Oral History

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BETTY OLIPHANT 13 Mylnefield Road Invergowrie formerly of Abernyte District

This is 9 March 1999.

BO My name is Elizabeth Thomson Christie Oliphant and I was born at a farm in Rhind, a place near Bridge of Earn, on the 6th of November 1924.

My mother came from Wellbank area or roundabouts and father came from Errol. My mother was quiet. Not like me at all! My dad he was quietish too, but he was more outgoing.

My mother, father and I came to Millhill, from the Rhind when I was only two so I don’t even know which house we were in there.

The next move was to Marywell where my father worked for James Lawson as a farm labourer.

I was the eldest in our family so after me came three sisters and a brother. Well the one that came after me was Agnes, then Patricia, then Richard, David Richard, and then Elma. I think that Pat was born at Wellbank. My mother went home to her hometown to have one baby perhaps Agnes.

RH Is that what they did, actually?  They didn’t go to hospital so much? Just had the babies at home or at her own mother’s house.  And then, Dick, he was, I think he was born at Marywell, and Emma was born down the road there, at the Atholl Cottage. I was too little to remember much about Marywell as a house.

 I went to school from Marywell It was quite a tramp up the hill to get to Marywell. I came down to where Moira stays now in there were the Laings. We’d walk through the wood from there and come out just at the top of the road there way up the knoll ( ???? ) there.  [ I think they came out just beyond the bend in the road north of Davie Wishart’s house]

Usually it was just us and the Laings walking through the woods, but I mean then when we came out to the road you saw them coming from all different routes, down from the Littleton and Jock Shaw’s Brae and we all met.  It wasn’t arranged. We had good fun together. And then coming down the road there where the Glebe is, there was always the berries. We went to the berries but not from up there.

One of the teachers there was a Miss McLeod, and I think after that it was the Millers, May Miller. Because Peggy Miller was the organist and a Sunday School teacher.  But May was the school teacher and she came from Millhill. You know that house just before you go down to the Knapp After the Trottick, you know the road up to Hilltown just round the corner from there, the Millers stayed in there.

And May Miller’s father was a fellow called a Peckie? It was just a word for the estate, and he was called a Peckie. Called him Peckie Miller.

Peggy Miller the organist, she was at home really, I never knew of her going out working, but she was at home and she taught piano.

I was friendly with the Thomsons that stayed in Lauriston They came through the wood too and we met up in the woods. And my pal was Isabel Ness, from Whitehills.  I kept up with her until just, was it two years ago since she died, she was then over at Burrelton, no, it’s away up north anyway.

RH That was nice that you kept very close to your early friends.  You had all that walking day every day, more or less, round by the woods etc, what kind of shoes did you wear? Can you remember?

Our next move was to the Knowes for my father moved round to Abernyte Farm to work for McLaren. It was quite a big farm. It came down to about the Milton and well, Southfield but it went north as well. I just couldn’t tell you the size of the place.

We lived at the Knowes Cottages. Well it was the one nearest the road.  Where the Peppers stay now there were the three cottages there. There was water in that house. We lit it with oil lamps and there were still oil lamps in the kirk when we were there.

RH Yes. So it must have been maybe into the 50’s before electricity came here?

BO Oh, I would think so, yes

RH Can you tell me about a typical day when you lived down at the Knowes?

BO Well, just a case of, you went to the school and it wasn’t far we just went up the road. And there were always bits of gardening to be done and tidying up because our garden went from the house right down to where that, that cottage is now. Who is it? The man from the Knapp? Well, it was three gardens there. Our garden was all vegetables and fresh things.

I thought we kept a pig but I can’t mind. But we had no hens down there.  I faintly remember, the ladder being put up to the roof, I’m sure it was down there that that happened.  I think maybe after it was slaughtered until it was cut up it would just be in the shed, I would think, I’m not sure about that. I suppose my mother cured the ham.

My father got meal and tatties as part of his wages.

There were quite a few vans from Errol, the butcher and the baker, and there was also a butcher from Invergowrie and there was one from Coupar Angus. And then there was McLaggans shop, their van came round. Their shop was up where Mrs Rattray stays.

We went up to the shop if you forgot anything or they didn’t have it on the van. We went up the back road past where the Rennies stayed.

RH And did you go into town often?

BO Oh it was highdays and holidays usually. Needn’t say every week. It was just on a Saturday if there was a need. We walked down the road or biked down to Inchture and got the bus there.

Our next move was to Atholl Cottage. That cottage is no longer there.  It was just two rooms, a butt and a ben. And the shed outside. There was a boiler in the shed for the washing. And there was a barrel just outside to catch the rainwater. We had to carry water from the, down the road. You know through the Kirkton field. Down the road a wee bit, between the house and the Kail Roadie, on the other side of the road was just like a rhone pipe and it was shoved in this hole and the water came round there.

The Kail Roadie, it brings you out at South Latch, at the Milton. It went from along from the house down the road a bit, across from the Glebe, right down, it was high, and I mean, now that field, down there is all in one level but there was a difference in height at that time and there was just a path. The water was halfway between the house and the Kail Roadie from that pipe just shoved in, just a rhone pipe shoved in. Because if the cattle were stamping about in the fields up at the top there at the Kirkton they could block the water and stop it from coming down. So if we were pushed we came along to that overflow down there where the Manse water came in.

We had to carry all the water for drinking, cooking, for washing, doing the washing, for bath night. We heated the water just in the kettle but if it was bath time or washing you had the boiler. You boiled the water in the boiler. The boiler was heated by burning sticks, from this wood, and any wood. When blanket-time came we used to be out tramping the blankets and all. We had a big zinc bath and we had a round wooden tub, you know, with the arms We had to get in there with our bare feet and tramp, tramp the blankets.  And that was before you went to your work.

RH Your Dad had one or two jobs at that time, I mean apart from working on the roads. You were telling me you were staying in Atholl Cottage so that was attached to the church, so what kind of job did he do for the church then?

BO Well, the, he was a beadle and, gravedigger. And he kept all the grounds at the kirk. He was responsible for kirk. The cleaning of the kirk, that was usually my mother, he had the grave digging and he did all the duties, rang the bell, took the minister in the morning. I don’t think he took in the bible. I think the bible was left up at the front maybe, I think so. I think he’d put it up in the morning, I don’t remember. Then of course there was all the oil to fill lamps and all the trimming to be done and all the funnels to be cleaned and put on again. You see there was a lot of different jobs, it was just like keeping the house.

When a grave was needed, there was always somebody who came down from Perth and marked the grave, where it was to go, and so you had to cut the turf off and then dig it out. He put the wood round the side and then he put the laurel on the inside that was to line it to the bottom and he had the laurel crossing at the front so the coffin went through.

The laurel would be down the side and there was bits from each side that met and then it wasn’t just an earth hole that you looked into. He got the laurel just around wherever he saw it down the road. Yes

He looked after the graveyard too, the grass and things like that. There were different people who, oh, I am sure he was paid for it, that specially wanted him to look after the graves and he tidied them up every week, or, whenever it was needed, so that they were right when they came to visit.

RH That’s lovely. So while you were in that cottage, Atholl Cottage, were you still going to school at that time?

BO Yes, but just for a short time to Abernyte because then we went to Errol School. When I was, 12, 11 or 12 was it? I biked again to Inchture, and then the bus along to Port Allan Road and walked up. We left our bikes down where Isa Lawson stays now. Isa Stewart.  At this end of the Inchture village they were quite safe. Nobody ever bothered.

RH Going back to the church, your Dad was very involved so you children would go to the, Abernyte Church, or did you go partly to.

BO When the churches were united, we went to them both. When my father had the kirk to do our stockings were nearly always without knees because we were down on our knees cutting round all the stones. Now they’ve dug them out and the gravestones are just like drails now. But then everyone had to be gone round.

We went to church every week. Well twice on Sunday if there was twice and we were sometimes at the Rossie chapel on a Sunday night if there was one there for any reason.  If there was no evening service here we had it there. There was The Tent over at the Knapp, that was still to do with Rossie Priory. That was just something in the summer time too, like if there was nothing at the Rossie Priory chapel, we went there. It was usually a minister. Usually somebody that belonged and then Gough.  If there was somebody that they knew or they had people staying with them and they took the services.

 That was quite a long walk to go round to The Tent. Again, that was through the wood and down from the Trottick down to the Knapp.

The churches were full at that time. That’s how I take bad with the kirks nowadays there was these five kirks down at Longforgan last week for the World Day of Prayer and not full. Then this kirk used to be full, every week.

We always had our Sunday clothes. And only when you got a new thing for Sunday you would wear the old Sunday clothes during the week.

We didn’t wear hats at that time but later on but you never went to the Kirk without your hat.

We next moved to Abernyte Lodge the modernised West Lodge. That was an interesting house. Again it was thatched, then of course so was that, Atholl Cottage, the wee house, that was thatched as well. West Lodge was thatched until the present people come in. And inside it had. Well it was, steppy stairy, stair, like. The stair was half and there was one step up at each side. Because they didn’t have much room they’d made the steps like that, because they were quite dangerous! But mind you we got into the way of it, if you put the, your left foot on first half step you just went up. Yes, it was the one that was nearest the ground. And then you went, one, two,

RH That’s right, so and then you put your right foot up on the half step above it, because it wasn’t a full length of step, it was just a half step.

BO And we’d one room upstairs which faced on to the road there. And we had two, three rooms downstairs. The room upstairs, was a bedroom and the other was just an attic place where we kept odds and ends. We girls had two beds up the stair. And my brother, he slept in, the bed in the kitchen. And my mum and dad were in the wee room. And that had a bowlie because it was under the stair. It had well we called it a bowlie just a wee place for anything. Rubbish place. We had a pantry place at the back and two sinks and the boiler. 

We had water but there again if there was deer or anything that burn just stopped.  If they were tramping in there it stopped the water.

My father was up at the Observer Post. I think it was just started when the war broke out.  Mind you, I couldn’t tell you exactly when. It was a full-time job for him because they had either day shift or night shift.  It was a manned all the time. It was just across from South Latch or Suloots as we called it. Up at the top, up from Pitkindie.  

It was just this one wee place thing with a telescope thing in it. They had to observe right down the river and plot all and report all the planes that went over. They reported by a telephone system to an observer post in an officey place in Dundee. Just outside Dundee.

RH This is quite different from Dad’s army.

BO Entirely different. Oh yes. Because we did have a Home Guard here as well. Because if we happened to be out and coming home from the town or anyplace that we needed the bus, you met the Home Guard in the woods there. And they, of course, they knew everybody at that time and they jumped out from behind the tree and there you were just about floored. They were training but they were having fun at the same time.

While my father was at the Observer Post there were the bombs that fell across on the back of the Abernyte Hill. Yes.

RH And did your Dad tell you something of that? Were the planes coming in to Britain at the time or where they leaving?

BO No we weren’t allowed to know anything like that. If there was talk it was out of our hearing.

Well after a while they decided that they were going to blast the bombs off, and so we were warned that they were coming to do it. Well I was up at Lochton at the time when we were warned that they were putting them off. But then they must have put them off earlier than they said because there was this almighty bang one day and I got blasted out of the house.  I was down the stair. Yes, with the force of the doors.

RH And these, these bombs, none of them had exploded as they fell?

BO No, I don’t think so, there were four or five that were all put off.

RH And,  you told me of another incident that you heard of about somebody baling out of an aircraft?

BO Oh, that was down at Rossie Priory. Yes, yes. I don’t know what nationality he was or... Again my father would maybe have known all about it but we weren’t told. But that man, he died.

I was working by that time. Up at Lochton. That was the first job after school. They all knew who was leaving school and they just came and said to you they had a job.

RH Yes. And what was your first job? Then, what did you do in this, in this job?

BO Skivvying! [laughter] Slavery. Yes. Just general housework. Then there was four storeys in the house. And stone stairs that had to be scrubbed. once a week. I stayed at home and I went up every day.

I left about six o’clock, maybe before. Because you had to be up there to let the men get out to the cattle, to get the milking done.

RH Did you feed the men then or give them keys or something.

BO I had to give them keys to get into the steading.

A typical day was your day never finished because you just had to start the next day again. Then what you didn’t get done that day you had to do the next. We wore uniforms.  We just had your forenoon uniform when you were doing jobs around the house. When you were like scrubbing floors you had a big apron over, a cap thing on as well, and then when it came meal time you had to get that off and get on the black frock and the white apron and then get it off again and get on the harin’ frock and get the rest of the scrubbing done. And you’d to make butter and everything.

We made butter. The men poured the milk into dishes then you’d skim off the cream the next day then you’d put it into a big barrel and make it.

I had to do the ironing. Oh yes sheets, table covers, serviettes and everything and most of them were starched. We used a flat iron.  She had a machine thing with grids right round the outside and then just the flat irons.

They had electricity in the house, but not for ironing.  Our own uniforms were taken home to be washed and ironed.

We usually had dinner at dinner time unless they had anybody coming and then teatime and by that time it was milk time again and then for getting the dishes ready for night. If they had friends, you had to wait on. It could be almost midnight. Then home by bike.  Going down the drive it was a torture on the bike, bump, bump, bump.

I worked there just about a year and from there I moved on to Littleton.  It was that quite a different type of house.


Mr and Mrs Richie. And they had two laddies, Billy and Bunny. Well it was William and Bunny [laughter] Alastair. And then it was Charlotte. She was married to Douglas Duff who was minister at Invergowrie. He died was it two years ago or so, I was at the funeral anyway, it was in Longforgan.

Littleton was that quite a different place to work. Oh different altogether, yes. I enjoyed it. I was just myself. I was more like one of the family. Oh yes. It was entirely different up there.

They had quite a lot of land. All the Littleton Den and the fields at either side down the length of East Newton.

RH What were the Mr and Mrs, the master and mistress of that house like?

BO Well,


 Occasionally we went to dances at Rockwell.  This place was down where the Arch was, the old bus station, the Dundee Corporation bus station, in Shore Terrace, it was down there. There was a dance hall down there. Occasionally there were dances and things held along at the school. And had the Rural started. I wasn’t age enough to go then. But my mother was always a Rural.

RH And they enjoyed that. well, I think we’ll stop there and I’ll thank you very much indeed!

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