In Chapter Two of Part Three of ‘Decline and Fall’ by Evelyn Waugh, the prison Governor asks ‘D.4.12’ [Paul Pennyfeather]: ‘I wonder whether you have narcissistic tendencies? Did you lead a very lonely life before conviction? Perhaps you were a shepherd or a lighthouse-keeper, or something of the kind?’
For all the Governor knew, ‘D.4.12’ might have been a gardener.
In what follows I am going to explore the life of a gardener. This gardener carried the same name as I now do: Peter Gordon.
This story will follow a time order, beginning with Peter Gordon’s birth, and ending with his death:
Peter’s story will take you to ‘delightful regions’:
For many years I had a dear friend called Ella Rae. We talked regularly on the phone and I used to visit her in Newton Mearns. Ella was elderly and loved her garden. Ella was a wonderful storyteller, and told me so much about her life and family. Ella was also interested in her family history. She was convinced that she was descended from the Gordons of Abergeldie [my family had also long shared this ‘gold-thread’ reminiscence – until I discovered that my family was actually descended from a shepherd and whisky-smuggler!]
I once spent many years researching Abergeldie and the Girnoc glen, and compiled a book on my findings, such that Ella used to say to me: “Abergeldie castle should be yours Peter!” I replied to Ella, that I was not directly related to the Abergeldie family, and so the castle could never be mine.
However, when my son Andrew turned 16, I made this fantasy suggestion:
Note: I have divided the following account of Peter Gordon, gardener, into time periods. Each period begins with a quote by a writer or poet. The quote will appear as if written in chalk on a blackboard.
Last summer I was fortunate to have time and opportunity to visit some of the delightful regions’ of the gardener’s life. My base was the Station Hotel, Insch, Aberdeenshire:
From my bedroom window I could see the ruined hill-top fort of Dunnideer:
With me, I had this newspaper advertisement from October 1884 [this was where my interest in this gardener began]:
I found this gateway to the gardener’s house in Forres:
Peter Gordon, gardener, was born in ‘Bog’ in the grounds of Warthill House, Rayne, Aberdeenshire. He was baptised in January 1823:
By the time of the first Ordnance Survey of the parish of Rayne, Bog was no longer. I visited Warthill but could not find any remains of Bog, not even ‘ankle-high’:
Aged just 15 years, Peter Gordon was a gardener apprentice on the Newton Estate: as this 1841 census establishes:
Newton House is described on CANMORE as a “Gordon house of immense serenity and dignity”:
In the grounds of Newton House stands an ancient standing stone. CANMORE states: “the quality of the carving is high”.
Peter Gordon, aged 15, was chosen by Alexander Gordon of Newton to be his latest apprentice gardener [they were not related].
The son of Alexander Gordon of Newton was also a passionate gardener and a man of many interests: Alexander Morrison Gordon encouarged university scholarship and was Chairman of the Highland Agricultural Society:
Alexander Morrison Gordon of Newton died in early March 1913, and was the last of his family to be interred in the Newton Mausoleum:
I visited the mausoluem on the 6th August 2019 [please click on the above image to play a short film]
The Newton mausoleum is now hidden in shrubs and trees, yet is just yards away from the A96. I wonder how many, like me, have travelled north without knowing they were passing by a symbol of loss?
In October 1907, the son of Alexander Morrison Gordon was caught speeding on the A96:
Alexander Theodore Gordon was one of the shortest-serving MPs in history. Just two months after his election he died as a result of ‘Spanish flu’.
Newton House has a Secret Garden:
On occasion, this s e c r e t garden, has opened it’s gate:
This narrative has digressed, forgive me, the narrator.
Let us return to the apprentice gardener. In 1851 he was living in Edinburgh:
He was living in lodgings, very fine Edinburgh lodgings:
Here, records, for what they vitally are, fail. It has not been possible to establish if Peter Gordon was staying in Huntly Street because he was in training in the nearby Botanic Gardens:
[Personal Note: 140 years after Peter, I trained as a gardener in Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens. I was then a student of the University of Edinburgh. I graduated with distinction in every subject. I was awarded the Scottish Chapter Prize]
By 1861, Peter Gordon was an ‘Assistant Gardener’ on the Castle Semple estate:
Castle Semple was demolished some years ago:
It is now a Country Park:
Peter, assistant gardener, lived in a wee bothy next to the Head Gardener’s House:
The Castle Semple gardeners, of all grades, lived in buildings that were ‘walled into’ the walled garden:
The nearest neighbour of Castle Semple’s walled garden was this estate temple:
The temple, now roofless, remains as a loved landmark:
By 1871, Peter was no longer an apprentice, he was a gardener!
Having lived beside a temple, he was now gardener in Templeland!
In February 1876, Peter Gordon, gardener, married Helen Anderson.
By 1881, Peter Gordon, gardener, and his wife Helen, were living at Cothall, on the Altyre Estate, near Forres:
At Cothall, the gardener’s daughter, Helen, was born:
As narrator, I suggest that we need to look again at this census of 1881:
At Cothall, Altyre, two families lived where Peter Gordon was father: Peter Gordon the shepherd, and Peter Gordon the gardener.
Peter Gordon, the Altyre shepherd living at Cothall with his wife Euphemia and family, was my great-great grandfather!
My great-great gandfather died suddenly on the 15th May 1899:
Cothall Graffiti has survived:
As have these workmans tools, somehow still hanging there:
Altyre Estate has become:
Two ‘Peter Gordons’ raised families at Cothall: one a gardener, one a shepherd.
This was no coincidence.
The story [which I will not complete] returns us to another ruin, Collairniehill, Fife:
To play the overall film about Peter Gordon, jobbing gardener please click here or on the image below: