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Glenbuchat Heritage

33 David Bruce - Glenbuchat School 1930's
The Glenbuchat Image Library
33 David Bruce - Glenbuchat School 1930's

David Bruce

Interview with David Bruce on 1st Sept 2017.

Glenbuchat Childhood 1930’s

David Bruce spent the first eight years of his life in Glenbuchat in the 1930’s. Despite having a disability as a child he eventually gained a University place, obtained a Master of Arts degree and became a teacher of English and Latin.

David’s Grandfather was James Fowler, who for a time was head forester at Glenbuchat. He was born about 1872 and died at the age of 69 in 1941. He was always referred to in the Glen as ‘The Forester’. He appears in a photograph standing with his bicycle on the Glenbuchat road speaking to a lady. The lady in question was a regular summer visitor to the glen and was a Mrs Henderson from Dundee.

James married Mary Horne and the black and white photo above shows her at the window of the Glenbuchat Manse.

James and Mary had a daughter Margaret who married David Bruce Snr. who was born in 1905. Margaret had been a house maid at the House of Cromar now known as Alastrean House at Tarland. David Snr. was a forester but also had skills as a cobbler.

David Snr. took on a shop in Keig and traded as a shoemaker. Because of the recession everyone wanted footwear repaired on credit but David had to pay for the leather etc. upfront. He made no financial success of the job and eventually he decided to go back to forestry. Events leading up to this decision caused much stress. Margaret his wife was pregnant and before they were to leave Bankhead Keig, David Jnr, was born prematurely on 16th April 1930. He was a tiny infant who could easily fit in a shoe box. As a result of his premature birth David was born with a deformity of the right foot and congenital cataracts. As a result, in the politically incorrect style of the times David was known as ‘twisty’

Not long after David was born, it was time to leaver Keig and David Snr. to take up his appointment as forestry assistant at Crimongate Lonmay. However the cottage they were given to love in was in such a bad state and infested with rats that they occupied it only for one night. The family ten went to live with Margaret’s parents at Coldstriffen Cottage. (Now called Culstriffen)

In the 1843 the Scottish church split into the Established church and the Free Church which is why Glenbuchat has two churches and two manses. In 1929 the two churches reconciled their differences and united again. This made some churches and manses redundant. As the Free Church and manse were bigger and more modern than the Old Kirk the church moved to the new manse and church.

About 1934 the Rev W. A. Spark retired and the Old Manse became vacant. The laird Col. Barclay Milne, seeing that two families were living in a small cottage arranged for them both to move into the manse. This offered luxury to the families. The manse had all mod cons of the day, hot and cold running water, flushing toilets and acres of space for them all. David’s father had room in the steading to carry on his cobbler’s business and his grandmother kept hens.

David’s father at this time was working at the quarry at Mossat which was about 10 miles away. He cycled there and back every day. He, however, was in poor health and suffered from a Duodenal Ulcer and was often off work.

In 1938 David’s father got a job as forester with the Wolrige Gordons in Esslemont House near Ellon. David was shocked by the flat boring countryside around Ellon and the fact that he looked on to the Buchan Railway line. The house also was more primitive with a dry toilet and no hot water on tap.

David went to secondary School at Ellon and gained his university entrance. He taught at Torphins, New Pitsligo and eventually in 1952 at Nairn where he was an assistant in the English department. Eventually Latin was added to his remit.

In the meantime his parents moved to Haddo House estate and father worked as forester. They lived at Ivy cottage Methlick then on to Mill of Kelly. Finally on the departure of the head forester, David’s father became head and moved from Methlick to Mill of Kelly, where he lived until he retired at the age of 70 after which he moved to the North Lodge Methlick.

In the meantime David’s elderly grandparents were living alone in the manse at Glenbuchat. They were quite poorly and regularly visited by Miss Walker the teacher at the school, and there is more about her later. She would walk the two miles from the school house to see them every evening and two miles back. One evening she asked his grandparents what was happening as she had seen the manse advertised for rent in the paper. As the Manse was too large for the grandparents the Laird had advertised it but had not told the Fowlers. The grandparents were very upset by this even though they were given accommodation further up the Glen at Dulax Cottage. In December 1940 they moved from the comfort of the Manse to a house that had no flushing toilet or hot water on tap. There was no room for grandfather’s tools and they lay in their boxes outside until his death. He died a few months later on 31st March 1941 and his wife died at Esslemont on 5th December of the same year.

Now back to David Bruce’s childhood in Glenbuchat.

David’s memories are mainly related to his time at the Glenbuchat manse. As he was born with a deformed foot and poor sight due to cataract, he was limited to the part of the Glen between the Manse and the school on the opposite side of the Glen some two miles away.

A field away from the manse was the Kirkton Farm where Charlie Fraser stayed. His daughter Alice regularly accompanied David to school. The walk to School was mostly the same as Jessie Henderson’s as noted in her 1930’s essay of going to school in 1890. Sandy Johnston from the Milton was also in David’s class. From the manse they walked along past the Newton Croft where the Hay’s lived and David vividly remembers that they kept a lot of turkeys who made a ferocious gobbling noise. Next he went past Easterbuchat where John Thomson stayed and then past Belnaboth and over the bridge which had been rebuilt since Jessie Henderson’s days. Finally to the Glenbuchat Hall at the foot of the hill

David remembers wonderful children’s parties at the Hall. He remembers one Christmas party held by Mrs Barclay Milne the Laird’s wife. Winters were worse then and snow lay on the ground for many weeks. David recalls being taken by a horse drawn Sledge driven by Charlie Fraser down the hill from the manse to the Hall. It was a beautiful clear moonlit night and the snow covering country side sparkled. Inside the hall he was greeted by a magnificent natural Christmas tree with candles on the branches held in small glass containers. David recalls the candles glowing with a haze around them. This may partly be due to his cataract with dissipates the light. The Hall was heated by paraffin heaters and lit by Tilly Paraffin lamps.

After the Hall, he came to the Glenbuchat shop which was owned and run by Walter Davidson and his son Jim Davidson who stayed at David’s old home Coldstriffen Cottage. The Davidson’s had a shop van which went round the glen delivering groceries. At 11 am precisely each Wednesday the van would appear at the manse and David’s Grandmother always gave Jim a glass of whisky. In typical grocers fashion Jim always had a pencil behind his ear. As he always took a splash of soda water in his whisky and immediately the soda was poured the pencil was taken from behind the ear and the whisky stirred with it. It was many years before David found out that this was not the normal way of mixing whisky and soda.

Opposite the shop was the new Manse which was occupied by the new minister the Rev Zachariah Moore. David however recalls the old Kirk by the manse. His Grandfather was so attached to it that he never went to the ‘New’ Church. The family had a box pew near the rear door of the Old Kirk. Below the pulpit was a table where people sat to take communion. The names of the tunes for the psalms were displayed on cards below the pulpit and the singing was led by the Precentor. There was no musical accompaniment. He assumes that this role came from a time when most people did not read or write. The Precentor would sing a line of the hymn and the congregation would repeat the same line, and again with the next line and so on until the end of the hymn. David found this endless repetition boring.

On one occasion an ‘American Organ’ was used in the church (? Harmonium). David was so fascinated by this that whenever he had the opportunity, he would nip back into the church and play it. David was mad keen on music but never got the opportunity to develop his interest. The new church however had a harmonium and a regular organist.

Between the Shop and the Church was the Belnacraig Hill known as the Crag. This was a foot path only up the hill as about 2/3 the way up was a large rock in the middle of the path. David describes it as about 3-4 feet in diameter and 2-3 feet in height. The children used to slide down as they did in 1890, especially in winter when there was ice on it. David with his deformed foot was only able to slide down on his bottom.

Near the top of the Crag was Rose Cottage the home of Effie Leslie . Effie he recalls was a character and was rather loud and voluble in her speech. At the top of the Crag was Craighead the home of George Hay.
The path from there to the school was wet and muddy until the path was raised and a dry. Fortunately the side of the path was built up to give a dry walking area.

At the end of this track was the school and opposite it on the other side of the road was the old school house now home to the teacher. In the old days that house had also been the school.

When David started the teacher was a Miss Low but she became attached to and married Gordon Thom of Tombreck, the mill a few hundred yards from the school. In those days women had to resign when they got married so Miss Low left and Miss Walker arrived. Miss Walker stayed at the school until its closure in 1960 and her photo can been seen at the school closing day.

Miss Walker seems to have taken great care of David who would have been seen as one of the weaker children at the school. David was liable to frequent migraines especially on a Monday. Miss Walker would take him to the schoolhouse and she and her housekeeper looked after him. At the end of the day they would walk him back the two miles to the Manse. David would often be off then until the Thursday.

Often David was unable to eat breakfast before he left the Manse so Miss Walker would take him back to her house and provided him with breakfast and often fed him with scrambled eggs. This care continued towards his grandparents whom she visited regularly once David and his family had moved away. Miss Walker was very keen on flowers and passed her interest on to David. David was delighted when there was a school competition to see who could collect the most number of different wild flowers and David won.

Writing at school was done on as slate board with a slate pencil which squeaked as you wrote. The resulting marks were wiped out with a piece of wet cloth. By the end of the week the cloth was becoming rather smelly. In poor light teaching was lit by Tilly paraffin lamps. The schoolroom was heated by a coal burning stove.

Another major part of David’s life was his health, especially his congenital cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. Treatment was limited in those days and one procedure was ‘needling’ This was when under local anaesthetic a needle is inserted into the lens and moved around to allow the fluid of the eye to mix with it. This helps to remove the cloudy matter.

In 1938 David was referred by Dr McKay the GP at Strathdon at the time to Dr Souter in Aberdeen. Dr Souter had a surgery at 10 Albyn Place Aberdeen and operated at the newly opened Infirmary at Foresterhill. David was admitted to the balcony of Ward 13 along with another boy and he recalls the fields of sheep in front of the hospital. While there, another family was visiting a patient in the ward and the young daughter, who was bored, was sent to the balcony to speak to the boys. As fate would have it this girl, Rosella was to become his wife later in his life.

The operation was made under anaesthetic and David had to stay in hospital for 8 weeks for each eye. Every now and then the bandages come off and he was asked to look out the window and count the sheep. Knowing this would happen, David had used the un-bandaged eye to check the numbers before the ward round. If there had been no improvement he was due to have a big cataract extraction operation. However, just before the 8 weeks were up, his sight improved and the big operation was postponed. He remembers Christmas in the ward with Santa Clause coming round and he got a present of a copy of the book Tom Sawyer. The Santa Claus in question was Dr Souter.

David’s deformed leg received no specific treatment except orthopaedic shoes. It was first X-rayed in 2009 when it was thought that a greenstick fracture at the time of birth might have been the cause of the disability.

Many thanks to David for giving this interview
Picture added on 21 September 2017 at 17:44
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