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Royal Deeside :
Ballater in Victorian Times - Some Personalities

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On this page Sheila Sedgwick relates tales of some notable characters who lived in Ballater in the 19th Century. At least one, Charles Davidson lived into the 20th Century as is evident from the reference to motor cars in his poem. It would seem that he was not a great fan of the new invention.These are not stories about the 'great and good' but about ordinary people who inhabited the village.

Charles Davidson
Eccentric Meg
John Davidson the cooper
Accident Prone Peter

Stories about other Ballater characters can be found in the other pages of this section especially in Ballater people and in Church matters

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Ballater History Old Kirkyards Francis Farquharson Lord Byron Ballater Local History Group
Bridges of Ballater Ballater in Victoria Times Alexander Gordon Ballater Highland Games AA Box 472
Go To Page A village is born Ballater people Some Personalities Ballater Buildings Aspects of Village Life Church matters

Old Royal Station, Ballater
The Old Royal Station: Ballater expanded rapidly after the arrival of the Railway

Charles Davidson

Charles Davidson joined the railway service in 1883 and ten years later he became signalman at Ballater. A keen Free Mason, a musician and a poet, Charles Davidson was a mild man, of quiet speech. One situation showed him in a rather different light. When he had to deal with the Tsar's arrival in 1896, the Russian language and the mountains of luggage were too much for him on a pouring wet day. Charlie put some 'immediately needed' luggage in a horse-drawn vehicle. He ignored, or deliberately did not hear incomprehensible shouts by a Cossack. The latter, in a rage with this inferior stupid Aberdeenshire peasant was about to hit Charlie with his stick. "Stop" yelled Charlie at the top of his voice, "That's maybe a' richt in Russia, bit it winna work in Ballater". Locals were lining up on Charlie's side when a Russian detective stepped in, spoke to the Russian and pacified Charlie in what a local referred to as 'Christian Scotch'. Charlie's later comment, - 'I suppose 1 micht hae been shot in Russia'.

I quote one of Charlie Davidson's poems. It is one of his poorer ones as poetry, but it gives a picture of Ballater in the latter half of Victoria's reign:-


Again time's ceaseless whirligig
Brings roun' the summer day
When tourists promenade the streets
In costumes bright and gay.

Rich varied hues of leaf and flower
in harmony combine;
From woodland groves the feathered choir
Makes melody divine.

A scene of bustle meets the eye
Upon the station square;
From motor cars the noxious smell
Of petrol taints the air.

For those who, in real old-world style
Prefer to 'do the grand',
Harper still runs a handsome coach
With spanking four-in-hand.

And Mime, Braemar, at 10a.m.
Leaves daily without fail;
He's aye prepared to lift a 'fare'
On board the Royal mail.

Vehicles galore for pleasure drives
Are at our beck and call.
Proctor has plant to deal afflian'
With parties large or small.

For lovers of the 'ancient game'
There's ideal sport indeed;
A splendid course of eighteen holes
Unrivalled north of Tweed.

Circled by Dee's pellucid stream
Its dunes of shifting sand
Form hazards fit to test the skill
Of veteran eye and hand.

The putting greens like velvet smooth
Command a view unique
Of lull and forest, Loclmagar
And Morven's snow-clad peak

Nae mair in 'hydro' water cure
Fresh vigour vainly seek.
Breathe ozone pure, and strenuous ply
The 'mashie', 'club' and 'cleek'.

Nae ither spot in braid Scotland
Can Deeside's charms excel,
Nor count amang its local 'lairds'
Oor gracious Queen hersel'

When the Railway came to Ballater, the village centre moved from Bridge Square to Station Square. Plaques in the road in Station Square commemorate the Railway Age.


Ballater railwaymen circa 1900
Ballater Railwaymen circa 1900

Eccentric Meg:
One eccentric inhabitant was Meg Gray. Anyone who attempted to wage war with her was sure to come off second best. Some lodgers staying in the house objected to the hen that was allowed the freedom of the house, often roosting on the table. They were informed that the hennie had been a lodger before them and it would still be a lodger after them. Meg had a well in her garden. It was always left uncovered and a stranger had a narrow escape. A complaint having been made to the authorities, a representative called on her, remonstrating about such a danger being uncovered. Meg's reply was 'T am sure there is plenty of room in Ballater for folks to fall, without coming to my garden to do it".


John Davidson the Cooper:
John Davidson whose his wife was Barbara Grant, was a man whose skills were much in demand. A cooper, he was kept busy producing tubs and barrels, etc., for use in the illegal trade of whisky distilling, known locally as "smuggling". When John was making the largest size of tub he usually needed 'Barby's5 help in getting the staves set up and secured by hoops. It was no unusual thing when the last stave was being placed for "Barby" to make some unexpected movement and for the whole structure to go tumbling down. The work had then to be started again. John, whose English was poor <at the best of times, expressed himself very forcibly. He was a powerfully built man, with some eccentric habits. His pet hate was excisemen. Early in Ins life he had rented a meal mill at Mill of Dinnet and stored there barley, in various states of processing for the making of whisky. Whenever an exciseman made an attempt to search the mill, John disputed his right of access with lengthy and wordy arguments. The exciseman was bound to prevail, with the backing of the law, but John intimidated him by a show of brute force. Working himself into a state, he grabbed the mill 'louder', - a large wooden lever or bar - and so terrified the trembling exciseman that he was ready to beat a hasty retreat.

When he was in Ballater, young people frequently tried to play tricks on John. It delighted them to see him roused, threatening all sorts of vengeance. On one occasion, a large log was placed against John's door. When he opened it in the morning, the weight pushed open the door with such force that John was knocked flat on his back. Uttering all kinds of deadly maledictions on the perpetrators, John was in a rage. They would of course be long gone!


Accident Prone Peter:
The Tastard family had been early settlers. After a few years, one of them, Peter, rented a small croft, kept a horse, and became the first, apart from the innkeeper, to offer a dog-cart for hire. Peter was accident-prone and disasters usually happened when he was out with his horse and cart. On one occasion, when carting stones, he allowed the cart wheel to get too near to the river bank. The cart overturned and went into the river. While Peter was trying to set the horse free, he was carried down the river which was in spate. Two men rescued him some distance away. There is no record of the fate of the horse! It took Peter a considerable time to get over the ordeal. Both Peter and his wife Jane Riach were respected members of the community and lived to a ripe old age. Another Tastard, William, and his wife Anne Stewart, had a daughter Anne in 1831 and a number of other children.


Top of Page

Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
    AA Box 472    




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