26 February 2011

Dougall Part 8: Heart of Midlothan

In my previous Dougall post, I mentioned that my perspective toward the family origins had changed. Instead of conjuring a vague Highland past for good old John (fl.1750s) and his antecedents, my horizons contracted closer to home—home being Edinburghshire, latterly known as Midlothian. And the town of Edinburgh embodied the heart of Midlothian.

It’s quite apparent that, although my Dougall family history is now in print, the flow of research and information doesn’t necessarily stop. Therefore the blog is the means to serve up sequels, or postscripts. And probably won’t stop me from some idle speculation ...
Postcard, undated, West Calder Family History Society

John Dougall’s main activity was at West Calder village, located about fifteen miles west of Edinburgh. His “activity” as we know it consists merely of three recorded baptisms in the 1750s for his children. Genealogical convention says the distance a man could walk from his home or birthplace in half a day, or sometimes a whole day, is the usual radius in which ordinary eighteenth century folk connected with employment, for marriage, and where they found or established family ties. Fifteen miles sounds reasonable to me for a healthy young man.

Why hadn’t I been thinking that—instead of fleeing from the dire aftermath of Culloden—John might simply have walked away from the religious and political turmoil of 1740s Edinburgh? Would it have been “simple” to do that? A few earlier Dougalls are recorded in the Edinburgh parish of St Cuthbert with no known connections at this time. And there to this day below the famous castle sits St Cuthbert’s—the “West Kirk” of Edinburgh—on the Lothian Road! The National Archives of Scotland has hundreds of items relating to this historic church (CH2/718) including intermittent parishioner lists and examination rolls ... just waiting for a future Dougall family researcher to explore :-)
St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, photograph by Jonathon Oldenbuck,  2008. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Cuthberts_Edinburgh.JPG.
Probably born in the 17-teens, John Dougall could have been witness to some violent events. Edinburgh citizens were known for public demonstrations. Angry mobs sometimes took to torching and lynching. The year 1732 saw St Cuthbert’s itself a magnet for rioting; dissent over the appointment of a new minister led to police retaliation and far-reaching consequences. In 1742 the kirk beadle was a target in the “body snatcher riots.”[1] Not only that, Rev. Neil McVicar of St Cuthbert’s, a Gaelic-speaking Highlander, supported the government cause during the Jacobite Rebellions. McNeil was vocal in his opposition when Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his army occupied the city for a short while in 1745, and “... there was no public worship in the city itself during this time and many people sought refuge in the countryside.” (emphasis added)[2]

Sir Walter Scott monument, photograph CDM 2010.
But what about the Heart of Midlothian? Sir Walter saw it as the hated Tolbooth prison and tax (toll) collection office, a large brooding edifice situated in the centre of the old town. It’s not clear to me whether Scott coined the phrase or adopted it from an older usage (his book is densely packed and ripe with colloquial Scots dialect). Recent archaeological evidence shows that a vestige of the old building can be dated to 1386. The Tolbooth had once been a council and parliamentary chamber, but is remembered in notoriety as the scene of hangings, often without benefit of trial, and other atrocities. Scott’s popular novel revolves around the riots and injustices of the 1730s. Demolished in 1817, the building’s former entrance is marked by the mosaic heart inset on the Royal Mile at St Giles Cathedral.

The whole Heart of Midlothian notion does not raise quite the same ancient tribal thrills in me as a Highland warrior does. Yet, Edinburgh possesses its own unique excitement as the post-mediaeval town of teetering tenements, outspoken populace, and occasionally nefarious mysteries. I am heartened by the wonderful job the folks at Scottish Monumental Inscriptions are doing with West Lothian and Edinburgh cemeteries. There’s at least one Dougall stone in Calton Old Cemetery, Edinburgh. To be continued, bien entendu.
St. Giles Cathedral, photograph, probably by JCH Balmain, 1885, Yerbury Collection.

 [1] “The Bodysnatcher Riots of 1742,” Edinburgh’s Dark Side  (http://edinburghsdarkside.blogspot.com/2008/09/bodysnatcher-riots-of-1742.html : accessed 28 January 2011).
[2] “St Cuthbert’s History,” Welcome to St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Lothian Road, Edinburgh (http://www.st-cuthberts.net/index.htm  : accessed 28 December 2010).

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