Sunday, 3 June 2012

14th May - Dundee weavers and others past

I’m back in the Ship Inn (or was on 14th May), waiting for dinner again, but dithering between menu items. Yellowfin sole gougons, or North Sea cod tail fillet?  Or an Arbroath haddock? All too good – this place comes highly recommended. The sole gougons won this time though.

I will remember this pub for the next time I’m in the Ferry.

I’d an interesting day looking at newer-build houses in Dundee, and still being amazed by changes in the city in the years since I left. I ended up at a new development in Donald’s Lane, adjacent to some listed buildings which were part of the Pitalpin Mill complex, so a piece of 19th century industrial history even possibly with origins in the 18th. Pitalpin now comes under ‘Lochee West’. This area is likely to have been part of the industrial expansion which gave jobs and homes to the folk from the north and from Ireland, the linen weaving becoming the jute industry. I’ll need to read up on the Pitalpin mills. Whether any of ‘my’ folks ever worked there is unknown and maybe doubtful – ‘my’ Irish Dundee people, as far as I can ascertain, were not in Lochee’s Little Tipperary, but in the east-central areas, in King Street and Crescent Lane. Others, though, descendants, may have been there, sometime, some time… And earlier there were those from Angus and Fife who found their way to Dundee.

When Janet Kermack came to Dundee, we don’t know. She may have been a lass from a little further north, from around Airlie – or she may have been raised or even born in Dundee. The most likely scenario has her coming at a time of changing agricultural practices, possibly with siblings or to stay with siblings or cousins, in the years around 1765. She may have been a spinner or weaver, or she may have come as a domestic servant. In any case, her marriage to Robert Philp, carpenter in Dairsie, Fife, was registered in Dundee in 1774.

Then, a generation later, boys James and Michael Lynch were born in Ireland – apparently of different families, in different counties, each to come to Dundee in the first wave of immigration, and die there in the 1830s. Michael Lynch was married to Margaret Haughey or Haray or maybe Haggart, or even McTaggart, and at least two children were born to them according to the Catholic records, James and Thomas. But census record show James, George, Thomas and Ann, separated and ‘farmed out’ to Auchterhouse by ‘the parish’ presumably after their parents’ death – and later marriages of George and James give that father’s name as James, not Michael. In Howff burial records, a James is shown coming from country Cavan, Michael from Drogheda. Whoever they were, they were drawn by the growth of Dundee, the early expansion of weaving and its associated industries. Their lives are part of the woven story of Dundee, its houses and weaving sheds, its building and demolition, present in the stone, brick and earth today.

(I have elsewhere told the story of this Lynch family in some detail, and should that be published I’ll alert the blog…)

Friday, 1 June 2012

On images of the Overgait

Another short entry written in scribble when I was away north, with some addition from today.

Tonight (13th May) I’m sitting in the Royal Arch in Brook Street, after a good meal of roast lamb and mint gravy. Very tasty, and giving me some meat for the week (or indeed month). There are pictures on the walls, of Broughty, looking towards the lifeboat-house, and of the old Overgait in Dundee. I wonder if the staff know that the proprietor in the 1970s used to run the New Imperial Hotel in Tally Street, part of the Overgait before its demolition?

The Overgait picture nearest me shows a mixture of 19th (or some possibly 18th) century and late mediaeval houses, which is what the old Overgait was like in my early memories. There was an attempt in the 19th century to demolish the rebuilt part – the Imperial Hotel being one of the results. The Auld Steeple is shown behind the houses. There’s another picture, on the far wall from me, foregrounding Monk’s lodging with the Nethergait on its left, Overgait on its right. I am still, today, staggered by the wanton destruction in the name of modernist progress, that has prevented Dundee doing what has emerged elsewhere, the loving reconstruction of some of these buildings.  Well, there remains the Gardyne’s Land complex (see, in what was Marketgait and is now the High Street, and the Sea Captain’s house, both interesting examples of what was part of Dundee. But this fascinating mix of styles and histories that was the Overgait is long gone.

In fairness to the powers that were back in the 1950s and 60s, the closes were much in need of something to enable a changed standard of living. Let’s not be too romantic over the wee hooses and the shops shown in old images with proprietors standing outside, the sense of community (and as I recall the best fish-and-chip shop in Dundee). Did such community exist? – well, in part. I think that some of the inhabitants were decanted into new modernist multi-stories, most in turn now demolished, with youtube videos of the recent demolitions occasioning commented cries from today’s people talking about the sense of community in at least some of these. So, Dundee is a city of communities lost and again now lost – outdated housing, crowded over the centuries, with outside facilities and no apparent ways to update, giving way to another type of poor housing lasting for a shorter time, but both with their remembrances. At least the new flats and new council estate houses had indoor loos.

The Overgait and Tally Street were replaced by a shopping centre. Well, it didn’t last long. Initially many shops stood empty for lack of takers, and now it is – thankfully, says everyone I’ve talked to – in turn demolished and replaced by another centre. The initial demolition was captured in photographs, one of which is at, which shows the Imperial Hotel in the background; that was soon to go, too.

But however much the mass or mess of closes off the Overgait might be insanitary, insalubrious, the broad sweep taken was challenged at the time – and is recalled with great regret now. If this was happening today, think what might be done, as what might be preserved or conserved, not only as a remembrance of what has been, but as something for today’s people who were born near there or whose families lived there to remember. A scrap of connection to pasts.

Certainly Monk’s lodging, but also at least some of these closes, cheek by jowl with the newer buildings: as may have happened, just maybe, for that tinier scrap which is Gardyne’s Land.

On looking at the River

(This was written on 12th May 2012, in scribble on a notepad, but for various reasons didn’t get typed and uploaded until now. It’s short, and a couple more will follow. These were from a trip north.)

Ah, the river, the river, the Firth!

I’m sitting outside the Ship Inn in Broughty Ferry, right down by the water, near the lifeboat-house and close to the castle. The sun is bright and glorious, though there’s a nip in the wind. From here across to Tayport – Ferryport-on-Craig – is but a step, or so it looks. There are a few people rowing in dinghies; a mass of wheeling seagulls in the air beyond the castle, and if I look to the right, a view clear to the Law and Balgay hill.

There must have been a wedding nearby, possibly with the reception in the restaurant above this pub. There are men with buttonholes, men in kilts, little girls in fancy dresses, all looking as if they’ve had a good time. And for me, there is the water, and the view across to the hills of Fife.

The swift-flowing water is not blue or green, but a mix of browns and greys, with a few white flashes further out into the middle waters of the estuary. Light clouds have gathered above the water, though the sky in the east is a delicate pale blue and towards the west – towards the Law – there is the brightness of the evening sun. But the brown is good, part cloud-shade, part rich silt brought down by the great river.

But, dinner (fish pie) is ready, and I will go inside with my pint of Deuchars. It’s a bit too breezy to be eating out here…

…and, the fish pie was excellent. I recommend this inn as a place to eat. A walk around part of the Ferry now, and back to my B&B, to give a small offering to the gods of this place.

People and places – Folk music

This entry never got finished or posted - so it may as well be posted now - only four months on!

I’m reflecting on ‘folk music’. This is sparked by a variety of stimuli, not least the Paul Simon sessions on
BBC4 as I’m starting to write this (20th Jan). There seems to be an impression, or expression of belief, that ‘folk music’ was the music of the poor and downtrodden (and hence ‘authentic’), or maybe the music written by musicians about them, or the music of agonized young men about themselves and their social perceptions. And this is, to some extent, still so.

Mary Soutar or Brooksbank was one of the noted ‘folk’ heroes of my childhood, and later someone whose music I played, and indeed still do, as much as I can be said to play anything now. I see her songs as being ‘about’ something and located historically, socially and geographically, but she was herself composing verses that were political as well as reflecting a social milieu, and she did this quite overtly as a political player. Her verses aren’t a straightforward reflection of ‘what people sang then’.  How does this compare with the hundreds of people singing her things, or with the much later efforts of Paul Simon or others? What are songs about and how does this create them as ‘folk’? 

Some things are claimed to be ‘traditional’. These are often later redactions – nothing wrong with that, as long as in the song histories or acknowledgements the redaction is made plain, as part of the history of the song – or that simply people say ‘I like singing this’ and don’t make any special claims for it. But both within Scottish songs and ‘Pagan’ songs I keep seeing claims which grate on my academic mind greatly – that something is a ‘traditional’ when it was composed up my your great-aunt in 1967, or that something is ‘authentic’ because you got it from an older (read: my age) singer, though s/he may have had it from the telly, the internet (yes, it’s been around long enough), or a record.  I sing things that I had from many other people – that does not make them ‘traditional’. I sing things I got from Paul Simon records too! I sing things from one of my ‘heroes’, Ewan McColl, who while writing things that were generally understood as ‘folk’ didn’t claim them as ‘traditional’.

There is a key interplay between the published and the recorded as ‘traditional’. Does it matter?  I think in some senses it does. And I want to see authors and composers, where these are known, credited with what they have done. Embedding songs and poems in their context, understanding what they have come from...

(Something to reflect on, anyway.)