Archive for ‘Scotland’

June 4, 2018

Hokum History: Alfred the Great Myth

 

winchester alfred great

Alfred the Great in Winchester

During the summer of 1901 a letter was sent by representatives of the City of Winchester in England to the Lord Provost of Aberdeen appealing for cash. Winchester planned to erect a statue to Alfred the Great and thought the good folk of Aberdeen might be willing to dig into their pockets to help fund it.

Who was Alfred the Great?

He was a king of Wessex. Never heard of it? Not surprising since it was a place in England which ceased to exist 1,200 years ago and in any case was 550 miles to the south of Aberdeen. Travel that distance from Winchester in another direction and their letter might have landed in Nuremberg in Germany. Good luck with Nurembergers contributing to old Alfred’s statue – and probably that was the reason Winchester looked for a handout from Scots not Bavarians. 

Getting down to the nitty gritty – why would/should Aberdonians put cash towards commemorating Alfredo il Grande? The appeal from the chancers of Winchester went something like this –

• He restored London (545 miles away from Aberdeen.)
• He started up our navy (hang on he lived in the 9th century, there is no OUR.)
• He was the ‘saviour and preserver of the most prized of our ancient institutions” (ditto.)
• He “more than any other may be said to be the true founder of England’s greatness” (and your point is?)

 

wessex for alfredmap

The point is at Winchester, so far from Aberdeen there wasn’t a map big enough to include them both

It’s enough to make your head go POP!

“I shall be glad if you, as Lord Provost of Aberdeen, will afford me the advantage of your lordship’s friendly co-operation (read mug) and interest in support of the committee’s wish to raise the balance (some £1500) needed to complete the statue of our great national (sic) hero.”

They aimed to have Alfred erected in time to commemorate his reign over “this country.” Our country? As the union between Scotland and England would not take place for another 900 years there was no ‘our’ country involved. The Great Alfredo was another foreigner from down south. Westeros would be far more appropriate to Aberdeen than Wessex. Not that Winchester stopped at Aberdeen. It held out its begging bowl to America and Britain’s colonies so why would Scots, living  in a place most people from Winchester couldn’t point to on a map, be willing to cough up so that a town over 500 miles away could tart up one of their streets?

Queen Victoria was keen, before she died, and her son Edward, the disputed VII that should have been Edward I of Gt Britain (but then regnal numbers never work in favour of Scotland in this equal union.) How far the ol’ Queen Vic and Ed dug into their bottomless pit of wealth one can only guess. Hint – they weren’t rich because they gave away their cash.

 

alfred great panel

Panel on Alfred the Great’s statue

The we know our place, three bags full brigade crept out cap in hand to support Winchester. Aberdeen kirk minister Reverend George Walker preached a sermon on King Alfred the Great. As if to go out of his way to prove rubbish in = rubbish out George repeated the myth that Alfred, the Christian king, started a wee army in Wessex that grew into the Great British army, or some such nonsense. Not only that, George impressed upon his congregation, surely hanging onto his every utterance, that the Christian king turned a few wooden ships into the British navy so that Britannia could rule the waves.

Amazing! Just amazing on so many levels. Was there no end to the greatness of the Great Alfredo?

Well, no, not according to George. Sunday worshippers were on the edge of their pews as he informed them that Alfred was “our first British educationist.” What can you say? Was George out on special licence? And he wasn’t finished. “His (Alfred’s) conquests with the sword were but means to a higher end.” Oh, George, George, that’s what all the brutal murdering despots say. And still he gilded the reputation of Alfred, “his name was, to this day, written on the living tablets of men’s hearts.”

Folks, don’t listen to the Georges of this world, those who prostrate themselves before others while tugging their forelocks. It’s not a good look. If you must have heroes turn to those who have got up off their knees and exercise the brains they were born with.

So, who really was this veritable god that George worshipped and the man Winchester expected Scots to pay to commemorate in a bloody great statue? He was a killer par excellence that’s who and he was crap at cooking.

Fact 1: he was a slayer of Vikings. Couldn’t get enough of it. Week in week out, month in month out, year in year out you would find Alfred splitting heads like some folk split logs and slicing off arms and legs and slitting throats. The man was a killing machine. Do we erect statues to killing machines? Well, yes – clearly Winchester does.

Fact 2: he ruthlessly expanded his kingdom – not through peaceably buying up spare pieces of land but by, you’ve guessed it, savagery – killing and laying claim to someone else’s place.

Fact 3: not satisfied by killing on dry land his bloodlust led him to put together a small navy so he could kill at sea and overseas. It was not the start of the English navy but even if it had been it was 900 years before the Union so nothing to do with Scotland. George! Sit up laddie and pay attention.

Fact 4: his influence in the construction of laws led to English law. George, George how many times? English law is not Scots law ergo Scots law is not English law. Repeat after me…

Fact 5: he was useless at baking. A woman trusted him to look after the girdle for one minute, one minute and he had everything burnt to a cinder. Great? You see how the world celebrates everything that is wrong in a man? Feeding people is good – Alfred was rubbish at it. He was good at killing but killing is bad and as George, an expert on Christianity would know, it is pretty high up in the commandments, thou shalt not kill.

Fact 6: no one in his time called him ‘the Great.’ Some dreamer, a George down in England, decided he would and like lemmings everyone else thought oh, see that Alfred he really was grrreat. Then Winchester put up a blooming great statue to him which is about the only thing about Alfred that could be said to be great.

May 31, 2018

The Faroe Islands – a lesson in small nation success through ambition not subservience

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nation

May 29, 2018

A Woman’s Woman – in a land where men were shot like skunks

Isabella Bird: A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Isabella Bird on Birdie


“There’s a bad breed of ruffians,” she’s told, “but the ugliest among them all won’t touch you. There’s nothing Western folk admire so much as pluck in a woman.”

And so it was.

Isabella Lucy Bird certainly had pluck. Daughter of an English clergyman she was born in 1831 and owing to her fragile state of health was advised to spend time abroad in American and Canada. And so the 23 year old began on an incredible set of travels around the world. Not quite sure the adventure she embarked upon was quite what that English doctor had in mind but what was soon abundantly clear there was nothing at all wrong with her other than, perhaps, boredom with her life in England.

From San Francisco she took to the saddle riding for hundreds of miles around the Rockies mainly inhabited then by wild men and animals, proving herself braver and more resilient than everyone gave her credit for at the outset. There in the Rockies she fell in love – with the place – the immense grandeur of its mountains, the flowers of the foothills and many of the animals still abundant in the 1870s. And though she hardly admits it, surely fell in love with one Rocky Mountain Jim Nugent – beguiled by his kindness, his poetry and long blond curls.

I’ve read Isabella’s book several times and on each occasion find it totally spellbinding. That’s not to say I like Isabella for I find her prejudices, her racism and disparaging remarks about native Americans hard to stomach but I admire her guts and sense of adventure. Hers is an astonishing story recorded in a series of letters sent home to her family which were published in 1879 which paints a picture of the West as proficiently as any artist with a brush: her palette the carmine, vermilion, greens, blues, yellows, orange, violets, lemons of the skies, the grasses, the hillsides, the gorges, the mountain streams of Colorado  so the reader can imagine those crimson sprays of Virginia creeper, snow-capped summits, colossal rocks crested with pines, “beautifully arranged by nature,” blue jays and chipmunks, deer, elk bighorn, grizzlies, mountain lion, bison, rattle snakes, tree snakes – every kind of snake. Her writing is lush and spare at the same time for she doesn’t tell all.

The supposedly ailing Isabella set out on horseback to explore the awesome beauty of the American West. Frankly it sounds terrifying but Isabella was up for the challenge. She did depend on others although she wasn’t always appreciative of them. What preserved her mainly was this was a different time, when a woman travelling on her own had little to fear from men, irrespective how wild and violent they were with one another. The only things she was scared of were wild animals and sometimes landing herself in precarious situations; near stranded in deep snow and freezing fog. Her prejudices she took with her from England and are well-entrenched and she was far more comfortable with fellow-English people, often described as civilised and lady-like (the women) than others.

From San Francisco she takes in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Fort Laramie – “a God-forsaken, God-forgotten place” (There’s a Scottish bank note in a bar in Laramie left by yours truly.) She enters a land of displaced Native Americans – “savage Indians” as she describes them, of shanty towns, basic frame houses, disease, early death, widows, widowers, orphans and mountain air as exquisitely healthy as anywhere. Here the people are hard-drinking or temperance. Horses are fine or broncos and mules. Cattle grazed and are driven by the tens of thousands for months at a time, protected by heavily armed vacheros, to their ultimate fate the meat yards of Chicago.

In this wild country where settlers are scattered there is an understanding homesteaders would put up those travelling through and make a little money in the process. The first family Isabella comes across are Scottish. The Chalmers and Isabella are like chalk and cheese. Dirt-poor, not very capable, scratching a living in the foothills of the Rockies as small ranchers and with a sawmill they don’t impress Isabella, until the time they parted. There’s little love lost between them for Isabella is a snob and Chalmers appears to be a bit simple and feckless, the family mostly sleep in the open air as their home is so poor a structure without much of a roof to shelter them. The Chalmers share the little food they have with their ‘house-guest’ but Mr Chalmers doesn’t go out of his way to charm his boarder as he constantly rants against the English – which not unnaturally she bridle at, especially when he vents his spleen against Queen Victoria as he hates the monarchy and the British Empire. Chalmers is clearly from Highland stock, a strict Presbyterian, and the family sing metrical psalms in the traditional unaccompanied way which in church would be led by a Precentor; familiar to many older Highland Scots but doesn’t go down well with Church of England Isabella. It wasn’t only Chalmers who fumed against the English as Isabella discovers. They are unpopular with the majority she encounters, not targeting her – indeed she is assumed to be Danish or Swedish – but as she writes, “I so often hear a good deal of outspoken criticism (of the English)…on the greediness of English people.” She’s is saved from becoming too down about this state of affairs when she comes upon “a refined, courteous, graceful English” emigrant but poor Chalmers – she even despises their children and while they might be scruffy and not much good at farming and cooking at least the family didn’t turn Isabella away from their door (not that they had a door.)

 

 

Estes Park 1873

Estes Park 1873

 

 

The problem with travelling about on her own (one of them) was she never knew where she would find passable lodgings or who she would come across. Isabella  Bird was quite at home on the back of her horse, Birdie, which she rode like a man not side-saddle (except on occasions it was expected of her and put out her back.) Birdie her sure-footed companion during trying times. She did, however, choose to try somewhere else when late one day she discovered the cabin she hoped to board at already had 17 men settling down to sleep on the floor.

She did seek out the desperado Jim Nugent and the day she rode up to his blackened wood cabin its roof adorned with pelts from all kinds of animals began one of the most unlikely of relationships. 

Mountain Jim about 45 years old with grey-blue eyes, a large moustache and “strikingly handsome” raised his cap to Isabella when she turned up at his log cabin. Sounds like love at first sight for both of them; Jim her “child of nature” must have been a real beauty for he’d lost an eye and one side of his face was badly scarred from a fight with bear. His arm and ribs had also been broken and he was generally “chawed” by the bear who had been protecting her cub. Still, he survived to charm Isabella with his refined accent, easy and elegant way of talking and chivalry towards her. One-time scout he mostly earned his living trapping animals and keeping some cattle. A heavy drinker he was given to extreme violence.

Jim rode a horse, a mare, with a bare wooden saddle from which hung mink, beaver and marten tails. Despite his fiercesome reputation children like him and would clamber all over him playing with his long curly hair. From an Irish family Jim’s father had been a British officer at Montreal but at 17 years Jim turned to hard liquor when his girlfriend died. He moved around, worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company for some years then became an Indian scout for the US government. This was how he gained his notoriety. He also escorted emigrant groups across the West. Whether he regretted some of his horrible crimes who knows but Isabella did say he was full of self-loathing.

Intent on getting to the summit of Longs Peak Isabella had been persuaded to be accompanied by a couple of youths as guides. The four, along with Jim’s hound, Ring, “said to be the best hunting-dog in Colorado, “with a wistful expression, and the most truthful eye I ever saw in an animal” set off into the high Rockies passing lakes and streams, forests completely silent but for the crack of a branch, gazing up at spectacular views of “dark pines against a lemon sky”, “floods of golden glory pouring through canyons of enormous depth” marvelling over a lily-covered lake “magical its beauty” of “amethyst-coloured water.” Isabella’s sumptuous descriptive palette is a privilege to read.

They made up beds of pine shoots and warmed themselves at a huge log fire over which they cooked a supper of beef strips, “reeking with pine smoke” and drank tea out of “battered meat-tins in which it was boiled.” She wouldn’t have forgiven the Chalmers for such coarse living. Jim’s dog Ring lay down to protect Isabella on nights they were out but with eyes only for his master. They sang and Jim recited poetry while around them in the freezing dark wild animals howled. On wakening to a most stunning sunrise Jim announced, “I believe there is a God!”

Jim and Isabella (and presumably the youths who were still in tow) were roped together with him pulling Isabella up the toughest parts of the route on Longs Peak but initially to no avail for the climb proved too difficult and they were forced to descend to avoid impenetrable ice fields. Battered, bruised and exhausted they moved to another pitch and on hands and knees eventually succeeded to stand on the 15,000 foot summit with one of the youths spitting blood through effort and the thin air. The odd party then scratched their names and date on a tin and stuffed it into a crevice between rocks. They made it in the nick of time for next day Longs Peak was cut off by deep snow for 8 months.

Sunshine by day, freezing night temperatures tested Isabella. Penetrating cold and ice was severe enough to freeze treacle and milk, even eggs, inside cabins and certainly the clothes and hair of wet riders but the young woman in apparently delicate health took it all in her stride.

Isabella despised the wolves, another of her prejudices, describing them as cowardly. She was no fonder of “high-minded” Americans. As we’ve seen she wasn’t keen on  Highlander Scots and fiercely bigoted on Native Americans but she should be admired for her healthy dislike of the sportsman hunters and trappers who slaughtered for pleasure. There were plenty of them who ventured into the “closed” society of the mountains – tourists such as Isabella, hunters and prospectors for silver, gold and land. This wild, majestic landscape was no Utopia for it harboured jealousies, hatred, greed as well as their opposites with the gun being the final arbiter in any argument.

Griffith Evans and his family (and dog, Plunk), Welsh obviously, were Park settlers, living in a wooden cabin roofed with young spruce branches topped off with hay and mud. Despite being well-built the near-incessant driving snow squeezed in through gaps in its walls. It was not unusual for early settlers in their make-do cabins, not great solid building we often see in westerns, waking up in their beds blanketed in snow and were constantly having to dig accumulated snow out of their cabins in the worst winter weather. Isabella tells us that in Estes Park life was spent: tidying, sweeping, hunting, loafing, cleaning rifles, cooking, casting bullets, making fishing flies, baking, reading, mending, waterproofing boots and singing – Yankee Doodle, “Negro songs” and Rule Britannia (which aroused laughter as “it sounded so foolish and mean.”

 

 

Evans place with Longs Peak in the background

Evans place with Longs Peak in the background

 

Evans was another hard drinker and always in debt. As Isabella phrases it he keeps his money in “a bag with holes.” She trusts him with a $100 note to purchase a horse for her when he goes off to Denver but there are problems with the banks and with one thing and another Evans spends her money (he did later repay it and he provided her with a horse.) Mrs Evans works like a slave, as many women did for work was constant – domestic farming – hens, milking cows, washing, ironing, cleaning, shovelling snow, looking after children, cooking, bread and biscuit making. While there Isabella is provided with hearty breakfasts of beef, potatoes, tea, coffee, new bread and butter, cream and milk. Dinner was the same but with a “gigantic pudding” and no coffee. Tea, like breakfast.

 

Isabella finds herself in this “earthly paradise… a temple not made with hands” in contrast to the “bonnets of endless form, and curiously intricate back hair” she associated with church-going in England. In other words nature versus mannered. Her days are often spent in the saddle – not even dismounting to eat, content to gallop and leap rocks and fallen trees, “down-hill, up-hill” till dizzy and out of breath. Her riding ability and bravery astound the men she meets. She notes how Americans attitude to animals differ from in England where whips and spurs are widely used to terrorise and bully animals, as she puts it, while in America there is no such cruelty that she witnesses and even dogs are not permitted to worry animals, “quietness and gentleness were the rule.” Despite the desperados it’s fair to say Isabella is bowled over by the West; stunning scenery, its light, colours, perpetual sunshine – although the snowstorms are dramatic and she finds herself one time in 40 foot drifts. She compares “the fiery hills of Moab and the Desert” with “the gray castellated towers of feudal Europe” coming down on the side of nature. She often rides through the night, in all weathers sometimes literally frozen stiff so that she has to be lifted off her saddle.

When major snows are due women and children move farther downhill to the plains while their men-folk usual stay in their mountain homes, doing for themselves, “baching” as they call it. Isabella sometimes shares accommodation with men, strangers, and they all pull together except for one pretentious, lazy youth who nearly eats them out of house and home and does nothing but boast about his published writings which appeared to be little more than passages plagiarised from books.

The wildest experience Isabella encounters is in Denver, inhabited mainly by men – in search of notoriety as she puts it – “hunters and trappers in buckskin clothing; men of the Plains with belts and revolvers, in great blue cloaks, relics of the war; teamsters in leathern suites; horsemen in fur coats and caps and buffalo-hide boots with the hair outside…; Broadway dandies in light kid gloves; rich English sporting tourists, clean, comely, and supercilious-looking…Indians on their small ponies, the men wearing buckskin, with faces painted vermilion…”

At Deer Valley lynch law rules where “men were shot like skunks.” Here she witnesses senseless violence where shooting to kill to prove one’s manhood prevails. Isabella Bird has descended from Arcadia into hell and as she rides away from this awful place yet another man is strung up within an hour of his “hearing.”

Then again it is here she finds the cleanest, most cared-for establishment in which to spend the night but the impression she leaves with are the often repeated expressions, “There is no God west of the Missouri” and “the dollar is divinity.” What matters in these parts is a person’s ability to succeed, by any means – cheating or smartness, their success attracts admiration and however criminal is of little consequence.  

log cabin

Isabella only once carried a small weapon, a little Sharp’s revolver which kept dropping out of her pocket, but mainly she relied on the goodwill of strangers for her safety. And she was right. As she and Birdie make their way to the Continental Divide where one side drops into Colorado and west to the Pacific and the other to Platte and lands stretching back to the Atlantic she is approached by another lone rider. Male, bearded, blue-eyed with long fair curls dropping from below his “big slouch hat” almost to his waist he introduces himself as Comanche Bill. He is weighed down with arms – a “rifle, pair of pistols in holsters, two revolvers, knife in his belt… a carbine slung behind him.” The two ascend the Divide and wonder at the beauty of the place and she enjoys his company for she describes him as “a real gentleman” despite his reputation as one of the most notorious desperados of the Rocky Mountains and “the greatest Indian exterminator on the frontier.” He tells how his family were massacred at Spirit Lake and his young sister kidnapped by the Sioux and that he dedicated his life to finding her and satisfying his hatred of all Native Americans through an orgy of murder.

Isabella’s own deeply held prejudice against Native Americans is set out in this passage: “The Americans will never solve the Indian problem till the Indian is extinct.” She reports how tribes’ reservations were “rushed” by Europeans; by miners if there was a chance of finding gold on their lands, and tribes men, women and children chased away or shot. It was the actions of miners responsible for the only devastation she personally witnessed – ugly scarring, holes and charred tree stumps ruining the land. In a passage lacking in self-awareness she writes, “Surely one advantage of travelling is that, while it removes much prejudice against foreigners and their customs, it intensifies tenfold one’s appreciation of the good at home and above all, of the quietness and purity of English domestic life.” Perhaps not so quiet and pure for 16 English women jailed for challenging agricultural strike breakers that very year.

Another unpleasant character she encountered was Lord Dunraven, Irish as it happens, a Conservative politician, an Under Secretary of State for the Colonies in the 1880s and  Daily Telegraph correspondent. A thoroughly bad lot, violent, ruthless – a “High Toner” she calls him, we might say toff, he was in the West to slaughter as many animals as he could mainly buffalo and elk. He’d done his best to wipe out animals everywhere else he’d travelled so why not in America? He despised all things American, according to Isabella – except the ‘game’ and the land for he conspired to claim 15000 acres of it.

 

4thEarlOfDunraven[1]

The greedy degenerate Lord Dunraven

Mountain Jim accompanied Isabella back down country to the flat lands but months later he was fatally shot by Evans when he stopped to water his horse at a stream outside the Welshman’s cabin, after Isabella returned to Britain. He died slowly of a bullet in his “magnificent head” filled with poetry and love of nature. Evans appears to have been involved with the scheming Lord Dunraven who fraudulently claimed thousands of acres of Estes Park to create a hunting park – later called “one of the most gigantic land steals in the history of Colorado.” Settlers were opposed to this and Dunraven responded with threats. Mountain Jim Nugent was a prominent opponent of the greedy opportunist Lord and on the side of the settlers and it appears Evans was hired to kill him  – to shut him up, “English gold killed Jim for opposing the land scheme” was informed opinion. A witness told how Lord Dunraven put a double-barrelled shotgun into Evans hands and instructed him to “protect” him. A witness to this was apparently paid by Dunraven to keep his mouth shut and disappear. Dunraven succeeded in his criminal activities and built a hotel on the land he designated a game park.

On opposition to his 33 year land-grab, the despicable Lord complained,

 

“People came in disputing claims, kicking up rows: exorbitant land taxes got into arrears; and we were in constant litigation. The show could not be managed from home, and we were in constant danger of being frozen out. So we sold for what we could get and cleared out, and I have never been there since.”

 

Neck he had. A lot of neck. He sold the land, which wasn’t his which goes to prove life is not fair.

I urge you to read Isabella’s account of her time in the Rockies. It’s an easy canter through pages of fascinating beautifully descriptive text – you won’t like it all but it’s a superb read for all that.

Isabella Lucy Bird was the first woman elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Well-travelled she visited Australia, Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Morocco, Malaya, India, Persia, Kurdistan, Turkey and the Western Isles. She married Edinburgh surgeon Dr John Bishop and died in Melville Street Edinburgh in October 1904 and is buried in Dean Cemetery.

 

self portrait sketch by Isabella

Isabella Bird and Birdie

 

 

For more on the Scots Chalmers click here

May 18, 2018

Press Freedom, Fake News, the Herald and me

Press Freedom and propaganda

ipso herald breach
Press freedom is an interesting concept. Does it mean freedom for newspapers to write what they choose knowing there will be few or no repercussions even when downright lies are told? We are encouraged to think of press freedom as the ability to investigate and shine a light on corruption at the heart of the establishment – isn’t that worth defending? Of course it is.

In the week a dramatised account of the seamy episode in the ‘illustrious’ career of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe is to be televised nothing could be a better reminder than the cosy alliance that too often exists between the press and powerful individuals who make bargains to keep their murkier activities between friends.

Once again press freedom is high up on the political agenda – some demanding more regulation while others demand less. Whatever the outcome surely nothing will stop the steady drift away from people buying a daily newspaper when there are alternative sources of news available. But! but! scream the journos we are the guardians of the truth in a social media world drowning in fake news.

“I fabricated stories about drug dealers, neo-Nazis, people who were selling guns, people who were selling fake documents.” Graham Johnson (New of the World journalist) May 2012

The Mail, the Telegraph, the Express in 2016 were reported to IPSO for publishing fake stories over Brexit – well, there were plenty of those around. Most of these were scare stories about immigrants, threat of Isil, invasion by terrorists if UK stays in the EU, crime soaring because of foreigners. You get the picture. We got the picture. The slim vote for Brexit proved it.

This was not fake news. The traditional press doesn’t do fake news. It makes mistakes and corrects them in small print, never headlines, always a corner of an inside page that is forever where corrections are buried. And smirks.

Defamation scream journos called out for their absurd prejudices packaged as the sword of truth. The print medium is never nasty, never petty, never offensive – “Up Yours Delors” and a two-fingered gesture to the “French fool” (1990, the Sun) was made in the best possible taste.

There’s nothing like the whiff of xenophobia to accompany your toast and coffee in the morning and there’s always been plenty of that in Britain’s dailies. Germany turning the Europe into a “Fourth Reich” snarled the Daily Mail, measured as always in 2011. Back in 1914 the same newspaper (propaganda weapon) produced hysterical references to the despised Germans to drum up support for war. None of it fake. Oh, no. Means to an end.

The notorious Zinoviev letter – way too far back for today’s journos to know about – was a fiction – a letter said to have been written by Grigory Zinoviev, part of the Soviet Union government, to Britain’s communist party, implicating the Labour Party in dangerous revolutionary politics fair alarmed voters and led to a huge Conservative victory in the impending general election. 

Scare tactics work. Newspapers and TV and radio know that. We saw how scare tactics were used with great success during the Scottish independence referendum and again in the Brexit referendum. Tell a lie, make sure it’s a big ‘un and keep on telling it. People will swallow it hook, line and sinker. Big lies, fake news – same difference – one of the successful methods used by the Nazis. It works.

Hysteria over fake news in social media is simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black and déjà vu all over again, and again.

Despite the dramatic fall in readership the printed press is everywhere on our high streets and in our village shops – headlines provide a narrative of events and issues we are expected to care about. Headlines define the scandal/problem/celebration/disaster. Headlines and the sub-heading that lots of readers won’t get past explain the story in a nutshell. The reader who cares to read further into an article will often discover, however, that the headline and sub-heading have been misleading at best and downright lies at worst.

In times of yore (years of reader exploitation) newspapers could print any nonsense then field a few letters to the editor from irate of Gairloch or whoever, pick and choose whose letters would get published and close down the correspondence when it got too boring/ too close to home. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook changed that. What’s the point of writing to a newspaper editor in the slim hope she/he will print it so the world can gain from your unique insights when you can editorialise in your own head and instantly post your opinions to an eager/indifferent readership right around the world, not just in Gairloch, on your favourite social media site?

You can also report dodgy newspaper articles to the press standards bodies: IMPRESS and IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation.) That involves dedication, time and persistence because any complaint against an editor of a newspaper is likely to be met with a quick denial of the wot me gov’? variety followed by a steady shake of the head that they made any mistake/told lies/hacked phones/covered up establishment scandals/covered up thalidomide/ manipulated information – you know – the kind of stuff they say goes on in other parts of the world – always Russia – but never, ever in the UK.

And Leveson ? Leveson peveson. Who cares? Another day. Another little tweek here a snip there – aahh, we wouldn’t have our news stories any other way  – trimmed to fit our own agenda.

Mischief in the art of headline creation is weaponisation of the press to push an ideology close to the editor’s heart. Think of the power of an unscrupulous editor/journo able to churn out articles aimed to discredit/ promote a government/council/issue. I’m sure many of you will have lots of examples springing to mind. And beware of under-educated narcissists who see news in terms of themselves.

With so much trash presented as news in Britain’s newspapers it’s little wonder the press is in the state it is. A dearth of talent, an explosion of one-sided comment from people distinguished only by their mediocrity. Who is the press there for –journalist or readers?

“Power without responsibility” was Stanley Baldwin’s description of the press in 1931. This week the UK government batted away the promised continuation of the Leveson inquiry – a decision immediately challenged in the Lords. Something is rotten in the state of British journalism.

herald - Copy

Earlier this year The Herald gave huge prominence to a story ostensibly about a report from Oxfam, Reward Wealth Not Work on the same day it was published, 22 January. Its headline:
SCOTLAND’S WIDENING INEQUALITY GAP IS ‘OUT OF CONTROL

and beneath

Oxfam report finds nation’s richest 1% has more wealth than the bottom 50%.

The Oxfam report published the day of the Herald article drew on its survey of 70,000 people in ten countries. One of the countries listed was the United Kingdom – nowhere in the Oxfam report was Scotland mentioned. When I challenged the Herald on its coverage of this report the paper claimed the piece and its figures were not a reference to that day’s report Reward Work, Not Wealth which I considered disingenuous to say the least.

The headline was bold – ‘out of control.’ A major claim in itself and a subjective point of view. Readers were led to believe this was a conclusion of that day’s report not least because the piece went on to make reference to that day’s Oxfam report – its international report – but note the subdeck included the term ‘nation’s’ i.e. singular which is odd since this report covered ten nations. The reader was led to assume Oxfam’s findings in the report referred to research done in Scotland since Scotland was mentioned in the Herald piece, however, there was not one mention of Scotland in the Oxfam report itself. I know I’ve read it.

The Herald insisted this headline did not breach the Editor’s Code for accuracy and the quote was from an Oxfam spokesperson in Glasgow; we are not told if this person was involved in the report (her name is not included in it.) In any case this was irrelevant. Whether or not she worked for Oxfam had no bearing on the findings of the Reward Work, Not Wealth report – the one alluded to in the piece.

Lest we should doubt which Oxfam report the Herald article had in mind it continued:

“A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…”

which was a downright misrepresentation of the report and significantly misleading.

I complained to IPSO of the misleading nature of the Herald’s high-profile article. In response the Herald responded, “I accept that the figures in the second paragraph of the story do not come from the Reward Work, Not Wealth report, as the general reader might infer.”

I suppose I am general reader, as will be the majority of Herald readers. Who is the paper written for if not the general reader?

The Herald accepted figures quoted in the second paragraph did not come from that day’s international report – meaning others did, just not those, conceding that the article conflated two reports – that day’s and the reason for running the story on 22 January 2018, not the 21st or the 23rd with an old report. 

Sandra Dick’s article continued : “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” The ‘It’ in question is Oxfam – the reference is its report. And, readers, remember there was no mention to Holyrood in the Oxfam report. It was as if desperate to make a political point the Herald included a direct reference to the Scottish parliament and not only that but emphasised Holyrood to make sure we all got the message.

And in the same careless or deliberately misleading fashion the next paragraph also began with ‘It’ – again quoting from the new report. The effect was at the very least sloppy but given the pointed headline surely there was more intention than accident in its construction.

The Herald fought my complaint throughout the IPSO process – threw up all kinds of distractions both bemusing and irrelevant and left me questioning the quality of those at its helm.

The Herald tried to argue the story was presented through a Scottish prism which would be fair enough had this been made clear but the Herald’s handling of the Oxfam report on the 22nd was more like the usual ploy of taking any issue and hanging a kilt on it.

• The report that led to the story being published on the 22 January this year was an Oxfam Report, Reward Work, Not Wealth released that day.
• The story run by the Herald was not run on the 21st nor the 23rd but the 22nd; the day the report came out. To dismiss the charge that it was that day’s report and not another from an earlier period, previously covered by the Herald, stretches credibility.
• The Herald chose to run this story because of the new report and placed it on its front page with a headline suggesting its findings in Scotland revealed Scotland’s inequality gap was ‘out of control.’
• Beneath the headline the paper published “Oxfam report” figures but some of these were from a report that was produced for Scotland in 2015.
• Conflating one report with another in this way the Herald led readers to conclude that day’s report had investigated Scotland and made specific references to Scotland which was not true and to pass this off, as the editor did, of a failure in editing was disingenuous.
• The whole inference in the article, because of the Herald’s construction of the story and its use of quotes and highlighting of certain words, led the reader to believe that day’s published report included data from Scotland (separate from findings across the UK.)
• The Oxfam report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, drew on international data including the UK but did not specifically refer to Scotland. Yet this is not what we are led to believe in the Herald coverage of it.
• That the Herald referred to “A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…” meaning Reward Work, Not Wealth, is patently untrue and significantly misleading.
• That the Herald made direct reference to Holyrood (the Scottish parliament) in the sentence beginning “It” – a reference to that day’s released report, Reward Work, Not Wealth is again grossly misleading and deceitful – “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Work Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” I reiterate nowhere in that report is there any mention of Holyrood
• The editor’s insistence that its references to Oxfam were to a researcher in Glasgow were not relevant to my complaint. The Herald already covered the information supplied by this researcher in previous editions of the paper.
• That Oxfam in Glasgow was happy with the coverage is again a red herring and this had no bearing on the complaint.
• The editor was happy to run a misleading story on his paper’s front page but coy about putting a link to an apology on this same page to the full correction on page 2.
• The wording for the correction on page 2 can never obviate the misleading impression left by this front page article.

ipso 1

ipso 2 and 3

Fake news comes in many forms – complete fabrications, omission of information, manipulation of facts, figures and context. It has always been a feature of our press. Fake news wasn’t the invention of social media. It has always been a feature of our press. It always will be. That’s why I don’t buy newspapers anymore. I can get my fake news free on social media I don’t have to pay to read it. That must be progress of some kind.

Thanks for reading my blog and take care y’all.

https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=00855-18

April 28, 2018

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

 

 

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Big Jim Taylor in the centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

john nelson darby

John Nelson Darby

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1959

Assembly of Exclusive Brethren in 1959 in London

 

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

 

April 19, 2018

The Buchanites: by a lock of their hair they hoped to fly to heaven

A group of bald-headed women and men clambered their way up Templand hill by Closeburn, Dumfries and onto a platform. With faces turned skyward they waited to be plucked up by their remaining single lock of hair to soar heavenward. They were disappointed when they did not. However, the wind did carry off their wooden platform. 

*****************

These ambitious eccentrics were known as Buchanites. Their leader was a charismatic woman called Elspeth Buchan who explained away their failure to fly by their lack of faith and ordered her followers fast for 40 days and 40 nights then try again. So they did, several suffering badly from starvation, and again they failed to rise up to heaven.

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The immortal Elspeth Buchan

 

In 1783 Elspeth Buchan then in her forties had declared herself a prophet and immortal. She regarded herself as the woman in Revelation 12:

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

Elspeth had been born at Rothiemackenzie in the parish of Fordyce in Banffshire in 1738 to a crofter and innkeeper, John Simpson and his wife Margaret Gordon. The young Elspeth married a local potter called Robert Buchan who some years later went off south with Elspeth and their children following. They appeared in Glasgow and Greenock and what happened to the husband after that I don’t know but Elspeth returned for a time to the Banff area where she opened a Dame school (one taught by a woman or dame) where most of what was taught was the catechism. Needless to say numbers dwindled to none at all and so Elspeth, Mrs Buchan, returned to her husband down south, it has to be said their marriage was a loose affair, and by this time she had some strong ideas over who she was.

She claimed her immortality could be transferred to others by her breathing on them, in quite an intimate way, according to Rabbie Burns. She tried to convince several church ministers of her spiritual powers but only the Rev Hugh White, a minister of the Relief Church* in Irvine was won over. By teaching and Psalm singing they attracted a smallish group of followers who came to be known as the Western Delusion and later better-known as Buchanites. His activities split White’s congregation and he and Elspeth Buchan abandoned his church taking some fifty of the congregation with them. They picked up more followers on their travels.

The group’s proselytising though charismatic to some did not find favour with everyone and they were driven from the town, beaten and thrown in a ditch with threats to drown them in Scott’s Loch. What antagonised many townsfolk and others in parts they passed through were the open relationships practised by the Buchanites, communal living with rumours of orgies in forests and group sex and for the sober Christians of the kirk there was little about them to admire.

Mrs Buchan and her following were expelled from Irvine on the Cow Fair in May 1784; driven into the wilderness from the flood was how it struck the Buchanites concerned. They turned up at Closeburn, north of Dumfries, with Elspeth Buchan resplendent in crimson and riding on a white horse. It was there they made their attempt to fly to heaven but before they did Elspeth Buchan, Mother Buchan, persuaded her flock to hand over their trinkets and jewels to her, as she explained this would make it easier for them to rise up.

So the assembled Buchanites waited, expectantly, for the wind to carry them off and away. As well as permanently parting with their possessions they had prepared themselves by shaving their head of all hair except for a single lock which would be used to lift them up and away from the earth; all had cut off their hair except for Elspeth Buchan. They waited and waited. Then the wind blew down their platform.

auchengibbert

Auchengibbert became home to some of the Buchanites

There were other reports of goods and money being appropriated by Mother Buchan. One of the Buchanites, a Mrs Goldie, left the considerable sum of £500 on her death. Her son was a seaman, often away from home, and he had no idea his widowed mother had managed to save so much money so when Buchan and the Rev White took control of Mrs Goldie’s affairs and offered him a couple of pounds the son went away satisfied.

They were expelled from Dumfriesshire in 1787 and from there they went to Crocketford. Mrs Buchan was also known as Luckie Buchan (Luckie being a common nickname in parts of Scotland as a friendly, familiar term for an older woman.) Elspeth Buchan also took on the more formal title, Friend-Mother in the Lord.

The poet Robert Burns had a bit of a run-in with them when one of his bonnie Jeans, the very beautiful Jean Gardiner whom it is claimed was Burns’ heroine in Epistle to Davie and not Jean Armour, became entranced by and joined the sect. Burns working as a gauger in this part of the country was persuaded by the young Jean Gardiner to accompany her to some Buchanite meetings. He did but he was not won over as she had been. Burns wrote in a letter to his cousin William Burness of Montrose –

“About two years ago, a Mrs Buchan from Glasgow [she had been there with her husband] came among them, & began to spread some fanatical notions of religion among them, …till in spring last the Populace rose & mobbed the old leader Buchan & put her out of the town…Their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon; among others, she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures & practices that are scandalously indecent…”

Another giant of Scottish literature, John Galt, also wrote about the Buchanites. Galt was from Irvine and he had a vague recollection, recorded in his autobiography, of seeing the charismatic sect when he was a very young bairn and he recalled how several youngsters of the town, including himself, were beguiled by the Buchanites – their appearance, singing of the Psalms and general conduct that they followed after them, much like the children in the wake of the Pied Piper of Hamelin – Galt’s mother in hot pursuit succeeded in dragging him back home “by the lug and the horn.” Galt wove an impression of the Buchanites spectacle in Irvine into descriptions of Covenanters in Ringan Gilhaize (pronounced Gillies)

The immortal Mrs Buchan proved she was not when she died in 1791. On her deathbed she remained confident her impending death was only an interlude during which she would go to Paradise, briefly, to carry out some business and return within nine days, or perhaps nine years.

In anticipation of her re-awakening Elspeth Buchan was not buried but placed on a bed of feathers and secreted under the kitchen hearth in the farmhouse occupied by the remaining sect members. The group split up with some moving away to carry on their lives elsewhere including a number who went to America, by ship I understand, not taking to the air.

A few including Andrew Innes and his wife remained true to the so-called prophetess and when they moved farms they took Elspeth Buchan’s remains with them and for the next fifty years the deceased Mrs Buchan clung determinedly to earth. Andrew Innes was the last of the Buchanites and when he, too, was dying aged eighty-two at Crocketford in 1846, he revealed the remains of Luckie Buchan lay in an upper chamber on a bed, wrapped in blankets. And there her bones were found and an abundance of hair. Innes asked that his coffin be placed over hers when they were both interred so that if she rose to heaven he would know about it. They were buried at Newhouse graveyard alongside other Buchanites by the northwest wall, doubtless in the expectation of ascending to heaven at some stage.

And so that was the end of the Buchanites. Well, not quite. A group emerged in the 20th century in Aberdeen not at all in the same league but a quaint grouping who celebrated new years in the old Scottish way, burning a yule log, singing and dancing. In the 1930s around 200 would gather in the Cowdray Hall to mark the Aul’ Eel when they drank copious quantities of sowans** and uttered such momentous phrases as, “Man, that’s gran’, sic fine sowens, that gaed doon fine.” As I said not quite in the league of the woman of the sun and moon and crown of stars, but it made them happy.

*The Relief Church (Presbytery of Relief) was a Scottish denomination founded in 1761 by Thomas Gillespie, a Church of Scotland minister who was deposed by the General Assembly in 1752 when he refused to co-operate in the induction of an unpopular minister to Inverkeithing. Relief in the kirk’s name referred to its independence from the patronage associated with the Church of Scotland of the time and it was more free-thinking than the traditional church. The Relief Church was later incorporated into the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

** Sowans was a cheap and nutritional drink made from soaking and lightly fermenting oat husks.

Dumfries map

The Buchanite stronghold in southwest Scotland

April 16, 2018

The last woman publicly hanged in Aberdeen

 

A young quine witnessing the hanging of a woman in the town’s Castlegate was struck on the chest by a piece of the noose thrown into the crowd.

In the summer of 1892 as Aberdeen’s old jail at Lodge Walk was being demolished workmen exposed skeletons interred in a walled-off part of the prison – a grassy plot some 30 feet by 20 feet. These were the remains of several men and one woman publicly hanged in the city post-1829; before then corpses of the executed might be disposed of at sea or given to physicians for dissection but in 1829 it was decided to bury them in a concealed area next to the prison.

The woman referred to was Catherine Davidson or Humphrey (her married name.) Davidson came from Keith-hall by Inverurie in Aberdeenshire and lived in Aberdeen with her butcher husband, James Humphrey. As a young woman Catherine was standing in amongst a huge crowd gathered in the Castlegate witnessing the hanging of another woman when she was hit on the chest by a piece of the rope thrown into the throng by hangman, Robbie Welsh, as was the custom. Forty years later she had the dubious distinction, herself, of being on the gibbet; the last woman hanged in public in the city.

The Humphreys were often drunk and abusive towards each other. Catherine Humphrey was said to be particularly violent towards her husband, forever threatening to kill him – but appealing to others to do the dastardly deed for her with poison. She was also seen holding a razor to her husband’s neck and him crying out, “There, do it now, for you will do it some time.”

James, Jeem, Humphrey’s predicted one day his wife would hang; her face looking down Marischal Street for him; public executions took place outside the jail at Lodge Walk, opposite Marischal Street which runs down to harbour.

On evening of Friday 16 April, 1830, the couple quarrelled and Mrs Humphrey ordered her servant to retire early to bed.  According to the servant she heard Mrs Humphrey say, “Lord God if anybody would give him poison and keep my hand clear of it.”

This same servant was wakened in the night by a smiling Mrs Humphrey informing her that Jeem was taken ill. On going into the kitchen where the husband slept the servant found him writhing in agony and roaring, “I’m burned – I’m gone – I’m roasted.” His wife the whole time insisted he had consumed a bad drink while her husband countered, “Oh, woman, woman whatever I have gotten, it was in my own house.” The shouting drew the attention of neighbours who made their way into the house and heard the sick man accuse his wife of poisoning him, “Oh, woman, woman, you have tried to do this often, and you have done it now.”

There were burn marks on the bedclothes and an empty phial was found on the window sill which had contained oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid.)  The victim, known to sleep with his mouth open, cried, “Bad work, bad work – may God Almighty forgive them who have done this to me.” He died on the Sunday morning.  

Jeem Humphrey’s wife, widow, was tried and found guilty by a unanimous decision and sentenced to hang on 8 October. Shortly after being sentenced Catherine Davidson Humphrey made a full confession admitting she had, indeed, poured the burning liquid down her husband’s throat as he lay asleep out of jealousy or malice.

Sobered up and having reflected on her behaviour Catherine bitterly regretted her actions, “Oh, it’s a sair thing to wash for the gibbet, but I hope I will be washed in the blood of my Redeemer.” She acknowledged her sentence was just but claimed someone else bought the vitriol although she gave it to her husband.

Three days after her day in court Catherine Davidson Humphrey fainted while being taken from the prison to the gibbet at two-thirty in the afternoon and had to be supported by two kirk ministers. She was dressed in black and in her hand she carried a handkerchief. Never once did she allow her eyes to look out over the tens of thousands gathered to witness her execution but discreetly signalled with her handkerchief she was ready for the hangman. As the rope was adjusted about her neck Catherine Davidson Humphrey exclaimed softly, “Oh, my God,” struggled a little then lifted up her hands twice. Her body was left hanging for about an hour before being cut down.

The woman who about forty years earlier, in 1786, Catherine Davidson Humphrey had watched hang was Jean Craig.  Jean’s accomplice in many a theft of poultry, linen and clothing was Elspet Reid who met the same fate a year earlier. Both of these women had been banished previously but repeatedly returned to the city. It was Jean Craig’s noose that had struck the young Catherine Davidson Humphrey, the last woman publicly hanged in Aberdeen.

 

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April 3, 2018

If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves? – trade unions and women’s inequality

“Stand forward, sons of toil, and speak for the party out of which you may have taken, or may take, your partner for life” wrote a domestic servant from Aberdeen in 1854 in response to a meeting held the previous evening to discuss shortening of the working week by three hours through the introduction of a half-day holiday on Saturdays. The meeting had been arranged by men and the focus of their concern was working class men.

Letter to the Aberdeen Journal, 8 March 1854.

The Half-holiday movement – A word for females

Sir, I have read the report of the meeting held in the County-rooms on January 17th, on the subject of a Saturday half-holiday. It has often struck me that many speak of the working-classes as being only tradesmen, mechanics, carpenters, masons, and such like, and I am certainly quite of opinion that many such have great need for release from their toil, to breathe the air with freedom.

It was said by one who addressed the meeting that time was necessary for repose, for recreation, and enjoyment; but are these blessings needed only by tradesmen? There are others who have to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, and I also term the working-classes. I for one belong to a class who have very long hours, and very long weeks — just from Monday morning till Monday morning.

I am unable to write logically on the subject, but I may be able to convey my ideas in such a plain way that they may be understood by those interested in the subject. It was stated at the meeting by a speaker that he did not think the sons of toil were ever intended for such long hours of toil by their Maker; and I would add, that I am of the same opinion with regard to the daughters of toil. Just look at their hours of toil. Rise with them on Monday, and go through all the duties of the day till they go to rest at night. Every day and every week has its own duties, and Saturday comes, but in place of a half-holiday, the hours are sometimes as long as decency will admit of, not to infringe on the Sabbath. Then Sabbath morn arrives, but with it very little release from toil, or opportunity to breathe the air. Say, then, should not their hours be shortened?

Then, when we consider how the education of the female part of the working-classes has been neglected in youth, I think one and all ought to consider if something cannot be done for them. If it could be felt how much of the well-being of society depended on the female part of it, every energy would be put forth in their behalf. It comes home to all in some respect or other. There are few of the sons of toil, but try to have a home of their own as soon as possible, and some fair one to make it comfortable to them, and manage the affairs of it. In the wife and mother is laid the foundation of character and education for the rising generation. How necessary then that it be a solid foundation! I did not think so much could be done by women in this respect, as I have seen within the last three years that I have been eye-witness to it, and you know seeing is believing. Stand forward, sons of toil, and speak for the party out of which you may have taken, or may take, your partner for life.

My idea is, that if masters and mistresses could do a little for the bettering of their female servants, they would suffer no loss by their work falling behind, and they would have less to do with Industrial Schools. There are many mistresses who cannot tell if their servants can read or repeat any part of the Shorter Catechism. Show them, by your way of treating them, that you wish to better them; and it must be a strange heart that love does not beget love in. Many servants, in place of going to church on Sabbath, go to see their friend, and acquaintances; and who can blame them for so doing, when they have no time allowed them for it, on week days or evenings? Give them a half-holiday, that all such visits may be made, and on Sabbath spend an hour in hearing them read and repeat the Shorter Catechism, and any such Sabbath like employment.

I may be blamed for bringing family matters before the public, but perhaps what I have said may be taken up more fully by some one who can say it better. But, here again, I am sorry to remark, that I find that the best public man is not always the best in the family circle. My creed is – if you wish any benevolent project to prospect in public, it must be begun in private, and carried out in your own family circle. I support this idea by my observation for years of those who, in public, say, Shut the Post-office, but whose letters go regularly thither on Saturday afternoon, to be carried forward by the Sabbath post. We have seen the length of the speakers at the meeting, now let us see their breadth, and whether they will come and help us. We cannot raise a public meeting to tell our grievances; yet I hope they will not leave the work half done. But I am encroaching on your space and time too much; so I remain, yours,

A HOUSEHOLD SERVANT

(The bold emphasis is mine.)

Sejourney Truth

Sojournor Truth

 

About this same time in the USA women were involved in similar and different struggles, against sexism and racism –

“That little man…he says women can’t have as much rights as men, cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from: From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with Him.”

(Sojourner Truth, evangelist and reformer, at a Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, 1851.)

The anonymous domestic servant in Aberdeen wanted women in non-industrial occupations to benefit from a little time off so they could visit friends and family, go for a walk or simply read a little much like other people not constrained by long and exhausting hours labouring for their employers.

The movement to shorten Saturday work to a half-day – not really a half-day as work was to stop at two in the afternoon instead of five – had been gathering momentum. For the working classes then there were no happy Fridays. Working hours established by governments and laid down in legal frameworks for employment did not follow a trajectory of improvement necessarily as is only too clear today. When the working week ran over 6 days and before the introduction of a 10-hour day males and females were worked to death. In 1847 the maximum hours a woman could lawfully be employed for in a factory was 58 a week. Three years later this was increased to 60 hours.

With half-day Saturdays (2pm stop) the rest of the working week had to be squeezed into what remained of Monday to Saturday early afternoon. Of course for many domestic servants there was no clocking on and off; they were on duty around the clock seven days a week. It is against this background the letter-writer put pen to paper to record her frustration at the different attitudes between organised industrial labour and much women’s work. She is angry that consideration has all gone towards the interests of men with no recognition of the plight of domestic servants and women in particular. The very nature of domestic labour split up this huge workforce into individual households so there were not the opportunities to meet and organise to put pressure on employers and governments to act in their interests.

For those whose voices were heard the prevailing sentiment as demonstrated in press reports was of the generosity and kindness of employers in granting extra hours off on a Saturday instead of condemnation of practices which overworked employees to the detriment of their health and family life. Some who opposed a 2pm stop on Saturdays complained that working men would make bad use of their leisure time, as if that was any business of theirs.

It is incontestable that the emergence of trades unions led to improvements in working conditions and pay. The declining influence of unions is regrettable and the result has been a mushrooming of low wages, long hours, zero hours contracts and the rest where we’ve seen successive governments working in cahoots with greedy and unprincipled employers to drive ever-greater exploitation of the workforce.

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However, Britain’s trades unions been equally culpable in the gross and unwavering exploitation of women workers. Too often they have been organised by self-serving cliques who enjoy practices of patronage that any Renaissance prince might be proud of. They emerged to protect and advance the interests of members and being mainly male continued to be defined through their advocacy of male interests and to that end were found to be opposed to what they regarded was the dilution of their crafts by women. We should not be surprised for union men did not live in a bubble of social democracy but were influenced by the mores of the time in which women were seen and treated as inferior beings. It was, therefore, a case of men putting obstacles in the way of women and of women’s skills being designated subordinate to men’s purely on grounds that if women carried them out they must be substandard.

Don’t pay attention to nonsense you read in books that suggest women hardly participated in ‘manual’ work over the centuries. They always have been whether from necessity or choice women could hammer, mould and chisel as well as any man given the opportunity but were denied such opportunities increasingly as male unions dominated protection of industries. And don’t confuse the lives of middle class and upper class women with the experiences of the poor and working classes – chalk and cheese.

Women have always been active in socially progressive movements alongside men although they haven’t always been welcomed. Within trades unions female membership increased through the 20th century but the unions remained in the hands of men, run by them for men. For lots of trade unionists they might talk a good talk but walk arm-in-arm with women – no. Women were always regarded as a threat to their status.

For a lot of people the adaptability of women to pick up traditional men’s jobs during the Great War and later during the Second World War was something of a revelation but most regarded this interregnum as a blip on the employment landscape and women were quickly hustled off to resume more domestic labour. And the unions were there to make sure they did.

In more recent times the unions pushed for and won equal pay legislation for women – of course the definition of what that meant in reality was a thorny one – with that ever-present anomaly of the definition of skilled work against unskilled aka women’s work.

A sheen of equality in the workplace: in 1965 the Trades Union Congress pushed for equal treatment of women workers in industry. But…but…it’s that old canard of you can take a horse to water or more relevant to women… you can agree policy/pass laws but you can’t make the men around you recognise and implement them.

In 1968 women workers at the Ford plant at Dagenham in London and later at Halewood famously went on strike for equal pay. The legislation was there but did that make any difference to their earning? Did it hell. The Labour Party was in government and its female Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, Barbara Castle, was sympathetic and the women were granted an increase – initially that was still 8% lower than men doing equivalent work.

Much foot shuffling and more horses led to a barricade of water troughs with courts, male unions and governments all resisting female equality. In 1970 the Equal Pay Act was passed. No rush boys…to be implemented five years later. Where’s that bloody horse when you need her or is it a him? It was the UK’s membership of the EU and equality legislation under the Treaty of Rome that moved things on a bit for women.

Equality for females in the workforce has been a sair fecht (hard struggle.)

You could be forgiven for thinking that into the 21st century women, at long last, were recognised for their contribution to the economy and their skills. But here comes horsey.

Among the most glaring examples of deliberate resistance to implementing equality practices trot up Glasgow City Council, run by the Labour Party- a party stocked and maintained by trades unions – for the best part of 80 years was exposed as under-paying women and not only that so determined were they to deny there was any wrong in their practices, they spent or rather squandered £2.5 million of public cash in an attempt to prevent women from getting compensated for years of underpay through a legal challenge in the courts. One hundred years and counting women were still being sidelined by the personification of the union movement in power with Glasgow’s Labour governing body still ‘at it.’

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http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15568711.Revealed__Labour_led_Glasgow_council_spent_millions_fighting_women_workers__39__equal_pay_claims/

As I write the current Labour leader in Scotland, Richard Leonard, agreed that the Labour run council had put ‘too much resistance’ to equal pay claims by women under their control.

“We have seen the length of the speakers at the meeting, now let us see their breadth, and whether they will come and help us” wrote our doughty Aberdonian over 160 years ago.

It took a woman and a new political party, the SNP, in Glasgow to clean out the equivalent of the Augean stables.

A sair fecht? It surely has been and one that isn’t over, not by a long chalk but it’s time that old horse was put out to grass.

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March 20, 2018

There’ll be Fish Pie in the Sky by and by

Armstrong 2016 brexit

The good ol’ days when – selling the family silver.

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quotas article 4

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dumped fish

dumped fish 2

2017 the General Election loomed and with it the small matter of Brexit. The fishermen’s dreams were about to come true.

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Armstrong 2017 no bargaining

brexit pledge

Meanwhile in London the Tories list their priorities for the term ahead – should they win.

tory manifesto no fishing

Fishing didn’t make it onto the list. The war of words hotted up between the SNP and the Tories. 

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said Scottish Fishermen’s Federation spokesman Bertie Armstrong.

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june 6 17 1

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june 17

april 17 welcome gove

And as Brexit draws closer.

DAVIDSON AND GOVE

Oh, oh. 

EU brexit 2 days ago

 

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duguid today

snp 2 dys ago

In the sweet by and by

We shall meet on that beautiful shore

In the sweet by and by

Aye, maybe.

 

 

March 9, 2018

Bellowed for nearly an hour: fascists V communists in Aberdeen (and Dundee)

Black shirts in Aberdeen

FASCISTS “DROWNED OUT”

NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK

PANDEMONIUM AT ABERDEEN

——————–

BELLOWED FOR NEARLY HOUR

REDS OUT IN FORCE

 

It was the Reds doing the bellowing. The occasion was an attempt by Mosley’s British Union of Fascists to speak at Aberdeen’s Music Hall in September 1935.

raven is front row left - Copy

Raven Thomson front low left

“They may be croaking like old hens, but their bellowing and braying last night completely drowned out the voice of Fascism in the Ball Room of the Music Hall” reported a local newspaper. Such was the vocal opposition to the extreme rightwing Black Shirts, the report went on, the meeting ended almost the moment it opened. The would-be guest speaker that evening was to be A. Raven Thomson, the BUF’s Director of Policy but before he could utter a sound he and his fellow fascists were given the bum’s rush.

“Aberdeen is the toughest town we have ever struck,” Thomson told the paper’s reporter.

The public address was due to begin at 8pm but an hour before the hall was already packed with a couple of thousand more outside, unable to get in.

Protected by ten black-shirted stewards from Peterhead, Edinburgh and Manchester the Fascists took their seats to a wall of sound of booing and shouting from within the hall. Plain clothes police officer sat amongst the audience and they, too, were loudly booed.

The moment the speaker Raven Thomson got onto the stage and appealed for quiet he was drowned out by a huge roar and a sea of shaking fists. Someone stood up and waved a red flag which set off a rendering of the socialist anthem, the International followed by more noise and chants of  

“One, two, three, four, five,

We want Mosley, dead or alive.”

Thomson tried to press on but his words were totally drowned out with no break in the racket from the public in the hall. At 8 o’ clock the Chief Constable, McConnach, had a word with the Fascists then announced the meeting was cancelled. Wasting no time the Fascists hurried away to the delight of excited demonstrators roaring

“Three cheers for the defeat of Fascism.”

Outside a large force of uniformed and plain clothes police were gathered in anticipation of trouble but the protestors; Communists and Socialists as they were described by the press, were in no mood for violence but “swarmed down Union Street, marched to the Market Stance, singing the ‘Internationale‘ and other Communist songs on the way” and held their own meeting at the Castlegate.

raven thomson - Copy

Raven Thomson

Raven Thomson issued a statement in which he said the Fascists had had several successful meetings on their tour of the country but – “It is very difficult to deal with a town like this where the people do not know our case” adding the reaction they had in Aberdeen was unusual and the city was “the toughest town they had ever struck.”

Edinburgh born Raven – Alexander Raven Thomson – was a theoretician of the British Union of Fascists and grandson of the architect Alexander (Greek) Thomson. One-time a member of the Communist Party he came to admire Nazi Germany and spent time in Germany learning the trade of silver paper manufacturing which later provided his living back in Britain. By 1933 he was a fascist and became the BUF’s Director of Policy and close associate of leading fascists Oswald Mosley and Neil Francis Hawkins. He was interned in Brixton jail for most of the Second World War and remained a fascist all his life. He married Lisbeth, daughter of the x-ray pioneer, Wilhelm Röntgen, and they lived in the East End of London where he died in 1955.  

Chief Constable McConnach was criticised by the anti-Socialist and anti-Communist Union for his handling of the Music Hall meeting. He responded saying the Fascist speakers had been given police protection and suffered no violence in Aberdeen but that he would not put up with speakers being obstructed in future. And he had advice for organisers of meetings, such as the Fascists, that any complaints against the police should be pursued through the courts. In the event the Fascists chose not to pursue their complaint as they didn’t want to appear in court in case what came out damaged their reputation it was said. They did, however, complain in one of their publications of “Mob Rule in Scotland” – indicating only at Aberdeen and Dundee had the British Union of Fascists suffered such disorderliness but they also mentioned they dared not hold meetings in Glasgow after dark.

DUNDEE

The following week the Fascists’ tour of Britain found them in that other most disorderly city, the “Red city” of Dundee, where around 1,000 mostly Communists had already gathered for their own meeting knowing the BUF were due. Fascists G. Easterbrook and J. A. F. Nolan from London planned to speak but they and their fellow Blackshirts were forced into a hasty retreat chased by 500 Socialists. Some Fascists jumped onto a tramcar where Nolan was punched on the jaw, twice, and Easterbrook received a bloody nose before securing safe passage in a police van and driven away from the West Port area with shouts of “Down with the Blackshirts” and “Run them out of town” ringing in their ears – their planned 11 meetings during a week-long stay in Dundee cancelled.

At the time Nolan, insistent they were not Blackshirts but included Liberals and Conservatives, said their campaigns in Edinburgh, Ayr and Saltcoats got excellent hearings while in Aberdeen they’d encountered opposition though not as violent as in Dundee. Easterbrook was more blunt he condemned the reception in Dundee as “contemptible” and “un-British.”

It would be misleading to portray fascism as universally unpopular in Britain. Its ideology took root across Europe in the 1930s including in the United Kingdom. Indeed much of the British press were keen advocates of fascism: The Mirror and Sunday Pictorial were so tickled with fascism they proposed a prettiest woman fascist competition and published photographs of blackshirts having a sing-song around the piano. The Daily Mail’s owner Lord Rothermere welcomed Oswald Mosley’s moves to shake up Britain. On 8 January 1934 the Daily Mail editorial proclaimed –

“Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”

 

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And Rothermere’s message to Britons was-

 “Britain’s survival as a Great Power will depend on the existence of a well-organised party of the Right, ready to take on responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed.”

And enthusiastic Daily Mail readers clamoured to join the fascist movement. At the Albert Hall in London that April 10,000 people crowded in to hear the movement’s leaders speak. Soon 100 branches of the fascist organisation had sprung up around the UK.

The British Fascist movement was led by the well-heeled Sir Oswald Mosley – an MP with wide interests – at times a Conservative, an Independent and member of the Labour Party he served in Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour administration as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. After he resigned from Labour he was expelled and formed the New Party, a forerunner of the Union of Fascists.

Mosley favoured greater powers for the state in order to tackle unemployment and argued it should have more control over public assets. Unemployment was a huge problem in the UK in the thirties with levels of poverty and suffering hardly credible to us today. He wanted the UK to adopt the Italian type of fascism and become a corporate state of 24 bodies that would harbour no criticism, be governed by an elite elected through plebiscite every five years and replace local government with appointed representatives provided by the national government. In Aberdeen that man was to be William Keith Abercrombie Jopp Chambers-Hunter.

Despite the British Union of Fascists chiefly being London-based, in the East End in particular, its supporters endeavoured to create a UK-wide organisation. The biggest support outside of London was found in Liverpool and Manchester while efforts to spread their ideology into Scotland, intensified from 1936, were centred in Aberdeen. The simple reason for that was the presence of Chambers-Hunter, a fanatical fascist and his sister-in-law Agnes Evelyn Flora McDonald Botha – known as Mrs Botha (the last name might be familiar to you as she was a daughter-in-law of South Africa’s first Prime Minister, Louis Botha.) Chambers-Hunter was a laird at Tillery near Udny in Aberdeenshire who had been educated at public school in England, later spending time as a tea planter in Ceylon before returning to Scotland to live on the estate he inherited. His family’s fortune was made as plantation owners in South Carolina, the heart of slavery for around 200 years, in the 18th century. Chambers-Hunter, himself, was said to have come from a scion of the family born into less affluent circumstances, as the son of a grocer in Footdee (Fittie) and was formerly known as the more humble William Jopp. The family appear to have had a penchant for changing their names for his slave-owning grandfather was once Chalmers before adopting Chambers.

Chalmers-Hunter and Botha were determined fascists who didn’t allow adversity to come between them and their recruitment drive for the movement – and they had to be. Whenever and wherever they turned up Aberdeen’s anti-fascists quickly on hand to provide some opposition. That equal determination of the anti-fascists forced the local BUF from 1935 to stop publicising their appearances in advance instead they would turn up unannounced – most often at the Green, Craigie Street off George Street and Woodside where Chambers-Hunter would stick his head out of the sun roof speak briefly and perhaps sell copies of their newspapers Action and Blackshirt in the hope of getting away before being tracked down by the opposition – not easy for in the city an interesting network of anti-fascists emerged with eyes and ears open to their activities: bus and tram drivers and conductors; unemployed men and women on the streets and more organised groups of Communists and Socialists with bikes who got into the habit of cycling around the town searching out  Blackshirts in their usual haunts. As for the residents of Craigie Street it was said the women there were quite capable of sending the itinerant fascists packing whenever they turned up on their doorsteps.

Harassing fascists became a popular activity in Aberdeen. Many of you will know that nineteen Aberdonians felt so strongly that fascism had to be resisted they went to Spain as part of the International Brigades to fight it in the Spanish Civil War. Five were killed in Spain.

Aberdeen being a major port meant Aberdonians came into contact with seamen from around the world, including Germany, and from them they learnt about the rise and progress of fascism across Europe and the imprisonment and murder of Socialists, Communists, Trades Unionists, Jews and so many others. 

Communists used the town’s pavements to spread word of their meetings; writing time and place with bits of clay pipe – the habit of chalking messages on pavements lingered on among the city’s Socialists through to the 1960s CND, anti-Vietnam war movement.

The local press proved a lively medium for the exchange of political view. In March 1936 C. W. Edward of Sanquhar, Forres wrote in defence of fascism-

“Mr Chambers-Hunter’s excellent letter of February 28 voices the feelings of a vast number of people in Britain today.”

He went on to condemn the government’s treacherous attitude towards the USSR; its damage of trade through sanctions and risk of war so that “people of all political opinions are turning to Fascism as the only way out of the political morass in which we are floundering.”

His opinions were countered in the same paper by someone with the initials ACH who criticised Chambers-Hunter for his over-simplification of political situations –

“Russians are vermin (168 million people disposed of), Germany and Japan can squeeze them out of existence (No trouble!) Friendship with Russia means the ruin of the British Empire. (Shouldn’t it be the British Commonwealth of Nations?) …Fascism means the Union Jack —Nothing to do with the birch rod evidently…If a thinking man or woman refuses to accept any or all of these postulates, the shape of his or her nose may be taken as decisive evidence that he or she is wrong. – Drivelation. -A.C. H.”

Another correspondent sardonically ‘sided’ with the local fascist leader Chambers-Hunter and his opinions on the activities of Italy in Abyssinia.

“I was very interested in Mr Chambers-Hunter’s views on Italy’s great campaign, but I feel that he errs a trifle on the side of moderation.

It makes my blood boil when I think of the hindrances which have been placed on this great work of extermination, and I was only restrained by silly sentimentality from sending on my signet-ring to that saintly ascetic Il Duce to help him in his great work for civilisation.

The incredible bravery of the Italian airmen cannot be overpraised, considering the immense odds, but it is Marshal Badoglio who will live in history. His great feat of bringing about a series of glorious victories at a loss of a hundred thousand of the enemy to only a paltry thousand of his brave dare-devils marks him as one of the world’s greatest generals and mathematicians.

I remember when the Germans carried out an extermination campaign in their African colonies there was some talk, and the usual busybodies instituted a commission which allowed itself to be fooled by the usual lying stories…is not surprising therefore that misguided people even nowadays, no doubt influenced by lying “Red” propaganda, are squealing because some ****** women and kids happened to be slightly bleached by a harmless form of gas sent out to incapacitate the enemy camels from taking up supplies.”

It was signed  Hero Worshipper.

Asserting its empirical claims to a piece of Africa, Italy had been engaged in converting natives of Adowa to their caring regime through machine gun diplomacy, bombing and spraying poisonous gas from aircraft to kill individuals, poison land and water.

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Fascists and anti-fascists at Aberdeen’s Market Stance 1935

 One evening in July 1937 Chambers-Hunter and Botha and others turned up in a van with four loudspeakers at the Market Stance at the Castlegate. The four speakers were intended to drown out expected shouts and barracking from those against them. The inevitable scuffles broke out and when someone tried to remove the loudspeaker cables he was arrested, along with others. Chambers-Hunter continued to speak for around half an hour under a barrage of missiles of stones, tomatoes and anything else to hand but was scarcely audible over calls for Mosley “dead or alive.”

Once the Fascists had left the Castlegate the crowd turned its attention to the police and their arrested comrades. At police HQ in Lodge Walk the police were ready for them lined up with batons drawn and there was a stand-off with pleas to release the arrested men on bail at the same time the Chief Constable insisted there would be no bail until people moved away from the police station. They did. Back at the Market Stance a large crowd remained  and a collection was taken for bail money but the Chief Constable still refused to bail any of those detained.

Meanwhile a group of women arrived at Lodge Walk with food and drink for the men who they insisted all required special treatment. There were no files concealed in cakes but the men were allowed coffee, sandwiches and rolls provided by the women. One man used his sandwich bag to scribble a note which he hid in the dry lavatory in his cell. Next morning the note went to court along with the accused. As they were leaving the dock he threw the screwed up paper to the public benches but it was picked up by a detective.

Following their court appearance the men were taken to Craiginches prison where the governor tried to intimidate them, according to one of the arrested, Duncan Robertson.

“Stand to attention when you talk to me!” the governor demanded.

“Will I buggery!” came Robertson’s reply.

And he didn’t and the governor didn’t try that again.

A few days later the men were released from Lodge Walk on bail to cheers from a welcoming group waiting outside. One of the detained, Bob Cooney, was carried on shoulders from Lodge Walk to Castle Street where he addressed their supporters. Cooney had been assigned leader of the men by the police who always insisted there must be a leader. In their subsequent court appearance, Cooney was fined £10, being leader, and the others around £3 by Sheriff Laing. The average weekly wage for a skilled man at the time was around £3. Of the nine on trial, two were found not proven and others guilty of obstruction or assaulting the police. In all their fines amounted to £100, a great deal of money for working class heroes.

Following the Battle of Cable Street in London in October 1936 the Westminster government passed a Public Order Act on Jan 1, 1937 which handed greater powers to the police to control demonstrators and enable easier prosecution of hecklers who could be charged with disturbing the peace – a charge frequently employed in Aberdeen by fascists confronted by opposition so providing them with free rein to promote their propaganda unhindered and unchallenged for any who dared shout out could be pointed at and duly arrested with the prospect of being fined a whole week’s pay.

On 23rd October 1937 eight Aberdonians were before the sheriff on charges of acting in a disorderly manner at a meeting of fascists at Woodside. The public benches were filled with their cheering supporters who received a warning from the sheriff. Outside the court the fascists were booed and jeered and given police protection. 

And so the cat-and-mouse game between Left and Right continued with the Left always the ones sent to jail or fined.

Northeast fascists declared they had considerable support in Scotland – for example 200 members by 1933 in Motherwell. In order to boost their numbers Chambers-Hunter and Botha worked tirelessly taking their message to Inverness, Banchory, Kemnay, Inverurie, Forres, Peterhead, Turriff, Oldmeldrum and Stonehaven as well as Aberdeen.

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Scenes at the Market Stance where the BUF tried to speak 1937

In February 1937 the BUF were again at the Music Hall where the main speaker was their National Organiser in Scotland, Richard Plathen. Admission was by ticket only, sold by younger members. Local communists managed to buy a few before their ruse was discovered and a block placed on them obtaining more but the young fascists, not being over-burdened with sense, left the ticket box for a short time but long enough for the Communists to get to it and help themselves. The result was plenty Communist and Socialist comrades were able to find their way into the meeting despite a general warning from the police to the Left to stay away.

The evening began as it ended – in uproar. Around 80% of the audience were hostile to the fascists and they didn’t hold back from expressing their disapproval of the BUF; singing and chanting that familiar refrain -“One, two, three, four…” to which the fascists reacted by singing God Save the King – provoking in turn a hearty rendering of the Internationale accompanied by the waving of a red flag by Communist George Esson.

And so throughout the thirties clashes between Left and Right continued with no real violence other than pushing and shoving, a great deal of noise and forceful expression of opinion. But one Sunday in July 1937 around 50 Communists interrupted a BUF rally at the beach Links. During the ensuing rammy missiles and punches were thrown and a vehicle damaged. This resulted in several weel kent faces among the Communist fraternity being picked up later at home and instructed to appear at an identity parade at Lodge Walk the following day. One who wasn’t obliged to go was prominent anti-fascist campaigner Bob Cooney who later in the year was to head off to Spain to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. However on the day of the Links rammy he was in Glasgow but that did not prevent him insisting he take part in the line-up – muddling up the order of men arranged by the police. Being such a familiar face he was immediately recognised by one of the fascists there to identify the man who allegedly assaulted his brother at the Links. He pointed at Cooney and insisted he was the assailant. As this was patently untrue the others in the line-up were allowed to leave after receiving a warning from the police to refrain from hindering fascists in the future, again. Cooney claimed he was approached and asked why he changed the position of men in the line-up which made some suspect an arrangement had been made to get a particular man or men.

On the fifth anniversary of the founding of the British Union of Fascists Aberdeen was chosen as the venue for their Scottish conference. As their van with delegates from Perthshire, Fifeshire and Edinburgh made its way along Union Street towards the Market Stance the waiting crowd surged forward and succeeded in pushing the vehicle backwards for a short distance. The police were ordered to draw their batons and the van, its windows protected by wire, was able to complete its journey. A local paper described the crowd being “in a very noisy mood.” At the Market Stance Chambers-Hunter attempts to address the gathering were once again silenced despite his use of loudspeakers. The newspapers reported that little could be heard of his speech as it was drowned out by the ‘red rabble.’ Once again the fascists appealed to the police for protection before abandoning their pitch. As for the anti-fascists they met later on, in the Music Hall, at a high spirited meeting at which the principal speaker was the Communist Willie Gallacher.

The role of the police handling demonstrators was raised in the council chamber in October of 1937 with claims that they assaulted people in Aberdeen.

“The police seemed to run amok”

“The police concentrated on free speech for the fascists and threw overboard a score of other…rights of the public. Nothing mattered but to preserve the right of free speech for the fascists.”

(P&J 7 Oct 1937)

A complaint went to the Secretary of State for Scotland but was taken no further. In defence of police action it has to be said without their presence it is likely there would have been more injuries, to fascists at least, for tensions and tempers ran hot and wherever the fascists turned up their vehicles were set-upon and rocked, usually fairly gently. On one notable occasion, however, a fascist meeting had been arranged in Torry and people were again out in force with lots of yelling, fireworks and missiles. The police were also on hand but interestingly refrained from intervening until the crowd had toppled the fascists’ car was onto its side.

The worm had turned. Without police protection the fascists had to face up to the anger they provoked among Aberdonians. Unable to get to a public spot to speak from in Torry because of the crush of a crowd of around 6,000 the fascists slipped along Sinclair Road and stopped at a coal yard, misguidedly. Pieces of coal became missiles to be hurled their way. The coal yard was also private property and the owner complained to the police who ordered them off. A furious Chambers-Hunter turned on the police inspector -“You bastard!” which might have proved unwise. But Chambers-Hunter was nothing if not thrawn.

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Mosley visits Aberdeen

Oswald Mosley visited Aberdeen only once, on 22nd November 1937 where a luncheon was given in his honour in the Caledonian Hotel. The police blocked off the whole street to prevent demonstrators getting close to him. However, Aberdeen’s Communists were aye on the ba’.  Painted in huge letters across the road, in full visibility of guests at the hotel read the message FASCISTS OUT

SIR OSWALD MOSLEY SAYS “FINE”

 ran the Press & Journal headline

NOT PERTURBED BY ABERDEEN’S YELLING CROWD OF ANTI-FASCISTS

“Fine” the only comment Mosley is recorded as saying of his visit to Aberdeen.

The report claimed over 100 Aberdeen Fascists attended the luncheon. It is doubtful they all came from Aberdeen given the paltry numbers involved in their other activities but presumably were members who travelled near and far to touch the cloth of their leader.

The newspaper also reported the luncheon was disturbed by “continuous derisive shouts and the singing of the “Internationale” coming from Union Terrace, where a large crowd of anti-Fascists had assembled. Mosley’s address to the faithful centred on the wickedness of international Jewery and the fascist ambition to create a self-contained empire. At their lunch the fascists were subjected to catcalls which most ignored although one young woman did return the fascist salute.

Later, greater numbers gathered, having finished their work, to vent their feelings against the visiting fascists. When Mosley emerged from the Party’s base on Union Street he was faced by a “yelling and gesticulating crowd” and as he waited to for a flunky to open his car door he smiled towards those booing and gesticulating.  

In July 1938

Anti-Fascist crowd demonstrate

Police Escort for Witnesses

Five Sentenced at Trial

 “The trial on charges of breach of the peace and assault of five Aberdeen anti-Fascists, two of whom were sent to prison and the others fined, ended with a remarkable demonstration of anti-Fascist feeling at the door of the Aberdeen Sheriff Courthouse last night.”

The five told the court they had no religious beliefs and affirmed instead of taking the oath. They denied the charges, maintaining provocation by the Fascists who had shouted “One day Hitler and Franco would conquer the world, Hail Hitler, Join the Blackshirts, Keep Out Moscow and gave the Nazi salute.”

Lots of noise in the courtroom resulted in Sheriff Dallas warning that he would clear them from the court if they didn’t keep quiet. Witnesses came and went and the accused were found guilty.

Convicted were George Shepherd a salesman of Roslin Street and John Winton a sawyer of King’s Crescent both sent to jail for 30 days; Alexander Shepherd, son of George, also a salesman of College Bounds was fined £15 or 30 days in prison; Sydney Shepherd, labourer, of Bloomfield Road, another son of George Shepherd along with George Esson, labourer, of Chronicle Lane were each fined £3 each or 10 days in prison.

When their accusers William Keith Abercromby Jopp Chambers-Hunter and Agnes Evelyn Flora McDonald Botha of Tillery, Udny Station and Jane Imlah whose address was given at the headquarters of the BUF in Aberdeen on Union Street left the courthouse they were confronted by a large crowd, fists raised in the Communist salute shouting “Down with Fascism.” As the demonstrators surged forward the three fascists retreated into the building before being given police protection back to their car.  

An appeal against these sentences was made to the Secretary of State for Scotland but went nowhere.

In October 1938 Chambers-Hunter addressed Aberdeen Round Table Club.

“The doctrine of Fascism simply was, “‘United we stand, divided we fall'” and went on to condemn international finance for skewing economies explaining Hitler was hated by international finance run by Jews for trying to break free of the “net of borrowing and lending” in order to make his country self-sufficient.

“Twenty-four years ago, if the Kaiser had walked up Union Street on a Saturday afternoon he would probably have been lynched. If the poor old gentleman were to do so now, probably no one would recognise him, or if they would not worry about him.”

He told his audience he had fought during the war in the Cameroons and German Togoland and the natives there were treated as well as in Ceylon where he’d also lived as a planter and in fact the natives of Cameroons and Togoland were “devoted to their German masters.”

Which I suppose is why the Germans required an army to protect their interests there. To explain further – the extent of German popularity in East Africa can be illustrated by the Maji Maji War fought over resentment of enforced labour, heavy taxes and violent repression responsible for destroying the lives of so many and devastating the area’s social fabric. German imperialists adopted a scorched-earth policy of punishment and control along with horrendous brutality and cruelty – much like, it should be said, practised by other western  powers to their shame.  

Germany, along with other European states, undertook what was known as the Scramble for Africa – carving up the continent to stake their claims to areas they regarded ripe for exploitation, to appropriate and control their colony’s natural wealth and resources from precious metals to bananas, cacao, coffee and cotton.

And so for years the clashes between Left and Right were unrelenting. Then something happened – as atrocities carried out in the name of fascism across the world came to be taken more seriously mainly for the threat fascism posed to the UK so support for fascism began to lose its vigour. In 1939 Aberdeen’s own fascist Chambers-Hunter retired from politics presumably exhausted from the uphill struggles he encountered on each occasion he went public and in addition he had spent huge sums of his own money supporting the BUF. In June that year Chambers-Hunter’s country house at Udny burnt down.

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Driven out of his home by fire Chambers-Hunter, his wife and Mrs Botha

As for the Left there ranks were split by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet non-aggression Pact) signed between Germany and the USSR in August 1939. At the start of the Second World War Stalin argued it was not an anti-fascist struggle but an imperialist war but then came Operation Barbarossa when the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941 and dragged it into the conflict. At that point the Left forgot their differences to defeat the fascist states of Germany and Italy. Of course the Left had already been destroyed in Spain where a form of fascism survived until 1975 … at least.  

Sources: Aberdeen newspapers; Fascism in Aberdeen – Street Politics in the 1930s (Aberdeen People’s Press.)