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

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The most southerly of all the Ochil Hills is one called
Demyat, forming the west side of the mouth of Glendevon, and
is famous for the extensive and splendid view to be obtained
from its summit. The following story regarding it is related by
Dr Graham, in his "Sketches of Perthshire." The proprietor
of the estate upon which it is situated, when travelling abroad,
happened to meet an English gentleman who had recently been
in. Scotland, and who talked loudly of the romantic beauties of
that country. In particular, he spoke with rapture of the view
which he had obtained from the top of a hill called Demyat.
The Scottish gentleman heard with astonishment that he
possessed upon his own property in Scotland a view superior
to any he had come so far in search of, and he lost no time in
returning home to ascend Demyat.

In the neighbourhood of Demyat is the more conical summit
of Ben Cleuch, otherwise the hill of Alva, which, instead of
terminating, like Demyat, in a gentle upland, shoots up into
a tall rocky point. This point is called Craigleith, and was
remarkable long ago for the production of falcons. The falcons
of Craigleith were celebrated far and wide at the time when
these birds were used for sport. The rock was never tenanted
by more than one pair of birds; it, of course, produced very
few, but these were held in very high esteem. They were
often a matter of request with Royalty itself, then occasionally
resident in the neighbouring palace of Stirling.

Mar's Work, Stirling, and the Alleged

The following, we feel sure, will be deemed by no means
uninteresting. There is a very singular prophecy concerning
this family, attributed by some to Thomas the Rhymer, by
some to the Abbot of Cambuskenneth, who was ejected in the


reign of Queen Mary, and by others to the bard of the house
at that epoch. But whoever was the author of it, the prophecy
itself is sure, and the time of its delivery was prior to the
elevation of the Earl, in 1571, to be Regent of Scotland.
The original is said to have been delivered in Gaelic verse, but
it is doubtful if it was ever written down, and the family them-
selves have always been averse to giving any details concerning
it, although some members have admitted the accuracy of the
words, which are as follows :

" Proud Chief of Mar, thou shalt be raised still higher, until
thou sittest in the place of the king. Thou shalt rule and
destroy, and thy work shall be called after thy name ; but thy
work shall be the emblem of thy house, and shall teach man-
kind that he who cruelly and haughtily raiseth himself upon
the ruins of the holy cannot prosper. Thy work shall be cursed
and shall never be finished. But thou shalt have riches and
greatness, and shalt be true to thy sovereign, and shalt raise
his banner in the field of blood. Then, when thou seemest to
be highest ; when thy power is mightiest, then shall come thy
fall ; low 'shall be thy head amongst the nobles of thy people.
Deep shall be thy moan among the children of dool. Thy
lands shall be given to the stranger; and thy titles shall lie
amongst the dead. The branch that springs from thee shall
see his dwelling burnt, in which a king was nursed ; his wife
a sacrifice in that same flame ; his children numerous, but of
little honour; and three born and grown who shall never see
the light. Yet shall thine ancient tower stand ; for the brave
and true cannot be wholly forsaken. Thy proud head and
daggered hand must dree thy weird until horses shall be stabled
in thy hall, and a weaver shall throw his shuttle in thy chamber
of state. Thine ancient tower a woman's dower shall be a
ruin and a beacon, until an ash sapling shall spring from its
topmost stone. Then shall thy sorrows be ended, and the sun-
shine of Royalty shall beam on thee once more. Thine honour
shall be restored ; the kiss of peace shall be given to thy Coun-
tess, though she seek it not, and the days of peace shall return
to thee and thine. The line of Mar shall be broken ; but not
until its honours are doubled, and its doom is ended."


In explanation of this long prophecy, which has worked
through 300 years, we have to tell that the Earl of 1571 was
raised to be Regent of Scotland and guardian of James VI.,
whose cradle belongs to the family. He, as Regent, com-
manded the destruction of Cambuskenneth Abbey, and took
its stones to build himself a palace in Stirling, which never
advanced further than the facade, and which has always been
called " Mar's Work." The Earl of Mar in 1715 raised the
banner, in Scotland, of his sovereign, the Chevalier James
Stuart, son of James II., or VII., and was defeated at the
bloody battle of Sheriffmuir. His title was forfeited, and his
lands of Mar were confiscated, and sold by the Government to
the Earl of Fife. His grandson and representative, John
Francis, lived at Alloa Tower, which had been for some time
the abode of James VI. as an infant. This tower was burnt
in 1801, by a candle being left near a bed by a careless servant.
Miss Erskine, afterwards Lady Frances, had passed this room
to her own every night for twelve years, but that night, being
ill, she had gone up by a private stair. Mrs Erskine was burnt,
and died ; leaving, besides others, three children who were
born blind, and who all lived to old age. The family being
thus driven away from Alloa Tower, it was left as a ruin, and
used to be a show from the neighbouring gentlemen's houses.
In the beginning of this century, upon a general and violent
alarm of French invasion, all the cavalry of the district, and all
the yeomanry, poured into Alloa, a small, poor town, in which
they could not find accommodation. A troop accordingly took
possession of the Tower, and fifty horses were stabled for a week
in its lordly hall. In or about 1810, a party of visitors found,
to their astonishment, a weaver very composedly plying his
loom in the grand old chamber of state. He had been there a
fortnight, and the keeper of the Tower professed to know noth-
ing of it. He had been dislodged in Alloa for rent.

Between 1815 and 1820, the contributor of this article has
ften formed one of a party who have shaken the ash sapling
in the topmost stone, and clasped it in the palms of their hands,
wondering if it was really the twig of destiny, and if they
should ever live to see the prophecy fulfilled.

In 1822, King George IV. came to Scotland, and searched


out the families, who had suffered by supporting the Princes of
the Stuart line. Foremost of them all was Erskine of Mar,
grandson of the Mar who had raised the Chevalier's standard,
and to him, accordingly, he restored his earldom. John
Francis, the present peer, and the grandson of the restored
Earl, boasts the double earldoms of Mar and Kellie. His
Countess was never presented at St. James', but she accident-
ally met Queen Victoria in a small room in Stirling Castle, and
the Queen immediately asked who she was, detained her, and
kissed her. The Earl and Countess are now living in affluence
and peace at Alloa Park, and many who knew the family in
its clays of deepest depression have lived to see " the weird
dreed out, and the doom of Mar ended. "

Alloa Tower " a woman's dower " was the jointure house
of the Lady Frances Erskine, the mother of the restored peer.
The present Earl has no children, and his successor in the
peerage, accordingly, will not be an Erskine, but a Goodeve,
the child of his eldest sister, the Lady Jemima ; the old line
being thus broken. From Burke's " Romance of the Aristo-
cracy," 1853.

44 Mrs. M'Larty;' or, "I Canna
Be Fashed."

Mrs Hamilton, famous for her " Cottagers of Glenburnie "
(in which one of the characters is the now proverbial " Mrs
M'Larty''), received part of her education in Stirling. She
resided for some time at Williamfield, St. Ninians, and latterly
at the " Crook," near Kerse Mill, in a house burned down some
years ago.

An Excellent Answer.

The parish minister of St. Ninians of a former time was
visiting his flock in the vicinity of Buckieburn. In one of the
farmhouses as the custom was the family and servants were
assembled to be catechised, when the minister asked a question


of Katie, one of the servants, who appeared to be much put
about, but at length said she would whisper the answer into
his ear. The rev. gentleman, wishing to humour her, said that
would do. Katie then, crossing the room, leant to the minis-
ter's ear and whispered, " The mistress is going to send you a
pair of fat hens the morn." "An excellent answer! A most
excellent answer, Katie," quoth the divine.

Safe from the Gallows.

Cambusbarron was rendered famous in the burlesque history
of George Buchanan, as the place where, if a criminal got under
a stair, he was saved from the gallows. In these days, how-
ever, this notable privilege no longer exists, there being numer-
ous stairs in the village.

Effigy Burning at Cambusbarron.

In April, 1837, James Henderson, weaver, was burnt in
effigy at the Cross of Cambusbarron. He had rendered himself
obnoxious by volunteering to go to London to swear that the
value of the property of several determined reformers in the
village was not of the requisite value to entitle them to a vote
in the county. A day or two afterwards the effigy of his wife
went through the same ordeal.

Elizabeth Willcox and the Russian

" Wha wad ha'e thocht it
Stockin's wad ha'e bocht it?"

St. Ninians, by Stirling, April 2nd, 1804.

Unto the most Excellent Alexander, Emperor of that Great
Dominion of Russia and the Territorys there Unto Belong-
ing, &c.

Your Most Humble Servant Most Humbly begges your Most


Gracious Pardon for my boldness in approtching Your Most
Dread Severing for your clemency at this time My Severing
the conclusion of this Freedome is on account of My Son whose
name is John Duncan aged 26 years who was Prentiss with
Robert Spittle his Master Captain of the Ann Spittle of Alloa
at the time of the British Embargo in your Soverings dominion
in Russia and is the only support of me his Mother and Besides
I have no freene for My Support to accept of this small Present
from Your Everwell wisher whilst I have Breath The said Pre-
sent is three pair of Stockens for Going on when Your Severing
goes out a hunting I would have sent Your Severing Silk
stokens if that my Son Could Go in search of it but the Press
being so hot at this Time that he cannot go for fear of being
pressed If Your Severing will be pleased to accept of this and
favour me with an answer of this by the Bearer and lett me
Kno what Family of Children Your Severing has I will send
some stockens for them for the Winter before the Winter
comes on also what Sons and Dochters you might have.

Most Dread Severing I am Your Most Obedient Servant Till
Deathe. (signed) Elizabeth Willcox.

N.B. Please to Direct to me to the care of Robert Rennie
Banker in St. Ninians by Stirling.

The above is a verbatim et literatim copy of a letter written
to the dictation of the subscriber, better known at the time in
the village of St. Ninians as " Betty Willcox " than as Mrs
Duncan. The individual who wrote for her was an Alexander
Bryce, a pulicat or gingham weaver, who acted occasionally as
amanuensis for some of the poorer inhabitants in composing
letters and petitions. He had received a by no means scanty
education, but was qualified to construct sentences that might
have graced the pages of the " Tatler " for grammatical accu-
racy. Among the coterie of muslin weavers who occupied the
" Howff " he ranked as the oracle ; was an enthusiastic admirer
of the Friends of the People, and had imbibed some of the
principles of the French Revolution. In politics he was ex-
tremely Radical, but from blemishes in his moral character, his
influence had little or no effect, as he was said to be a " lazy,
indolent ne'er-do-well." He was withal a wag, and had some


touches of sly humour in him. Betty, who was a woman of
somewhat imperious determination, had engaged this disciple
of Tom Paine to arrange her epistle according to her own style
" Ye'll just pit in't what I'll say to ye " hence the absence
of punctuation, a redundancy of capitals, and some examples
of rude spelling. Little did he dream that his handiwork
would have fallen into the possession of the titled personage it
was addressed to, and so he undertook the task more for the
fun of the .thing than from sympathy with her matemal

Betty, bent on procuring her son's release, who had been
detained in captivity as a prisoner of war in the northern
capital, indulged and fostered the hope that she could storm
the Emperor's humane susceptibility by an act of kindness on
her part commensurate with her position in life. Silver and
gold she had none to give, but such as she had to bestow would
flow from a mother's affection and unparsimonious hands. She
purchased some genuine Highland wool, scoured and carded
the same, spun and twined it into " muckle-wheel " yarn, and
with her own fingers deftly knitted three pairs of long hose,
then familiarly known as "gamashes," which she, along with
the original of the foregoing letter, addressed to His Imperial
Majesty of Russia. Fortune favoured her scheme, as there was
a vessel about ready to sail from the place of her nativity
(Kincardine-on-Forth) bound for St. Petersburg, the master
of which, in some measure, she was acquainted with, and to
him was confided the parcel, with an earnest request that it
would be forwarded at all hazards. By a singular combination
of circumstances it actually reached its destination, and was
most feelingly accepted and acknowledged.

Some year or two before, a youth, named James Wylie, had
left the little seaport on the Forth for the Baltic. He had
acquired some insight into the healing art, and, shortly
after his arrival, a case of urgency requiring surgical manipula-
tion occurred, which he undertook. Being eminently success-
ful in the operation, his fame got noised abroad and reached
the Royal palace. A message came from the Emperor, sum-
moning him into his presence, when he was politely requested
to take up his permanent residence in the capital, and continue


to practise. Afterwards Dr Wylie rose to high distinction and
affluence, being appointed chief consulting physician and
surgeon to the Court of Russia. In 1814 this fortunate
disciple of Esculapius (for services rendered) was recognised by
the Court of Great Britain, and was honoured Avith the distinc-
tion of being created a Knight Bachelor.

It need be no wonder to hear of young Dr Wylie, when he
learned of the arrival of a vessel in the harbour from his native
place, wending his way thither to see and converse with its
skipper, with whom, there is every probability, he was person-
ally acquainted, and ascertain all the news about the old folks
at home. Among the topics the parcel was introduced, and
the Doctor, having known some of the antecedents of Elizabeth
Willcox and her relatives, kindly volunteered to deliver it.
Being on terms of social and professional intimacy with the
Emperor, whose moral character in some respects was a singu-
lar exception to the general rule of the self-willed, haughty,
domineering, and tyrannical despots who had worn the imperial
purple of empire, he felt confident that he could use the free-
dom of handing over the parcel, as addressed, with perfect ease
and safety. He accordingly did it, read and explained the
letter, giving at the same time some reminiscences of the sub-
scribing petitioner, which so charmed the Czar, and satisfied
him of the tender-hearted simplicity and transparent sincerity
of his humble correspondent, that he issued immediate orders
for the liberty of " My Son whose name is John Duncan aged
26 years," and at the same time, as an acknowledgment of the
gift, sent instructions to the Russian Embassy in London to
remit to her, to the care of the party named in the " N.B." the
sum of 100 sterling.

The remittance was duly received, and a letter, as receipt,
expressive of her heart-felt gratitude, was returned, couched,
however, in a more graceful, courteous, and grammatical style
than the one she had formerly sent. " The vile body, Saundoc
Bryce," it is said, had neither the pleasure nor the honour of
writing it. Betty was quite another woman, being now assured
of the welfare of her son, and possessed of ample means
honourably acquired. On looking around on her household
goods, she saw the chance now of adding to them an eight-day


clock, a piece of furniture she had hitherto been unable,
through poverty, to aspire to. David Somerville, watch and
clockmaker in St. Ninians, immediately got an order to provide
one for her, and received very particular and peremptory in-
structions to engrave on its dial-plate the following couplet :

" Wha wad ha'e thocht it
Stockin's wad ha'e bocht it?"

A Bannockburn correspondent, writing a few years ago, gave
some additional information and made a few corrections on the
story. At the outset, he said, I may state that Betty's
historical time-reckoner is still to the fore, and is now in the
possession of a Mrs Duncan of this village, whose late husband,
John Duncan, was a son of the person of the same name men-
tioned as a prisoner of war in Betty's petition. The statement
with regard to the two lines of poetry having been inscribed on
the dial-pate is wrong, inasmuch as they were placed on a
piece of wood fastened to the top of the clock. This, it is to
be regretted, has been taken off for what reason I know not
and afterwards lost. There is not, however, the least doubt
but that this is the clock, 'as there are round its dial-plate
several pictures, illustrating some of the incidents connected
with its history. In one of these Betty is seen engaged knit-
ting her presents, in another there is a picture of the Emperor,
while the rest all more or less go to show that it is without
doubt the self and same clock bought by Betty. There are
also in Mrs Duncan's possession a piece of the yarn used by
her, and the old arm-chair (now very far gone) in which she
sat and knitted her " gamashes." Another point is, it is stated
that it was Highland wool that they were made of, and that
she scoured and carded the same. Now, this, he says, is
wrong, and that he had good reason to believe that she
travelled all the way to Paisley to procure her yarn, which was
made up of silk and cotton twined, and as this is verified by the
piece of yarn now in Mrs Duncan's possession, there can hardly
be any mistake. In connection with Dr Wylie's name, it may
be of interest to know that the Emperor, when sending Betty's
money, sent at the same time a set of gold cups and saucers to
the Doctor's mother in Kincardine-on-Forth. Betty Willcox,


on receiving an invitation to come to Kincardine, set out on
foot to get a drink out of the gold cups, and it must have been
a pleasing sight to see the two old worthies thus sitting telling
one another of their trials and difficulties, now happily over.

A Lawyer's Address.

The following is an extract from a lawyer's speech, delivered
not ten miles from Stirling : " My Lord, my client only came
to me a few minutes before the Court opened to-day, and I
have not had sufficient time to look into the merits of the case ;
but I leave it in your Lordship's hands." This savours a little
of a schoolboy repeating the first verse of the 23rd Psalm.
When finished with his oration, the speaker left the Court, at
the same time telling his client that he would meet him in
Hotel, where he would hear from him how he got on.

Rob Roy and the Lady of Ochtertyre.

In passing Ochtertyre, near Stirling, on one occasion, Rob
Roy observed a young horse grazing in a park, with points that
much pleased him, he being a perfect jockey, so he went to
the house to inquire if the animal was for sale. The proprietor
was not within, but Macgregor was recognised by the servant,
and ushered into a parlour where the landlady was sitting.
He politely told her that he wished to purchase the pony he
saw in the park, if the price could be agreed on ; but she
appeared offended, and said that " the horse would not be
sold, having been broken for her use." Her husband having
come in, sent for her to another room, and asked her " if she
knew the stranger, and what he wanted ? " " Wants ! " said
she, "he wants to buy my pony, the impudent fellow!"
" My good lady," replied her husband, "if he should want your-
self, he must not be refused, for he is Rob Roy." The land-
lord immediately went to him, and agreed upon the price of
the horse, which was instantly paid.


Rob Roy and Blair Drummond.

On the estate of Perth, a clansman of Rob Roy occupied a
farm on a regular lease ; but the factor, Drummond of Blair
Drummond, took occasion to break it, and the tenant was
ordered to remove. Rob Roy, hearing the story, went to
Drummoiid Castle to claim redress for the grievance. On his
arrival there, early in the morning, the first person he met in
front of the house was Blair Drummond himself, whom he
knocked down without speaking a word, and walked on to the
gate. Perth, who saw this from a window, immediately
appeared, and, to soften his asperity, gave him a cordial wel-
come. He told Perth that he wanted no show of hospitality ;
he insisted only on getting back the tack of which his namesake
had been deprived, otherwise he would let loose his legions on
his property. Perth was obliged to comply, the lease was
restored, and Rob Roy sat down "quietly and breakfasted with
the Earl.

A Story of the Blair Drummond

At a date unrecorded by historians, there lived an Earl of
Perth of a very choleric disposition a hot, fiery-tempered
nobleman. One day, when he was in a more sullen mood than
usual, his cook was timorous in visiting him to get orders as to
what he wanted prepared for dinner, and a page volunteered
to go, so, entering the presence of his lordship, he stated the
request of the cook. The Earl turned round on him with a

scowl, and said, " the devil ; " but, ere he got further

with the sentence, the youth interposed the question, " Please
your lordship, whether roasted or boiled ? " The smartness
and fearlessness of the lad fairly undid the Earl from his
moroseness, and he became a calm, rational human being. He
was quite taken up with the boy, and, judging there was more
in him than was apparent, gave orders to some of the learned


monks who officiated in his private chapel to see to giving him
some elementary education ; so the lad, being naturally some-
what clever, soon became a promising scholar, and the Earl
afterwards appointed him to the office of chamberlain and
treasurer of his household, in other words, factor on the Perth
estates. Some years passed over, and he was still in the same
honourable position, when the time came when the tenantry
of Kincardine-in-Menteith, who were bound by their tenure of
occupancy to convey fuel to Drummond Castle for winter's con-
sumpt, had to discharge their obligation. There were no carts
or waggons or wheeled vehicles in those days, the mode of
conveyance being by wicker-work creels, placed on horses'
backs, so the tenantry turned out their horses and creels, and
repaired to Culross, where they got a supply of coal and pro-
ceeded in a long string across the country, through Glen-
eagles via Auchterarder, and onward till they reached Drum-
mond Castle, where, unloading their burdens, they were
regaled with venison and plenty of home-brewed. Before
they started on their return, the cavalcade was reviewed by
his lordship, who, feeling mortified at seeing such a turnout of
miserable cattle and as miserable-looking attendants, expressed
astonishment to his factor, and wondered what it meant. The
factor told him that it was no astonishment to him, for that
portion of his lordship's estate was quite unfit for the rearing
of either horses or men, being far more suitable for the breed-
ing of whaups and snipes. His lordship considered himself
disgraced by being owner of such a property, and there and
then made a free gift to the factor of the same, who in after-
time came and resided within the bounds, assuming the sur-
name of Drummond in honour of his noble and generous
patron, and called it Blair Drummond, the home of the

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