Archive for ‘Aberdeenshire’

September 17, 2017

50 years ago today Aberdeen Youth CND beats in bid to stop the war but only stopped a car

 

Fifty years ago today: 17 September 1967

cnd demo crathie 1967

Aberdeen Youth demonstration outside Crathie Church

BANNER RILES CROWD

Hostility as two dart in path of Queen Mother’s car
Part of the 3000 crowd at Crathie Church turned hostile yesterday towards two youths who stepped in the path of the Queen Mother’s car waving a “Peace in Vietnam” banner.

One man lifted his walking stick to tear down the banner, and a woman came out of the crowd pulling at it with her hands. They had to be restrained by the police.

Apparently the demonstrators ‘ plan was to wave the banner in front of the Prime Minister’s car, but this misfired.

The incident happened as the procession of three cars with the Royal Family and Mr And Mrs Wilson was leaving the small Deeside church after the morning service.

One car with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had passed the corner of the roadway leading to the green bridge near the Balmoral entrance when two young men darted on to the roadway with a banner reading:

Aberdeen youth for peace in Vietnam

Up went the banner as the Queen Mother’s car approached the corner. Two police officers leapt forward and pushed the youths back to the verge.

ANGRY

People standing nearby became hostile. There were angry murmurings and the man with the walking stick hooked it under the banner in an effort to pull it down.

The crowd were told by the police to quieten down.

Mr Wilson’s car was following that of the Queen Mother but was some distance behind. The banner was down by the time he passed.

The Royal Family had driven to the church under low cloud and overcast skies. Mr Wilson and his wife were first to arrive, followed by the Queen Mother, wearing a lime coat and dress with petalled hat.

SMILES

There were smiles and waves from the Queen, dressed in a powder-blue linen coat and dress with matching hat, and Princess Anne, wearing a spring-green coat and white hat topped by a pompom.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Prince Andrew wore the kilt.

At the service, Mr and Mrs Wilson, who are spending the weekend as the guests of the Queen at Balmoral, were seated in the Royal transept.

Text of the sermon – from the Sermon on the Mount – was “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.”

(Aberdeen Press & Journal 18 September 1967)

 

August 31, 2017

The Englishman Dr Livingstone, I presume: the unmaking of a nation through its school history

Myths and truths about Scottish History in Schools

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There is a fairly widespread belief that Scottish history has not, until recently, been taught in our schools. This is not true. Let me qualify that. From the earliest days of informal schooling an amount of storytelling doubtless crept into lessons; the exploits of national heroes and heroines until history as a discrete subject was formalised in the 1880s.

Most Scottish children since then were made familiar with some aspects of our past even if that amounted to little more than fleeting references to a handful of monarchs and a few notable battles. Granted among the baby-boomer generation it might have been for some their only encounter with Scottish history, any history, was at primary school – taught by non-specialist teachers in the main. Before the introduction of O Grades in 1962 thousands of Scots children could have left school with their leaving certificate having been taught no history at their junior secondary school and even with O Grades, later S Grades, it was possible for children to get no history after second year.

Does it matter? There are plenty who claim history serves no purpose and time in school would be better taken up teaching maths and science. Consider then waking up one day your memory has gone from an accident or Alzheimer’s disease with you having to make your way ignorant of what you’ve done and who you are. A clean sheet. Make of it what you can. Welcome to a world devoid of history.

Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. (Machiavelli)

Even though we are too stupid to learn from those who came before us Machiavelli might have added but did not.

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The actions of our forefathers and foremothers laid the foundations of the lives we lead today. It is useful to understand that process. What we learn of the nation’s past defines our perception of it then and now and our understanding of how our world has evolved – and in that those who argue Scottish children have not been taught their own history are correct to some extent.

History is not a series of facts strung together along a timeline. Although that’s how it has sometimes been presented. It is a muddle of events – a smorgasbord picked over by people who fancy themselves a bit of this and a bit of that. History can be simply entertaining – stories of adventure and discovery and it can be a powerful tool for propaganda. Propaganda of the past is all around us – shops are full of it, radio and television, too, complete with a telegenic communicators eagerly offering their carefully chosen morsels to seduce you into falling for their particular bees in their particular bonnets. My advice is treat with caution. No telling of history is ever neutral – the very facts presented have been selected at the expense of others that don’t fit the message. Scrutinise the historian and ask yourself why she/he is saying this/that/whatever and not something entirely different. Historians are not always transparent – what is it they aren’t telling us? And why have they couched their interpretation of events in that way?

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Despite (almost) every child in Scotland attending school at some point in their lives too many adult Scots are unfortunately ignorant about education – what goes on now and even when they were in the thick of it. Memories are patchy and woefully unreliable. How many Scots have I heard going on about their O Level passes when they never sat any but took O Grades, unless they attended private school? How many Scots bemoan Highers as inferior to the English A Level blissfully unaware the Higher was set to be taken a year earlier than A Levels and the reason ordinary university courses in Scotland were longer than their English equivalents?

There are also those who go on about the national curriculum unaware that there is no prescribed national curriculum in Scotland instead a huge amount of leeway is provided to specialist teachers to use their initiative within guidelines and constraints of the exam system and the reason why some people’s experience of history will be different from others. What you were taught depended a great deal on your history teacher and it might be you went to one of the very few schools, in the west of Scotland I understand, where the openness of the curriculum allowed history to be removed altogether from secondary years one and two. Moronic. Also moronic was the introduction of faculty heads to replace discrete department principal teachers giving rise to the ludicrous situation whereby the history department of a school could be run by someone who dumped history to become better acquainted with a football. Few primary teachers will have been specialists in history but all secondary teachers should be. However that is a great big rag bag in itself.

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Teachers and what they teach is only as good as their own learning and the resources available to them. Just where do you find quality materials to teach a range of topics to pupils whose ages range between 12 and 18? No history teachers enters the profession equipped with an expansive knowledge of every topic required in the classroom so where to find material? Books you may reasonably say. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Books are expensive and teachers have a tiny budget that always fails to cover the essentials to teach everything covered in years one to six. Books get destroyed, lost and tatty and even history books become out-dated. This is why so many teachers make up their own worksheets – and we have all experienced how iffy that can be. But even worksheets are expensive to create given the budgets available and they have a short shelf life.  

That said there was a time when reasonable supplies of  books were to be found in classrooms. Many were published in England and were almost like foreign texts. What is taught as ‘British’ history does not always sit well in the Scottish classroom. For example an awful lot, let me repeat that, an awful lot of histories written by English teachers and/or historians largely ignore Scotland. Try finding examples of everyday life in the Victorian period – it’s as if everyone in the UK lived in London or Manchester. Look at histories of the Napoleonic wars – presented as English wars fought by Englishmen on the other side of the English Channel. What, historian Sydney Wood, asks

“… went through the mind of the Scot from Lewis who was required to haul aloft Nelson’s pre-Trafalgar signal of ‘England expects every man to do his duty?”

Wood goes on

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Convention of Scottish Burghs (1905) complained of the existence of school books in which: Great Britain is called England, the British throne is called the English throne … David Livingstone is called an Englishman, James Watt and Adam Smith are called English.”

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To that list we might add were there no Chartists active in Scotland organising for democracy? Were Scots instead quietly sitting at home supping porridge? In British histories Scotland is excised again and again. That literary tick of substituting English for British, England for Britain produces an untrue twist on its narrative of the lives of our ancestors in these islands yet there it is on a page in black and white so it must be true. Such crass sloppiness is everywhere from Oxbridge dons to daft little-Englanders cheering on England’s Brexit from the EU.

What did you learn in school today dear little boy of mine?

I learnt that the government of Britain was English and that in England both parties, Liberals and Conservatives, favoured peaceful progress and social reform unlike most countries of Europe afflicted by conflicts and political revolution.

I learnt that Dr David Livingstone from Blantyre was English.

I learnt that the poet Lord Byron was English because he had an English father (and Scottish mother) and he was born in England.

I learnt that the philosopher economist John Stuart Mill was English because he had a Scottish father – uhm – but he was born in England so he was definitely English.

I learnt that the writer Rudyard Kipling was English because he had an English father and was born in India – but couldn’t possibly have been Indian because he was English, after all.

History our flexible friend.

For most Scots Scottish history in primary and the early stages of secondary school was very well covered – but it was a case of pupil beware.

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I don’t know who Flora Forbes MA was but her Past and Present books, published by John Cormack of Edinburgh presented a very unionist interpretation of Scotland (but then so did they all.) She wrote of an “angry” Scottish Parliament demanding equality with England over trade and shipping at the adoption of the Hanoverians and how “moderate men” saw the sense of a union of the two parliaments. She did not mention the storm of opposition to this in Scotland but noted Scots “naturally feared that England would once again deal unfairly with the smaller country.” Perish the thought.

On Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Queen Elizabeth she wrote:

“When Queen Elizabeth began to reign, England was not yet in a settled condition with regard to the religion of the people. Although the government was Protestant, half of the people were Catholics, and they believed Mary Stewart to be their rightful queen. Elizabeth’s task in ruling the country was therefore far from easy, but she proved to be a wise and clever ruler, and she was helped in the work of government by very able men.”

Some might call them liars, conspirers and charlatans but there you go.

Not all Scottish school textbooks were as partial and sickeningly obsequious as Ms Forbes’s efforts.

Scotland the age of achievement Hogarth's contrast

John Patrick’s SCOTLAND  the age of achievement was less whimsical and more authoritative (nothing to do with him being a bloke.) A lecturer at Aberdeen College of Education he used Hogarth’s drawing which contrasted poverty in Scotland – the ill-fed Scot – against the prosperity of the well-fed Londoner inside the cover. “Many English cartoons in the eighteenth century made fun of Scotland’s poverty,” he explained.

Patrick took a responsible approach to the scoundrels of Scottish history in his account of the trials of 18th century reformers Muir and Palmer and we are left in no doubt who he believed was the scoundrel in that episode. In his summing up the hanging Lord Braxfield intent on suppressing sedition addressed the court:

“…the government “is made of landed interests, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble, who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation of them?”

Ah the witty and respected judge Braxfield set the tone for a fair trial-

“Come awa, sirs and help us hang these rascals…”

Rascals were people who dared to criticise the monarchy and corrupt governments made up of the landed gentry in government to enhance their own interests and shitting themselves that revolution in France might prove to be contagious. Dundee minister Palmer was sentenced to 7 years transportation and lawyer Muir to 14 years.

IMM Macphail, A History of Scotland Book 1, 1950s

Many of you will surely have been familiar with A.D. Cameron’s History for Young Scots Books 1 and 2 which were widely used in primary and early stages secondary during the 1970s and ’80s and created a patchwork impression of Scotland from the Neolithic settlers at Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands to more recent time when the European Coal and Steel Community was held up as a beacon of hope for peace and prosperity in a coming-together of nations in the Common Market.

“Could Britain afford to remain outside such a large and vital market in Europe? Could she become a member without endangering her unique partnership with the other nations in the Commonwealth”  he asked without a question mark. Tut tut.

Cameron ended on a note of optimism explaining that Britain did join the European Economic Community and people found they could travel more freely and got on with one another. Where did that get us?

Cameron made up dialogue to inject life and human interest into what is sometimes dismissed as a dry subject.

“Here is food; here is plenty” the comment of a contented Skara Braen tucking into a mountainous whale as a wise old man surveys the scene on the beach, “There is food for many moons,” he declares with just a touch of Tonto from the Lone Ranger. Cameron was nothing if not confident in his statements for example he assured us the women of Skara Brae spent about an hour every day grinding corn into flour.

Patrick achievement

Cameron’s approach to school history was entertaining and his books were well-illustrated: Picts, Celts, Romans, Vikings, English, Wars of Independence, burghs and so on- to the Union –

Britain” – (hang on A D you mean England and Wales?) “was at war with France during Queen Anne’s reign, and the English, fearing the Scots” (not at war with France – just saying) “might select a king of their own and revive the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, decided to allow the Scots free trade” – (which they had done their level best to destroy up till then) – “if they would consent to the creation of a British Parliament.”

Cameron fell into the British/English trap there did you notice?

Under the Union he informed us English and colonial markets were to be opened up to Scottish merchants and Scottish currency, weights and measures were abandoned in favour of English equivalents. Religion and law remained uniquely Scottish.

And with the Union an end was put to Scottish history – in a sense – that’s me, not Cameron.

Patrick, no Union

Cameron’s school histories were enjoyable and useful tools for teachers but frustrating for those parts of Scotland ignored in their pages. Pupils in Dundee, Aberdeen and areas north, northwest, south and east found little there to reflect the lives of their foremothers. The nature of the colossus that is history means inevitably there are gaps but where those same gaps are replicated a false impression of the past becomes entrenched into our minds: Cameron illustrated the widespread Highland Clearances with a snapshot of the Sutherland clearances at Strathnavar; Industrial Scotland was largely and predictably confined to the Clyde and west of Scotland. Cameron was a Principal Teacher of History at Inverness Royal Academy and should have known better. That’s all I know about A D Cameron.

 Aside from those unfortunates not offered history in a handful of secondary schools a perception that Scottish history was not taught might be because pupils chose not to study it as an O grade or Higher and simply forgot or because their teacher lazily churned out what she/he came across in muddled myth-laden textbooks entirely Anglo-centred: agricultural and industrial revolutions; social and political changes; housing; transport etc  – as far as the eye can see.

Historical events and change in England has always been taught in Scottish schools whereas in England Scotland seldom features – and usually only as that pesky aggressive neighbour to the north. Where Scottish histories have generally reflected Scotland as part of the United Kingdom English histories have a tendency to see England standing alone bold and magnificent – succeeding. European and World history as portrayed in history texts are seen through the lens of England and the English people with Scotland rarely a footnote.

There is no doubt that for much of the 20th century Scottish history has been much under-represented in our own schools while any Scottish dimension of British and world history virtually disappears south of the border. Can we wonder then at the sheer level of ignorance in England when it comes to Scotland? Watch as bemused smiles break out on the faces of quiz show contestants when asked anything relating to Scotland.

Historian Sydney Wood considered the role history education plays in the development of our sense of national identity – pointed to how Scotland’s education system retained its independence post-1707 until the English Education Act of 1872 gave London oversight of Scottish education right up to 1939.

Decades later Thatcher’s Tories tried to mould education to suit her rightwing agenda but found strong resistance in Scotland yet English Tories were able to wield some influence here. Devolution in 1997 returned education in Scotland to the responsibility of the Scottish government, albeit still following a unionist agenda.

It is true that teaching distinctly Scottish history tottered during the 20th century. Children might learn about early settlers – Skara Brae in the neolithic period and Stonehenge – but how many were taught about the sheer richness of neolithic evidence there is in Scotland? How many English children ever learnt about any early settlers in Scotland? Precious few. Vikings were mainly English Vikings. The Industrial Revolution took place mainly in England. Urban expansion and overcrowded homes were suffered in England. Poverty was English. No-one rioted in Scotland because they were starving. We were led to believe. Orator Henry Hunt and the Spa Fields (somewhere near London) riot over parliamentary reform (lack of) was drummed into the lugs of young Scots while in Scotland all was quiet – we were led to believe. Not that there has been much sympathy for rioters in history books – mad, angry, mobs, unruly, violent. As for the politicians whose actions led to such deprivation and inequality – they avoided pejorative adjectives attached to their activities.

Life expectancy as many Scots pupils once knew was very different between a man in Liverpool and one in Bath. Bath – Bath? Where’s that Miss?

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Every child in Scotland learnt about the Speenhamland system – a barbaric means by which magistrates in Berkshire in England provided charity to starving men, women and children. What was happening in Scotland? Scotland that impoverished neighbour of England? Presumably all was hunky dory.

Chartism was scarcely a whisper in Scotland – if you believe many of the histories taught in our schools. And in Scottish histories Chartism only occurred in Glasgow.

Scottish school children learnt about changes in English farming – the Norfolk system of crop rotation but who in England learnt about farm toons and run rigs?

Britain’s Story Told in Pictures printed in Manchester c1950. Brave to title the book Britain but let’s take through its chapters.

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I guess the authors were too busy putting the book together to visit Callanish standing stones or Orkney to become acquainted with its amazing Neolithic sites – or any of the unique recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire and other important features all around Scotland dating back over 5000 years. Let’s try the chapter Roman Britain. In what sounds like a national entity called Britain life was evidently most interesting in the south, as that’s all presented here. Picts of Caledonia get a single mention only in relation to Hadrian’s Wall not who they were of any reference to their pictorial art.

Let’s try Anglo-Saxon Britain 410-1066 – you can imagine I’m not too hopeful for this chapter. Aha, at least we have more definition as it begins with “The English are descended from the Angles, Saxons, Jutes…English conquest” blah, blah, blah…”English race” an interesting concept – especially given the previous paragraphs explaining the number of different peoples who’ve formed this ‘race’. I’m not expecting any mention of Scotland because this chapter doesn’t apply here – although Scots kids all learnt about it. But what is this? There’s a sketch of a Viking cross at Oransay, Scotland – that’ll be Oronsay I expect – and it’s what we call a Celtic cross and it dates from around 500 years after the chapter’s cut-off date. History our flexible friend again.

Chapter 4 looks at Medieval Britain 1066-1485 with not a cheep about Scottish royalty but everything you need to know and more about the line of English kings. There is a mention of Scotland in relation to the English Edward I. That’s it. There’s a nice drawing of a battering ram – know what I’d like to do with that – lots of Norman this and that. But hark! What comes here? It is an illustration of Robert the Bruce (again because of the association to England as is the case for the sketch of Joan of Arc.) So that’s it for Medieval Britain – must have passed Scotland by.

Tudor Britain up next and as Scotland didn’t do Tudors there’s no point looking here but I can’t resist having a wee peek. Elizabeth I of England, “greatest of the Tudors” and what’s this? “Foreign policy was directed against the menaces of Scotland, France and Spain.” That’s not very nice – first we’re all part of the British family then we’re a foreign enemy – again. Glowing it is – glowing in its admiration of Elizabeth I of England – and the advances in trade – Levant and East India, ne’er a hint of exploitation and stripping India of its assets …”Many universities and Grammar Schools were founded” – not a mention Aberdeen which between 1596 and 1826 had as many universities as in the whole of England. That’s worth putting in a book on Britain only it was in the wrong part of  ‘Britain’ evidently.

Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, is included in Tudor Britain for some reason when it should be in a chapter called Stuart Britain – which comes next – and why? because it covers the period from 1603 when the Stuarts decamped to England. This is not a history of Britain it is a history of England – a bundle of baloney.

James VI is introduced as James I – because that’s his English regnal number and England precedes mention of Scotland because English historians know Scotland’s place. Back! Get back!

The Act of Union – I’ll get my magnifying glass out – straight FACT “Act of Union (1707). “By this Act the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established under a single government, Scotland being represented in Parliament by forty-five Members in the Commons and sixteen Peers in the Lords.” Parliament being in London,  not Edinburgh, naturally.

Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil is a case of move along nothing of interest here. No mention. Sure there are sketches of the Duke of Cumberland – Butcher as he’s known here – and Charles Edward Stuart, “the Young Pretender” – note that slick derogatory description we’ve come to accept – not forgetting his old man, another Pretender. There’s a pic, too, of George I who “succeeded under the Act of Succession” aye he did – positive write-up we may say for George.

There’s a fine illustration of a Highlander – post Union – not doing what most Highlanders would have been doing at home whatever that might have been and we certainly don’t find out from this book but as a soldier from one of the Highland regiments which became so popular with successive governments of the United Kingdom. Not so much back! back! as get to the front! to the front!

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The chapter on Modern Britain pauses long enough to condemn the General Strike of 1926, to praise the national spirit, to picture the murder of a British bishop in Uganda, to comment on the notable growth of democracy during Victoria’s reign – notable being an elastic term for restricted. There are lots of pictures of ‘natives’ from the Empire – Zulus being war-like, ‘Kaffirs’ being obedient, a Maori looking a bit savage. There’s a head and shoulders of Cecil Rhodes, boo; Gordon of Khartum, boo; the cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence River at Quebec – but not the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge, boo – evidently a victim of being located in North Britain. There’s a sketch of a round table conference, at a long table, at which Mahatma Ghandi and his pals “demanded independence for India” – blighters. There’s mention of the “heroic Red army” in WWII, hurrah; there’s Lord Woolton representing rationing during WWII but no mention of John Boyd Orr. Shamefully predicatable.

If you were spared this sort of nonsense in place of real history at school be grateful.

It is apparent that generations of  Scottish schoolchildren left school better informed about the Nazis in Germany or the poor laws in England than they did about lives led by past generations of their families here in Scotland. Our ancestors were living breathing people very much like ourselves – dour or cheerful, cup half-full or cup half-empty types but Scotland, even a short historical hop back in time, was a very different place and it’s near impossible for us to really imagine their dreams, sorrows and pleasures. Our connections with the past are the vital means of securing our place in present-day Scottish society; understanding the route we have come to where our lives are today with a backward glance at patterns of struggle and achievement which form lessons for us now and into the future. It is a scandal that history has been so badly served since the formalisation of education in this country – that so much in history books is nonsense, jingoism and cant  – that knowledge of the Kirk post-Reformation; the Scottish Enlightenment; Scots in the Empire (warts and all); Scots in America – even events surrounding that most important detail were marginalised even here in Scotland, the Union of Parliaments, getting scant recognition until recent times. Why? You may well ask. And demand better. But, of course, sifting through the dross there are truths there to be found that should not be forgotten.

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August 3, 2017

Scottish World War I Poetry #4 A Sough o’ War

A Sough o’ War  (A Sigh of War)

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The corn was turnin’, hairst was near,
But lang afore the scythes could start
A sough o’ war gaed through the land
An’ stirred it to its benmost heart.
Nae ours the blame, but when it came
We couldna pass the challenge by,
For credit o’ our honest name
There could be but one reply.
An’ buirdly men, fae strath an’ glen
An’ shepherds fae the bucht an’ hill,
Will show them a’, whate’er befa’,
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Half-mast the castle banner droops,
The Laird’s lament was played yestreen,
An’ mony a widowed cottar wife
Is greetin’ at her shank aleen.
In Freedom’s cause, for ane that fa’s,
We’ll glean the glens an’ send them three
To clip the reivin’ eagle’s claws,
An’ drook his feathers i’ the sea.
For gallant loons, in brochs an’ toons,
Are leavin’ shop an’ yard an’ mill,
A’ keen to show baith friend an’ foe
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

The grim, grey fathers, bent wi’ years,
Come stridin’ through the muirland mist,
Wi’ beardless lads scarce by wi’ school
But eager as the lave to list.
We’ve fleshed o’ yore the braid claymore
On mony a bloody field afar,
But ne’er did skirlin’ pipes afore
Cry on sae urgently tae war.
Gin danger’s there, we’ll thole our share,
Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will,
Ayont the main, to prove again
Auld Scotland counts for something still.

Charles Murray (Alford, Aberdeenshire)

July 30, 2017

Archibald White Maconochie Part 2:

In Part 2 of the account of Archibald White Maconochie we find those issues affecting his business and the country are redolent of today’s headlines.

Guest blog by Textor

1907

Nearer to home, in the waters of the Moray Firth, Maconochie complained that local fishermen, in particular line-men, were having their fishing grounds destroyed by trawlers both British and foreign. Steam powered vessels were out-competing older fishing technologies and something needed to be done; trawlers should not take the bread out of other men’s mouths complained Maconochie. Just as he called on the state to intervene in overseas markets he also wanted it to be active here; with strong policing to protect the three mile limit even if this meant prosecuting skippers from Aberdeen. Here we can see a clearer expression of self-interest (or perhaps a hint of sentimentality) on the part of Maconochie for his business at Fraserburgh was dependent upon older less technologically advanced fishing methods.

Maconochie’s stance seemed to fly in the face of his deep-seated belief in progress and competition. He had, after all, enthusiastically adopted mass factory production in his food preservation business employing the latest technology and would (as we shall see) lead a campaign to introduce American business techniques to Fraserburgh but he failed to accept trawling as just another leap forward in competition, albeit one that would leave associated industries and communities managing to survive as best they could. Surely this was progress in his own terms? Interestingly Maconochie did favour some seasonal restriction on fishing as a means of preserving stocks a stance which further alienated him from trawling but which found support amongst line fishermen.

Salmon and Shrimp Paste 1926

Returning to international competition, Archibald began to realise that the Liberal dogma of free trade was problematic in situations where rival nations were introducing tariffs to protect young enterprises or where they had developed industries which could compete on a cost basis with British goods. He allied himself with Joseph Chamberlain’s protectionist politics, denouncing the dumping of foreign imports on the home and colonial markets as unfair – that the free market had broken down and British industry needed protection through the state imposing tariffs to stop such surplus products finding their way onto the British market. In his view such a tax policy would not, as the Free Trade Liberals claimed, result in shrinkage in commerce but on the contrary would encourage foreign manufacturers to open businesses in the UK and so competitors would be forced to employ British labour.

This has a familiar ring about it as the very competitive nature of capital at one and the same moment brings success for some and ruin for others. The squaring of this particular circle, up until post 1945, involved variations of protectionism as each industrial concern and national capital struggled for solutions to failing competitiveness. The British had the advantage of an empire which not only could restrict foreign competition through tariffs on some imports to local markets but also put up barriers to prevent penetration of the colonies; the latter question of colonial markets being open to all-comers became a bargaining chip between debt-ridden UK and the solvent USA after World War 2.

In his six years as an M.P. Archibald Maconochie was constantly harassed by the liberal Aberdeen People’s Journal. Apart from being damned for having no political depth he was also criticised for his frequent absences from Parliament including several visits to the USA where he met with major industrialists including Andrew Carnegie. Being a kingpin in the preserving industry his travels in America took him to Chicago the home of a vast beef slaughter and packing industry famously documented by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle. AWM established business contact with The Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company and eventually he became a director of its British division.

Peoples Journal Nov 29 1902

Impressed by American industry, in 1903 he began negotiations to open a “steel works” in Fraserburgh. This was a radical proposal which would extend modern mass production to the fishing-rural economy and introduce a factory system that exploited advanced machine tools and in turn give birth to a concentrated industrial working class in part mirroring the setup already operating at the Kinnaird Head Works but unlike the tinning plant labour would largely be male. The liberal Press’ dismissal of the idea was misplaced as the proposed “steel works” was not a steel mill that required vast quantities of iron and coke but a tool-making business, as stated in the company name.

Criticism fell by the wayside still Liberal opinion fulminated against the new works and Maconochie’s role in bringing it to Fraserburgh. The Unionist M.P. was accused of buying votes with promises to hire local labour but Archibald remained undismayed by the criticism. Neither was he perturbed by the notion of American capital, a “Yankee Trust,” getting a foothold in Britain. So in 1903 plans were advanced for a 50-acre site for the venture and eventually by 1905 Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Co. (better known as CPT) was up and running in the fishing town.

Maconochie had hoped that tariffs would be placed on imported European-made pneumatic tools giving a competitive edge to the US firm but in this he was disappointed. Nonetheless the enterprise proved to be profitable.

Pneumatic Works ADJ March 14 1903

However this achievement was undermined by a scandal which threatened to destroy Maconochie Brothers’ reputation when military authorities in Pretoria condemned thousands of cases of their preserved food as unfit for human consumption. Maconochie was not the only firm involved but it was by far the most prominent and the only one whose owner was a sitting M.P.; elected on the basis of his commitment to empire. The well-being of troops in South Africa and millions of tins of contaminated rations appeared to tell a different story.

Maconochie was confronted in Parliament by Keir Hardie. The socialist member for Merthyr Tydfil turned his anger on the member for East Aberdeenshire accusing him of threatening the welfare of troops as well as wasting tax payers’ money. Maconochie acknowledged that some discolouration of rations might have occurred but this, he claimed, was no fault of the manufacturer rather it was due to storage in tropical conditions. He maintained that Maconochie’s good name was being tarnished to a greater and unjustified extent than the canned meat and vegetables for irrespective of who tinned the rations Maconochie was global shorthand for tinned food. Speaking for the Government Lord Stanley sided with AWM on the stringency of testing of military rations and pointed a finger at the commanding officer in Pretoria for hastily condemning foodstuffs which Stanley claimed were probably edible (although there was no indication any government minister might be prepared to sit down to enjoy a Maconochie for lunch.) In debate Stanley gave voice to the ingrained and prevalent casual racism of the period when he spoke of natives stealing the condemned rations and apparently displaying no ill effects. And he drew laughter from the Chamber when he said it was questionable whether a thing which agrees with a native would always agree with a European. Archibald Maconochie then asked fellow members to give all manufacturers of rations the benefit of the doubt.

Chinese Labour

An issue which has resonance in 2017, namely migration, was of concern to Archibald Maconochie towards the end of his political career, in 1906. Not that he held to an absolute yes or no on the topic. In response to the question of whether migration was good for Britain and its empire he said it depended upon the immediate context – for example in 1904 he favoured the importation of Chinese labour to the mines of South Africa. At the end of the Boer War private capital and the British state were keen for the systematic extraction of minerals, particularly gold. War had disrupted production; local black labour had drifted to rural areas and towns and was showing a disinclination to accept the harsh conditions of mine owners. A suggestion that white labour might be imported from Europe and beyond to support mineral extraction was opposed on grounds that whites working for wage rates and in conditions formerly the preserve of black labour would undermine the racist division of South Africa. Cheap Chinese labour was the answer. As one commentator for the gold interest put it the greatest hopes lay in China where vast hungry populations vainly sought outlets for their energies. Poor wages, harsh conditions, racism and exclusion from civil rights would be the lot of the Chinese labourer who faced expulsion from the country when its energies were no longer required.

Jewish Pogrom

This type of migration was favoured by Maconochie who like so many of his contemporaries did not mind Chinese labour being imported into South Africa yet he had no wish to have Eastern European Jews admitted to Britain.

The Jews in question were not simply migrating on a whim in search of a different life but were refugees fleeing the bloody pogroms overwhelming Russia and Poland. A report in Aberdeen People’s Journal on a pogrom at Homel (Gomel) in September 1903 described the destruction of hundreds of homes with Jews beaten, bayoneted and stabbed as police, the military and civilians ran amok and again comparisons with today are clear with women, men and children fleeing similar persecution. Many thousands sought safety in the USA whilst others came to Britain seeking sanctuary only to find a growing wave of anti-Semitism which culminated in the landmark Aliens Act of 1905. This weasel-words measure couched its ant-Semitism in terms of undesirable immigrants, travelling steerage and landing at British ports without means of “decent” support and those arriving owing to a disease or infirmity . . . [who were] likely to become a charge upon the rates were to be summarily shipped out. A wall of officialdom was built around Britain’s coasts. Humanitarian need found no place in this legislation.

In an election address of August 1900 Archibald Maconochie had told his audience at Maud –

“I have visited many parts of the world, and I know of no part I go to where strangers, no matter of what nationality, are treated equally, the same as every British subject. Can we say that of any other country, and can we point to any other country where strangers are so well treated as in ours? We cannot.”

1905

Constable John Bull: We’ve admitted a good many aliens before now – in fact I’m a bit of an alien myself. But in future we’re going to draw the line at the likes of you!                                                                               1905

Liberal, we might say, to a fault and of course Maconochie found the fault in 1905 when migrants who travelled first class were quite acceptable but the poor, the disabled and the sick in steerage were altogether another matter – that is if they were east European-Russian Jews. His rhetoric, typical of so much at the time caught the vile spirit of the Act. AWM contrasted the historical example of the Huguenots (significantly Protestants) who he held up as having provided yeoman service in the development of our trade with those immigrants then landing in Britain. According to him these new asylum seekers were criminals, paupers, lunatics, or diseased persons and altogether were not the types of people who were wanted in this country and to allow them in would open the door to crime and moral degeneration as well as threaten the livelihood of British workers. The “Aliens” were willing to work for starvation wages, he complained. He recognised that there were no boat-loads of immigrants coming ashore in Buchan and that the “sweat shops” found in London were unknown in Peterhead but he told his constituents that it remained their bounden duty to keep them out. All this apparently said without using the word Jew, the weasel word “foreigner” standing in for open anti-Semitism.

This was a last hurrah for East Aberdeenshire. Standing on a clear pro-Tory Unionist platform and without the benefit of war psychosis to rouse the electors Maconochie’s racism and protectionist politics were insufficient to see-off the Liberals. On a bigger turn out, although with a far from universal adult electorate, the constituency reverted to its trust in Liberalism. James Annand received 6149 votes to Maconochie’s 4319.

may 1905

Nelson and Britannia May 17 1905
Shade of Nelson – What do you call these, Ma’am?
Britannia – Oh, they’re some of my alien pilots.
Shade of Nelson – What, in British waters? H’m – in my day we kept our secrets to ourselves!
(59 foreign pilots were employed on British coast while British ships abroad were compelled to take native pilots let to calls for an Act to prevent aliens from being granted pilotage certificates for English [sic] waters.)

In 1910 the “Lipton of tinned fish”, as he was once called, asked the voters of Partick to support him. As he’d done ten years earlier he hammered home the message of the German threat. On this occasion Archibald emphasised Germany’s growing naval power as a dangerous challenge to Britain. Germany was after colonies and Maconochie feared a mortal injury would befall the British Empire. Four years later he might have found electors more willing to listen to his woeful prognosis but as in 1906 the electors of 1910 decided to go for the Liberal.

July 26, 2017

 Archibald White Maconochie: Tinned Fish, Tariff Reform & War – Part 1  

A W Maconochie (2)

Guest blog by Textor

At a time when political rats of all descriptions are scuttling to fight for or against Brexit it’s worth bearing in mind that ghostly shadows of today’s dogmas, bigotries and self interest are to be found in the past. Not because the world never changes, but because the stresses and strains of capitalism presents supporters and opponents of different factions with a limited bag of solutions. Eerily for today the brief party political career of Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) mixed the “common sense” of a businessman, ill-trained in politics, with bellicose aims, scandal, racism and demands for something to be done about unfair international trade.

Ad of 1877

 

 Archibald White Maconochie’s business was canning; putting fish, meat and vegetables into tins as well as preserving fruit and making pickles. In the early 1870s with his older sibling James he became one half of Maconochie Brothers. Based in Lowestoft the firm initially dealt in handling and curing fresh herring; a massive trade in late Victorian Britain and supplied fish to the British and European markets. Business grew and by 1878 the brothers had developed a network of contacts around the British coast and in Ireland. Skippers and their boats were contracted as sole suppliers of herring while at the same time the brothers bought fish on the open market.

Pan Yan Pickle ad

Keeping an eye out for opportunities the brothers turned to food preserving – an industry pioneered by Pasteur’s science of sterilisation and with expanding global urban markets the commercial potential was enormous. The Maconochie Brothers while still curing food by older methods enthusiastically entered the new world of tinned foods so much so that by 1878 they were promoting themselves as The Largest Fish & Meat Preserving Factory in Great Britain. Thriving and struggling to cope with the demand for preserved fish James and Archibald decided to go to the heart of the Scottish herring industry, to the Buchan coast and specifically to Fraserburgh where they built Kinnaird Head Works. There at the factory’s two-acre site literally millions of herring were filleted, cleaned and washed by fifty “girls” and either packed into wooden barrels or preserved and canned using up-to-date scientific methods. Above the fish processing area was the tinplate department where men manufactured cans for the busiest season, July and August. The store had capacity to hold up to 2 million tins. With smooth continuous factory production being one of the keys to the profitability of the new industry the empty tins were carried by a shoot to the processors below. Five herrings were packed into 1lb tins by women and lids were soldered on by men prior to entering high pressure steam vessels for sterilisation. It’s worth noting how important female labour was in this system and how up until mechanisation was introduced the handicraft skills of the tinsmiths were crucial in the early days of the trade.

unnamed.jpg

Archibald White Maconochie (AWM) was aware of the potential for tinsmiths to hobble his business for he knew these skilled men could withdraw labour at the height of landings, and with herring being highly perishable there was a real threat of losing fish, losing profits and customers shifting to competitors. This could be managed either by introducing new technology or taking a hard line with workers. In 1888 at Lowestoft the extent of AWM’s enthusiasm for stopping fractious labour showed when he grabbed tinsmith David Brown by the throat, knocking him down with the apparent intention of strangling him and shouting I’ll have the life out of you yet. Violence was his negotiating stance when workmen had the temerity to question the rate of work and the tools supplied for soldering. The boss was charged with assault and at the Police Court he was found guilty and  fined £2 with the option of one month imprisonment. He chose to pay the fine. But the Maconochie Brothers had the last laugh as they vindictively sued men who walked out in sympathy at the Lowestoft factory at the time of the assault. The company claimed men had broken a legal contract and that under the conditions of the Employers’ and Workmen’s Act of 1875 they, the company, were entitled to £10 compensation from each of the six men pursued. In the event the firm was awarded £1 damages from each man with the tinsmiths also forfeiting two days wages. Not difficult to see who came out of this affair least affected.

An endnote to this tale is that machinery had been developed in the 1870s to put lids on tins which removed one component of the canning process to semi-skilled status. This was not enough for AWM and in 1901 he still fretted over the canning operation and eventually came up with a machine for beading tin lids and so doing away with the need for soldering. With a single operator the mechanism could manufacture 2500 containers per day but this was further improved by his design of a 4-man operated beader which could deliver 6000 tin an hour. These machines he said gave the edge to employers and tinsmiths could no longer hold up the trade.

Maconochie's Ad 2

And trade was not held up. The world became the company’s marketplace especially countries of the empire and as provisioning of British military forces became a necessity Maconochie found the State an enthusiastic customer for his products. Late Victorian imperialist wars were fed by Maconochie and what better to supply the troops than rations with a shelf life of at least two years. According to Baden-Powell

With morale and Maconochie the British soldier can go anywhere and do anything.

 “Maconochie” had become a global brand  Unsurprisingly when Archibald Maconochie turned to politics the problems of the British Empire were central to his campaign.   

Political cartoon AWJ election Sept 26 1900 p.7

It was the General Election of 1900 that achieved a small political profile for AWM when he was elected to represent the constituency of East Aberdeenshire. He’d stood on a Liberal Unionist  platform against the sitting Liberal member T. R. Buchanan a man who favoured Gladstone’s Home Rule for Ireland agenda. In Maconochie’s eyes Irish Members of Parliament, and by extension their supporters, through their demand for Home Rule threatened the very existence of Britain and its empire (it seems that his anti-Irish bias extended to him having a condition in his will that should any of his sons marry a Catholic they would forfeit their inheritance.) As much as he loathed home rulers it was not this that brought him to politics but the more immediate and bloody struggle being fought out in southern Africa, the Boer War. Fought essentially over who would control the area’s goldfields and get access to the strategically important ports round the Cape this, the final war of Victoria’s reign, was a sure indication of mounting international tensions which divided liberals such as Buchanan and socialists like Keir Hardie from bellicose defenders of the rights to empire.

Maconochie fell into the pro-war camp and found a ready supporter in Aberdeen’s conservative paper the Daily Journal. However, regardless of the fact that his business was selling vast amounts of tinned food to the army it would be wrong to attribute his support solely to self-interest. Like so many others of the time his notion of what was best for Britain inextricably linked business and politics with Britain bringing civilisation and some form of material well-being to the rest of the world: plant the flag and let business follow and so native populations could be given proper  “care and protection”. He believed what he described as the Anglo-Saxon race had a great and heavy responsibility. If we look at the way Maconochie treated his own white labour, from direct assault to paternalism, we can conclude how he thought the colonised should be handled. Archibald had in fact a very straight forward way of addressing politics. Sophisticated notions of negotiation, of moral authority and international law were beyond him. In his view all government required was application of business principles to the nation’s affairs.

Maconochie Accident APJ Aug 22 1903

Mr A W Maconochie, MP, had a nasty motor spill on his way to political meetings at Tarves and Methlick last Saturday. The Liberals of East Aberdeenshire are doing their best to effect another spill later on.

 Britain was not alone in the imperial chauvinist dream; Germany and France in particular envied and challenged her as the then premier world power. Archibald Maconochie recognised these growing threats; to take an anti-war position was to open the door to competitors. The only way of confronting commercial-political enemies he said, was the extension of the Empire in order to keep open markets for British trade. Supporters of AWM stressed his local connections and in particular the hundreds employed at the Fraserburgh works pointing to the fact that full employment meant no need for a soup kitchen in the town. Addressing electors Maconochie said Boers needed to be defeated, integrated and made part and parcel of our Imperial Empire. His rival the anti-war Liberal Buchanan fought to retain his seat but he was denounced for his support for Home Rule as giving succour to the enemy and of not supporting troops who were dying on the battlefields of the Transvaal and despite Aberdeen’s liberal newspaper the People’s Journal condemning AWM for having no other platform than being anti-Boer Buchanan lost the election by 73 votes.

In local terms this was a big event as liberalism had long been backed by the area’s agricultural and fishing electorate. The conservative Press was ecstatic; Maconochie had broken the evil tradition of Aberdeenshire Radicalism. In Fraserburgh Kinnaird Head Works declared a half-holiday and workers marched through the streets shouting Maconochie forever. We can imagine that the local anti-war and pro-labour voters were all but silenced at the unionist success but we can only wonder what they thought when in the midst of Fraserburgh celebrations the new Member of Parliament found eager workers willing to unhitch horses from his carriage and yoke themselves to draw Maconochie to his factory. It is undoubtedly the case that Archibald’s victory was down to his opposition to the Boers and defence of British troops then dying on the veld. Fourteen years later a similar febrile, pro-empire mood also had men swarming to the flag.

1900

Columbia to Britannia: You mustn’t mind those noisy boys of mine, it’s election time. May 16 1900

Maconochie’s anti-Boer view reached fever-point in 1901 when he told the good folks of New Deer that it was for every man to do his utmost to support the Government . . . If a man encouraged the enemy he was no patriot, and was not fit to live among us . . . kid gloves must be taken off and war ended as speedily as possible a sentiment endorsed by the editor of the Daily Journal who described Radicals as a cause of humiliation and shame to Scotchmen in all parts of the world. Addressing constituents at Strichen AWM went so far as to sympathise with the view that anybody expressing support for the Boers should be shot.

 With the end of the Boer War in 1902 the central plank of Maconochie’s platform fell away. He was a bit like Donald Trump left with a rag-bag of opinions and prejudices which mingled commercial instrumentalism with half-digested economic theory. For example on taking his seat in Parliament he was astonished at how backward and hidebound by tradition the process of parliamentary voting was, with walking in and out of yes-no lobbies. This he said could be made easier, more efficient by giving each member electric bells to register approval or disapproval of motions resulting in more or less instantaneous results. In a similar rejection of tradition AWM wanted to throw out aspects of the humanist education syllabus in particular he saw no need for Greek and Latin to be taught. These languages served little purpose in a world of competitive commerce he claimed, better that students spoke German and French. Maconochie did fall in with fellow liberals in his support for old age pensions and as for trade unions he judged them okay so long as they did not actually interfere with employer’s right to set the rates of production. Too often, he said, unions were implicated in ca-canny policies, robbing management of its rights and undermining competitiveness. In other words they might be fine as friendly societies but unacceptable if they challenged the distribution of property and economic power.

MB ad 1877

As manager of a business with international reach Maconochie’s view of the world was saturated with notions of competition. He saw the world in terms of struggles, between firms, between nations and also a social-Darwinist hierarchy of racial division. And there’s no doubt that he was correct to identify deepening international competition as being profoundly important to the well-being of the British Empire. Times were changing, the historical advantage industrial and commercial Britain once had was under threat. Across the pond the USA had emerged as a growing power with its state providing protection to some home-grown industries. In Europe Germany in particular was aggressively pursuing industrialisation and colonisation with the intention of promoting what it regarded as its national right. In Britain these antagonisms highlighted the need for an active and even aggressive defence of national interest. Private capitalism and state institutions were in deep embrace, or as Archibald put it trade followed the flag, for trade was sustained by the flag, and the trade led the flag. So it was with some prescience he predicted that this competition would lead to war with Germany.

unnamed

Planting the flag

Part 2 to follow

The demonisation of foreign workers; the emergence of the Consolidated Pneumatic Tool Company; dodgy war rations; continuing xenophobia- Chinese, European Jews and threat to the Empire.

July 22, 2017

If the CAP fits: time ticking on down on EU subsidies the gift that kept on giving will be no more

Brexit shambles continues apace. That overused phrase of politicians going forward is not applicable to the current state of Brexit negotiations which appear to consist of nothing more than each side eyeballing the other. And is that a nervous tic on the collective face of Britain’s farmers I detect?

A cursory riffle through May’s fantasy Brexit filing cabinet only as far as A for agriculture reveals something of the complexity of the task ahead, as a politician might say.

cap_reform_wordle

For an outsider like me it was hard to understand why so many farmers and landowners were quite so keen in voting to leave the European Union and the increasing murmur from these bodies suggest one or two are becoming a little bit sweaty that the future is not as rosy as it appeared when they voted to leave the reviled EU. But hope emerged for some in the guise of the ambitious Michael Gove with his promise of  a ‘green Brexit’ and promise, if qualified, of continuing subsidies. He is not the first person I associate with a commitment to green policies and suspect the green he’s contemplating is a fig leaf and his ‘earned subsidies’ is an early warning that not all will be as it was under CAP.

That it was never on the cards that the generous EU subsidies would continue post-Brexit either didn’t occur to Brexiteer farmers or else they assumed the British government would step in and fill the void left post-CAP – such blind faith.

The National Farmers’ Union of Scotland has pounced on Gove’s words as recognition of its position on the need for continuing support for certain farming communities. It welcomes Gove’s ‘must be earned’ statement and with another leap of faith declares Scottish agriculture  must receive –

‘the same levels of funding as it currently receives ring-fenced and spent in new and more effective ways to improve productivity, efficiency and resilience.’

The NFU Scotland talk of making farming and crofting more profitable but just what that will mean is anyone’s guess – family farms already operate with minimum labour comprising mainly of the farmer and any family he or she has – working from before dawn until late into the night seven days a week. How that could become leaner is not apparent. Food prices could rise, as they are doing, bringing about even more squeeze on farmers by supermarket chains. Where does that leave Scotland’s crofters and hill farmers already eking out scant livings? How persuaded will Mr Gove be that they are deserving of financial support once that falls into Westminster’s lap?

Farming subsidies were introduced in the UK a century ago by the government concerned by severe food shortages during the First World War when 60% of food was imported. Minimum wages for those involved in agriculture and guaranteed produce prices were imposed until 1921 and during the 1930s protectionism was again high on the agenda. At the end of World War Two government intervention guaranteed payments to farmers to encourage an expansion in food production while rationing continued long after the end of war.  

It was in 1958 the contentious Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the then European Economic Community was introduced to boost food production across the EEC and provide reassurance to food markets. (This was long before the UK joined it.)

The CAP worked well. Too well. It led to a grim landscape of beef, butter, fruit and vegetable mountains and wine and milk lakes as a means of keeping up prices for farmers. Some of this food was simply destroyed to maintain food prices at acceptable levels and some was dumped on poorer countries at a cost to their small-scale farming which could not compete against the collective might of the protected farmers within the EEC.

download

When I looked at who are recent recipients of the EU’s agricultural subsidies I was astonished to find not only was it a list of the ultra rich but topping the list of payout recipients was sugar manufacturer Tate & Lyle. Along with the British sugar giant were French sugar giants, Spanish sugar giants, German sugar giants and a lesser giant from Poland. Sugar processors have attracted much criticism for their contribution to junk foods and their association with the huge rise in diabetes and because of pressure placed upon these industries in Europe to reduce their output they have been amply compensated by CAP subsidies.

Dairy companies have also been winners in the great EU scoop a fortune lottery. Along with sugar they are implicated in the junk food market and have attracted the attention of aid agencies for being supported at the same time they are dumping milk powder and butter on vulnerable markets and consequently undermining small producers in poorer nations.

In Scotland Balmanno Farms Ltd are lucky recipients of EU subsidies- qualifying for quite a bit in subsidy. Their ultimate parent company is Streetfield Property Company of the same address, presumably property developers.

What struck me was the number of recipients of public handouts who don’t sound like the everyday image of our local farmers: Broadway Tower Country Park Ltd; Execs of the Late Mrs C Campbell, Isle of Sky; Gisburne Park Estates Ltd; J and V Casey and son Ltd of New York – hang on a minute – New York? There is it appears a New York in Lincolnshire.

Because of difficulties some farmers have surviving by traditional agriculture diversification is encouraged and rewarded: rented out land; farm shops; tourism; woodland; improved land management so while Highland Grain Ltd of North Kessock  a cooperative mainly made up of  Black Isle and Easter Ross farmers who grow malting barley for whisky and get considerable amounts of cash from European Agricultural Fund fall firmly into the category of genuine farmers Flamborough Holidays Ltd must surely fall into the diversity grouping also attracting aid. Likewise Tongue and Farr Sports Association at Bettyhill, a community venture running a pool, spa, sauna and fitness suite in the north of Scotland. As for O’Neill’s Caravan your guess is as good as mine – and the same goes for Shield Engineering Syston Ltd. Then again Hound Parish Council at somewhere called Netley Abbey, Southampton appears along with The Royal Farms Windsor. Hello? What? The Queen picks up loadsamoney through her Sandringham Farms.

Trawling through the CAP list is time-consuming for it is very, very long with no fewer than 19,613 recipients listed in the UK and not a few, in fact quite the reverse, millionaires and zillionaires which suggest the EU CAP system is something of a money printing press for powerful agencies. One in five CAP handouts goes to toffs.

Khalid Abdullah al Saud, owner of Frankel the racehorse.

Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud

The last thing you might imagine a Saudi prince really needed was a cash handout from the people of Europe but that’s because you aren’t a Saudi prince. Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud has expensive pastimes – breeding racehorses and hobby farming on his Juddmonte Farms (registered offshore in Guernsey.) He enjoys CAP pocket money of around £400,000 a year.

the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/29/the-queen-aristocrats-and-saudi-prince-among-recipients-of-eu-farm-subsidies

Who is/was – delete as appropriate – the richest landowner in the UK? Easy question – it is of course the Duke of Westminster and wouldn’t you know it he is on the list as is vacuum cleaner man Sir James Dyson – sorry, the billionaire Dyson. Why?

From my neck of the woods is Frank A Smart who has done very nicely out of EU subsidies. He is described in the local press as a slipper farmer for he buys up land with subsidies attached and there is nothing at all illegal about this. On being questioned over the huge sums of money he receives each years Mr Smart replied to BBC news, “I don’t want to discuss any part of my business with the media, thank you.”  And why would he.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37493956

Here in Scotland we are forever being told how much money shooting estates bring to the economy but not what the EU brings to grouse moors. Imagine how much good could be done with equivalent handouts to these barren areas of land preserved for the dubious activity of slaughtering defenceless birds and beasts by improving conditions to develop diversity of flora and fauna. The specious argument that subsidies can be justified as a reward to landowners as caretakers of land hardly applies to grouse moor lairds especially those whose gamekeepers persecute our magnificent raptors and other birds and animals, many of whom are protected (in theory.)

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/28/grouse-shooting-estates-shored-up-by-millions-in-subsidies

Farming in the UK is struggling if figures are to be believed and the average farmer, whatever that may be given who appears on the CAP list, could not survive without hefty payouts. Figures for last year indicated that the average farm made £2,100 from farming and £28,300 from subsidies.

In Scotland the average farm (excluding pig and poultry) made £23,000 profit from their business in 2014/15 which includes subsidies. They lost c £21,800 on agriculture but took in £39,900 in subsidies and other payments.

https://fullfact.org/economy/farming-subsidies-uk/

I noticed this year farms around Alford were ploughed and sown right up to dykes and fences with virtually no wild margins left for birds and wildlife. Is this the future? So much for Gove’s ‘green Brexit’ when cereal farmers post-subsidy will turn over every inch of their land and to hell with nature. Anyway out of the EU those pesky controls over pesticides will be lifted and production will be increased to make up for payout losses at no cost other than to our health and the environment.

The UK government says it will retain subsidies until 2022 by which time the money will have run out. In free-for-all post-Brexit Britain agriculture crops will be even more intensively sprayed with pesticides in attempts to compete with the big boys and will fail because then we will be the little brats. Our grass reared cattle and hill sheep will be reared for a niche market for they will be too expensive for most of us who will have to tuck into US beef pumped full of growth hormones, chlorine washed chickens and Frankenstein GM foods of every description. Gove’s green Brexit Britain will be a poorer and nastier place with horrible unhealthy food where the government will have to sit down and negotiate support for food producers at levels that will enable them to compete not only with the US but the EU as well.  

Last time the UK government stopped subsidising farming agricultural wages fell by 40 per cent in 12 months and then the threat to British cereal producers didn’t come from the US but from Canada. As a consequence people were thrown out of work, poverty increased and fertile land was abandoned and did not greatly improve until after World War Two with the introduction of guaranteed prices.

Back at the list at least one 14 year old received CAP payments but that’s not a category I could fit into although two folk over 100 years old also made it in so there’s a ray of hope for me. The centenarians were both dead – hope for us all – although if I were a farmer, especially a crofter or hill farmer in Scotland, I would be very very worried as 2022 approaches.

 

 

June 28, 2017

Cycling through thirties Aberdeen

1936 cyclists parade in aid of the Infirmary fund

Cyclists parade at Aberdeen beach in an event to raise cash for the new infirmary at Foresterhill   1936

Cycling was promoted as a cheap and enjoyable form of recreation and transport rolled into one by Aberdeen Council in the 1930s. Bicycles were becoming lighter and more easily handled by children as well as men and women and a host of cycling clubs sprouted up all around Scotland as people took to the road at weekends and on their annual summer holidays. Aberdeen Wheelers became one of Scotland’s prominent clubs winning numerous national championships that attracted astonishing numbers of competitors. At the Northeast of Scotland’s time trials, its 7th annual rally, held at Rothienorman in 1936 there were over 8,000 participants.

A couple of years earlier it was noted that summer sports were booming in Aberdeen with many participating in football, bowls, angling, golf, athletics, rowing, swimming, tennis and cricket – and not forgetting cycling.

Between 1934 and 1938 the cycling craze saw the establishment of lots of groups several attached to the Northeast of Scotland Time Trials Association (NSTTA): Aberdeen Wheelers, Bon-Accord (the Bons), Barmen, Woodside and District, Bucksburn and District, Footdee and District and Caledonian and from farther north clubs from Keith, Elgin, Grantown, Inverness, Strichen, Ellon and Deveron Valley as well as many more not attached to the NSTTA. One cyclist stood out above the rest – he was George Lawrie and he was a member of Aberdeen Paragons Cycling Club.

1934

Among his many successes Lawrie smashed the Scottish record for the 100 mile time trial held by Dundee CC member Chick Moncur by 11 mins 50 secs in a time of 4hrs 37mins 14secs on the North Deeside Road. That season he broke records for all three distance runs – 25, 50 and 100 miles time trials making him Britain’s second best all-rounder.

1935

The Bon-Accord Cycling Club’s own 25-mile low gear (63 and under) time trial along the South Deeside Road was won by the Bons James Cameron in a time of 1 hr 12mins 20 secs beating the more fancied Stanley Bennett and Robert Penny. Meanwhile Woodside and District’s 25-mile conditional time trial on the Oldmeldrum Road got delayed twice by flocks of marauding sheep adding precious minutes to the winning time of 1hr 15mins 52secs by Alex Murray. The Stonehaven – Laurencekirk road saw a 5-mile scratch time trial prize taken by Stonehaven and District CC with all riders finishing in under 16 mins.

Tommy Bike

Torry Wheeler Tom Corall c1935 came second to the Scottish champion in the Aberdeen to Braemar race

1936

George Lawrie came first in Perth’s Amateur Open annual 25 mile time trial one wet and windy day in 1936. He set a new cycle record in the June at the NSTTA’s 50 miles time trial along the North Deeside Road coming home in 2 hrs 9mins 46 secs beating his record of 8 days previously by 1 second.

Aberdeen council continued to encourage participation in the sport with a programme of fun cycling events in the city’s Music Hall with Cycle Roller competitions including children’s races. G Adams took honours in the message boys’ race on bikes that weren’t exactly sporty. The Music Hall extravaganza was an opportunity for family participation as well as to be impressed by serious cyclists and unsurprisingly it was Lawrie who shone above all others.  

 

Consignment of bikes being taken from the railway station to Alexanders, 339 Union Street, Aberdeen. A frequent sight in the city.

A consignment of bicycles being transported from the railway station to Alexander’s, 339 Union Street. A common sight in the city during the ’30s

1937

In March 1937 Aberdeen Paragon CC’s 20 mile rough riders time trial took place over a difficult course around Netherley district. The winning time of 54 mins 50 secs belonged again to George Lawrie some 3mins 27secs ahead of William King.

Lawrie put in another impressive performance in the Forfarshire Roads CC Open taking first in the 25-mile medium gear time trial held at Dundee in a time of 1hr 5mins 7secs beating the record by over 3 mins. Seventeen riders from Aberdeen took part and again Lawrie’s club mate Willie King put in as strong showing.

July saw 4,000 turn out for a Sunday meeting of the Newmachar annual rally organised by cycle agents and traders in Aberdeen. The youngest competitor was William Chapman aged 6 years.

William from Ruthrieston Crescent in Aberdeen, dressed in white shorts and jersey, competed on a miniature racing bicycle. He and his keen cyclist dad waited on Marischal Street in Aberdeen for the signal to begin their run out to Newmachar. Groups of between 10 and 12 were released by the organisers to prevent congestion on the roads and when William and his dad were waved forward William jumped onto his bike and began pedalling down Marischal Street in the wrong direction. He quickly sorted himself out and was soon confidently cycling along Union Street on the start of his ten mile run.

Men, women and children made up the 4000 competitors – including one small child. A few that day opted for tandems for the competition was a mixed bag – more a day off for some from the usual run of inter-club rivalry although serious challenges did take place.

The boys’ race winner was E. Chessor with J. McKinnie and R. Thomson second and third. M. Morrice took first place in the girls’ pursuit with M. Ferguson and N. Don running in second and third. The women’s slow bike race was won by P. Flynn and the men’s by A. Dickie of Stonehaven.

You didn’t even need a bike to be a winner. J. Dalgarno hopped in first in the women’s sack race and J. Dalgarno took honours for the men. I don’t know who won the wheelbarrow race but J. Bell and G. Black picked up the prizes for the tyre-bursting competition.

 Multiple-talented women from the Sun Touring Cycling Club beat Clarion women in the women’s five-a-side football competition by one corner while the Torry Wheelers defeated Woodside and District for the men by a single goal in extra time. Clarion women got their own back overwhelming Sun Touring women in the tug-o’-war by 2 pulls to one while Bon-Accord won it for the men against Sun Touring men by two pulls to nil.

stoneage tandem beach money effort for RI

Stone age tandem riders raise money for the new infirmary in 1936

Remember the tandem riders? Winner of the slow race was J. McLeod of Aberdeen Paragon who used the novelty as relief from training for a 12 hour time trial but strangely there is no mention of his partner.

Team honours for the day went to Aberdeen Bon-Accord (the Bons) over Aberdeen Paragon but the Paragon’s George Lawrie showed his mettle by taking first place in the 25-mile race in 1hr 4mins 32 secs. One of Britain’s top riders Lawrie established a new record at Dundee of 1hr 2mins 16secs over 25 miles.

1938

On a lovely day in May the Strichen Wheelers 25-mile time trial was held on the Peterhead road with predictably George Lawrie setting the pace in a time of 1hr 3min 26 secs. James Sinclair and Jack Porter of the Bons ran him a close second and third and Lawrie’s dominance was about to wane. The new kid on the block was another Paragon, 20 year old James Smith.

1939

Within 6-months most of those competing in the 1939 NSTTA open would be in uniform and facing an uncertain future for Britain entered World War Two early in September but that April the focus was on the 25-mile run along the Deeside road. John Whyte of Forres and District came in first in a time of 1hr 5min 32secs, his time hampered by strong winds. Fred Murdoch a novice rider with the Torry Wheelers took the Glegg Trophy with ease and another first year member of the Torry club, Alex Sangster, took the second handicap prize.

At the Inverness Clachnacuddin Open 25-mile time trial on the 7th August Aberdeen clubmen showed the Highlanders a clean pair of heels, taking 6 out of the 7 prizes. Torry Wheelers took their sixth successive team championship, squeezing Paragon by 11 seconds. Alistair McKenzie was fastest over the 25-mile race at 1hr 5min 21 secs and Torry Wheeler brothers David and James Ogilvie came in close behind.

Following the race competitors assembled at Elgin’s Masonic Hall to listen to Aberdeen cyclists Alex Christie, Archie Christie, A J Finlayson, L Emslie and CC Russell discuss the sport.

At the outbreak of war club stars – George Lawrie of Paragon, twice holder of the Scottish short distance championship, went into the army as did his team-mate Willie King, holder of the Aberdeen to Inverness and back record. Jack Porter of the crack Torry Wheelers joined the RAF.

Aberdeen’s Paragon, Sprite Club, Cyclists’ Touring Club, Bon-Accord, Clarion, Torry Wheelers all went into abeyance during the war. A few survived it – but not all their pre-war members did. The Northeast of Scotland Time Trials Association never re-emerged after May 1940.

A proposal that bike mad Aberdeen build a sports stadium was opposed by a councillor Mackintosh as too ambitious. Dearie me isn’t it the truth that Aberdeen councillors have a track record of being nothing if not lacking in ambition? If the peoples’ representatives in the council were incapable of building on the accomplishments of the city’s citizens local people at least recognised George Lawrie as a major sportsman who deserved recognition and respect for his achievements in the saddle.

braemar gathering 35 years before 1936

Cycling was popular at Braemar Gatherings

 ***

Finally a cycling tragedy that occurred in 1936 which had nothing to do with racing.

Three brothers from Tullos Crescent in Aberdeen set off for a day’s fishing at Cove. They were making their way along the grassy cliff top and had just passed the Aulton fishers’ bothy where the path narrowed when two dismounted their bikes while the third brother, 21 year old Thomas Stoleworthy, happily cycled on ahead. His pedal caught on the grass and his brothers alerted by a shout from Thomas watched horrified as they saw him hurtle over the cliff. As the younger boy ran back to the salmon fishermen’s bothy to raise the alarm the other brother climbed down to Thomas, lying in a pool of water, badly injured but conscious. Both his legs and an arm were broken but Thomas told his brother, ‘I haven’t shed a tear yet.’

Fishermen quickly arrived by boat and transferred the injured man to their bothy. Having alerted the coastguards at the Gregness station Thomas was taken on an improvised stretcher to an ambulance and on to the Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen where two hours later he died. He had been due to be married later in the summer.

 

June 12, 2017

Aberdeen Music Hall: British Nationalism and the Light Fantastic

Music Hall 1859

Inside the Music Hall 1859

Guest blog by Textor

On April 26 1820 Aberdeen was witness to one of its grandest processions of the early 19th century. With great pomp and even some circumstance around 1500 men (no women) formed orderly lines and marched westward from the heart of the burgh at the Castlegate to Union Bridge above the Denburn and beyond to the site designated for a new Public Hall which would become known as the Music Hall. Laying of the hall’s foundation stone, as it turned out, became an occasion for celebrating local and national pride but first let us establish our historical bearings.

The economic and political disturbances of the wars with France were over. Stability, growth and progress seemed possible and probable with the United Kingdom – Britain (often conceived as England) to the fore. The Public Hall was a sign of this confidence. And where better to show such confidence than on Union Street? Here was a street slowly but surely becoming the grand carriageway for traffic to the city centre and it continued beyond the old town in a semi-rural setting; well away from industry, overcrowding, noise, filth and disease. As one commentator said of the area –

On the whole a more dry, healthy, and eligible situation for Building, is not to be found in the vicinity of the Town.

1828 Plan Union Street

Site of the Music Hall between Golden Square and Union Street 1810

Whether for a new villa or grand public hall the land west of Union Bridge was full of prime sites, ripe for speculative development. As the street was very underdeveloped any impressive new building would stand in near splendid isolation – an emphatic visual sign of confidence and good taste not to mention ostentation.

To note in passing, when the west side of Broad Street was recently cleared to reveal for the first time Marischal College in all its architectural glory (or folly depending on taste) how easy it would have been to emulate the architectural commitment of Georgian Aberdeen but no sooner did we get a tantalising glimpse of what might be than it was snatched away as Willie Young and his Council cohorts spurned the notion of giving the city an iconic architectural facade. Instead they gave Aberdeen the monotony of uninspired glass and steel boxes; like cartoon characters with cash signs in their eyes their vision saw money to be made from the cleared site.

Those private investors in the 1820 hall were also motivated in part by commercial concerns – of what they might make from shares in the enterprise. But they at least recognised that site and architecture mattered. Designs were invited including from Aberdeen’s two foremost architects, Archibald Simpson and John Smith. They were men with established architectural reputations and just as importantly their local work had given them a strong sense of what could and could not be achieved with granite, the local building stone. This is important as the very hardness of the stone and the low-technology available to masons imposed severe limitations on the ornamental styles possible. Granite lent itself to the austere rather than decorative exuberance of freestone architecture. The Aberdeen Journal praised the submitted designs, saying they exhibit a chaste imitation of the simplest style of Grecian Architecture, to which the celebrated Granite of this County is so admirably adapted. Simpson won the commission: local man, local stone, local pride.

And here we are at April 1820. Men assembled, about to march. And not just any men. They were Freemasons. Changed days. Long gone are the times when masons assembled with banners and regalia to march through the town to mark civic occasions or for the funeral of a lodge member. Tradesmen, professionals and aristocrats were proud openly to display their Masonic beliefs. European Freemasons might have been tainted by notions of radicalism and ideas of popular democracy but here in 1820 Aberdeen participants, whether operative members or those drawn from higher social circles were intent in showing loyalty to the Town and to Britain (Crown and Country).

James Duff 4 Earl of Fife (2)

James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife

Heading the Masonic dedication was James Duff 4th Earl of Fife, Depute Grand Master of Scotland. The Earl had fought under Wellington in France; he was a friend of the British King although this did not stop him voting against a Royal tax policy in Parliament. His “liberal” views led him to support Catholic Emancipation and vote for parliamentary reform in 1832. He seems to have been a bit of a loose cannon and far from being in the same reactionary mould of Wellington and his cohorts. But like the Iron Duke he was a staunch patriot.

Duff’s speech to fellow masons was replete with a mixture of calls to patriotism and hinted at concerns particular to his neck of the woods which was Banffshire. With an estimated crowd of 10,000 gathered Rule Britannia was sung, followed by a Masonic blessing of Cornucopia, May the all-bounteous Author of Nature bless this city with an abundance of Corn, Wine, and Oil. The Earl of Fife then got stuck in, telling the multitude, those close enough to hear, how pleased he was at the local initiative and especially happy that the investors had not been obliged to resort to foreign artists to furnish the design for the Public Rooms. Simpson’s work was admirable, he said, as was the industry of Aberdonians, making gems from barren rock, meaning turning brute granite into a material for wealth, utility and beauty.

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A more familiar picture of the Music Hall on Union Street now an urban setting

A landowner with a reputation for his willingness to listen to claims or complaints from his tenants on his Banffshire estates James Duff applied himself to their problems and the fact that disparities of wealth were about to be highlighted with the construction of the large neo-classical hall. The granite edifice might well give employment to many quarriers and masons around Aberdeen but at the same time standing on its prestigious site clearly visible from Union Bridge the hall embodied difference and exclusion: its doors were open only to those with wealth and social connections, made more obvious by its countryside setting. James Duff got straight to the point –

…although it was constructed more immediately for the purpose of innocent festivity and
amusement, the wants of the poor and indigent would not be forgot by those within its
walls, who might tread upon the light fantastic toe, and lead the mazy dance; the situation of the public charities of the place would be considered, and liberal contributions made to relieve the distressed . . . and thus prove that, although they [the poor] could not partake of the festivities for which the Building was about to be erected, those who enjoyed them were not unmindful of their privations, but anxious to alleviate them; thereby conveying to them some of the fruits of the social scene, and sweetening as far as is in their power, the bitter cup of their adversity, to receive their blessing in return.

He found in poet James Thomson’s “Four Seasons” moral, patriotic and ideological support for his opinions and the verse from Thomson the Earl chose that day in 1820 included a call for protection of British fishing interests:

nor look on, Shamefully passive, while Batavian fleets
Defraud us of the glittering, finny swarms,
That heave our friths, and croud upon our shore.

British waters for British fishermen. The poem comes from the early 18th century but the message James Duff decided was applicable to the 1820s after seeing off Napoleon the United Kingdom must keep hold of its global maritime power or as Thomson put it, … united Britain make Intire, th’ imperial Mistress of the deep. Maritime freedom was essential as British commercial and industrial might was then in the process of encircling the globe. In the two years following the ceremony Fife backed Banffshire fish curers when they sought relief from the salt tax; similarly he backed local herring fishermen when they asked to be exempt from paying tax on imported European oak staves.

Union Street from South

Union Street from the south

But the Earl was not satisfied simply with being British. He had a double or more complex identity; two nationalities. He was British and also Scottish – from a country with its own traditions and history and this he employed to enthuse and legitimise the 1820s. Having already used the words of one Scotch poet for defence of Britannia he turned to another for fashioning Scottishness: Sir Walter Scott, prolific author and said to be the inventor of the historical novel. With a European-wide readership Scott’s poetry and novels made him amongst the most influential writers of the period. James Duff found the model and images in he sought in the romantic poem “Lord of the Isles”; a work which extols the virtues of initiative and independence as portrayed in the trials, tribulations and victories of the Bruce. Scott’s narrative tells how the would-be King of Scots defeated the foreign foe, the English. Duff drew Aberdeen citizens into the narrative, explaining that the city had played a noble role in the saga when citizens provided a place of safety for Bruce then pursued by enemy forces. “Inventing” a local history for Bruce the Earl imagined the fleeing man dreaming of Liberty at the site of hills. In the Earl’s imagination Bruce has been inspired by landscape and the loyalty of Aberdonians leading to, in Walter Scott’s words, the heartfelt cry –

Oh Scotland! Shall it e’re be mine/ To Wreak thy wrongs in battle-line/ To raise my victor head and see/ Thy hills, thy dales, thy people free.

On the face of it this was a battle-cry for a return to the former glories of an independent country. But no. The Earl told his audience that the days of the Bruce were past; events that happened in “times of Yore”. Romantic visions of medieval kings defeating foes was a great story but he and his fellow masons lived in the world of Hanoverian settlement and post 1707 Union. It was not political independence he called for but the qualities of determination, commitment, initiative and loyalty which he found in the story of Bruce to be used to strengthen the forces of commercial progress and Rule Britannia. Much like Sir Walter Scott who described, dramatised and absorbed Scotland’s distinct and turbulent past Fife’s lesson was that was then this is now and progress henceforward would come in the guise of a new identity albeit one containing the DNA of previous forms.

Union Bridge

Union Bridge complete with washing line

So James Duff 4th Earl of Fife laid the foundation stone and in doing this provided the multitude with a sense of the moral and political lights that should guide them. Finally turning to the assembled spectators he thanked them for their respectable behaviour, for their silence and proprietary of demeanour all a sure sign of the good sense of the citizens of Aberdeen.

May 28, 2017

Bridge over the Don

The following has been taken from the Flickr account of Aberdeen Granite

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Bridge of Don, Aberdeen

Until the recent opening of a new bridge over the river the Bridge of Don was the main crossing point for traffic to and from the north of the city. Built when Aberdeen was beginning to break free of the commercial and physical bounds of the old town this bridge, like the earlier Union Bridge in the heart of the city, was not only a transport improvement but also a boost for the burgeoning granite industry. The elegant five-arched bridge illustrated the wealth of the area and the showed how the local stone could satisfy aesthetic and engineering needs or as Provost Brown put at laying of the foundation stone in 1827, the designers had looked to “unite utility with ornament”.

Utility, however, was delayed in arriving as there were considerable problems with subsidence of piers, but eventually all was remedied and by late 1830 the bridge was opened to traffic. Design and modification had involved contributions from Telford, Gibb of Aberdeen and the local architect John Smith. And so the “ornament” stood in its original dimensions until the 1950s when the voracious demands of motor lorries and cars led to a widening of the bridge but even so the elegance of the granite structure remains, and the piers still refuse to subside.

May 25, 2017

The Peasant-Boy Philosopher James Ferguson astronomer and limner from Rothiemay

james ferguson astronomer 2 rothiemay

Gravestone at Milltown of Rothiemay

A chance glimpse of a name on a gravestone in a tiny village in Moray aroused my curiosity.

James Ferguson astronomer it read. I wasn’t familiar with the name but my other half was and told me Ferguson was famous long ago (and not for playing the electric violin on Desolation Row). So I took a photo of the tombstone and looked him up when I got back home.

James Ferguson was born to a poor tenant farmer and his wife in Rothiemay near Keith in Banffshire in the presbytery of Strathbogie during the year of 1710. As a young loon he earned his keep herding sheep and later working in a mill. Fascinated by what he saw about him the boy developed a hunger for learning and as a child mapped the night sky with thread and beads. His enquiring mind was never at rest and he set about educating himself. He first learned to read by listening in to lessons given by his father to his older brother for despite their humble circumstances the father was, as most Scots were, literate to an extent that they might be able to read the bible. And so in the evenings after work reading was taught centring mainly on the Scottish Catechism. That the young Ferguson was attempting to learn at the same time as his brother wasn’t obvious to their father and James was unwilling to ask for help when he found the going tough and he turned to a neighbour, an elderly woman, who coached him in reading so that by the time the father discovered his competence he encouraged him further by teaching James to write as well. The icing on the cake was the three months James spent at the grammar school at Keith and those three months amounted to the whole of James Ferguson’s formal education.  

Perhaps it was his inauspicious start in life that persuaded the successful adult James Ferguson to ensure his own writings on the physical sciences were easily accessible to untrained minds. His book Lectures on Mechanics attracted a vast number of readers across all classes and became a classic to be found in every mechanics workshop, it was claimed, as well as a source for other learned works but all of that lay in the future for the boy from Rothiemay.

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James Ferguson mapping the stars

Ferguson’s interest in mechanics came about by accident. He was about 7 or 8 years old when the roof of the family’s meagre home began to sag. His father set about repairing it – using a lever to position a prop that lifted it more or less back into place. Watching him the young James was astonished at how his father managed to raise such a great weight with so little difficulty. He imagined the ease of the exercise was down to his father’s great strength but later thinking about it realised his father had applied his strength to the lever not the prop and the child began to make his own levers and developed experiments to hoist up weights.

Soon his models were adapted with wheels and winding ropes and the results were methodically recorded so that he might improve on each design and he would probably have been content to continue passing his time in this manner but as one of six children he had to earn his keep and was found work looking after a neighbour’s sheep and this is how he came to study the night skies. A pattern emerged in his life whereby he made models of mills, spinning-wheels and such in daytime then at night he would take a blanket and go out into a field and lying down on his back would stretch out threads strung with small beads positioning each bead to hide a star from his eye – in this way he calculated their distance from one another. Then by candlelight he laid out the thread over paper and marked the positions of the beads/stars building up maps of the night skies. He showed these maps to the farmer, James Glashan, who laughed at him at first before realising the boy was onto something and began encouraging him. During the day James made fair copies of his rough calculations, his star papers, sometimes helped by Glashan. Later in his life Ferguson said of the farmer,

“I shall always have a respect for the memory of that man.”

And he went on –

One day he sent me with a message to Mr J Gilchrist, minister at Keith, to whom I had been known from my childhood. I carried my star papers to show him, and found him looking over a large parcel of maps, which I surveyed with great pleasure as they were the first I had ever seen. He then told me the earth is round like a ball, and explained the map of it to me. I requested him to lend me that map to take a copy of it in the evenings, for which pleasant employment my master gave me more time than I could reasonable expect, and often took the threshing-flail out of my hands and worked himself, while I sat by him in the barn busy with my compasses, ruler, and pen. When I had finished the copy I asked leave to carry home the map. In my way to the minister’s house I happened to pass the village school, where I saw a genteel-looking man painting a sun-dial on the wall. I stopped awhile to observe him, and the schoolmaster came out and asked me what parcel it was I had under my arm. I showed him the map and my copy of it, wherewith he appeared very well pleased, and asked me whether I should not like to learn of Mr Cantley to make sun-dials. Mr Cantley then looked at the copy of the map, and commended it much.”

Fergusons_Mechanical_Paradox_Orrery

Ferguson’s Orrery

One thing led to another involving the kirk minister and a wealthy individual who invited the boy to live at his house where Cantley was butler with the idea that he would be taught by Cantley. James could not take up this offer immediately for he was bound to Glashan as his herder but once his time was out he took up residence with Thomas Grant of Achoynaney and there the boy and Cantley formed a close friendship. Self-taught Cantley excelled in arithmetic, mathematics, geometry in addition to being a highly capable musician. He also understood Latin, French and Greek and was said able to write a prescription if required. The arrangement ended when Cantley moved to another household and James Ferguson returned home and found work in a mill but his friendship with Cantley lasted till Cantley’s death.

Milling was more arduous than James anticipated it would be and his employer was an unreasonable man who made life difficult for him. After a year the boy had become physically weak. Another engagement further depleted his strength and the child was forced to rest and recuperate.

During this low period in his life while James tried to regain his strength he occupied himself by making a wooden clock using the neck of a broken bottle as the ‘bell’ against which a hammer struck but interested in the differences between a clock and a watch that did not require a weight and line he persuaded a gentleman to show him the inside of his pocket watch. James listened as the workings were explained and having memorised the instruction went on to make his own watch with wooden wheels and a spring made from whalebone. The whole works he encased in wood and the watch which was a little larger than a breakfast teacup was proudly shown to a clumsy neighbour who accidentally dropped it then stood on it, crushing all its parts. James’ father was infuriated and ready to beat the neighbour and the whole episode affected James so much he never made another watch.

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James Ferguson painting a globe

As soon as his health was recovered James left the village to make his way in life. He earned a  meagre living maintaining clocks and when at Durn House at Portsoy he took to painting the stone balls on top of the gateposts – one as a globe of earth and the other the night sky – accurately aligned towards the celestial pole so they became sundials – using his lessons from Cantley to map them accurately. He would later go on to make pocket globes which brought him a reasonable living.

Ferguson had what we now call transferable skills and he found earned money producing needlework patterns for aprons and gowns. His artistic ability enabled him to copy paintings he saw in fine houses and this inspired him to learn portraiture but he was disappointed to discover none of the artists in Edinburgh where he tried would take him on as an apprentice without a premium. However, the Rev Dr. Keith sat for a portrait by James and so pleased was he by the result he recommended him to others so gradually James Ferguson had wealthy individuals queuing up to be drawn by him and a career as a pen and ink portraitist, a limner, was born.

Driven to learn Ferguson taught himself medicine and practised for a time in Keith but could not make a living from it as once helped his patients forgot to pay him.

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Ferguson’s Astronomical Rotula

 

Astronomy was still the area James Ferguson longed to be involved with. From Edinburgh James Ferguson went to Inverness and invented an instrument to demonstrate new moons and eclipses; soon his Astronomical Rotula was published. He made a mechanical model of the solar system, an orrery, and word of his abilities spread. He came to the notice of the Royal Society and in 1747 he published his first work, a Dissertation on the Phenomena of the Harvest Moon. A prolific author he published his mechanical lectures, tables and tracts on various arts and sciences, a treatise on electricity and his Astronomical Dialogues between a Gentleman and Lady in which they discuss Newton’s system of the world in mathematical terms. His many writings were translated into French, German and Swedish as his fame spread. Readers of his works included the political theorist and one of the founding fathers of the United States of America Thomas Paine and astronomer and composer William Herschel. Ferguson was acquainted with Benjamin Franklin (whose inventions enabled the electric violin) and drew on his designs of a 3-wheeled clock for his own trials. Ferguson began giving public lectures on experimental philosophy going on to become one of the most popular lecturers of his time using instruments and models to entertain as well as inform the public. George III was an admirer and awarded Ferguson an annual pension of £50 from the Privy Purse. However it was his inventions of scientific and astronomical apparatus that most captivated attention.  

James_Ferguson

He lived in London for thirty years making his living mainly as a limner but also selling his globes. In 1763 he was elected a member of the Royal Society without being required to pay for admission (unusual it appears).

James Ferguson led an extraordinary life, immensely successful in so many ways but I suspect it did not entirely satisfy the man who wanted to do so much else with his time. He did not enjoy a happy family life and was legally separated from his wife Isabella. They had four children.

Humble and courteous, described as a lovely character, James Ferguson’s eventful life ended on 16th November 1776 at the age of 66 years and while his name is included in the gravestone back home in Milltown of Rothiemay he was buried near his former wife and their son James in Old Marylebone churchyard in London.

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James Ferguson’s tomb at the lost Old Marylebone graveyard

 

You can find out more about Ferguson’s burial from this short article from the University of Edinburgh

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?bibcode=2012JAHH…15…57D&db_key=AST&page_ind=0&data_type=GIF&type=SCREEN_VIEW&classic=YES