Monday, 19 August 2019

Local Traditions

It is hard to find evidence of local traditions about Glamis Castle in the county of Angus, or the wider vale of Strathmore.  The huge weight of the accepted, written evidence about the haunting of the castle mean that these receive more attention and the same, rather tired stories are repeated ad nauseam.

   One marvellous resource however is the website Tobar an Dualchist, Kist O Riches.  This is an extraordinary repository of legend, folklore, tunes, local lore and tradition, based mainly on the recording archive of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.

Betsy Whyte's Tale

The following story about Glamis was narrated from personal experience by Betsy Whyte, one of a famous kindred of travelling kindred from Gowrie and Angus.  It was recorded for posterity in 1979, but goes back to the time of Betsy's childhood (she was born in 1919).  Her widowed mother and another woman were working on a potato farm near Glamis and the two women went to the pub in Kirriemuir, sending the children to the cinema.  On their way home the women and children [paused at the gates of Glamis Castle, where the inebriated women spoke to the devils carved there and generally made a lit of noise, so the children went on ahead.  Betsy got the fright of her life when she saw a calf on the road home, for her mother had just warned her that the Devil often appeared in the form of a calf!

   When the women were next in Kirriemuir, a few days later, they read in the newspapers that the ghost of Glamis had been heard again, several days previously, and were in no doubt that their own merry making had caused the report. In such a way legends are formed.  Betsy, like most of the local travelling people, firmly believed that Glamis Castle was haunted.

(Betsy's telling of the story can be heard here.)


   Elsewhere on Tobar an Dualchais (here), Betsy's husband Bryce Whyte gave his version about the legend of Satan playing cards at Glamis Castle.  The Laird of Glamis was notorious for playing (and winning) against local farm owners in the neighbourhood.  He had a special room in the castle for gambling and a young servant had to keep guard at the door.  One evening the Devil went in to play with the Laird, who knew straight away who his opponent was.  The Laird kept on winning against his dark opponent and to make sure of his enemy's identity he dropped a card on the floor and saw the cloven feet beneath the table.  Around midnight, Satan became enraged at constantly losing and asked if the Laird knew he was playing against.  Glamis said he knew full well and bade his opponent a polite farewell when he was leaving.  On his way out, the furious Devil broke off part of the building, which could never afterwards be repaired.  (Temporary fixed were made, but the repairs always crumbled away.)  In that part of the castle was the mysterious, haunted 'dark room'. The pageboy who sat outside the gambling room eventually sat there so long that he froze to death.  This location in the castle is always freezing, even on the warmest day.

   It is interesting how this oral version of the Satanic card game differs from the printed texts, where the player is invariably Earl Beardie (in real life the Earl of Crawford, but in some tales he is the owner of Glamis).  The detail of the Deil destroying the battlements in a post-poker huff is also a lovely embellishment.

   A further superstition related by the Whytes (here) tells how newly employed maids, on their first working day at Glamis, were pursued by a barrel tumbling down the stairs towards them, and propelled by an unseen agency.  The couple maintained that every owner of the castle came to a bad end and the current owner built himself another house rather than live there.


Friday, 9 August 2019

The Begging Clergyman's Tale - Revisited

Some readers may find the following humorous story about a ghost a Glamis Castle slightly familiar.  I will explain afterwards.  The quote comes from a book named A Pelican's Tale, and is the autobiography of Edinburgh-born Frank M. Boyd.  It was published in London in 1919.

Whether there is or is not a ghost at Glamis, I am not in a position to say, nor do I know of my own knowledge whether Lord Strathmore or his family attach serious consequence to the mysterious visitor, but I do remember hearing a very well-known Scottish cleric tell of an occasion when he was staying at Glamis, and one morning at breakfast the subject of the celebrated secret room cropped up in conversation. Lord Strathmore, who certainly did not appear to regard the matter as one of special consequence, told the following little story of an eminent church dignitary who had stayed at the Castle some years previously.
   He was, it seemed, a fine example of the clerical beggar, and was always collecting money for church building and other good works of the kind. One night during his stay, he had just put out the light and got into bed, when suddenly the ghost appeared. It was from its apparel, he said, undoubtedly a Strathmore of some centuries back. With great presence of mind the clergyman took the first word. Addressing the ghost he stated that he was most anxious to raise a certain sum of money for a new church which he proposed to erect; that he had a bad cold and could not well get out of bed; but that his collecting book lay on the dressing-table within easy reach of the ghost, and that he would be extremely obliged if his visitor would favour him with a contribution.
   The ghost said nothing at all in reply, but clearly betrayed the embarrassment he felt. Being a gentleman he was obviously most desirous of complying with the clergyman's request, but being likewise a ghost, he had no pockets about him and no money. After a painful pause, realising that the position was one of extreme delicacy and difficulty for him, the ghost shamefacedly faded away, and has never come back any more! (A Pelican's Tale, pp. 205-6)

   The story in fact first appears in the book named Twenty-Five Years of St Andrews (1892).  The fact that the author of the latter is A. K. H. Boyd is relevant because he was Frank Boyd's father.  Frank has lifted the tale, without reference or credit, directly from Boyd senior's work, which raises eyebrows! No many authors, I would imagine, have plagiarised their own fathers.

    In the end, therefore, we have another secondhand Glamis ghost tale.  The search for original material goes on!

   The quote from Twenty-Five Years at St Andrews can be read in the post here.