The Annals of Arbuthnott
Isabella Williamson is one of life’s ‘maker-happeners’. She’s had to be to keep the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott open and vibrant. The times have changed and people don’t use village halls in quite the same way as they used to. This was one of the reasons that she started supporting a group of older residents to document their memories of past times in Arbuthnott.
In this interview, Isabella tells us how the Arbuthnott Reminiscence Group got started and how it fell in alongside the development of the Grassic Gibbon Centre – both of which are quite outstanding efforts to make sure the local past is gone but not forgotten.
Humble Beginnings & Hard Work
The first meeting of the group that became the Arbuthnott Reminiscence Group took place in 1991. Isabella was working for the Council’s then Community Education service as a development worker for older people. She was also working with other community members to build the Grassic Gibbon Centre. The two projects came together as a social opportunity for older community members and the collection of memories and material for the Centre.
Isabella explained it had taken her and other members (including John Briggs and Lord Arbuthnott) of the Arbuthnott Community Association four years to raise the funds to build the Grassic Gibbon Centre. When we asked why they had gone to such lengths to make the Centre happen she explained that the ‘shoppie – that had also functioned as an informal tourist information point – was away to shut’, the village hall was in poor repair and was unlikely to pass incoming licensing regulations and plans to house a Grassic Gibbon exhibition at Benholm just ‘didn’t feel right’.
The Centre was built in 1991 and the Arbuthnott Reminiscence Group were integral to providing the Centre with material for its exhibits.
Reminiscing Not Performing
In the beginning, they tried recording the group in their reminiscing but Isabella says ‘the posh voices came out and the chatter became stilted’. They left this behind and decided to take notes and record the memories in writing. These have since been made and published as a series of two books – The Annals of Arbuthnott, Part 1 & 2.
Part 1 (Pre 1900) has been sold out and so we couldn’t get hold of a copy but we have some excerpts here from Part 2 (1900-1960) and the book itself is being given away, with another two local history books, as the prize for this month’s Facebook Competition.
The book is divided into chapters about different themes of community life. Here is a flavour of past Arbuthnott school days and village entertainment.
There are records of schooling in Arbuthnott beside the church as far back as 1694. Rev. William Crystall is recognised as being predominantly responsible for furthering education in the Parish between 1815 and 1865.
In 1901, 115 pupils were registered at the school and dinner was half a slice of bread with soup made from vegetables and, barley and rabbits provided by local farmers.
Around 1906 Kathleen & Douglas Stewart, Millplough, felt embarrassed because they wore shoes to school and most of the other children at the time were barefoot. One day, rather than be teased, they hid their shoes in the ditch on the way to school where the roadmen came across them and moved them. On their way back home Kathleen and Douglas couldn’t find their shoes and were then afraid to go home. The shoes were eventually found!
Many, many dances have been enjoyed in the village hall over the years. During both World Wars, newspaper articles show us that the community was particularly active in fund raising for the war efforts.
February 28th 1919 Victory Dance
“A very successful Victory Dance was held in the hall at Arbuthnott on Wednesday, was in all senses a ‘Victory’ ball as all the service men in the parish were invited free, and a large number accepted the kindly invitation. Mr. Charles Cargill, Alpity, who has himself seen considerable service, proved himself efficient as M.C.”.
The book contains memories of Farmers Balls and concerts and all kinds of clubs and associations. One of these was the Inverbervie and Arbuthnott Reading Society, instituted in 1883, with the main objective of circulating magazines around its members. Members were allowed to keep the magazines for one week before passing them on.
Magazines included ‘Harper’s Monthly’, ‘Chambers Journal’, ‘19th Century’, and ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’.
Many fond memories and records of social clubs, outings and amateur dramatics.
The Arbuthnott Games were a big event. It was even remembered that during the games in 1914 it was announced that the First World War had been declared. In wartime the games were abandoned but a notice in the Mearns Leader rom July 1915 shows that a children’s picnic continued during these years.
The Annals of Arbuthnott is full of wonderful reminiscences, none more so than that of Ray Mitchell when expressing her dislike of her husband, James Leslie Mitchell’s, grave…
“I cannot get myself to begin to like the chips or concrete or gravel idea. It’s quite revolting to me but maybe I’m just queer…what I feel I would like is just a simple and natural green patch.”
Over sixty years later, after coming into possession of the correspondence, the Grassic Gibbon Centre succeeded in fulfilling Ray’s wishes by arranging for Aberdeenshire Council to replace the granite chips with grass.
Reminiscing can make changes for the better, even sixty years after the event.