Archive Feature articles
Voluntary work,Sri lanka
Mary McClelland Memorial
The Free Church
James Clerk Maxwell and Corsock
Local Poems
Corsock Stained Glass Windows

Reminiscences of Sandy Muir

Sandy Muir spent his early childhood in Old Bridge of Urr. He went to school and trained as a joiner with George Boyes in Kirkpatrick-Durham. He often carried out repairs to Kirkpatrick-Durham Kirk and built a house in Castle-Douglas. He regularly cycled from Castle-Douglas to Kirkpatrick-Durham to play badminton. While serving in the Royal Marines he met his wife Dorothy. Later he worked for Johnstone’s in Dalbeattie building a house there (Kenmuir.) He emigrated with his family to Australia where he was a keen gardener. He returned back to this area for a visit most years until his death .  He was a fund of local history and was persuaded to write down some of his memories for us.

Old Bridge of Urr, November 2nd, 1922, when I made my way into the world, a very different world to the one we know today.

 It must have been fairly early in the morning as faither was late for his work because of my arrival. As it happened he was working alongside Geordie Boyes that day, a man I was to serve my apprenticeship with when I left school. I left at the Christmas holidays, 1936 and couldn't get away quick enough; one of many mistakes I was to make.
The Brig in those days was a pretty quiet place with only the Mill working, although not long before it had been busy with timber cutting in the areas, In fact it was this that had taken faither to the Brig to work as a carpenter joiner. The Mill as well as drying corn in the kiln, bruising corn and making meal, also had a circular saw working cutting up the tree trunks. All this of course being  driven by a water wheel, supplied from a dam a couple of hundred yards up river, the water came down a  place like a small canal, under the road and through the wheel and back to the river. Just below the dam was a sluice that could be opened by a big handle which secured part of it up when water was needed, normally only a small amount was allowed through to keep the lade running and provide the mill house with water for washing, etc.

 The spare water ran to the side of the sluice and back into the river. Also a small amount was allowed through a small sluice at Gordon’s (later Ritchie’s), this formed a small turn back to the river and the closet sat over this and the "droppings" were washed down the river, this system operated also at Dubbiedale across the bridge and at the  mill house itself. Every body else at that time had an outside closet with a can and the contents had to be emptied into a hole in the garden, the exception was Urr Bank next door to us uphill. After we arrived in the Brig Faither helped to turn this house into two, up and down and water was brought from Castle Douglas supply all the way from Clarebrand at the top of

the hill about one and a half miles
Besides the Mill the house next the river on the up side of the bridge was the joiners shop and next to that the Blacksmith's shop and next to that the Smith's house. When the timber business finished the joiner's shop was used as a house for McVees, a tarpaulin sheet being used to divide the house into rooms, as it was when Browns* moved in later.
  When I was about nine or ten the Blacksmith's shop was turned into a hall, Faither and the folk around gutted it out, lined it out with timber, etc. and made it all nice and clean. He made bowling boards and we had quite a good club up until the war or just after. It was also used for whist drives and dances and although it had a concrete floor many a good night we had in it. It was also used, I think, about once a month for the "preaching" when the Minister came down and had a service; other times it was a case of walking to Kirkpatrick-Durham kirk or biking.

   Nobody outside the” big house” had a car.. Dave Robertson who owned the Mill, by this time had a motorbike and sidecar, the sidecar was just like a chair on a frame, all open at the front; it must have been a bit scary just sitting there.

   My furthest back memory is of Andrew (brother) coming home from school. I can just picture him coming in the gate, he would be about leaving and I would be about four. I can remember it being 1929. I would be at the school by then. The Brig population at that time consisted of Robertsons at the Mill, and Ella Herd who was their maid but sort of adopted by them, Gordons, two old ladies next the river on the down side, Browns* on the up side, Maggie Dowl (Mcdowal) in the old Smith's house, next up the hill was us at Dalmount, the name given it by Mother being Dal for Mrs. Dalziel, who owned it and Mount as it sits on the side of the hill with a nice outlook, it still carries the name today.  Next in the upstairs Wee Willie Duncan and Mrs” retired”, I'm not sure, from what, but some kind of office work, best remembered for coming out with his bucket and shovel to lift the dung after the horses had gone uphill with a cart full of something. Downstairs, the Waddels, he was a retired headmaster, no family. I used to get a penny from him now and again, for that I would get a few aniseed balls or a bar of chocolate ( Duncan ’s Hazel nut) or some marbles.

*Mrs Brown was the supervisor for catering at Castle-Douglas High School and an excellent cook.

 The wee house at the crossroads was James and Mrs. Muir (no relation) along the Corsock road was Jimmy and Mrs. Thomson, she had the post office and Jimmy did a bit of joinery work.

   The mail then came from Dalbeattie and was delivered on foot by Davie Robertson "The Miller". He did the Brig, then up Corsock road to Doon of Urr Farm, over the river by the wooden brig, up to Auchendolly Farm, Trowdale, Auchendolly Big House and cottages and back down and didn't often miss whatever the weather. Up from the cross is Croys Cottage, Geordie and Mrs. Chambers and Grace, she and I were the only weans in the Brig at one time.

  Geordie was chauffeur and handyman at Croys, the Big House that sits uphill, to the east of the Brig, occupied then by Col. and Mrs. Cadell and her brother Dr. Munn, who actually owned the place, along the Grange Road . At the front entrance is the Lodge occupied by the gardener, Alex and Mrs. Stewart, and just up from Croys cottage, Nethertown Farm, at one time the home farm for Croys estate. All the Big Houses around had at one time been the centre of estates but are now split up and sold off.
   I remember two of the houses being burned down, the Mollance seen in the distance from our front door caught fire, Faither made off on his bike and reckoned if he'd had water could have put  it out himself, but by the time the brigade got there from Castle Douglas it was hopeless, the brigade wouldn't amount to much anyway. The rest of us walked over and I can remember standing on the lawn and seeing the windows red with flames, it was never rebuilt.

  The other one was Glenlair. It was burned on a Sunday when Uncle Sandy and a friend were down on a visit from New- Galloway and I went with them in their car to see the fire.

 The world I came into and lived the early part of my life in was a world of very few cars only the big houses and some business people had cars, plus the delivery vans. We depended on them for everything, butchers, Co-op, Grierson, and Ballard, came once, sometimes twice a week. With no fridges you couldn't keep stuff very long, what we used was a safe, just a cupboard on the wall with perforated zinc all round to let the air blow through.

    Bakers, Smart and Stevenson, came at least twice a week, always a race to get out and get one of the fancy cakes, Grocers, Smith,   Brashes ( Dumfries ), but the big one for us, was the Co-op.

  We were members and our number, 1975, got us a "divi" so most  things were bought there, including clothes, boots, etc. for  them the order was handed in by whoever was  in town and it was delivered on Monday, if we had spare eggs the van man took them and it helped towards the groceries. We were about his last call and I can remember his saying: "Well goodnight and thanks".

  Later they sent a man round on Thursday to take the order. It was a treat to get to the town and buy in the shop, the man behind the counter ran and slid along the floor getting the stuff together, parcelled it up in brown paper tied it with string which they were able to break it off just right with a flick of the wrist. The money, along with our chit with our number was put in a cup and a handle pulled and a spring took it to the cash desk and back come our change, the same way. (A newer model of this operated at Dumfries where the money was put in a tube and sucked to the cash desk.)

 I don't remember papers at this time except Saturday when they came with Smith's Grocers van.
  There were no phones at the time except for the Big House and the post office and that was only for their own use.
If we needed a doctor  it meant somebody going to Castle Douglas, walking or hiking, or if we could catch somebody going past to take a message, getting a prescription back from the Chemist was the same, except for Thursday when the van Fred Walker, Chemist, with Walter Campbell driving came round. I remember him coming one night and handing out wee bars of chocolate. I would be older at the time but evidently not much wiser as we just scoffed it right off, I was up at Croys cottage and we had a busy time queuing up for the closet round the back, Grace and Geordie even being caught out, it was of course laxative chocolate.
   Nobody had electric at that time except the Big House and they made their own, we could hear the engine thumping away charging up big batteries, we always liked to have a peep in if we went up sometimes with Geordie. Our light came from paraffin lamps and candles, the lamp globes had to be cleaned each day as they got black from the flame and the wicks had to be trimmed.  In the front room we had a fancy ironwork lamp holder that hung from the ceiling and could be pulled up and down.

 The paraffin we got from a tanker that came round and we had a tank that held quite a bit and we sold some to the neighbours. The paraffin was also used for cooking, we had a double burner stove with the oven sitting on top and this was used for all the cakes, etc. that we were never without, the rest of the baking was done over the fire in the big black range with the fire in the middle sitting high up and most of  the heat going up the lum. On one side was an oven which could have been used at one time but I only remember it filled with kindling and Faither's slippers keeping warm, on the other was a tank for heating water that I can regularly remember being used.

  The girdle, frying pan and a big iron kettle were hung over the fire on the end and the” Swee” a big bracket fixed to the back  of the fireplace with rings and a “cleek” hanging on it so you could get different heights to adjust the heat, this baked scones, tatty- scones, pancakes and oatcakes.

  We had no wireless so we lived very much on our own little world, most news being passed by word of mouth. We had no water inside it was all carried in buckets from a tap outside the gate between Wadells and us. This was one of three taps on our water supply which originated in a well in Croys field up near the house. I never knew it to go dry, in fact the overflow which we called the shoot ran for most of the time and was the regular supply of drinking water for Croys Cottage, the burn that runs past the front of the house supplied water for washing, in fact Geordie washed and shaved out at the burn for most of the year.

  Waste water for most folk was just thrown outside, for  it went down a drain near the back door, this ran round the end of the house out to the "spicket" (tap) across the road and down into the burn. This is one of three burns that water the mill fields dividing the land into two areas, the middle burn had a well beside it and this was the mill supply of drinking water, carried in buckets until later a pipe was laid and a pump outside the back door.

  Our bathing was done in a tin tub at this time, later faither got an old bath from somewhere and it sat in the back kitchen with a board over it, so that it could be used as a table, it had no taps connected and it had to be filled and emptied by hand, this picture was much the same for everybody at that time even new farm cottages were being built without bathrooms.
  That was my world, no TV, no wireless, tapes, videos, etc, no fridge, no cooker, microwave, telephone, few papers, cars, bikes were not that plentiful. Many folk walked miles to and from work and weans often three miles or more to school, probably seems terrible to today's weans with all the things they have, but I wouldn't want to change any of it. I had a playground that went for miles and we covered it all except for the Big Houses.

  The Big House and their grounds they were something else, out of bounds to everybody, even the staff who worked there had to try and do it without being seen, inside all the down stairs work was done before they came down and when they had breakfast etc. the upstairs work  was done, except for Dr. Munn, he stayed in bed until after lunch, Geordie had to be ready to take him out most days at 4 pm, he got back around eight pm and stayed up most of the night. With Geordie being there, Grace and I used to slip up with him sometimes and scoot across the open bit and up the back road to the garages. These are like a three sided square, either end is big doors with the Doctor’s cars on one side, a Rolls and Humber and at the other side, Cadell had a Wolsey. In the middle was a big arch leading to a yard at the back and either side rows of stalls where the horses used to be, the whole thing being built in the coach and horses days.

 Later, when Ella, my sister-in-law to be, worked there I was allowed to go up with her and actually have a seat in the kitchen. She like the others started at 6 am in the morning and worked to 9 pm at night when they were allowed out for an hour, the bell was rung at 10 pm, they had one afternoon and evening off per week and every other Sunday the same and all for 25s. a month. Geordie had his house and coal but not much in cash at this time. Faither had about £3 per week and biked the three and a half miles to Castle Douglas morning and night.

  My world had a sudden jolt when I had to get up the hill to Kirkpatrick-Durham for the school. I was dragged there and went very unwillingly thereafter. I'm not sure why but it filled me with fear and apprehension, something that back when I entered a classroom, even in the forces (armed forces). memories of the early days are of smells, carbolic soap from the wash basins in the porch, plasticine, chalk and the teacher's chalky hand when she took mine to do writing; of soup in the winter eaten from a bowl with a spoon made from horn, slates with a wooden frame round them and slate pencils. The wash basins were just loose basins sitting in a frame, the water for them had to be carried in drums with a tap on them, they were filled by the older boys at the well down behind what was then Dickson's Garage and later became Geordie Boyes joinery shop where I served my time.

  The toilets was a row of cubicles inside a house with a passage for emptying the cans up the middle, boys one side, lassies the other, the lassies had to go round behind the school to get to theirs and that was out of bounds to us. The wee end had four to five classes in the one room, one teacher, the wee middle room had two and the big end another four, my only good days were for art and making things, like cane work and later gardening and woodwork and Friday when we had a nice young chap come in for science, he was later killed in the RAF.

 Getting to school at first we had to walk, there was no other way. Later a bus service started, at first it was South of Scotland Bus Co., it left the A75 at Springholm and came round Kirkpatrick- Durham, and the Brig and back along the Grange road to the A75 and the reverse, later this was taken over by Caledon ian and the bus carried on through Clarebrand to Castle Douglas.

 It was only twice a day and the afternoon bus came through Kirkpatrick- Durham at 3.30 pm and we didn't get out of school until 4 pm so it was only on special occasions we were allowed out to catch it, like heavy rain or snow, at one time I got a lift with the new infant teacher, Miss McQueen, as she passed our way to her home in Crossmichael.

  After I left school I had an old lady's bike Faither had bought somewhere, it had a back pedal brake, the only one I ever saw before coming to Australia . In my walking day I sometimes got a lift on George McGraw's handle bars, he was a year or two older and one of the few with a bike, he had to stop at the four Maries (four big plane trees and still there) in case his mother saw him. I got my first real bike after I had started work, It was a Hopper, a racer with reversible handlebars and a wheel that could be turned round and used as a fixed gear, it was blue with white mudguards and cost £5 5s, the 5s. being for colour, most things at that time were just black.

 In the playground football was the main thing, sometimes marbles would be in and a bit of cricket, but if we could find a ball or something to kick, that was it. The playground was on a hill and  rough except for a narrow bit next to the first house, there was a big wire fence supposed to keep anything from going over but it didn't always work and the ball found its way over, as they were a precious item, whoever kicked it over had to go after it. You had to jump down onto a bank then over a hedge, grab the ball and up the garden and into the field then back over the dyke through the lasses area and over a door and if you got caught you got the belt.

   Sometimes at dinner break we would wander over the field to the loch and look for Stankie (moorhen) eggs, one day we found some and one boy sucked some and when we broke the others we found they had started clock (Chicks forming in them).