Bridge of Allan Old Village Worthies
By John J. McKay
In the course of the preceding chapters I mentioned various of the most outstanding characteristics of village in bygone days. Yet so varied and comprehensive is the theme, and so wide the range covering the many changes which have taken place, I feel I have little more than touched the fringe subject. In what I have related however, I have endeavoured to describe them very imperfectly, some from my own experience and recollection, others from I have been informed in the course conversation with old residents, and other sources. I feel that the series would be incomplete without some reference to the old-time village worthies. He – sometimes there was a she – but cases where a woman figures in the company are rare – was common in nearly all villages in the old days.
In making reference to these old personalities, or characters, I do so with reverence and respect – they were symbolic of the times. They men who in their youth shaped promisingly, but owing to misfortune in later years fell by the way. It must be remembered there were no old age pensions in their day. The weekly allowance now allowed to men and women over a certain age would have represented a fortune to these old men. It was their fate to be born too early to participate in the benefit which a grateful yet tax-ridden country bestows on its aged poor. By the time they came to the village these old characters had sunk to the lowest depths of destitution. They were not all spongers or idlers in the true sense the term – some of them at least had been tradesmen – but they depended almost entirely for their livelihood upon those who had known them in better days, and visitors. So far as work was concerned, they were a spent force.
They were not drunken, for the reason that they were always more or loss out of funds. As they stood, or rather loitered about the head of Union Street, each member of the fraternity at different periods during a number of years, they presented forlorn specimens of abject misery and neglect. They were unkempt and dirty, clad in misfits moulded with age and weather. When fortune smiled upon them, those who could afford to do so took the tram to Stirling and put up for the night in the Common Lodging-House there in some degree of comfort. It sometimes happened that the quest for the wherewithal provide for tram and lodging was unsuccessful. In this emergency the Bowling Green shed in Union Street offered a very handy night shelter in summer. In winter, I am told, any who happened to be stranded were permitted by the late Mr. Robert Philp, founder of the Royal Hotel, and father of the late ex-Provost Philp, to pass the night in the hay loft at the hotel stables on the condition that they did not smoke. One very severe frosty night three of these human derelicts found themselves in the unhappy position of having no money, and after conferring with one another, they decided to adjourn to the hay loft for shelter from the biting wind and icy cold. Next morning these three failed to appear at their usual stance, and on a search being instituted their dead bodies were found in the hay-loft. It was a pitiful ending to die under such harrowing circumstances, and many to whom they were personally known in the village were deeply moved by the occurrence. Others more fortunate drifted one by one to the Poorhouse in Stirling, and there ended their days in comfort.
Now they are all gone and the “Broken Earthenware” of Bridge of Allan, which these men so tragically represented, is an institution of the past.
The Old-Worthies: Who's Who? Sammel Slav Rab the Ranter Stick Tam Galloping Tam Bonnie Peter Davie Purdie Bisky Bobbie Flechy Himmie (James Afleck) Cocky Barbour Fish Gutz Rustie Gutz Keek Bo Shivering Andrew Cuddie Wull Sandy Duchart Paper Dowp Moolie Pate Aiple Heid Peter Dunlop Princess Beatrice
Bonnie Peter. Uncle of the late Dr. Haldane. He did odd jobs and amongst others had charge of the Toll at the top of Lovers Walk being engaged by the Lessee, Mr. Robert Greenhorn Senr.
Bisky Bobbie was a labourer at Keir and resided at Allan Bank.
Cocky Barbour drove the Queen’s Hotel Bus.
Keek Bo was one David Bennett who used to rap at a neighbour’s door peep through the Key Hole and when he saw someone coming to open the door cleared off.
Shivering Andrew was an elderly man. He enjoyed poor health – Rheumatics. A favourite with everybody.
Cuddie Wull had charge, on behalf of his Father of a few ponies and donkeys which regularly, during the summer months plied for hire at the head of Union Street. The fare for a ride round the triangle and back was 1d. On the death of his Father he ceased to come, and joined the late Jimmie Lavin’s Boxing Booth. So unmercifully was he belaboured by several of his boxing opponents, however, he was rescued from this hard life by the Intervention of the authorities who placed him in Larbert Asylum where he eventually died.
Sandy Duchart was a coalman. He was well off and really did not require to work as his people were all well connected and wealthy. Having a twist in his disposition, however, he was happier working. When the coal trade was quiet he cut grass. To save the scythe he used to scrape the blade on a wall. Once Sandy had occasion to go to Edinburgh with other relatives regarding some money which had been left them. The proceedings were not progressing quickly enough for Sandy so he told the Lawyer to hurry up as he had to get back to Bridge of Allan in time to put in a ton of coals at Mineral Bank.
A well known personality of the fraternity. He, In his younger days had been a soldier and took part in the late Lord Roberts’ march to Kandahar. Was wounded at Cabul on the breast by a bayonet thrust. In telling the tale if he thought his listener doubted his story he bared his chest to show the mark of the encounter. He was a sly old rogue for all that.
Aiple Heid was a brother of the late Ex-Provost Drysdale. Rather a peculiar looking individual with a very small head. Nevertheless he was of a kindly and unassuming disposition. He followed no profession in particular, but being thoroughly domesticated he did household or garden work as required. He was a prime favourite with everybody
He was a member of tile U.P. Choir in which I believe be sang tenor. On one occasion he went a round of the local churches to criticise the choirs there. One choir he declared to be fair, another very good and so on. At last he returned to his own church to criticize its choir. His verdict was “no tenor.”
Flechy Jimmie Lived in Dunblane. Spent much time at Blackdub farm where he received much of his food and slept in the barn. In the evening when I went there we used to get him to sing, He charged one penny per song but two pence for “Heather Jock” as this song he declared required double breath. For some time he was arrayed in a Station Master’s uniform, gold braid etc. He had a bad temper when roused.