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Food and Drink in Scotland: What Scots ate and drank

A recent scientific study [1] has been published showing that in the Victorian era people living in the country ate better than those living in the cities. This got me wondering what people ate and drank during the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Could a similar assertion be made looking at what is recorded in the parish reports? Other questions also came to mind, such as when did they eat and why did they have this particular diet?

I decided to do some of my own research and record some of my findings in three blog posts. This first post looks at what Scots ate and drank. The second will look at why they ate and drank what they did, while the third will look at food scarcity, provision of food, and the link between food and health.

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Looking through the Statistical Accounts it is clear to see that there were many similarities between parishes, with the staples being:

  • Potatoes;
  • Oat-meal;
  • Bear-meal;
  • Barley;
  • Turnips;
  • Kale/cabbage;
  • Milk.

In Bathgate, County of Linlithgow, “the common people here subsist on oat meal, pease meal, barley, potatoes, milk, chiefly butter milk, greens, a little butter and cheese, sometimes the offals of beef, mutton, lamb, or veal, or a small piece of beef, and, on a particular occasion, a leg of lamb or veal. For three quarters of the year, potatoes constitute nearly two-thirds of the food of a labouring man’s family.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 355) Whereas, in North Uist, County of Inverness, “the ordinary food is potatoes and barley-bread, which are almost exclusively used among the poorer class. The small tenants of a better class use, in addition, some milk in summer, and mutton and beef in winter.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 173)

A great account of what people ate in the late 18th century can be found in the parish report of Speymouth, County of Elgin. (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 400) There are even descriptions of what the Picts ate in the County of Caithness area (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 536) and what people in the Highlands ate back at the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th centuries! (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 541)

Class differences

There are also clear differences between the classes. Not all of the working class was able to include meat in their diet due to its cost or lack of availability. In Longforgan, County of Perth, “the farm servants formerly lived with the family; and their usual food was broth made of kait and barley, or grotts, (unhusked oats), without meat, and bannocks made of pease and bean meal. Now they live apart from the family in their bothie, and get what is called livery meal, i. e. w peeks of oat-meal per week, and 3 choppins (quarts) of skimmed milk per day.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 492)

For many, meat was reserved for special occasions. For example, in the parish of Alvie, County of Inverness, “in regard to animal food, such as beef, mutton, and poultry, that is a luxury in which the small tenants never indulge, except at marriage feasts, baptisms, Christmas, and new year.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 90) In Kirkden, County of Forfar, on Christmas Day “the servant is free from his master,” and goes about visiting his friends and acquaintance. The poorest must have beef or mutton on the table, and what they call a dinner with their friends” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 509) Many reports state that even though people had little money, they were still content with their situation. The people of Birsay and Harray, County of Orkney, “are as well contented as poor people can be expected; … can make a feast, at a wedding or a christening, on their own provisions, with a drink of their own ale.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 332)

Even differences within the same class was noted. For the Scots in the parish of Kirkinner, County of Wigton, “their ordinary food is porridge and milk to breakfast, broth with bacon and potatoes or oat-cake to dinner, and porridge or beat potatoes to supper… The Irish population live mostly on potatoes and milk or salt herrings.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 17)

As for those of a higher standing in society, for example in the parish of Orwell, County of Kinross, “the better sort, however, live in a very different manner; most of the farmers and master tradesmen keep as good a table as any gentleman of L. 500 a-year; and their common drink after meals is whisky-punch…” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 137)

An image of the painting 'Coming Down to Dinner' by John Callcott Horsley, 1876.

Horsley, John Callcott; Coming Down to Dinner, 1876. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery.

For the upper classes in particular, food and drink was a way of showing their wealth and status in society. There are many references to grand dinner parties and feasts in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. It was reported in Glasgow that “the first instance of a dinner of two courses in the neighbourhood of Glasgow was about the year 1786. Mrs Andrew Stirling of Drumpellier, who made this change in the economy of the table, justified herself against the charge of introducing a more extravagant style of living, by saying, that she had put no more dishes on her table than before, but had merely divided her dinner, in place of introducing her additional dishes in removes.”(NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 229) You can find an account of one particularly lavish dinner “held on the 21st of August 1679, at the baptist of an early and distinguished benefactor of the country” in the parish report for Whitekirk and Tynninghame, County of Haddington. (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 37)

Oats and potatoes

It is clear from reading the Statistical Accounts that oat-meal was one of the most important sources of food in Scotland, along with potatoes. The writer of the parish report for Bendochy, County of Perth, extolled the virtue of the most Scottish of staples – oats:

“The common people live on oatmeal pottage twice a-day. It is the most wholesome and palatable of all their food, being purely vegetable; notwithstanding the reflection in Johnson’s Dictionary, that ” oats are eaten by horses in “England, and in Scotland by men.” Such food makes men strong like horses, and purges the brain of pedantry. It produces hardy Highlanders, who by their strength and dress are so formidable to their enemies, that they call them, “Les diables des Montagnes.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 349)

There is an interesting account on the value of oat-meal in the parish report for Cambuslang, County of Lanark. (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 254) For information on the cultivation and use of potatoes it is worth reading the report for Glenurchy and Inishail, County of Argyle. (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 338) If you would like to find out more on what Scottish farm labourers ate (and in particular oat pottage!) take a look at the British Farmers Magazine (Volume 2).

An image of the painting 'Recolte des Pommes de Terre' by Jules Bastien Lepage, 1879.

Recolte des Pommes de Terre, Jules Bastien Lepage, 1879. By Samuel austin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

Fish

There were also some differences between parishes, depending on where they were situated and what was abundant in the area. For example, people living near or on the coast also enjoyed fish and seafood, like the parish of North Uist, County of Inverness (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 167) and St Andrews and St Leonards, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 197). In Lochalsh, County of Ross and Cromarty, “during the summer and beginning of harvest, they are much employed in fishing of sythe, (a small species of the cole fish), herrings, and sometimes ling, cod and skate. The sythe are eat fresh; the herrings are pickled, to be eat with the potatoes during the harvest, winter, and spring. Though 63 boats be employed in this manner, there are no fish exported from the parish.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 425)

In Aberdeen “a considerable variety of fish are caught in the vicinity of this place, as haddock, whiting, cod, ling, turbot, skate, flounders of different kinds, halibut, plaice, sole, mackerel, dog-fish, and occasionally herrings…  The market is well supplied with fish upon very reasonable terms. This is a great relief to the poor, as fish makes a principal part of their food.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 155) However, in Portmoak, County of Kinross, a line was drawn at eels as a source of food! “As the bulk of the people have an aversion to them as food, from their serpentine appearance, this fishing turns to little account in the view of profit.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 159)

Some parishes, however, was in stark contrast to places like Aberdeen. In St Cyrus, County of Kincardine, it was reported that there was a “reduction of the fishing boats, and of the number of hands that went to sea with them” which “leaves no foundation for a nursery of seamen, and prevents the inhabitants from enjoying that abundant supply of excellent food, with which the sea is stored.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 112)

Interestingly, it was noted that inhabitants of Leuchars, County of Fife, seem only to fish for amusement or when they fancy some fish to eat! “Is it not supposeable, that if their fishings were properly attended to, they might supply all the district with this wholesome and agreeable article of food?” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 597)

Price of food

Many parish reports give the price of food, for example that of Dalgety, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 262), Kirkcaldy, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 53) and Kirkmichael, County of Dumfries (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 61). This extract from the Falkirk parish report is very interesting as it provides a comparison between prices then and earlier, as well as pointing out the changes in its number of bakers.

“It appears from Dalrymple’s Annals of Scotland, that the price of a hen in 1295 was only one penny; but now one that is well fed will cost fifteen or eighteen pence. Forty years ago, the price of butcher meat in this market was only about 2 d. per pound; but now it is from 4 d. to 6 d. or 7 d…. About 60 years ago this town and neighbourhood were chiefly supplied with wheaten bread from Edinburgh and Linlithgow. There were then only 3 bakers in Falkirk, and they were but occasionally employed. Hence it is, that the people in the remote parts of the country, when they come to procure bread for feasts or funerals, do still enquire of the bakers if their ovens be heated. There are now 18 bakers in the town of Falkirk, and 6 in the different villages within the parish. They make excellent bread, and the price is regulated by the Edinburgh assize.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 86)

The parish report from Holywood, County of Dumfries noted that farm labourers can survive on such little wages as they are given some land by farmers “from whom they have cottages, allowing them as much land for one year’s rent free, to plant potatoes in… and these potatoes constitute at least one half of their year’s food. (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 28) (We will look at the provision of food as a means of payment in the next blog post.)

While exploring food and dink in Scotland, it has been fascinating to learn a little about labourers’ homes. In the parish report of Criech, County of Sutherland:

“Once in three years, all the earthy part of these houses is thrown on the dunghill, and new houses built again of the same materials. The cattle commonly occupy one end of the house, during the winter season. Some holes in the walls and roofs serve for windows and chimneys. An iron pot, for boiling their food, constitutes their principal furniture.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 376)

In Campsie, County of Stirling:

“The houses of every decent inhabitant of this parish, consist at least of a kitchen and one room, generally two rooms, ceiled above, and often laid with deal floors, with elegant glass windows; and I believe, few of the tradesmen sit down to dinner without flesh meat on the table, and malt liquor to drink…” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 385)

Changes in diet

Changes in what the Scots ate and drank is also reported in the Statistical Accounts. This was in the main due to better farming and production techniques, as well as there being exports from further afield. Formerly, in Kilsyth, County of Stirling, wheat bread was only eaten on special occasions, little or no meat (beef, mutton or veal) was consumed, and tea was not drunk. By the time of the parish’s report, this had all changed. (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 307) In the parish report of Luss, County of Dumbarton, it was reported that “there is… a more plentiful supply of food than formerly. The extended culture of potatoes, as well as the increased productiveness of population here than elsewhere, they continue much attached to their native soil, in which generally their forefathers have dwelt from time immemorial.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 162) Other discussions on changes in diet can be found in the Appendix for Monquhitter, County of Aberdeen (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 143) and the parish report for Carmylie, County of Forfar. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 361)

For some fascinating comparisons between eating practices over the years take a look at the report for the parish of Glasgow, County of Lanark. For instance, “the dinner hour about the year 1770 was two o’clock: immediately after that, it came to three o’clock, and gradually became later and later, till about 1818 it reached six o’clock.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 229)

Conclusions

There is a wealth of fascinating information in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland on what Scots ate and drank. There are the common staples, such as oats and potatoes, but there also many differences between parishes, including their location and its population, as well as changes over time. As with everything, habits and technology have changed the landscape. In the next blog post on Scotland’s food and drink we will look at why Scots ate and drank what they did.

_____________________________

[1] Regional differences in the mid-Victorian diet and their impact on health, Peter Greaves, 2018. Published in JRSM Open.

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SUNCAT has been updated. Updates from the following libraries were loaded into the service last week. The dates displayed indicate when files were received by SUNCAT.

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Scotland’s Music and Dance: Education, Religion and Attitudes

This is the third, and last, post on Scotland’s music and dance. This time we look at musical education, music in religious contexts and changes in the attitudes to music.

Musical education

There are many mentions of music, more specifically church music, being taught in Scottish schools, along with the core subjects of English, writing and arithmetic. These include the parishes of Monkton and Prestwick, County of Ayrshire (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 401), Calder Mid, County of Edinburgh (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 378) and the Merchant Maiden Hospital in particular in Edinburgh (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 724). There is a particularly interesting breakdown of what was taught, for how many lessons and the fees to be paid in a lady’s school in Arbroath, County of Forfar. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 103)

In Ancrum, County of Roxburgh, “the parish schoolmaster has the maximum salary, the legal quantity of garden ground, and a good house, consisting of four apartments. He also receives the annual interest arising from a sum of L. 50, which was left by a former resident in Ancrum, for behoof of the parish teacher, on the condition that he gives instruction in church music to some of the poorer children in the village.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 250) In Edinburgh, there was a school attached to a workhouse, “in which nearly 200 pauper children, inmates of the work-house, are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, sacred music, and religious and general knowledge, and attend a Sabbath evening school.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 748) Both these examples show how important it was believed for all classes to have some level of instruction in church music. A music education was believed to increase spirits, as well as intellectual character. “Instead of the noisy, and not unfrequently demoralizing gymnastic exercises in which they used to excel, music has of late years been successfully cultivated by the operatives, as their instrumental band sufficiently testifies…” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 710)

However, in some quarters, there was felt to be a lack of music education, which was considered of real detriment to parishioners. In the parish report for Ellon, County of Aberdeen, the following remark was made:

“It is easy to see, also, how poetry, and its sister art of music, for the employment of which in the work of education we have the authoritative example of God himself, might be brought to blend in entire harmony with the elements above-mentioned, in moulding, according to the Scriptural pattern, the dispositions and principles of the rising generation. These departments have heretofore been all but neglected; and hence are we supplied with another cause of the inadequate moral and religious tendencies of the system of education now in use.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 937)

In some areas, however, music schools were established, such as the singing school at Blackfriars or the College Church in Glasgow. “Indeed, considerable exertions were used by the session and town-council to obtain a properly qualified man. The Principal of the University’s name appears on the list of the committee appointed to find a music-master; and a desire is expressed to encourage not merely vocal but instrumental music.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 931) In St Andrews, “a music-master and dancing-masters, of approved character, [taught] during the winter months.” Dancing schools were also set up in Scotland. In Stromness, County of Orkney, “in 1793, a dancing-master opened a school, obtained 40 or 50 scholars, and drew L. 50 in four months.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 468)

Music in religious settings

It is clear that church music was considered a very important part of people’s education. This is underscored by the fact that many complaints were made in the parish reports about congregations not being able to sing in tune! At the presbytery of Inchinnan, County of Renfrew, the doxology, which was ordered to be sung every Sunday, was omitted. “It was argued in defence, that none of the people would join in such music, and that the minister and preceptor being the only performers, and sometimes both of them alike destitute of a musical ear, the effect was bad, and the discord intolerable.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 131)

As a result, in several parishes there was a concerted attempt to improve church music. In Monymusk, County of Aberdeen, Sir Archibald Grant, as well as introducing turnip husbandry in Aberdeenshire, “procured a qualified teacher for the congregation, and [took] an active and leading part among the singers himself; whence this, like his improvements in agriculture, gradually overcoming the prejudices of the people, soon made its way through the surrounding country.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 461)

Photograph of a carving of an angel playing bagpipes found at the Thistle Chapel in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Angel playing bagpipes in the Thistle Chapel, St. Giles, Edinburgh. By Kim Traynor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

In Dalziel, County of Lanark, the improvement in church singing was also judged a success. “Understanding music himself, and delighting in having that part of the church service properly conducted, he [the writer’s father] got masters to teach the young connected with the church, and then drilled them himself, by meeting with them in the church once a week. The consequence of this training was, that, from being one of the worst singing congregations in the district, they became the very best,–the admiration of all strangers, and a model for the imitation of their neighbours. The taste for church manse in the parish from that date, has never died out, is still lively.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 465)

However, it was a harder task in the parish of Peterhead, County of Aberdeen. “Attempts have been made to improve the church-music both in the Established Church and in the Episcopal chapels; but the improvement is very slow, and from what-ever cause it may proceed, a taste for music is much less frequent on the sea-coast in Buchan than in the higher parts of the county.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 590)

Dancing may not be part of church services, but it is represented in at least one place of worship, though it is the Devil who dances! In Roslin Chapel, County of Edinburgh, on the side of one of the arches there is a series of figures believed to be representing the Dance of Death. “Commencing at the top of the arch, and descending to the right, the figures, which can be recognized, are, a king, a courtier, a cardinal, a bishop, a lady admiring her portrait, an abbess, and an abbot; and each of these is accompanied with a figure of death dancing off with his prey. Again, commencing at the top of the arch, and descending to the left, the following figures are quite distinct: a farmer, a husband and wife, a child, a sportsman, a gardener and spade, a carpenter, and a ploughman. Each of these also is accompanied by a figure of death, carrying off the individual”. (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 345)

Marriages and funerals

Music has, for a long time, been a part of religious ceremonies, particularly marriages and funerals. In Lismore and Appin, County of Argyle, either the bagpipes or violins were played at weddings, depending on the area. “Marriage ceremonies are always performed in the church, particularly in Lismore; and the only music that is used, either at, weddings or balls, is that of the bagpipe. The violin is used in Appin and Kingerloch on such occasions.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 245) In Moy and Dalarossie, County of Inverness, “on marriage occasions, a bagpipe always precedes the parties on their way to the church, and in the evening there is a dinner given gratis, and drinking afterwards, for which each pays a certain sum. There are always music and dancing. Up on the whole, however, the character of the people is very moral.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 107)

A painting entitled 'The Highland Wedding' by David Allan (Scottish painter 1744-1796), 1780.

The Highland Wedding, David Allan (Scottish painter 1744-1796), 1780. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:PKM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

In some parish reports it was noted that both wedding and funeral ceremonies had changed over the years. In Duirinish, County of Inverness, “formerly, from 80 to 100 persons used to assemble, and to pass at least two days in feasting and dancing. Now the average number does not exceed five or six; the bridal feast is often nothing more than the usual poor fare of potatoes and herrings, with the addition of a glass of whisky to each individual present, and music and dancing are generally discontinued.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 360)  In North Uist, County of Inverness, “at funeral processions, which had been, and still are conducted with remarkable regularity, the pipes, in strains of pathos and melody, followed the bier, playing slow, plaintive dirges, composed for and used only on such occasions. On arriving near the church-yard, the music ceased, and the procession formed a line on each side, between which the corpse was carried to its narrow abode. But the custom of accompanying burials with music is now almost universally abandoned.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 172) Both these examples are very much emblematic of changes in attitudes to music in general at that time.

Changes in attitudes to music and dance

Having read about the importance of music and dance in Scotland over the last few blog posts, you may be very surprised to hear that many parishes in the Statistical Accounts reported that inhabitants were actually loosing their love of music. This includes the parish of Tongue, County of Sutherland, where “the taste for music, dancing, and public games, is much on the decline, and few or no traces are to be seen of the poetic talent and sprightly wit for which their ancestors, in common with most Highlanders, were distinguished.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 177)

In the county of Peebles it was reported that “song is scarcely ever to be heard; that a ploughman seldom enlivens his horses by whistling a tune; and that, although the scenery is so purely pastoral, the sound of a pipe, or flute, or cow-horn, or stock in horn, or even of a Jew’s harp, is a rare occurrence in traveling through it.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 179)

In the parish report for Auchterderran, County of Fife, one reason given for this waning was that people equated song and dance with immoral excess. “Among the infinite advantages of the Reformation, this seems to have been one disadvantage attending it, that, owing to the gloomy rigour of some of the leading actors, mirth, sport, and cheerfulness, were decried among a people already by nature rather phlegmatic. Since that, mirth and vice have, in their apprehension, been confounded together.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 458)

This decline was bemoaned by many report writers, such as the Rev. Mr Alexander Molleson of the parish of Montrose, County of Forfar. “Instrumental music has been, for many years past, much neglected. Public or private concerts are rare. This is the more to be regretted, as music is a very innocent, cheerful, and rational amusement, and if more cultivated, might divert the attention from other objects, which injure the health, or destroy the morals of the people.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 48)

In Duirinish, County of Inverness, “it is rare to hear a song sung, and still rarer to hear the sound of pipe or violin. Each family confines itself to its own dwelling, or, if a visit is paid, the time is spent in retelling the silly gossip of the day. People certainly may be far more beneficially employed than the old Highlanders used to be yet we conceive the change in their habits to be a subject of regret on various grounds…” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 358)

Attitudes to music and dance have also changed in other ways. One interesting letter was written by William Creech who, in the Appendix for the Edinburgh parish report, compared different aspects of life from one time to another, including changes in correction houses, the definition of “a fine fellow” and concerts:

“In 1763-The weekly Concert of music began at six o’clock.

In 1783-The Concert began at seven o’clock; but it was not in general so much attended as such an elegant entertainment should have been, and which was given at the sole expense of the subscribers.

In 1791-2, The fashion changed, and the Concert became the most crowded place of amusement. The barbarous custom of saving the ladies, (as it was called), after St. Cecilia’s Concert, by gentlemen drinking immoderately to save a favourite lady, as his toast, has been for some years given up. Indeed, they got no thanks for their absurdity.”(OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 617)

Importance of music and dance to Scotland

Even though such changes in attitudes were reported, music and dance have stood the test of time in Scotland. From social gatherings to religious settings, the Scots have used song and dance to express themselves, as well as find enjoyment in their lives. It has become an important part of the country’s identity. Exploring this topic in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland gives these musical traditions real meaning and so helps keep them alive.

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Scotland’s Music and Dance: Songs and Musicians

This is the second post about music and dance in Scotland. Here, we look at some examples of Scottish songs, as well as eminent musicians, especially musical families, and people with a love of music.

Scottish songs

In the Statistical Accounts you can discover lyrics and references to particular Scottish songs. Actual people, events and settings are within their narrative, making them distinctly Scottish. Scenes of Scottish songs include the farm of Cowden Knows, about a mile outside of Banff, “justly celebrated for its rural beauty” and supposedly “the scene of the plaintive Scots ballad” The New way of the Broom of Cowden Knows (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 328), as well as the Yarrow Water in Yarrow, County of Selkirk, which is the location of many songs, including The Sang of the Outlaw Murray, The Dowie Dens of Yarrow (also known as The Braes of Yarrow) and Yarrow Vale. (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 37)

Title page for the book 'Four Excellent Songs..., published by E. Johnstone in 1820.

Four excellent songs … by E. Johnstone, printer. Published 1820. Found on the Internet Archive.

People are also the subject of songs. One example is The Lass of Patie’s Mill who resided in the parish of Keithhall, County of Aberdeen. “Her father was proprietor of Patie’s mill, in Keithhall; of Tullikearie, in Fintray; and Standing Stones, in the parish of Dyce. From her beauty, or fortune, or from both causes, she had many admirers; and she was an only child. One Sangster, laird of Boddom, in New Machar parish, wished to carry her off, but was discovered by his dog, and very roughly handled by her father, who was called black John Anderson. In revenge, he wrote an ill-natured song, of which her great grandson remembers these words:

Ye’ll tell the gowk that gets her,
He gets but my auld sheen.

She was twice married; first, to a namesake of her own, who came from the south country, and is said to have composed the Song, to her praise, that is so generally admired, and partakes much of the music, which, at that time, abounded between the Tay and the Tweed.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 542)

You can hear a recording of the song The Lass o Patie’s Mill on Tobar an Dualchais.

Another example is the song Fair Helen. “She was a daughter of the family of Kirkconnell, and fell a victim to the jealousy of a lover. Being courted by two young gentlemen at the same time, the one of whom thinking himself slighted, vowed to sacrifice the other to his resentment, when he again discovered him in her company. An opportunity soon presented itself, when the faithful pair, walking along the romantic banks of the Kirtle, were discovered from the opposite banks by the assassin. Helen perceiving him lurking among the bushes, and dreading the fatal resolution, rushed to her lover’s bosom, to rescue him from the danger; and thus receiving the wound intended for another, sunk and expired in her favorite’s arms. He immediately revenged her death, and flew the murderer. The inconsolable Adam Fleeming, now sinking under the pressure of grief, went abroad and served the banners of Spain, against the infidels. The impression, however, was too strong to be obliterated. The image of woe attended him thither; and the pleasing remembrance of the tender scenes that were past, with the melancholy reflection, that they could never return, harassed his soul, and deprived his mind of repose. He soon returned, and stretching himself on her grave, expired, and was buried by her side.” He was said to have written the song whilst he was in Spain. The lyrics can be found in the parish report of Kirkpatrick-Fleming, County of Dumfries (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 274) There is also a recording of the song Fair Helen of Kirkconnel on Tobar an Dualchias.

Events such as battles, have also been immortalized in song. In the report given by the Chapel of Garioch, County of Aberdeen, there is a description of the Battle of Harlaw. “From the ferocity with which this battle was contested, and the dismal spectacle of civil war exhibited to the country, it appears to have made a deep impression on the national mind. It fixed itself on the music and the poetry of Scotland. A march called the Battle of Harlaw continued to be a popular air, down to the time of Drummond of Hawthornden; and a spirited ballad on the same event is still repeated in our own age, describing the meeting of the armies and the death of the chiefs in no ignoble strain.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 568) In Wamphray, County of Dumfries, “songs are still sung descriptive of the barbarous deeds and bloody feuds of some former age, of which this parish was the scene.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 606) One man named Mackay from Thurso, was an Adjutant to the Thurso Volunteers and “and as a specimen of his poetical abilities, the copy of a song, which he composed on that corps” can be found in the report of Thurso, County of Caithness. (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 532)

Other songs that you can find out about in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland include The Souters o’ Selkirk (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 436), Logie o’ Buchan (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 812) and Gin I Were Where the Gadie Rins (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 1020).

Image taken from the book 'Scottish Songs - in two volumes' (1794), showing people dancing and a man playing a violin.

Title page of the book ‘Scottish Songs – in Two Volumes’, 1794. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

Eminent musicians

Inhabitants of certain parishes became very accomplished musicians. In Towie, County of Aberdeen, “vocal and instrumental music, particularly the violin, form the most prominent amusements of the people in the winter evenings, and it is believed that few parishes in Scotland can boast of so many good Strathspey players, who are also temperate in their habits, and industriously employed in their other vocations.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p.418) A strathspey is a type of dance tune which has 4 beats to a bar. Examples include Auld Lang Syne and Coming through the Rye. It also refers to the dance performed to it. (In the last post we looked at some particular Scottish songs.) Whereas, in the County of Caithness, “the violin, and Highland bag-pipe, are the only musical instruments, played on by professional men in Thurso. The Highland reels are played particularly well, on both these instruments, in Caithness; but the proper flow bag-pipe tunes and marches, are not given in that perfection here, with seems almost peculiar to the West Highland pipers.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 531)

Specific eminent musical families are also mentioned in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, including the MacCrimmons, who were the hereditary pipers of the MacLeods. “Certain it is that, what rarely happens, high musical talent as well as high moral principle and personal bravery, descended from father to son during many generations in the family of the MacCrimmons. They became so celebrated that pupils were sent to them from all quarters of the Highlands, and one of the best certificates that a piper could possess was his having studied under the MacCrimmons.” As reported by the parish of Duirinish, County of Inverness, “finding the number of pupils daily increasing, they at length opened a regular, school or college for pipe music on the farm of Boreraig, opposite to Dunvegan Castle, but separated from it by Loch Follart… Macleod endowed this school by granting the farm of Boreraig to it, and it is no longer ago than seventy years since the endowment was withdrawn.” Find out for what reason at NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 339.

Kilmuir was also famous for its pipers, the most notable of which were the MacArthurs. “When the proprietors resided in the parish, a free grant of the lands of Peingowen, a hamlet in the place, was given to the MacArthurs, in the same manner as Boreraig was given by the MacLeods of Dunvegan, to the MacCrimmons. Peingowen, like Boreraig, was a sort of musical college, to which pupils were sent by various chieftains, to acquire a correct knowledge of piobaireachd. A little green hill in close vicinity to Piengowen, called Cnoc-phail, was the general rendezvous of the MacArthurs and their pupils. To the top of this eminence, they almost daily resorted, and practised their tunes. The MacArthurs vied with the MacCrimmons of Dunvegan, the MacGregors of Fortingall, the Mackays of Gairloch, the Rankins of Coll, and the MachIntyres of Rannoch, who were all renowned performers in their day.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 285)

It is not all just bagpipes and violins. Stevenston, county of Ayrshire, was well-known for the manufacture of trumps, also known as the Jew’s harp at Piperheugh. “The pipers and harpers, like their woodland village, have passed away; but they seem to have bequeathed the mantle of song, to their posterity, for the inhabitants of Stevenston are still distinguished for their musical propensities, as an instrumental band, and glee club, and, what is better, the excellent singing of the congregation in church, amply testify.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 453)

A photograph of Iain Lom's memorial at Cille Choirille kirkyard.

Iain Lom’s memorial at Cille Choirille kirkyard. James Yardley [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

In the parish report of Kilmonivaig, County of Inverness, you can read about the fascinating Iain Lom who was considered “a poetical genius of a very high order. His songs translated into English would exhibit a striking picture of the period in which be lived.” He wrote songs about many events which he and his contemporaries experienced, such as the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645, the Treaty of Union in 1707 and the Battle of Killiecrankie, “which he describes in a song, composed on the occasion, in such a manner as an eye-witness alone could describe it.” He was believed to have held the office of Gaelic Poet Laureate to King Charles II, an office which, is believed, died with himself. It is very interesting to learn how influential his songs were to the Scots. “[His] songs more powerfully influenced the minds of his countrymen than all the legislation which was at that time employed for that purpose. Children were taught to lisp them. They were sung in the family circle on long winter evenings, and at weddings, lykewakes, raffles, fairs, and in every company. They attributed to the Stewarts and their adherents the most exalted virtues; and the opponents of that family they represented as incarnate fields.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 509)

Other prominent Scots who were music enthusiasts are:

It is through the devotion and dedication of Scotland’s people that their music has become so distinctive and longstanding. Scotland’s songs chart the history of its people and events and so are central to the country’s identity. It is wonderful to be able to discover traditional songs and their origins, and, in so doing, helping to ensure that Scotland’s music and its meaning is not lost.

In our next post on Scotland’s dance and music we will explore musical education, music in a religious context (including weddings and funerals) and changes in attitudes to music.

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The Geological Society of London – SUNCAT’s newest Contributing Library

SUNCAT would like to welcome our newest Contributing Library, the Geological Society of London. The Geological Society is a not-for-profit organisation, and registered charity, founded in 1807. Its aims are to improve knowledge and understanding of the Earth, to promote Earth science education and awareness, and to promote professional excellence and ethical standards in the work of Earth scientists, for the public good.

We invited Eileen Jamieson, Serials and Information Librarian at the Geological Society, to write a few words about the library and its serials collection.

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Photograph showing the interior of the Geological Society Library.

Interior of the Geological Society Library. (© Geological Society)

The Geological Society Library is more than 200 years old and is currently based in Burlington House, Piccadilly. It contains over 300,000 volumes of books and serials and 40,000 maps, making it a collection of national importance covering all aspects of the geological sciences. The Library holds a collection of over 4,500 serial titles from all over the world. In addition to modern major journals, our collection includes many obscure or old journals. We also have several (mostly older) series that are not exclusively geological. More information about the Library and it’s collections is available on our website at https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/library.

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SUNCAT would like to thank Eileen for introducing the library and its journal collection. If you would like to write a post on your SUNCAT Contributing Library and its serials collections or would like to join SUNCAT please contact us at suncat@ed.ac.uk.


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Scotland’s Music and Dance: Amusement, Traditions and Work

If someone was to say to you “music and dance in Scotland” you would automatically think of bagpipes and ceilidh dances. But, looking at the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, you would discover a wider world of music and dance. It is very much central to Scottish traditions, from social gatherings through to religious settings, and even in work. It plays an important role in the lives of people, no matter what class or age. The country and its people are embodied and given life through song. There are also some surprising revelations, with many parishes reporting an actual loss in the taste for music!

In the first of three posts on music and dance in Scotland, we look at music in social settings, musical traditions and music while working.

Music in social settings

Music, along with sport, provided light relief after a long hard day or week of work, especially in the winter. In Dryfesdale, County of Dumfries, “the principal diversion or amusement is curling on the ice in the winter, when sometimes scores of people assemble on the waters, and in the most keen, yet friendly manner, engage against one another, and usually conclude the game and day with a good dinner, drink, and songs.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 432)

The principle amusements in Durness, County of Sutherland, were playing ball and shinty on the sands of Balnakiel. “The whole population turns out on old Christmas and new-year’s day, and even old men of seventy are to be seen mingling in the crowd, remaining till night puts an end to the contest. Indeed, the inhabitant, of this parish have always been noted for the enthusiasm with which they engaged in these sports. To keep up the tone of action, they retire in the evening, and mingle in the dance to the music of the bagpipe, regardless of the bruises and scars of the contest.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 96)

Most farmhouses and all cottages in Dornock, County of Dumfries, were constructed using mud or clay. “The manner of erecting them is singular… Some [people] fall to the working the clay or mud, by mixing it with straw; others carry the materials; and 4 or 6 of the most experienced hands, build and take care of the walls. The walls of the house are finished in a few hours; after which, they retire to a good dinner and plenty of drink which is provided for them, where they have music and a dance, with which, and other marks of festivity, they conclude the evening. This is called a daubing; and in this manner they make a frolic of what would otherwise be a very dirty and disagreeable job.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 22)

Music also played an important part in festivals. One example is that of the annual St Columba’s Day fair at Largs, County of Ayrshire, which was held on the second Tuesday of June. “The whole week is a kind of jubilee to the inhabitants, and a scene of diversion to others. Such a vast multitude cannot be accommodated with beds; and the Highlanders, in particular, do not seem to think such accommodation necessary. They spend the whole night in rustic sports, carousing and dancing on the green to the sound of the bagpipe. Every one who chooses is allowed to join in this, which forms their principal amusement. The candidates for the dance are generally so numerous, that it is kept up without intermission during the whole time of the fair.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 519)

A print showing people dancing in the ballroom at Eglinton Castle, North Ayrshire, Scotland. 1840.

The Ballroom at Eglinton Castle, 1840. By Hodgson (The Eglinton Tournament) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some parishes set up assembly rooms wherever they could, such as Tiree and Coll, County of Argyle. “They frequently entertain themselves by composing and singing songs, by repeating Fingalian and other tales, by dancing assemblies at different farms by turns. In this qualification they are remarkably neat.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794 p. 414) Others had a specific assembly room where people would dance, such as Edinburgh. “In 1763, there was one dancing assembly room; the profits of which went to the support of the Charity-Workhouse. Minutes were danced by each set, previous to the country dances. Strict regularity with respect to dress and decorum, and great dignity of manners were observed.”  (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 618)

In fact, there were many dances organized for charitable purposes. In Strathdon, County of Aberdeen, subscription dances were “set on foot for the relief of some case of poverty or incidental distress in the neighbourhood; and thus, at the individual cost of a few pence, a considerable sum is realized for a needy neighbour. Another charitable practice prevails. When an extraordinary case of helpless distress occurs, the young men in the locality assemble together, and, often accompanied with music, go from house to house, where they receive a donation in kind or money. In this way a considerable supply is speedily raised in behalf of the object of their charitable exertions.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 549) A similar practice was carried out in Kirkmichael, County of Dumfries, where “a friend is sent to as many of their neighbours as they think needful, to invite them to what they call a drinking… The guests convene at the time appointed, and, after collecting a
shilling a piece, and sometimes more, they divert themselves for about a couple of hours, with music and dancing”. This sometimes resulted in 5, 6, or 7 pounds being raised for the needy person or family. (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 59)

In Liberton, County of Edinburgh, there were carter’s plays. “The carters have friendly societies for the purpose of supporting each other in old age or during ill-health, and with the view partly of securing a day’s recreation, and partly of recruiting their numbers and funds, they have an annual procession. Every man decorates his cart-horse with flowers and ribbons, and a regular procession is made, accompanied by a band of music, through this and some of the neighbouring parishes. To crown all, there is an uncouth uproarious race with cart-horses on the public road, which draws forth a crowd of Edinburgh idlers, and all ends in a dinner, for which a fixed sum is paid.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 12)

Musical traditions

It is easy to see how such musical pastimes became traditions. There are some wondrous customs involving music and dance described in the parish reports. One such tradition was the holding of an annual festival in Perth, County of Perth, during which the Saint Obert’s Play was performed. On the 10th December, people “attired themselves in disguise dresses, and passed through the city piping and dancing, and striking drums, and carrying in their hands burning torches. One of the actors was clad in a particular kind of coat, which they designated the Devil’s Coat, and another rode upon a horse, having on its feet men’s shoes. There is no account extant of its minute particulars, but, from the manner in which the kirk session and the corporation officials dealt with the performers, it appears to have been idolatrous, profane, and immoral in its tendency.” So much so that action was taken by the Kirk Session against such pastimes, especially the Saint Obert’s play. (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 80)

In the Peebles parish report there is a very interesting description of the Beltane Festival, which is held every year on the 1st May. It mentions a poem by King James I “entitled Peebles to
the Play, in which he represents a great annual festival of music, diversions, and feasting, that had long been in use to be held at Peebles, attended by multitudes from the Forth and the Forest, in their best apparel.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 14) This poem can be found in The Miscellany of Popular Scottish Poems.

However, some traditions had fallen by the wayside even by the time the Statistical Accounts of Scotland were written. Formerly, in Lady, County of Orkney, “it was customary for companies of men, on new year’s morning, to go to the houses of the rich, and awake the family, by singing the New Year’s song, in full chorus. When the song was concluded, the family entertained the musicians with ale and bread, and gave them a smoked goose or a piece of beef.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 142)

Other festivals that formerly took place was the Trades Race fair that was held every June in Beith, County of Ayrshire, “in which the trades assembled and went in procession through the town with music and flags. On the day after the Trades Race, the merchants of the town used to meet and walk in procession, and afterwards dine together” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 592) and the Maiden Feast which was held at the end of harvest time in Longforgan, County of Perth, the maiden referring to the last handful of corn reaped in the field. “One of the finest girls in the field was dressed up in ribbands, and brought home in triumph, with the music of fiddles or bagpipes. A good dinner was given to the whole band, and the evening spent in joviality and dancing, while the fortunate lass who took the maiden was the Queen of the feast.” This custom was later replaced with each shearer being given 6d. and a loaf of bread, although “some farmers, when all their corns are brought in, give their servants a dinner, and a jovial evening, by way of Harvest-home.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 550)

In the Statistical Accounts of Scotland there are also some very unusual anecdotes involving music, including:

  • the story of an unfortunate piper in a cave somewhere in Kilmalie, County of Inverness, whose music could be heard 10 miles away. The tune that he played was “”Oh! that I had three hands I two for the bagpipe, and one for the sword” signifying that he had been attacked by subterranean foes.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 421)
  • a young man in Lundie and Fowlis, County of Forfar, who, one day, played a tune on the shepherd’s pipe. “Hearing his music distinctly repeated three times over, he got up in great terror, averring that the Devil was certainly in the place; that he had never before engaged with Satan, and he was determined he never would again; whereupon he broke his pipe in pieces, and could never afterwards be prevailed upon to play any more.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 282)

In the parish of Leuchars, County of Fife, it was reported that the fiddle was played to ease the suffering of people affected with St Vitus’ Dance (another name for Sydenham’s chorea). “It was not
regular music that gave relief, but the striking of certain strings, which the person under agitation, desired should be struck again. The effect was astonishing; the person affected, became quiet, sat down, and in a little, asked to be put to bed, but still called for the person to play, till the feelings that produced the agitation were abated.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 606)

Music as you work

Music was not only found in social settings. There are some mentions of people, especially fishermen, using the power of song and music to get them through their work. In Prestonpans, County of Haddington, it was reported that, at a particular time of year, fishing for oysters forms the principal occupation of a number of seafaring men. “Long before dawn, in the bleakest season of the year, their dredging song may be heard afar off, and, except when the wind is very turbulent, their music, which is not disagreeable, appears to be an accompaniment of labours that are by no means unsuccessful.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 312)

painting of fishermen with their haul of fish

Silver Darlings, Unknown Artist. North Ayrshire Heritage Council. [Re-used through Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence]

In the parish of Latheron, County of Caithness, fishermen “engage in worship after shooting their nets. On these occasions a portion of a psalm is sung, followed with prayer, and the effect is represented as truly solemn and heart-stirring, as the melodious strains of the Gaelic music, carried along the surface of the waters, (several being similarly engaged), spread throughout the whole fleet.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 102) (We will look specifically at music and religion in our next post.)

Music may also improve the end product! Rutherglen, County of Lanark, “has long been famous for sour cakes. As the baking is wholly performed by the hand a great deal of noise is the consequence. The beats, however, are not irregular, nor destitute of an agreeable harmony, especially when they are accompanied with vocal music, which is frequently the case.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 384) It would be very interesting to see and hear the process, as well as taste the results.

The power of music

Looking at the references to music and dance in the Statistical Accounts you can see how much it pervaded every aspect of life from work to play. Music and dance may have changed in many ways since these parish reports, but the one constant is that they have the power to bring joy, to heal and to allow people to express themselves.

In the next post on Scotland’s dance and music we will look at examples of Scottish ballads found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland and eminent musicians, especially musical families.

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