The following is a continuation of my essay on Excursion to Scotland, 1832. For the first part, please see the earlier entry from 10th August 2015.
On a happier note, the anonymous writer was impressed with the architecture of Glasgow, particularly the Royal Exchange, which now houses the Gallery of Modern Art.
The Royal Exchange in particular is a remarkably fine building with a notable portico. The interior, the ceiling of which is exceedingly beautiful, is used as a reading room and the general resort of merchants. There is an abundant supply of papers and shipping intelligence. It seems to be supported by subscription, though they are very courteous to strangers who are at liberty to walk in and read the papers.
Originally built buy a wealthy tobacco merchant in 1778, the building was completely restructured by architect David Hamilton, over the course of a few years leading up to 1832, the year of this journal. During this time the most notable neoclassical additions were made, including the cupola and the Corinthian columns. The building was subsequently used as a library from the 1950s, and its current use as an art gallery dates from 1996. One major feature the writer would not have seen was the statue of the Duke of Wellington at the front of the building, which dates from 1844. It is often to be seen sporting a traffic cone as a hat, such a persistent prank that the authorities have now give up on removing it.
Journal writers in the 19th Century, particularly those from abroad, would often express disgust at the behaviour and appearance of the poorer classes, but this writer found a certain charm in their manner of dress:
Shoes and stockings seem wonderfully dispensed with amongst the lower class, and you not infrequently see neatly dressed young women without these appendages, or perhaps walking with them in their hands to put them on when they get into town.
Heading off in search of more scenic spots, the writer enjoyed visiting the ‘romantic and delightful’ Loch Lomond.
At the entrance near Dumbarton this notable Loch (or lake) is nearly eight miles wide and has several beautiful islands. It gradually narrows as you approach its extreme termination, which is about 28 miles. It is wonderfully indented and there are many pretty cottages and small villages on its banks. After proceeding a few miles, the magnificent Highlands open upon you in endless variety: mountains of rock, in many parts beautifully green with heather and trees to the top, and others bare and rugged, with huge masses of rock tumbling at their base.
The author noted that ‘on one of the small islands a recluse has formed a sort of hermitage.’ Several of the islands on the loch have in fact played host to dwellings over the years, with castle ruins on both the Island of the Cow and Inveruglas Isle. One of several likely possibilities for the hermitage seen during this excursion is Inchtavannach, the ‘Monk’s Island’, where a house has stood on the site of a monastery since 1760. Another strong possibility is Inchruin, the ‘Round Island’, a small island with one house. The current building does not date back sufficiently to be the one seen by the writer, but stands on the site of an earlier dwelling. With so many islands on the loch (nearly 40, depending on how you define an ‘island’) there are several other possibilities.
On the way to Dumfries there was much local scenery to admire, and an unusual stranger travelling the same route:
The cottages on the whole have a neat appearance, almost invariably of stone, being the natural product of the country. They are slated, many are whitewashed, and the dressings to the windows are coloured. Where there are two stories, the ascent to the upper is frequently by stone steps outside. Whilst on the road to Dumfries, a ragged fellow without shoes or stockings hung on behind the coach. The guard assured us that he conveyed the mail to the town. He hardly seemed fit to be trusted with a twopenny letter.
Although there had been dedicated mail coaches since 1784, these served only major routes, with local deliveries undertaken in a less efficient manner. At this stage the postage was paid by the recipient, with the first attempt at a pre-payment system in 1840. It was not always wise to judge by appearances, as the writer found out on another coach trip.
I was somewhat amused in my ride by a rough looking genius: a fellow passenger in a blue coat, corduroy breeches and worsted stockings, who spoke a very broad dialect, and if I occasionally asked him a question or he addressed me, he gave me a deuce of a punch in the side. I took him for some country bumpkin who had been to Dumfries to buy or sell cattle, but the coachman, unfortunately getting a fly in his eye, was astonished to hear the genius addressed by another passenger who knew him by the title of ‘Doctor’. The coachman asked his advice (I still imagined he could only be a cow doctor, but was informed he was the practising Esculapius of the place). He seemed, however, to have a mighty relish for whiskey and we dropped him at a public house.
‘Esculapius’ is a variant spelling of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine and healing, used here as a colloquial term for a doctor.
It was market day in Dumfries, and the ‘high street was lined with pedlars, their coats filled with wares of all sorts, collected from the surrounding country and brought here for sale.’ Then, en route to Carlisle, the writer met ‘Lord Mansfield, riding over his estate, which is very extensive here.’ This was David William Murray, the 3rd Earl of Mansfield, who also served as Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire. At the time of this meeting he was father to seven children of an original nine, two having died tragically young. Five years after this meeting he would make a brave political stand, supporting the unpopular opposition of Lord Brougham to the Russell Resolutions. There was a movement in Canada towards devolution of powers, such as control of public funds, which Lord John Russell opposed with stringent resolutions, moving things in the opposite direction. For some time Brougham stood alone against the treatment of Canada, until he gained the support of Mansfield and Lord Ellenborough, both important men whose opinions mattered. This political partnership was captured in a painting by John Doyle in 1838, two years before Mansfield’s death.
With tolls to pay, coach travel involved some expense. Turnpikes were commonplace around Britain, although this trend would shortly decline with the rise of railway transport. The turnpike system had created a good network of roads in Scotland.
Turnpikes in Scotland are frightfully expensive; the Glasgow mail pays I understand upwards of £3000 a year, or £35 a mile, there being no exemption for mails in Scotland. The toll is often 1/6 a horse, and you are not permitted to leave the high road to avoid the toll. Instances I am told occasionally occur of a traveller attempting this, being rode after by the toll keeper, and heavily fined.
The rise of railway transport not only had a knock-on effect on turnpikes, but also signalled the decline in canals as a mode of transport. In Carlisle, the writer took a stroll along the canal, which had opened in 1823 and would only last for 30 years, until the use of the canal as a trade route had declined to such an extent that it was closed. With the exception of a few bridges, little remains of the canal today.
I took a walk by the side and fancied I was proceeding by a pleasant foot way to the city, when suddenly I came upon a bone merchant’s premises and encountered a fierce dog. I was glad to retrace my steps.
Also known as ‘rag-and-bone men’ or ‘bone-grubbers’, a bone merchant would search the streets looking for saleable rubbish in order to scratch a poor living. Horseshoe nails could often be found between paving stones, and these had some value as scrap metal. The term ‘bone merchant’ is actually quite literal, as bones had value for a variety of purposes, such as soap making, chemistry, or to be carved into knife handles or toys.
Continuing to travel south through England, the writer visited York Minster, where he was fascinated by the ‘curious large dragon’s head suspended from one side of the nave’. The purpose of the dragon is unclear, although the best guess is that it may have been used as a lever to lift a heavy font cover.
I was shown the place where Martin concealed himself behind a tomb. The evening before he set fire to the Minster. I was also shown the window he broke to make his escape.
This refers to the fire of 1829. A mentally unstable man named Jonathan Martin escaped from a lunatic asylum, and became convinced that he had been chosen by God to purge wickedness among the clergy at the minster. He hid behind a tomb during evensong until he was alone and set fire to the Minster. According to a fact sheet from York Minster, he ‘made two piles of anything which would bum [sic]’ (a little more proof-reading might have been advisable).
For an act of a madman, it was well-planned. He escaped from the burning building by climbing up some scaffolding that was placed for the purpose of cleaning windows, and cut his way out through a window with some pincers he had brought for the purpose. The fire raged unchallenged until it was spotted by a choir boy the next morning, and it took until the afternoon to bring the fire under control. The writer of Excursion to Scotland saw at the back of the alter ‘a large space, where there are several fine monuments, many sadly mutilated, as well as the pavement by the fall of the roof when on fire.’ Four days later, Martin was found and subsequently convicted of arson. As he was insane he was merely returned to an asylum, so effectively escaped unpunished as that was where he had been in the first place.
The writer decided against visiting the races at York, preferring to take ‘another view of the Cathedral’. Later in the day he did encounter a keen gambler who ‘on looking over his betting book at the coffee room, found he had lost £100 by his day’s sport.’ Not far off £10,000 in today’s money, £100 was a considerable loss in 1832.
In the coffee room of the Black Swan at York where I stopped is an old Coach advertisement placed over the fire and framed and glazed.
‘August 1708 – All persons desirous of travelling to York are to repair to the Black Swan in Holbourne from which inn a coach will leave twice a week and will reach York in four days and for further accommodation will proceed from York to Stamford in two days.’
Travelling has somewhat improved since this date, the journey being now accomplished in exactly a fourth of the time.
There had been notable improvements in stagecoach design in the early 19th Century, pioneered by John Besant in the 1790s. For example, the wheels used to have an inconvenient tendency to fall off at high speed, a problem which Besant solved. Coupled with this improvement, the roads themselved allowed for faster transport with the invention of macadamised roads in the 1820s.
In many ways, this journal came at a time of great advancement in travel, whether that be by road, rail or canal.
The journal concludes as follows:
To Enfield Highway and Tottenham Town at 5 o’clock after a very pleasant excursion.
… but that is not quite the end of the story. Accompanying the Excursion to Scotland, there follow two further excursions, in the subsequent two years. The next is an Excursion to Ireland, 1833, although the text sadly is so faint as to be almost entirely illegible. The final of the three tours that make up the journal is Excursion to Guernsey and Jersey, 1834, and we will look at that in the final part of this article in a few days’ time.