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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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
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!'
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
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.
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.
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?'
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.
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.
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!'
all had a hearty laugh at the joke and judgement, reached just such an arrangement and
parted good friends.
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'.'
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.'
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!'
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!'
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
he moaned, 'maybe the Lord will tak' me the nicht. Ah'm shair he'll tak' me the nicht!'
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!'
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.
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
no,' came the reply, 'I'm cauming th' stane.'
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.