot, John Craig, professor of logic and maths (and briefly physician to James VI); Andrew Melville from Baldovy by Montrose at Geneva; Adam Steuart professor of philosophy at Saumur, Sedan and Leiden; John Cameron, theologian at Saumur, Bergerac, Bordeaux and Montauban; Robert Baron, Professor of Theology Marischal – one of the six Aberdeen Doctors – influences in the dispute between supporters of the National Covenant and Episcopacy and who taught at Marischal and King’s universities whose Metaphysica generalis was posthumously published in 1654. A mere handful of examples from a vast haul of home-nurtured talent which grew here and abroad.

Punching above our weight is what Scotland has done consistently over hundreds of years. Of course much of that has been to do with people escaping poverty and using education as a means of improving their lives. Scots became migrants, many to the Continent, though not exclusively by any means, and benefitted from and contributed to the invaluable exchange of ideas once possible before passport barriers were erected. Just as well these bright people lived when they did and not in today’s febrile, hostile, anti-migrant world.

April 28, 2018

Abram the Hebrew and sons of bitches: the Close Brethren in Peterhead

 

 

article-2268926-17237FFE000005DC-590_634x497[1]

Big Jim Taylor in the centre

 

“Get up. You look like nothing. Sit down! You never had it like this before. Eric! Awake? You awake there? Well get up and perform Eric, get up. Get up Eric. Get up! Eric get up. Sit down. You never had it like this before. You stupid people here, what do you think I am? I’m a professor. Here you. I’m not finished with you yet. You nut! Get up. I’m not finished with you yet. Well I’ll tell you this. Don’t you mention any cars any more, remember? So what the hell are you? Skunk. You never had it like this before. That son of a bitch. I very careful using the word son of a bitch because I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know you have to be careful about it. Is everything alright with your bowels? You never had it so good. Stand up Mr. Gardiner. I would like to introduce you to Nicodemus. And will you answer the question that I ask you Nicodemus? You couldn’t. Who are you? Who are you?”

A rant from evangelist and cult leader John Taylor Jr recorded at a meeting of the Exclusive or Close Brethren in Aberdeen in 1970.

Taylor, Big Jim as he was known, wasn’t keen on being interviewed by the press but on one occasion he invited in a journalist with the words:

“I suppose I had better put my pants on. But, quite honestly, I find it more comfortable just sitting in my underpants.”

None of the above is what you expect from a leader of a strict religious sect but then this was a man who attracted adoration and derision in equal measures – well, perhaps not equal. His religious sect lent itself to salacious headlines and it’s easy to laugh at the ridiculous nature of his ardent following but there was also tragedy as a result of the fanaticism of this cult.

This was a religious following that championed whisky as “a creature of God and the Saints” which should be taken liberally as was demonstrated by the main evangelist himself, James Taylor.

James Taylor, Big Jim, the Elect Vessel with status above Jesus Christ,  a Detroit businessman living in Brooklyn, New York whose words were taken as the Truth once he became the boss of the Exclusive or Close Brethren.

The Brethren hit the headlines over bizarre and scandalous behaviour in the 1960s but it was around thirty years later I came across people still talking about them in their stronghold of Peterhead in northeast Scotland where children of sect members had to be removed from classrooms when other pupils were watching educational videos or television because these were the work of Satan. I admit some weren’t too good but that was going a bit far and all hell was let loose at the mention of Halloween. Brethren members were not permitted to read fiction, listen to the radio, eat in restaurants where the ‘unclean’ also ate and of, course, cinema was a definite no-go area.

I had heard of ill-feeling among trawler crews with Brethren skippers from northeast fishing villages and towns refusing to allow non-Brethren, the unclean, crew share a table with Brethren which caused all kinds of practical difficulties  in small boats. Such rigid rules applied not only to eating and drinking with outsiders but within families with husbands and wives and their children forced to dine separately. Where women were members they were still designated as inferior to men and subject to distinct rules. If a non-Brethren woman married into the sect, she would be accepted, albeit with constraints, but her family were outcasts – unable to attend the wedding and prevented from giving their children wedding presents. In fact weddings were more like wham, bang, thank you ma’am as they were confined to the bare bones formal procedure with no reception and no honeymoon. And on the other side of life if a cult member died no unbeliever relative, no matter how close, could attend the funeral and vice versa no cult member could go to a wife’s, parents’ or sibling’s funeral if they were not part of the Brethren. The hurt and ill-feeling caused by this zealous following was intense.

For years I forgot about them until a blog I did on another strange religious cult, the Buchanites, attracted a comment on Facebook from someone who once lived in Peterhead and mentioned the Close Brethren in relation to the Buchanites. For the geographically-challenged Peterhead is in an area of northeast Scotland known as Buchan.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. This is what my Facebook contact wrote:

“I find the whole cult thing both horrible and hilarious but when I was a kid in Peterhead in the early 60s we were all rocked by the great schism in the Brethren when their boss arrived from the States and started laying down strict new rules. The chosen couldn’t have anything to do with anyone who did not follow these rules so families were split, workplaces became uncomfortable and there were nasty side effects like people taking their cats, dogs, budgies etc to the vet to be put down because Big Jim Taylor had forbidden them to have pets, along with tv and alcohol. It was a cult but there was a funny side because they were allowed a regular bottle of whisky or whatever for “medicinal” purposes and local joiners got extra business building cabinets to hide tv sets in. Big Jim was eventually hounded out when he was found to be living in sin with his housekeeper (headline news in the nationals) but a lot of damage had been done by then.”

In 1964 Jim Taylor, Big Jim or JT – his names are numerous – was in Aberdeen fronting a rally in the Music Hall. It attracted much interest from the press because of the cult’s notoriety and socially destructive behaviour. As my Facebook friend mentioned the edict which drew attention to this odd and fanatical cult and created headlines in the local press was the instruction that members get rid of their pets as love for them would interfere with their absolute devotion to God, “Save all your love for your religion” was how Big Jim expressed it, according to reports.

Then in 1965 denials were issued that any such edict existed. However, a vet in Peterhead was quoted in the press saying he refused to ‘put down’ any more cats, dogs and every other sort of animal owned by members of the Close Brethren in the town – what he described as “Commandment killings.” All kinds of excuses were offered, he said, and when questioned a few admitted being members of the Close Brethren with others denying they were. Clearly telling the truth wasn’t high up in the priorities of their religious bigotry. Interestingly nearby in Fraserburgh the demanded cull of wee fluffy creatures was ignored by Brethren members.

This was a world-wide sect but within several of the fishing villages of Buchan and Banffshire there were plenty willing to be led by the nose by a big-mouthed bigot and bully whose ideas of morality owed more to booze than the bible.

In 1967 he declared shops should shut on Saturdays which meant a big loss of income for shopkeepers as Saturday was the busiest shopping day of the week. Members were torn between making a living and their faith in Big Jim who insisted weekends were to be confined to worship and recalcitrant shopkeepers were pressurised to shut up shop.

In January of 1968 the cult was still making headlines. A fishing boat skipper from Peterhead was put out of the Brethren for hiring two unbelievers onto his crew. There simply weren’t enough sect members to crew every boat and men were hired from places outside the Brethren stronghold. As mentioned above many non-Brethren trawlermen weren’t too happy sailing for Brethren skippers because of the enforced separations on tiny boats which made life unnatural and awkward. There was also talk of strict Brethren skippers entertaining women in their cabins when the boats were in dock which was seen as rank hypocrisy. At the same time younger cult members resisted some of JT’s edicts and a breakaway group formed which defied pet euthanasia, the forbidding of eating with friends and family, dismissing some of the rules as pointless and far from being Christian were more like Nazism.

When people question how ordinary folk can become caught up in extremist movements they need only look as far as Buchan to see the extent of obedience to one perceived as a leader with gullible people willing to comply with outrageous behaviour.

A three-day convention was held in Peterhead in the summer of 1968 with Big Jim driven into town in a white car. The town was filled with vehicles and people; men dressed in smart suits and women wearing fancy hats. Around 1,000 members attended in the Brethren’s lavishly decorated temple – a hall in Constitution Street. Sect members poured in from home and abroad, men taking precedence in the circle of seats at the front with women, who weren’t allowed to participate in debates, consigned to the back of the hall.

Women were encouraged to wear their hair long but tucked up under scarves or hats when outside the home. They were also instructed to dress modestly, although being Peterhead, expensively. Make-up was frowned upon. As for men there were fewer restrictions place on them which surprises no-one.

At Peterhead the split in the movement was discussed along with problems created by ‘mixed marriages.’ Not much detail got out although JT insisted he was happy to talk to the press but locals objected. One local member, Raymond Grugeon, is quoted as confirming there would be no communication with the press, “No, definitely not” he said. And who could blame him since earlier press stories included some far-out behaviour among members of this secretive cult including its anti-puppy edict?

There were grumblings about the interpretation of such edicts: separation of family at meal-times and even couples sleeping together; prohibition of eating in public; membership of trades unions and a ban on life insurance cover.

 

john nelson darby

John Nelson Darby

 

While the sect remained strong in Peterhead allegiance to James Taylor’s sect faded in Fraserburgh. Six feet tall and weighing in at 200 lbs Taylor was the son of an Irish linen merchant but the Brethren’s roots stretched back into the early 19th century. In about 1827 a church minister from Northern Ireland, John Nelson Darby, formed the Plymouth Brethren and, some dispute this, the Close or Exclusive Brethren was an offshoot of his organisation – and very different. It was from 1959 that the Close Brethren first attracted the attention of the outside world with their diktat against mixed company socialising which had a detrimental impact on small communities. 

In common with other strict sects food took on importance non-believers might wonder at. Brethren were instructed they could only eat holy bread, or at least bread made by members, and in zealous atmosphere of Peterhead this was extended to cover any food, including the odd biscuit and cake, cans of soup and even ice cream. You can imagine the reaction among the less zealous townsfolk once Big Jim began to interfere with the partaking of a tasty raspberry ripple cone on a summer’s day. This was a contest between the raspberry ripple and Big Jim. The raspberry ripple won that contest and the edict was withdrawn. Now you might be thinking, like I was, why was there no such outrage against putting down cute little pussies – kittens to very old family pets? But them I’m not one of the secretive select so I can’t answer that.

There was also a reaction against those shop closures on Saturdays and so by 1970 only one adhered to the edict – the Seagull Cleaners run by Brethren member Raymond Grugeon who declined to discuss shop closures with the press but did tantalise them with the suggestion that the Archangel was on his way north from England although he refused to confirm he would go to Aberdeen. This was July 1970.

 

Go to Aberdeen Big Jim did go and I’m sure he regretted that decision. In the August of 1970 the Archangel put out denials he was an adulterer with rumours abounding about his increasingly abhorrent behaviour including at a house at Nigg in Aberdeen when it was said he forced himself on a young man., not to mention women. Such was the reaction to the rumours the sect split with Big Jim holding onto one part and Detroit businessman, Stanley McCallum aka Stanley the Angel, a Detroit factory worker originally from Macduff, in charge of the other. McCallum would later be excommunicated for ‘breaking bread’ with his wife.

In an attempt to protect his reputation JT distributed 8000 copies of a denial of hanky-panky and boozing at Aberdeen – explaining that a glass of whisky appeared by his chair first thing on the morning at a meeting and while participating and listening to others speak on Abram the Hebrew he sipped the drink. A drop of neat whisky, it was explained to the world, was used by JT to overcome his natural shyness. It was not the odd sip of whisky, however, as hard liquor was liberally taken during meetings which might explain some of the most bizarre behaviour noted below. The Close Brethren became a hard-drinking religious cult.

As for the other matter of illicit sex he explained the wife of a colleague had expressed a desire to wash his feet and massage his head. And so she went to his bedroom and lay down on the bed and found herself under the sheet with Big Jim. When they were discovered together naked and with clothes strewn on the floor JT insisted they could not prove whose they were. Whether the woman had time to wash the feet of the great one and dry them with her hair is lost to history. She appears to have been a willing partner in the affair but other women were not and there are descriptions of the man’s bullying and sexual predatory nature that terrified them.

Back in the bedroom in Aberdeen a doctor was called who presumably thinking Big Jim was a competitive sportsman gave him some injections. No flies on this medic who suggested to Big Jim he was sick to which the Archangel answered, “No.” Still in denial mode Big Jim dismissed the charge he was in bed with another man’s wife, saying if he wanted to sleep with another man’s wife it would be cheaper to stay in Brooklyn. But he admitted “It is true she was laying under the sheet on the same bed as myself. But I was on one side of the bed, and she was on the other.”

This is all quite amusing but the bigger picture is of a dangerous individual who preyed on the vulnerable – women and boys and wrecked lives. He was clearly sick which throws blame for the endurance of this cult in the northeast firmly at the feet, washed or not, of its credulous followers.

His behaviour attracted condemnation from some members but there was reluctance to share their views with the press and doors were slammed shut against their enquiries. Nonetheless Big James Taylor’s notoriety within the inner sanctum of the sect was clear for many were troubled by his overtly sexual behaviour, his swearing and habit of insulting fellow-Brethren as bums and bastards.

It was pretty clear the man was an alcoholic with a reputation to drink whisky through the day and with a penchant for champagne when the need arose along with first-class travel, presumably mixing with well-heeled non-believers. Big Jim made the rules for everyone to follow but him. That’s power. And hypocrisy. Although Brethren were not supposed to marry non-believers Big Jim had a non-Brethren wife. It should be said he also had other members’ wives. He particularly enjoyed having them sit on his knee so he could kiss and fondle them as their husbands looked the other way. Women who objected being mistreated so disgracefully were condemned as hostile to his ministry.

Reports of bawdy behaviour involving the Archangel splintered the sect when during what became known as the notorious Aberdeen incident the home-owner and member had attempted to stop adultery in his home Big Jim rounded on him, calling him a “son of a bitch and a bastard.”

 

1959

Assembly of Exclusive Brethren in 1959 in London

 

A year or two back a man claimed he had been raped when a boy by Jim Taylor who calmed him with the words, they were “going to share God’s love.” It’s a situation we’ve become more familiar with in recent times and it should bring shame on anyone who still holds to this moronic, nasty, secretive sect whose members idolised a drunken bully.

I’ve read what’s claimed to be a transcript of a meeting in Aberdeen which comes over as more loony toons than religious gathering. You saw a bit of it at the start, here’s a little more of the abuse, hectoring and insults involved.

“You bastard! You bastard! We need a doctor here. Go to sleep Stanley, go to sleep. We have plenty of hymns, to hell with you. We’re having a very good time. You bum, you. You big bum. Scott! Bum! Scott! Bum! Scott! Bum! Scott! Bum! Scott! Bum! Now you have it. You never have it. You never had it so good. You never had it like this, you nut, you.
(40 seconds pause with bursts of laughter) (Shouting)
JT Jnr: You stinking bum! You stink! Why didn’t you bring some toilet paper with you. Very fine meetings.
MBTJT Jnr: Look at that son of a bitch there.
(Pause culminating again in laughter, stamping and whistling.)
JT Jnr: You never had it like this before. You bastard you.
(Loud laughter, stamping and whistling.)
JT Jnr: Get up. You look like nothing. Sit down! You never had it like this before. Eric! Awake? You awake there? Well get up and perform Eric, get up. Get up Eric. Get up! Eric get up. Sit down. You never had it like this before. You stupid people here, what do you think I am? I’m a professor. Here you. I’m not finished with you yet. You nut! Get up. I’m not finished with you yet. Well I’ll tell you this. Don’t you mention any cars any more, remember? So what the hell are you? Skunk. You never had it like this before. That son of a bitch. I very careful using the word son of a bitch because I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know you have to be careful about it. Is everything alright with your bowels? You never had it so good. Stand up Mr. Gardiner. I would like to introduce you to Nicodemus. And will you answer the question that I ask you Nicodemus? You couldn’t. Who are you? Who are you?
JAF: James Flett.
JT Jnr: Get to hell out of here! ‘ell, I said. ‘ell
An extraordinary …of nonsense and abuse cheered and foot-stamping and laughter.”


The whole piece can be read at: http://www.discourses.org.uk/History/TheAberdeenIncident.pdf

Big Jim Taylor died shortly after his notorious visit to Aberdeen in 1970. His last words have been disputed: some claim he lay back and muttered, “I am coming” while another version insists he was shouting at his wife, “Get out of here woman, you were never with me” when he lay back then a look of horror clouded his face and his mouth opened in fright. And so he died.

 

In recent years the Exclusive Brethren were given charity status and therefore tax relief. When in 2012 the Charity Commission rejected a claim to its charitable status Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke said the Commission was suppressing religion. The sect was duly accorded charity status. I don’t know if it is still regarded as a legitimate charity. The MP was suspended by the Conservative Party for something else and is no longer an MP – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41866970

http://www.christian.org.uk/news/charity-commission-u-turns-over-exclusive-brethren-case/
https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/community-action-blog/2013/jan/03/christian-brethren-legal-appeal-charity-commission-status