Chrissie Fraser's talk in 1965

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A talk that was given perhaps to the Women's Guild comparing life in Tain to when the talk was delivered.


My talk is “Our Life in Tain over Sixty Years ago and to compare it to life today.  There is a vast difference between the two, as you will hear, but I will try and show you, that although we had no television, pictures, radio, badminton etc., we led a very full and active life.  I have divided my paper into three headings, our working life, our social life, and the church life.  

Well! I begin with our working life.  Working days were very long in those days, and I should say now that the working hours of everyone today are a big improvement to the old days.  Tradesmen generally started at six o’clock or seven, and finished at six in the evening.  We had a saddler who was never known to be one minute late.  He was at the door for [the] key as the town clock struck six.  [The Frasers had a coach building business on the corner of Geanies Street and Stafford Street.  Coaches were still largely horse drawn.]  The grocers’ shops never closed until eight o’clock and ten o’clock on Saturday nights.  It was quite a usual sight to see the shops full of shoppers between nine an ten o’clock [in the evening] which would be a strange thing to happen today.  Then our shops didn’t close on half day till three o’clock.  The shop assistants got up a petition to close them at one o’ clock which caused quite an up-roar.  Eventually, the shop keepers gave in, except one shop which remained open till three o’clock until the business changed hands years later.  On Thursday mornings, a man called Jamie Clarach rang a bell at the foot and top of every street in the town, calling out, “This being the half holiday, all shops will close at three o’clock” or “one o’clock” whichever it was.

Now we come to wages.  What a terrific change has been in that direction.  Quite a good wage in those days was 25/- per week [£1: 5 shillings, £1: 25p in 2015] and I knew quite a few couples, married with a family, had less than a £1 per week.  A couple today can’t imagine how it could be done, but believe it or not, 10/- [50p] was ample for the food of the house.  Food was very, very cheap.  I used to go to the butcher’s with 1/- [5p] on Saturday morning and I got 1lb of liver & 1lb steak or 1½ lbs mutton or beef for 1/-, and quite a few cheaper cuts for less than that, bacon 6d & 8d [per] lb, eight lovely fresh haddocks brought from Embo by boat for 6d or 8d.  Eggs were 6d [per] doz., tea 1/- the lb and so on, coal £1 a ton, whisky 2/6d a bottle.

Clothes were also very cheap.  There were no ready made clothes in those days.  I remember when there were over forty dressmakers in Tain.  The late Mrs Macduff Ross employed 25 to 30 dressmakers.  I had a business that employed 14, and there were quite a few private businesses, and all were kept very busy.  I have seen us when very busy working on until the small hours in the morning and 10/- was the most we could charge for a costume or a dress.  You will scarcely believe me when I tell you I had an outfit for a very special party which cost me 8/-.  My dress cost 3/6, seven yards of cream muslin with tiny rose buds on it, the skirt frilled to the knee; my shoes cost 3/6 and my stockings 1/-.  What could you get for 8/- today?  

Those were the days of large families.  Can you believe it, that on Ross Street alone there were between 60 & 70 children, and no water in any of the houses?  The pump supplying the houses was down where the Post Office is. Double quantities had to be taken in on Saturdays as no-one would ever be seen taking in water on Sundays.  Those were the days when there were no health services or children’s allowances but I must say that there was a great contentment, such as is not found today.  

Well now for our social life.  I’ll take the winter activities first.  We had some kind of meeting in the hall every night and they were very well attended.  We had the Temperance Society on Monday, the Good Templars [another temperance group] on Tuesday, Christian Endeavour on Wednesday, Literary Society on Thursday, choir practice on Friday, and a small prayer meeting in the Session Room on Saturday.  Although that may seem a bit dreary to people today, they were all very enjoyable to us.  I have seen the hall packed most nights and there was a very good programme sustained by the members and whether you were a crow or a nightingale you had to take your turn and do something.  We tried to get songs with a chorus when everyone could join in.  Getting into the church choir was quite a difficult job.  Your name had to come before the committee and they had to decide whether you were a suitable person.  Our church choir in those days had a membership of over thirty and we had wonderful singers, trained in our Choral Society by the late Mr Roddie, Inverness.  

We had an excellent Literary Society with very interesting debates and musical evenings.  Three or four nights during the session we took the Town Hall [in Tower Street next to the Royal Hotel - later became a cinema and currently being renovated] when there would be very special artistes from the south performing.  I needn’t mention their names as nobody here would remember them, but they were very famous in those days.  We always had a Gilbert & Sullivan night which always meant a great lot of practising, making our costumes etc., and a great lot of fun.  We always had a crowded Town Hall the night we did Gilbert & Sullivan.  We also had a concert party and we gave concerts in different places but I am afraid we did not have the comfort that could be got today by going by car.  When we were giving our concert at Bonar Bridge, we had to leave the Royal Hotel yard not later than four o’clock to make sure we were up there in time for the concert.  We went there in wagonette drawn by a pair of horses, so it was jogging along.  Today we can do the same journey in ½ hour, but now there are no concert parties, everyone gets their concerts from TV etc., sitting at the fireside.

All those Societies had their social evenings during the winter, and about six special dances but they were dances. The Mason’s Dance with the members in full evening dress & regalia, the Volunteers’ Dance with the officers & men in full uniform; the men in red jackets and kilts, the officers in navy jackets and either tartan trousers or kilts; all the ladies in full evening dress.  It was really a very spectacular affair and no gentleman would dream of dancing with a lady without his white gloves on.  Those were the days of chaperones, when a married lady took charge of a party and was responsible for their behaviour and seeing them home safely which was a bit of a bore sometimes.  

The Oddfellows [a Friendly Society – a kind of welfare society] had the most spectacular dance of all.   They always had a torchlight procession preceding the dances.  Each Oddfellow carried a torch.  I don’t know what it contained, tar I expect, as it kept alight the whole way round the town, led by their own brass band and in front, leading the procession, were two horses, one ridden by Nigel McGillivray’s father and the other by my father-in-law, followed of course by a huge crowd of town people.  They finished up at the Town Hall where the wives, sisters and sweethearts of the Oddfellows waited with a sumptuous supper, all set out on tables, then after clearing away everything, the dance began.  

Then we had the skating pond.  What could be more exhilarating than skating especially on a moonlit night and almost everyone singing? (House parties etc.)

Well, now about our summer activities.  I do hope I’m not boring you but I’ll try and hurry up.

We had a very good cycling club, 16-20 members, and we went all over the countryside.  Our favourite outing I think was going to Dornoch by the Meikle Ferry, and having tea there for 1/- each, and believe me that no motor run in the most luxurious car can ever take the place of crossing the Meikle Ferry on a lovely summer evening.   Sometimes the boatman would take us round below Edderton, and the crowd of us singing our favourite songs, and the motion of the boat will always live in my memory.  

All the winter organisations had their picnics and of course we had to walk and carry our provisions with us.  Quebec Bridge and the Avenue [south of the by-pass and a continuation of Moss Road, following the old “Hill Road” to the peat mosses] were favourite spots.  Everything had to be cooked outside as there were no Thermos flasks in these days, so it was the good old bonfire.  The picnic of the year was the church choir one.  We went in several brakes or wagonettes drawn by horses and we left the Royal Hotel at 9 a.m. in order to be at the Falls of Shin in time to get lunch ready.  The lunch was always cooked by the ladies of the choir beforehand, so we only had potatoes to cook in a huge boiler.  The ladies cooked roasts, made steak pies and all kinds of jellies and sweets.  It was a lovely run and plenty of time to admire the scenery.  We very often came home round by Altnamain and had tea there.

Then, we had what we haven’t today, bathing houses on the Links.  The swing bridge wasn’t built then.  I think the bathing houses belonged to the Council but there was a woman in charge.  We called her the “white wifey” as she wore a white mutch [a linen cap].  We paid 1d for the privilege of getting a cubicle to undress in.  I do wish I had a photo of some of the costumes we wore.  I don’t know what the woman would think if she saw the bathing costumes of today, for believe me weren’t allowed to show even our ankles.  We wore long gowns with long sleeves and the woman kept a stick handy in case any male walked past the houses.  

We did a lot of walking in those days and thought nothing of taking the train to Fearn or Edderton to a meeting and walking home, and it was a lovely walk when a crowd of us walked home through Calrossie woods, especially in the moonlight.

We had a market which was called “The Midsummer Market”.  There were stalls on each side of the street from Ross Street to the Royal Hotel.  It was held the first Wednesday in July and the town would be crowded that day.  Everything one could think of was sold on those stalls.  I think the biggest sale would have been in hand made tubs, but everything, groceries, candies, drapery etc., were sold.  

I remember the first motor car that came into the town.  The news went round that this strange carriage came into town and was housed in a shed at the Royal Hotel.  Crowds gathered at the hotel hoping for a glimpse of it, but no luck, so it wasn’t till next morning that we got our first sight of this strange invention.  That would be the year 1894 or 1895.  Crowds lined both sides of the High Street, and although the school bell rang, no child I’m afraid paid the slightest attention to it, but our teacher was very lenient to us that day, as it was a very special occasion.

Now I come to my third heading, “Our Church Life,” and it meant a great deal to us in our young life.  The services were very well attended and nobody, except through illness, would ever dream of not going to church twice.  I have seen our church down there [the Queen Street Church which was first the Free Church and later the United Free Church] packed at both services often and we had a lot of activities in connection with the church – the YMCA, Christian Endeavour, prayer meetings and the Temperance Society, all well attended.  We also had a well attended Band of Hope.  At this stage, I would like to pay tribute to the late Rev Alexander Frazer who did so much for us in our youth and helped us to think of the serious things of life as well as the gay.

And now ladies, I hope I have not bored you with my ramblings.  There are quite a number of things I haven’t touched on but I do hope that by my paper I have made it clear to you that life sixty to sixty five years ago was neither dull nor dreary but full of interest.