Chapter 5
The Villagers

 

All around the villages of Balmullo were over one dozen farmers, with good farms and first-class farm servants. All worked very hard from seven a.m. to six p.m. Some men were, in turn, up earlier and working later to water and feed the horses. Dairy workers started milking at six a.m.

Married men had houses, young men had bothies. Farm servants 'fee'd' for six months at a time at Cupar 'Feeing' market in October. No documents were signed - one shilling was handed over by the farmer, as an 'Earl'. It was a binding verbal contract. Some farm servants stayed at the one farm all their working days. Usually, servants' wives worked on the farm and grounds also, spreading manure, thinning and shawing turnips, hay making, harvesting and among other things stacking and threshing.

Times were hard, but no one starved. We all had to learn to make the best of what little we had. The community saw to that because the old, unemployed or sick who were on the Parish Poor Roll, received one shilling and ninepence per week, or three pennies per day, sometimes to feed a large family. Payment was calculated to be enough to keep them in bread and water. Men's wages in 1910 were very low, 15/- to 30/- for a sixty hour week and this was barely enough for a family to live on. Those in need had to be helped from the village resources.

I had a try at most jobs over many seasons and did not like the hard exacting work except for the potato gathering which I enjoyed. I did my full share of all these different jobs, all for small wages. I never felt that I was being exploited as all village children did similar toils as a natural part or our accepted traditional rural ways.

Balmullo had tradesmen second to none. Quarry men, masons in whinstone, sandstone, marble and slate; their carving was a pleasure to see. Fencers and field drainers, woodcutters, joiners, blacksmiths and mill workers, who operated machinery and guillotines. Water diviners and insurance agents. I found out all I could about their jobs and kept notes.

My father was a Master Bootmaker and I loved learning from him. He made boots and shoes from the foundation. His work was a joy to see - all hand made. It took him five days to make shoes for the Laird of Logie House and his family. I had the job of delivering them, the pair of shoes were priced at less than 2. I was always given a six pence coin and then sent round to the housekeeper for a 'piece', a scone and jam. Sometimes there was also a precious jar of honey as a gift for my mother.

Balmullo had only one licenced grocers shop. Anyone who bought a glass of whisky, or bottle of beer, had to drink it outside. Some men who worked so hard all week and had a refreshment on a Saturday night, were chattering and even singing, after a bottle of beer costing two pennies. Drunk on tuppence! Men who were very quiet, home loving all week, had volumes to say over a glass of beer. My father never touched alcohol of any kind and all our family were total abstainers. As the one policeman, stationed at Leuchars, once remarked, 'It's a sair fecht t'catch a wicked person in Balmullo.'

He was right, we were all so neigh hourly and full of trust. Doors were never locked, nor windows ever snibbed and I cannot remember any house being burgled.

Balmullo had its quota of talented people, as well as others who came under the category of' 'Worthy'. David Foggie was a distinguished artist - portrait and landscape. He was an R.S.A. His painting of my young sister, Netta, was greatly admired, also one of my father 'The Cobbler at his Bench'. Martin Anderson, the famous postcard cartoonist who was known as Cynicus, was an outstanding man, in his breeches and velvet jacket. When his castle was being built, we boys loved to tidy up chips around the masons. Cynicus would hand out bright new shining pennies to us. It was grand fun.

In winter the nights drew in and in Balmullo, instead of field sports and games, it was time for activities such as barn dances at farms and concerts in the Village Hall by local or visiting talent. All were well attended.

It was also a time for weddings, mostly held in the bride's house. Boys and girls waited for the 'Scatter', a shovel full of coins, thrown into the crowd. Then a two barrel gun shot in the air, to scare off evil spirits and the black chimney sweep handing a sprig of white heather to the bride and kissing the young wife for luck. Then the going away of the couple in the horse-drawn cart with lots of tattered shoes, horse shoes, tin cans and tied pieces of metal rattling behind the cab. Next morning before going to school, I was not the only boy at the house of the wedding, searching among the dirty stones or grass for coins and I was usually lucky. The pennies were saved up.

My brother David was a joiner in the village. His master was also the undertaker. When anyone in our community died it was one of Dave's duties to ensure that a black bordered envelope, containing an invitation to the funeral, was sent to each house where there was an adult male. For delivering about sixty envelopes I got a silver sixpence. Along the funeral route all blinds were drawn as a mark of respect. Men only, solemn-looking and dressed in dark shoes, trousers, white shirts, frocked coats, plus tiled hats, walked gravely behind the black horse-drawn hearse to Leuchars Cemetery, nearly four miles away. The minister always found something good to say about the deceased at the graveside. On one occasion the farmer to be buried had taken his own life and Preacher said, 'Jim was anxious to be HOME,' which the widow and family appreciated.

When I was about seven years old I was asked to go to Granny Mitchell's house in the village to recite a poem to her. She was 'Granny' to all we young people and took a keen interest in our development and education. Her door was always open and so I knocked gently and walked in, trying to look confident although feeling just a little bit afraid. Sitting in a chair sat the frail old lady. She was dressed in black, as all old ladies were expected to be dressed, with a shawl over her shoulders and a white mutch on her head. Her head was bowed, she was slowly speaking a prayer, so she did not know that I was there. She mentioned neighbours and others I knew by name and after each prayer offered for them she said, 'Keep them safe, Lord. Keep them safe.' I felt a little scared and too much the intruder and so I left quietly. When I told my mother she gave me a hug and patted me on the head saying gently. 'You have seen a saint praying, Alex.' On many difficult occasions in future years I was to remember 'Granny' praying for me and others and this gave me courage to do what had to be done and helped to build the faith I now possess.

Louisa, or Ba'bee Lou, as all we youngsters called her, for she sold us nice things to eat for a halfpenny which we knew as a ba'bee, had a Sweetie Shop in her house. She was a dear old soul who knew and loved everyone in the village and was loved in return by all we children. She only had one eye and peered at her customers, her head cocked to one side.

She made delicious toffee apples which were three for a penny and a pleasant sherbert brew which was given by the eggcupful as a bonus to all children who spent a penny or more as purchases. All sweets were homemade such as her treacle drops which were four for a ba'bee and nine for a penny. They were super for they lasted so long and I would ask for 'Four of your ten minute black sucks, please.'

She would always reply, 'Mind your please noo!' There were also honey balls, cinnamon twists, mint squares, horehound cough rings and many more at five for a ba'bee and nine for a penny.

In her little front room she set up three tables each day and covered them with fresh and spotlessly clean linen and here visitors could get a meal: a pot of tea with a large potted meat or home cured and cooked ham sandwich, a currant scone with butter and jam and a fancy ginger cake costing threepence per person. Ba'bee always had her one eye on business for she claimed that, 'The tea does'na pey, but what they carrie oot peys!'

All these nice things and her cakes, scones, jams, potted meats and brews of ginger ale, blackcurrant wine and cider were made in her small back kitchen. The range was open and had, at the most, room for a kettle and two small pots. Water had to be pumped from the village pump and carried some distance. Washing-up was done in a large wooden tub. She also dug and planted her own garden and made most of the soft fruits into the jams she sold.

Foreman Manzie, as he was called by everyone with great respect (I never did discover his real first name), worked as Station Foreman at Leuchars Junction and he was said to have the finest voice on the whole of the North British Railway network. Every morning as I waited for my train to take me to school in Dundee I heard him pronounce lovingly in his rich clear tones, 'Cupar, Ladybank, Thornton, Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh train.' After a brief pause he would boom out, 'Change here for Saint Andrews.' According to the direction of the wind his voice was audible up to a mile away and I can testify to this fact.

Foreman Manzie was a model employee who made his work ethic known to all who inquired by proclaiming, 'I'm paid by the N.B.R., but I'm a servant to all people.' He believed in service but not in servitude. The station was Mr Manzie's pride and joy. Fires burned brightly in the waiting rooms when it was cold; toilets were clean, lamps were in good trim, seasonal flower arrangements and plants brightened the platforms and lampposts and woe betide anyone who threw down litter.

No job in the station was demeaning for him and he never complained about the rude behaviour of 'posh' passengers who felt they were his superiors. He was especially helpful to and mindful of the elderly people who used his station, being ever ready to help them on or off trains or carry their luggage. Once a fussy golfer called the foreman over to a siding where the St Andrews train was waiting and demanded impatiently, 'I say, porter, when does this damned train leave for St Andrews?'

Like a rocket came the loud reply for all to hear, 'We have only N.B.R. trains, Sir, and they always leave on time. Get on board now, unless you have an hour to spare.

Eck, Wull and Jeck were friends and 'Bothy Lads' in 1909 who lived and worked on three different local farms. They were partly paid in kind by their masters for their extra efforts at harvest-time with flour and oatmeal and as this was usually more than they needed to feed themselves over the winter the y would try to exchange their surplus for things they needed. On the Monday evening before the Cupar Feeing Market the lads met as agreed, slung their pokes (bags) of flour and meal over their shoulders, mounted their pushbikes and with only guttering oil lamps for road illumination they set off in the dark for Dairsie to sell their goods to raise pocket money for enjoyment at the market.

On the way Eck's bike crashed into Bill Henderson's coal cart and the flour, meal and coals were scattered onto the road. The three lads were arguing angrily with the coalman about who was to blame for the loss and what compensation should be given when Jimmy Nicholson, the quick-witted Cupar Carrier, arrived on the scene. He had to be told each art 's version of events and then it was agreed that he should decide what should be fairly done. Jimmy listened patiently, thought long and then said, 'So ah'm t'judge, am I b'damned? It's sic a meal and coalie (melancholy) business. Ah' propose Eck fills his baggies wi' coal an' old Henderson keep th' floor' an' meal!'

They all had a hearty laugh at the joke and judgement, reached just such an arrangement and parted good friends.

The blacksmiths of the district met as always at each Cupar Market to talk over the prices they would charge for horse shoeing, sharpening plough socks and coulters and harrow taings and for rimming wooden cart wheels by sweating on iron bands. They ate pies and drank beer, whisky or tea according to their taste or persuasion. At the 1910 market a well-seasoned farmer from our village, made talkative by too many brandies, found them at their discussions in a pub and decided to tease them with the query, 'Why the deevil are ye' no' at ye'r wark? 'S'pect us fermers will need tae pey mair fur jobbin'.'

Lovable Wull Johnson of Bulmullo Smiddy cannily replied, 'Jeems, ye' are in oor black books. Ye' hay' nae peyed ony o' us for twa 'ears, just pey us noo.'

Jems stood his full height, then dived into his oxter (shoulder) pooch (pocket) and drew out pound notes from it and then silver from his breeks' (trousers) ones and threw it onto the table in anger at being shown up in front of so many other farmer friends, pronouncing over and over again, 'Tak' yer shares o' that. Ah'm an 'onest fermer!'

The blacksmiths were satisfied to take what was due to them and handed some notes and silver back to Jeems who just seemed to be realizing what the drink had made him do. Suddenly the farmer looked aghast, knocked at his head with his fists, turned quite pale and then shouted in trepidation, 'Lord ha'e mercy on me, that's the wife's hen an' egg an' milk siller for a sewin' machin', new steys an' a frock. Lord tak' her nippet t'ung aff me an' let her blast the b****** smiths!'

Another farmer had an elderly housekeeper called Katie who was well versed in outdoor as well as indoor tasks and who was prone to lose her temper and speak her mind. One evening, in April 1912, the shepherd was rushed to hospital for an operation, so the about-to-lamb ewes were brought into the cornyard beside the house. Unfortunately the foreman's wife who normally milked the cows had a bad quinsy throat and old Farmer John was full of lamentations.

'Katie,' he moaned, 'maybe the Lord will tak' me the nicht. Ah'm shair he'll tak' me the nicht!'

Katie had listened to all she could and could take the strain of keeping quiet no longer. She burst out with, 'Thank hivven for that sma' blessen'. 'Tween hoosewark, milkin coos an' waiting fur ewes t'lamb, it's a mercy you'll be oot the wey!'

Campbell Smith, Sheriff of Dundee, loved Balmullo for he was born and brought up in the area and owned and rented out homes in the village to which he was a frequent, familiar and popular visitor. He constantly claimed that the climate in the area was good for those with chest complaints contracted in the city from its smoke and grime. He expected his tenants to crop the gardens for vegetables and politely asked them each to keep a little space for the sweet smelling flowers he enjoyed, such as Night Scented Stock and Migonette, to help brighten up the gardens.

One day when he visited the village in 1912 he saw an elderly woman cleaning her doorstep and said, half by way of conversation and the rest by way of query, 'So you're whitening the step?'

'Oh, no,' came the reply, 'I'm cauming th' stane.'

From then on he took an interest in this village art of chalking, or decorating front door steps, the stone door surrounds and window sills with coloured chalks in flower geometric or in imaginative patterns of dicings or whorles.

Most of the women spent hours after breakfast time during six days each week making and maintaining their own personal and wonderful designs which were washed away by rain or by constant use. Mrs Brown's doorstep surrounds always had a complex of connecting crosses and so we boys referred to her in conversation as 'Mrs Broon, wi' th' kissin' doorstep.' Others were also pinpointed to strangers by this method. To produce the range of colours the ladies used ochre-coloured chalks, whitening, blackening and red Bath-brick which they bought from travelling salesmen. It was sad to see them cleaning off fading patterns and fun to watch the new sharp ones appear as diligent care was lavished on the art form for everyone's pleasure.

In the early part of 1913 a married couple with three children came from Dundee to Bulmullo. Jimmy Nicholson, the carrier, helped them by bringing their few belongings to an empty but-and-ben in the village. The wife was Swiss and not too strong because of lung trouble. They had been told that many people came to our area to recuperate because of the very healthy air and mild climate and this was true.

The husband walked the three miles to Guardbridge and found himself a labouring job at the big papermill. Along with the other men he set out for work on six days each week at five a.m. and did not come home until about seven p.m. They were a happy family and to the sorrow of us all the wife became very ill. The husband was forced to leave his work to look after his wife, family and the housework. It was a case of no work - no pay as far as the employers were concerned.

Our village admired the man's courage and devotion and rallied round to help the family in all practical ways possible. Dave Meldrum gave them coal, Mrs Adamson of the farmhouse supplied them with potatoes, eggs and milk. Andrew Melville and Jimmy Gray, who were the village grocers, sent provisions. Jess Kinnear handed in fresh vegetables. Will Fyfe and Alex Niven, the local butchers, delivered sausages, potted meat and mince. Betsy, the fisherwife from Arbroath, left smokies and many more gave clothing, footwear and fuel. So the village expressed its concern for the incoming family until the husband and children managed to recover from the grief of losing the wife and mother and return to their relations in Dundee.

There was a constant loss of capable youth from our village and many sad partings. Many young men and women emigrated to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Other men joined the army and navy and served overseas. Others were recruited into the police and fire service, many went to work on the railway and in private gardens. Young women were attracted to city offices, became housemaids or waitresses, trained in dressmaking and quite a number learned to become teachers, nurses, hotel receptionists or writers. Without exception all were keen, progressive, well liked in the village, sadly missed and a great loss to the little community as few ever permanently returned.

 

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.