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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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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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.

______________________________________________

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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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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