Monday, January 1, 2018

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Happy New Year!

This figure of a Scotsman in Highland dress taking snuff is a memory from my childhood. Growing up in Cheltenham, I regularly saw it outside Frederick Wright’s tobacconist’s shop in the town’s High Street. He is taking snuff – snuff from Scotland being famous – and guiding people towards his owner’s door. He’s now in the town’s museum (known as The Wilson these days), and is one of several extraordinary shop signs be seen there.

Highlander figures were well known as tobacconists’ shop signs by the time of the 1745 rebellion, as after this date highland dress was banned and tobacconists sought to confirm that they could continue to exhibit these figures outside their shops without being accused of breaking the law or of a lack of loyalty to the Hanoverian monarchy. The figures, usually made of wood, were still common the Victorian period, but relatively few survived into the 20th century.

This particular example was a well known landmark in the town and Wright’s address on the accompanying enamel advertising sign is given as ‘The Old Scotchman, 122 High Street, Cheltenham’, in the style of former years equating the building with its sign, to help those who could not read, and those others who could read but could not remember names and numbers. Find the Old Scotchman* and you can’t go wrong.

The Resident Wise Woman and I were pleased to have this reminder of times gone by when we made a post-Christmas visit to The Wilson. We were also pleased to be able to introduce our son to the figure. He too was charmed by it, no less so because of its unrealistic ultra-skinny proportions. More porridge required, clearly, in these chilly times.

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*We now regard ‘Scotchman’ as a solecism: ‘Scotch whisky’ is OK, unless you’re in Scotland itself, when it’s just whisky; but a man from Scotland is a Scotsman. But ‘Scotch’ to mean ‘Scottish’ when applied to people not whisky has a long history, as any reader of Lord Byron’s 1809 poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers will know.


Hels said...

I know that the highland dress was banned for a long time, but even now that law still strikes me as an insanity :(

Now my more important issue. If Scotland secedes and becomes an independent, sovereign nation, attitudes may change. The images are currently all part of one nation's identity. But Scottish references in general and Highlander references in particular might be seen one day as foreign.

Happy New Year :)

Eileen Wright said...

Ah, the same name as my grandfather! It wasn't his shop though, although he was born not too far away in Warwickshire.
Lovely to be able to see those street memories, Philip. It's something I really enjoy in my own local museums, and even more incredible that the wooden ones have survived. I didn't know about the highland dress being banned, so that was interesting to know. Great - but thin - figure.
And a happy new year from me too. :)

E Berris said...

Your Scotsman reminded me of the one at Sandringham, looking very incongruous there. Apparently it was a childhood memory of the Queen when as Princess Elizabeth she visited Norwich, and was saved for her when the old tobacconist's shop was pulled down. (My childhood high street had a cafe with a large real coffee grinding machine in its window. Once beans were available again post-war, you could watch it at work and smell the coffee aroma wafting out from the ventilator.) Happy New year wishes.

Jan Marsh said...

Surely this iconography of a soldier with red jacket, kilt, bearskin etc is much much later than 1745 era, belonging to mid, even late Victorian period when there were such Scottish regiments in British Army, by which time kilt was certainly not banned. Originally 'Highland dress' I think referred to the plaid, not just kilt

Luke Honey said...

I remember this- I think. Would it have been outside the shop in the early 80s?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jan: Thank you. Yes, I didn't mean to suggest that this figure was of the 1745 period, just that highlander figures were around at least as long ago as that. You're right, I'm sure, about the relevance of Scottish regiments later.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Luke: Good to hear from you. I *think* it might still have been outside the shop in the early 80s. As far as I remember it was still there when I e
ent off to university in the late-1970s.

per apse said...

I raise a glass of Scotch to you and your lady (aka the resident Wise Woman) wishing you many more happy blogs - and new sights to comment on - in 2018.

Joe Treasure said...

Ah yes, I remember it well!