Monday 28 December 2015

Uncovering Scottish New Year Traditions

"The First Foot"
- A Scottish Custom on New Year's Eve
[from "The Illustrated London News"
published 30th Dec 1882]

There are a number of traditions associated with the celebration of the New Year in Scotland, commonly known as Hogmanay. A recent lecture by Dr Alison Clarke relating how the early Scottish born residents of Otago in New Zealand celebrated the New Year led me to search out any early references to New Year in my own extended family papers. Surprisingly what I found dates as far back as the later Georgian era.

Our story begins in 1898 when a distant relative in Scotland, Margaret Adam Cochrane of Kinross, wrote to her sister Jean Strachan in Nelson New Zealand. In part of her letter Margaret relates the custom of "first footing" in the village of Roslin in Midlothian Scotland, literally meaning "the first through the door in the New Year". But what makes this letter so fascinating is that Margaret is reminiscing about the celebration of New Year in her younger days - and even earlier - so we can safely date her reminiscences to at least the 1820's though to the 1840's. Here is the relevant excerpt from her letter :

An old 18th century era thatched cottage
on the road leading down to Roslin Castle
being still occupied till around 1900  

Have you ever told the children of the old custom on New Years Day when Auntie Cochrane went round so many folks with her copper kettle of hot pint and her apron with shortbread and bun and oranges for the children. I remember her coming to our house in Father’s time, but not with the kettle, there is very little first footing now. 

Margaret Cochrane née Hall, a sister 
of "Auntie Cochrane". I wonder if there
was a family resemblance? Both sisters
married Cochrane brothers, c.1858

The "Auntie Cochrane" Margaret refers to is Mrs Janet Cochrane née Hall being born in 1778 and married sometime prior to 1797. Janet died at Roslin in 1847 aged 68 years so this gives us an accurate guide as to when her Aunt carried on this New Year "custom". Margaret, who related the above memory, had herself been born and raised in Roslin and died at Kinross in October 1899 aged 69 years just a year after writing to her sister in Nelson.

So let us look more closely at what "Auntie Cochrane" took with her to present to her friends at Hogmanay.

A Victorian era Copper Kettle
[From my own collection]

Hot Pint Recipe :

"Hot pint" in Scotland is traditionally drunk during "first footing", being made from boiling beer to which has been added nutmeg, eggs, sugar and whisky. It is normally carried in a copper kettle as Margaret describes. Here is the traditional recipe :

Ingredients :

4 pints mild ale/beer
nutmeg to taste
3 eggs
sugar to taste
½ pint whisky

Method :

Grind nutmeg into ale and bring to the point of boiling. Mix in the sugar (already dissolved in some cold ale) and eggs, taking care that they do not curdle. Pour in the whisky and bring the mixture nearly to boil. Then pour it briskly from one pot to another until the liquid becomes smooth and bright.

Scottish Shortbread :

Traditional Scottish Shortbread

Shortbread has remained a traditional Scottish favourite and is said to date back to the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Shortbread recipes abound so I have not copied any here as they are so easy to find and in a myriad of delicious combinations.

Scottish Black Bun :

The "Bun" reference refers to Scottish "Black Bun", a rich dark fruit cake baked in a pastry case. Quoted here is the recipe used by my elderly Scottish born Great Aunt, Marion Watson (1898 - 1978). I assume it was her own Mother's recipe but the use of proprietary baking powder is probably a later adjustment. You can easily halve the ingredients as this is a large full sized bun. "Black Bun" has a pleasant and quite distinctive taste unlike a normal dark fruit cake so is well worth a try so you may wish to save this recipe to serve next Hogmanay.

Traditional Scottish Black Bun

I have made this bun myself a couple of times. The main thing to watch out for is burning of the top of the pastry case so I place a piece of brown paper over it which helps. Do not place aluminium foil over the top as this could cause uneven baking. Ensure the centre of the bun is cooked by using a metal skewer which should come out clean. Do not overcook as it will dry out, especially if you have halved the size of the bun. Lastly, it should be made some time ahead to mature, at least a month. My Great Aunt once hesitatingly offered me bun which she admitted was over a year old and believe me, it had suffered no detriment as to taste so it keeps very well in an airtight container although the pastry shell may not be as fresh. It would also go very well with a wee dram of whisky or (my favourite) Drambuie!

Marion Watson's Scottish Black Bun Recipe :

Paste :

1 lb ordinary flour
½ lb butter [salted is fine]
1 teaspoon Baking powder

Mixture :

1 lb currants
1 lb raisins
1 lb sultanas
¼ lb peel
2 oz blanched almonds
¼ lb butter [my Great Aunt used salted but whatever your preference]
6 oz sugar
3 eggs beaten
¾ lb flour
Small dessertspoon ground ginger
½ tablespoon cinnamon
1 dessertspoon allspice
½ teaspoon black pepper
Small teaspoon baking soda
Small teaspoon Cream of Tartar

Method :

Mix all in large basin, moisten with milk.

Mix paste to a firm consistency with cold water. Roll into thin sheet, grease baking tin and line with paste, saving a piece for the top.

Put in mixture, flatten on top, cover with lid of pastry, prick with fork and brush with beaten egg. Bake 3 hours in moderate pre-heated oven (180 degrees celsius). Allow to cool before removing from tin.

New Year Oranges :

Oranges from Spain

The oranges handed out by "Auntie Cochrane" to children in Roslin would appear to have just been a very generous gesture on her behalf as I can find no reference to this being a traditional Scottish tradition. Oranges are known to have been available in Scotland since at least the 18th century, most likely being imported from Portugal and Spain or other Mediterranean countries. I would imagine that oranges would then have been considered somewhat of a luxury item though hence the special New Years gifting.

Conclusion :

There would be no doubt that "Auntie Cochrane" appearing on your doorstep "first footing" at New Year would have been very much welcomed by those of all ages. She does appear to have been a kindly and generous soul. One also has to bear in mind that cooking and baking facilities would have been rather primitive. "Auntie Cochrane" would have heated the hot pint over an open coal fire and must have had a small coal fired side oven for baking as can be seen today in Robert Burns' Cottage at Alloway. A "Dutch oven" cooking directly over a fire would really only have been suitable for baking dough based items.

It is perhaps sad that some old "traditions" had, as Margaret Cochrane laments in 1898, apparently already fallen by the wayside. 

The 1887 statue to Robert Burns in my
hometown of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand.
He has his back to the Anglican Cathedral,
this was probably no accident!

Although not mentioned in Margaret's letter, let me finish with the words of the well known song by Robert Burns which has traditionally been sung at New Year. Both Margaret and Jean would have been well acquainted with this song. "Auld Lang Syne" was first published in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional Scottish folk melody which had been known since prior to 1711.

"Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

Chorus :

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne."

Sources :

- Strachan family papers courtesy of the late Helen Whelan of Stoke, Nelson.
- Personal family papers
- General Internet resources

Monday 21 December 2015

Uncovering Christmas Traditions

An Edwardian era Christmas card
with  no religious references but
with an image of Santa Claus 

A recent interesting talk by my learned friend Dr Alison Clarke on Scottish influenced Christmas traditions in 19th century Dunedin and Otago New Zealand inspired me to specifically search out references to Christmas Day and traditions in my own Scottish born maternal family and additionally also how these may have evolved over the years and adapted to suit New Zealand conditions and changing attitudes.

Until the death of the final Scottish born member of my family in 1978, and even for many years thereafter, Christmas Day held no overt religious relevance for my Scottish Presbyterian family other than the saying of grace before the Christmas meal. The reason for this in fact dates back to 1575 when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland abolished those religious festivals known as "holy days" :

All days which heretofore have been kept holy except the Sabbath day [Sundays], such as Yule day, saints’ day and such other, may be abolished, and a civil penalty be appointed against the keepers thereof, by ceremonies, banquetings, playings, fasting, and other like vanities.” 

The 25th of December was henceforth to be treated as a normal working day with traditional Christmas festivities being looked upon as “popish superstitions”.

The Scottish Parliament officially abolished the observance of Christmas in 1640 :

"... the kirke within this kingdome is now purged of all superstitious observatione of dayes... thairfor the saidis estatis have dischairged and simply dischairges the foirsaid Yule vacance and all observation thairof in tymecomeing, and rescindis and annullis all acts, statutis and warrandis and ordinances whatsoevir granted at any tyme heirtofoir for keiping of the said Yule vacance, with all custome of observatione thairof, and findis and declaires the samene to be extinct, voyd and of no force nor effect in tymecomeing."

Until well into the 19th century Christmas Day was thus spent like any other working day. In fact it was not until 1958 that Christmas Day again became a Scottish statutory public holiday. The main celebration continued to be Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) which of course had always been a non-religious festival.  

"Marley's Ghost" from "A Christmas Carol"
by Charles Dickens, 1843.
[From my own collection ex South Wyndham
Public Library, Southland NZ, c.1890's]

But in 1843, Charles Dickens wrote a novel entitled “A Christmas Carol” which helped to again revive and popularize the 'spirit' of Christmas and of seasonal merriment. The book’s instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion. The Royal family, perhaps mainly through their German origins and traditions, also acted as a catalyst in introducing various Christmas customs which are so well known today.

Throughout the 19th century the celebration of Christmas in Scotland as a family day gradually grew in popularity but with absolutely no adherence to any religious observance. The only religious reference would be the saying of grace before the Christmas meal which would in any case have been a daily ritual.

From at least the mid to latter part of the 19th century my Scottish born family would appear to have fully embraced the spirit of Christmas as a family day. If this initially only amounted to a family gathering and Christmas meal or whether they quickly embraced all the 'traditions' and 'accoutrements' of Christmas which would be very familiar to us today is however still unclear.

James Watson, c.1890's

The earliest actual reference I have located is 1888 when my Great Great Uncle James Watson, having only emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in 1882, wrote in his diary in large block letters  “A MERRY CHRISTMAS”. This was during a voyage from New Zealand to Melbourne Australia on the 'SS Tarawera' to attend the Centennial International Exhibition. Christmas dinner on board consisted of soup, potatoes, fowl, roast beef, roast pork, green peas, jam tarts, rhubarb pie & plum pudding. James, who had been born in Lanarkshire Scotland in 1859, was obviously already very well acquainted with the traditions of Christmas.  

On the 27th December 1904 my Great Grandfather John Watson writes from Lanarkshire Scotland to his sister Helen in New Zealand that :

"The weather took a turn for the better and we had a splendid hay time and harvest and the good weather lasted to a week before Martinmas [Nov 11th] when we had a good fall of snow and hard frost. It soon came a thaw and we are now having fine mild fresh weather at Christmas. 

This is another direct acknowledgement of Christmas [Day] as a specific and established event on the calender. 

An Edwardian Christmas card from 1905 showing monks fishing.
This image was painted by Walter Dendy Sadler and includes
the word "Thursday". This refers to the fact that Friars were
forbidden to eat meat on Fridays.   

The sending and receiving of Christmas cards appears to have become quite popular from the 1870’s onwards as the price of postage dropped to half a penny and printing processes improved. I hold a number of Christmas cards received by my family both in Scotland and New Zealand which date from as early as 1905. These are all of a non-religious nature or, as the card above shows, hold no direct religious references to the true meaning of Christmas. My family collection of Edwardian Christmas cards may be viewed HERE. As very few cards have survived I do not know when cards with an overt Christian theme became appropriate and acceptable for general use.

A Christmas box given to my Scottish Great Grandfather in 1909

I am assuming, as in later years, that the giving of Christmas presents was another old family tradition that slowly crept in during the latter years of the Victorian age. The earliest verified actual Christmas gift I hold dates from December 1909 when a Scottish business associate presented my Great Grandfather with a lockable box of polished sycamore wood with decorative Scottish Arts and Crafts style ‘strapwork’ metal imitation hinges.

My Great Grandmother feeding her hens and a solitary goose
(highlighted in the red box).  Is this perhaps the unlucky
Christmas Goose? Taken at 'Cander Mains', Dalserf,
Lanarkshire, Scotland by Jack Watson, circa 1904.

As to the Christmas day fare, a postcard from Scotland to my Great Grandmother in New Zealand in February 1914 includes the specific reference “…I hope you have survived the New Year Duck, as you did the Christmas Goose….”. I do know that geese had been kept by my Great Grandmother until she emigrated from Scotland in 1910 so this would have been their standard Christmas fare instead of Turkey as we would expect today.

The threepenny bit coins and the purse they were kept in

Uncovering a Victorian Christmas tradition also appears to have finally solved a mystery relating to items belonging to my above Great Grandmother, being a number of old British threepenny bits dating from the late Victorian era through to the early years of the 20th century. These were all neatly wrapped up in small pieces of paper and marked with the names or initials of some of her children. It was, I have discovered, a Victorian tradition to make a wish as one stirred the Christmas plum pudding then each member of the family would place a threepenny bit in the pudding “for luck”.

A commercially made Christmas plum pudding
from New Zealand

This would appear to be the only likely scenario relating to these coins. So it appears that a traditional steamed plum pudding, being a Victorian Christmas favourite, would have graced my Great Grandmother's Christmas table. Being then mid winter in Scotland such filling Christmas fare would have been eagerly devoured. Latterly my New Zealand born mother was the only one who made a plum (steamed) pudding but I understand that one had always been made for the Christmas table. Such stodgy fare was not always what one desired on a hot New Zealand summer's day but this was one family traditional that lingered on until the 1980's.

My Scottish born family quickly adapted to Christmas in a New
Zealand summer by enjoying an al fresco summer Christmas Day
picnic lunch with extended relatives at Heddon Bush.
Taken by Jimmie Watson, 25th December 1916.

My own memories (late 1950's to 1970's) of my family Christmas Day gatherings were of up to four generations of the family gathering for a large Christmas Day meal commencing with the saying of grace. The large extending table (complete with a winding handle) would be covered in two starched white damask linen tablecloths and linen napkins provided for each guest. Only the best tableware and crockery would be used. For practicality and availability a large stuffed turkey now replaced "the Christmas Goose". The Christmas food would be placed on the table in crockery or glass containers or on plates and handed round or you served yourself if you could reach.

I know that it was of considerable pride that they put on a good Christmas table. My Scottish born Great Aunt bemoaned the poor standard of Christmas fare on a voyage from Britain back to New Zealand on the "RMS Orion" in 1957,  "we were all agreed we had a better spread at home for Xmas…” As they were travelling first class their expectations had naturally been considerably higher.

Afternoon Tea and Christmas Cake "al fresco"
on the front lawn, Christmas Day on a
sunny Invercargill day in 1958
(that's me with my arm in the air!)

A rich fruit double iced Christmas cake would, as in earlier years, be baked some time before (around 3 months) so that it had time to mature. This would be cut for afternoon tea which, if it was fine, was served with a cup of tea poured from their best china teapot in a much more relaxed "al fresco" manner on the front lawn (with a silver birch tree decorated with balloons) after the handing out of Christmas gifts.

Overall, it would appear that my Scottish born family members were very much brought up with the traditions of Christmas as a non-religious family day from an early age and took great pride in carrying those same traditions on into their latter years. While they were intensely proud of their Scottish origins and upbringing they were however happily not above adapting to and embracing a "New Zealand" summer style Christmas when the opportunity (and weather) allowed.

But until the day they died, and being brought up staunchly Scottish Presbyterian, there would still not be any religious celebration of any kind placed on the day save for the saying of the grace.

An end of year blog will explore some New Year traditions in my Scottish family.

Sources :

- Watson family papers, photographs and artefacts (all held by the writer)
- Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena (James Watson's 1888 diary)
- Google books

Copyright : All images are from my personal collection and may be freely copied provided this site is acknowledged.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

What To Buy A Soldier for Christmas, 1915

Mackintosh's Toffee de Luxe

In this Blog, we take a look at what Christmas gifts were being recommended by British manufacturers and retailers of the period as suitable for servicemen in the military (and naval) forces in 1915 during the 'Great War' of 1914-1918. These are taken from "The Graphic", a magazine which was widely sold throughout the whole British Empire (including New Zealand and Australia) and also in the United States of America through their agents, "The International News Co." of New York. Most products are of a very practical nature and ideally suited for those serving in the Army or Navy.

Waterman's Ideal Fountain Pen

The Allies' Wristlet Watch

Horlick's Malted Milk Tablets

Watson's "Sunica" Prism Binoculars

Wright's Coal Tar Soap

The Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company Ltd
Military Jewellery

John Pound & Co
"Outpost" Aluminium Canteen

John Pound & Co
Pocket Lamp

John Pound & Co
3-Fold "Service" Map Case

John Pound & Co
"Redilite" Trench
or Map Lamp

John Pound & Co
"Active Service" Wrist Watch

"Harrods" London
Regimental & Naval Jewellers

Harrods London
Military & Naval

Gillette Safety Razor

Craven "A"

The Army Wrist Watch Protector

Robinson & Cleaver, Belfast

The "Universal" Vacuum Flask

Players Navy Cut Tobacco

Smith's Glasgow Mixture (Tobacco)

Carter's Self-propelling Chair, a "Rest & Comfort" Chair,
& a Reading Stand 

Benson's Wristlet Watch

Waltham Watches

JC Vickery, London, Jeweller, Silversmith &
Dressing Case Manufacturer

Copyright : All images are from "The Graphic" of 1915 in my collection and may be freely copies provided this site is acknowledged. 

Tuesday 8 December 2015

A Vintage Gallery Celebrating Friendship and Love

Mr D. Gibson & an Unknown Man,
Lanarkshire, Scotland, c.1910

These vintage photographs display something of the close bonds of friendship, love, brotherly and sisterly love, and 'mateship'. Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own collections.

Sisters Margaret & Wilhelmina Oughton
of "Roslyn Lea", Southland,
New Zealand, c.1880's

“For there is no friend like a sister, 
In calm or stormy weather; 
To cheer one on the tedious way, 
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down, 
To strengthen whilst one stands” 
- Christina Rossetti (English Poet)

Brothers and Friends resting during a Sunday Afternoon walk.
Taken near Stonehouse, Lanarkshire, c.1905.  Photographer
Jack Watson, Taken from the original glass negative, c.1905

(L to R) : Samuel Finnie, James Letham Watson, unknown,
unknown boy, James Lohoar, William Letham Watson,
Robert Lohoar, George Jackson, Gavin Watson (Burnhead).

"There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship" - Thomas Aquinas (Medieval Italian Dominican Friar, Philosopher and Theologian)

Unknown Sisters,
Turnbull & Sons Photo,
Glasgow, c.1880's
[Dougall Family collection,

“A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life.”– Isadora James (American Author)

Friends from the Heddon Bush district of Southern
New Zealand pictured during a wild pig hunting trip, 
Photo taken by Jimmie Watson, c.1916-1918

"One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives" - Euripides (Athenian Playright and Poet of Ancient Greece)

My Grandfather & his Sister Ann,
taken in Edinburgh, c.1879 My grand-
father emigrated the same year and they
never saw each other again. c.1879

"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend." - Albert Camus (French Nobel Prize–winning author, journalist, and philosopher)

Friends with their "Faithful Ford" car enjoying a picnic
luncheon at Lake Hauroko, Southland, New Zealand. 
My Uncle Robert appears seated second from left. 
Taken 10th March 1918.  

"Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious." - Thomas Aquinas (Medieval Italian Dominican Friar, Philosopher and Theologian)

My Great Aunts Marion and Elizabeth Watson,
Lanarkshire, Scotland. Neither married and
remained devoted to each other for the
rest of their lives. Taken c.1906

“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”– Jane Austen (English Novelist)

Thomas Watson (at left) and his friend George Jackson (at right),
Taken by Jack Watson, Stonehouse, Scotland, c.1906
Photographer Jack Watson, Taken from the original 
glass plate negative, c.1905

"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Roman Philosopher, Statesman, Orator, and Dramatist of Latin Literature. He was also a Tutor and later Advisor to the Emperor Nero)

John Barrie & William Baird of Canderside,
Lanarkshire, Scotland, c.1870 - 1880

"Friends are the siblings God never gave us" - Mencius (Chinese Philosopher and Confucian, 372 - 289 BC)

Miss Margaret Frame, Hallhill &
Watchknowe, Crossford & Mrs Baxter,
Lanark, Scotland, c.1870's
(possibly sisters)

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." - Albert Schweitzer (Theologian, Organist, Philosopher, Physician, and Medical Missionary in Africa)

My Aunt (at left) and her best friend, Dot Shaw
(at right) playing "dress ups" in military uniform,
taken c. 1918

"I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing." - Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand born Modernist Short Story Writer)

George Jackson of Lockhart Street, Stonehouse,
Scotland (at left) with his brother (possibly James Jackson).
Both served in the Great War and George (at least)
survived. Taken c.1905-1910 

“Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and an be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face.”– St. Francis of Assisi (Italian Catholic Friar and Preacher who founded a number of Orders)

Friends on a large rock on the Avon Water,
Stonehouse, Scotland. Photographer Jack Watson,
Taken from the original glass negative, c.1905

"Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend." - Plautus (Roman playwright of the Old Latin period, 255 - 185 BC)

Two unknown women, believed to be sisters,
taken Glasgow, c.1870's

“…she'll go and fall in love, and there's an end of peace and fun, and cozy times together.” - Louisa May Alcott (American Novelist and Poet)

Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied for personal use provided this site is acknowledged. Please contact me regarding any commercial use.