Thursday, 23 October 2014

Memoir: Introducing the Little Red Town

Kirriemuir panorama by Duncan Stephen
Kirriemuir Panorama by Duncan Stephen under collective commons
Introducing The Wee Red Toun
The Wee Red Toun is Kirriemuir, in Angus Scotland - named for the red sandstone of many of the buildings. I grew up  there in the 1950s.  The country was still reeling, still recovering from World War II.  Rationing was fresh in minds, shortages were common and growing your own vegetable was essential.  But everyone around us was the same; no television for a few years yet (except the Bruce’s next door), no telephone in our road (except ours), and no one with a car, that was something you hired for the holidays.  
Kirriemuir Angus Scotland
The Square Kirriemuir as it looks today
by Ana via collective commons
Kirriemuir was a small market town in Angus, tucked under the glens and supervising the fertile Valley of Strathmore. Its ancient name was Carrou Mor, Gaelic for ‘large quarter’, a way of measuring and identifying different jurisdictions. The town was divided into sections by braes: Northmuir, Southmuir, Westmuir and Kirriemuir itself which I suppose was the ‘east’ part for I haven’t found another.
valley of strathmore angus scotland
The Valley of Strathmore by Jan under creative commons

From the flat Vale of Strathmore at the base, imagine a town build up on levels. On the first elevation was Westmuir and to the south, the Southmuir. To reach the town centre from either you needed to go down then up the other side of a valley cut by the Gairie Burn. The south approach was via Bellie’s Brae and the west, Tannage Brae named for the tanning works that had disappeared before my day.  The town centre had a short high street, a square - the old market place -  and a collection of streets and wynds (narrow lanes) clustered around the old church, the Town House and Toll Booth.  From there was a skelp up a steep hill, called The Roods (another measurement) and all part of what was our extinct volcano. Right at the top was The Hill and the Northmuir.  For us, we knew The Hill as a playground for rolling Easter eggs, running wild and meeting friends, but more of that later. 
There too, behind a tall stone wall, lay the town cemetery.  There was something comforting in knowing your last resting place was watching over the town, across the fertile valley stretching away into the distance and with the hills with the glens guarding your back.
camera obscura Kirriemuir
Camera Obscura on the Hill at Kirriemuir
by Sandy Stephenson via Creative Commons

On the Hill was a camera obscura in the cricket pavilion. I believe it is still there, one of the few left in Scotland. But for us neither the obscura nor the cricket was of much interest, but the cricketers at practice – that was another thing.  In return for fielding for them, we got big glasses of Robertson’s Orange Squash and, of course, the chance to practice our flirting with the big boys.  
Old Kirriemuir from Sandy Stephenson Creative Commons
While I was growing up, there were two factories in the town, descendents of long gone 18th century cottage industries when linen was a staple in Scottish manufacturing.  Proto-industrialisation they call it now, though none would have recognised the term then.  ‘Getting by’ was what they would have said.  Kirrie was well known for its linen and many of the houses still exist, little ‘but and bens’ with one side of the house for living and the other that used to house one or more looms. Up the town they might be two storeys, one for living, one for work.  
In the 18th Century the Gairie Burn had provided water for seeping the stinking linen and our Commonty, - green common land- was used to spread the linen to bleach and dry in the sun.  In our days it was something else entirely but that is something else I’ll come back to.
Factory and housing were build in local red sandstone that named us The Little Red Town, immortalized by Kirrrie-born author J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame.   
The town clock and Peter Pan statue Kirriemuir
from Sandy Stephenson via Creative Commons
Time was measured in different ways in Kirriemuir. The chimes of the town clock could be heard throughout the whole town while factory workers were ruled by the ‘hooter’ and, us, by the school bell.

The hooter sounded morning and noon, then again at 1pm and 5pm calling the faithful to work or releasing them for food and rest respectively.  For those working overtime, well they must mark the time themselves.
To the Glens - Kirriemuir is called the gateways to the Glens
Glen Clova by Sandy Stephsson via Creative Commons

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