Oral History

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Caroline Beaton interviewing Miss Seath on the 12th December, 1998

C.B.                 When did you first go to Abernyte ?

Miss S             We went to Abernyte in 1926 when  my father was appointed Headmaster of the school.  I was four. It was rather an odd experience for me. Having grown up with Aberdeenshire parents and living in Morayshire I had strictly a northern accent and vocabulary.  One of the first things I learned was that the Abernyte children spoke a different language, they called quinies " lassies "  loonies  “laddies”. Of course I was teased., As I wasn't  quite old enough to go to school, had no brothers and sisters, just a dog, I played with the children  in the playground which was next door to The Schoolhouse.

C.B.                 Can you remember much about the school and the schoolhouse ?

Miss S             There were three teachers in the school. When the school roll fell and the number of pupils went below 70 it went down to two teachers. One of the rooms had a partition, which opened  to form two rooms instead of three. The rooms  had fixed  double desks. I sat beside a little boy called Bobbie Souter. I remember vividly starting  school at five.  I had  my slate pencil , my slate and my sponge to clean it with.

The reading that we did was done with one of those flap over things. It was things like  " Mother see Kitty, Kitty see Mother " which I very quickly knew off by heart.

C.B.                Did your mother tutor you at home to any extent ?

Miss S             My father did, not my mother. My Mother was always too busy tying up skinned knees and making cocoa for people. She played a very caring role.

My Father took the older pupils and  the infant teacher was  Miss Crawford. The classes much bigger in those days. My Father taught, there were no secretaries in those days and he was often busy with administration. He was the  general handyman as far as the school was concerned !

C.B.                 Head teachers in those days played an important part in the village. What was your role of your father’s role within the community ?

Miss S             He did a lot for the church and  was an elder. I remember one lovely occasion when he and another elder, Mr Lawson, were going round with their ladles to collect the collection.  Dad and Mr Lawson stepped back simultaneously and got the handles of their ladles crossed so all the  coins flew up in the air ...it was pennies from heaven and a scramble all the way !!

But he did other things too, like measuring fields for farmers who couldn't cope with measuring.  Working out how many tons of tatties you would need to get from a certain acreage to make it more profitable. Letting fields at a certain price and things  like that. One or two of the farmers weren't  very numerate .......so dad did that. He was a general counsellor and friend to everyone who came round. Just before my father left Abernyte he was made The Billeting Officer for the evacuees. Then he was appointed  Headmaster of  Dunbarney School, Bridge of Earn. He left in October 1939 , my mother remained in the house until Christmas.

C.B.                 How was the school  used outwith school hours ? 


Miss S             It was used for everything. It was the main meeting place in the village. There was a Men's Club on a Monday evening. They had their own dance band which they called    "Abernyte Recreation Club Orchestra  ". They had fancy hangings for their music stands which said  " ARCO " on them.They were mostly Millers and Carrs. When  Mr Gilmore came  as Minister, in 1929, his son played the saxophone  so he joined them too. Douglas Duff, who lived in Invergowrie came and acted as the pianist. We had a very lively band and orchestra.

The  WRI  met there once a month.

There was a Country Dance Club which met on Thursday evening.

Most Friday nights, certainly in winter, there was a whist drive or a dance or a concert. Most of these events were fund  raising  most of them just social.

C.B.                 Can you tell me a bit more about your home life, things like routines, the Sunday routines,  what you ate, cooking, your mother's role,  all these fascinating things that have changed so much.

Miss S             For a start you lived out of vans,  unless you walked up to the shop at Pitkindie, which we did quite often. When we  first went there we had no car, so were very isolated.  It was a case of living on what the vans brought more or less. We were well supplied, Mr McLaggan brought the groceries, a baker’s van came round and there were two butchers,  one from Errol and one from Longforgan. The one from Errol came about half past ten on a Saturday evening and was given to singing.  I was in bed by that time but I used to hear him singing outside the door, I think he was serenading my mother ! We had a very good, very cold, walk- in pantry  with a marble shelf and a meat safe.  It kept things from one van’s visit until the next.  We had paraffin lamps and Aladdins in the house and Tilly lamps in the school. We worked with Aladdin lamps, candles, coal fires and a big coal range in the kitchen where we did all the cooking. Later on mum got a Calor Gas cooker.  But to begin with it was all done on the range.  There were  fireplaces in the bedrooms. If you weren't well you got a fire in the bedroom. Before the new school was built in 1906 the school  was in the house. The big schoolroom  had been turned into the   main living room. This  was a huge room with a fireplace at one end and a very difficult room to heat. We had two carpet squares down in that room, side by side. When we went to Bridge of Earn each of them filled a bedroom floor. 

Occasionally we had a maid to help in the house.  The garden's all different now. At that time we had a large orchard where we grew a whole lot of fruit, including things you never see now, like yellow raspberries and yellow currants. We had apples,  pears,  cherries,  two kinds of plums, purple and Victorias.  Our problem was getting rid of fruit. We made lots and lots of jam, bottled fruit and gave lots away. There were various methods of preserving. Sometimes we tried one and sometimes we tried another. I made my first jam when I was ten.  My mother didn't keep very well and one year was ill at fruit time so I had to  make the  raspberry jam. You could have danced on it, it was so sugary !! 

We preserved hens' eggs in big crocks in isinglass.

C.B.                 Why did you do that ?

Miss S             Because it was not as  expensive if you preserved them when they were cheap, when the hens were “on the lay “and used them for baking and so on. *

They lasted in the isinglass for months and months and tasted slightly funny.  They were all right if you were using them to bake with as you couldn’t  taste it. But  you wouldn't use them for a boiled egg. You would have tasted that.

CB                   What about meal times ?

Miss S             We normally sat at a table but I don't think we were very formal unless we had people in. We tended to have our main meal at night because Father was so often tied up with things in the school lunch hour. He wouldn't really have had time to have a proper meal in the middle of the day during the winter as he supervised the school soup kitchen. The boiler was in an outside shed which had  a great big boiler, like a wash boiler. A lady was appointed to make the soup and the farmers were very good at donating most of the vegetables. The meat and things were bought out of school funds. Some of the fund raising  events in the school were  for the school and most of that money went to the soup kitchen. Many children walked long distances to school,  well over what the two mile limit would be nowadays. They needed something so most of them  stayed for soup.  They had to pay about a penny a bowl.

C.B.                 What were the school hours ? 

Miss S             We started at half past nine in the morning.  I don't remember when the lunch time break was. We must  have finished about half past three or four.  I think it was four in the summer months. Most of the country schools stopped earlier in the dark nights. It made very little difference to me because I ran home through the garden. In fact, I was in the school as often when it wasn't school time anyway !

C.B.                 Where did you go to Secondary School ?

Miss S             Harris Academy.  I walked down  to Inchture and then went on the bus  to Dundee. After we had the car Dad often took me down because I had so many books and things to carry.  Also the post didn't come to the school till about half past nine so  it was really as convenient for him to take me down for the bus at twenty past eight and collect his post from the Post Office. That way  he had  it first thing in the morning.  If the weather was bad, of course, as it often was and Baledgarno Brae was impassable I just left home at half past seven.  But then the other kids did too. Most of them went to Perth Academy.

In those days most children needed a bursary before they could go to Secondary School. As Abernyte was in Perthshire  the bursaries were for  Perth Academy. As I went outside the County my father  had  to pay a County Charge. Harris was still a fee paying  school so he had  to pay Harris fees, plus a County Charge. Even after Harris became non-fee paying we still had to pay the County charge as I had chosen to go outwith the County.

C.B.                 Can you tell me anything about how you  and your parents spent your leisure time ?

Miss S             My parents never had any leisure time that I was aware of, or very little.  Dad went to the Men's Club, he had his Kirk friends  at the Parish Kirk. When we first went to Abernyte there were two churches with two congregations. Mr Chalmers  was Parish Minister and Mr Smith The Free Church Minister.  They had a very easy-oasy arrangement because everybody just visited everybody else.. The Smiths did all their visiting by pony, called Pimple, and trap, occasionally I would have a ride in the trap. But we actually went to the other church where Dad was an Elder with lots of Parish duties. We all got on well together. When the two churches had to unite in 1929  then the tensions started.

C.B.                 What games did you play ?

Miss S             We went out the back lane to the cottages, down to the Knowes and played with the cottar kids at Abernyte farm.  There was a great family called Young, they had eight girls. I played with the ones that were about my own age.  And by that time Alexina, who was one of the older girls worked at the farm. I'd get to go and take the cows to the field with Alexina.  My dog and I ran around the place.  I don't think we played at anything very special—rounders , tig, skipping, baddies

C.B.                 What about dolls and things, did you have dolls ?

Miss S             Oh I had dolls.  I played with dolls, and a certain number of board games, like Snakes and Ladders and draughts and things of that sort.

We just loved climbing over into the Abernyte House grounds to see

if Mr Miller Senior would chase us. I don't know what kind of a picture of Mr Miller  we  had all built up. We were sure that he was hell bent on catching us playing. Later when we were older we discovered he was such a nice man . Peggy, his daughter, was my music teacher. I spent a lot of time playing the piano. My father played the violin but not very often and I suppose not all that well, but  at the time I thought he was very good.

There were a lot of local people who gave father very generous cheques for the school. Mr Tosh at Lochton  used to give father a blank cheque now and then to give the children a treat. At Christmas there was a tree in school  and the children  all got presents.   The catalogue, from one of these places that sell things in bulk , would arrive months before Christmas. Dad would  go through it and decide whatever the school fund  could afford. The presents were mostly toys of one kind or another. They were all wrapped in sexes and age groups. The children got their presents at the  Christmas tree. They drew a number and Father handed out the corresponding present. It was a  kind of a lucky dip but then, of course, if they didn't like what they got, they could swap it with one of the others.  I think there was quite a lot of swapping. It was little things for little girls, cheap dolls, a tea set, or, toy cars, this and that. A party was arranged  on the last day of term. I seem to remember the parents were there, as most  of them would have been working  during the day the party  must have been in the evening. Everybody went to the party.

We  had the Sunday School Christmas party in the Manse when we got another present . We usually went to my Grandparents for holidayseither up North or in Perth. We shut the house. We went by train to Aberdeen or Perth.

In the summer we had the Sunday School picnic which was usually held down in the Rossie Priory grounds. The Kinnairds were involved in both Inchture and Abernyte  so both Sunday Schools were invited. There were enough children of the right age to run races . We all went to the Sunday School picnic on decorated farm carts. I suppose they were  decorated with the streamers and ribbons by the farmers.

The school day always started with Bible, that was understood. Every Friday we had a Bible test, this was partly because of Mrs Bannerman of Abernyte House who gave the Bible prizes. Other than that it was very much a matter of the three R's in the lower classes.  Once we moved up to my father's room the curriculum broadened out quite a bit. He always read to us last lesson on Friday,  abridging some of Scott ,Dickens and other authors. When I sat my third year Junior Honours Exams at St Andrews University  I answered a question on a book  by Scott that we  hadn't read at St Andrews, but which my father had read to me at Abernyte. It had  all the Scots dialogue. Afterwards the Prof. asked me how I’d remembered all the detail  from the “Heart of Midlothian.” I told him it was because my father had read it to us when I was at primary school. It  had stuck you know....  Father  believed in reading to children and I think the teachers lower down the school read to us quite a lot.

I have always read, we all read, my life has revolved around books.

My father was a very literate man with a passion for reading. He trained as a teacher in Aberdeen. From Abernyte he went to Dunbarney which was a Junior Secondary   School.     

My father was very interested in geology and we had a lot of geological specimens in cases in school. He spoke to us a lot about how stones were this and that. It was a great incentive at Abernyte because, in those days, if you went down the burns after it had rained, you could be pretty well certain to find an agate. If you were lucky you would find amethyst and quartz. We had a good collection of local agates and I was passionately interested in them. The dog and  I would spend hours and hours treasure seeking for stones down at the burn.  We learned how to discover  if it was proper agate by using a geologist’s hammer to split it dead centre.

We did a lot of nature study in the school but we didn't go outside to study it. A lot of the kids brought caterpillars and things into school. We always had a caterpillar house and reared them to see what they would develop into.  We had some very unusual ones. I remember folk from Balloleys carried a caterpillar all the way down the hill, I couldn't tell you now what it was, but it was worth recording as an interesting specimen.

I do not have much memory of P.E. beyond jumping around between the desks. I was astonished at the facilities for P. E when I went to The Harris.

C.B.                 Did your father respond to what was appearing on the day, or was he quite definite about  keeping strictly to the timetable ?

Miss S             Oh no, he would have responded to what appeared on the day, I mean he wasn't  tied to a timetable. I think to a large extent, Mrs Davies kind of carried on the same kind of tradition that my father would have had. He believed in trusting the children and giving them responsibility, that is probably the case in a lot of country schools. I think it has to be.

C.B.                 Did you have any visiting teachers ?

go, could not afford to go, or were not mentally capable of going to secondary school, but were still too young to leave. We had visiting teachers for the people in the advanced division. My Father was qualified to teach woodwork. The room at the back of The School House hadn't been used much when Mr Falconer was there so it was converted into a manual room. It could be used either for cookery, needlework or Miss S

              Oh, yes he eventually managed to get, a class “ advanced division, “ which was for the children who had passed their qualifying class, but did not want to handwork. It was fitted with woodwork benches which had removable cookery tops that fitted over the benches. I had a year of that, which was quite fun for me. I should have left Abernyte but I was very young and my parents thought it would be too long a day to travel such a distance so I did a year in the advanced division at Abernyte.

I didn't  like the cookery at the time and  did not enjoy the needlework, but I am very glad now that I had the experience of doing it. And it was fun,  though I would never, ever do things the way the cookery teacher made us do it. For example we were taught to beat the white of an egg with the blade of a knife on a flat plate. It is very difficult to whisk it on a flat plate as you are very liable to lose your egg.  The other thing she made us do was to boil cabbage for ages and ages, then she made us drink the cabbage water because she said it was good for us ! I didn't like the cookery and I didn’t like the cabbage water either ! I can't remember cooking anything that I enjoyed eating afterwards.  I suppose we did sometimes, I only remember the things that rankled at the time.

C.B.                 Can you remember much about the village ?

Miss S             The first place you came to was Stewart's Sheds where he had his joinery business. Then you came to the smiddy,  that was another hub of village life.  (When I was doing the Bridge of Earn Book I discovered that there were various things that were required to be notified to the general public and smithies were one of the places where official notices were posted ). I don't know about other smithies, but the Abernyte one was a very busy place. All the farmers were out and in to get horses shod, jobs done, bits of ploughs mended . You couldn't avoid using it, and then in Abernyte Smiddy the postman called in. If you left your letters and your money, he would post the letters for you when he got down to Inchture.  That was a great saving. The public telephone was also at the smiddy. There was a notice saying  'You may telephone from here'. That was the one public telephone in the village.

A bit further up you came to Plum Cottage, an old lady called Mrs Shaw, whose first language was the Gaelic, lived there. I was sometimes sent to keep her company because my mother thought she was lonely.  On several occasions I arrived when Mrs Shaw was listening to a Gaelic service on the wireless and  had to sit through the whole service. It was  totally incomprehensible.

The MacGregors were at the other side of the road, further up were the Allisons and then you came to the Reids and that was about all the people in the village at that time. These were the people I knew best. I went up to The Reids every evening to get the milk in a flagon.

CB                   What about travelling ?  Did people go away much in those days much or did people tend to  stay in  the village ?

Miss S             You walked. If you had a car you might go off, but if you didn't have a car   you walked to Inchture to the bus or to Inchture Station if you wanted to get a train. The only sort of taxi that was available was Charlie MacLagan We used Charlie quite a lot, going to Inchture Station when going up North. Then my  Perth Grandfather died and my Granny moved down to Dumfriesshire to stay with her daughter.  So then we had to go down there, which meant more transport. But we got a car when I was about ten. By then quite a lot of people had cars .

CB                   You said that you had to go and speak to the lady in Plum Cottage because your mother reckoned she was quite lonely.  Was there any sort of support given to people in the village beyond that, to people who could not cope  ?

Miss S             No, not really, it was just being neighbourly. Everybody was neighbourly to everybody else.  That lady was a widow. Once a year, she set off with a scrubbing brush and a bucket, up to the churchyard to give Danny his annual spring clean.  She scrubbed  his  gravestone in case the moss grew on it. She stayed in the village until she died.

C.B.                 Thank you Miss Seath we’ll stop there.

NB    During the Depression Years in the late 1920’s early 1930’s teachers took a 10 per cent cut in the salary.  Mrs Seath was quite worried and had to find as many ways as she could to cut  costs.


 Some extra questions  were asked at a later meeting with Miss Seath.

The Schoolhouse  accommodation  at the time Miss Seath lived there was as follows;-

Dining room, to the left of the front door, with adjoining door  to passage way and kitchen, kitchen with scullery and larder ( part of original schoolhouse  circa 1840 ) , large lounge on the right of the hall, bathroom at end of hall and back of lounge.

Three bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen had a range which was later replaced by a coal fired Triple X range, then latterly Calor Gas hobs, although the range was still used as an oven.

A side door on to the road gave access to a room which was converted about 1930 for woodwork and cookery classes. This room is now the kitchen.

There were stables in the back yard.

School Resources were limited. Mr Seath raised money for a film projector. The school floor was replaced through p[ublic funding so that it could be used for dancing. This had been replaced by 1935.

The school had a choir which met at lunchtimes. Miss May Millar taught this and Miss Peggy Millar accompanied. The choir entered the rural school class of Perth Music Festival and won it several years running.

Inspectors came annually . When Miss Seath was in the qualifying class the inspector visited and agreed she should remain in the advanced division for going to secondary school. She was cross !

Mr Tosh of Lochton was very generous to the school and on special occasions e.g. The King’s Birthday gave Mr Seath a blank cheque and told him to take the children out for the day. Miss Seath remembers this happening on two occasions, with one of the outings to Aberdeen and one to the Glasgow Exhibition ( with about 70 childre).

Mrs Tosh was the first of Miss Seath’s acquaintances who could drive—but she couldn’t reverse !

Mr Seath compiled a book of historical notes about Abernyte. This was probably completed over a period of time.


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