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Old faces, old places and old stories of Stirling (Volume 1) online

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Alluded to in the lines written in reference to " Tammy " Chal-
mers, was, as there noted, for a time the official town drummer
and crier. Isaac was an old servant of the town, and was on


the scaffold when Allan Mair was executed. Some of the wags
annoyed him by saying it was he who had acted as hangman,
and, " if a' stories are true," he had a hand in the matter. His
son, William a splendid-looking soldier was Sergeant-Major
of the 42nd Royal Highlanders, and died in Stirling Castle.
'We remember poor Isaac walking after the coffin, leaning on
the arms of the Provost and one of the bailies. When old age
came upon him, he got very " crusty," and, as hinted at by
Taylor, many a scene took place on the streets between him
and Chalmers.


On the Death of DANNY M'VEAN, Town Officer
and Bellman, 1854.

The bell has been toll'd for the bellman so bold,
An' Danny M'Vean is noo laid in the mould,
An' there's weepin' an' wailin' 'mang women an' men,
For they'll a' ken the want o' auld Danny M'Vean.

Afore he'd have wanted the clink o' the bell
He'd have risen, I'll wager, an' rung it himsel' ;
For he likit his due, an' he grudged it to nane,
So blest be the slumber o' Danny M'Vean.

Ower a' the town-officers Dan bore the bell,
He was aye 'mang the foremost, an' aye like himsel' ;
Frae the vera first day he could toddle his lane
His path was straightforward aye, Danny M'Vean.

Whae'er heard him speak after jowin' the bell
Wad ken that he made e'en his grammar himsel' ;
For the great Lindley Murray he caredna a preen,
A wonderfu' speaker was Danny M'Vean.

O Death, ye grim tyrant, ye've noo gi'en a shock
Tae the auld town o' Stirling that sits on a rock ;
For ne'er since the day she'd a king o' her ain
Has she suffered a loss like auld Danny M'Vean,

In a' the haill Terrace there wasna a craw
But put on his mournings an' groan'd out his " Ah !"
The kye ca' hame mooin', the dogs were in pain,
An' yowl'd a' the nicht lang for Danny M'Vean.


The heart-broken Cooncil stood roond him in raws,
The Bailies grat audibly an' they had cause ;
An' the Provost, wi' tears happin' doon frae his een,
Cries, " Whaur are ye noo ringin', Danny M'Vean?"

The minister meant, like an eloquent man,
Tae gi'e us a sermon, next Sunday, on Dan ;
But the text an' the sermon escapit him clean,
His heart was sae wae for auld Danny M'Vean.

"Tickler" Lyon.

This old man, who was commonly called " Tickler " (the
name having descended to him from his father, who was a
noted breeder of game-cocks, and who was always expressing
himself as to some of these being " ticklers," denoting some-
thing good or out of the ordinary run), died in March, 1851,
aged about ninety. James was a " character," and was the last
male member of a family once numerous and influential in the
town. At one time there were no fewer than ten persons
belonging to it of the same name, either in, or qualified for
the Town Council, which must have been a great thing in such
a small community as that of Stirling then was. James could
reckon property in the churchyard belonging to his forebears
as far back as 300 years ; in short, with the exception of one
family, the Davies, the Lyons were the only ones who could
claim great antiquity in' the town. Numerous as they were,
they were all engaged in one single branch of business the
leather trade, and were either tanners, curriers, saddlers, or
shoemakers (as James was himself), and perhaps, in old times,
glovers. With them there was " nothing like leather."

In 1715, when the rebels under the Earl of Mar were
approaching Stirling, it is affirmed that one of the Lyons, who
then lived at Raploch, went out under the Duke of Argyle
with seven sons, all fine young men above six feet high, to
encounter the rebels at Sheriffmuir, and tradition says that,
of the whole eight, only the old man returned, and when he
told his wife of the death of her sons, her reason gave way.

James was a jovial son of Cnspin, and set up his stall at the


corner of Cowane's Yard. Here he whistled and sang, devoting
many hours to the rearing of starlings, blackbirds, and
thrushes. As they were constantly under the tongue and eye
of their master, his " blackies " and "mavies " were famed for
the depth, mellowness, and variety of their tones. James had
also a cuckoo clock of which he was very proud, and which was
a great source of delight to the boys attending the public
schools in the neighbouring yards, who endeavoured to be pre-
sent as the hours struck, when the wondrous cuckoo came
forth and performed. All these things were very gratifying
to James, though the persistence of " the laddies " sometimes
annoyed him ; yet, upon the whole, they were 011 the very
best of terms.

His last years were as comfortable as circumstances
admitted, and he died in the attic flat of the house in Broad
Street, once the residence of Sir John Dinely. He liked to be
called " the last king of the forest." This was not, however,
strictly true, though he always spoke of it as such, for he left a
son, but as he seldom came about the town, his father considered
himself the last of the Lyons', and his son as only a degenerate
branch of the same stem, and whom he did not care about
acknowledging as a true Lyon.

" Blind Alick."

Alexander Lyon, a scion of one of the families referred to
in the preceding sketch, was blind from his birth, and his
intellect, with the exception of one faculty, was an entire
blank. For a lengthened period he daily perambulated the
Back Walk from morning till dusk without any attendant, and
yet without being known to stumble. He always carried in his
hand a key, and had also several snuff-boxes, which he got filled
in the shops in town, one of the places in particular being
" Snuff Wricht's," King Street. The extraordinary retentive-
ness of his memory attracted visitors from every quarter, while
the wonderful ascendancy of this one faculty, amidst the chaos
of the others, engaged the consideration of more than one
moralist. The voice of an individual who had once addressed


him could not, by any lapse of time, suffer obliteration. He had
heard the Scriptures read in the schools he was in the habit
of visiting, and could repeat almost the entire sacred volume,
beginning at any chapter or verse. Yet no explanation of any
passage he might be desired to quote could lead him to com-
prehend its meaning. He lived by the alms of the public and
the bounty of the compassionate, and was found dead in bed
in 1836.

As affording but one example of his verbal acquaintance with
Scripture, it is related that " Tammy " Chalmers, who was
famed as Stirling's bellman, and who forms the subject of the
next sketch, attended, when a youth, the Rev. James Gil-
fillan's Bible Class in Viewfield Church. On one occasion a
verse of Scripture was given out by the minister for proof,
without any reference as to where it was to be found.
Chalmers searched the Bible for the passage for several days,
but failed to find it, and at last bethought himself of applying
for assistance to " Blind Alick," when the following conversa-
tion ensued :

CHALMERS Eh, man, Alick, I'm in an awfu' strait.

ALICK Hoo's that, Tammy?

C. I've a verse to prove for the minister, an' I dinna ken
whar it is.

A. It'll be i' the Buik.

C. Ou', ay, it's i' the Buik ; but I canna fin't.

A. Whatis't?

Chalmers then repeated the words, and Alick in an instant
gave chapter and verse, which were verified by the boy on the
spot, by reference to the Bible which he had with him.


[The following lines are said to have been written by Mr
William Finlaysoii, slater, Stirling, in 1828.]

Light may arise and light recline,

Sun, moon, and stars, and comets shine ;

Wonders may float the boundless main,
And air and earth still more contain.


You can these things admire and see ;

How blesa'd indeed compared with me,
Who ne'er beheld fair nature's face,

Nor any of my kindred race.

Shut from the lively ways of men,

In darkness here I stray ;
No moon to guide my steps by night,

No sun to cheer by day.

With me relentless darkness dwells,
Thick as the shades of night ;

No morning dawn to cheer my way,
Or shed a pleasant light.

Concealed from me for ever here

The works of God do lie,
Until that blissful morning dawn

That wafts me to the sky.

Then from the slumbers of the tomb

I shall awake and see
Wonders to me unseen unknown

All full disclosed to me.

What now though darkness may enfold,
And horrors round me dwell,

The brightness of Jehovah's face
Shall every gloom dispel.

Then with the radiant sons of light

Inheritance I'll have,
When Death shall yield his ancient power,

And vanquished be the grave.

Lo, here in solitude I walk,

Seasons no comfort bring ;
My key's my only guide and staff,

And this the song I sing

" Arise, my soul, in lofty strains

From this forlorn abode ;
Exert of life what now remains

To seek and love thy rod.

" Ascend aloft from where thou stand'st

To Pisgah's vast domain,
And see from thence the Promised Land,

Where saints in glory reign.


" Though temporal blindness may enfold,

And darkness dwell around,
Yet doth thy powers all light behold,

Through faith's triumphant sound.

" I'll see the King in glory placed

In that, O awful day,
When fire and water, air and earth,

To smoke shall melt away.

" Then shall these eyes shine like the sun,

Though now in darkness seal'd,
When this my earthly course is run,

And mysteries are revealed."

''Tammy" Chalmers, Letter = Writer,
Billposter, and Bellman.

" Tammy," who was notable in more respects than one, was
a native of St. Ninians, and learned the trade of a carpet
weaver. Dull times, however, kept him in very poor circum-
stances, and when the " crier " of St. Ninians got into some
trouble through one of his " cries," " Tammy " was considered
a most suitable person to take his place. Having " a gey guid
conceit o' his pooers," he accepted the post, his first proclama-
tion being prohibiting the taking or theft of slates from the
Temperance Hall. He had frequently to officiate in the
neighbouring villages, where he was saluted by the boys with
" A guid crier, but a horrid bad bell." As " Tammy's " circum-
stances did not allow of his buying a new one, after cogitating
a bit he came to the conclusion to appeal to the " St. Ringans
folks " to provide it. Accordingly a public meeting, or social
was held, to which admission was charged for, and by this means
Chalmers got his bell. After a time he was appointed bellman
of Stirling, and for many a day rung his St. Ringans " present "
on our streets.

The name of the public crier frequently figures in documents
of no mean importance, and the services of such a functionary
were highly valued by our former Town Councillors. For many
years, however and for what reason is not known a drum had


been used in preference to the euphonious sound of the bell.
It would appear, also, that Irishmen at one time were pre-
ferred to most public situations in Stirling. In proof of this a
proclamation was pretty freely posted on the walls of the town
at the time the late Rev. Archibald Bennie was removed to
Lady Tester's Church in Edinburgh. It was in nearly the
following terms :

" Whereas, by the resignation of the Rev. Archibald Bennie,
the first Ministerial Charge of the Parish of Stirling has become
vacant ; and whereas the charge is in the gift of the Town
Council, no candidate should apply who is not provided with
proper documents to show that he is by birth and education, as
well as habit and repute, an Irishman, and that for the following
cogent reasons, namely, that the burgh has been, and still is,
very faithfully served by a whole batch of Irish functionaries,
viz., his Honour the Provost, his sub-Honour, the Jailer, and
two' Subalterns ; the Town Drummer, a most admirable crier !
and the two Leeries. Neither of which offices, in the opinion
of Bailie Frosty-Face, could be fairly filled by an inhabitant of
Stirling. Scotsmen, therefore, whatever be your qualifications,
you are sure of disappointment if a single Irishman is pitted
against you, though his brogue be as broad as Ballyporeen itself,
and his outward man like Paddy of Cork, with his coat buttoned
behind, and his hair growing through his hat !

God Save the Queen ! "

Happily, however, the days of exclusive privileges were over,
and the humble Thomas Chalmers, by the mere force of his
eloquence, made his way into public favour and usefulness
without having to lean on the precarious patronage of civic
dignitaries. We do not know what " Tammy " would have
stuck at poetry or prose. By attending the Sheriff and Police
Courts, he got a " smattering " of law, so that he could at times
give " advice " to good purpose. He was also letter-writer for
the poorer classes. Some people used to have a " chaff " with
" Tammy," but it took a pretty clever one to get the better of
him, as he was always able to give as good as he got ; and often
with interest. Such was the universal approbation of his ex-
hibitions as public bellman of Stirling, that a number of the


inhabitants presented him with a handsome uniform, with
cocked hat, of which he was very proud. " Tammy " got a
very sudden call, and Stirling still remembers kindly the best
and most original bellman she ever possessed.

On one occasion portraits of some of Stirling's " characters "
were exhibited for sale in the shop window of the late Mr Miller,
bookseller, Port Street. One of these was a photograph of the
bellman, but this was too great an indignity for Chalmers. On
seeing it he marched into Miller's shop, and, under pain of legal
proceedings, insisted on the withdrawal of the portrait alike
from the window and from sale. But " Tammy," notwith-
standing his own opinion, was relegated to the place of worthy,
and the illustration in the present volume will convey to the
reader an impression of Stirling's " immortal " bellman.

The following " Address to the Stirling Bellman " was written
(after seeing him in his new official dress) by David Taylor, the
St. Ringans poet.

Immortal bellman! What do I behold?

The outward man adorned from top to toe !
How great the change ! Thou lookest proud and bold.

To do thee honour, I before thee bow.

Pink of Perfection, praised be thine attire,

Thy speckled breeches, vest, and coat so blue

Neck of the latter red as glowing fire

And grand cocked hat, a marvel great to view.

King of odd fellows, rarest of the rare,
Oh, what a sight thou art to human eyes ;

No wonder people at thee gape and stare,
For thou wert born the people to surprise.

No more the humble Chalmers of St Ninians ;

Thou from it fled'st, and with thee bore the bell ;
Yea, like an eagle soaring on swift pinions,

Thou took'st thy flight, high on the Rock to dwell.

Strong-lunged inhabitant of Buchan's Close,*

Thyself and garb I love so uniform.
No man's so honoured, Isaac's t getting cross ;

Whene'er ye meet there is a thunder storm.

* 5 St John Street.

t Isaac Spyron, the official Town Drummer.


War-waging, brave, illustrious new-comer,
So high in standing, who can put thee down?

And, by the powers, if thou art chosen drummer,
Thou'lt drum old Isaac fairly out of town.

Renowned street orator, long may'st thou live
To use thy vocal powers, which raised thy fame,

And when thy dress is done, thy friends will give
To thy dear self, " another of the same."


IN most, if not every town, as well as in many villages
throughout the country, there has always been at least
one individual who was marked by some peculiarity
physical or mental which separated him from his
fellows, and made him the object of commiseration to some,
and, to the unthinking and unfeeling, the butt for ridicule or
practical joking. Up till about a quarter of a century ago such
individuals were more frequently to be met with than they are
now-a-days, as those mentally afflicted are for the most part
confined in lunatic asylums, consequent upon some outbreak on
their part, generally, however, resulting from annoyance to
which they were subjected by thoughtless people.

Looking back over a period of years extending to half a
century, the writer can recall a goodly number of those who
were either not altogether "compos mentis," and, being street
wanderers, came in for more than the ordinaiy attention ; or,
on account of some very marked peculiarity, were regarded as
of that class generally included under the term "worthies."


"Wee Towan."

Added to this, there was about several that which charac-
terised them as oddities, " Wee Towan " being one of the out-
standing figures which come before our mind's eye very pro-
minently, his diminutive size and waddling gait, his broad blue
bonnet with its red " toorie," and a collection of pipes, pipe-
heads, and other etceteras underneath it ; his watch-fob with
a large bunch of seals and other trinkets dangling in front ; or
the impediment in his speech, causing his utterances to be
almost unintelligible to a stranger, all serving to characterise
him as belonging to the class of individuals to whom the term
oddity may be applied.

Lowrie Millar.

Amongst the earliest local " characters " we have recollection
of may be named Lowrie Millar, a one-armed man, who
hawked coal through the town. In Lowrie 's house he was but a
secondary individual, as " the grey mare was the better horse,"
and he, poor man, had just to do as he was bidden. As his
" cattle " were never any great shakes, he was continually in
the market for a fresh beast ; and, as he would be setting out
in view of a purchase, his wife would dismiss him with the
words, " Ha'e, Lowrie, there's five shillings ; see an' get a guid
yin when ye're at it."

"Tippling Act" Jock " Kawr."

Only very old people will remember Jock. It was reported
he had taken advantage of the " Tippling Act " at some time,
had got " taivert," and was unable to do anything to earn a
living. He used to appear on the street, stand a minute, then,
putting his fingers in his mouth, give a shrill whistle, and finish
up by calling out, " Tippling Act, Tippling Act ! " He was
heard one day in St. Mary's Wynd saying to himself, " I've got


a gill no' tae say Tippling Act, and I've got sixpence no' tae
say Tippling Act ; but I will say Tippling Act. '

Willie ("Troughy") Orr.

Who among the old folks does not remember Willie, with his
sleeved moleskin waistcoat and broad blue bonnet ? He did
errands for the carters and carriers who put up at Sandy
Neilson's in King Street. Willie was said to be of a greedy
disposition, and very fond of a dram, and when he became
intoxicated was made a butt of by boys.

W T ho was occasionally employed as a printer's pressman, was a
very respectable body, but of diminutive stature. He was
peaceable and agreeable when let alone, but when any of the
trades-fellows took out their foot-rules to measure him then he
" showed his teeth." Forfar was very fond of the lasses, who
got great fun with him by encouraging his foibles.

"Maikey Toy" (Malcolm Taylor),

Who served in the 71st Regiment, and was present with that
famous corps at the battle of Waterloo, was another little man,
who did messages for Mr Finlayson, flesher, Baker Street.
When " Maikey " was under the influence of liquor he put him-
self into a " mighty fluster," and let the lieges know that he
was an old soldier and a Waterloo hero.

John Brooks, "The Hangman."

John lived in " Snuff Wricht's " close, King Street. An
execution was to take place in Edinburgh, and John applied
for the job, but although his services were not required, the
name stuck. He had been a soldier, and it was said he had
acted as finisher of the law while abroad.


"London John," or "Coal John,"

Was a respectable and extremely polite individual. The
courtly manner in which he made a bow was especially notable,
and might have been copied by a dancing-master with profit.
John always wore a surtout and tall hat, and, on occasions,
black cloth gloves. He made a living by putting in coals,
and by doing errands for several merchants.

" Deil" Roy

For some years was a somewhat conspicuous figure on our
streets, being tall and of slouching gait, and as a street porter
was generally to be found lounging at a corner.

S "Stulty Andrew."

Andrew Wilson was a native of Falkirk, but occasionally
made the " Rock " his place of abode. Though a genuine
Scotsman, Andrew had all the rollicking humour and as much
of the blarney as any son of the " Emerald Isle." Why he was
dubbed " Stulty " we are not aware, as we never saw him with
a crutch, but having lost his left leg, he was furnished with a
wooden one, with which he stumped about the streets.
Andrew was " everything by turns, and nothing long," as the
one day he might be selling delf, with a frame of a pony and
a ramshackle cart, whilst the next (by reason of the sudden
demise of the pony, perhaps) he might have been seen working
as a navvy, and wheeling a barrow with the best of them. But
Andrew's chief role was as a ballad-monger, when he might
have been seen perambulating the streets calling his wares,
and occasionally indulging in a stave or two, accompanied by
some humorous balderdash of his own. The Fair, however,
was the time to see Andrew at his best. He had a poor voice,
and as poor a collection of songs, but he did his best, his
favourite being


Whar ye gaun, my bonny lass?

Whar ye gaun, my honey ?
Eight modestly she answered, I'm

Gaun an errand tae my mammy,
With my rolling eye.

Then to see him at his inimitable break-down at the end of a
verse " was a caution." It was a mere skip, in which the iron
shod on the wooden leg played a prominent part, the " jig "
being accentuated by a thud on the street, and the finale was
reached, the wooden leg raised, and the stick which he carried
in his hand was brought down with a whack upon it. Andrew
was indeed a merry one, and many witty sallies and humorous
sayings he gave vent to, no one joining more heartily in the
guffaw than himself.

" Hutnphy Geordie."

George Sutherland was a native of the Castlehill, and a
weaver to trade, and most industrious. Dull times, however,
sent him to procure a living by other means. He was always
willing to work, and took up with the men about the Flesh
Market, which did not tend to the improvement of his morals.
" Geordie " was for a long time a great favourite of the late
Mr Peter Drummond, and, as he had a good voice, led the
psalmody on many occasions at the street-preachings., The
dram was " Geordie's " ruin ; and when he had " a drop in " he
became cantankerous and rendered himself very obnoxious to
passers-by. For a long time he eked out a living by selling
sheeps' heads, " trotters," &c., as well as by doing errands
from the 'buses and tramway cars.

Jock Macewen,

Or, as he himself pronounced the name, Mackeown, though
certainly " no' a' there," was possessed of a wonderful memory,
and could repeat, word for word, the sermons and prayers of
the Rev. Dr Binnie, of the Cameronian Kirk in the Craigs,


which he attended with regularity, as he did several houses in
and around the town on account of the food he was provided
with. Jock's great subject, however, was his forthcoming
wedding with Princess Beatrice (Princess Henry of Battenberg)
and his correspondence with the Queen on the matter, the
nuptials only being delayed on account of the Princess' youth.
For a time he would disappear from town, only to return in
some quaint garb, mayhap his trousers cut short in the legs,
the ends tucked under his stockings, which would be held by
gaily-coloured ribbons, with pretty lengthy ends fluttering
about ; a bright coloured waistcoat, a black coat, with shining
buttons, a slouch hat, ornamented and adorned with a string
of narrow ribbon, and he was always ready to stand and repeat
a Bible chapter, a psalm, a prayer, or a portion of a sermon,
or answer any enquiries concerning Royalty and his connection
therewith, as often as not volunteering information on the
point with great volubility.

11 Blind Tom."

Although not a native of Stirling, " Tom " had been for a

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