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Filey 2.19: 19 – 25 August

F22508aSo here we are: the pullover is finished, and what a great pattern it is. I finally decided to extend the cuffs to 6 inches, so they can be rolled back to suit and give the wearer a bit of flexibility. The loose ends have all been darned in (at least with Frangipani 500g cones there aren’t too many), so now it just has to be washed and blocked and it’s ready to go. And after a short break it’ll be time to think about the next.

Now, as you know, I’ve been up to my elbows in the history of Wick’s Victorian fishing industry lately – and one of the things I’ve been wondering about is, just what was the impact of thousands of immigrants (‘strangers’) descending on the town for two months of the year.  You see, Wick is (and was) an English-speaking town; but many of the migrants came from the (Gaelic-speaking) Highlands and Islands. You never read about tensions between the two communities, so when I came across this extraordinary incident from 1859 it was all the more surprising.

F22508bIt all started trivially enough, as is so often the case. About 7pm on Saturday 27 August two boys, one a local from Wick, the other from Lewis, got into a fight over a dropped orange. At that time the streets were packed with both incomers and locals; within a few minutes the brawl became general, as each side leapt to the defence of their own, and quickly developed into a full-blown riot. The police arrived and made a few arrests, including a Highlander who was thought to be the ringleader, and who was taken to the gaol in Bridge Street.

The incensed Highlanders at once besieged the gaol and tried to get the man released (one crew even went down to the Harbour and returned with the mast of their boat to use as a battering ram!). But the police had meanwhile recruited a number of local youths as special constables and armed them with batons, and together they broke up the crowd, and repulsed a later attempt to break through to the gaol.

F22508-WHT-Log-1859The trouble died down that night, and everything remained calm throughout Sunday. But the Highlanders were only biding their time – for, as the harbour master noted, the police had armed “many of the thoughtless lads of the place” with batons on Saturday, and now their furious victims wanted revenge.

They got it on Monday. “Numbers of the Highlanders thronging Bridge Street and threatening vengeance against the parties using the batons on Saturday evening … upwards of 22 persons struck and abused before 6 pm, no available force able in any way to check the violence offered.” As evening came on, however, the Highlanders, having had their revenge, were “now willing to enter upon armistices.”

F22508cThere followed a temporary suspension of hostilities, though “the Highlanders continue very sullen, looking daggers at parties who escaped them yesterday.”  The helpless authorities sent for the army, and meanwhile, with the fishing season nearing its end in any case, some of the Highlanders began to leave for home.

Next Saturday 100 soldiers arrived by steamer and it looked as if the trouble was finally at an end. But later that night the Wick youths went on the rampage, running through the streets with knives and stabbing any Highlanders they found out of doors. The military were called out and it took them two hours to “scatter the rebels”, by which time 11 people had been stabbed, some of them badly wounded, though luckily no one died.

The Wick harbour master wrote sadly in his diary next day, Monday, 5 September 1859: “The Highlanders leaving the town in great numbers, others making ready, the men have no confidence after the usages to which they have been subjected, in terror of their lives for several nights past.”

It’s hard to imagine that relations between the Highlanders and the people of Wick would ever be the same again after that, isn’t it?

15 comments to Filey 2.19: 19 – 25 August

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Congratulations ! This is one of the nicest ganseys I have ever seen.

  • Cathy

    Ditto. Congratulations!
    Just hope hostilities don’t break out again over which member of the crew gets to wear that magnificent gansey.

  • Sue

    Fascinating post about the hooligans up north in times past! I now know where to refer people who complain about the anti-social behaviour of today’s youth as if this is a new phenomenon! Who would ever have thought that the military would need to be called in to quell street riots in Wick?

    The gansey is looking fantastic and it has inspired me to dig out the 2 cones of navy Frangipani wool that are sat in my stash and give serious thought to knitting it up and following your example to donate it to the Reaper on completion but I’m not as confident as you that after all that hard work I’ll still feel altruistic enough to give it away!

  • Nigel

    I’m not giving mine away!
    I think I might copy this one next Gordon.
    Well done.

  • Nigel

    Is he a relation, Gordon?
    This will need translating for Judit!


  • Judit M./ Finland

    Nigel !
    that wis jist the start o the war = that was just the start of the war.
    Thanks I understand the text well :), 🙂

  • Gordon

    Hello all,

    And thanks for the kind comments (not that I can take any credit for the pattern, which is cribbed straight from Gladys Thompson, so copy away Nigel!).

    There wasn’t a proper police force in Wick at the time, Sue, just special constables who were sworn in at need, so it’s perhaps surprising there weren’t more riots! Mind you, issuing the local lads with truncheons isn’t really a recommended way of defusing tensions… (And I think they’re more restrained in Anstruther, Cathy. At least I hope so!)

    Thanks for the link, Nigel—my family are Reids of Portgordon, so George is bound to be a relative, though I don’t know in what degree. (Family history is my job, but I can’t make it a hobby, alas.) Many years ago my Dad took us up to Portgordon and showed us the houses with the high water mark about the first storey, and the war memorial listing all the Reids and Fletts killed in World War 1—very moving.

    Oh, and Judit—next time I go visit my relatives, I think I’ll take you along as translator!

    Cheers all,

  • Nigel

    …So Gordon, ganseys are in the blood! Fascinating.
    I had trouble with some of it Judit! But I’m from Lancashire …

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, ganseys are indeed in the blood, along with several genetic defects, male pattern baldness, a dislike of vegetables and a fondness for deep-fried food coated in sugar!

      Seems like a fair deal to me…


  • Greetings from Canada!

    I must admit, I’ve popped into your blog now and again for your amazing resources, but your follow (thank you, by the way!) prompted me to read more of your blog. My mind is blown! Beautiful work. I’ll be back often 🙂

    I also love the historic tid-bits. I’m a librarian who works with a local history collection 😉

    • Gordon

      Hi Erin,

      Good to hear from you, and thanks! I must admit, i’m consistently intimidated by People Who Are Good At Lots of Things, hence my superpower of Just Doing One Thing A Lot. (In fact, I think of myself as the Anton Bruckner of ganseys.)

      I think we crafty-type people who work in the cultural heritage sector should form our own society, preferably with a very rude acronym. (When I lived in Wales I once came this close to getting a project termed the Welsh Archive of National Culture before someone spelled out how the team would answer the phone…)

      See you round!


  • Lol! I love it. If you ever do form such a society I’d definitely join it 😉

  • Sue

    Nice try Gordon but I would bet that the acronym ended being based on the Welsh language version of the project name and pronounced the Welsh way to boot! I did some work in the past with the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education, referred to as NEWI for short but pronounced by everybody as ‘Nowie’ with the ‘ew’ sounded as in ‘ouch, that hurt’.

    It’s now called Prifysgol Glyndwr which foxes the none Welsh speakers in the rest of the UK even more and, as I’ve now just discovered, getting the little ‘hat’ over the w is impossible on an iPad.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      Yeah, sad to say Welsh pronunciation would get in the way—though it’d require a different acronym, as the Welsh would probably be something like Archifdy Diwylliant Genedlaethol Cymru, and even a Welsh speaker couldn’t say “Bore da, ADGC” when answering the phone without sounding like they were choking on a pretzel.

      I loved the fact that the Welsh word for a circumflex was “to bach”, or “little roof”! Isn’t that adorable?


      • Gordon

        Thinking about it, “Ad Guk!” sounds like Klingon for “You have erroneously parked in a disabled space without an appropriate badge”.

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