Finding Our Voices – Leuchars & Balmullo

[For an introduction to the ‘Finding Our Voices’ project, including a discussion of our strategy and methodology in engaging primary schools, and an overview of the initial workshops in each school, see this article]

Finding Our Voices: Leuchars & Balmullo Primary Schools

To start with, our learning of Jimmy Shands was imbued with a certain local pride at Sir Jimmy being a long-time resident of Auchtermuchty in Fife, some 15 miles from both schools, with a statue in his honour in the town. The children were tickled by workshop leader Steve’s “selfie” with Sir Jimmy taken on his way to the schools.

In the immediate area surrounding Leuchars and Balmullo, in the northeast of Fife, there is a rich history of farming and market gardening. While the area itself does not have huge representation amongst the recordings found in Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, we were aware of the work of Peter Shepheard of Balmalcolm who has undertaken significant collecting in Fife and elsewhere over the years. In particular, we targeted these areas based on our knowledge of two relatively unknown songs which we felt would lend themselves to some collaborative research with the children.

Nonetheless, our starting point was again the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches website, with of course the additional aim of familiarising the children with this important resource. We tried some searches of the resource, and when the town names elicited no results, we discussed what we might search for instead. Thinking of the ways of life around the area quickly brought us to the idea of farming, and the search term of “Fife horses” was entered. This brought us to the song listed as Denbrae or alternatively Last of the Clydesdales, all sung in concert by well-known folk performer Archie Fisher, including this version from 1985.

The song was written by Archie Webster, and collected by Peter Shepheard, and we listened to Peter’s own performance of it with the trio, Shepheard, Spiers and Watson. Peter writes:

Archie Webster who wrote this song in the 1950s was caretaker at the village hall in Strathkinness outside St Andrews when I met him around 1963. John Watt’s group The Tregullion and ourselves from St Andrews folk club were singing on some event in the hall and in the interval we naturally graduated to the local Strathkinness Inn. John quickly struck up a conversation with Archie who in no time at all had sung John the local bothy ballad Tattie Jock. Archie was a horse ploughman all his working life and had composed The Last of the Clydesdales in praise of the horses he had worked with on the nearby farm of Denbrae where the farmer had maintained the old ways well into the 1950s.

We then set out to find Denbrae on the map, which was listed by Kist o Riches as being in the parish of Logie in Fife. Using the NLS maps resource, we established that there was a Denbrae farm a few miles southwest of Balmullo and Leuchars, roughly halfway towards Cupar. On the modern OS map, the farm is listed only as “Farm Cottages” near to Craigsanquhar. Using the NLS map overlay, we could clearly see Denbrae shown as a farm well into the 20th century.

However, in the time since the project took place, it has been brought to our attention that the location of the Denbrae in the song is much more likely to have been a farm just east of Strathkinness, in an area known as ‘The Den’, through which flows the Claremont Burn. The fact it is only around six miles as the crow flies from the other Denbrae is a useful indicator of the need to use local knowledge wherever possible, and to be aware of potential pitfalls with rather generic-sounding names like Denbrae (simply meaning ‘valley hill’). Below we can see not only Denbrae Farm but a Denbrae Mill on this map from the 1890s:
[Thanks to Kenneth Brill for contacting us.]

Strathkinness, where Archie Webster lived, is nonetheless a place familiar to most of the children and also where some of the Leuchars pupils lived, despite it being arguably closer to St Andrews. (It is likely that the diverse mix of children at Leuchars PS, with its links to the military base, means perhaps something of a larger catchment area, with parents travelling to the base for work).

We discussed the meaning of the Clydesdales song and the way of life it reflects. In particular, the ploughman’s close connection with his horses, and how the song illustrates the kind of dialogue he would have with the animals. Thanks to YouTube we were able to watch ploughing matches from the Scottish Ploughing Championships – conducted today more out of a sense of tradition than sustained practical application – including one not too far away at Kinross:

Following our principle of using material culture to reinforce meaning, we had sourced horse brasses (apparently formerly belonging to the Markinch Co-op delivery horses) for the children to examine and consider the meaning of the many symbols used, and to a degree the backstory of charms used through the ages from Celtic and Roman times, and a fun exercise of exploring local superstitions that are still observed amongst the children’s families.

We were able to use the brasses to share our learning with rest of the school in the final performances in June 2017. Here is Leuchars’ version of The Last o the Clydesdales:

The Last o the Clydesdales

by Archie Webster of Strathkinness

1: O come aa ye young ploughboys that list tae my tale,
As ye sit roond the tables a-drinkin your ale;
I’ll tak ye aa back tae a far distant day,
When I drove the last Clydesdales that worked on Denbrae,
When I drove the last Clydesdales that worked on Denbrae.

2: There were twa bonnie blacks, wi white faces and feet,
In the hale o the roond, they could never be beat;
You’d hae lookit gey far, ’twixt the Forth and the Tay,
For tae match thae twa Clydesdales, the pride o Denbrae,
For tae match thae twa Clydesdales, the pride o Denbrae.

3: They were matchless in power in the cairt or the ploo,
And ma voice and ma hands on the reins they weel knew;
There wis never ae thocht in their minds, but obey;
Ma twa gallant Clydesdales, the pride o Denbrae,
O ma twa gallant Clydesdales, the pride o Denbrae.

4: But the time it wears on and the winters grow cauld,
And horses, like men, can dae nocht but grow auld;
But I mind on them still, though it were yesterday,
When I drove the last Clydesdales that worked on Denbrae,
When I drove the last Clydesdales that worked on Denbrae.


Tattie Jock
We returned to the collecting of Peter Shepheard and visited the Soundcloud page of his Springthyme Records where we heard another farming-related song, even more local to both schools, Tattie Jock.

On this occasion we were also able to hear some of Peter’s field recordings of Archie Webster himself singing, as well as another Fife singer, Eck Harley of Cupar, who was born on Lucklaw Farm, near Leuchars, recorded in the 1960s and 1970s. They feature at the end of this recording, after Peter’s own version at the FifeSing Traditional Singing Festival:

The song concerns the transportation of farm workers for theft, and is thought to be based on a real event in the 1820s.

The narrative of the song allowed for exploration of farmworkers’ conditions, as well as some unusual terms (e.g. “man-o-war” naval ships), Scots language, and a bit of a detective hunt using the NLS maps site again.

The children were able to locate the farm of Craigie just north of Leuchars, and to suggest that Pickley Hill in the song could be the hill between Craigie and Pickletillem to the west on the older maps.

Here the Leuchars P6 children give their rendition of Tattie Jock:


Tattie Jock

From the singing of Archie Webster, Strathkinness, and Eck Harley of Cupar
(born on Lucklaw Farm, near Leuchars). Collected by Peter Shepheard of Balmalcolm.

1: Ye aa hae heard o Tattie Jock, Likewise o Mutton Peggie,
They kept a fairm in the north o Fife, An the name o hit wis Craigie.

CHORUS: Ah riddle aye, roo dum rye do, Ah riddle aye, roo dum day.

2: There were ten pair upon that place, likewise ten able men;
It’s five they gaed tae kinnle the fire, an the ither five oot tae scran.

3: Three month we served wi Tattie Jock, an weel did we agree,
Till we fund oot that the tattie shed could be opened wi the bothy key.

4: We werena lang in the tattie shed, oor bags were hardly full,
When Tattie Jock in ahint the door cries, “Aye, ma lads, stand still!”

5: The first he got wis Jimmy Marr, the next wis Willie Doo;
There wis Jimmy Grey an Wull Moncur, An Jimmy Pethrie flew.

6: The next day some were drivin dung, An some were at the mill;
But better we’d been at the ploo, at the back o Pickley Hill.

7: They sent for ten big polismen, but nine there only cam;
It dinged them for tae tak us that nicht, us bein ten able men.

8: The hindmaist lad wis the wisest een, the best lad o us aa;
He jined a man-o-war at Leith, so’s he needna stand the law.

9: When we were gettin oor sentences, we aa stood roond and roond;
But when we heard o the fourteen years, oor tears cam tricklin doon.

10: When Tattie Jock he heard o this, he cried an grat fu sore;
A thousand guineas he wad pay, if that wad clear oor score.

11: A bag o gowd he did produce, tae pay it there an then;
But the lawyer only told him that, money wouldna clear his men.

12: As we were bein mairched up through Perth, We heard the news boys say,
“It’s sad tae see sic able men, rade aff tae Botany Bay.”

13: When we arrive in Botany Bay, some letters we will send,
Tae tell oor friends the hardships, we endure in a foreign land.

Teacher feedback:

“The children loved learning songs. They listened well and have remembered interesting facts.”

“Interesting stories, great slides/pictures, variety of musical instruments, catchy songs. Enthusiastic facilitator!”

“Thoroughly enjoyed learning about their local area. The back stories made the songs more meaningful.”


Pupils’ feedback:

“I learned different songs and how long different ways of playing music lasted”

“I would like to find out more about different local farms.”

“I would like to find out how big the horses actually are.”

“Jimmy Shands are made out of shellac. Shellac is made out of poo!”

“I would like to find out if there are any songs about Balmullo.”

“I would like to find out more about where people would store everything!”

“My favourite thing about the workshops was learning that old songs can come from so close by.”

“I would like to find out more about Tattie Jock – what did he do when his men went to prison?”






About the author

Our mission is to help communities across Scotland identify, engage with, collect and celebrate their local heritage, with special focuses on Scots language and traditional arts.