THE COURIER AND ADVERTISER, MONDAY MARCH 30th 1936
LETTERS WRITTEN 100 YEARS AGO
When Monifieth Had Its Race Meeting —
A Train Journey—Liverpool Contrast
A century ago the people of Dundee flocked down to Monifieth Races in open railway coaches, amid great bustle and excitement
The quaint and animated scenes which the races presented are described in homely Scottish language in a series of letters I have before me, which were written in the year 1839.
They are the correspondence between two young Dundee lads, Jeffrey Thomson Inglis who was later for many years a shipbroker in Dundee, and Robert Leighton, who had gone to seek his fortune in Liverpool. Leighton was better known in later life as a versatile writer of Scottish poetry, such as ” The Moose and the Rat”, ” The Laddie’s Lamentation for the Loss o’ His Whittle.” etc.
The letters, which took weeks to reach their destination, and were usually sent by hand of messenger, and sometimes by sea, bring us into close touch with the times and with the writers themselves.
On the Train.
Mr Inglis, describing a visit to the Monifieth course, writes:— They were the first thing o’ the kind here, for mony a year. I gaed doon on the railway, and, o man, if ye’d soen sic a crowd, it beat a’ thing I ever saw.
” We were packit in the waggons just like sacks o’ flour, only that the sacks lie on their sides, and we were on end. Well, ye see, we got safely down to the race-ground, where there were sic a lot o’ tents and sweetie stands. The races a’ gaed off well.
The cart horse race was a capital ain, man if ye’d seen them comin in; the cloarty looking chaps wi’ their hair a’ fleeing ahent them, and their great muckle clumsy horses. Ane o’ the chaps fell off his horse.
Well when the races were done a’body gaed awa to the railway to get hame, and we had to wait about an hour till the coach cam frae Dundee. There was sich a flee to get a seat ye wad a thought they were gaun to tear the coaches to pieces . Well I got a kind of a seat in an open kind o’ a wagon when lo and behold a hue and cry got up that the coach was gaun to Arbroath. I jumped out when off it sets to Arbroath carrying about half o’ the Dundee folk awa to Arbroath.
A Liverpool Contrast.
Mr Leighton writes back from Liverpool with a description of a race meeting there, which was probably the forerunner of the Grand National. “ The ground around the racecourse was covered with tents,” he states. “ There were shows, stands, and gambling establishments of every description—the wheel of fortune, dice, thimble-rig, etc. Ye will, nae doot, ken what thimble-rig is. It’s a terrible thing for whirlin’ the baubees oot o’ fouks’ pockets.
” There were some gentlemen getting ten sovereigns at a time whirled oot o’ their pockets, an’ ithers again were whirlin’ in ten sovereigns, but the whirlers in were a great deal fewer than the whirlers oot.”
He adds that ” there were also cock- fights and men fights going on.”
Mr Inglis is not too satisfied with Dundee. In Edinburgh, he says.
“ there’s sic a lot of fine intelligent chaps that ain can get a crack wi’ after the labours o’ the day are ower. Here there’s no a single chap that’s worth a bawbee.”
England pleases Mr Leighton no better, he goes to Wigan, and describes it as ” a clorty, black, smoky place, full of wild and ragged men like tinklers.”
In another letter Mr Inglis makes a remark of interest to Dundonians. “ There’s been a grand tea garden established since you left by Mr Tammio Laminio in Reform Street. I was in it the other nicht gettin’ a cup of coffee.”
These were lively days, too, for Mr Inglis remarks casually that during the celebrations of the Queen’s birthday in Dundee, during which the crowds tried to burn a boat, the provost’s head was cut. Mr Leighton complains mournfully that they had no such fun in Liverpool.
Both were versifiers. Mr Leighton, adopting the ballad metre, writes to his friend:—
A munelicht nicht I chanced to stray
By Broughty Castle’s crumlin’ wa’;
A lake wi’ calmness was the Tay.
Another moonbeam on her breast did fa’.
Far in the east a form appear’d:
It seemed| a ship far far awa’;
To Broughty Castle straight she steered;
White war her sails, white as the snaw.
She lay wi’ staurn on the thore,
Unanchored motionless lay she;
There streamed a flag a flag that bore
Her awfu’ name, ‘twas Mysterie.
So the ballad goes on.
Mr Inglis seems to have been more of a didactic versifier. While he played his flute after dinner the muse answered his call and inspired him to this:—
When friends o’ our youth through the world are spread.
And forgot the dear moments in childhood they led
Of all their new pleasures they none e’er will find
Like the joys of their youth and the days o’ lang syne.
A later letter seems to have inspired Mr Leighton with a longing for his native heath. At any rate, we find the correspondence finishing with a verse from his pen:—
Gie me the braes whar a bairnie I toddled,
Gie me the woods whar I ken lika tree,
Gie me the burnies whar often I puddled.
O lat me hame an’ my he’rt will be free.
The letters are in the possession of Valerie Sharp, Littlehampton.