Dec 022016
 

As you may have already noticed, the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service now has a new look as well as new and improved features. We hope you have been exploring them since the new service was launched at the beginning of November. This is the first in a series of blog posts about some of the functionality you may have come across or may not have yet discovered! Here we concentrate on the search and structure of the new website.

Improved search

We have aimed to allow searching in the same way as you would use an internet search engine. The service will look not only for direct matches but also for possible variations and related terms.

Search features include:

  • The ability to limit your search to the old statistical accounts or new statistical accounts by adding either OSA or NSA to your search terms, e.g. OSA schools. It is also possible to limit your search still further by stating the actual volume and even the specific page, e.g. OSA vol5 pg27.
  • The ability to search by geographical area, by using one of the eight cardinal compass points in your search term, i.e. N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW.
  • A subject search which allows you to search for pages which are discussing a particular topic but which may not mention the exact word. The system looks at the words you type into the search box and tries to deduce any subjects you might be interested in or you can include the subjects directly. The full list of subjects can be found on the How to get the most out of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland online page. This functionality is a little experimental at the moment, so it would be great to get any feedback on this feature.
  • The ability to search the related resources, with access to these available from the main search results page. Please note that related resources, such as digitised versions of Sinclair’s Specimens of Statistical Accounts (1793) and Analysis of the Statistical Account of Scotland (1825-1826) and related surveys such as the Stow Census, are only available to subscribers.
  • Associated words which is another experimental feature that may present words that frequently appear in proximity to your search terms. If your search term returns a box of associated word you can click on these words to explore terms related to those you are interested in.
A screen-shot of a search results page form teh Statistical Accounts of Scotland Online

Search results page showing a number of features of the new service. Screen-shot captured from the Statistical Accounts of Scotland Online on Wednesday 30th November 2016.

County and Parish Pages

We also wanted to make it easier to search for material that is related to specific places, and tried to do this by bringing together information on each parish or county on one dedicated page. These can be navigated to using the maps, as well as the search box. These pages present all the content we have that is related to that county or parish, alongside a county or parish map and a brief description, extracted from the text. From here, you can view the map in high resolution, navigate to the county page if you are on a parish page, or navigate to one of the accounts or resources related to the parish if you are on a parish page.

We hope that the improved functionality and re-design of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland will both allow you to find the relevant information quickly and to explore other related information easily. Try the new features and discover more about Scotland’s counties and parishes.

More information on all the features mentioned above, as well as others, can be found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland Help Pages and the How to get the most out of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland online page. If you have any comments or queries please contact the EDINA Help Desk (edina@ed.ac.uk).

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Oct 312016
 

In our last post we revealed some of the Halloween customs detailed in the Statistical Accounts, including some spooky ghost stories.  Although superstitious beliefs seem to have been receding during the late Eighteenth Century, there are nevertheless many accounts of another devilish figure in the accounts: the witch. Such stories give us a real insight into what people in the eighteenth century and earlier believed in and how they dealt with alleged witches.

In Tongland, County of Kircudbright, the lower classes “firmly believed in ghosts, hobgoblins, fairies, elves, witches and wizards. There ghosts and spirits often appeared to them at night. They used many charms and incantations to preserve themselves, their cattle and houses, from the malevolence of witches, wizards, and evil spirits, and believed in the beneficial effects of these charms.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 328)

Several places are mentioned in the Statistical Accounts where witches were burnt. These include: near the Old Castle of Langholm in the County of Dumfries, where some of the witches here acted as midwives and had the power to transfer labour pains from the mother to the father! (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p.421); a hill in the parish of Mordington, County of Berwick, called Witch’s Know (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 187); another Witch’s Know in Gask, County of Perth (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 282); and an upright granite stone located in the parish of New Monkland, County of Lanark, “where it is said, in former times, they burned those imaginary criminals, called witches” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 280).

A watercolour 'The Three Witches of Macbeth' by John Downman.

The Three Witches of Macbeth, 1824. John Downman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spott in the County of Haddington was renowned as a habitation for witches (NSA, Vol. II, 1845 – p.227).  In October 1705, “many witches were burnt on the top of Spott Loan” and indeed it is generally believed that the last witch who was executed in Scotland was burnt at Spott; a stone commemorative of the event, marking the place of execution, is to be seen a little way to the cast of the manse. It was also here in Spott, in 1698, where the trial of Marion Lillie, otherwise known as the Rigwoody Witch, took place (OSA, Vol. V, 1793 – p 454).

Indeed, you can find a number of accounts of trials for witchcraft in the Statistical Accounts. The most complete report of a trial is that of the Trial of William Coke and Alison Dick for Witchcraft on September 17th 1633, which is found in the accounts for Kirkaldy, County of Fife, OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796 – p.656 to 662.

Other witches are mentioned too, such as  the Bargarran Witches who were seven men and women accused of bewitching a young woman in the parish of Erskine, County of Renfrew (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p.507 to 508 and p.122). Other renowned witches are Lillias Adie who, in 1704, was accused of witchcraft and “afterwards died in the jail of Dunfermline, and was buried within the flood-mark between the villages of Torryburn and Torrie” (Torryburn, County of Fife, NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 732) and Gorm Shuil, or blue-eyed, a famous witch from Laggan in the County of Inverness “who was such an adept in her profession that she could transform herself and others into hares, and crows, raise hurricanes from any quarter of the compass she pleased, and perform other wonderful exploits, too tedious to mention” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 426).

There is a really interesting piece by Sir John Sinclair on the Castle of Dunsinnan or Dunsinane and the probability that William Shakespeare had collected here its traditions on Macbeth to use it in his celebrated play! (Collace, County of Perth, OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p.242)

Witches also had a hand in the formation of the Castle of Dumbarton! It seems that Kilpatrick, a village in Dumbartonshire, both derives its name from, and gave birth to, the celebrated saint of Ireland, Patrick. The Devil was so incensed at Patrick’s sanctity and success in preaching the gospel that he:

sent a band of witches against him; that the weird-sisters fell upon him so furiously, that he was forced to seek safety by flight; that finding a little boat near the mouth of the Clyde, he went into it and set off for Ireland; that they seeing it impossible to pursue him, for it seems they were not of that class of witches who can skim along the waters in an egg shell, or ride
through the air on a broom stick, tore a huge piece of a rock from a neighbouring hill, and hurled it, with deadly purpose, after him; but that, missing their aim, the ponderous mass
fell harmless, and afterwards, with a little addition from art, formed the Castle of Dumbarton.

(Kilpatrick-New, County of Dumbarton, OSA, Vol. VII, 1793 – p. 99)

An engraving of Dumbarton Castle by William Miller.

Dumbarton Castle (Rawlinson 518) engraving by William Miller after Turner. Created 1 January 1836. [William Miller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

So how were suspected witches actually dealt with? In 1563 the Scottish Witchcraft Act was passed which made both the practice of witchcraft and consulting with witches capital offences. There were many more witch prosecutions in Scotland (an estimated 4,000 to 6,000) than in England at this time. Most trials took place in secular courts and later taken over by kirk sessions, with the majority being held in the Scottish Lowlands. During 1596-97, there was an active inquiry in the County of Aberdeen when several Commissioners from the region were appointed by his Majesty “to tackle and apprehend witches, sorceraris, consultaris, and traffiquaris with witches”. (Leochel, County of Aberdeen, NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 1123)

In Forfar there was “a witch-pricker called John Ford who was sent for to prick witches, and was admitted as a burgess, on the same day with Lord Kinghorn. The bridle which was placed in the mouths of the witches condemned to be burned, and with which they were fastened to the stake, is preserved in the burgh.” Also, the field in which the witches suffered is pointed out to strangers as a curiosity (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 524). Those people charged with witchcraft were brought to trial in Forfar by a special commission appointed by the Crown in 1661. Interestingly, ‘the records of these trials were preserved and contained many curious statements; but it has recently been amissing.’ (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p.695)

In Gladsmuir, County of Haddington, (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 188) “the Lord Commissioner and Lords of the Articles, after bearing the petition, granted a commission for putting to death such of the above persons as were found guilty of witchcraft by confession, and for trying the others, which, if we may credit tradition, was put into execution”.

In the parish of Torryburn it is even reported that the first Presbyterian minister after the Revolution “Mr Logan’s great hobby appears to have been the prosecution of witches” and on April 4, 1709, Helen Kay was rebuked before the congregation for having said that the minister “was daft,” when she ” heard him speak against the witches”! (Torryburn, County of Fife, NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 732)

It is actually frightening to think that people from judges to the parish elite had the power to put to death those accused of witchcraft based on such questionable evidence as witch-pricking and confessions forced under duress (torture and sleep deprivation). Thankfully, by the seventeenth century there was a growing scepticism of witchcraft and by the time Scotland became part of the Commonwealth with England and Ireland in 1652 there was a marked decline in witch trials and prosecutions. It is both a fascinating and troubled period of Scotland’s history, and the traces of this time that are to be found in the Statistical Accounts are well worth exploring.

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Oct 282016
 

Halloween is approaching and the nights are drawing in. So this is the perfect time to discover some spooky stories and supernatural superstitions reported in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. There certainly are plenty!

Celebrating Halloween

Even though Halloween is widely believed to be more of an American tradition, there is a long tradition of celebrating All Hallows Eve in Scotland, and there are mentions of Halloween in both Statistical Accounts. One example is that of the parish of Logierait, County of Perth, (OSA, Vol. V, 1793 – p84) where the evening of the 31st October was marked by a special fire ceremony:

Heath, broom, and dressings of flax, are tied upon a pole: This faggot is then kindled; one takes it upon his shoulders, and running, bears it round the village; a crowd attend: When the first faggot is burnt out, a second is bound to the pole, and kindled in the same manner as before. Numbers of these blazing faggots are often carried about together, and when the night happens to be dark, they form a splendid illumination.

In the parish of Cullen, County of Banff, Halloween celebrations were sporty and involved the young people of the community and surrounding districts playing games, such as football, running, throwing the hammer and playing bowls (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845 – p.331). Unfortunately, bowls, which was played by rolling or throwing a cannon ball, was later forbidden by magistrates as one year a man was accidentally killed by the ball! By 1845 the parishioners kept to playing golf, shinty, football and target shooting.

However, not everyone amused themselves with games and pagan ceremonies for Halloween. In the parishes of Broughton, Glenholm, and Kilbucho in Peebles, people observed Halloween with “a kind of religious scrupulosity”. (NSA, Vol. III, 1845 – p.89)

Ghosts

There are some amazing ghost stories in the Statistical Accounts. In one of my favourites, funeral mourners battle it out to ensure that their deceased loved one is not burdened with ghostly duties:

In one division of this county, where it was believed that the ghost of the person last buried kept the gate of the church-yard ’till relieved by the’ next victim of death, a singular scene occurred when two burials were to take place in one church yard on the same day. Both parties staggered forward as fast as possible to consign their respective friend in the first place to the dust. If they met at the gate, the dead were thrown down, ’till the living decided by blows whose ghost should be condemned to porter it.

(Appendix for Monquhitter, County of Aberdeen, OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 144)

In another, an unfaithful lover asks for help to posthumously fulfil a vow:

About the middle of the last century, a man was buried in the island. For several nights after, the dead man disturbed the whole neighbourhood in Glenco, calling in a most dolorous strain, on a certain individual, to come and to relieve him. The man at last set off for the island, in the dead hour of night, and having arrived at the grave, found the dead man with his head and neck fairly above the ground: “What is your business with me,” says the Glenco man “and why are you disturbing the neighbourhood with your untimely lamentations after this fashion?” “I have not,” says the dead man, “rest night or day since I lay here, nor shall I as long as this head is on my body; I shall give you the reason. In younger days I swore most solemnly, that I would marry a certain woman, and that I never would forsake her, as long as this head remained on my body. At this time I had hold of a button, and the moment we parted, I separated the head of the button from the neck, thinking that then all was right. I now find my mistake. You must therefore, cut off my head.” The other, fetching a stroke, cut off the head close to the surface of the ground; and then the dead man dragged the rest of the body back to the grave, leaving the head to shift for itself. This story is as firmly believed in Glenco this day, by some people, as any truth of holy writ.

(Laggan, County of Inverness, NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 427)

You could not make up better stories! Obviously, there are many more mentions of, ghosts and all other kinds of supernatural happenings which you could search for in the Statistical Accounts.  It’s interesting to note that in both the Old and New Statistical Accounts such stories were reported with a sceptical tone as the folk tales of previous generations or as outmoded superstitions: perhaps this illustrates a growing faith in Enlightenment rationality, but it is equally likely that the Christian ministers who compiled the accounts simply refused to accept that their parishioners continued to hold ‘heathen’ beliefs. In any case, these fantastical stories and superstitions have been handed down from generation to generation, and the accounts themselves continue this process. They are part of the history of Scotland and so it is wonderful that these stories have not been lost.

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Apr 112016
 

In October 1795, Sir John Sinclair asked Rev. Robert Douglas of Galashiels to “assist the Board of Agriculture” by updating and republishing the County Surveys of Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire. Sinclair had been frustrated at the eccentric diversity of styles employed by the various contributors to the first phase of the Statistical Account, and he now sought to standardise according to the model of his favourite: the Midlothian survey. He hoped that Douglas would contribute his local knowledge to a national statistical survey, by copying the format, structure, and style of a prototype. However, the production of this survey, and in particular the production of the map it contained, illustrates just how challenging such standardisation could be.

Map of Roxburghshire, from the General View of the Agriculture in the Counties of Roxburgh and Selkirk (1798). Photo by the author.

Map of Roxburghshire, from the General View of the Agriculture in the Counties of Roxburgh and Selkirk (1798). Photo by the author.

By January 1798, Douglas’s reports were completed and published, alongside a map of each county, in a single volume: General View of the Agriculture in the Counties of Roxburgh and Selkirk, with Observations on the Means of Their Improvement. To produce the maps, Douglas engaged the professional assistance of the Edinburgh-based mapmaker John Ainslie. Ainslie has been called “virtually the Master-General of Scotland’s national survey”. He was employed to prepare maps of a number of Scotland’s southern counties, at the indirect behest of Sinclair, to illustrate the various Surveys in the late 1790s. In some cases, where the county had already been surveyed in recent decades, Ainslie’s task was merely to copy pre-existing maps. In the case of Roxburghshire, Ainslie used a pantographer to reduce Matthew Stobie’s 1770 map of the county. Ainslie wrote to Douglas in May 1797:

I have perused the coloured map of the County [of Roxburghshire] and has [sic] begun Engraving a new Plate by reducing Stobies map exactly and have put in the villages and Towns from the map you sent onto me. I am at the greatest loss about the Hills. You complain of them being too dark, if I had done them for another county they would have been reckoned too light. I am doing the County of Kirkudbright just now and the people concern’d about it finds great fault because the hills are not dark enough altho much bolder than your map they have actually given me orders to make every one of them stronger before I get them done as they want they will be very dark indeed.

So Ainslie had trouble standardising the topographical features on his county maps, as he found that different counties’ hills required different treatment. In the same letter he refers to the map of Selkirkshire as “totally hills which is the most tedious of all engraving”.

In the preface of his General View, Douglas felt obliged to explain the different cartographic rationales that informed the maps of Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire:

In that [map] of Roxburghshire, nothing is inserted, but the names of parishes, towns, villages, such places as are mentioned in the work, and a few on the confines which jut out into other counties. With regard to Selkirkshire, there being few parish churches or villages, and not many farms deserving particular notice in an agricultural view, had the same rule been rigidly followed, a large track of it would have appeared uninhabited; to prevent which, the seats of the residing proprietors, the places from whence others take their titles, and some of the most extensive farms, are named in the map

In some cases, the imperfect science of hill-mapping led to debates about a hill’s very existence. Douglas had sought advice about possible “alterations and additions” to Ainslie’s draft map of Roxburghshire. He sent a manuscript copy to a number of correspondents, who took it out into the field to test its accuracy. James Arkle, minister for Castletown in the southern tip of Roxburghshire, wrote to Douglas with his own opinions on Ainslie’s map:

I received yours with the Map of the County inclosed which I now return and shall with pleasure give such answers to your enquiries as my information enables me… I have… carried the map along with me thro’ the parish and have compared it with the real situation of the Country by occular [sic] inspection. The line is drawn with ink separating the moor from the green pasture as accurately as possible. We are not of Mr Olivers opinion as to the nonexistence of the hill he has crossed. It lies between Thorlishope and Peel, tho’ not high when compared with the others near it, yet it rises to a considerable height. I cannot say that I am able to mark the hills by name as they appear on your map. If you have a copy of Stobies Map of County, I believe they are distinctly pointed out on it.

“Mr Oliver” had been given first look at Ainslie’s map, which was a reduced version of Stobie’s, and had crossed out a hill. Clearly Arkle disagreed with his assessment, on the basis of his own subjective “occular inspection.” The hill in question lay northeast of Thorlishope, and is represented by a faint fingerprint-like symbol on Stobie’s map.

Detail from Matthew Stobie's Map of Roxburghshire or Tiviotdale (1770). The hill in question is the section of shading north of Thorlishope. Image: NLS.

Detail from Matthew Stobie’s Map of Roxburghshire or Tiviotdale (1770). The hill in question is the section of shading north of Thorlishope. Image: NLS.

It is absent from the map ultimately published with Douglas’s General View, whereas the nearby hills northwest of Dawstane are clearly defined on it. It was not until later in the nineteenth century that the Ordnance Survey used contours to standardise hill-sketching.

In the meantime, the status and depiction of hills varied from map to map, depending on the criteria and propensities of the mapmaker(s), or on the subjective “occular inspection” of a chain of informants. This meant that, on the maps of the Statistical Account, a hill of a certain height in one county was not necessarily a hill in another. Therefore, Sinclair’s desire for standardised surveys according to one archetypical model was necessarily thwarted.

 

 Philip Dodds, School of Geosciences University of Edinburgh
Twitter: @PA_Dodds

We hope you have enjoyed this post: it is characteristic of the rich historical material available within the ‘Related Resources’ section of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service. Featuring essays, maps, illustrations, correspondence, biographies of compliers, and information about Sir John Sinclair’s other works, the service provides extensive historical and bibliographical detail to supplement our full-text searchable collection of the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Statistical Accounts.

Sources

Robert Douglas’s correspondence, quoted here, is in the National Library of Scotland: MS.3117.

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Mar 152016
 

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Lothian Family History Society, who meet just outside Edinburgh in the Lasswade Centre. It was a lovely opportunity to meet some of the people who have interests in the Statistical Accounts, and another chance for me to delve into the content of the Statistical Accounts and explore the kind of interesting descriptive details they contain. A great deal can be gleaned about our ancestors in the late 18th and early 19th century through these reports.  I thought it would be fun to focus on the parish in which we were present, so had a look at the two Lasswade accounts.

Lizars Map of the County of Edinburgh, published with the Second Account (vol 1)

Lizars Map of the County of Edinburgh, published with the Second Account (vol 1)

The name Lasswade “signifies a well-watered pasture of common use”,* according to the Rev. M. Campbell MacKenzie, who complied the parish report for the second account. And well it might, given the position of Lasswade directly on the river Esk, in what is now the green belt around Edinburgh.

In the first account, we learn that the population in 1791 was more than 3000 inhabitants, so the village was a good size. There is plenty of work: agriculture is thriving and bleachfields, coal mining and paper making are the main (non-agricultural) industries with 260 people employed in the latter two. Around 150 women are employed as coal bearers underground. Only 50 people were claiming poor relief: the income from the church collection and fees (for weddings etc.), we learn, was supplemented by the heritors of the village:  “This mode they prefer widely to an assessment, a measure which ought always to be avoided, if possible, as it never fails to increase the number of claimants. There is a laudable spirit in the common people of this country, which keeps them from applying for aid out of the poor funds, so long as they can do anything from themselves. This arises from the apprehension that these funds depend for their supply solely on the voluntary contributions at the church door.” One of the common pastimes, the minister notes, is gardening: “the attention of the gardener is chiefly directed to the cultivation of strawberries, than which he has not a surer or more profitable crop […] It may be observed that it was in this parish that strawberries were first raised in any quantities for the public market.” So one of Lasswade’s claims to fame might be as the home of the commercially grown strawberry!

Half a century later, in 1841, Lasswade had a population of 5022: it had not quite doubled in size, but it had certainly increased. The growing parish had also been divided into two by this point, at least quoad sacra  (in a spiritual sense) but ‘temporal matters’, quoad civilia, were still common to both. Manufacturing in the area is now dominated by paper (c. 300 people) and carpets (c. 100 people). But despite the growing populace, and the 75 on the roll, and a considerable number of people who receive occasional assistance. There is an assessment, so the Heritors have evidently given up on their custom of supplementing the Church collections, which is perhaps unsurprising given the 50% increase in claimants. Gardening continues: “vegetation is both early and luxuriant” and by this time, we learn, the green charms of the area have rendered “the village of Lasswade a place of considerable resort to the inhabitants of Edinburgh and Leith numbers of whom annually spend the summer months in this delightful locality.”  Perhaps in keeping with its growing reputation as a notable locale in the area, the Lasswade report in the second account devotes a significant proportion of its pages to discussion of the lives of ’eminent characters’ and fascinating antiquities. The former include the poet William Drummond of Hawthornden, Mr Clerk of Eldin, author of an important essay on naval tactics, and the late Lord Melville. The latter feature notable sights such as the caves below Hawthornden which could hold upwards of 60 men and were used to conceal troops during “the contest between Bruce and Baliol” and “the famous sycamore tree which is called the fours sisters and is about 24 feet in circumference at the base. It was under this tree that Drummond the poet was sitting when his friend Ben Jonson arrived from London, and hence it is also called Ben Jonson’s tree.” Such points of historical interest might appeal to the kind of metropolitan visitor that Lasswade was now attracting, and – like the second account report for neighbouring Roslin, which is given over almost entirely to a description of the ornamental chapel – it reads more like a tourist guide than a survey of the people and the land!

 

*All quotations in this post are taken from the Lasswade parish reports, which appear in the OSA, Volume 10 p. 227 – 288 and the NSA Vol 1, p. 323 – 337

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Dec 182015
 

Christmas tree, from ‘Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Register... being a supplement to the almanacs; containing […] much useful information connected with the counties of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk’ Published in Kelso, by J. and J.H. Rutherfurd, in 1858

Christmas tree, from ‘Rutherfurd’s Southern Counties Register… being a supplement to the almanacs; containing […] much useful information connected with the counties of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk’ Published in Kelso, by J. and J.H. Rutherfurd, in 1858 (courtesy of the National Library of Scotland)

Christmas is coming and, while the goose is getting fat, the Edina elves will be sharing some of the festive traditions described in the accounts on twitter and Facebook. As we head into the festive season, we’re also pleased to be able to share here some of our plans for the redevelopment of the Statistical Accounts online service. Our engineers have been working hard over the last few months, and behind the scenes we’ve made great progress on developing a robust technical framework and organising the metadata. We’ve also made significant headway with what will be the new interface. Users of the refreshed service will benefit from:

  • an improved search mechanism, which will be much more flexible than the current search tool, include new features such as ‘related terms’, and offer more efficient ways of filtering and sorting results
  • new map features which allow alternative navigation to and through the accounts, and which help readers to geographically locate the parish they are reading about
  • new modes of presenting contextual information, such as introductions to counties and parishes, and new modes of showcasing the content of the accounts through changing exhibitions
  • revised help texts and case studies that help you get the most out of the service
  • improved citation assistance

We’re currently working on a prototype, which will allow for user testing over the next six months, and we hope to launch the refreshed service in the late summer of 2016. If you’d like to give us feedback on the current service, or to be involved in the user testing of the new service, then please drop us a line at edina@ed.ac.uk.

So with that good news, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hogmanay!

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Oct 282015
 

‘As recently as the 1970s, deaf history did not exist,’ writes John Vickery Van Cleve (Deaf History Unveiled, 2002), pointing out how, until recently, the history of deaf people and their lives had been overlooked as a viable area of study. Such neglect is a shame, because deaf history can be fascinating. What it encompasses is as varied as the different degrees of hearing loss; the word ‘deaf’ can be applied to every point on the audiological spectrum between mildly hard-of-hearing and profoundly deaf, and the experience of someone who was deafened in old age (and who has participated in majority ‘hearing’ culture all their lives) is entirely different to that of a person born completely deaf. While the former almost certainly experiences hearing loss as a loss, the latter may not see their deafness that way – it hasn’t been lost, since it was never there in the first case. Deaf people for whom speech is inaccessible are also more likely to use a sign language, which, as languages which have developed naturally in deaf communities across the world, are grammatically distinct from (but as complex as) spoken languages.[1] The lives of these deaf people and their communities are particularly absent from the historical record: sign languages are minority languages with no written form and thus no primary source material exists before the invention of film. There are few accounts written in English by deaf people themselves, as formal deaf education only began in Britain in 1760 and very few deaf children received an education until the mid-19th century. So-called ‘deaf and dumb’ or ‘deaf-mute’ people were typically pitied, disparaged or simply overlooked, and so deaf people were seldom written about by (hearing) record keepers in any detail, if at all. It is, Van Cleve continues, ‘as though the world in which deaf people grew up, married, worked, procreated, and educated their children was somehow unrelated to the larger world inhabited by people who hear.’ Trying to find evidence of deaf lives throughout history, and especially before the second half of the 19th century, can be a challenge; as with the histories of other minorities, we often have to seek tantalising details hidden in the historical record and extrapolate a wider picture from these.

It was in this vein that the Old (First) and New (Second) Statistical Accounts of Scotland came to mind. For the last five years, I have taught on a course at the University of Edinburgh where the Statistical Accounts form the basis of the students’ written assessment – and, as my students will testify, my enthusiasm for the Accounts and the nuggets of localised social history they contain is, if anything, growing in intensity. So when I became interested in sign languages and the history of deaf communities, I immediately wondered whether there were any mentions of local deaf people in the Old and the New Accounts; thanks to the ‘search all text’ function, I was able to find them. There weren’t very many: out of 938 parishes, only four in the Old Statistical Account of 1791-99 (OSA) and 67 in the New Statistical Account of 1834-45 (NSA) mention ‘deaf and dumb’ people. Nor were these mentions very detailed: most merely state the number living in the parish, sometimes lumped in with other so-called ‘unfortunate’ demographics, as in the parish of Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire, which claimed seven ‘insane, fatuous, blind, deaf, dumb’ (NSA). Yet throughout the Accounts there are small glimpses of deaf lives that provide a useful springboard from which to investigate and piece together deaf history in the 18th and 19th centuries.

'Dumbie House where Thomas Braidwood established the first school for deaf children, ‘Braidwood's Academy for The Deaf and Dumb’ in 1760: By courtesy of Edinburgh City Libraries'

‘Dumbie House where Thomas Braidwood established the first school for deaf children, ‘Braidwood’s Academy for The Deaf and Dumb’ in 1760: By courtesy of Edinburgh City Libraries’

One example from the OSA comes from the parish of Aberdalgie in Perthshire. The minister writes that the local schoolmaster, Mr Peddie, had ‘acquired without any instructor, the rare talent of communicating knowledge to the deaf and dumb’ and had been teaching one ‘deaf and dumb’ boy from the parish. The boy had ‘never had another teacher’ – unsurprisingly, since the first school for the deaf, Thomas Braidwood’s Academy for the Deaf and Dumb (established in Edinburgh in 1760), had moved to London in 1783; there would be no other deaf school in Scotland before the Edinburgh Institution for the Deaf and Dumb was established in 1810. The solution in Aberdalgie appears to have worked well: Mr Peddie is described in glowing terms, and the young boy ‘has made a very great proficiency under him’ and ‘can read, write, and solve any question in the common rules of arithmetic, as well as most boys of his age who do not labour under his disadvantages.’

Education also features in the NSA. The Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow Institutions for the Deaf and Dumb were established early in the 19th century, yet these schools were expensive and over-subscribed. In the parish of Dunfermline in Fife, Rev. Peter Chalmers wrote in the NSA that, having been unable to raise enough money to send local deaf children to one of the Institutions, he had organised an ‘experiment’ in a local school:

A few years ago, four or five deaf and dumb children, belonging to the parish, were taught in Rolland School for two years and a half, by a deaf and dumb young woman … who had previously received a good education in the Edinburgh Institution.

Whereas it was (and is) often assumed that deaf education must be conducted by non-deaf tutors, Chalmers’ experiment had a young woman, Janet Robb, running an early prototype of a deaf unit in a mainstream school, working alongside but separately from the school’s main, hearing teacher of the non-deaf pupils. Although Chalmers’ experiment did not last long due to a lack of books and resources, he describes it as ‘succeed[ing] far beyond his expectations’, and declares himself convinced of the ‘entire practicability of the deaf and dumb teaching others.’ Chalmers was later able to send some of the children to the Glasgow Institution where they ‘made very rapid progress in their farther education, and in religious knowledge and character.’ Furthermore, in his self-authored, two-volume Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline (1844-1859), he claims that the Rolland School experiment directly inspired Edinburgh’s Deaf and Dumb Day School, which was established in 1836 by a deaf, sign language-using teacher, Alexander Drysdale, and catered to poorer children than could attend the Edinburgh Institution. Drysdale and Janet Robb had been schoolmates, and Chalmers reports that she and some of her pupils were invited to visit the fledgling school for three months, to encourage the pupils and to participate in the capital’s deaf community.

Rural deaf communities are harder to spot; eastern Fife may have had one, as, in the NSA, twenty ‘deaf and dumb’ people (including members of three deaf families) were recorded in five different parishes within 15 miles of each other. One Fife parish, Kilconquhar, is the only example where both the OSA and the NSA mention deaf parishioners; in the OSA, they are described as ‘abundantly sensible and active, and attend public worship regularly.’ Another rural example comes from the west coast, where the NSA for Portpatrick gives an insight into the lives of two ‘blind, deaf and dumb’ (or deaf-blind) siblings, living in a parish that included four other ‘deaf and dumb’ people. The 73-year-old sister and 66-year-old brother were both born deaf, but had been become blind in their 40s – possibly due to the genetic condition we now call Usher Syndrome. Deaf-blind people often use a tactile form of their sign language called ‘hands-on’, which is what Portpatrick’s minister may have meant when he wrote that the siblings ‘can be made to understand by means of touch what their friends find it necessary to communicate to them for their bodily comfort and personal safety.’ Their lives are described in a few short lines:

He can attend to the fire to supply it with fuel when it is required. She is remarkably particular as to her dress. Both can be made to understand when any one is present with whom they have formerly been acquainted; and when they are informed that the minister is present, they compose themselves, and assume a grave and serious aspect.

Outside official school and institutional records, it can be difficult to find details relating to the lives of ordinary deaf people, yet, as the Statistical Accounts of Scotland show, the details can be there beneath the surface, tantalising and incomplete. Human diversity has been a constant throughout history, and the lens through which we view history is forever widening beyond the traditional fixation with ‘the great and good’ to include the social history of working people, of women, of ethnic and other minorities – in short, to include the voices that may not have been heard or, in the case of deaf history, seen. There have been deaf people negotiating living in a hearing world throughout history and, although the record is vague, deaf lives can often be found hidden in the pages of ‘hearing’ documents. Through these, deaf history can be brought into existence.

Ella Leith

We hope you have enjoyed this post: it is characteristic of the rich historical material available within the ‘Related Resources’ section of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service. Featuring essays, maps, illustrations, correspondence, biographies of compliers, and information about Sir John Sinclair’s other works, the service provides extensive historical and bibliographical detail to supplement our full-text searchable collection of the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Statistical Accounts.

 

[1] Although we have no record of the signs they used, we know that deaf people were signing together in Ancient Greece, in the Scottish royal court in the 15th century, and in England and France in the 16th century. Today, British Sign Language (BSL) is used across the British Isles; however, throughout this blog I use the terms ‘sign language’ and ‘signing’ rather than referring to BSL, because the signs used in the 18th and 19th centuries may have differed considerably from the language as it is today.

Sources

Anthony Boyce and Pam Bruce, Loyal and True: The Life and Times of Alexander Drysdale (1812-1880) (Winsford: Deafprint, 2011)

Rev. Peter Chalmers, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline (London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1844-1859)

John Hay, Deaf Edinburgh: The Heritage Trail (Warrington: British Deaf History Society 2015)

Peter Jackson, Britain’s Deaf Heritage (Edinburgh: Pentland Press, 1990)

John Vickery Van Cleve, Deaf History Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University press, 1993)

Old Statistical Account: parishes of Aberdalgie, Kilconquar

New Statistical Account: parishes of Dunfermline, Kilbarchan, Portpatrick

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Oct 052015
 

A few weeks ago, we took the Statistical Accounts to the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Beltane network’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. Board member Helen Aiton and EDINA’s Nicola Osborne wrote and presented ‘Back to the Statistical Future’, a delorian-powered tour that brought to light some uncanny parallels between the historical world of the accounts and contemporary Scotland.  We posted about the show at the time, and we’re now pleased to be able to make this recording available.

We hope the video will give you a sense of the rich historical detail to be found in the accounts and prompt you to browse the service to find out more!

We’re keen to introduce as many audiences as possible to the unique resource that is the Statistical Accounts of Scotland:  if you’d be interested in having us come along and talk at an event you are organising, please get in touch.

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Sep 142015
 

Perhaps particularly in a post-Christian society it is stereotypes we live with, rather than the nuanced reality of religion. Listening to the thoughts of ministers by reading the Old Statistical Accounts has challenged one of these for me recently. We are all familiar with the notion of religion’s hostility to folk culture. The story of John MacDonald, born in 1779 and brought up in Reay, on the north coast, demonstrates this perfectly.

He early manifested an intense love for music, and even in his boyhood acquired considerable skill in subduing into melody for Celtic ears the wild sounds of the bagpipe. This was his favourite instrument; and on leaving home for college in 1797 [in Aberdeen] it was carefully packed in his trunk, and doubtless furnished many a pleasant interlude amidst the busy studies of the session.

However the young man, son of a Church of Scotland catechist, was becoming increasingly committed to his faith.

Poltalloch Harp, West Highland Museum

Poltalloch Harp, Courtesy of West Highland Museum

Before the following session higher matters began to occupy his attention, and the pipe was that year left purposely behind. His father, in order to try him, wrote to inquire what would be done with the pipe. “Just what you think right,” was his answer, well knowing what treatment his idol was likely to receive at his father’s hands. The old man no sooner received this license from his son than he went to fetch the pipe from its place, and laying it on the block, he plied with right good-will the axe on its chanters.

The fingers of all musicians will tighten a little on their mouse as they read that. Young John became an influential preacher, down in Ferintosh on the Black Isle, and beloved to many across the Highlands. But he didn’t feel that music and his brand of faith were compatible. It seems that as people became more religious, affected by the Evangelical movement in the late 1700s in Sutherland and Ross-shire, and in the early 1800s on the west coast, that they rejected their music and the telling of the old stories. The poet Derick Thomson likens Calvinism to a scarecrow; a ‘tall, thin black-haired man’ who ‘took the goodness out of the music’ replacing it with ‘a new song’ and ‘fragments of the philosophy of Geneva’. Thomson is ambivalent about this religious legacy, but is sure it was hostile to folk culture.

The ministers writing in the Statistical Accounts were not all John MacDonalds nor did they all usher in scarecrows. Many record local leisure activities neutrally, even positively. The minister of Islay noted that ‘dance and the song, with shinty and putting the stone, are their chief amusements. Numbers of them play well upon the violin and the bagpipe.’ In Coll and Tiree the people composed and sang songs, told Fingalian tales, and held ‘dancing assemblies at different farms in turn.’ The minister in Thurso fancied himself an expert on fiddle and pipe music. He found ‘the Highland reels are played particularly well … in Caithness; but the proper slow bagpipe tunes and marches, are not given in that perfection here, which seems almost peculiar to the West Highland pipers.’

A few used folk culture to lament changing times. On the south shores of the Dornoch Firth, the minister romanticised the people of Kincardine. They were apparently moral, hospitable, agile, inquisitive, ‘fond of information’ (which I suspect means gossipy!) and ‘extremely patient under hunger, cold, and other distresses, from which their southern neighbours would shrink with horror.’ However he felt all was not well and used the decline in ceilidh culture to emphasise this. ‘The tale, the song, and the dance, do not, as in the days of their fathers, gild the horrors of the winter night.’ He blames this on the rise of legal distilling. The minister of Strachur, Argyllshire, went further. He used a romanticised vision of the past and a perceived cultural decline in music and poetry to subtly criticise the landlord for introducing commercial sheepfarming.

800px-Allan-highlandwedding1780

David Allan ‘Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl’ featuring the famous fiddler Neil Gow (1780).

This positive clerical view is not the whole story. In Stromness the minister saw the connection between ‘sottish enjoyment of drinking’ and music and dancing. His neighbour in North Ronaldsay worried about fifty of his parishioners who gathered at some prehistoric cairns on New Year’s Day for ‘dancing with moon light, with no other music than their own singing.’ The connection of music, dancing and community get-togethers with drinking and with ancient spiritual beliefs gave many ministers cause for reflection.

My study is not meant to suggest that the church, particularly Evangelical Calvinism in the way it was absorbed and put into practice in Scotland, has nothing to repent of in its frequently invidious effect on local culture. But the more I look, the more Jackson Pollock-like becomes the picture. John MacDonald was not the only influential religious leader to throw out the musical baby with its bathwater. Yet ministers were not doctrinal automatons. For as many as saw moral dangers in the old stories and the new tunes, others were neutral, enthusiastic or even sentimental about folk culture.

Of course there may be another reason ministers living in draughty manses supported musicians. In Ronaldsay the music of the piper, it was said, was capable of banishing rats!

 

Dr Elizabeth Ritchie, Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands

We hope you have enjoyed this post: it is characteristic of the rich historical material available within the ‘Related Resources’ section of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service. Featuring essays, maps, illustrations, correspondence, biographies of compliers, and information about Sir John Sinclair’s other works, the service provides extensive historical and bibliographical detail to supplement our full-text searchable collection of the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Statistical Accounts.

Sources:

John Kennedy, The ‘Apostle of the North’: the Life and Labours of the Rev. Dr. M’Donald, (Toronto: J. Campbell, 1866)

Derick Thomson, ‘The Scarecrow’, quoted in Malcolm Chapman, The Gaelic Vision in Scottish Culture (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1978)

Old Statistical Account: parishes of Kilchoman, Tiree and Coll, Thurso, Strachur and Stralachan, Stromness, North Ronaldshay

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Aug 272015
 

As always, August in Edinburgh is abuzz with lots of exciting theatre and shows. We were delighted to have the opportunity to present our own show again this year, once more as part of the Beltane network’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. Written and presented by EDINA’s Nicola Osborne and Helen Aiton, a member of the Statistical Accounts editorial board, ‘Back to the Statistical Future’ explored parallels between the ‘New’ Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1834-1845) and our contemporary cultural and political contexts. The wonderful comedian Susan Morrison was master of ceremonies and ‘minister of the parish’ as the discussion ranging over topics such as education, social deprivation and welfare and libraries.

2015-08-26 15.40.21

Helen Aiton, Nicola Osborne and Susan Morrison on stage.

With the aid of a time machine and the fantastically-imagined ‘hover-board of social policy’ (a reference for the film buffs!) we posed the question of how different Scotland in 2015 is to Scotland in 1835. Might we be returning to a time, we asked, when libraries are only sustained by subscriptions? Is it possible that, as some of our ancestors believed, the poor are being ‘corrupted, by being taught to read and write’? As good education becomes increasingly costly and inaccessible, are our modern ‘lords and gentlemen’ motivated once more by the belief that the masses would be ‘more obedient and dutiful, were [we] more ignorant, and had no education’?

Pondering such subversive suggestions, the audience came up with some rather brilliant proposals including introducing dancing sessions to libraries, building more sustainable energy-driven social housing, allowing ordinary people to sit in parliament, and even taxing celebrities based on the column inches they generate.

Many thanks to all who made it possible, and to those who came and contributed their own dangerous ideas!

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