Archive for ‘Scotland’

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. 

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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.

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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.

equal pay 1

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

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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 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.

fascists aberdeen 1935 - Copy (2)

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.

july 25 1937 market stance - Copy

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.

pic mosley aberdeen - Copy

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.

fascists home on fire - Copy

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.)

 

February 28, 2018

“I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above” :Flying Scotsmen

 

 

 

Bertram Dickson 1

Bertram Dickson

Britain’s first military pilot and the first British winner of an aviation competition was Scotsman Bertram Dickson. He was also involved in the first collision of an aircraft; an incident which led to his early death.

Bertram Dickson was born in 1873 in Edinburgh and died and was buried at Achanalt* in the Highlands in 1913.

Bertram's gravestone

 

The plaque on his memorial stone states:

 

THIS STONE
MARKS
THE LAST RESTING PLACE
OF
BERTRAM DICKSON
CAPTAIN
HIS MAJESTY’S
ROYAL REGIMENT OF ARTILLERY

SOLDIER – AVIATOR – EXPLORER
BORN EDINBURGH 21.12.1873.
DIED AT LOCHROSQUE CASTLE 28.9.1913

No danger found him hesitant
No suffering found him feeble.

Edinburgh-born Bertram Dickson’s heroic feats were instrumental in the formation of the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner to the Royal Air Force.

Holdich

Thomas Holdich

 Before that in 1892 the young Bertram accompanied the geographer Thomas Holdich, one-time president of the Royal Geographical Society and definer of national borders, to Chile and Argentina to establish the frontier between the two countries along the Andes.

Andes frontier

Creating a frontier in the Andes

He underwent training at the Royal Military Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in November 1894. By the turn of the century he was a captain and soon seconded to the Foreign Office undertaking duties in many parts of the world including British East Africa and Somaliland. His role as military attaché and vice consul found him in Turkey, in the troubled Ottoman Armenian city of Van but his enthusiasm for the embryonic pursuit of flight led to his enrolment at the Farman flying school in France in 1910 where he took the Aero-Club de France’s eighty-first pilot licence. Later that year he won £400 prize money for flying the greatest aggregate distance at the Lanark Aviation Club meeting and 18,000 French francs in prize money at the Aero Club de France at Tours.

Bertram was in his element as one of an elite body of early pilots who drew vast crowds as they took to the air carrying out daring manoeuvres in tiny open aircraft. He took up a post with  British & Colonial Aircraft Company which manufactured the Bristol Boxkite. This company went on to develop the Bristol Fighter plane for the Royal Flying Corps and later what became the Royal Air Force but by then Bertram Dickson was dead.

In September 1910 he took part in army manoeuvres over Salisbury Plain, on board one of two Bristol Boxkites and those trials convinced him of the potential of aircraft for reconnaissance in war and the importance that control of the skies would become in the future.

 

A month later Dickson was in Milan where he added that other, unfortunate, first – the first mid-air crash between two aeroplanes when his bi-plane collided with an Antoinette monoplane piloted by René Thomas** of France. Both men were injured but Dickson came off worst. As a consequence of his injuries that day he died, at Lochrosque House, near Achnasheen on 28 September 1913. He was buried nearby at Achanalt in Cnoc na Bhain graveyard.

Achanalt Strath Braan

Cnoc na Bhain

Achanalt near Achnasheen on the side of Strath Bran lies the Cnoc na Bhain graveyard.

It is said he died in Lochrosque Castle but appears to have an exaggerated claim for a lodge. At any rate he was there as guest of Sir Arthur Bignold, then a former Unionist MP for Wick – an Englishman who took a liking to the Highlands and decided to buy a bit of it- around 30,000 acres.

Bignold was doubtless an enthusiastic and staunch Tory which makes the following episode all the more incredible.

In September 1914 Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, happened to be passing through Ross and Cromarty on his way to inspect the fleet anchored in Loch Ewe when he spotted a light shining on the roof of Lochrosque Lodge. Taking his professional role ultra-seriously, or perhaps drink was involved, he became highly suspicious and doubtless laying the foundations for John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps the twitchy Winston Churchill assumed Bignold was a German spy signalling to his kameraden from Berlin. At any rate Churchill aided and abetted by a loyal protection officer burst into the house, made their way onto the roof and disabled the light – to the annoyance and probably astonishment of Bignold and his household.

Rene Thomas

René Thomas

*Rene Thomas became a motor racing champion as well as pioneer aviator. He won the Indianapolis 500 in 1914 but by then Bertram was dead and buried. Thomas died an old man in 1975.

The Royal Flying Corps was the air arm of the British Army before and during First World War. It merged with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1918 to form the Royal Air Force.

As a footnote for no other reason other than I came across his name while researching Bertram another of many young pioneering Scots pilots Reginald Archibald Cammell from Inverness died a couple of years before Bertram, in 1911.  

Cammell

Reginald Cammell

Cammell was killed at Hendon in England while trialling a Valkyrie monoplane. He had won his brevet (a military commission conferred for outstanding service) on a Bristol bi-plane at the Salisbury Plain school at the end of 1910 but his first flight in the Bleriot monoplane would be his last. Before taking off there had been trouble with the engine and it was suspected engineers passed it as okay despite continuing problems. At the inquest into the crash the coroner found death by misadventure.

brevet

 

His final flight began well with him completing a circuit of the airfield and rising to 100 feet but when he attempted a spiral turn something went wrong – some say he lost control and others that the engine seized; whatever the cause the plane crashed. Cammell was thrown clear and survived a short time but was dead before arriving at hospital. Only 25 years old he was described as one of the cleverest pilots of the British Air Battalion.

Cammell gravestone

Cammell’s memorial stone

Cammell was buried in England with full military honours.

The important role of aircraft in war developed apace since those first faltering days not only in reconnaissance but in devastating bombing of populations. In this light the exploitation of the skies by men and women in machines has been a mixed blessing but none of that detracts from the courage of the first airmen and airwomen. 

* Achanalt for many of us is a stop on the railway running between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh. It was once part of the Dingwall and Skye Railway operated by Highland Railway; one of many small British lines. During the First World War this line was a vital link between the south and Scapa Flow where the British Navy had a base, serviced from Scrabster near Thurso. Each day the Jellicoe Express ran between London and Thurso – a journey of around 22 hours.

images.duckduckgo

Achanalt halt

 

I am obliged to Ruadh Watson for pointing me in the direction of another impressive early airman, from Dundee – here’s the link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_Watson

February 9, 2018

Aberdeen City Council has shown itself not fit for purpose. Whatever that purpose may be. Art Gallery? What Art Gallery etc.

Art Gallery shut since 2015
Cowdray Hall shut since 2015
Remembrance Hall shut since 2015
Provost Skene’s House shut since 2015
Music Hall shut since 2016

24 June 2009
Aberdeen City Council agreed in principle to support the redevelopment of the Art Gallery.
No financial implications were forecast as the Marguerite McBey Trust attached to the Art Gallery would be used to fund the cost of c. £20 million along  with funds raised through Heritage Lottery grants and additional fundraising.
It was estimated the cost of storage for collections during the redevelopment would cost around £1.6 million.

11 Sept 2009
Aberdeen puts in a bid for UK City of Culture 2013.

Nov 2009
The £20 million Art Gallery project, part-funded by the McBey Trust is announced.
A team of experts is established to oversee the redevelopment.
Glasgow architects Gareth Hoskins chosen to design changes to make the Gallery ‘fit-for-purpose’ – as the jargon goes. Fit for purpose in the 21st century, presumably.

words
Plans will also improve the Cowdray Hall.

Aberdeen withdraws its bid to become the UK’s City of Culture for 2013 due to council finances.

2010
Development Studies came up with different approaches.
Option A: minimal c £15.7 million.
Option B: backpack c £18.4 million.
Option C: outside the box c £23.8 million.
Option D: outside the box c £24.3 million.
Option E: extending into RGU Gray’s School of Art c £22.7 million + site purchase

29 Nov 2012
Estimated cost of the project £33 million over the next 4 financial years: £30 million for the Art Gallery + £3 million to create a facility to house the museum collections.
Aberdeen City Council to make imminent application for Heritage Lottery Funding of £10 million.
It confirmed £3 million from the council’s non housing capital programme 2013-14 and £10 million from the same programme 2013-17.
The Council guaranteed up to £10 million to meet any shortfall in fundraising.

The redevelopment is to be the cornerstone of the Council’s City of Culture bid 2017.

26 February 2013
Aberdeen bids to become UK City of Culture 2017.

city culture nae vision

City of Culture bid fails.

Aberdeen’s City of Culture bid – a lesson in mediocrity

18 December 2013
Redesign plans for Aberdeen Art Gallery approved by councillors.

19 June 2014
Design work completed . Planning and listed building permission approved.
Finance, Policy and Resources Committee approved estimated cost of £30 million for construction, demolitions, enabling, new build, building, exhibition fit outs, design team, surveys, furniture and fittings, contingencies and inflation.
Projected opening after redevelopment 2017.
Instructs proposal to go to out to tender with deadline of January 2015.

18 February 2015
Meeting of the Council’s Finance, Policy and Resources Committee report that the Marguerite McBey Trust supported the redevelopment, to the tune of £50,000 per annum for 3 years to fund a fundraising officer to oversee the refurbishment project.

‘5.2 By contracting an independent specialist fundraising consultancy, the Council obtained guidance on how best to seek external financial support. This includes how to undertake a fundraising campaign, the categories of prospective donors (for example, trusts, charities, corporate social responsibility, personal and general public donations), the sequencing of when and how to fundraise. As part of the consultancy, approaches were made to ascertain the level of interest in the redevelopment, as well as understand other issues which might influence whether interest could be capitalised into donations, or other contributions. ‘

27 February 2015
“A councillor is confident money will be raised for the refurbishment of Aberdeen Art Gallery – but has said some donors want to remain anonymous due to planning issues in the city.”
“Cllr Marie Boulton said the project would be held in ‘great esteem.'”

Aberdeen Art Gallery shuts its doors.

P1030551.JPG

25 August 2015
Contractor appointed for the £30 million redevelopment.
Completion date: winter 2017.

31 Aug 2016
Designers Hoskins Architects, Glasgow website featured the interior of the newly refurbished Art Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Remembrance Hall.

As you can see by the illustrations this includes glazed panels on the roof of the extension to the Gallery. Perhaps they don’t know in Glasgow but Aberdeen has gulls, lots and lots of gulls who need to poop.

Cllr Marie Boulton didn’t offer her view on the impact of seagull poop on a glass roof in Aberdeen but she did describe the development as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve something really special for Aberdeen by forming a world-class cultural centre.

Completion of the works due 2017.

Feb 2017
Press reports of “vastly underestimated” cost of the museum collections centre – Aberdeen Treasure Hub.
Initially projected to cost £3.6 million late in 2014 costs were still being calculated in 2016 but by then they had nearly doubled to £6.5 million.

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Why?
Apparently “the scope of the project was inaccurately defined and vastly underestimated the cost of the project.”
Not only that but those behind the scoping had not engaged with the insurance team at the start of the project and consequently the insurance provider refused the fire suppression system which was designed and installed.

Public money, huh?
Criminal negligence.

The Council’s response – it learnt a number of lessons for future projects.

I wouldn’t bank on it.

The Council thought the public would have money pouring in to make up the funding gap. It didn’t.
I heard that after performances of the panto over Christmas that buckets were produced for collections among the audience so that work on the Music Hall could continue.
Can this be right?
I haven’t mentioned the music Hall fiasco yet.

The severity of the shortfall in funding Aberdeen’s regeneration of the Art Gallery, Cowdray Hall, Remembrance Hall, Music Hall and Provost Skene’s House has led to council staff flogging raffle tickets at £2 a time. Fellow staff are being encouraged to buy them.
It is unseemly and bizarre and exceptionally unprofessional approach to public works.

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SNP Cllr Nicoll:

“I wonder if the next public art installation in Aberdeen will just be a pile of burning cash.”

Culture is draining away in Aberdeen as it is on the rise in Dundee with the magnificent and truly innovative V & A on top of other attractions on that city’s water front.
Aberdeen has cancelled its very popular and long-standing International Youth Festival and it looks as it doesn’t have a future. Just wait, another city will take up this initiative and have it running before Aberdeen councillors can utter the words, we are applying to become the City of Culture in …

1 Feb 2018
Meeting of the Finance committee. Request to identify more funding “for the additional costs” of the redevelopment.
Just what these are is anyone’s guess because everything related to the Art Gallery redevelopment has just become top secret.

I asked Ross Thomson MP (backed by Independent Alliance Councillor Marie Boulton – see above) if he could answer 4 questions relating to the Art Gallery Provost Skene’s House developments.
1: the reason for the over-run of the refurbishment
2: the problems which have led to the over-run
3: the current state of finance for the projects
4: when councillors were made aware of the problems leading to this state of affairs.

What I eventually got in response from a member of Thomson’s staff was hardly illuminating and little short of a council PR statement –

“Aberdeen Art Gallery (AAG) is the jewel in the crown of Aberdeen’s cultural offer …
As is to be expected with such works on buildings of the sensitivity, age, history and complexity of AAG, some challenges have emerged during the construction process. The Council, the project manager, contract administrator and contractor have been working hard to address these challenges and reduce any impact in financial terms and to reduce in delay in the Gallery’s re-opening. Although, the project programme has slipped as a result this is being managed. and it is anticipated that the AAG will reopen in early 2019. The resulting budgetary impact is currently being discussed and is at a commercially sensitive stage.”

Now wouldn’t you have thought that a contractor would have done a analysis report before pricing a job in an old building?
What are the ‘challenges’ aside from the cash?
Who is responsible for not anticipating these ‘challenges’?

“Given the complexities of the project and to ensure that it is delivered to the highest standards, the Council, earlier in 2017, appointed Faithful and Gould to project manage the refurbishment of AAG.  This investment of resource and management shows the Council’s commitment to successful delivery.”

So to be clear a company called Faithful and Gould were appointed to project manage the redevelopment in 2017? Who was project managing before then and are they being held responsible for the utter shambles this exercise has been?
Is it incompetency that has led to the increased costs and delays?
And when will the Gallery, Cowdray Hall and Remembrance Hall re-open?

Meanwhile place yourself in the position of a visitor to Aberdeen – no Art Gallery, no Cowdray Hall, no Music Hall, no Provost Skene’s House. If it wasn’t so serious the mess this council has landed the city in would be laughable.

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16th century building, Aberdeen’s oldest.  Let’s hide it behind tons and tons of concrete.

Ross Thompson’s staff email continues:

“The Council committed investment in PSH when it allocated £1.5m in September, 2016 to facilitate its refurbishment. A project was developed to secure a new attraction, focused around people from the North East who helped transform the wider world, and supporting enabling works for this. Such a project fits with the desire to promote PSH as relevant to Aberdeen and integrate it with the Marischal Square development.

In developing the project through the autumn of 2016 and into 2017, it became apparent that the condition challenges facing PSH had not been readily apparent at project commencement due to restricted access as PSH sat within the Marischal Square development site. In taking the project forward, it was important to understand these challenges in order to ensure that refurbishment would be to the standard required and that any works would ensure that PSH was fit for purpose over the next 30-40 years. Consequently, Adams Napier Partnership was commissioned to undertake a full and comprehensive condition survey which reported in June 2017. This established that there were a range of urgent, necessary and desirable works required to the building fabric.”

PSH is Provost Skene’s House. According to Thomson’s staff there were things which came to light only late in 2016-17
“due to restricted access as PSH sat within the Marischal Square development site.”
Except Skene’s House has been there for over 400 years. It isn’t as though it sneaked away so contractors couldn’t get into its gubbins.

Then he gets to the nub of Council speak “fit for purpose” that get-out clause.
So in June 2017 another company was contracted to survey PSH. I’m beginning to see how this mess has grown into one helluva expensive mess.

This recent scrutiny of the 400 year old building found it in need of “urgent, necessary and desirable works.”

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Not surprised given the pile driving that had gone on month after month after month next to a fragile and historically valuable ancient building. 

March 2017
Work on Provost Skene’s House won’t be delayed said Aberdeen City Council.

skenes wont be delayed
Oops factor – as part of the development of PSH one contract was valued at under £50,000 which meant work could be approved quickly. However all quotes came back over £50,000 which meant the tendering process kicked in …blah blah blah… delays “with consequence for the anticipated opening in parallel with Marischal Square in July 2017” said a council spokesperson/robot.

Provost Skene’s House – the under £50K work shot up to £84,700.

On 11 December 2017 the Press & Journal published what was claimed to be shocking photos from within Skene’s House.

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This 16th century building, with no foundations, has taken a helluva pounding over months as the concrete monstrosity of Marischal Square has risen up around it.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Yuill spoke of his shock at the lack of protection provided during the building works of the ancient painted ceilings and panels.

It is hardly appropriate to use the term responsible when seeking to discover who at Aberdeen City Council is behind years of chaos and cultural delinquency. Their actions are wholly irresponsible. And profoundly unprofessional.

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In response to Cllr Yuill’s concerns a council spokesperson denied there was ever any risk. Who was this anonymous person and what is their expertise on preserving art?
I think we should be told but perhaps that information has also been locked up in the secret drawer.

skenes over budget

Nov 2017
Re work on Provost Skene House.
Cllr Lumsden (Conservative and Unionist) said, “It’s a case of the project almost has to start again.. The business case has been done now but there are new costs that need to go to committee for approval. The costs that were done a few years ago were unrealistic; it was costing up a Hall of Heroes.”

Hall of Heroes, huh? Precious few of them in the council chamber.
It transpires the council is looking for a – what’s the term? A yes, fit for propose attraction – not a councillor then?
Three years on and the hapless council is still waiting for the project to be properly scoped. “and know exactly what we are going to do.” !!!
Really?

skenes delayed

Oops – little bit damage to Provost Skene’s it appears.

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It’s like groundhog day as work on Provost Skenes’ House has ‘almost to start again’ and the new provisional re-opening date is 2019. Well past the opening of Marischal Square – which I believe hasn’t yet opened although it is now February 2018. I don’t know because I don’t go near that horrible and misbegotten development. I am, however, planning a visit to Dundee’s wonderful and creative waterfront V & A which has emerged over the same time-frame as Aberdeen’s extension hasn’t. 

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Dundee’s V & A

Aberdeen City Council has proved itself not fit for purpose. Whatever that purpose may be.

Art Gallery shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Cowdray Hall shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Remembrance Hall shut since 2015 may re-open 2019
Provost Skene’s House shut since 2015 – think of a date
Music Hall shut since 2016 —see below

Don’t laugh but …

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The Music Hall upgrade scheduled to finish in December 2017 has been pushed back to later 2018. 

 

Oh, and there’s this –

 

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February 3, 2018

Gordon’s of Alford – more than a local shop or Gordon’s of Alford versus the Luftwaffe

Gordon’s of Alford is no more.

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James A Gordon started out by taking over William Coutt’s shop in Alford

From a washer to a high fashion, from flower seeds to carpets, from a teaspoon to a wardrobe the place to go was Gordon’s of Alford.

This was a business that was innovative and ambitious. The intrepid Gordons took the road – rural roads, unrecognisable as roads to most, their familiar maroon vans stuffed to the gunnels with goods destined for Durness at the top of the mainland and across the sea to Skye. Their fleet of transport was impressive. It was Gordon’s who started up the first self-service (pre-supermarket) shop in this area.

 

Watch a potted history of Gordon’s of Alford

James Gordon opened his first store in Alford in Aberdeenshire in 1923 and from modest beginnings the business expanded, proving highly successful and attracting not only locals but enticing people out from the city of Aberdeen and everywhere round and about – for it sold nearly everything at one time.

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Many’s a time we’ve been in Aberdeen and come away having failed to get whatever in the likes of B&Q, got back home, nipped into Gordon’s and found it there. This is one store that is going to be missed.

It was back in the 1930s that Gordon’s first drapery van took the shop out to farms in outlying areas in this agricultural part of the world. Twice a year Gordon’s made the run over the west and north, in April and October – providing the west’s first fashion show with professional models from Aberdeen. Women, not only in the Vale but right across the west came to rely on Gordon’s for their annual replacement corsets.

During World War II a couple of members of the Gordon staff were in Aberdeen picking up goods when the air raid sirens sounded. The city emptied; people heading off to shelter and abandoning Union Street – except for a solitary Gordon’s of Alford van with two stalwarts on board determinedly driving along a deserted Union Street as fast as their wheels could turn. And make it home they did – in a clash between the Luftwaffe and Gordon’s of Alford – the men of Aberdeenshire triumphed.

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The Old Howe of Alford 

January 24, 2018

Smear For Smear: a call for women to take the smear test

The statistics are impressive: 5,000 women’s lives saved annually; 94.8% tests are negative (EngNHS figs) 75% tests prevent cancer developing.

BUT

1 in 4 women don’t take up invitation to be screened, a depressing figure which rises to 1 in 3 for young women between 25 and 29 with fewer young women now choosing to be screened for cervical cancer.

There is something counter-intuitive about this trend given the growing openness towards all things sexual that young women are so coy over a procedure that takes moments and may prevent a tragically early death.

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Dr Elizabeth Macgregor

Aberdeen pioneered programmed cervical screening back in the 1960s. This progressive practice was one of many aspects of celebrated care for women’s health undertaken in the city under the remarkable Dr Dugald Baird which included access to birth control, pre-natal and post-natal care, childbirth and sexual health. Baird asked a young medical researcher, Dr Elizabeth Macgregor who had joined him in 1958, to set up screening for women in the city and the surrounding shire and to collect research statistics on its efficacy. This was in 1960, nearly 60 years ago.

Then as now cervical cancer was a major killer of young women, one that creeps up with few distinctive symptoms.

Dr Macgregor’s inspiring work in Aberdeen was based on that of the American Dr Georges Papanicolaou whose screening test in the 1940s for human papillomavirus (HPV) was known as a Pap smear. Dr Macgregor’s approach was meticulous; testing and carefully recording the impact of screening on the women under her care. Under her a systematic public health programme was introduced to tackle cervical cancer, in Aberdeen this targeted poorer women who had fewer opportunities to access health care.  Patients were invited to her clinic and through a punchcard system recalled for follow-up smears. Dr Macgregor found there was a dramatic drop in the incidences of cervical cancer in the northeast as a result of her screening clinics despite some reluctance by a number of GPs to participate – Dr Macgregor went around the northeast carrying out and analysing these smear tests herself.

In the first five years of her work a huge decrease in cervical cancer rates in northeast Scotland were recorded. Her published outcomes proved so impressive others followed her lead made all the easier through Dr Macgregor’s bank of research evidence but it was not until the late 1980s her practices were widely adopted.

In 2016 the age range for cervical screening in Scotland was changed from women between 20-60 years to those between 25 and 64. Women up to 49 are re-screened every three years and older women from 50 to 64 are re-tested every 5 years (those above this age group being followed-up when medically advisable and similarly with women younger than 25.)  

Since Dr Macgregor’s time vaccines have been developed to protect against types 16 and 18 HPV which are the main causes of cervical cancers and in 2008 Scotland introduced a programme of school-based vaccination for cervical cancer for 12 and 13 year olds. As a result early signs of these potential cancers have almost halved.

The success of the school vaccine is clear with 90% uptake among Scotland’s girls making it among the highest in the world.

Women in this country are fortunate to be able to have this dangerous disease caught early – and for free. Women in other parts of the world must be envious wondering why anyone would not jump at the opportunity.

Women of all ages keep safe – take advantage of the smear test.

 

 

 

December 19, 2017

The Whip Hand

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Prison warder with a cat-o-nine-tails from Peterhead Prison Museum

On January 2, 1891 it was reported in an Aberdeen newspaper that the town’s whipper had resigned after his home was besieged by angry protesters.  

It was New Year and it may have been the occasion with all that involves that emboldened Aberdeen’s citizens to vent their disapproval not-so-much of the man but his chosen occupation. Whatever the stimulus that attracted a crowd to his door that particular night their actions unnerved him sufficiently that the town’s whipper got to thinking about his job and when he had done thinking he decided to quit it.

His appointment a year earlier attracted the attention of the London Echo which described his role as more akin to barbarous practices of earlier and ruder times. In response a Glasgow newspaper ridiculed the London Echo‘s reporter for getting, well – the wrong end of the stick – and imagining Aberdeen loons (boys) were being strapped to grills to be lashed to within “an inch of their lives by some brawny and brutal giant wielding the cat-o-nine-tails.”

The Echo was quoted in the piece –

“If the hardened burglar sinks into deeper degradation through the lash, what effect,” this tearful Echo exclaims, “will it not have upon the delicate and impressionable mind of a lad?”

The Glasgow reporter reassured the London Echo its imagination went far beyond the truth. It was pointed out that schools used corporal punishment through caning and there was no intention to treat Scottish youth to immeasurable agony and disgrace but only to extend the type of punishment commonly applied in schools to municipal whipping rooms. The alternative of a fine, the reporter argued, only punished parents not the lad.

Many will remember more recent controversies over the birching of youths, notably on the Isle of Man, for misdemeanours too inconsequential for custodial sentence. Edinburgh’s whipper was busy as late as 1927 birching around six boys aged between ten to fourteen accused of stealing money from gas meters and other articles. One lad was given twelve strokes while the rest got up to six.

At the Borders town of Hawick a public whipper was sought in 1889 when 17 boys were brought before the police court on charges which included the theft of turnips, handkerchiefs, a hammer, a tea-cup and maliciously breaking a ladder. Casting an eye towards parents and teachers Hawick’s magistrates insisted that if they could not restrain the laddies then the police and magistrates would have to take them in hand.

Whipping is the act of using an instrument to strike a person or animal to cause pain as punishment or instil fear to teach a lesson or encourage compliance. If I might divert a little – who would be a whipper? A bully or inadequate type of person surely and there’s a fine line between legally sanctioned whipping and violent assault against a person.

In 1868 in Milwaukee Wisconsin a man called Downer charged his neighbours with assault and intent to kill after he was attacked by them. He claimed he had been sitting peaceably at home when a group of women broke in and without a word set about him; striking him with clubs, sticks and guns. He was left soaked to the skin, his clothes torn, his face and neck badly scratched and missing clumps of head hair and whiskers and he angrily demanded the women be arrested and punished. In the subsequent court hearing a witness told how that evening Downer was indulging in his ‘usual amusement’ of whipping his wife when neighbours were alerted by her desperate cries and responded armed with a mop, a broom, fire shovel and pair of tongs. They struck out at Downer mopping his face with dirty water and beating him. He fought back punching at least one woman which only enraged the rest to thrash him more soundly till he was the one crying out and begging not to be killed.

Back in the UK there were references to the distinctive coats or robes worn by town whippers but I haven’t come across actual descriptions of any which is a pity as I would like to have an accurate picture of the men whose task it was to lash 18th century scallywags who cared so little for their passengers they carelessly let go when carrying sedan chairs propelling the unfortunate traveller inside tumbling out and meriting, according to the custom of the time, a sound thrashing.

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Tripod to hold prisoner receiving a flogging from Peterhead Prison Museum

The 1880s appears to have been pivotal to changing attitudes towards whipping. At Peterhead’s fine prison museum there is a contraption that was used in the 19th century to flog prisoners with the cat-o-nine-tails. A designated prison warder took on this role until public pressure ended the practice and in Aberdeen the last whipper was engaged in September 1885. The following year magistrates tried to have all whipping or birching carried out in prisons because of the reluctance of the public to take on the role but the prison authorities resisted and the law was changed to allow the police birch youths in police cells or court rooms.

 

In August of 1886 Exeter was the last cathedral in England to take on a dog whipper and so mercifully vanished another ancient occupation used to keep dogs from wandering into open churches and devouring communion wafers, or whatever. It was in the 1880s that the British Navy notorious for its floggings largely gave up the punishment although it wasn’t formally removed from the statute books until 1949. I suppose schools were the last stronghold of the whipper in a physical sense with the term whipping giving way to birching or belting and punishment confined to particular institutions.

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The Lochgelly, belt, strap, skud, tawse

In Scottish schools the 2-foot long piece of coiled leather known as the tawse, strap, belt, skud or Lochgelly (the town where they were made) continued whipping by another name and on another part of the body, except perhaps in public schools. The strap was banned in state schools in 1987 while public schools hung onto it, or a cane, for a further ten years. The ban came after years of campaigning against corporal punishment in schools. In 1961 Aberdeen’s redoubtable Trades Council secretary James Milne, in response to a council plan to permit only headmasters administer the strap, said corporal punishment in schools was no business of the Trades Council but that of teachers alone. Headteachers complained they were to be made into public whippers – turned into ogres who would be feared instead of regarded with affection and trust by their pupils. The Trades Council called on the education committee to impose a headmaster only rule as first step towards abolition of the strap in city schools and suggested parents should be forewarned when their child was due to be strapped – a view rejected as daft by at least one headteacher for drawing out the punishment.

For those of us who don’t saddle up to terrorise our native fauna whipping now conjures up its symbolic form – in the Westminster parliament. There MPs are frequently ‘whipped’ to vote along party lines although there is no physical assault involved, as far as I’m aware, more the application of something akin to strong persuasion and even blackmail. The parliamentary whipper-in was initially appointed to make sure enough recalcitrant members of parliament would abandon their appointments with horse racing, women and bottles of claret to ensure sufficient were available to carry on the duties of government. Without the whipper-in it was doubted parliament would meet one day in seven during the earlier 19th century. Whippers-in made it their business to know what was happening in London’s social scene – gatherings and parties; and who was invited where. London clubs around Westminster were often the first port of call when bodies were required to back a vote.

“The whipper had to get to know new members and flatter and cajole them if they were gastronomic he dines him, operatic then attends opera with him, the sport lover, foxhunter, literati, Soyer with the epicure, John and Jesus men of Exeter Hall with the devout member, admirer of women with others, informed on cotton twist with the manufacturer, of guano with top boots and breeches… he lures radicals with a ticket for the Speaker’s dinner, introduces him to Court in a bobwig, sword and ruffles and makes him a member of some safe committee, like that upon petitions – after a session or two he is no longer a flaming radical but a mere whig, a ministerial driveller and a safer voter than even Lord Tom Noddy.”

The parliamentary whipper had learnt the art of subtle people-handling at the smooth and oily school. And for their great service to the state the whipper-in might expect fine reward – a plum job in a position quiet, well paid and respectable or a sturdy pension. 

Whipper-in was first applied in parliament when in May 1769 that giant of 18th century politics Edmund Burke referred to Treasury officials ‘whipping in’ members for the final parliament of the session. The term caught on and was soon abbreviated to whips.

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Captain Edward Ramsden convicted of animal cruelty

The whipper-in title came from fox hunting as I hinted above – but you probably knew that and to Westminster’s shame it still hasn’t loosened its attachment to that particular appalling pursuit. One whipper-in who caught my attention when researching this piece was one Captain Edward Ramsden, master of the South Durham hunt, who in 1935 was found guilty of cruelty to animals after he entered a house in pursuit of a terrified fox that had sought shelter there. The conquering hero emerged dragging the fox by a leash wrapped around its neck and tally-ho’d to the hounds who set upon the distraught animal tearing it to pieces. He was fined £10. Personally I would have had him publicly whipped.