Category: Books

Kate NicNiven

Last couple of days I’ve been afflicted by a flu-ey kind of rotten cold. So long as I stay sat, I’m ok, but anything energetic, like standing up, quickly leads to sitting down again. In between dozing off, I’ve been reading, and read a blog on a standing stone, now destroyed, at Clarkston Farm near Lesmahagow, on Northern Antiquarian, Dec 26th , 2008

The blog quotes Chambers’ Popular Rhymes, p242-3, which tells the story of previous owners who believed this rhyme was connected to the Clarkston Farm stone:

Between Dillerhill and Crossfoord,
There lies Katie Neevie’s hoord.

Stories of treasure under standing stones and mounds are hardly new, but who is Katie Neevie? Chambers refers to her as Mrs Katherine Nevin, without any indication of her role in the story. But the name that immediately came into my mind was Kate NicNiven, Queen of the Faeries (and also an infamous, and probably fictional, witch, although there are plenty from around Monzie in Perthshire who claim she’s genuinely historical).

In other words, it’s possible that the rhyme is suggesting fairy gold, another well worn folktale.

However, from a geographical point of view, the imaginary line between Diller Hill and Crossford doesn’t actually suggest Clarkston Farm. Halfway along is Blackhill Farm, which still has a barrow, albeit rather ploughed away, and in the past there was also a standing stone close by. If ever in the vicinity, it might be an interesting diversion to climb Diller Hill itself and see whether Crossford can be seen in the Clyde Valley to the north. Of course, you might find the bulk of Black Hill itself in the way, which actually wrecks the entire story.

This 19th century Tourist’s Guide to Glasgow is not only a fascinating read, but has some beautiful colour plates at the end.

Glasgow University, from Tourist’s Guide to Glasgow, 1887

There’s one of the university without its spire that is stunning, as well as views of the Clyde, Trongate, George Square, the Royal Exchange (with hat-free Duke of Wellington statue 🙂 ) and some beautiful images of the cathedral.


Buchanan Street, from Tourist’s Guide to Glasgow, 1887

However, the image of the Stock Exchange caught my eye, because at the bottom of Buchanan Street, a church can be clearly seen in St Enoch Square. Enoch is actually a linguistic mangling of Thenew, who was mother of St Kentigern/Mungo, so it’s no surprise that there would be a church there – I’d just never known of one before.

What I had heard of was a holy well, dedicated to St Thenew, with an associated chapel, marking where Thenew was supposedly buried.

There’s more details about how the well was used:

It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who frequented the well were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron – probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood – representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring – such as eyes, hands, feet, ears and others

Andrew Macgeorge, Old Glasgow, the place and the people, 1880

St Enoch's Square, NLS maps

St Enoch’s Square, NLS maps

Holy wells often have an associated chapel. Wells and natural springs were commonly important in pre-Christian times and they were often consecrated when Christianity took over to encourage continuity of religious practice. Since folks were coming along anyway, you may as well convert them while they’re around.

It seems likely from the description that this was a ancient sacred place, especially given the metalwork being used as votive offerings. Part of St. Enoch Square seems to have been the burial ground associated with the chapel so it’s not surprising that the church is named for St Enoch as well. So far as I can tell, the chapel fell into ruins following the Reformation, a new church was built in 1780, and the final St Enoch church was demolished in 1926 after the congregation moved.

It turns out that this area was part of the ‘Old Green’ and therefore, common land. Interesting that Argyle Street, St Enoch Square and Jamaica Street had already been named when Glasgow Council advertised the land for sale in 1777; wonder if there’s any connection to Andrew Buchanan’s advert for “a street to be opened directly opposite to St Enoch’s Square” the previous week!  (Senex: Old Glasgow and its environs).

All connection to St Thenew/St Enoch beyond the name is now invisible, but it’s intriguing to wonder if the cemetery, chapel, well and churches are a reason why the Square has managed to remain an open space.

More information
Sidelights on Scottish History by Michael Barrett
Glasgow history blog with lots of photos from old postcards, including St Enoch Church.
The Glasgow Story has a page on St Enoch Church, and a beautiful sketch from 1797
Holy wells in and around Glasgow
Canmore has data on St Enoch’s Church and the well
The Glasgow Story has a nice map from 1894, claiming to represent Glasgow in 1547, showing chapel, cemetery and the well a t the end of a ‘vennel’

This book was published in  1843 by W.P. Kennedy of Edinburgh. Collated by James Findlay, it consists of an alphabetical list of villages and seats, with their relevant ‘Post-Town’, with ‘SUB-OFFICES .. in Italics‘, County and Occupants.

And, like many directories of this type, there’s the same information arranged by surname, and some lovely period adverts.

It’s a nice snapshot in time for a particular area.

Directory to gentlemen’s seats, villages &c. in Scotland: giving the counties in which they are situated – the post-towns to which each is attached – and the name of the resident (1843)

Men of the North

Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland by Tim Clarkson

One of the best books I’ve ever read on early medieval history, and by far the best on this part of the world. It’s steeped in research, doesn’t hesitate to say when something is unknown – which can be a refreshing change for books on this period – and is open about the value or otherwise of its sources.

The “Men of the North” are a sort of medieval Welsh tradition of heroes from former Brittonic or British parts of post-Roman, pre-11th century parts of Britain. That mainly means Glasgow, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, with forays south as far as Cumbria (Lake District) and fluctuating borders to fit the constant warring of the period.

The existence of a separate kingdom of the Britons is usually only mentioned in passing, usually something like, “at this point Scotland didn’t exist, and was inhabited by Picts, Angles, Britons, Gaels, and Vikings in different places,”  occasionally followed by more in-depth discussion about thePicts (mysterious), Angles (plenty evidence, especially in language), Gaels (become the leaders of Scotland, spoke Gaelic) or the Vikings (bloodthirsty artistic types who take over the north and the south-west and bring plenty more language with them). On the Britons, most books were silent.

I’ve always wondered what was happening in my part of the world during the Dark Ages, but I figured that a lack of surviving sources had made it impossible. Well now I know better. Yes, the sources are sketchy, but Mr Clarkson has woven a remarkable tapestry from them, clearly identifying the gaps and places where repairs have been necessary along the way.

Having read it the whole way through now I’ve got several new threads to follow up: battles I’d never heard of; locations to visit; artefacts to investigate; there is so much detail here I foresee it becoming dog-eared through constant reference. This book is unlikely to make it to the boxes in the loft.

One question jumped out at me right away though. I’d always understood that the Brythonic language disappeared because of the influence of Old English in the Lowlands. Mr Clarkson suggests it died out because the ruling classes spoke Gaelic and that’s what took over. If true, for how long was Gaelic the main language spoken in the Lowlands? And for how long before Scots developed?

Additional note 25th March
I should have added yesterday that the existing placename evidence for Lanarkshire strongly suggests Gaelic was spoken here (Kilbride, Airdrie and lots of Auchen- places being good examples). I’m intrigued by the rate and time of changeover, not disputing that Gaelic was spoken in the south.

Historical tours in the Clyde Valley

Historical tours in the Clyde Valley

It’s scary how much has changed within my lifetime. 1983 (when this was published) doesn’t seem that long ago. I’d also question their definition of the ‘Clyde Valley’ but that’s being pedantic.

This is a series of tours mostly designed for drivers happy to wander around Lanarkshire looking for old stuff. Sounds right up my street, and in fact, I’ve covered a lot of the ground in this wee booklet already, but there are still plenty of surprises. I had no idea there was a broch in Lanarkshire, or a souterrain! They’re clearly in view on the OS map, but I’ve not looked in that direction in much detail before. And the book also suggests that Thankerton and Lamington are relatively modern planned villages; if I’d given it any thought I’d have assumed medieval at least.

I love older publications like this for their mentions of existing buildings, not just ruins. Buildings still in use are overlooked too often.  I find it amazing  how many structures have been destroyed within my generation, like Coltness House in Wishaw, and numerous railway lines and bridges. It’s surprising that anything survives from the deep past when we seem so intent on destroying so much of our present. Do the survivors remain by luck, or because they were special, or were there originally so many that statistically one or two were bound to make it to the present?

It’s also intriguing to see what has been missed out from the tours: plenty Covenanter graves are ignored, for example.

At any rate, hopefully it won’t be too long before I can drag my recalcitrant family out for another tour. Snow allowing!