July 26, 2017

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

A W Maconochie (2)

Guest blog by Textor

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

Ad of 1877

 

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

Pan Yan Pickle ad

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

unnamed.jpg

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

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

Maconochie's Ad 2

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

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

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

Political cartoon AWJ election Sept 26 1900 p.7

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

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

Maconochie Accident APJ Aug 22 1903

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

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

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

1900

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

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

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

MB ad 1877

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

unnamed

Planting the flag

Part 2 to follow

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

July 22, 2017

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

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

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

cap_reform_wordle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

download

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

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

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

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

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

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

Khalid Abdullah al Saud, owner of Frankel the racehorse.

Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 28, 2017

Cycling through thirties Aberdeen

1936 cyclists parade in aid of the Infirmary fund

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

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

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

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

1934

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

1935

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

Tommy Bike

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

1936

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

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

 

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

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

1937

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stoneage tandem beach money effort for RI

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

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

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

1938

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

1939

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

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

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

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

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

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

braemar gathering 35 years before 1936

Cycling was popular at Braemar Gatherings

 ***

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

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

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

 

June 12, 2017

Aberdeen Music Hall: British Nationalism and the Light Fantastic

Music Hall 1859

Inside the Music Hall 1859

Guest blog by Textor

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

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

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

1828 Plan Union Street

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

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

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

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

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

James Duff 4 Earl of Fife (2)

James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife

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

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

Local History 010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Street from South

Union Street from the south

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

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

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

Union Bridge

Union Bridge complete with washing line

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

June 11, 2017

Mairi and Elsie the Madonnas of Pervyse

 

Knockchis_homechat

At this time one hundred years ago two women were three years into serving on the front lines in Belgium under direct attack.

Shortly after the start of the Great War in August 1914 a young Scottish woman, only 18 year old from Nairn in Northeast Scotland, Mairi Chisholm, and an English nurse, Elsie Knocker, decided they would go to Belgium to help wounded soldiers despite being forbidden by the British authorities.

tatler two english women

Mairi and Elsie became the Madonnas of Pervyse and throughout the war newspapers reported their bravery and endurance while under constant bombardment. At their dugout north of Ypres the two remained there for three and a half years tending the sick and maimed.

Initially the women had set up their medical station in an unoccupied area of Belgium, as part of the Belgian Red Cross, but it became clear that the faster men could get attention the better were their chances of survival and so despite the dangers the two women moved close, very close, to the action. Abandoning their official role with the Belgian Red Cross they raised funds to set up their dressing station directly behind the front lines at Pervyse near Ypres and became attached to the garrison there. Their first cellar hospital was reinforced and a steel door supplied from Harrods. Telephone communication was established between there and every trench and given they were right up among the action it was boasted some men were on the operating table within 20 minutes of being wounded. Apparently fearless the women did not shirk from going into no-man’s land and on one occasion rescued an injured German pilot who lay there.

nurses with medals

Elsie and Mairi

They lived and slept in their clothes – dressing consisted of pulling on their boots and brushing their hair. Frequently exhausted they filled in time between nursing casualties from the front lines making soup and cocoa to feed to them and their comrades in nearby trenches and outposts along with providing food and care for local desperate starving children.

Mrs Knocker known as Gypsy either from her fondness for being out on the road or else her penchant for large earrings spoke very good French and German and was skilled as a mechanic and driver. In a huge Wolsley ambulance they drove right up to the front to pick up the wounded but these monster vehicles were criticised for being too obvious to the enemy as well as guzzlers of fuel. But then waste did not figure much in any of the calculations of those behind the Great War. The woman resented instructions to drive miles around the Belgian countryside in them on minor errands, such as collecting supplies of bandages. 

mairi chisholm and ambulance from paper.jpg

A soldier, Mairi and Elsie alongside their ambulance in 1916

On one occasion they were instructed to drive five German prisoners to a detention centre which they did. More bizarre was when they were told to take out a group of ‘sightseers’ from England around the battle zone. Visitors were not uncommon on the western front and another who called in to see them at work was the Irish Nationalist leader John Redmond MP.

 Once the Germans got to know about Mairi and Elsie and their remarkable work they deliberately targeted them. When they were bombed out of their cellar in Pervyse, only 50 yards from the trenches, the women moved into a tumbledown cottage where they were shelled twice more. The village of Pervyse was bombed and ruined; its church had its spire shot away and lost all its windows. Graves in its cemetery gaped open offering up their dead in a land producing dead on an industrial scale where men’s bodies were piled up on floors and propped against walls – there was no dignity in their sacrifice.

“No one can understand…unless one has seen the rows of dead men laid out. One sees men with their jaws blown off, arms and legs mutilated.” (Mairi Chisholm)

mairi chisholm nursing in field 1917

At 4 a.m. on March 17th 1918 the women’s makeshift hospital came under a gas attack that almost killed them and more or less ended their time at the front. Wakened by the assault the women were badly affected – deafened, blinded and suffocating they struggled to locate gasmasks for themselves and their patients. Mairi’s little fox terrier, Shot, licked her hand frantically as she fell into a state of near collapse and while Mairi survived the dog died from the gas. The other dog, Chink, and their three cats survived by burying themselves in bedclothes so not breathing in any of the gas directly. Forced back to Britain, Chisholm briefly returned to the front but was too ill to remain there long and she and Knocker served out the war as members of the newly formed Women’s Royal Air Force.

Mairi Chisholm was born in 1896 in Nairn and died there in 1981. This indomitable young Scottish woman came from a wealthy background; her family owned a plantation in Trinidad. They moved to the south of England when Mairi was a child and here she was given her first motorcycle, a Douglas, by her father. She enjoyed stripping it down, repairing it and riding it around the lanes of Dorset and through her love of motorcycles she met the much older Knocker, also a biker, and together they went along to motorbike and sidecar trials.

Chis_knock

Eighteen-year-old Mairi rode her motorcycle from her home in Dorset to London where she met up with Elsie and together they became dispatch riders in Women’s Emergency Corps. Mairi’s daring riding around the city and hairpin corners on her motorcycle caught the eye of Dr Hector Munro who was setting up a Flying Ambulance Corps to help Belgians under German attack. He invited Mairi to become part of the unit and she encouraged him to extend the invitation to Elsie.  

‘Would you like to go out to Flanders’ and I [Mairi] said ‘Yes, I’d love to’.

The women, invariably described as English although Mairi was a Scot, were recognised for their outstanding contribution and service during the war – for almost its entirety. Press and public clamoured for news about the most photographed women of the conflict and they were officially recognised both by Belgium and Britain – awarded the Order of Leopold, Knights Cross (with palm) for courageous work on front lines, the British Military Medal and made Officers Most Venerable Order of the hospital of St John of Jerusalem. Chisholm got the Order of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and the 1914 Star.

mairi chisholm flag day 1918

Mairi on flag day 1918

Daring Mairi took up car racing despite suffering poor health as a consequence of being gassed including septicaemia and suffering from a weak heart. She returned to Nairn and became a successful poultry breeder with her childhood friend May Davidson. There was a move to Jersey but Mairi Chisholm went home again to Nairn where she lived out her life alongside Davidson.

For a time both women were big celebrities, their exploits featured in newspapers but few remember them now. They deserve to be remembered as do the 350 nurses who died during that grotesque and unnecessary exercise in death.

Chisholm’s papers are held in the National Library of Scotland. Her diaries are with the Imperial War Museum.

again in beligium.jpg

May 28, 2017

Bridge over the Don

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

34480726680_2229e1dfbf_z

Bridge of Don, Aberdeen

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

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

May 25, 2017

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

james ferguson astronomer 2 rothiemay

Gravestone at Milltown of Rothiemay

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

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

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

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

DSC05212

James Ferguson mapping the stars

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

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

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

And he went on –

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

Fergusons_Mechanical_Paradox_Orrery

Ferguson’s Orrery

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

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

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

DSC05211.JPG

James Ferguson painting a globe

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

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

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

astronomical-rotula.jpg

Ferguson’s Astronomical Rotula

 

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

James_Ferguson

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

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

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

 Jm - Copy

m

James Ferguson’s tomb at the lost Old Marylebone graveyard

 

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

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

 

 

 

May 18, 2017

Fraternising with the enemy: Scots and Germans

Gordon_Highlanders_(1914)

The Great War front line Christmas truce of 1914 is well known, specially that game of football. Truth is there were several similar episodes and one involving troops of the Gordon Highlanders was recounted by two men who took part when they were invalided to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

Privates Garden McIntosh and W. Kiloh from Banff near Aberdeen were serving at the front with the 6th Gordon Highlanders on Christmas morning in 1914 when they were startled to see several German soldiers emerge from their trenches and approach them with their hands held up. Speaking in perfect English the Germans wished the young Scottish troops a Merry Christmas.

Once over their surprise the kilted Gordons happily joined in the good wishes and soon Scots and Germans, who were from Bavaria, were exchanging gifts; long German rolls for bully beef and other rations although the dark German bread rolls were not much appreciated by the Scots.

Present too was the regiment’s padre, Aberdonian Rev. J. Esslemont Adams, who addressed men from both sides with a message in keeping with Christmas and in return he received a generous gift of a beautiful melodeon. It struck the two Gordons this was a considerable sacrifice for playing music was one of the few means of keeping up spirits so far from home and in the midst of the horrors of war and tense frustrating stalemates.

This truce lasted for several days before it came to the notice of German officers -goodness knows where they were all this time but when they became aware of the fraternisation between the two sides they moved their men away to a different position. Until then an occasional German voice would call out in the middle of the night to one of the Scots, addressing him as sergeant —-, and inviting him to “come and have your rum.” The sergeant always resisted the offer to ‘stand treat.”

These particular Scots and Bavarians got on well and it emerged that several of the Germans had worked in Scotland as hotel employees before the war and their hearts were not in fighting but soon that was what they were all ordered to do.

***

At the same time as reading about the 6th Gordons and their Bavarian foe I came across this poignant tale relating to the death of a twenty-one year old soon after he arrived in France from the northeast of Scotland.

In October 1915 Mr and Mrs Merson of 17 Mount St in Aberdeen received word that their son Lawrence, a lance corporal with D Coy., 13 Platoon of the 1/4th Gordon Highlanders, had been killed in action in France.

Lawrence was fourteen when he began work with the post office in Aberdeen and before joining up for war service he was postie at Blairs outside the city. At the age of 21 years he volunteered for the Great War.

A young German soldier came across his corpse in a front line trench and went through Lawrence’s pockets removing his identification disc, papers and letters, including his paybook and sent them all to his (the German’s) sister in Frankfurt asking that she send them on to the Highlander’s family. The sister was happy to oblige and wrote an accompanying letter and forwarded the lot to her uncle in Switzerland that he might send them to Mr and Mrs Merson in Aberdeen. This is her letter.

Frankfort-on-Maine

  It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you.

  He stands in the West, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death.  I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate it to you –

  “We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: – Book of payments, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at it (and there were spots of blood on it) on his right side. He was a Highlander with a kilt, and bare knees.”

  My brother sent these photos. I am sure my brother and his comrades did all honour to their enemy who died in their tracks.

The young Germans’ uncle in Geneva also wrote a letter to Lawrence’s parents expressing his feelings:

“My brother is a clergyman for French Protestants in Frankfort, and his son is in the German army, although we are of old Swiss origin, and he sent the intimation to his sister in Frankfort. Your son did his duty for his country, and he will find his reward. God help you in these dark days.”

This was in October of 1915 and Lawrence died in the February that year so it is likely that the Mersons already knew of their son’s death but it is also likely the most affectionate communication wasn’t that of the army but from the ‘enemy’.

 

 

 

April 28, 2017

“Up Fittie down with the Hun”: 1920s xenophobia and trade

Guest post by Textor

On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

German Trawlers 4

At a time when the unpleasant whiff of xenophobia drifts over the stinking frame of crises ridden economies it’s worth recalling that there is nothing new in this. It’s what the class divided beast does; cling to backward-looking, mythologised national identity; to blame others for what are in fact consequences of the endemic conditions of international competition is so much easier than seeking out the social foundations of crises.

This is not to say that xenophobic opinion has no location in objective reality, that it is necessarily the manifestation of mad psychologies. No. The current spectre haunting Europe and beyond draws on ways in which the “free movement” of labour has increased competition between workers and helped keep wages down. In other words “foreign” workers are in a sense a threat to older labour markets. But it is the underpinning forces which mobilise them.

In the 1920s Aberdeen was hit by problems and disputes across two of the most important sectors of the local economy: trawling and granite. The foundation of both lay in intensification of international competition and the legacies of the Great War, and both centred on foreign labour undermining British industry.

 

German Trawlers 5

Trawling

It was hardly surprising that when the German trawler Bremerhaven attempted to dock and land fish in Aberdeen in 1919 that there was a wave of revulsion. The war had just ended and Aberdonians, like so many others, had suffered deeply in the slaughter of 1914-18. Men gathered at the quayside to refuse the Germans the right to land. Following its search for a berth the trawler eventually grounded and its crew stoned with the demand the German flag be run down. The local paper described the skipper’s attempt to land as brazen insolence and sinister and making clear its animosity to German trade said it was an unfriendly act of a nation not penitent but revengeful. The editor went so far as to sneer at the country’s Kultur of dried raw fish as a delicacy. Bremerhaven was forced out of Aberdeen, eventually landing at its home port where the Social Democrat Party came to its fishermen’s defence and denounced the Aberdeen men as an English rabble claiming Aberdonian screamed Baby killers. Pigs. Shoot down the Huns.

Three years later the trawler Else Kunkel II steamed into Aberdeen hoping to land its fish; again there was opposition to former enemy, now called alien exploiters who were threatening the livelihoods of local families. Aberdeen’s fishermen were said to hold bitter hostility against their former enemy. However their fish was landed and so the trade was continued sporadically through the year. Skippers and mates appealed to the Government for enforcement of the Reparations [Recovery] Act and that it applied 26% duty on German fish. No help was forthcoming. Matters were made more difficult when the particular interests of buyers and fish processors opposed the embargo demanded by trawlermen; and there was local bitterness when Peterhead harbour offered to give room to German boats, not through internationalism but for the money to be made. The local newspaper acknowledged the need for Europe-wide trade in fish but realised with more powerful trawlers and crews able and willing to fish dangerous Icelandic waters the local industry faced a serious threat: A German monopoly of the fish trade of Aberdeen would leave the consumer in the grip of alien exploiters and would mean a disaster to a great local industry.

German Trawlers.jpg

 

So matters simmered until February 1923 when skippers and mates voted to strike. Once again the rhetoric of wartime found a voice: you are fighting the Hun a second time for your rights. By the end of the first week of March 100 boats were tied up with hundreds of men out of work. Share fishermen, skippers and mates, led the dispute fearing for their livelihoods. Waged men, deckhands and engineers, were what you might call victims rather than being instrumental in this strike. Although local communists mobilised meetings around the notion of the internationalism of the working class as distinct from men such as skippers and mates there is no evidence that any significant animosity split the ranks nor that the waged men felt kinship with the German crews despite rumblings about some share men having avoided service in the war and making money out of wartime demand.

In fact solidarity within and across the fishing communities of Torry and Fittie was strong enough to draw them together to fight German landings, strike-breakers and police. When one local boat decided to scab hundreds turned out from Torry to confront the skipper and turn him back. Boats were sabotaged including the German trawler Senator Sache; while its crew slept the moorings were cut; eventually saved from grounding by the local pilot. Porters landing German fish were threatened with violence and police were defied. On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

But so much conspired against the lcoal trawling industry, both men and forces of international trade. Trawl owners looked for compromise, buyers needed the Icelandic fish brought by Germans, the herring industry needed access to the German market and the British government was unwilling to hamper this sector of international trade. From the German side it made so much sense to continue coming to Aberdeen or failing this perhaps Peterhead. With the German Mark devalued, and the hyperinflation of 1923, the prices realised at British ports easily covered the costs of labour and coal. Stones and insults were little compared to the high explosives of the Great War.

 

Granite Yard

Granite

Much less militant but driven by very similar forces Aberdeen’s granite industry also found itself in 1923 under threat from German competition. It is probably the case that much of the militancy of the fishermen and their families was born from the closeness of their communities with so many of them living together in the tenements of Torry and Fittie. Granite workers had a much more fragmented life style.

Granite like fish was as open to international competition. And like the owners of trawler Bremerhaven German manufacturers could and did take advantage of the opportunities afforded by devaluation. Selling in the British market was more profitable and vitally gave payment in Sterling, then an important international currency.

Just as the trawler dispute had at times adopted a stance of being anti-German as opposed to anti German competition so also did the dispute with foreign granite traders. Not that Aberdeen’s stone trade was against the import of foreign granite in fact since the later 19th century the trade had depended on imports to meet the fashion for greater variety of colour in memorials. What disturbed Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers was the threat of dressed stone being sold to British customers.

The first hint that there might be competition coming from Germany was reported in 1921when the defeated nation was found to be trading in France. Bad enough there being a competitor on the block but made worse by the belief that monuments made by the one-time enemy were to be erected over the graves of dead French soldiers. In the following year one Friederich Hagelauer of Fürth was said to have been offering memorial crosses for British graves.

German Granite Leaflet 1923

By 1923 the “scandal” was being highlighted in Aberdeen’s Press & Journal with German’s accused of dumping fish and dumping granite. The Sunday Post took up the cry of an insult to our heroic dead the stones being erected where woman pray . . . and children weep. Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers sided with the newspapers and led the way in Scotland to enforcing an embargo on this foreign stone. However, it was one thing to achieve success in the home country it was another to get English dealers and customers to agree to a boycott. For customers there was the incentive of cheaper stone, if they were willing to turn a blind eye to origins; and for dealers there was the carrot of more profit. With the English market still accepting German imports Aberdeen’s trade with the south was threatened.

The difficulties Aberdeen’s stone trade faced were nothing compared to the chaos hitting Germany as it struggled to meet reparation demands of the Versailles Treaty. Its economy had all but collapsed, made worse when France occupied the Ruhr bringing its vast coal industry to a halt. Compared with the French the British state favoured a more conciliatory attitude to the defeated enemy, favoured international trade and stabilisation of the German economy.

Consequently when the granite traders approached the Government and asked for an increased tariff on German stone, like the trawlermen they met with refusal, indeed they faced the prospect that the existing tariff might be cut. The Press & Journal argued the local case, believing (and this sounds eerily like opinion in 2017) that by giving up free trade and enforcing tariffs the grave menace of foreign competition could be brought to heal. Regardless of the clout the local press had in the North East its opinion failed to sway the government and into 1926 imports continued.

Employers led the way in this dispute. There were no bands of granite-cutters and families guarding cemeteries, dinging doon German memorials; the nature of the trade simply did not lend itself to this form of action. But labour did have a voice which put itself behind the demands of the masters. George Murray, who lost a son in the Great War said it made his blood boil that German stone should even be offered as suitable material for British graves. Putting a stop to this, he said, was not only the correct thing to do but also good for the industry and what was good for business was good for workers: We in Belmont Street [offices of the Trades Council] are always favourable to the bosses . . . but of course we expect a good living wage from them in return.

 

 

Apart from the notable success in Scotland the best legislative advance made was to seek the protection of the Merchandise Marks Act, at one point speaking to Sidney Webb at the Board of Trade arguing that the granite imports should be marked “Made in Germany”. Eventually in 1929, after extensive evidence given including opposition from granite retailers, the Government decided that stone should be marked with its country of origin. Although important to local communities across Britain the Government had decided the granite industry was of no great significance in the national economy hence refusal to “safeguard” it from overseas competition. Marking stone was the most it would concede but even here it was niggardly in the eyes of merchants as only the slightest of marks-stencilled- was insisted on, not the heavily-cut lettering asked for by manufacturers.

The year after being given nominal protection the complaints continued. Germans were accused of stealing designs, appropriating the names of granites made famous by the Aberdeen industry and despite the legislation they palm off cheaply produced monuments . . . as British made.

British made; a rallying cry of the period as the United Kingdom hoped to engender patriotism in consumers and at the same time draw from the still important empire preferential treatment for manufacturers. But even here, with the cold wind of protectionism blowing across economies dealing with slump and the fall-out from the Crash of 1929, even here Aberdeen’s granite merchants struggled. Canada, for instance, did a curtsy to the “Mother Country” but refused to bow the knee. Canada gave some slight advantage to British granite but it still bore a tariff of 27% thus favouring Canadian manufacturers.

 

Cheyne Nellfield granite Works 1915 (2)

And so the Aberdeen granite industry, along with other British manufacturers, found the battle largely lost, found its markets shrinking and in an increasingly unstable world was forced to look to improving its competitive position by reorganising the use of labour and introducing new technology to raise productivity. And where in 1936 did Aberdonians go to see how granite could and should be handled? Germany.

Under the auspices of the British Institute of Quarrying a deputation representing the trade plus engineer Frank Cassie were content to take lessons from “the enemy”. At one site near Dresden they visited a quarry where 2000 men were said to be employed, where 250 men working at stone-splitting machines produced thousands of granite setts. Although Frank Cassie believed Aberdeen granite was unsuitable for mechanical sett-making overall the deputation was impressed by the thoroughness with which the German does the job, and the importance attached to organisation. Three years into Hitler’s rule the British deputation was envious of Germany’s road and bridge building – a policy they said the British government should put in hand. Whether the deputation witnessed other aspects of the young Nazi regime is not recorded.

 

Pneumati Tools

The pressures of social disruption and global economic crises exposed the trawling and granite industries as poorly equipped to meet the threat of external competition. Trawl owners were content to fish middle-distance waters using an ageing fleet and granite merchants managed an industry characterised by a few large employers in a sea of small businesses, far from ideal when foreign competition became very keen.

April 20, 2017

Tribute to a common man

Kemnay’s Carrier

mitchell - Copy

James Mitchell

Entering the village of Kemnay from the west you pass a substantial granite monument topped by a modest-looking figure in working clothes. This is no glorified general eyeing up the enemy or a haughty royal staring over the heads of us little people but an unassuming-looking man contemplating – his next job? the journey home? what to make for his supper? He looks like one of us. His wears a modest working jacket. His knee-breeks laced over his stockings are creased. His short boots are ordinary working boots with the good thick soles of a man who’s on his feet a lot. On his head he wears a traditional Scottish bonnet which would have been made from blue wool, over a shoulder hangs a bag for carrying letters and in his hand the badge of his trade, a coiled rope used to secure items to his cart.

Meet James Mitchell, Jamie. He was born in 1773 in Kemnay, a village some sixteen miles west of Aberdeen. He never learned to read or write but his exceptional memory served him well in his job and so here he is over 200 years after his birth still remembered by his community. It was said of Jamie Mitchell that despite his lack of formal education it was he who became virtually the only link between the parish of Kemnay and the outside world.

Jamie was a carrier. In the days before DPD there was Royal Mail parcel delivery and before Royal Mail parcel delivery there was Jamie Mitchell. Up on his box cart he was a familiar presence in the area – calling in at cottages, farmhouses, manses and mansions collecting and delivering items – and no doubt snippets of news he picked up on his travels. His pickups and deliveries often took him into Aberdeen where he might stay overnight at lodgings in Harriet Street. He was the mail man – see the bag over his shoulder on the statue – as well as a carrier of messages and goods; anything he was commissioned to transport.

urn - Copy

James Mitchell’s trade kept him out in all weathers but it did him little harm for he lived to the ripe old age of 84. Appropriate with his occupation his memorial incorporated a water fountain to quench the thirst of wayfarers and seats to take their rest.

The memorial was provided by Joseph Annand, a retired businessman who had shops in both Udny and Holburn Street in Aberdeen, who as a child was often given a hurl in his grandfather’s cart. I don’t know if the reference meant Mitchell was Annand’s grandfather or only that his grandfather had his own cart. Whatever, Annand should be commended for recognising the importance of the role Jamie Mitchell provided for Kemnay and district.

In 1936 Colonel George Milne of Logie had only just unveiled the memorial in front of a large crowd when Joseph Annand remarked, “Aye, that’s just like him.”

How was it that so long after his death time the sculptor captured a close likeness? It appears that one day a local church minister sent Jamie on an errand to an Aberdeen photographic company and unknown to Jamie he was photographed as he stood waiting for the reply. When Jamie died the minister gave the photograph of him to Annand’s mother and the photo was copied to make an oil painting from which the statue was modelled.

Grey Kemnay granite was used for the statue and main structure which incorporates a well, urn, statue and fountain of Peterhead marble. An inscription on the fountain reads:

In memory of James Mitchell, Carrier 1773 – 1857/ All ye who thirst come drink from this flow of pure water which springs at Dalfling in the Shadow of Benachie. Regrettably someone took the decision to turn off the flow of pure water and so the fountain is now dry. Now when you pass by you’ll know who the mannie is and wherever you’re headed or come from he probably covered the same ground many times over. 

The waggoner of Kemany