Another classic winter time moment from John Donald’s Old Greenock Characters Winter Fair chapter, presented, as ever, as the author intended. Just in case you don’t know, as it’s relevant to the wee story below, a feeing market is where farmers would come to hire labourers for the next year.
The fair afforded an excellent opportunity to carry on the business of the Martinmas Feeing Market, and bucolic visitors were to be observed in couples and small groups here and there in the Square, or strolling aimlessly about the adjoining streets, the arms of the amorous swains being, in not a few cases, around the ruddy necks of their “fair” companions, who gaped and glowered delightedly, heedless of the amused looks or attempted witticisms of the “toon folk”.
At the corner of Church Place a few lads and lassies were approached by a wench known to at least one of them.
“Hallo Jean, hae ye got a fee?” exclaimed a half tipsy youth, who had been her fellow servant.
“No yet Rab.”
Rab turned to a companion.
“Here, haud ma lass,” said he, “til ah get a gless wi’ Jean.”
The lass having apparently no objection, rab and Jean moved leisurely across to David McCammonds Wheat Sheaf Inn, followed by another couple on a similar errand.
On their return, some twenty minutes later, it was evident that MCCammond kept a dram with some pith in it. Rab felt game for anything.
“Ere ye are lads,” cried the owner of a shooting stand close by, “ere ye are. Try yer skill. O’ny a a’penny a shot. Fun for yer money, an nuts for nuthin!”
“Ah’ll haud ye ah could pit the pin in the wee ring,” exclaimed Rab boldly.
“Don’t believe you could,” returned the stall man; “but ‘ave a try; it on’y costs a a’penny.”
Rab received the gun and put it to his shoulder with a serious air. He took so long to fix his aim, that his friends became impatient, and made sarcastic remarks. At length, he fired – and almost missed the board at the back of the stand.
A shout of derisive laughter greeted the result.
“Aw, ma fit slippit. See’s anither,” said Rab.
“Right you are sir,” replied the showman briskly, and to the gentlemen spectators added: “Ho, yes, it’s right enough. The gentleman’s foot slipped…Now then sir,”
Rab fired again, and with rather more success; the pin was not inside the ring, but came pretty near it.
“That’s better,” cried the showman, encouragingly. “Very near it. This time you’re bound to win. Luck in hodd numbers you know sir,” and he replaced the gun in Rab’s hands.
Practice makes perfect. Rab’s third shot landed the pin within one of the larger circles and his success was hailed with hearty shouts of “Weel done, Rab,” “Fine, man,” from his beaming companions, amidst which Rab laid down his gun with an air of such lofty indifference as to indicate that he could easily ring the pin whenever it might please him to do so.
Declining (wisely) however, further practice, he paid the man and was about to receive his guerdon of nuts, when down came the tall backboard of the stand on the top of his and the showman’s heads. The girls screamed, the showman swore, and Rab was dumbfoundered; but there was little harm done. Some boys had got behind the stand, loosened the cords which held the backboard in place, pushed it over and then made off – a common prank of theirs.
The incident had been fully discussed, and Rab’s “neif-fu’” of nuts distributed among the lassies, when a farmer strolled towards the group. An elderly man of medium height and stout build, with one hand in the pocket of his tweed shooting coat and a thick ash staff in the other, he regarded the females of the party with keen eyes peering from beneath bushy eyebrows. Apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, he slowly stepped forward, and, catching Jean’s eye, indicated with a jerk of the head his desire to speak with her. Jean approached him, when the following conversation ensued, with much deliberation on both sides, the questions being cannily put, and as cautiously answered:-
“Are ye fee’d?” he began.
“Wad ye tak’ a fee?”
“Weel, if it was a guid yin a wad tak it. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“Are ye a guid milker?”
“Ou aye; ah can milk weel eneuch.”
“Can ye churn? Are ye a guid dairymaid?”
“Ou aye, ah’m yaised tae the dairy.”
“Iphm!”…”Ye’ll hae references?”
Jean nodded and produced a couple of certificates which the farmer carefully perused by the aid of his spectacles, and returned:
“And-eh-what wages wad ye be seekin’-what had ye in yer last place?”
“Twal poun’ ten.”
“Aye-imphm-an’ what wad ye be wantin noo?”
“Weel, ah was thinkin’ seven poun’ in the hauf year.”
“Ah’m thinkin’ ye’d be weel enough aff if ye got sax poun’ ten, that’s thirteen poun in the year. What dae ye say? Will ye fee?”
This was the utmost Jean had expected; but it would never do to be too eager. She seemed to hesitate the sly minx.
“But whaur is it til?”
He mentioned the name of his farm, of which Jean had received creditable reports.
“Ah, weel,” sh said at last, “Ah suppose ah maun jist tak it.”
“Come awa’ ower then, an we’ll settle about it. Here’s a shullin; that’ll earle ye,” and the farmer led the way to the White Hart Hotel at the corner of the Square, in order to have the contract signed.
As they passed, Rab whispered, “Hae ye got a fee?”
Jean nodded and smiled, “Aye Rab, ahm fee’d noo.”
“Ye’re lucky,” sighed Rab; “Ah wish ah wis fee’d.”
The first of two seasonal outings from John Donald's classic Old Greenock Characters...
While the summer fair was the event of the year, and looked
forward to with longing, I must not omit to recall the celebration of the
Winter Fair. The late Mr George Williamson, in his history of “Old Greenock”
published in 1896, tells us that John Schaw and Helen Houston, the Superiors
were, by a Charter of Confirmation and Novodamus under the Great Seal of
Charles I in 1635, empowered to constitute and continue in the town, two Fairs
yearly – the first in the month of July to be called St Lawrence Fair, and the
other in the month of November, to be known as St Helen’s Fair. That is the
origin of our Summer and Winter fairs respectively, and probably they were of
equal importance for many years; but old Father Time as is his wont, wrought changes,
and, like two brothers setting out in the world, with apparently similar
providence and under the same auspices, one rose to a brilliant eminence, the
other to mere mediocrity. In their later years, while the glorious sunshine,
verdant foliage and songs of birds formed a fitting accompaniment to the joyous
summer festival, the bleak bare bough and the icy blast were the grim attendants
of the poor relation.
Seventy years ago, [ed – note that the date here referred to
would be approximately 1850]the Winter
Fair, which was held in Cathcart Square, and along Cathcart Street to some
extent, consisted of an assembly of stands for the sale of all sorts of
commodities. These stands not only occupied the centre of the Square, where the
Lyle Fountain now is, but were ranked along each side, so that practically all
available space was occupied. This was especially the case when, as frequently
happened, horses and ponies were placed for disposal. It was too, a veritable Paddy’s Market. Articles of wearing
apparel, including boots, shoes and slippers (for both sexes and all ages)
books, single song sheets, pictures, (framed and unframed), fruit, and, of
course, confections from the interesting and sentimental conversation “lozenge”
to the prosaic but popular “gundy”. There were also shooting stands, similar to
those of a later date, with nuts for prizes; and some of my readers may
remember the huge inverted umbrellas used for the display of cheap prints and
small framed pictures (usually of religious subjects), song books and song
sheets, these articles being placed around the inside of the “gamp” while beads
and brooches etc dangled outside from the point of each rib.
Eminent and eloquent philanthropists, too, were there
offering for a merely nominal sum, panaceas of incalculable value for the
perfect cure of all diseases. These distinguished and disinterested gentlemen
were (at least they said they were, and there assertions were not contradicted)
on terms of the most remarkable familiarity with all the crowned heads of
Europe, and might then, at that precise moment when they had the privilege and
the pleasure to address such an intelligent Greenock audience, have been
enjoying their “otium cum dignitate” (if any auditor had a lingering doubt of
the speakers veracity, that phrase dispelled it at once). But the call of
suffering humanity was insistent, and they could not – not their consciences,
for they had such a thing, gentlemen, would not allow them to recline in
opulent indolence while their fellow creatures suffered from coughs, colds,
difficulty of breathing, or any affectation of the heart or lungs. “One does
revives, one bottle cures Thank you sir!” and when he added “sold again” it was
doubtful whether he referred to the commodity or the purchaser. The success of
these mountebanks, depending as it always does upon the credulity of the
public, was considerable.
Ballad singers worked their way through the crowded Square,
and, occasionally Heather Jock or an itinerant juggler such as Old Malabar,
lent variety to the amusement of the public.
As darkness fell, horse dealers and certain other vendors
disappeared, only to make way for an increasing throng, and from six or seven o’clock
until nine or ten, the scene was striking enough, and somewhat weird, as the
oil lamps flickered and fluttered in the gloom. The establishment of the Horse fair at St Andrew Square,
remembered by many of our older citizens, may have tended to sap it’s vitality,
but whatever the reason or reasons, the Winter Fair dwindled with each passing
year, and at such a rate that about fifty five years ago, it consisted of only
one row of stands, with one or two inverted umbrellas, along the pavement
fronting the railings of the Mid Parish Church. Even this “relic of ould dacency”
came to grief when a crowd of workmen, mostly apprentice shipwrights, at the
dinner hour (then from two till three o’clock) in a wild rush, upset stands and
umbrellas and scattered their contents. That was practically the end of the Winter Fair; but its
last vestige may have been observed about thirty five years ago, when an aged
dame sat behind a plan deal kitchen table upon which lay a tray of yellow
candy, a pair of scales, a hammer and an old knife, while underneath were
stowed some old newspapers for wrapping the ha’pennysworth of candy in.
A man passing said to his companion, “What’s that?”
“That,” replied the other with a short laugh, “that is the
Magic Torch will be joining all manner of lovely creative folk at the inaugural Violet Skulls Market in The Dutch Gable House on Saturday 30 November, a collection of vintage, home baking, books, art & craft stalls in the beautiful Dutch Gable House. Come along for some music and chat, then browse for some early Christmas treats and keep yer Christmas local this year.
For our part, we will have special offers on all our books - including our exclusive reprint of the Captain Kidd comic and some more of our sinister Christmas Cards, which there are still a few weeks for you to insult or terrify a loved one with.
Get ye along to The Dutch Gable House from Monday to purchase a few of our EXCLUSIVE Tales of the Oak Midwinterfestivusmas Cards featuring Captain Kidd and Auld Dunrod...spreading jolly Christmas fear.
All profits will be reinvested in local heritage programmes and projects.
Oh...and please consider this your official Christmas Salutation from all the team at Magic Torch. No further greeting will be issued.
Now enjoy the Christmas Horror stylings of Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler...
So far this year, with the support of Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland we've given you TWO WHOLE FREE BOOKS, Wee Nasties and Tales of the Oak.
Now is your...let's call it an "opportunity", to give a little something back. Torch are currently fundraising for contributions towards our next years projects - we can't come right out and tell you what they are yet, but if you enjoyed this years mix of free childrens books, comics, folklore and storytelling...then you won't be disappointed. Music fans may also be in for some treats.
So, we've released a new ebook collection exclusively on kindle which is ideally suited for this time of year. There's a wee bit of everything from doomed love to haunted industrial wastelands and it can be yours for a mere 99p - just imagine you were scouring through the pound shop and found it beside all the cookbooks and second hand repackaged CDs.
Family member getting a kindle for Christmas? Know an elderly relative in need of a scare? Then show someone the price of your love - all 99p of it. Though I would argue there is at least £1.89 of value.
You can get A Nip In The Air on amazon now, all profits following enormous amazon cut, will be reinvested in local heritage projects run by volunteers, no individual contributors will benefit from it's sale...
Later this month we'll be running an event to celebrate Book Week Scotland.
Come along to The Dutch Gable House on Tuesday 26 November from 1 - 8 o'clock to get involved in comic creation workshops, see some great examples of classic comics, exhibitions of comic art and a number of films exploring the history of the comic book genre.
You will be able to get your picture taken as the star of your own comic book page and see our Big Comic projected in the Back House of the Dutch Gable. There will also be more copies of our Tales of the Oak comic being distributed for FREE.
Contact email@example.com if you want any more information, or would like to bring a group along.