cjenkin1

Sep 142018
 

In the last three of posts on women in Scotland we have discovered that women worked in many sectors, including manufacturing (spinning, weaving, needlework,etc), and the farming and fishing industries. In this post we look more generally at the impact society had on women and their work.

Multi-tasking!

In many instances, women had to work as well as look after the family – as they do now! In Northmaving, County of Shetland, “the women look after domestic concerns, bring up their children, cook the victuals, look after the cattle, spin, and knit stockings; they also assist, and are no less laborious then the men in manuring and labouring the grounds, reaping the harvest, and manufacturing their crop.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 358) They also undertook not just one type of work, but several, depending on the time of year and the wages they received. In Nigg, County of Kincardine, “the whole female part of the parish, when not occupied by these engagements [kelp production], or harvest, the most, and domestic affairs, work at knitting woolen stockings, the materials of which they generally receive from manufacturers in Aberdeen.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 207) In Clackmannan, County of Clackmannan, “during a considerable part of the year, some of the women in the parish continue to sew for the Glasgow manufacturers, but the earnings from this source are now most lamentably small. Most of the females to which the writer has been referring, derive the greater part of their annual subsistence from field-labour, the preparing of bark, &c.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 129)

No time for housework!

Although women had to multi-task, it was sometimes remarked in the parish reports that, due to women working, the state of the home suffered! Here is what was written in the parish report of Cross and Burness, County of Orkney:

“But there is a great want of neatness and cleanliness in the management of household matters, so that their condition has nothing of the tidy and comfortable appearance of what is now to be met with in houses of a like description in the south. And for any effectual improvement in this respect, there are two formidable barriers in the way, which are not likely soon to be overcome. The women have much work to do out of doors, a species of work, too, which peculiarly unfits them for neat management of house-hold concerns, such as cutting sea-weed for kelp, carrying up ware for manure on their backs, and spreading it on the land; and besides, the construction of their houses is very unfavourable, which are not only not plastered but not even built with lime, and seldom have any semblance of a chimney even upon the roof, while, for the sake of having each part of the house supplied with an equal share of heat, the fire-place is most commonly planted in the middle of the floor. The smoke consequently finds its way in every direction, and to keep either the walls or the utensils in a state of proper cleanliness, is next to impossible. Yet the present form of houses is much superior to what was possessed by the last generation; and this form may soon perhaps give way to another in a higher state of improvement.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 106)

A painting called 'A Cottage Interior' by Alfred A. Provis, dated 1869.

Provis, Alfred; A Cottage Interior, 1869. Picture credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection.

In the parish report for Carmylie, County of Forfar, it was noted that weaving, the new type of employment for young women at that time, “forms no good training for their management of household affairs” in the event of them getting married. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 371) It was an even worse situation for colliers families in Tranent, County of Haddington! “The injurious practice of women working in the pits as bearers (now happily on the decline with the married females), tends to render the houses of colliers most uncomfortable on their return from their labours, and to foster many evils which a neat cleanly home would go far to lessen.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 295). However, spinning, in particular, was considered a job which married women could do and still be able to run a household, as alluded to in the parish report for Moulin, County of Perth. (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 63)

The need for women (and children) to work

In several parishes it was noted that there were many more females than males residing there, mostly due to men working elsewhere, particularly in the army or navy. This obviously had an effect on who undertook the work in that parish. In Stenton, County of Haddington, “the disparity in the number of males and females probably arises from a number of young men leaving the parish in search of employment; and the young women remaining as outworkers, in which occupation a good many single women, householders, are employed, who receive 9d. every day they are called upon to work, with 600 yards of potatoes planted, coals driven, &c. for their yearly service.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 58) Whereas, in Rathven, County of Banff, the disparity between males and females residing there was attributed to losses sustained at sea and an influx of poor women from the Highlands, who wanted to live more comfortably. (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 417)

It was noted in the parish report of Nigg, County of Kincardine, that “during some later months of winter, the subsistence of the family has depended much on the work of the females. Since the commencement of the American and French war 1778, 24 men have been impressed or entered to serve their country in the fleet from the fisher families. In these late armaments, their fishing has been interrupted from fear of their young men being seized; and to procure 10 men, instead of one from each boat, who have been demanded from them, the crews have paid 106 L. 14 s. which exhausted the substance of some families, and hung long a debt on others.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 207)

In Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen, a very interesting observation and explanation was reported in the Old Statistical Accounts with regards to the employment of men and women. “Most of our manufactures, especially the bleaching and thread-making businesses, employ a much greater number of women than of men; and the great manufacture of the place, the knitting of stockings, is carried on almost entirely by females. Accordingly, while most of our women remain at home, many of our young men emigrate to other places, in quest of more lucrative employment than they can find in this part of the country… Besides, the temptations of cheap and commodious houses, of easy access to fuel, and to all the necessaries and comforts of life, from our vicinity to the port and market of Aberdeen, and of the high probability of finding employment from some of the many manufactures carried on in the neighbourhood, induce many old women, and many of the widows and daughters of farmers and tradesmen, to leave the country, and reside in this parish, while their sons have either settled as farmers in their native place, or gone abroad, or entered into the army or navy. If to these observations we add, that in all parishes, in which there are several large towns and villages, most families need more female than male servants, the majority of females in this parish, great as it is, will be sufficiently accounted for.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 178)

The need to work also extended to children. In Nigg, County of Kincardine, “the male children of the land people, from 9 and 10 years old, often herd cattle in summer, and those of all attend school in winter. The female children learn still earlier to knit and to read.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 207) In fact, in most cases children worked in the same areas of employment as women. Examples include: the mining and farming industries; the weaving industry, in particular preparing the yarn for the loom (see our post on ‘Women in Scotland: Manufacturing‘ for more information) and in the mills (as mentioned in one of our earlier posts and in the parish report for Dundee, County of Forfar, where “more than one-half of those employed in the mills are boys and girls from ten to eighteen years of age; the remainder are partly men and partly women of all ages.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 26))

In many parish reports, the hard-work and fortitude of women and children, is clearly displayed. However, in some parishes, there was no work available for them. In Kiltearn, County of Ross and Cromarty, it was noted that “considering the great number of women in the parish, it would be desirable that some manufacture should be introduced to employ the females, and children of both sexes; for it is a hard case, when a labouring man is unable to work by age or sickness, that his family has no means of earning a subsistence, however unwilling to work.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 288)

Wages

All parish reports in both the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland give the typical wages of workers. Of course, women were paid much less than men. In Houston and Killallan, County of Renfrew, “men servants from L. 7 to L. 10 a year, if they are good ploughmen; women-servants, from L. 1 : 10 : 0 or L. 2 the half year, and upwards.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 325)

There are plenty more examples of this, including:

Keig, County of Aberdeen – “The wages of farm-servants were, of men, from L.4, 10s. to L.6, 10s. or L.7; of women, from L.2 to L.3 per annum; of day labourers, 6d. with maintenance. Reapers were hired for the harvest, the men at L.2 and the women at L.1.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 957)

Dollar, County of Clackmannan – “The wages of men labourers are from 10 d. to 1 s. per day; in harvest, they receive 13 d. or 14 d. per day; and for cutting hay, 1 s. 6 d. The wages of women who work without doors, at hay-making, weeding potatoes, etc. are 6 d. per day; except in harvest, when they receive 10 d. per day: out of which wages, both men and women furnish their own provisions.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 164)

Auchtertool, County of Fife – “Men servants used to get 6 L. Sterling for the year; and women, 2 L. 10 s.: But a man servant, now, receives 8L.; and a woman 3 L., for the year.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 119)

Dundee, County of Forfar – “The following are the average wages at present paid at the mills, and generally in the linen manufacture in Dundee, viz. to flax-dressers from 10s. to 12s. weekly; girls and boys, 3s. to 6s.; women, 5s. to 8s.; weavers, 7s. to 10s.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 26)

Kingussie, County of Inverness – “A shilling per day is reckoned but very ordinary wages. Many receive 15 d. and 16 d. and some refuse to work under 18 d. The wages of women, however, is not in proportion; during harvest, and when employed at peats, they receive 8 d. a day, and at every other season of the year only 6 d.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 39)

Painting showing two men, a woman and girl working in a field harvesting turnips.

Clausen, George; Winter Work, 1883-84. Picture credit:Tate.

The unfair nature of this disparity in wages was highlighted by the Rev. Mr. Joseph Taylor, who wrote in the parish report for Watten, County of Caithness:

“Women, qualified for tending cattle throughout the winter, driving the plough, and filling the dung cart in spring, had only about 8 s. Sterling, with just half the subsistence allowed the man. Why so little subsistence was and still is allowed to women, no good reason can be assigned. Established customs cannot always be accounted for, nor are they easily or suddenly overturned. This article of wages, however, has of late risen, and still continues to increase.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 274)

There are some very interesting descriptions and comments on wages in the Statistical Accounts. In Colinton, County of Edinburgh, it was reported that women and boys were paid the same amount of money (9d. per day) working in the fields and that “in the time of harvest and of lifting potatoes, their wages are regulated by the hiring market, which is held in Edinburgh every Monday morning during, the season.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 124)

Weavers in Cults, County of Fife, “while in winding the smaller bobbins for the wool… usually employ their wives or children. At this latter employment, if done for hire, from 2s. 6d. to 3s. may be made per week.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 573)

Another interesting comment, this time on the relationship between technology and wages, can be found in the parish report of Moulin, County of Perth:

“The consequence of yarn selling high is an immediate rise in the wages of women servants. Should the machines for spinning linen yarn come to be much and successfully used, so as to reduce the price of spinning, that effect will be severely felt in this country. Single women may, perhaps, find employment in some other branches of manufacture; but it does not appear in what other way married women, who must fit always at home with their children, can contribute any thing to the support of their families.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 63)

In St Vigeans, County of Forfar, the correlation between wages and skill, as well as conditions of employment, are highlighted:

“with respect to the wages of those employed in the factories here, though considerably lower than they have been, we should say, that, looking to age and the preponderance of females, they are perhaps the best paid class employed in the linen trade, with the exception of hacklers. Spinners, who are all girls of fifteen to about twenty-five years of age, earn from 5s. 4d. to 6s. 6d. per week; reelers, from 5s. to 6s.; and those in the preparing departments, from 3s. to 6s., according to the nature of the work assigned to each. The department requiring early and indispensable previous training is the spinning. It consists in expertness and facility in uniting broken threads, and which can only be efficiently acquired by the young. In the present improved state of machinery, the labour is by no means irksome; and hence it is that it is no uncommon thing, in passing through the spinning-flat of a well-conducted mill, to find many of the girls employed in reading. Spreaders, feeders, and reelers have a more laborious work to perform; but the persons employed in these capacities are, for the most part, full-grown women; and, generally speaking, they are allowed a longer time for meals and relaxation than the rest of the hands. The whole of the workers, men, women, and children are at liberty to leave their employment on giving four weeks; notice, in some cases even one week being held sufficient. Hacklers are paid at the rate of 2s. for every hundred weight of rough flax which they dress; and it is no unusual thing for a steady hand, with the assistance of an apprentice, whom he allows 3s. 6d. to 5s. 6d., to earn L. 1, 4s. per week. The average wages, however, of this class, including those who have no apprentices, does not perhaps exceed from 10s. to 12s. per week.*

* In the interview between the writing of this article, in January l842, and the correcting of the proof-sheet in October following, a farther reduction in wages has taken place of five to ten per cent.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 506)

In the parish report of Forfar, County of Forfar, a comparison is made between wages at that time and formerly. “About 60 years ago, a principal farm servant might have been had for 35 s. or 40 s. the half year, and a woman for 40 d. besides her harvest fee. Now many men servants receive L. 12 Sterling per annum, and few or none less than L. 7; and women servants have from L. 3 to L. 4 a year with a lippie of lint ground, or some equivalent called bounties. A man for the harvest demanded formerly half a guinea, now he asks from 30 s. to 40 s, and is sometimes intreated to take more. A female shearer formerly received from 8 s. to 10 s. now 20 s and upwards. Male servants in agriculture, besides their wages, get victuals, or two pecks of meal a-week in lieu thereof, with milk which they call sap. Cottars generally receives from L. 3 to L. 7 a year, with a house and garden, and maintenance of a cow throughout the year. On this scanty provision they live comfortably, and raise numerous families without burdening the public. A family of nine children has been reared by a labourer of this description without any public aid. The cottar eats at his master’s table, or has meal in lieu of this advantage. From 20 to 30 s a year are given to a boy, from 10 to 14 years of age, to tend the cattle or to drive the plough.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 532)

Conclusion

As can be gathered from above, the Statistical Accounts of Scotland contains a lot of information on wages, providing us with examples of differences between both jobs and those employed, whether it be men, women or children. It would be very interesting to make comparisons across parishes! The parish reports are also a great source of comment from the ministers who wrote them, illustrating people’s views on such things as the effect women working had on the community, and the discrepancy between men’s and women’s wages.

In our next post, we will continue to look at the effects society had on women in Scotland, including the existence of poor women and the establishment of female societies; women’s civil status; and women’s health.

 

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Aug 222018
 

We continue our series on women in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, with a particular focus on employment. The existence of women servants is not a surprise, but women miners may well be! We also look at some of the other jobs women undertook which have not already be mentioned.

Servants

In our previous post on women in Scotland, we mentioned the fact that it was hard to employ people as servants during the summer months because they earned more working on the land. However, there were still those who were not willing or able to work in agriculture. In Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, “women-servants receive from L. 2, 1Os. to L. 3 per annum ; but as they are much engaged at home in the plaiting of rye-straw for bonnets, they are unwilling to work in the field, and are generally employed, only in the care of cattle or as house-servants.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 100)

Conversely, farmers in Kinnell, County of Forfar, found it hard to employ women who were working in the weaving industry. “For the farmers, finding it difficult to induce women to leave the loom for the working of the green crop, have been constrained to bring workers from the northern counties. The engagement of these workers is generally for a certain period, at about 8d. or 9d. a day till harvest, when higher wages are necessarily given.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 404)

A painting called 'A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen', c.1765-82, by Henry Robert Morland.

Morland, Henry Robert; A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, c.1765-82. Picture credit: Tate.

Many women had to move away from their parishes to work as servants, such as those in Kirkinner, County of Wigton. “Many of the young women go out as servants to Edinburgh, but particularly to Glasgow and Paisley.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 17) In Walls and Sandness, County of Shetland, “many of the young women, in the character of servants, go to London, Edinburgh, Etc. in the Greenland ships.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 106)

As an aside, in Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty, there was a very interesting custom involving women servants! “The people of the town seldom have menservants engaged for the year; and it is a curious circumstance that, time out of remembrance, their maidservants were in the habit of drinking, every morning, a wine glass full of whisky, which their mistress gave them; this barbarous custom became so well established by length of time, that if the practice of it should happen to be neglected or forgotten in a family, even once, discontent and idleness throughout the day, on the part of the maid or maids, would be the sure consequence. However, since the stoppage of the distilleries took place, the people of the town found it necessary to unite in the resolution of abolishing the practice, by withholding the dear cordial from their female domestics, but not without the precaution of making a compensation to them in money for their grievous loss; and it is said, that even this is not satisfactory, and that, in some families, the dram is still given privately, to preserve peace and good order.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 258)

Mining

Women of all ages, even during the time of the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, worked in the mines, carrying the coal up to the surface on their backs! This was particularly prevalent in Alloa, County of Clackmannan and Tranent, County of Haddington. “The depth of a bearing pit cannot well exceed 18 fathom, or 108 feet. There are traps, or stairs, down to these pits, with a hand rail to assist the women and children, who carry up the coals on their backs.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 615) The women were called “bearers”, who carried about 1 1/2 cwt. on their backs, and ascended the pit by a bad wooden stair. In the deeper pits, the coals were carried to the bottom of the shaft by women, and then raised in wooden tubs by means of a “gin” moved by horses.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 287) In Liberton, County of Edinburgh, “the stones from the mine or quarry were formerly carried to the bank-head by women with creels fastened on their backs, and when the works were in full operation, probably fifty women were thus employed.”  (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 19) As reported in Hamilton, County of Lanark, “at Quarter, the first bed worth working is the 10 feet or woman’s coal, so called because it was once wrought by females. This is a soft coal, which burns rapidly; and although called the 10 feet coal, is in reality from 7 to 14 feet in thickness.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 258)

For the actual numbers who worked in the colliery of Alloa in 1780 you can take a look here: OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 619. There are also figures given for those working at the coal mines in the parish of Dunfermline, County of Fife. (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 476) In Lasswade, County of Edinburgh, “there are from 90 to 100 colliers, (pickmen). Women are still employed as bearers below ground; their number may be from 130 to 150.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 281)

In the later Alloa parish report, found in the New Statistical Accounts of Scotland, mining was equated to slavery. It was reported that the condition of colliers had, in the last thirty years, improved “since the women were relieved from the most disgraceful slavery of bearing the coals, and the workman from all charge of the coals, the instant they are weighed at the pit. From, the circumstance of the wives remaining at home to attend to the domestic economy, the houses are much more comfortable and better furnished than they formerly were, and the whole style of living has been improved.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 33) It was felt that not having women working down the pits improved both the character and habits of the people. In the parish report of Tranent, County of Haddington, it was noted that “among a population of colliers, it cannot be expected that the habits of the people should be cleanly; and the injurious practice of women working in the pits as bearers, (now happily on the decline with the married females,) tends to render the houses of colliers most uncomfortable on their return from their labours, and to foster many evils which a neat cleanly home would go far to lessen.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 295)

Other jobs!

Here are some other jobs undertaken by women found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

  • Boot-binding

Linlithgow, County of Linlithgow – “Thirty women are also employed as women’s boot-binders, whose weekly wages average 4s. 6d.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 180)

  • Fuel manufacture

Rathven, County of Banff – “It is the province of the women to bait the lines; collect furze, heath, or the gleanings of the mosses, which, in surprising quantity, they carry home in their creels for fuel, to make the scanty stock of peats and turfs prepared in summer, last till the returning season.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 424)

Kirkinner, County of Wigton – “The day-light, during the winter, is spent by many of the women and children in gathering elding, as they call it, that is, sticks, furze, or broom, for fuel, and the evening in warming their shivering limbs before the scanty fire which this produces.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 147)

Appendix for Kincardine, County of Perth – “The women declare they can make more by working at the moss than at their wheel and such is their general attachment to that employment, that they have frequently been discovered working by moon-light.” (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 175)

Snizort, County of Inverness – “The fuel is peats, which the women carry home in creels on their backs, from a very great distance.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 295)

Lismore and Appin, County of Argyle – “Peats are the only fuel in both parishes. The process of making them in Lismore is difficult beyond conception, as they are first tramped and wrought with men’s feet, and then formed by the women’s hands. There is a necessity for this; because the substance of which they are made contains no fibres to enable them to cohere or stick together. This tedious operation consumes much of the farmer’s time, which, in a grain country, might be employed to much better advantage; and affords serious cause of regret that the coal-duty is not taken off, or lessened, which would remove the everlasting bar to the success of the fishing villages, and to improvements in general over all the coasts of Scotland.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 490)

  • Varnishing wooden boxes

Old Cumnock, County of Ayrshire – “One set of artists make the boxes, another paint those beautiful designs that embellish the lids, while women and children are employed in varnishing and polishing them. The process of varnishing a single box takes from three to six weeks. Spirit varnish takes three weeks, and requires about thirty coats; while copal varnish, which is now mostly used, takes six weeks, and requires about fifteen coats to complete the process. When the process of varnishing is finished, the surface is polished with ground flint; and then the box is ready for the market.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 486)

  • Plaiting straw

Orphir, County of Orkney – “Almost all the young women have, for many years, been employed in winter in plaiting straw for bonnets.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 20)

Stromness, County of Orkney – “There are a few straw plait manufacturers, who employ a number of women in the town as well as in the country. This manufacture has been, for some time past, upon the decline; and, being at all times dependent upon the caprice of fashion, has lately afforded a scanty subsistence to the many young females who totally depend on it for their support. They are now allowed to plait in their own homes, which has been found more conducive to their health and morals, than doing so collectively, in the houses of the, manufacturers, which was the original custom. -There is a small rope manufactory, where ropes of various kinds are made, both for the shipping and for country, use. From the former Account, it appears there was a considerable quantity of linen and woolen cloth manufactured. This business has now wholly ceased here, being superseded by the perfect machinery now in use.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 32)

  • Salt sellers

Duddingston, County of Edinburgh – “Their labours afforded employment to above 40 carriers, all women, who retailed the salt in Edinburgh, and through the neighbouring districts.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 368)

  • Lace makers

Hamilton, County of Lanark – “The lace trade, established here about eight years ago by a house at Nottingham, which sent down a number of English women, who took up schools and taught the tambourers here the art, is now in a thriving state, and is contributing greatly to the happiness and comfort of the community.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 294) “From a census taken some months ago, and which seems to be accurate, there has been an increase [in population] of 309, which may be attributed to the introduction and flourishing condition of a lace-manufactory, which now employs a great many females.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 276)

  • Potato-starch makers

Spott, County of Haddington – “The only thing of this sort [manufactures] carried on in the parish, is a manufactory of potato-starch, or flour, on the farm of Easter Broomhouse. It employs six women for six months in the year. The flour is principally used by manufacturers of cloth; and sometimes by bakers and confections in large towns.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 230)

For a fascinating insight into the industries found in Scotland in the nineteenth century take a look at the book ‘The industries of Scotland; their rise, progress, and present condition‘ by David Bremner, published in 1869.

Conclusion

The last three blog posts illustrates just how important the role was for women in society. They worked in all sorts of sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, and even mining at one point. They supported themselves and helped support their families, showing resourcefulness, adaptability, and willingness to work hard.

We will continue this series on women in Scotland by looking more generally at the impact women’s work had on society, as well as the impact society had on women.

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Aug 082018
 

In our last post we looked at women working in manufacturing. In fact, in many parishes it was the women who predominantly worked in this sector, spinning. However, there were also women still working on the land. In Morebattle and Mow, County of Roxburgh, “little more yarn is spun than what is necessary for private use. The women in this part of the country being accustomed to work much in the agricultural operations of the field, are little disposed for sedentary employments, and therefore, in general, sit down to the spinning wheel with great reluctance. From the present disposition and habits, both of males and females in this place, the introduction of manufactures among them would not, it is probable, meet with great success.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 510)

Working in the fields

As reported in the parish of Watten, County of Caithness, “our women, perhaps, are more employed in the field, for at least 8 months in the year, than in most other places of the kingdom.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 271) The simple reason for this was that women earned more working in the fields. This actually lead to a lack of servant posts being filled, especially during the summer months, such as was the case in Torphichen, County of Linlithgow. “Servant women are difficult to be had too in summer, as they make nearly as much in harvest as their half year’s wages would be, and can do very well the rest of the time by spinning flax; indeed there are many women who do very well the year round, by spinning flax, with their harvest wages.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 471) This was also reported by the parish of Alford, County of Aberdeen, where “work is never done by the piece or day, but an agreed-upon-sum, together with the reapers victuals, (frequently accompanied by very ridiculous stipulations)… These harvest fees have been rising for some years, and are now 1 L. 15 s. or 2 L. for a man, and 1 L. for a woman, besides victuals”. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 469) We will look a little more closely at servants in our next post.

Agricultural work was very hard and labourious, just as it was for men, and this was duly noted in the parish reports. It included clearing weeds, hoeing, carrying creels of manure or produce, sowing, reaping, dressing corn. Here are some examples of the work women actually undertook on the land:

Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The ground being prepared, as soon as the season permits, the seed is sprinkled from the hand in small quantities; the plots of ground being so small, narrow, and crooked, should the seed be cast as in large long fields, much of it would be lost. After sowing the seed, a harrow with a heather brush at the tail of it is used, which men and women drag after them, by means of a rope across their breast and shoulders. The women are miserable slaves; they do the work of brutes, carry the manure in creels on their backs from the byre to the field, and use their fingers as a five-pronged grape to fill them.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 131)

Painting called Midday Rest by Robert Cree Crawford, 1878, depicting three women taking a break while working in the field.

Crawford, Robert Cree; Midday Rest, 1878. Picture credit: Glasgow Museums.

Prestonpans, County of Haddington – “The land is cleared of weeds, by sowing in drills, and horse-hoeing the interstices; and women are often employed to pick them out with the hand. The land designed for wheat is ploughed as soon as it is cleared of the preceding crop.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 62)

Kingsbarns, County of Fife – “Much of the wheat and beans on the low lands are sown in drills, which, along with the potato and turnip, give a vast deal of employment to young women in hoeing. About 113 are so occupied. In fact, from the time of planting potatoes, which usually begins at the end of April, until harvest be completed, they are seldom off the fields. Their payment when so employed is 8d. per day, without meat; and when lifting potatoes, 1s. with their dinner. A good labourer with the spade obtains from 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. per day in summer, and from 1s. to 1s. 2d. in winter. The harvest wages are, for men, L. 2, with some potato and lint ground, and supper meal, and for women, L. 1, 13s. with the above bounties.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 97)

Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty – “In this, and all the other parishes of the island, the women carry on as much at least of the labours of agriculture as the men; they carry the manure in baskets on their backs; they pulverize the ground after it is sown, with heavy hand-rakes, (harrows being seldom used), and labour hard at digging the ground, both with crooked and straight spades.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 258)

Snizort, County of Inverness – “The soil is broken up by the caschrom, and when sown is harrowed by women, who are also employed in carrying out the manure in creels to the field, and other drudgeries of the same nature. It cannot but give pain to every benevolent mind to see not only young women whose delicate frame should exempt them from such hard labours, but even mothers employed as beasts of burden.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 293)

Kilmuir, County of Inverness – “When the ground is thus turned over and sown, the harrowing department generally falls to the lot of the women. Owing to the lightness of the narrow, which they are able to drag after them, the ground cannot be made, sufficiently smooth, and to remedy this they commence anew with the “racan,” which is a block of wood having a few teeth in it, with a handle about three feet in length. As they have few or no carts, they are under the necessity of carrying manure, peats, potatoes, and all such commodities in creels upon their backs. So little do the women care for the weight of the creel, though full of peat or potatoes on their backs, that, while walking with it, they are engaged either at spinning on the distaff, or knitting stockings. Sacks, or canvas bags, are seldom used; instead of which they have bags which they call “plats,” made of beautifully plaited bulrushes. Of the same useful material they likewise make their ropes, and sometimes cables for their boats. Although the agricultural processes of the small tenants are in this manner conducted, the tacksmen are possessed of ploughs and carts, and other implements of husbandry, of the best and most approved modern construction.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 279)

Kilmuir, County of Inverness – “The women, for the most part, thrash the corn by a light flail of peculiar but simple construction. The quantity of barley raised is but very small, which the natives seldom reap with a sickle, but when ripe they pull it from the roots, then equalize it, and tie it up in small bunches. When it becomes seasoned, they cut off the ears with a knife, and preserve the straw for thatching their dwellings.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 285)

Bedrule, County of Roxburgh – A number of women were “chiefly employed in what is called out-work, as hoeing the turnip, making the hay, reaping the harvest, removing the corn from the stack to the barns etc.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 558)

Strath, County of Inverness – “The mode of dressing the corn to be ground by what is called gradan, is here still in use. By this operation they save the trouble of threshing and kiln-drying the grain. Fire is set to the straw, and the flame and heat parches the grain; it is then made into meal on the quern. This meal looks very black, but tastes well enough, and is esteemed very wholesome. The whole of the work is performed by the women. The only apology given by themselves, for this mode of preparing the grain, is, that the quantity of grain which the generality have is very small, and many of them are at a great distance from a mill.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 228)

Transportation of goods

As well as working on the land, women transported produce to the markets to be sold. In Inveresk, County of Edinburgh, “the whole produce of the gardens, together with salt, and sand for washing floors, and other articles, till of late that carts have been introduced, were carried in baskets or creels on the backs of women, to be sold in Edinburgh, where, after they had made their market, it was usual for them to return loaded with goods, or parcels of various sorts, for the inhabitants here, or with dirty linens to be washed in the pure water of the Esk.”(OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 15) Yes, women even carried sand to Edinburgh, which was the hardest labour of all and least paid! “For they carry their burden, which is not less than 200 lb. weight, every morning to Edinburgh, return at noon, and pass the afternoon and evening in the quarry, digging the stones, and beating them into sand. By this labour, which is incessant for six days in the week, they gain only about 5 d. a day.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 17)

The fishing industry

Women also worked in the fishing industry, undertaking a variety of tasks, including making the fishing nets, gathering bait, baiting hooks, gutting the fish and taking the fish to market (often involving heavy loads and miles of trekking). In the parish of Avoch, County of Ross and Cromarty, women even carried the men to the boats on their backs! While in Burntisland, County of Fife, women drunk undiluted spirits to help them get through the disagreeable work of curing herrings.

Photograph of the Fisher Jessie statue in Peterhead, Scotland. (A naturalistic bronze cast statue of a fish-wife and little girl, the woman carrying a creel and a basket.)

Fisher Jessie Statue, Peterhead. Iain Macaulay available through license CC BY-SA 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/) via Wikimedia Commons.

In Dundee, County of Forfar, “women from Achmithie carry crabs, lobsters, and dried fish to Dundee, a distance of twenty-four miles, and return with the price in the evening. These women are
particularly strong and active.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 40)

In Rathven, County of Banff, men “marry at an early age, and the object of their choice is always a fisherman’s daughter, who is generally from eighteen to twenty-two years of age. These women lead a most laborious life, and frequently go from ten to twenty-five miles into the country, with a heavy load of fish. They seldom receive money for this fish, but take in exchange meal, barley, butter, and cheese. They assist in all the labour connected with the boats on shore, and show great dexterity in baiting the hooks and arranging the lines.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 257)

Slains, County of Aberdeen – “The women are generally employed to gather the bait. About the one half of the fish caught here is carried in boats to Leith, Dundee, or Perth; the other half is carried by the women to Aberdeen…” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 277)

Uig, County of Ross and Cromarty – “All the people dwell in little farm-villages, and they fish in the summer-season. The women do not fish; but almost at all times, when there is occasion to go to sea, they never decline that service, and row powerfully.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 284)

Avoch, County of Ross and Cromarty – “No less remarkable are the inhabitants of this thriving village in general, for their industry and diligence. They manufacture, of the best materials they can procure, not only all their own fishing apparatus, but also a great quantity of herring and salmon nets yearly, for the use of other stations in the North and West Highlands. From Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, the men seldom loiter at home 24 hours at a time, when the weather is at all favourable for going to sea. And the women and children, besides the care of their houses, and the common operations of gathering and affixing bait, and of vending the fish over all the neighbouring country, do a great deal of those manufactures.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 630) “Their women are, in general, hardy and robust, and can bear immense burdens. Some of them will carry a hundred weight of wet fish a good many miles up the country. As the bay is flat, and no pier has yet been build, so that the boats must often take ground a good way off from the shore, these poissardes [fish wives] have a peculiar custom of carrying out and in their husbands on their backs, “to keep their men’s feet dry,” as they say. They bring out, in like manner, all the fish and fishing tackles, and at these operations, they never repine to wade, in all weathers, a considerable distance into the water. Hard as this usage must appear, yet there are few other women so cleanly, healthy, or so long livers in the country.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 637)

Boindie, County of Banff – “One cooper and three women wait on shore for each herring-boat. Coopers’ wages are 12s. per week; in the fishing season, 14s. and 15s. Women receive for gutting and packing a full barrel, 7s. At this rate, with a sufficient supply of work, they might earn 5s. by a day’s work. The expense of curing a barrel of herrings is about 8s. besides the price of the fish.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 236)

In the parish report for Banff, County of Banff, “the following table exhibits the state of the herring fishery, as regards the port of Banff alone, for the last five years.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 41)

1831. 1832. 1833. 1834. 1835.
No. of barrels cured, 1759 1959 1265 938 631
No. of boats employed, 14 16 18 22 8
No. of fishermen, 56 64 12 88 32
No. of women in curing and packing, 41 46 48 60 21
No. of coopers, 6 6 6 8 4
No. of curers 6 5 5 6 4

 

It would be interesting to discover why figures dropped considerably in 1835!

Latheron, County of Caithness – “The herring being thus separated from the nets, are immediately landed and deposited in the curing box, where a number of women are engaged in gutting and packing them in barrels with salt.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 101)

Burntisland, County of Fife – “About 36 hands, including apprentices, are constantly employed as coopers; and about 60 females are occasionally employed in the curing of the herrings. The occupation is cold and disagreeable; but even this cannot warrant a pernicious practice that has long prevailed, of giving daily to those engaged in it, and some of these are young females, a considerable quantity of undiluted spirits.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 417)

Bressay, Burra, and Quarff, County of Shetland – “The curing of herring in Bressay employs about thirty women and children in the season… The manufacture of herring-nets now engages attention, and promises to be a useful employment.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 16)

Women also worked in the whale-fishing industry. In one company set up in Burntisland, County of Fife, from twelve to fifteen women were employed to clean the bone, compared with twelve oilmen and coopers. (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 418)

The Fish-Wives of Fisherrow

The parish report of Inveresk, County of Edinburgh, gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the fish-wives of Fisherrow, describing both their work and their demeanor. “They are the wives and daughters of fishermen, who generally marry in their own cast, or tribe, as great part of their business, to which they must have been bred, is to gather bait for their husbands, and bait their line. Four days in the week, however, they carry fish in creels (osier baskets) to Edinburgh; and when the boats come in late to the harbour in the forenoon, so as to leave them no more than time to reach Edinburgh before dinner, it is not unusual for them to perform their journey of five miles, by relays, three of them being employed in carrying one basket, and shifting it from one to another every hundred yards, by which means they have been known to arrive at the Fishmarket in less than 1/4 ths of an hour.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 17)

They were very good at expressing themselves through language and gesture, and so were extremely gifted at selling. “Having so great a share in the maintenance of the family, they have no small away in it, as may be inferred from a saying not unusual among them. When speaking of a young woman, reported to be on the point of marriage. “Hout!” say they, “How can the keep a man, “who can hardly maintain herself?” As they do the work of men, their manners are masculine, and their strength and activity is equal to their work. Their amusements are of the masculine kind. On holidays they frequently play at golf; and on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at foot-ball, between the married and unmarried women, in which the former are always victors.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 19)

Gathering kelp

Women also gathered and manufactured kelp. In Shapinshay, County of Orkney, “the summer months are occupied in burning kelp, which is the great manufacture of this country. The men almost of the whole islands, and many of the women, also exert themselves in this species of industry; and their joint efforts some seasons produce upwards of 3000 tons, which, at a moderate rate, brings near 20,000 l. to the inhabitants.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 240) In Bressay, Burra, and Quarff, County of Shetland, “the manufacture of kelp in Bressay employs twenty or thirty boys and girls, who receive 9s. or more in the month, and have to work at least three hours every tide, by day or night. An overseer is employed, who receives at the rate of L. 2 per ton for his own wages and payment of the workers.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 16)

In Nigg, County of Kincardine, “to help their maintenance, the fisher-women at times, and also some women of the country, from the beginning of summer, go to the rocks at low tide, and gather the fucus palmatus, dulse; fucus esculentus, badderlock and fucus pinnatifidus, pepper dulse, which are relished in this part of the country, and fell them… The sea-ware, or bladder-fucus, grows up in three years on the rocks round the Ness and Bay chiefly, to a condition for being cut, dried, and burned into kelp. In 1791, 11 tons, of a fine quality, were made by 33 women, mostly young women, at 8 d. per day, with the direction of an overseer.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 207) However, in the later parish report for Nigg it was stated that “for many years past it has been discontinued, there being no demand for it. There was also, several years ago, a salt manufactory in the bay of Nigg, but it also has been given up. Lint was formerly sown and manufactured by private families in the parish, now there is no manufacture of the kind.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 209)

Conclusion

Looking through these excerpts on women in the farming and fishing industries, it is clear to see their common traits: strength, resourcefulness, dexterity and determination. They displayed a real fortitude and did not shirk hard work. This is illustrated again and again throughout the parish reports, and, we hope, is reflected in this series of posts on women in Scotland. In our next post,  we will continue looking at other kinds of work undertaken by women, some of which may surprise you!

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Jul 252018
 

This is the first post in our new series looking at women in Scotland. If you search for the subject “women” in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland the results are very revealing. They are dominated by references to the work women were doing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This work included:

  • spinning and weaving;
  • being servants;
  • in agriculture;
  • in the fishing industry;
  • in mining.

In the report for Campsie, County of Stirling, there is a very interesting table showing how females in that parish were employed in 1793. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 361)

Wives to the different householders 410
Daughters, residing in their parents families 170
Servants in gentlemen’s families 26
Menial servants to the farmers and different householders in the parish 110
As sempstresses and mantua makers 12
Midwives 3
The remaining 71 are either widows or unmarried women, who reside in  cot-houses 71
Of the married women and young persons, residing in their parents houses, there may be about 150 who pencil calico [at] the print-fields.

 

With regards to midwives, not all were trained and some parishes did not have even one! We will look at midwives again in a later post. Other themes we will touch upon in future posts on women in Scotland are health, social status, dress, crime and punishment, and superstitions.

Spinning

In many parishes, it was women who carried out the principle, and sometimes only, form of manufacturing at that time – spinning. In Moulin, County of Perth, “the principal branch of manufacture, carried on in the parish, is the spinning of linen yarn, the staple commodity of the country. In winter, it is the only employment of the women. A woman spins, at an average, 16 cuts the day, the size of the yarn being ordinarily a spindle or 48 cuts from a pound of lint. A woman, who is a good spinner, and employed in nothing else, may earn 3 s. the week; but 1 s. is a high enough estimate of the earnings of a woman, who has a family of 2 or 3 young children to take care of.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 61) In Blackford, County of Perth, “the women are the only manufacturers in this parish. From the flax that is raised in it, they spin a good deal of linen yarn, and make many pieces of coarse linen cloth for sale; and, by their industry, raise a part of the rent that is paid to the landlord.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 212)

Females started spinning when they were very young, and some carried on til old age. In the parish report for Moulin, County of Perth, you can find the ages of women spinners and their typical work rate: “The women, from 10 years old and upwards, employ themselves in spinning linen yarn, almost wholly for sale, from the beginning or middle of November, till about the end of March, a period of 21 weeks. Of the 789 females above 8 years of age, 272, who are married, may be supposed to spin at the rate of one spindle the week. From the remainder, 517, one fifth part, 103, may be deducted, consisting of girls, old women, etc. whose work cannot be reckoned of any account. The rest, 414, may be supposed to spin at the rate of two spindles.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 63) You can discover more information on spinning and the wages paid for this work in many parish reports, such as that of Auchertool, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 115), Birsay and Harray, County of Orkney (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 324) and  Forgan, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 95).

Painting called 'Woman Spinning' by Thomas Stuart Smith. Picture credit: The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

Smith, Thomas Stuart; Woman Spinning. Picture credit: The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

By the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland changes in spinning had already taken place. These included:

– the amount women spun,with the introduction of the wheel for spinning with both hands (Leslie, County of Fife, OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 43)

– an increase in the use of machinery which replaced the spinning wheel altogether (Dalry, County of Ayrshire, OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 103)

– spinning being replaced by weaving (Carmylie, County of Forfar, NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 371 and Newtyle, County of Forfar, NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 565)

Women were increasingly being employed by large manufacturers. As stated in the parish report of Newtyle, County of Forfar, “since the spinning-wheel gave place to the spinning-mill, females have betaken themselves to weaving, and there are now nearly as many women employed at the loom as men.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 565) In the parish of Kirkmichael, County of Ayrshire, “the large Glasgow warehouses appoint agents here, who give out the cotton to the hand-loom weavers, and are responsible for its manufacture into the required fabric. By this means, a large sum of money is transmitted weekly from Glasgow to the country.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 503)

In Avondale, County of Lanark, during the late 1770s “a considerable part of the yarn was manufactured for the behoof of people in the place, and the remainder was carried to the great manufacturing towns. Now [1793] the weavers are almost wholly employed by the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers, and cotton yarn is the principal material.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 387) In the parish of Glenmuick, County of Aberdeen, women were sent flax for spinning by the manufacturers of Aberdeen (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 218), whereas in Lochs, County of Ross and Cromarty, “several merchants at Aberdeen send a great quantity of flax annually to a trustee at Stornoway, who distributes it to be spun, not only in this, but in all the parishes of Lewis.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 278)

Tambouring and flowering muslins

Some women were also learning new skills and being employed to tambour or flower muslins instead. For example, in Hamilton, County of Lanark, “formerly, almost all the weavers manufactured linen only, and either employed themselves, or derived their employment from others on the spot. Now they get employment from the great manufacturers in Glasgow, etc. and cotton yarn is the principal material. Young women, who were formerly put to the spinning-wheel, now learn to flower muslin, and apply to the agents of the same manufacturers for employment.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 199) In Kilwinning, County of Ayrshire, “women, and girls from 7 years old, are employed in tambouring muslins. The others flower muslins with the needle. The gauzes and muslins are sent here, for that purpose, by the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 160) This was also the case for the parish of Kilbirnie, County of Ayrshire. “This branch of industry is very well paid at present, as, without any outlay or much broken time, an expert and diligent sewer will earn from 7s. to 10s. a week, though probably the average gains, one with another, throughout the year, do not exceed 1s. per day. This employment furnishes the means of decent support to many respectable females, and is decidedly preferred by nearly all the young women, natives of Kilbirnie, to working in either of the manufactories.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 717)

Weaving

Women were also involved in the weaving industry, both of cotton and silk. In Hamilton, County of Lanark, “formerly, almost all the weavers manufactured linen only, and either employed themselves, or derived their employment from others on the spot. Now they get employment from the great manufacturers in Glasgow, etc. and cotton yarn is the principal material.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 199) With a big increase in demand, especially due to imports to other countries, such as France, this method of manufacture was hard to sustain. For a discussion on this and the fact that hand-loom weavers earned so little, go to the parish report for St Vigeans. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 507)

In Dalry, County of Ayrshire, “some years ago, when the silk manufacture flourished, there were above 100 silk weavers in the village, besides a few in the country part of the parish; and these were generally employed by the silk manufacturers in Paisley or Glasgow. But now the number of such weavers is greatly reduced, and cotton weaving has become the chief trade of the place.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 103) The writer of the parish report made the effort to find out the numbers of men, women, and children employed in the different branches of silk and cotton working:

Silk weavers 36
Women to prepare the silk yarn for the loom 8
Cotton weavers 107
Women and children to prepare the yarn for the loom 127

 

This highlights the fact that not only women were employed in the weaving industry. In Maybole, County of Ayrshire, “it is very common for women to weave. Boys are put at an early age to the loom, and the hours of working are, more especially in times of depression, very long. I have known the weaver to labour, with little intermission, fourteen and sixteen hours a-day, and after all earn but the miserable pittance of 6s. or 7s. per week, a sum barely adequate to support his family in the meanest way;” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 371)

As an aside, in Kilmuir, County of Inverness, “perhaps the most interesting custom which prevails in the parish is the manner of fulling, or waulking cloths, which is always performed by females” and is a step in woolen cloth-making. For a description of this process read the parish report (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 286).

Introduction of Machinery

It is very interesting to look at the consequences of the introduction of machinery. As reported by the parish of Dundee, County of Forfar, “the general use of machinery has almost wholly superseded that of the spinning-wheel, and sent the females to a less appropriate labour for their support. Old men and old women no longer able to undergo the labour of the loom, and young persons of both sexes not yet strong enough for that work, are employed in winding for the warper and the weaver, and thereby contribute something to the general funds of the family.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 27)

In Renfrew, County of Renfrew, “the first and most important [manufacturing] is the muslin weaving. Connected with this branch, there are 257 looms, of which 176 are called harnessed looms. Each of the whole occupies one man,-except a few, which are wrought by women; and every two occupy one woman winding yarn. But in addition to these, every harnessed loom requires the assistance of a boy or girl, from seven or eight, years of age, up to probably fourteen or fifteen. There are thus, 257 weavers, 176 children drawing, and at least 128 women winding, making in all 561.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 23)

In the parish of Dalry, County of Ayrshire, mule jennies were introduced to spin cotton, “having 15 constantly going, and a small carding mill which goes by water, for preparation. And as they mean to extend their work to the number of 30 jennies, they are now building a carding-mill on a larger scale, to go by water, to answer the purpose of preparation for the above number. The cotton yarn is not manufactured in the place, but is sent to the Paisley or Glasgow markets. Those at present employed in the above work, including men, women, and children, may be about 50.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 104)

A fascinating insight into changes in machinery and employment practices can be found in the parish report for Glasgow, County of Lanark, where “about the year 1795, Mr Archibald Buchanan of Catrine, now one of the oldest practical spinners in Britain, and one of the earliest pupils of Arkwright, became connected with Messrs James Finlay and Company of Glasgow, and engaged in refitting their works at Ballindalloch in Stirlingshire”. (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 143).

Knitting stockings

At the time of the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, parishes located in the County of Aberdeen chiefly manufactured stockings. In Forbes and Kearn, County of Aberdeen, the knitting of stockings was the occupation of which “most of the women, throughout the whole year, and some boys and old men, during the winter season, are employed. They receive for spinning, doubling, twisting and weaving each pair, from 10 d. to 2 s. Sterling, according to the fineness or coarseness of the materials, and the dimensions of the stockings.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 195) In Leochel, County of Aberdeen, “a considerable number of women, chiefly of the aged and poorer class, employ themselves in knitting stockings from worsted, furnished to them by the Messrs Hadden in Aberdeen, and thereby earn annually from L. 70 to L. 100.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 1127)

As reported in the parish of Alford, County of Aberdeen, it was only the manufacture that was carried out by the people of Aberdeenshire. The wool itself was imported from England as it was of better quality. “It is spun and worked into stockings, at a price proportioned to their fineness or coarseness; and the average gain of a good worker, will be 2 s. per week.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 472) In Rayne, County of Aberdeen, “it is supposed, that this article [stockings] may yield to the parish about 400 L. Sterling. The hose are of that coarse kind, which bring for working the pair 12 or 14 pence Sterling; and some of the women will knit two pairs, or two pairs and a half in the week.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 115)

However, the knitting of stockings in the parish of New Machar, County of Aberdeen, was beginning to suffer as “from the invention of stocking looms, the price of women’s work being much reduced, they have begun to direct their attention to spinning, in which they will find their account.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 469) Wars with France and Holland also had an affect on this manufacturing, leading to another diversification. In Rayne, “through the persevering enterprise of few eminent capitalists in Aberdeen, it was succeeded by one a similar kind, viz. the knitting of coarse worsted vests or under-jackets, for seafaring persons, and of blue woolen bonnets, commonly worn by labouring men and boys, which are also knitted with wires, and afterwards milled. This is the common employment of all the aged, and many of the young women in the district of Gazioch; and at the rate of 3d. to 4d. for knitting a jacket, and 1d. to 2.d. for a bonnet, it will yield, with some coarse stockings, to those of this parish alone, about L.600 per annum.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 431)

Other types of manufacturing

Here are some examples of other types of manufacturing undertaken by women, as reported by the parishes of Scotland.

Painting by Haynes King of a girl at a window sewing.

King, Haynes; Industry (Girl at Window, Sewing). Picture credit: Beverley Art Gallery.

  • Needlework

Newton-Upon-Ayr, County of Ayrshire – “As nearly as can be estimated, there are 600 or 700 women, principally girls and unmarried women, employed in hand-sewing for warehouses in Glasgow… The Ayrshire needle-work, so extensively known and justly celebrated, was executed in this parish forty years ago: and it has been gradually improving until the present day. It consists of various patterns sewed on muslin and cambric for ladies’ dresses, babies’ robes, caps, &c. From the year 1815, when point was introduced into the work, the demand for it in London and other parts of England, as well as in Dublin and Edinburgh, has increased to a considerable extent. It is also sent to France, Russia, and Germany, and is exposed to sale in the shops of Paris. This valuable means of employment affords a fair profit to the manufacturer, and gives support to many respectable females, who by dint of industry, can earn from 1s. to 1s. 6d. and, in some cases, 2s. per day. In this work, which is confined to Ayr and its neighbourhood, several hundreds are engaged: and it is calculated that at least from 50 to 60 of them, who are chiefly young women, reside in the parish of Newton.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 99)

Kirkcolm, County of Wigton – “The only thing worth mentioning under this head [‘Manufactures’] is, that in almost every house in the village, and indeed through the parish generally, young women are much employed in embroidering muslim webs, obtained from Glasgow or Ayrshire. By embroidering they earn, according to their expertness and the time they can devote to this word, from 8d. to 1s. 3d. a day, and sometimes more.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 119)

  • Printing

Bonhill, County of Dumbarton – “Of the hands employed at the printfields [i.e. cotton-printing works], there is nearly an equal number of both sexes. The wages given to the women, at first, were generally at the rate of 3 s. per week. They are now in general paid by the piece, and they may be said to earn 14 s. per month, at an average. The greater part of the women are employed in pencilling. A great variety of colours cannot be put upon the printed cloth without the assistance of the pencil.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 447)

Campsie, County of Stirling – “by far the most extensive [printfield] is Letinox-mill Field, which was first established as a print-work about 1786. About 1790 it contained twenty printing tables and six flat presses. At that period, however, a great many women were employed to pencil on colour. This method is now entirely abandoned.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 254)

  • Bleachfields

A bleachfield was an open area of land used for spreading cloth and fabrics on the ground to be bleached by the action of the sun and water. There were many bleachfields in 18th-century Scotland, including those in the parish of Markinch, County of Fife (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 676), St Vigeans, County of Forfar (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 509), and Banff, County of Banff, where 40 people were employed (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 356).

In Tibbermore, County of Perth, “as early as 1774, Huntingtowerfield was formed for the purpose of bleaching linen cloth. This work was carried out with great spirit and success for forty years, by Messrs Richardson and Co., when it was let by the present proprietors, Sir John Richardson of Pitfour, and Robert Smythe, Esq. of Metheven, to Messrs William Turnbull and Son. Under the energy and activity of the present lease-holder, the work has now become one of the first in Scotland. At present about 40 Scotch acres are covered with cloth. The quantity whitened annually is about a million a-half of yards, besides from 80 to 100 tons of linen yarn, for a power-loom factory in the neighbourbood. The number of people employed is about 150, of whom nearly one-third are women and boys… Immediately below this work, on the same Lead, are the flour and barley-mills, the property of Mr Turnbull, the tacksman of the bleachfield, at which a considerable amount of business is done.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1034)

Conclusion

Women played a massive part in the manufacturing industries of Scotland, willing and able to support themselves, their family and their parish. They have had to adapt to changes in demands and technology – and they have done this ably. These qualities are recurrent in future posts, including our next one where we turn our intention to women working in the farming and fishing industries.

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Jul 112018
 

Here is the last in our series of posts on Scotland’s languages. This time we look more closely at why there were changes in the languages spoken in Scotland. As illustrated in the last two posts, it is inevitable for there to be changes in languages (vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation) and their use. As people are influenced by others from different parishes and even further afield, so their language reflects this. The single most important change to affect Scotland was the rise in the usage of the English language.

The rise of the English language

The English language was gaining ground by the end of the 18th century for a number of reasons:

  • Ability to converse with people from other countries
  • English was the language of trade
  • English was the language of the higher ranks and well-educated
  • English was increasingly being taught in schools and used in religious instruction

Here are some examples of what was written in parish reports on the use of English:

Alness, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The English, however, has made very considerable progress in the parish for 20 years back, owing to the benefit received from the number of schools planted in it much about that time.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 240)

Kirkhill, County of Inverness – “The language chiefly spoken by the common people is Gaelic; although a great many of them, from their being taught to read English at school, can transact ordinary business in that tongue.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 121)

Assynt, County of Sutherland – “The Gaelic language is still universal in Assynt, and the only medium of religious instruction. The English language, however, is making slow but sure progress. The youth of the parish are ambitious of acquiring it, being, sensible that the want of it proves a great bar to their advancement in life.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 112)

Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen – “The provincial dialect of the English, which is generally spoken here, is not commonly considered as being very pure. Owing, however, to a much greater intercourse with the English than formerly, a sensible change to the better has taken place in the idiom… The consideration also that this is a place of education; the seat of an university of considerable eminence; has proved an inducement to several, especially to those who have entertained thoughts of publishing in English, to make the proper idiom of the language more a matter of study than was ever done as any former period, a circumstance that has not failed to produce good effects.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 182)

Kilmorie, County of Bute – “yet persons advanced in years understand the English language tolerably; they acquire it by intercourse with other countries, and are greatly assisted by having the organs of speech formed in their youth, it being the first language they are taught to read.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 170)

Calder Mid, County of Edinburgh – “Though the Scotch be the prevailing language of the country, yet, by the influence of those who have a more extended intercourse with the world, the people here are making evident approaches toward a more intimate acquaintance with the English tongue, which is the more desirable, as, since the union of England and Scotland, the language of the court of London has been received as the standard language of the united kingdoms.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 365)

Dalmeny, County of Linlithgow – “The Dano-Saxon has continued to be spoken in the greater part of Scotland, and particularly what is called the Lowlands, with little deviation from the original, till near the present times, in which it has been giving place very rapidly to the modern English language. The cause of this, independent of the comparative merits or demerits of the two dialects, has been the union of the Scottish and English crowns; from which, as England is the larger and wealthier country, and is, besides, the court end of the Island, the English tongue has gained the ascendancy, and become the standard of fashion and of propriety.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 228)

Inverchaolain, County of Argyle – “Gaelic is the language of the natives, both old and young, but all of them can read and speak English. English is gaining ground, and all are anxious to acquire it.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 112)

As mentioned in an earlier post (Scotland’s languages: Gaelic, Scots and English), those parishes where English was gaining ground were not necessarily anywhere near the English border. This shows that trade and travel impacted on the language spoken. As can be observed in the excerpts above, education also had a massive impact on language use.

Education

More and more schools were teaching the English language at the time of the Statistical Accounts. In Tain, County of Ross and Cromarty, “the inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language; but the children are now generally sent to school, and taught to read English.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 393)

It was felt that knowing how to read and speak English would improve people’s lives, such as those in Jura, County of Argyle. “The language universally spoken in the parish is Gaelic. Very few of the old people understand English. But from the laudable endeavours of the schoolmasters to teach their scholars the vocabulary, and use of that language, and from a general opinion gaining ground, that it will be of great service in life, it is hoped that the rising generation will make considerable progress in acquiring the English language. The inhabitants do not feel that strong desire of bettering their circumstances, that would stimulate them to exertion and enterprize. Instead of trying the effects of industry at home, they foster the notion of getting at once into a state of ease and opulence, with their relations beyond the Atlantic.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p 322) (This last sentence is a very revealing one! See our previous post on emigration.)

Painting by George Harvey called 'Catechising in a Scottish School'. Painted in 1832. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Harvey, George; Catechising in a Scottish School, 1832. Leicester Arts and Museums Service.

In Kilmuir, County of Inverness, some very interesting reasons were given why children were being taught the English language first. “1st, The imitative powers of children, with respect to sounds and articulation, are more acute in early life than in maturer years; and were the Gaelic taught first, it would be almost impossible to adapt the tone of the voice afterwards to English pronunciation; 2dly, Although the English may take a longer period than the Gaelic to acquire it properly, yet, when it is acquired, the pupils can master the Gaelic without any assistance; and 3dly, Such as cannot speak the English, naturally are more reluctant to leave the country in quest of that employment which they cannot procure at home.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 281)

Some schools taught English as well as Gaelic, such as that of the parish of Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 406). However, many parishes had more than one school, and it depended on which school you attended what language or languages you were taught. In Rogart, County of Sutherland, “there are three schools at present in operation in the parish,-the parochial school, a school supported by the General Assembly, and a Gaelic school, supported by the Gaelic School Society. In the parochial school, English reading, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, mensuration, and land-surveying, are taught. In the General Assembly’s school, English reading, Gaelic reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes the rudiments of Latin, are taught. In the Gaelic school, the reading of the Gaelic only is taught.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 55)

There were five schools in the parish of Fodderty, County of Ross and Cromarty, each with a good number of attendees: “1. The parochial school, which has the maximum salary attached to it, exclusive of a dwelling-house,and L.2, 2s.in lieu of a garden. The branches taught are, English reading, grammar,writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, geography, Latin, and Greek. The average attendance is 63, and the annual amount of school fees paid may be about L. 16. 2. The school at Tollie, in the Brahan district, in connection with the Inverness Education Society. The attendance is 70. Both Gaelic and English are taught, together with writing and arithmetic. 3. The Gaelic school, supported by that excellent institution, the Gaelic School Society of Edinburgh, in which, old and young are taught to read the sacred Scriptures in their own language, and which is attended during winter by about 60. 4. The school at Maryburgh, on the scheme of the General Assembly’s Education Committee. The average attendance is 120. And, lastly, a school on the teacher’s own adventure, in the heights of Auchterneed ; at which the attendance is 84.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 259)

It wasn’t always in school where children learnt languages! In Balquhidder, County of Perth, “towards the end of Spring, most of the boys go to the low country, where they are employed in herding till the ensuing winter; and, besides gaining a small fee, they have the advantage of acquiring the English language.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 95)

The Gaelic School Society

As can be gleaned from above, the Gaelic School Society established many schools teaching Gaelic throughout Scotland. The society was set up in Edinburgh to primarily teach people to read the Scriptures in Gaelic. It, therefore, played a very important role in encouraging the use of the Gaelic language. (For more information see the 19th century section in the Wikipedia entry for Gaelic medium education in Scotland.) In Assynt, County of Sutherland, “it is likely, nevertheless, that Assynt is one of the very last districts in which the Gaelic language shall cease to be the language of the people. It is remarkable that the Gaelic School Society will probably prove the means, at a remote period, of the expulsions of the Gaelic language from the Highlands. The teachers employed by that useful society, to whom we owe much, taught the young to read the Scriptures in their native tongue. This implanted a desire to acquire knowledge on other subjects, which induced them to have recourse to the English language as the medium of communication.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 112)

Title page of the book Scripture extracts : for the use of the schools supported by the Gaelic School Society in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Published in Edinburgh for the Society in 1824.

Scripture extracts : for the use of the schools supported by the Gaelic School Society in the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. Published in Edinburgh for the Society in 1824. Digitized by The National Library of Scotland and accessed via the Internet Archive.

In some parishes, it was thanks to this Society that people could read at all. In the parish of Lochs, Ross and Cromarty, “there are only 12 persons in all the parish who can write; but half the inhabitants from twelve to twenty-four years of age can read the Gaelic language, which is the only language spoken generally. A few of the males can speak broken English. It was by the instrumentality of the Gaelic School Society that so many of them were enabled to read Gaelic. The Gaelic School Society has four schools at present in the parish of Lochs, which are the only schools in it.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 168)

Incidentally, it was claimed in the parish report of Killin, County of Perth, that “in the manse of Killin the present version of the Gaelic Scriptures was begun. The Gaelic Testament was executed by Mr James Stewart, from whom his son, the well-known Dr Stewart of Luss, obtained that knowledge of and taste for Gaelic literature which enabled him so faithfully to finish the Gaelic translation of the Bible. Killin may then fairly lay claim to the honour of this great work.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1087)

However, not everyone in the county of Ross and Cromarty thought the Society so praiseworthy! In the parish report for Kiltearn, the Reverend Thomas Munro wrote the following: “The Gaelic School Society, by establishing schools throughout the country, have done much to eradicate the language. This may appear paradoxical; but it is actually the case. Those children that had learned to read Gaelic found no difficulty in mastering the English; and they had a strong inducement to do so, because they found in that language more information suited to their capacity and taste, than could be found in their own. English being the language universally spoken by the higher classes, the mass of the people attach a notion of superior refinement to the possession of it, which makes them strain every nerve to acquire it; and it is no uncommon thing for those who have lived for a short time in the south, to affect on their return, a total forgetfulness of the language which they had so long been in the habit of using.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 323)

You can read a fascinating article Gaelic School Society. Appeal to British Christians, Resident Abroad found in the Colonial Times, Tuesday, February 22, 1842, which is appealing to those living in Australia with Scottish connections to help the Society by giving donations or by subscribing to the Society.

The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge

At the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, there was also in existence the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. This society established schools teaching the reading and writing of English and/or Gaelic, along with other common branches of instruction, such as arithmetic and knowledge of the Scriptures, such as the school established by the Society at Aberfoyle, County of Perth. (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1158) In the Starthyre district of the parish of Balquhidder, County of Perth, “there is a school supported by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, in which are taught English, writing, arithmetic, and Gaelic.”(NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 348) In the parish of Urquhart and Glen, County of Inverness, “in the schools supported by the Society, great attention is paid to the teaching of the Gaelic language; and in the other schools, it is taught to those who wish to acquire it. (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 50)

As reported in the Appendix for Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh, “an hundred and sixty thousand children have been educated by this society, and there are ten thousand in their schools this year 1792.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 590) The quality of their schools was very important to the society, and they were not afraid to close schools down. For some reason, “the ambulatory school, once established in this parish [Small Isles, County of Inverness], by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, was removed in Summer 1792.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 290) Also, in the parish of Rathven, County of Banff, “the school in Buckie has been withdrawn by the Society, on the ground, that the school house has been allowed to fall into decay.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 266)

In several parishes, such as that of Kincardine, County of Perth, applications were made to the society to establish much-needed schools. “Application having accordingly been made by the proprietor, the Society was pleased to enter very warmly into the situation of these poor people, and with the greatest alacrity agreed to the appointment of an experienced teacher, who was settled at Martinmas 1793. This teacher, who is well acquainted both with the Gaelic and the English languages, officiates through the week as schoolmaster, and on Sundays convenes the people in the schoolhouse, where be instructs them in the principles of religion, and says prayers to them in their native tongue.” (OSA, Vol. XXI, 1799, p. 181)

These applications show how important the society was to parishes throughout Scotland. Indeed, in Callander, County of Perth, you can find the following commendation: “Much praise is due to the excellent Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge; but for it, thousands in the Highland’s would have been deprived of the means of instructions. The people are alive to the benefit of education. All in this parish have the means of instruction, and all from six years and upwards can read. A very visible change in the conduct, morals, &c. of the people has taken place, since the facilities of education were increased.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 358). The Society even paid to inoculate the poor in the parish! (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 625)

Religion

The establishment of schools by both the Gaelic School Society and the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge illustrates the direct link which existed between education and religion at that time. Languages, whether the native-tongue or not, were being taught in order to enable people to read and learn from the Scriptures and the Shorter Catechism.

Of course, the most important consideration to parish ministers was what languages parishioners actually understood and used the most. Their needs and abilities had to be catered for. Here are some examples of having to find someone who could preach in Gaelic.

Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “There are two clergymen in the parish; the parish minister, and the minister of the Gaelic Chapel. There was no Gaelic preached in this place, until the erection of the chapel; and the principal reason of introducing it was, for the accommodation of Mr. Ross’s numerous labourers, and others who came from the neighbouring parishes to the manufacture of hemp.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 256)

Crathie, County of Aberdeen – “There is missionary minister, paid by the Royal Bounty, stationed in Braemar; but as he has not the Gaelic language, and as there are some persons who do not understand any English, the parish minister is obliged to exchange pulpits with him very frequently. The General Assembly of the church of Scotland have now pledged themselves, that how soon the present missionary is otherwise provided for, they shall appoint one for the future to that mission, but persons having the Gaelic language.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 344)

Photograph of Arderseir Parish Church near Inverness, Scotland. Taken by Dave Connor in 2015.

Ardersier Parish Church, near Inverness. Photograph taken by Dave Connor, 2015. Via Flickr under Creative Commons License 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Ardersier, County of Inverness – “It is a curious circumstance that, from the year 1757 to 1781, during the ministrations of two incumbents, no Gaelic was preached in the parish. On the ordination of the Rev. P. Campbell, in the latter year, it was requested by the peoples, and agreed to by him, that be should exhort them in the Gaelic language.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 472)

However, as previously mentioned, English was becoming more widespread. Therefore, the availability of religious instruction in English was also increasing. In Dunoon and Kilmun, County of Argyle, “the language of the parish is changing much, from the coming in of low-country tenants, from the constant intercourse our people have with their neighbours, but above all, from our schools, particularly, those established by the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge. Hence the English or Scottish language is universally spoke by almost all ages, and sexes. But the Gaelic is still the natural tongue with them, their fireside language, and the language of their devotions. They now begin, however, to attend public worship in English as well as Erse, which 30 years ago they did not do.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 389)

As reported in the parish of Aberfoyle, County of Perth, “in ancient times, the Gaelic language alone was spoken in this parish; and, even in the memory of man, it extended many miles farther down the country than it now does. The limits of this ancient tongue, however, are daily narrowed here as every where else, by the increasing intercourse with the low country. At present, every body understands English, though the Gaelic is chiefly in use. The service in church is performed in English in the forenoon, and in Gaelic in the afternoon.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 129)

There are some very interesting observations made in the parish report for Torosay, County of Argyle, on languages, education and religious instruction. “So far, therefore, as they [the natives] are concerned, the language [Gaelic] has neither gained nor lost ground, for the last forty years. How long it may remain in this stationary condition is uncertain, especially as there are several families from the lowlands of late settled in the parish. These, having no inducement to study the Gaelic, as they find themselves generally understood in English, may, through time, habituate the natives to speak this language, even among themselves. At school, children are taught to read in both languages. Though the teaching of them thus to read Gaelic would seem to tend to its permanency, the contrary effect, in all probability, will ensue. By being able to compare both versions of the Scriptures, they daily add to their vocabulary of English words, so that the Gaelic in this manner forms to them a key for the acquisition of the English. So long as the native Highlanders understand Gaelic better than English, religious instruction must be communicated to them in that language, even if this circumstance should have the effect of postponing the day when English shall be the universal language of the empire. For, however desirable that event may be, it would be making too great a sacrifice to attempt to expedite it by suffering, in the meantime, even one soul to perish for lack of that knowledge which maketh wise unto salvation.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 289)

Resistance to change

Even though all these changes were taking place in schools and churches throughout Scotland, it must be noted that there was some resistance to the increasing use of English. Gaelic was still the preferred language in some quarters. In Urray, County of Ross and Cromarty,”Gaelic is the vernacular language of the whole parish, except in gentlemen’s families. Several of the inhabitants read the English Bible, and can transact business in that language; but they, as well as the bulk of the people, prefer religious instruction in Gaelic; and therefore are at pains to read the Gaelic New Testament, and Psalm Book, etc.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 259)

Both the Gaelic and Scotch languages were seen as noble and expressive languages. In Callander, County of Perth, “the language spoken by persons of rank and of liberal education, is English; but the language of the lower classes is Gaelic. It would be almost unnecessary to say anything of this language to those who understand it. They know its energy and power; the ease with which it is compounded; the boldness of its figures; its majesty, in addressing the Deity; and its tenderness in expressing the finest feelings of the human heart. But its genius and constitution, the structure of its nouns and verbs, and the affinity it has to some other languages, are not so much attended to. These point at a very remote area, and would seem to deduce the origin of this language from a very high antiquity.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 611) In Dalziel, County of Lanark, “the language generally spoken is a mixture of Scotch and English. The use of the Scotch has decreased within the last forty years, in consequence, I apprehend, of the improvement in teaching at the schools. But when persons are under excitement, the language used is Scotch. Then, the writer has observed, here and in other parts of Scotland, that the lower orders of society and many in the middling ranks, too, discover an acquaintance with that expressive dialect, which could not be inferred from their ordinary conversation.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 454) The native tongue is an integral part of the heritage and history of the people in the locality; its influence cannot be easily diminished, as the two examples above illustrate.

Conclusion

Looking at the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, one can identify several influences on the use of language, and English in particular, most notably travel, trade and education. What is really interesting is how these factors were interrelated. A knowledge of English allowed people to converse with people from the low countries and beyond. This then enabled greater trade, which allowed people to gain influence. The English language became the language of opportunities, so was increasingly being taught in schools. In turn, changes in education affected what was being used in everyday life and had a direct bearing on the language of people’s devotions, i.e. what was read and spoken in religious contexts.

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It has been really fascinating to look at language use as a whole in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, from place names through to the factors impacting on the languages spoken in Scotland. The country’s geography, history and culture have all played their part in shaping its linguistic landscape, making it what it is today. It is hoped that these series of posts will encourage you to further explore Scotland’s languages in the Statistical Accounts. If you find something particularly interesting let us know!

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Jun 272018
 

In the last post we looked at predominantly Gaelic, Scots and English speaking parishes. But, it is important to note that the other minority languages have impacted on whatever the majority language was, including its pronunciation and intonation. The linguistic landscape of Scotland’s parishes was far from black and white.  For some of those writing the parish reports, the jumble of languages used was an unwelcome development, as they saw it as an erosion of the “superior” pure form of language.

Pronunciation

It has been fascinating to find out how people pronounced words. Several parish reports give us a idea of the kinds of sounds produced, in the various Scots dialects in particular. Again, it is other languages which greatly influenced pronunciation.

In Wick, County of Caithness, “the language spoken over all the parish is, with exception of that of some Gaelic incomers, a dialect of the lowland Scottish. It is distinguished, however, by several peculiarities. Wherever the classical Scottish has wh, the dialect of the parish of Wick has f; as fat for what, fan for whan; and wherever the Scottish has u, this dialect has ee ; as seen for sune, meen for mune, feel for fule. Ch at the beginning of words is softened into s, or sh; as, surch for church; shapel for chapel. Th at the beginning of words is often omitted. She, her, and hers are almost invariably used for it and its. This seems a Gaelic idiom; and the tendency to pronounce s and ch, as sh, seems a relic of Gaelic pronunciation.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 144)

Jedburgh, County of Roxburgh – “The common people in the neighbourhood of Jedburgh pronounce many words, particularly such as end in a guttural sound, with a remarkable broad, and even harsh accent. They still make use of the old Scotch dialect. Many of the names of places, however, are evidently derived from the Erse, and expressive of their local situation in that language. For instance, –Dunian, John’s Hill; –Minto, Kids Hill; –Hawick, Village on a River; –Ancrum, anciently called Alnicromb a Creek in the River; etc. etc.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 15)

A painting of Jedburgh Abbey by an unknown artist. Glasgow Museums: http://www.artuk.org/artworks/jedburgh-abbey-86391

Unknown artist; Jedburgh Abbey, 19th Century. Glasgow Museums.

Wilton, County of Roxburgh – “The language generally spoken by the lower orders, throughout this district, contains many provincialisms, but these are becoming gradually obsolete. Two diphthongal sounds, however, seem still to maintain their ground, namely, those resembling the Greek eǐ, and the ow, as in the English words, cow, sow, how, now,–e.g. the common people generally pronounce, tree, treǐ; tea, teǐ; knee, kneǐ; me, meǐ; and, instead of the diphthongal sound of oo in the pronoun you, the pronunciation is almost invariably yow, as in now.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 78)

Dalgety, County of Fife – “The language commonly spoken in the parish is the Old Scotch dialect, and there seem to be no peculiar words or phrases which are not in general use throughout most parts of the kingdom. The words are pronounced with a broad accent; and I have often heard in this part of the country a sound given to the diphthong oi, which is not, I believe, so usual in other places: it is frequently pronounced as if it consisted of the letters ou, as for boul boil, pount for point, vauce for voice, etc.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 265)

Caputh, County of Perth – “The Stormont dialect, of course, prevails, in which the chief peculiarity that strikes a stranger is the pronunciation of the Scotch oo as ee, poor being pronounced peer, moon meen, aboon abeen, &c.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 677)

Dunlop, County of Ayrshire – “The language which they speak is a mixture of Scotch and English, and has no other singularity, but the slow drawling manner in which it is spoken, and that they uniformly pronounce fow, fai-w, and mow, mai-w.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 541)

Alves, County of Elgin – “The language generally spoken is the Scotch. A stranger is struck with the peculiar vowel sounds, given in a great many words, as wheit for wheat, feel for fool, pure for poor, and wery for very, &c.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 107)

Montrose, County of Forfar, “One great peculiarity which strikes a stranger from the south, in the language of the common people in this county, and in the neighbouring counties on the north, is the use of f for wh, as fan, far, &c. for when, where, &c. Except by the better classes, the lowland Scotch is universally spoken with a strong provincial accent.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 279)

The Buchan dialect is mentioned in several parish reports from the County of Aberdeen. It is also known as the Doric dialect, and is a sub-dialect of Northern Scots, found in a small area between Banff and Ellon. In Peterhead, County of Aberdeen, “the language spoken in this parish is the broad Buchan dialect of the English, with many Scotticisms, and stands much in need of reformation, which it is to be hoped will soon happen, from the frequent resort of polite people to the town in summer.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 592) People in the parish of Aberdour, County of Aberdeen, also spoke “the broad Buchan, or real Aberdeenshire, and this dialect is much the same as it was forty years ago.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 266) For more information on the Buchan dialect take a look at the parish report for Longside, County of Aberdeen. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 294)

Intonation is also described in some of the parish reports. In Dunfermline, County of Fife, “the language is a mixture of Scotch and English. The voice is raised, and the emphasis frequently laid on the last word of the sentence.”(OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 479) A similar observation was also made in the report for Lesmahago, County of Lanark. “The language spoken is the broad Scotch dialect, with this peculiarity, very observable to strangers, that the voice is raised, and the sound lengthened upon the last syllable of the sentence.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 433)

Purity

Some writers of the parish reports had a very clear perception of language purity and, conversely, corruption. Inhabitants in many parishes were considered to be speaking a language that was not in its pure and correct form.

  • Lochgoil-Head and Kilmorich, County of Argyle – “The Gaelic that is spoken in this place, owing to the frequent communication with the Low Country, is corrupted with a mixture of English words and phrases, and is not so pure, nor so correct, as that which is spoken in the more remote parts of the Highlands.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 190)
  • Logierait, County of Perth – “The language spoken here, is a corrupted dialect of the Gaelic. The Saxon dialect of the lowlands is, however, pretty generally understood here.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 82)
  • Comrie, County of Perth – “All the young people can speak English; but, in order to acquire it, they must go to service in the Low Country. The Gaelic is not spoken in its purity, neither here nor in any of the bordering parishes.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 186)
A postcard of a view on the Earn, Comrie, Scotland. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900.

View on the Earn, Comrie, Scotland. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. By The Library of Congress [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Fortingal, County of Perth – “The Gaelic is the language of the natives. It is, however, losing ground, and losing its purity, very much of late. Forty years ago, in some parts of the parish, especially in the district of Rannoch, it was spoken in as great purity as in any district of the Highlands. That race of genuine natives having disappeared, many of their phrases and idioms have become almost unintelligible to the rising generation. It is, however, gratifying to the antiquary and to the lover of Celtic literature, that so much has been done to rescue the language and insure its permanency and stability; still all that is practicable has not yet been achieved. Hundreds of vocables might be collected which have escaped the notice of the several learned compilers of our Gaelic dictionaries.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 553)
  • Halkirk, County of Caithness – “[Erse] is much corrupted, but yet spoken with great fluency and emphasis, and not without harmony of sound. [English] has also many words, which are neither English nor Scotch, yet, according to its idiom, it is spoken with great propriety, and the sentiments are expressed by it, either in narration or description, as intelligibly and significantly, as in any county in Great Britain, nay, I dare say, more so than in most of them. These languages are spoken in various degrees.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 62)
  • Eddlestone, County of Peebles – “The language generally spoken is a corrupt Scotch, with a barbarous admixture of English. A few only of the oldest of the people speak the Scottish dialect in its purity. These, however, are rapidly disappearing, and in a few years more in all probability there will not be one person alive who could have held converse with his grandfather without the aid of a dictionary.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 149)
  • Evie and Rendall, County of Orkney – “In the language of the people, there is an intermixture of Norse words with Scotch and English; but, on the whole, they speak more correctly than the peasantry do in other parts of Scotland. The accent is peculiar though far from being unpleasant.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 202)

In the parish report for Kilmalie, County of Inverness, it was noted that “it is remarkable, yet not the less true, that the illiterate Highlander, who is a stranger to every other language but the Gaelic, speaks it more fluently, more elegantly, and more purely, than the scholar.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 430)

In some cases, inhabitants were strongly criticised for speaking impure languages, especially those of Kilmadock, County of Perth!

  • Kirkmichael, County of Perth – “The prevailing language in the parish is the Gaelic. A dialect of the ancient Scotch, also, is understood, and currently spoken. These two, by a barbarous intermixture, mutually corrupt each other.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 516)
  • Kilmadock, County of Perth – “The language of the common people in this parish, like many of the parishes in the neighbourhood, is a mixture of Scotch and English. This jargon is very unpleasant to the ear, and a great impediment to fluent conversation. No language is more expressive than the Scotch, when spoken in perfection; and, though the ancient be short and unmusical, yet it is by no means disagreeable to hear two plain country men conversing in the true Scotch tongue; but, in this parish, you seldom meet with such instances... In the quarter towards Callander, the generality of the inhabitants speak Gaelic; and this is perhaps still more corrupt than even the Scotch, in the other quarters of the parish. It is impossible to conceive any thing so truly offensive to the ear, as the conversation of these people. The true Gaelic is a noble language, worthy of the fire of Ossian, and wonderfully adapted to the genius of a warlike nation; but the contemptible language of the people about Callander, and to the east, is quite incapable of communicating a noble idea… It ought, therefore, to be earnestly recommended to the people of this parish, and, indeed, to other parishes in that quarter, to study a more perfect style; either to practice the true Gaelic, the true Scotch, or the true English tongue. But all kinds of civilization in society go hand in hand; and when arts and sciences begin to flourish here, the language will gradually polish and refine.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 53)

Language trends

A couple of parishes reported a particularly interesting development, that of younger Gaelic speakers interspersing their language with English or Scots words. In North Uist, County of Inverness. “The language spoken is the Gaelic, which the people speak with uncommon fluency and elegance. One fifth of the whole population above the age of twelve years understand and speak English. Such of them as are in the habit of going to the south of Scotland for trading or for working, are fond of interlarding some English or Scotch phrases with their own beautiful and expressive language. This bad taste is confined to so limited a number, that it has but slightly affected the general character of their native tongue. There are only five individuals in the parish who do not understand the Gaelic, and some of these have made considerable progress in its attainment.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 172) In Gairloch, County of Ross and Cromarty, “some young men, indeed, who have received a smattering of education, consider they are doing great service to the Gaelic, by interspersing their conversation with English words, and giving them a Gaelic termination and accent. These corrupters of both languages, with more pride than good taste, now and then, introduce words of bad English or of bad Scotch, which they have learned from the Newhaven or Buckie fishermen, whom they meet with on the coast of Caithness during the fishing season. The Gaelic, however, is still spoken in as great purity by the inhabitants in general, as it was forty years ago.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 95)

In some cases, however, the impure form of language at least made it easier for certain groups of people to understand. In Rogart, County of Sutherland, “a considerable proportion of the inhabitants, however, can converse in the English language; and, in a few years it is likely that none may be found who cannot do so. Their English, being acquired from books, and occasional conversation with educated persons, is marked by no peculiarity, except a degree of mountain accent and Celtic idiom; so that it is more easily intelligible to an Englishman than the dialect spoken by the Lowland Scotch.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 51)

Conclusion

Languages are very fluid, with changes occurring over time in vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation. In some parish reports there are some strong comments bemoaning the lack of language purity, but the pure form of a language is an ideal, not a reality. This is certainly the case in Scotland where the Gaelic, Scots, English and Scandinavian languages influenced each other.

Changes were even felt between the first and second Statistical Accounts of Scotland, most notably the increased comprehension and use of English. In the final post on Scotland’s languages we look look more closely at the reasons for linguistic change.

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Jun 142018
 

This is the second post on Scotland’s languages. This time we look more closely at the languages spoken throughout the parishes. As can be gleaned in the last blog post, at one point the majority of Scots spoke Gaelic, or Erse as this was called in some of the parish reports. According to the authors of the Statistical Accounts, Gaelic was more widely spoken in many parishes. But there were also areas of Scotch or Scots speakers, with English beginning to make strong inroads.

Predominantly Gaelic-speaking parishes

There were many parishes where most inhabitants spoke Gaelic, including:

  • Barvas, County of Ross and Cromarty (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 147);
  • Moy and Dalarossie, County of Inverness (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 499);
  • Applecross, County of Ross and Cromarty (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 102)
  • Gairloch, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The Gaelic is the prevailing language in this, as well as in several other corners on the West coast” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 93);
  • Inverary, County of Argyle – “The language generally spoken is the Gaelic. Among the agricultural labourers, it is almost exclusively used; and as many of them, for various reasons, remove from the country into the burgh, they naturally continue to speak their mother tongue, and to teach it to their children.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 27).
Brown, William Beattie; Coire-na-Faireamh, in Applecross Deer Forest, Ross-shire; 1883-84. Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/coire-na-faireamh-in-applecross-deer-forest-ross-shire-186783

Brown, William Beattie; Coire-na-Faireamh, in Applecross Deer Forest, Ross-shire; 1883-84. Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/coire-na-faireamh-in-applecross-deer-forest-ross-shire-186783

However, this situation was beginning to change. If you look at the parish reports for Gigha and Cara, County of Argyle, you can see the differences in language use even between the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

“The language of the common people is Gaelic, but not reckoned the purest, on account of their vicinity, to Ireland, and intercourse with the low country, by which many corruptions have been introduced into their phraseology. They understand English, and several speak it well enough to transact business; but very few of them can understand a connected discourse in that language.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 65)

“English, however, is much better understood by young and old than it was forty years ago, but there are not above ten persons in the parish who do not understand and speak Gaelic.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 401)

By the time of the New Statistical Accounts, in practically all of the parishes English was increasingly understood and spoken. It is always interesting when figures, even approximations, are provided. In Southend, County of Argyle, “the language generally spoken by two thirds of the people is Gaelic; but, from the establishment of schools and the intercourse with Campbelton, and the Lowland districts of Scotland, the English language is beginning to be universally understood. Families who understand Gaelic best, 210; English best, 145.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 431)

We will be looking at the rise of the English language in the next post.

Predominantly Scotch/Scots-speaking parishes

Scots is a Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and some areas of Ulster. It is itself “a dialect of the Dano-Saxon, which was brought from the other side of the German Ocean, by the Danish invaders of the ninth and eleventh centuries”. (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 226) Here are some examples of parishes which were predominantly Scots-speaking. Again, we can see that in many cases other languages have also left their mark.

  • New Spynie, County of Elgin (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 637)
  • Cromarty, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The language of all born and bred in this parish, approaches to the broad Scotch, differing, however, from the dialects spoken in Aberdeen and Murrayshire; this being one of the three parishes in the counties of Ross and Cromarty, in which, till of late years, the Gaelic language, which is the universal language in the adjacent parishes, was scarce ever spoken. There has been a considerable change, of late years, in this respect, among the inhabitants here; the Gaelic having become rather more prevalent than usual.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 254) This was attributed to Gaelic-speaking people coming to work in the parish.
  • Kirkmichael, County of Ayrshire – “The language is a mixture of Scotch and English, without any particular accent. In this district, as in every other, there are certain provincial words and phrases peculiar to itself.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 111)
  • Drainie, County of Elgin – “The only language here is Scotch; but the pronunciation is gradually approaching nearer to the English. Gaelic is not spoken nearer than 20 miles; and very few
    of the names of places here seem derived from it.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 87)
  • Boharm, County of Banff – “The Scotch is the only language spoken in the parish; but, with a few exceptions, the names of the places belong to the Erse tongue.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 362)
  • Tannadice, County of Forfar – “The broad Scotch is the only language spoken here. Some of the names of places are Gaelic, and others of Gothic origin; although the former seems to abound most.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 380)
  • Kinfauns, County of Perth – “The language of this parish and corner is Saxon, intermixed with Scottish words and expressions; attended, however, by little or no provincial accent or dialect. Though this part of the country is not at a great distance from the Highlands, yet neither Gaelic words nor accent are known amongst the natives below Perth. Very few names of places are Erse; but great number are Scotch or Saxon.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 223)
  • Canisbay, County of Caithness – “The Scotch, with an intermixture of some Norwegian vocables, is the only language spoken in the parish… There is scarcely a place in the whole parish, whose name is not of Norwegian derivation.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 162)
  • New Machar, County of Aberdeen – “The common people speak the Scotch language, and in what is commonly called, and well known by the name of, the Aberdonian Dialect.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 470)
Alexander Naysmyth; Robert Burns; 1821-22. National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-burns-157341

Nasmyth, Alexander; Robert Burns; 1821-22. National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-burns-157341

In some parish reports, particular Scots pronunciation was remarked upon. In Gamrie, County of Banff, “the language spoken in this parish is the Scottish, with an accent peculiar to the north country. There is no Erse.” (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 477) In Dron, County of Perth, “the language spoken here is Scotch, with a provincial accent or tone; the pronunciation rather slow and drawling, and apt to strike the ear of a stranger as disagreeable.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 478) Scots spoken in the county of Fife also had its own pronunciation. In Carnock, County of Fife, “the language now generally spoken in this district, is the broad Scotch dialect, with the Fifeshire accent, which gives some words so peculiar a turn, as to render the speaker almost unintelligible to the natives of a different county.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 496) In St Andrews and St Leonards, County of Fife, “the language of this parish is the common dialect of the Scotch Lowlands. The Fifans are said, by strangers, to use a drawling pronunciation, but they have very few provincial words.”(OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 215) Specific examples of pronunciation will be given in the next post on Scotland’s languages.

Predominantly English-speaking parishes

What is particularly interesting to note about the predominantly English-speaking parishes is that, for the most part, they do not actually border England! (Read the next post to look at possible reasons why.) Again, there are influences from other languages, such as Gaelic and Scots, and Norse in the Shetland Isles.

  • Cushnie, County of Aberdeen – “English is the only language now known in the parish, the Gaelic having ceased to be understood.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 177)
  • Ardersier, County of Inverness – “The language generally spoken in the village, which contains three-fourths of the population of the parish, is English. In the interior, Gaelic prevails. But, from recent changes in the lessees of farms, and from the new occupants possessing little of the Celtic character, it may be fairly stated, that the Gaelic has lost, and is losing ground.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 472)
  • Newbattle, County of Edinburgh (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 70)
  • Broughton, County of Peebles – “The language spoken here is English, with the Scotch accent.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 158)
  • Kirkconnell, County of Dumfries – “only the English language is now spoken here, as in the rest of Nithsdale, with considerable purity, excepting chiefly a few old Scotch, or rather obsolete Saxon words, that now and then occur; and in a plain, easy, manly style of pronunciation, without any of those grating peculiarities of provincial accent, that mark the dialect of some of the adjoining counties. With the small exception, of one from England, and another from Ireland, the inhabitants are all natives of Scotland.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 447)
  • Portpatrick, County of Wigton – “English is spoken in this parish, with less of provincial accent and less mixture of Scotch than in the more central and populous districts of Scotland.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 145)
  • Section on the county of Shetland from volume 15 in account 2 – “The language is English, with the Norse accent, and many of its idioms and words.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 156)

Here, we should mention that there seems to be some confusion between the English language and the Scots dialect. In some quarters, Scots is seen as a dialect of English, or even “English or Saxon, with a peculiar provincial accent” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 193), instead of it being a language in its own right. This makes it a little difficult to identify those parishes speaking English and those speaking Scots. Examples include:

  • Bellie, County of Elgin – “The Gaelic tongue, however, has long disappeared in this part of the country; the language, in general, being that dialect of English common to the North of Scotland; though, among all persons who pretend to anything like education, the English language is daily gaining ground.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 264)
  • Luss, County of Dumbarton -“The language now universally spoken by the natives of the parish is the English language, or rather the provincial Scotch dialect.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 162)
  • Speymouth, County of Elgin – “The language here spoken is the English, if the broad Scotch that is spoken throughout the greatest part of Murray, Banff, and Aberdeenshires, be thought entitled to that name. Erse is not the common language within 20 miles of us.” (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 406)
  • Keith, County of Banff – “In this parish, and in all the neighbourhood, the language spoken is the Scotch dialect of the English language.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 423)

Language differences within parishes

As well as language differences between parishes, there are differences within parishes. In the parish of Luss, County of Dumbarton, “south from Luss, English, and north from it the Gaelic, is the prevailing language.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 266) Here are some other inter-parish variations:

  • Keith, County of Banff – “All the old names of places are evidently derived from the Gaelic, which language is generally spoken in a detached corner of the parish, by a colony from various districts of the Highlands; who being indigent, and supported by begging, or their own alertness, are allured there by the abundance of moss, and the vicinity of a very populous and plentiful country.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 423)
  • Little Dunkeld, County of Perth – “In that part of the parish which is below lnvar, the people speak the Scottish dialect of the English, and are not distinguished by any perceptible shade of character from the inhabitants of the low country parishes around them. The rest of the inhabitants (more than three fourths) are Highlanders, who speak a dialect, not perhaps the purest, of the Gaelic. They have all a strong attachment to their native tongue; many speak English with tolerable case, and the youth, by means of the charity schools, can write it with rather more propriety, and copiousness than those of the low country part of this parish, who are very all situated with respect to schools.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 369)
  • Dowally, County of Perth – “It is curious fact, that the hills of King’s Seat and Craigy Barns, which form the lower boundary of Dowally, have been for centuries the separating barrier of these languages. In the first house below them, the English is, and has been spoken; and the Gaelic in the first house, (not above a mile distant), above them.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 490)
  • Edenkillie, County of Elgin – “In the lower part of the parish, the Scotch dialect of the English language is only spoken; but, in the upper part, the Gaelic is still much in use. About 50 years ago, the minister preached the one half of the day in English, and the other half in Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 566)
  • Strathdon, County of Aberdeen – “The language spoken is English, or rather broad Scotch, excepting in Curgarff. The people there, especially in the upper part of that district, speak also a kind of Gaelic; but that language among them is much on the decline.” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 183)
  • Monzie, County of Perth – “This parish being situated on the borders of the Highlands, and having much intercourse and connection with the natives, we need not be surprised to find that the Gaelic is spoken in the back part of it, and the old Scotch dialect in the fore part, pronounced with the Gaelic tone and accent. There are, however very few persons in the whole parish, who do not either speak or understand Gaelic.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 251)
  • Dunkeld, County of Perth – “The English language is spoken in Dunkeld. In Dowally, with the exception of 110 persons, English is spoken with fluency, but they prefer Gaelic. Gaelic is still preached, and it is taught, along with English, at school.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 989)
  • Crieff, County of Perth – “The people speak the English language in the best Scotch dialect: although the Gaelic be commonly spoken at the distance of three miles north, of four west from Criess, yet no adult natives of the lowland part of the parish can either speak or understand it. They have not even contracted the peculiar tone of that language, by their intercourse with the numerous Highland families now residing in the town. Many indeed of these understand no other language but the Gaelic, and their children born in Crieff speak that alone for a few years as their mother-tongue.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 601)

Conclusion

It has been very interesting to discover the language similarities and differences between parishes and even within parishes. It is clear that, even though parishes were predominantly Gaelic, Scots or English speaking, other languages were influencing what was being spoken. In the next post, we will look at the concept of language purity and, conversely, corruption, as well as specific examples of pronunciation found in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

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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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Apr 302018
 

The previous post on Scotland’s food and drink highlights the fact that what people ate was very much dependent on what people could grow, according to climate, topography and soil type.

In Kilbride, County of Bute, “the soil is hard and stony. Most of the farms lying on the declivity of hills, the best prepared land scarce yields two returns. To supply the deficiency of corn, the inhabitants plant great quantities of potatoes, which are their principal food for 9 months in the year.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 578)

In contrast, the soil in the parish of North Berwick, County of Haddington, was “, in general, rich, fertile, and well cultivated, producing large crops of all the different grains sown in Scotland, as wheat, barley, oats, pease and beans. No hemp is raised, and the quantity of flax is inconsiderable, being only for private use. Turnips are cultivated, but not to a great extent, as the farmers reckon the ground to be in general too strong and wet for that useful plant, and on that account commonly prefer sowing wheat upon their fallows. Potatoes are raised in considerable quantities, and, during the winter, form a principal part of the food of the poorer classes of the people.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 441)

Farquharson, David; The Banks o' Allan Water; Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-banks-o-allan-water-206475

Farquharson, David: The Banks o’ Allan Water, 1877. Photo credit: Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

You can really sense from reading the parish reports that there was a real understanding of what crops could be successfully cultivated and how best to grow them. For example, in Ferry Port-on-Craig, County of Fife:

“The crops that are best adapted for the clay, to produce the greatest profit, are, wheat, beans, barley, grass, and oats. Flax is sown to very good advantage; but, on the whole, it is rather an uncertain crop; it likewise produces potatoes, but the quality is generally not so good as in light soils. The strong loam stands on a whin rock; and, where there is sufficiency of soil, it produces wheat, oats, beans, barley, grass and potatoes, in great perfection. Flax is sometimes sown on this soil, but seldom proves a good crop.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 458)

In the parish report for Kinloch, County of Perth, several varieties of potatoes cultivated in that parish are mentioned, including the London Lady, the red-nosed-white kidney potato and the dark red Lancashire potato. Some advice is even given on “the best method of preventing potatoes from degenerating, and of rendering them more prolific”. (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 472)

It seems that the widest range of produce was grown in the north of Scotland. In Unst, County of Shetland, the list of what was cultivated is very impressive:

“Black oats, bear, potatoes, cabbages, and various garden roots, and greens which grow in great perfection, are the most common vegetables in this island. Artichokes, too, of a delicate taste, are produced here, with some small fruit, and most of the garden flowers that grow in the north of Scotland. There is little or no sown grass, but the meadows are rich in red and white clover, and in the seasons of vegetation, are enameled with a beautiful profusion of wild flowers. The pasture grounds, in the commons, are generally covered with a short, tender, flowering heath. Some curious and rare plants have been discovered in this island by some gentlemen skilled in botany. The common people gather scurvy grass, trefoil, and some other plants that grow in the island, for their medicinal qualities. The roots of the tormentil are used in tanning bides.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 186)

Reay, County of Caithness, was another parish which produced “an abundance of all provisions necessary for the use of the inhabitants. The exports are in general bear, oatmeal, beef, mutton, pork, geese, hens, butter, cheese, tallow, malt, whiskey, to the market of Thurso; black cattle, sold to drovers from the south; horse colts, sent to Orkney; lambs, to the lowlands; geese, sometimes to Sutherland and Ross; as also hides, skins, goose-quills, and other feathers.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 575)

This knowledge extended to the preservation and transportation of food. One “adventurer” from the parish of Dyke and Moy, County of Elgin, “cured a quantity [of cod] in barrels, like salted salmon, carried them to London, and made no loss by the adventure, though they sold heavily, and must have been but unpleasant food. But had these cod been parboiled, and cured with vinegar at the boil-house, like kitted salmon, it is believed, such soused fish would have excelled the salted, as much as the kitted salmon exceeds the salted, in quality and price.” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 209)

Selling of produce

In most cases, what was cultivated or reared by farmers was then sold in the large towns and cities. In the parish of New Machar, County of Aberdeen, its proximity to the city of Aberdeen was seen as a big advantage, as there was “a constant demand, ready market, and a reasonable price for every article which the farms produce.” However, it was also seen as a disadvantage, as it “renders every article sold within the parish, very high priced to those who must buy; and that the country people are so much in the way of attending the weekly market, that they generally lose one day in the week, in order to dispose of an article, which when sold, will scarcely bring them 1 s. 6 d. never considering the loss of time and labour”. (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 469)

Aberdeen_Fish_Market

Aberdeen Fish Market by Frederick Whymper, 1883. Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It was not only cities that had to buy food produced elsewhere. In Lochbroom, County of Ross and Cromarty, “with regard to their food, fish and potatoes constitute the principal part. For most years the produce of the soil does not afford them a sufficient supply of meal, and they usually buy a considerable quantity, and that often at a very high rate, from vessels which are sent by meal-mongers to the country.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 470)

As a result of growing and raising such produce, farmers themselves began to become more wealthy, as pointed out in the parish report for Cambuslang, County of Lanark:

“The farmer, as well as the merchant, came by degrees to relish the conveniences, and even the luxuries of life; a remarkable change took place in his lodging, clothing, and manner of living. The difference in the state of the country, in the value of land and mode of cultivation, in the price of provisions and the wages of labour, in food and clothing, between the years 1750 and 1790, deserves to be particularly recorded.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 251)

However, not all farmers were so hard-working and successful! In a survey, carried out in 1778, it was found that the inhabitants of Auchterarder, County of Perth, were “idle and poor farmers not thinking it necessary to thin their turnip while small, allowing them to grow until they be the size of large kale plants, and then it is thought a great loss to take them up, unless in small quantities, to give to the cow. A few tenants excepted, no family had oat-meal in their houses, nor could they get any. The oat nothing better than bear-meal and a few greens boiled together at mid-day, for dinner, and bear-meal pottage evening and morning.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 288)

Vocabulary

In an interesting aside, the peasantry in the parish Cross and Burness, County of Orkney, used “a good many words […] peculiar to the north isles, and some of them are evidently of Scandinavian origin.” Many of these words were farming and food-related. Here are the first few words given:

“Abin, (v.) to thrash half a sheaf for giving horses. –Abir, (n.) a sheaf so thrashed. –Acamy, (adj.) diminutive. –Bal, (v.) to throw at-Been-hook, (n.) part of the rent paid by a cottar for his land is work all harvest; but besides his own labour, he must bring out his wife three days, for which she receives nothing but her food. All the women on a farm are called out at the same time; they work together, and are called been hooks, and the days on which they work been-hook days. –Bull, (n.) one of the divisions or stalls of a stable. –Buily, (n.) a feast. –Buist, (n.) a small box. –Builte, or Buito, (n.) a piece of flannel or home-made cloth, worn by women over the head and shoulders. –Brammo, (n.) a mess of oatmeal and water. –Bret, (v.) to strut. –Brodend, (adj.) habituated to. –Burstin, (n.) meal made of corn parched in a pot or “hellio”…” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 95)

(Look out for our posts on Scotland and its languages coming soon!)

Conclusion

It is clear that Scots in the countryside ate what they themselves produced, which was dependent on the climate, topography – and not forgetting knowledge and hard-work! Those in cities, such as Glasgow and Aberdeen, were able to buy this produce in markets. Increased knowledge, new technologies and the exporting of goods from other countries had seen the situation change for the better over the years.

In the next post on Scotland’s food and drink we will look at times of food scarcity, the provision of food as part-payment and the link between food and health as seen by those in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth  centuries.

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