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Auntie Nancie Letters No 3

Uncle David has four letters from Auntie Nancie which, although apparently incomplete, contain a lot of interesting family history memories. They are undated, but probably written in the 1980s. Written on pages torn from reporter – style notebook, the letters were out of order. I have tried to link them together but can’t guarantee total accuracy. The punctuation and spelling is mostly Auntie Nancie’s. She uses exclamation marks nearly as much as I do!!!

This is letter No 3

transcribed by Ruairidh Greig 9 Nov 2008

London House
35B Fore street

Dear David,

Sheila has sent me all the papers you sent about the Family tree, and I will endeavour to give you any information about Grandma and Grandpa Urquhart I ca remember. I suppose I am the only person who can, because Grandma talked to me quite a lot being of an age when I could be interested. Sheila and I called in most days to see her when we went to Welholme School and stayed over night with her too- many times, so I have lots of fairly useful information. She told me of her Mother, Margaret Cramond who she said my Mother took after so much. Her Mother’s sister, Aunt Annie lived near them in Peterhead after Grandma’s Mother died at 38 years old. Grandma told me herself that because of the drink, her Mother had been thrust out on to the doorstep, by her drunken husband – on a freezing night and died as a result of it – leaving six children- Grandma (Ellen) was 16, and the youngest was a little baby who was Great Uncle Willie Marshall. Her father went off after that to sea, and she never saw him again, she then only had ‘Aunt Annie’ down the road who was very good to them
Grandma said she had to make money to keep them all so she had to go down to the dockside and ‘gut the herrin’. She was a dressmaker too. She told me how kind the other fisher lassies were to her knowing her sad story and would ‘cover up’ for her when the boss came round. She used to faint in the cold she said (being partly of gentle blood)!!- Crammond- she used to talk a lot about a Mary Ann McRea.
It seems the Crammond sisters had both been away to school and at one time had their own carriage. So I imagine it was rather a come down when Margaret married John Marshall – who was a ‘whaler’. Grandma was very proud of the Marshall side though and said there were two brothers/branches of that family – the Red Marshall and the Black meaning beards I suppose – We are descended from the Red Marshalls. Grandma said what clever men they were too, at one time they started the only Navigation School in that area. They knew the Northern Seas and had expert knowledge of parts of Greenland. But they were, like most seamen in those days, “terribly addicted to the bottle” – Whisky, I suppose – that is why Grandma & Grandpa and all the family were ‘teetotal’ she had seen enough of the tragedy of drink, she once said. She only brought out the whisky at New Year!
She remembered how her father would be away for months at a time and word would come down the coast that the whaling fleet was on its way home to Peterhead and they would all rush down to ‘Ratray’ Head to look out for them and see if their father’s ship had come back – as whaling was a hazardous business – small wooden ships and hand harpoons then – what a life- no wonder they took to the bottle when they landed.
Grandma used to sit in the chimney corner in the kitchen telling me all this, and she would sing to me too – funny little jingles about the sea and the people in a high little sweet voice.
She told me how they would make their own entertainment and have ‘soirees’ (parties) I suppose where the lads and lassies would gather for a sing-song and chat – she said they were very fond of making up rhymes about each other too and at one ‘soiree’ she had gone all dress’t in her best and also wearing one of the new ‘snoods’ (a sort of net holding up the hair at the back) just brought in by the ‘Empress Eugenie’ or someone and they made a little rhyme up about her which ran,

‘Ellen Marshall she was there
Wi’ a meal sack on her hair!!1

She used to sing it to me , laughing and enjoying it so much.
She told me also that in those days it was perfectly legal and correct for a young couple who were ‘handfast’ to stand up at a gathering of people and announce that they were ‘man and wife’ – so that is what she and Davie Urquhart did at another friend’s wedding. Aunt Annie was scandalized and insisted upon them being…

Rest of sheet blank

1I recall that the rhyme referred to a ‘meal-poke’ and that there were two more lines, which I am trying to recall!

Owner/SourceRuairidh Greig
Linked toNancie Urquhart MILLER

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