SUNCAT welcomes the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow!

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow is SUNCAT’s newest Contributing Library. We invited Andrew McAinsh, Collections Manager at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, to write a few words about the library and its collections.

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The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow was founded in 1599 by the Scottish surgeon Peter Lowe and his compatriots, Robert Hamilton (a physician) and William Spang (an apothecary). More than four centuries later, the College remains the only multidisciplinary Royal College in the UK. We provide career support, education, training, examination and assessment to Fellows and Members around the world, including physicians, surgeons, dentists, and practitioners of travel medicine and podiatric medicine.

Photograph showing the interior of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library

Interior of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library Reading Room. (© Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow)

The College library was established around 1698, and our collections have grown steadily over the past 320 years to include everything from incunabula (books printed before 1501) to newly published textbooks and exam guides. The collection is particularly strong in medical and surgical publications of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and this is reflected in the journal holdings we have recently added to SUNCAT.

The Library is open to members of the College on weekdays from 9am to 5pm. Members of the public are also welcome to visit by appointment. Our library is a treasure trove of research resources for anybody with an interest in current medical practice, the history of medicine, and the history of Glasgow and the West of Scotland. We also have a range of resources for family history researchers, and can help you to trace your medical ancestors.

Photograph of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library Store

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow Library Store. (© Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow)

Beyond the library, our archive collections include the historical records of the College, and over 120 donated collections relating to Scottish medical societies and former College members. We are also an accredited museum, and our object collection includes thousands of medical instruments from the 18th to the 21st centuries as well as a diverse collection of paintings and other artworks.

We’re working hard to digitise items from our heritage collections, and lots of our objects, archives and rare books can already be viewed online. Check out our website at http://heritage.rcpsg.ac.uk and follow us on twitter @rcpsgheritage for the latest information on our collections and events. If you’d like to arrange a visit you can contact us by email (library@rcpsg.ac.uk) or telephone (0141 221 6072).

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SUNCAT would very much like to thank Andrew 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.

SUNCAT updated

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

  • British Library (24 May 18)
  • British Museum (15 May 18)
  • CONSER (Not UK Holdings) (16 May 18)
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (21 May 18)
  • Goldsmiths University of London (08 May 18)
  • Queen Mary, University of London (16 May 18)
  • Royal College of Music (16 May 18)
  • Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow (22 May 18)
  • Royal Society of Medicine (09 May 18)
  • School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) (17 May 18)
  • Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) (17 May 18)
  • Southampton University (13 May 18)
  • Wellcome Library (16 May 18)

To check on the currency of other libraries on SUNCAT please check the updates page for further details.

Lucky Penny Day!

Today (23rd May) is Lucky Penny Day. You may have heard of this superstition: “See a penny, pick it up, All day long you’ll have good luck.” The modern form of the one pence coin was introduced back on the 15th February 1971. So, if you see a penny showing its head pick it up, or turn it to its head-side for someone else to get pick up and get the luck! As another saying goes: “Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves!”

Photograph showing a detail of a one pence coin.

Detail of a penny. Photograph taken by Vince O’Sullivan, January 2010. Via Flickr under Creative Commons License 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Here are some weird and wonderful ‘penny’ titles found in SUNCAT.

  • Captain George’s penny dreadful.
  • The penny share letter.
  • Cobbett’s penny trash …
  • Two Knaves for a Penny.
  • The Penny magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
  • The Penny punter.
  • A penny saved.
  • Penny pincher world wide.
  • Penny stock detectives.
  • A bad penny review.
  • Mingaye Syder’s temperance lancet and penny trumpet.
  • Sun penny saver.
  • The Penny melodist.
  • The Golden Penny Comic.
  • Penny a Peep.
  • Penny dreadful : tales and poems of fantastic terror.
  • Paddy Kelly’s budget; or, A penny-worth of fun!!
  • Cameron’s A-B-C Penny Time Tables.
  • A choice penny-worth of wit. In three parts.
  • A groatsworth of wit for a penny; or, the interpretation of dreams.
  • Horrors; or, “The Penny Horrible”. : An anti-comic weekly blood curdler.
  • The pinball player and penny slot collector: the monthly magazine of the Pinball Owners’ Association (incorporating the Penny Slot Preservation Society).
  • One penny-worth of truth, from Thomas Bull to his brother John.
  • Two penny-worth of truth for a penny; or a true state of facts: with an apology for Tom Bull in a letter to brother John.

For more penny-themed journals, and weird, and lots more besides, take a look in SUNCAT.

Food and drink in Scotland: Food provision, scarcity and health

This is the third and final post exploring food and drink in Scotland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Here we look at the provision of food as payment, examples of when food was scarce, and the link between food and health.

Provision of food

There are many examples found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland of food being provided as payment for services rendered. “Of old times, and at this very day, there is a proverb used in the Highlands, which, when translated, expresses literally, that it is, for decent food and accommodation, and not for wages, they (domestic servants) serve.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 195) In Fossoway, County of Perth, “the wages of an able day-labourer throughout the year, is 1 s per day; the wages of a woman for the harvest, 8 d; for men between 10 d and 1 s per day; with breakfast and dinner for both.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 462) In the parish of King Edward, County of  Aberdeen, it was reported that all rent was paid in grain (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 403), whereas tenants in the parish of Slamanan, County of Stirling, generally paid most of their rent with butter and cheese. (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 83)

Interestingly, one landlord in the parish of North Knapdale, County of Argyle, had his rent paid to him chiefly “in feasts given at the habitations of his tenants. What he was to spend, and the time of his residence at each village, was known, and provided for accordingly. The men who provided these entertainments partook of them; they all lived friends together; and the departures of the chief and his retinue never failed to occasion regret.” This ‘friendship’, however, had changed in more modern times. “Till very lately, in this neighbourhood, Campbell of Auchinbreck had a right to carry off the best cow he could find upon several properties, at each Martinmas, by way of mart… The Crown now has converted these cows at 20 s. a head, and taken away this badge of slavery.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 257)

It was not just about farmers and farm-labourers. In the Statistical Accounts, you can also discover the eating habits of those working in mills at the time. In the parish of New Abbey, County of Kirkcudbright, it was reported that women who worked spinning yarn “make sorry wages of it, not above 3 d. per day;-which can afford very scanty food”. (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 132)

Towne, Charles; Backbarrow Cotton Mill, near Newby Bridge; Lakeland Arts Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/backbarrow-cotton-mill-near-newby-bridge-145131

Towne, Charles; Backbarrow Cotton Mill, near Newby Bridge; Lakeland Arts Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/backbarrow-cotton-mill-near-newby-bridge-145131

In Lanark, County of Lanark, the diet of children working in the mills “consists of oatmeal porridge, with milk in summer or sowens, i.e. oat-meal flummery, with milk in winter twice a day, as much as they can take, barley broth for dinner made with good fresh beef every day and as much beef is boiled as will allow 7 ounces English a piece each day to one half of the children, the other half get cheese and bread after their broth, so that they dine alternately upon cheese and butchermeat with barley bread or potatoes; and now and then in the proper season they have a dinner of herrings and potatoes. They as well as the others, begin work at six in the morning, are allowed half an hour to breakfast, an hour to dinner, and quit work at 7 at night; after which they attend the school at the expense of the proprietor till 9.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 37) In Lochwinnoch, County of Renfrew, ” the persons employed in the cotton-mills work twelve hours five days in the week, and nine hours on Saturday. They have one hour and forty minutes for both breakfast and dinner.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 104)

There is even an example given of what prisoners ate! In Linlithgow, County of Linlithgow, the prisoners’ “diet is excellent, consisting of six ounce of oatmeal made into porridge, for breakfast, with three-fourths of a pint of buttermilk. Dinner, ox-head broth, four ounce barley, four ounce bread, and a proportion of vegetables, each alternate day, pease-brose, fish, and potatoes. Supper the same as breakfast.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, P. 187)

Food scarcity

Some parish reports mention the years 1782 and 1783 in particular, when many harvests in Scotland failed. It is really interesting to read about what caused the failure of crops, according to the parish report of Kilwinning, County of Ayrshire.

“Different causes, no doubt, contributed to this failure, in different parts of the country: But in this parish, and in others immediately on the sea coast, the chief cause of its failure was owing to a very severe west wind, about the middle, or towards the latter end of the month of August, which continued with the utmost violence for a considerable time. The corns had their roots loosened, and were otherwise much damaged by this storm. From being in general very green, when it happened, in a few days afterwards they grew white, but never filled. Snow also, in such parts of the parish as were at the greatest distance from the sea, fell earlier, and in greater quantities, than ever had been known at that season of the year.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 153)

In Peterhead, County of Aberdeen, “the crop of 1782 was as defective in this parish as in other parts of Scotland; and without very great efforts, both of a public and private nature, many would have perished for want of food.” Everyone rallied together to avert death and suffering. This included “a considerable quantity of meal sent by Government, partly gratis, and partly at a low price” and “collections were made in the different churches, and voluntary assessments raised from the greatest part of the heritors”. (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 579)

In Gargunnock, County of Stirling, “a large quantity of white peas being commissioned from England by a man of public spirit, and grinded into meal, assisted the other expedients which were then adopted to prevent a famine in this part of the kingdom.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 121) The parish of Kilmadan, County of Argyle, was not so hard hit as others, “but the crop in general, over the whole, suffered from the summer’s cold and the wet harvest. The poor were the better for the supply granted by Government.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 340) A particularly poignant account of food scarcity during these years and the affect it had on people can be found in the parish report of Keithhall, County of Aberdeen. “One family wanted food from Friday night till Sunday at dinner”.(OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 544)

A long period of food scarcity was also experienced in the parish of Kilsyth, County of Stirling, during the last seven years of the 17th century (also know as the seven dear years). The price of food became exorbitant and even the more opulent residents could not buy any corn. “Greens boiled with salt, became a common food. Fodder was as scarce as grain. Many of the cattle perished at the stall, and many of them who were driven out to seek a scanty pittance expired in the field.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 302)

Food and health

There are several mentions of the link between food and health in the Statistical Accounts, with some opinions apperaing contradictory! In the parish of Carsphairn, County of Kirkcudbright, “scurvies are little known, though most of the inhabitants live all the year round on salted provisions, which they use in great abundance. The pernicious consequences of this mode of living are obviated by the plentiful use of potatoes, and other vegetables.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 514)

It was noted in the report for Kilbrandon and Kilchattan, County of Argyle, that “dropsies are likewise observed of late to be more frequent, particularly since potatoes have become the principal food of the lower classes of the people. And certainly, though this useful and wholesome root contains no hurtful quality, yet change of diet must gradually affect and change the constitution. While many, therefore, whole food was more solid in their early period of life, and to whom this root was scarcely known, but now live by this three-fourths of the year, no wonder though disorders should prevail which were formerly less common.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 160)

In the parish of Kelso, County of Roxburgh, it was thought that the food eaten by the labouring classes and the large quantity “may be one cause of laying the foundation of glandular and visceral diseases. Although the mechanics in town generally eat meat for dinner, the labourers in town and country seldom do so; but one and all of them live much upon hasty pudding, and boiled potatoes with milk; without deviation, they all breakfast or sup upon the one or the other. Most of the adults eat of this food, at a meal, from 6 to 8 English pounds weight, including milk”, resulting in various unpleasant complaints and even death. (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 594) In this parish, the sheer amount of food people ate, as well as the “sudden change from vegetable to animal food and the too frequent use of spirituous liquors” was believed to inflict many health problems on its residents.

Painting called 'The Doctor's Visit' by Thomas Faed, 1889. Queen's University, Belfast; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-doctors-visit-168946

Faed, Thomas; The Doctor’s Visit; 1889. Queen’s University, Belfast; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-doctors-visit-168946

In Banff, “an infectious fever prevailed here, with unusual violence, about the year 1782. Unwholesome food, particularly an immoderate use of potatoes, (that year of a bad kind), were among the secondary causes to which this fever was ascribed.” (As you know, the year 1782 was a bad year for crops!) Mr Skene, “the late minister of this parish, wrote a wrote a small treatise on this fever, in form of a “Serious Address to the People,” etc. This short address, which Provost Robinson had paid to print and publish, “contained several plain sensible instructions respecting the prevention and treatment of the disease, and points out the means by which health may be preserved from every disorder of an infectious nature.” For examples of his recommendations see OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 347.

Scrofula was a disease that had prevailed in times of food scarcity (when food was lacking in both quantity and quality) in the parish of Duthil, County of Elgin. “In the summers of 1808, 1816, and 1817, many families subsisted for several successive weeks on the tops of nettles, mugwort, turnip thinnings, and milk, without any corn food; and such as subsisted on this miserable substitute for food, are labouring under the […] disease.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 125) There was, however, better news for residents of the parish of Borgue, County of Kirkcudbright. “From greater attention to cleanliness, and a more plentiful use of vegetables and fresh animal food, scorbutic and cutaneous diseases are less prevalent than formerly.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 34)

Surprisingly, tea was seen as bad for the health in several parish reports! In the parish of Delting, County of Shetland, some thought that the increase of diseases “may be ascribed to the change in the mode of living, especially to the general use of tea, of which the consumption is amazing, even in the poorest families, who will stint themselves in many essential necessaries of life, in order to procure this article of luxury.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 386) This extract on the use of tea found in the report for Gargunnock, County of Stirling, is very amusing. “Tea is universally used. Even the poorest families have it occasionally, and the last cup is qualified with a little whisky, which is supposed to correct all the bad effects of the tea.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 121) Conversely, in the parish report for Kirkcudbright, County of Kirkcudbright, tea and coffee are called “wholesome and enlivening beverages”. (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 37)

Conclusions

It has been fascinating to discover what the Scots ate and drank during the times of the Statistical Accounts. People had to grow and rear what they could to eat. This makes us think that those in the countryside would have had a better diet than those in the cities. But, this was not necessarily always the case. There were certainly differences between parishes due to their topography and climate. In some cases, inhabitants did not make the most of what the land and water had to offer, either because of a lack of knowledge and/or not enough hard work! There were also periods of food scarcity due to poor harvests, which affected everyone, both rich and poor. It must also be pointed out that, in many instances, the farmers sold their produce in the town and city markets.

Looking through the reports, it is clear that many changes took place between the Old and New Statistical Accounts, with improved agricultural practices and a growth in industry and technology, all resulting in increased production and trade. These benefited both those in the country and those in built-up areas. It was particularly interesting to find out what and when mill workers ate during the day, as well as what the link between food and health was believed to be in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There is a wealth of information on food and drink in the Statistical Accounts. Why not explore it and see what you can find?

 

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SUNCAT updated

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

  • Bristol University (03 May 18)
  • British Library (03 May 18)
  • City, University of London (02 May 18)
  • Durham University (04 May 18)
  • Edinburgh Napier University (01 May 18)
  • Exeter University (05 May 18)
  • King’s College London (02 May 18)
  • Manchester University (01 May 18)
  • National Library of Scotland (02 May 18)
  • National Library of Wales (01 May 18)
  • Natural History Museum (01 May 18)
  • Nottingham University (02 May 18)
  • Open University (01 May 18)
  • Queen’s University, Belfast (04 May 18)
  • Sheffield University (01 May 18)
  • Southampton University (06 May 18)
  • St. Andrews University (05 May 18)
  • Strathclyde University (01 May 18)
  • Sussex University (01 May 18)
  • Warwick University (02 May 18)

To check on the currency of other libraries on SUNCAT please check the updates page for further details.

SUNCAT updated

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

  • Aberystwyth University (01 May 18)
  • Bath University (01 May 18)
  • British Library (26 Apr 18)
  • Brunel University London (28 Apr 18)
  • Cardiff University (01 May 18)
  • CONSER (Not UK Holdings) (02 May 18)
  • Cranfield University (20 Apr 18)
  • De Montfort University (25 Apr 18)
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (19 Apr 18)
  • Dundee University (01 May 18)
  • Edinburgh University (01 May 18)
  • Imperial College London (01 May 18)
  • Kingston University (01 May 18)
  • Lancaster University (01 May 18)
  • London Library (29 Apr 18)
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (01 May 18)
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (01 May 18)
  • National Archives (01 May 18)
  • Northumbria University (01 May 18)
  • Oxford University (23 Apr 18)
  • Sheffield Hallam University (01 May 18)
  • Southampton University (29 Apr 18)
  • Swansea University (01 May 18)
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David (01 May 18)
  • University of the West of England (24 Apr 18)
  • York University (01 May 18)

To check on the currency of other libraries on SUNCAT please check the updates page for further details.

Food and drink in Scotland: Why Scots ate and drank what they did

The previous post on Scotland’s food and drink highlights the fact that what people ate was very much dependent on what people could grow, according to climate, topography and soil type.

In Kilbride, County of Bute, “the soil is hard and stony. Most of the farms lying on the declivity of hills, the best prepared land scarce yields two returns. To supply the deficiency of corn, the inhabitants plant great quantities of potatoes, which are their principal food for 9 months in the year.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 578)

In contrast, the soil in the parish of North Berwick, County of Haddington, was “, in general, rich, fertile, and well cultivated, producing large crops of all the different grains sown in Scotland, as wheat, barley, oats, pease and beans. No hemp is raised, and the quantity of flax is inconsiderable, being only for private use. Turnips are cultivated, but not to a great extent, as the farmers reckon the ground to be in general too strong and wet for that useful plant, and on that account commonly prefer sowing wheat upon their fallows. Potatoes are raised in considerable quantities, and, during the winter, form a principal part of the food of the poorer classes of the people.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 441)

Farquharson, David; The Banks o' Allan Water; Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-banks-o-allan-water-206475

Farquharson, David: The Banks o’ Allan Water, 1877. Photo credit: Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

You can really sense from reading the parish reports that there was a real understanding of what crops could be successfully cultivated and how best to grow them. For example, in Ferry Port-on-Craig, County of Fife:

“The crops that are best adapted for the clay, to produce the greatest profit, are, wheat, beans, barley, grass, and oats. Flax is sown to very good advantage; but, on the whole, it is rather an uncertain crop; it likewise produces potatoes, but the quality is generally not so good as in light soils. The strong loam stands on a whin rock; and, where there is sufficiency of soil, it produces wheat, oats, beans, barley, grass and potatoes, in great perfection. Flax is sometimes sown on this soil, but seldom proves a good crop.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 458)

In the parish report for Kinloch, County of Perth, several varieties of potatoes cultivated in that parish are mentioned, including the London Lady, the red-nosed-white kidney potato and the dark red Lancashire potato. Some advice is even given on “the best method of preventing potatoes from degenerating, and of rendering them more prolific”. (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 472)

It seems that the widest range of produce was grown in the north of Scotland. In Unst, County of Shetland, the list of what was cultivated is very impressive:

“Black oats, bear, potatoes, cabbages, and various garden roots, and greens which grow in great perfection, are the most common vegetables in this island. Artichokes, too, of a delicate taste, are produced here, with some small fruit, and most of the garden flowers that grow in the north of Scotland. There is little or no sown grass, but the meadows are rich in red and white clover, and in the seasons of vegetation, are enameled with a beautiful profusion of wild flowers. The pasture grounds, in the commons, are generally covered with a short, tender, flowering heath. Some curious and rare plants have been discovered in this island by some gentlemen skilled in botany. The common people gather scurvy grass, trefoil, and some other plants that grow in the island, for their medicinal qualities. The roots of the tormentil are used in tanning bides.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 186)

Reay, County of Caithness, was another parish which produced “an abundance of all provisions necessary for the use of the inhabitants. The exports are in general bear, oatmeal, beef, mutton, pork, geese, hens, butter, cheese, tallow, malt, whiskey, to the market of Thurso; black cattle, sold to drovers from the south; horse colts, sent to Orkney; lambs, to the lowlands; geese, sometimes to Sutherland and Ross; as also hides, skins, goose-quills, and other feathers.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 575)

This knowledge extended to the preservation and transportation of food. One “adventurer” from the parish of Dyke and Moy, County of Elgin, “cured a quantity [of cod] in barrels, like salted salmon, carried them to London, and made no loss by the adventure, though they sold heavily, and must have been but unpleasant food. But had these cod been parboiled, and cured with vinegar at the boil-house, like kitted salmon, it is believed, such soused fish would have excelled the salted, as much as the kitted salmon exceeds the salted, in quality and price.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 209)

Selling of produce

In most cases, what was cultivated or reared by farmers was then sold in the large towns and cities. In the parish of New Machar, County of Aberdeen, its proximity to the city of Aberdeen was seen as a big advantage, as there was “a constant demand, ready market, and a reasonable price for every article which the farms produce.” However, it was also seen as a disadvantage, as it “renders every article sold within the parish, very high priced to those who must buy; and that the country people are so much in the way of attending the weekly market, that they generally lose one day in the week, in order to dispose of an article, which when sold, will scarcely bring them 1 s. 6 d. never considering the loss of time and labour”. (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 469)

Aberdeen_Fish_Market

Aberdeen Fish Market by Frederick Whymper, 1883. Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It was not only cities that had to buy food produced elsewhere. In Lochbroom, County of Ross and Cromarty, “with regard to their food, fish and potatoes constitute the principal part. For most years the produce of the soil does not afford them a sufficient supply of meal, and they usually buy a considerable quantity, and that often at a very high rate, from vessels which are sent by meal-mongers to the country.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 470)

As a result of growing and raising such produce, farmers themselves began to become more wealthy, as pointed out in the parish report for Cambuslang, County of Lanark:

“The farmer, as well as the merchant, came by degrees to relish the conveniences, and even the luxuries of life; a remarkable change took place in his lodging, clothing, and manner of living. The difference in the state of the country, in the value of land and mode of cultivation, in the price of provisions and the wages of labour, in food and clothing, between the years 1750 and 1790, deserves to be particularly recorded.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 251)

However, not all farmers were so hard-working and successful! In a survey, carried out in 1778, it was found that the inhabitants of Auchterarder, County of Perth, were “idle and poor farmers not thinking it necessary to thin their turnip while small, allowing them to grow until they be the size of large kale plants, and then it is thought a great loss to take them up, unless in small quantities, to give to the cow. A few tenants excepted, no family had oat-meal in their houses, nor could they get any. The oat nothing better than bear-meal and a few greens boiled together at mid-day, for dinner, and bear-meal pottage evening and morning.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 288)

Vocabulary

In an interesting aside, the peasantry in the parish Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, used “a good many words […] peculiar to the north isles, and some of them are evidently of Scandinavian origin.” Many of these words were farming and food-related. Here are the first few words given:

“Abin, (v.) to thrash half a sheaf for giving horses. –Abir, (n.) a sheaf so thrashed. –Acamy, (adj.) diminutive. –Bal, (v.) to throw at-Been-hook, (n.) part of the rent paid by a cottar for his land is work all harvest; but besides his own labour, he must bring out his wife three days, for which she receives nothing but her food. All the women on a farm are called out at the same time; they work together, and are called been hooks, and the days on which they work been-hook days. –Bull, (n.) one of the divisions or stalls of a stable. –Buily, (n.) a feast. –Buist, (n.) a small box. –Builte, or Buito, (n.) a piece of flannel or home-made cloth, worn by women over the head and shoulders. –Brammo, (n.) a mess of oatmeal and water. –Bret, (v.) to strut. –Brodend, (adj.) habituated to. –Burstin, (n.) meal made of corn parched in a pot or “hellio”…” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 95)

(Look out for our posts on Scotland and its languages coming soon!)

Conclusion

It is clear that Scots in the countryside ate what they themselves produced, which was dependent on the climate, topography – and not forgetting knowledge and hard-work! Those in cities, such as Glasgow and Aberdeen, were able to buy this produce in markets. Increased knowledge, new technologies and the exporting of goods from other countries had seen the situation change for the better over the years.

In the next post on Scotland’s food and drink we will look at times of food scarcity, the provision of food as part-payment and the link between food and health as seen by those in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth  centuries.

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SUNCAT updated

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.

  • Aberdeen University (03 Apr 18)
  • Bristol University (06 Apr 18)
  • British Library (05 Apr 18)
  • Cardiff University (01 Apr 18)
  • CONSER (Not UK Holdings) (04 Apr 18)
  • King’s College London (02 Apr 18)
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (01 Apr 18)
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (05 Apr 18)
  • National Library of Scotland (06 Apr 18)
  • Northumbria University (01 Apr 18)
  • Open University (01 Apr 18)
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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.

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

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