May 302018
 

What are the languages of Scotland? There are three official languages: English, which is the main language spoken, then the minority languages Scots, which is spoken by roughly 30% of the population and Scottish Gaelic, spoken by about 1% of the population. There are also many other languages spoken by migrant communities, such as Polish, Italian, Urdu, Punjabi and Arabic, and by people living and working in Scotland, such as French, German and Spanish. Of course, this situation hasn’t always been the case. In this series of posts on Scotland’s languages, we will look at: the country’s etymology, in particular with regard to place names; what languages people spoke at the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland; the idea of language purity; pronunciation and intonation; and the changes in languages used, including the rise of the English language.

Scotland’s etymology

The origins of Scotland itself can be found in its place names, which provide a fascinating reflection of Scotland’s history. Most, if not all, parish reports give the origin of place names found in the area. The majority of names are derived from the Gaelic language, but there are also some of Scandinavian, Scotch and Anglo-Saxon/English origin.

The Gaelic language

Scottish Gaelic, sometimes known as Erse, is a Celtic language which was originally spoken by the Gaels. At one time, this was the language of most of Scotland. In Garvock, County of Kincardine, it was reported that “indeed, the Gaelic language, though long since banished to the Highland glens and mountains of the west of Scotland, was the court language in the reign of Malcolm III. who died 1093, and spoken in a parliament held at Ardchattan in the reign of Robert (Bruce) I., who died 1329.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 40). As noted by the parish of Dunbarny, County of Perth, “most of the names of places in this district, as well as in Fife, Kinross, &c. are of Celtic origin. This need not excite surprise when we remember, that the Gaelic language was spoken, even in the lowlands of Scotland, from A.D. 843 to 1097, and to a considerably later period. Even so late as the beginning of the sixteenth century, Major the historian and Munster informs us, that one-half of the Scottish people spoke Gaelic.”(NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 807) So, it is no wonder that most place names in Scotland are Gaelic in origin. Here are some examples:

Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle – “In the former Statistical Account, the name of this parish is said to be derived from the two Gaelic words, Eilean, island, and Dia, God, written in the Gaelic Eilean Dhia, signifying God’s Island. It is, however, more likely that the name Gigha is derived from the Gaelic word Geodhap, a “creek,” since the island abounds in creeks and bays favourable for keeping boats in ; whereas the opposite coast of Kintyre, to a great extent is much exposed to the Atlantic, and without any creeks or ports where vessels could lie in safety. Cara is supposed to signify a monastery.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 394)

Kilmuir and Suddy, County of Ross and Cromarty – “All the names of the heritors places of residence in this parish, are derived from the Gaelic: Thus; Allangrange, or, Allan-Chrain, “a fertile field of corn, Suddy, or Sui-us-sbin, “a good place to settle in,” Belmaduthy, or Ball-ma-duich, “a good country town,” or Ball-ma-duth, “a good black “town,” from its being situated hard by a black moor.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 267)

Moy and Dalarossie, County of Inverness – “The names of all the places in them are evidently of Gaelic derivation, and descriptive of their situation, or some other property. Accordingly, Moy, in Gaelic, Magh, signifies a meadow or plain, which is the nature of the place; Dalarossie, or Dalfergussie, is Fergus’s valley. The ancient name is Starsach-na-gal, i. e. the Threshold of the Gaels, or Highlanders, being the pass, by which the Highlanders entered to the Low Country, so narrow between high mountains, that a few men could defend it against numbers.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 499)

Kiltarlity, County of Inverness – “The names of places are all obviously derived from the Gaelic, and are descriptive of the situation, the nature of the ground, or something remarkable near the place, by which it is distinguished. As, for example, Belladrum, in Gaelic, “Bal an drom,” “the town on the emi”nence;” Brunach, a corruption of “Breagh-achadh,” “the beautiful “field;” “Eskadale,” “the dale of the waters;” here two rivers partly surround the arable ground, and often overflow a great part of the same.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 522)

Strathblane, County of Stirling – “The parish of Strathblane takes its name from the river Blane, which rises in it, and runs through its whole extent. Blane is a contraction of two Gaelic words, signifying warm river. The literal interpretation of the word Strathblane, consequently is, “the valley of the warm river;” a name fitly appropriated to this parish, which from its situation, enjoys a peculiarly mild atmosphere.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 563)

Adam, A painting of Strathblane by Joseph Adam, and Robert Henry Roe, date unknown. Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/strathblane-83006

Strathblane by Joseph Adam, and Robert Henry Roe, date unknown. Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/strathblane-83006

Sometimes, it is not a hundred percent clear what the source of a place name is. There is a very interesting discussion on the etymology of Lanark, County of Lanark, which, in at least one quarter, was thought to be derived from the Welsh language! (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 6-9)

It is not just place names which are Gaelic. Vocabulary derived from Gaelic was also used by inhabitants of various parishes, such as Lanark:

“… Bink, a stone or green sod or seat before a door, is pure Gaelic. Cromie a cow with crooked horns, also a crooked stick, from Cromadh bended. Body, a clown or silly person, Bodach. Pluck, a carbuncle on the face, Plucain. Eirack, a chicken, Eira. Stock-in-horn, a pipe with a horn used by the shepherds, from Stoc a pipe. Kinning, a Rabbit, Coinain. Brock, a Badger, Broc. Brat, a cover or scuri, also a piece of cloth, Brat. To toom, empty, Taomam. To ding, overcome, Dingam. Glar, puddle or filth, Gaor. Ingle, the fire, Aingeal. Gairtai, garter, Gairtain. Groset, gooseberry, Grosaid. Guitar, a gullyhole, Guitar. Haggis, a dish, Taiggis. Inch, invariably used for an island, Innse or Innis. Clachan, a village, Clachan. Loch, a Lake, Loch. Carameile or Caparcile, the orobus tuberosus, being the root so much used in diet by the ancient Caledonians.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 8)

In the next post on Scotland’s languages we will look more in-depth at the languages spoken in different parishes. If you would like to find out more about the Gaelic language itself, there is a very detailed description of its grammar in the parish report for Callander, County of Perth. (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 613)

Here, it is very interesting to note that, as reported by the parish of Kildonan, County of Sutherland, many Gaelic words used in the realm of religion had their roots in the Latin spoken by the early monks,  “Almost all the words now used in the Gaelic language connected, with religious establishments, have been borrowed from there old monkish Latin used by the first Christian missionaries in the Highlands, to denote new offices terms not previously known. Thus the Gaelic of church is Eaglais, from the Latin Ecologia, the Gaelic of Bishop is Easbuig, from Episcopus; the Gaelic of abbot, is Abb, from Abbas; the Gaelic of priest is Sagart, from Sacerdos; and the Gaelic of a chapel, or the primitive resting place of a Christian missionary, was Cill, pronounced Kil, from Cella, a chapel or cellar.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 133)

Scandinavian influence

In the north of Scotland there are several parishes whose place names are Scandinavian in origin. These include:

Duirinish, County of Inverness – “There is a striking proof of the complete subjugation of the Island of Skye to the Norwegian invaders in the fact, that very many of the proper names still used in it are traceable to a Norse origin. The inhabitants have Tormoid, Harold, Olaus, and Manus,-all Norwegian names, still common among them. But it is much more remarkable than this, that nearly every farm, every hill, every stream, has a Norwegian appellation, while, at the same time, not the remotest trace of Norse can be discovered in any part of the language of the country, except the proper names.”(NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 332)

North Uist, County of Inverness – “Uist is taken from the Scandinavian word, uist, signifying west in the English language, a name given to it by the Danes, when in possession of these countries, on account of its westerly situation.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 300)

A photograph of Stromess - looking back from the ferry MV Hamnavoe towards Stromness Harbour, Mainland Orkney, Scotland.

Looking back from the ferry MV Hamnavoe towards Stromness Harbour, Mainland Orkney, Scotland. Photograph taken by <p&p>photo, 2011. [via Flickr – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]

Stromness, County of Orkney – “These islands having been so long and repeatedly in the possession of the Danes and Norwegians, many of the names of places and persons are derived from the Danish or Scandinavian language. Stromness and Sandwick are names to be found in Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. The first of these may derive its name from Strom, or Straum, and Ness; this last meaning an extended point of land, and Strom the strong side off that point. The parish of Sandwick, as well as the parish of the same name in the Shetland isles, of a similar situation, may derive its name from Sand and Wick, as there is a sandy bay on the west side of this parish, Wick signifying a bay or inlet of the sea.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 410)

Bower, County of Caithness – “The name of Bower, as of most places in this country, seems to be derived from the Danish language, and is said to denote a valley, (or what in Scotch is called a carse).” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 521)

In the County of Shetland, “the ancient language was a dialect of the Norse, being similar to what is now spoken in the Faroe Islands; but, for more than a century, it has been disused, and is now quite forgotten.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 154) However, it’s influence could still be felt. “The language is English, with the Norse accent, and many of its idioms and words. The old names of places are Scandinavian.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 156)

Again, as for Gaelic, words which were Scandinavian in origin could be found in people’s everyday vocabulary. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, “a good many words are peculiar to the north isles, and some of them are evidently of Scandinavian origin. A few are given in alphabetical order…” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 95)

Some place names also have particular stories attached to them. In the parish of Jura, County of Argyle, it was reported that “according to a tradition still believed in the Hebrides, Corryvreachkan, or the Caldron of Breachkan, received its name from a Scandinavian Prince, who, during a visit to Scotland, became enamoured of a Princess of the Isles, and sought her for his bride. Her wily father, dreading the consequences of the connection, but fearful to offend the King of Lochlin, gave his consent to their marriage, on condition that Breachkan should prove his skill and prowess by anchoring his bark for three days and three nights in the whirlpool. Too fond or too proud to shrink from the danger, he proceeded to Lochlin to make preparations for the enterprise. Having consulted the sages of his native land, he was directed to provide himself with three cables, one of hemp, one of wool, and one of woman’s hair. The first two were easily procured; and the beauty of his person, his renown as a warrior, and the courtesy of his manners had so endeared him to the damsels of his country, that they cut off their own hair to make the third, on which his safety was ultimately to depend; for the purity of female innocence gave it power to resist even the force of the waves. Thus provided, the Prince set sail from Lochlin and anchored in the gulf…” Visit the Statistical Accounts of Scotland to find out what happened next! (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 536)

English and Scotch names

In the parish of Peterhead, County of Aberdeen, there are several place names of English, as well as Gaelic, origin. “Thus, Alehouse-hill, (a house which the family of Raven’s Craig used to frequent as a tavern), Myreside, Hayfield, Newseat, Mount-pleasant, Scotch-mill are English; likewise, Stay the Voyage, (a place where the family of Marischal used to halt in their way from Inverugie to Peterhead), another Stay the Voyage, from a tenant of the former place having carried the name of his first place of residence to a house in the opposite side of the parish; Cross-fold, from a place of worship having been in that field before the Reformation. Invernettie, Auchtiegall, Glendevny, and Balmuir, I am informed are Gaelic; and Blackhouse, which was supposed to be English, I am informed, is likewise Gaelic; Blackhouse being derived from Blockhouse, which signifies a place of defence in front of a castle.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 592)

This is also the case for the parish of Newtyle, County of Forfar, where “names of places are chiefly derived from the English; but there are also instances of derivation from the Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 401)

In Dundee, County of Forfar, on the other hand, “the names of places in the parish are partly in this language [broad Scots], and partly Gaelic. Of the former kind are Blackness, Coldside, Clepingtown and Claypots, Balgay, Dudhope, Drumgeith, Duntroon, Baldovie, and various others are examples of the latter.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 193)

An intermixture

The examples of Peterhead and Dundee given above illustrate that throughout Scotland there was a real mix of people and languages which shaped Scotland’s parishes. Here are some other examples:

In Reay, County of Caithness, “the names of places are mostly of Gaelic derivation. Some ending in ster, as Shebster, Brubster, &c. are supposed to be of Danish origin. Reay, the name of the parish, is thought to be a corruption from Urray, the name of a Pictish hero who inhabited the castle, to this day called Knock Urray.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 579)

“The present parishioners of Wick are an intermixture of the Celtic, Pictish, Norwegian, and, latterly, again of the Celtic races. This is evident, both from the names and from the physical character, of the people” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 144)

Considering how people moved about and influenced others in their ways and language, it is not surprising that some place names are derived from more than one language. For example, in Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle, “The point which extends farthest into the sea is called Ardminish point, on the north side of the bay of that name, from the Gaelic words Ard, a height, meadhon, middle, and ness, (Danish) a point going out into the sea.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 396)

In the parish of Kilmuir, County of Inverness, it was noted that “in this and in most other parishes of the Hebrides the names of hamlets, hills, bays, promontories, &c. are evidently, for the most part, of Scandinavian origin. In some cases, however, Gaelic roots with Scandinavian terminations, and vice versa, are to be met with. It is a remarkable fact, that the names given to certain localities by the natives of a foreign land, have been retained for so many ages and generations, as is the case here and elsewhere. When the prevalence of Scandinavian names is taken into consideration, and the great disproportion which they bear to those of Celtic origin, it will appear evident, that the number, power, and influence of the aboriginal population was but small in comparison with that of the Norwegian invaders.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 241)

Photograph of the Provost Ross' House on Shiprow, Aberdeen.

Provost Ross’ House, Shiprow, Aberdeen. By AberdeenBill [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

A further point to make here is that the increasing usage of the English language was having an influence on original place names. In the parish report for Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen, a very interesting observation was made about place names being ‘Englishfied’. “By far the greatest number of names of places are from the old Scotch dialect, which has been now for many ages the language of the country. Not any more remarkable instances of such derivation in this parish can be given, than the names of the streets of the town, the principal of which are the Castlegate, the Braidgate, the Overkirkgate, the Netherkirkgate, the Gallowgate. Add to these, the Gaistraw, the Shipraw, the Rottenraw, the Dubbyraw, the Checkeraw, the Narrow-wynd, the Back-wynd, the Correction-wynd. These, with Putachie’s-side, and the Green, are almost all the old names of streets and lanes in the town. We cannot give a better example than in this very thing of the advances noticed in a former article, which we are daily making towards English. We almost never hear now of the Braidgate and the Castlegate. They are become universally the Broadstreet and the Castlestreet. The Gallowgate, for what good reason we know not, has not yet shared in this reformation, for nobody ventures upon Gallowstreet.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 183) In the parish of Callander, County of Perth, “any Gaelic words, that occur, are spelled according to the English orthography, to render them legible by English readers.”(OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 612) (We will look at the rise of the English language in a future blog post.)

Surnames

While researching languages and place names I came across instances of surnames specific to a particular area. As well as those of Scandinavian origin mentioned above (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 332), the following were found:

Kildonan, County of Sutherland – “The clan Gun have at all times been considered throughout the North Highlands as descended from the Norwegian Kings of Man; and Lochlin, the Gaelic name for ancient Scandinavia, or, perhaps, in a more limited acceptation, for Denmark, is still named by the few natives of the Highlands who now recollect the traditions of their fathers,-as the Parent country of the Guns, the Macleods and the Gillantlers.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 140)

Tundergarth, County of Dumfries – “Johnstone is the most prevalent surname in this parish; and the old castle of Tondergarth was once the principal seat of the Johnstones. The language of this parish has always been a purely Saxon dialect of the old Lowland Scottish. Tondergarth is a compound Saxon word, signifying the Castle of the Garden, or rather, perhaps, the Castle of the Sanctuary.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 445)

Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “It is worthy of notice, that there is a peculiar surname, Mustard, among the people here, not common elsewhere.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 254)

Conclusion

The etymology of Scotland’s place names gives us a fascinating picture of both the history and landscape of the county, with origins found in the Gaelic, Scandinavian, Scotch and English languages. A large number of ancient place names are derived from Gaelic (the country’s majority language at that time) and describe its geographical or geological situation or some other property of that place. What is particularly interesting is the mix of etymology we get within the same parish, showing how people moved around and influenced others through their language.

In our next post, we take a closer look at the languages spoken throughout Scotland’s parishes.

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May 162018
 

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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