Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Thomas Dudgeon and the Bell o' the Brae painting (4)

Post 4

In 1832, Andrew and Janet Dudgeon and the children were living at 220 High Street, and then 23 Duke Street, which according to historians and Scottish folklore, was believed to be the general area where the Bell o' the Brae (the Bell of the Brae) battle took place.  Bell o' the Brae is a Scottish term meaning the highest part upon the slope of the hill. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Bell o' the Brae was the highest point on the slope of the High Street and located at the intersection with the lines of the Drygate and Rottenrow, which was regarded as the centre of the city (Glasgow Herald, 1848). "Here, in those ages, were congregated we may conjecture, the various booths and stands from which the inhabitants were supplied with the common necessities of life; and, at  this spot, probably the entire traffic of the burgh was anciently carried on"(G. H., 1848). It is here that a possible battle took place between William Wallace and the English.While it is unsure exactly what happened here this battle has gone down in folklore as one of William Wallaces many victories against the English.

How is the Bell o' the Brae connected to the Dudgeons? In 1840-1841 Andrew and Janet moved the family up the High Street from 23 Duke Street into 3 Castle Street and took residence in the house later known in the 19th century as the Provand's Lordship, and also now known  as The Oldest House in Glasgow. Whilst it appears to be a simple structure, three stories in height, the townhouse was built at various periods. The front block built of cream-white sandstone bears the weather-worn arms of Bishop Andrew Muirhead, (1455-1473), the founder of St.Nicholas Hospital, confirming that the first section of the House was erected during this period (Gemmell, 1910). Other sources suggest it was erected in 1471, and this still appears questionable, however it is certainly a medieval house, with 17th century additions (Glasgow Museums, 1998). The old house has been known by various names during its four and a half centuries of existence. It was first known as as the Preceptor's House of the St. Nicholas Hospital, then after the Reformation was called Provand's Lordship until about the end of the 18th century. After that time it was generally called "The Black Land". It was then known as the Castle Tavern, kept by Mrs. Dudgeon, during the 18-forties. When the licence was lost it became 3 to 7 Castle Street and resumed its old name of Provand's Lordship, after having being purchased by the Provand's Lordship Literary Club in 1906. (p. 9, 1910?) The Story of the Provand's Lordship and a guide to the Glasgow Cathedral, a great little book which can be found in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow at G 941.435 PRO, further says that, Mrs Dudgeon's tavern was a great resort of Barony Kirk country parishioners on Sacrament Sundays, when the services at the tent and within the church lasted the greater part of the day.(p. 9, 1910?)

So the Dudgeons are now living on the brow of the hill as it existed in those times, and the recorded location  of the Bell o' the Brae. The Glasgow Spirit License Register shows Andrew holding a license for an alehouse at 3 Castle Street from 1841 until his death in 1846, and his wife Janet subsequently holding a license for an alehouse from 1846 to 1854. Their tenancy at 1-3 Castle Street is confirmed  in the 1841 and 1851 Census.  The 1851 Census  records Janet's occupation as Spirit dealer at no. 3 and Sweetmeats shop owner at No. 1 Castle Street.

1-3 Castle Street home of Andrew and Janet Dudgeon
Photo (c) Copyright 2005 Neil McNee

Spirit Licenses for Andrew Dudgeon
                         23 Duke Street 30/4/1839
                         23 Duke Street 28/4/1840              
                         3 Castle Street 27/4/1841
                         3 Castle Street 20/4/1842
                         3 Castle Street 25/4/1843
                         3 Castle Street 30/4/1844
                         3 Castle Street 29/4/1845

Spirit Licenses for Janet Dudgeon
                          3 Castle Street 28/4/1846
                          3 Castle Street /4/1847
                          3 St Nicholas Street 28/4/1848 ( Same residence but St. Nicholas Hospital was located adjacent to the house and the record keeper could have been naming the whole area rather than just Castle Street.)
                          3 Castle Street 24/4/1849
                          3 Castle Street 24/4/1850
                          3 Castle Street 1/5/1851
                          3 Castle Street /4/1854

Note the large beams and information boards
Photo (c) Copyright 2005 Neil McNee
The interior of 3 Castle Street
Photo (c) Copyright 2005 Neil McNee

 Thomas Dudgeon  painted the Bell o' the Brae battle on leather so that it could be displayed outside his parents alehouse. The alehouse became known as the Battle of the Brae alehouse along with many other names.This painting is clearly visible in  William Simpson's famous painting of  the Provands  Lordship (Glasgow Museums, 1998).
On our first visit to Glasgow, Neil and I caught the Hop on Hop off bus, as we generally do on holidays when arriving at a new destination. We hopped off the bus at St. Mungos Museum (the Patron Saint of Glasgow) in the Cathedral District.We enjoyed a tour of  Glasgow Cathedral and the Museum, and then decided to have a look at the beautiful old stone building across the road, a tourist destination, and famously called The Oldest House in Glasgow. While exploring the top floor of the house, I discovered a painting by William Simpson, containing the inscription  "Old Houses in Castle Street, opposite the Cathedral, 1843".  This painting together with Simpson's other watercolours, is beautifully reproduced and described in a quality booklet called "Glasgow in the 1840s: Watercolours by William Simpson 1823-1899", published by the Glasgow Museums in 1998. (The painting is commonly called the  1840s Provands Lordship on some websites which offer reproductions for sale.)

We already knew that the Dudgeon family had lived in this area during the 1840s. However, to my great surprise, the painting of the "Old House" also had the name W. DUDGEN painted on the front of a small extension to the building. (The extension does not exist today.) I was so excited that I rushed down the flights of stairs to tell  Neil who was on the ground floor assessing the construction of the building. On further investigation we discovered that this old house was the home of Andrew and Janet and their family. The small extension on the front of the building in the painting, was in fact the Ale House from which they operated their own business. Even more surprising though, was that we were told by a staff member on checking the history of Provand's Lordship, that the scene painting visible above the Ale House attached to the "Old House" was painted by Thomas Dudgeon.  So, now we have located a painting by William Simpson of the Provands Lordship, with the name W.DUDGEN painted on the alehouse lean to of the building, and an oil painting by Thomas Dudgeon acting as a tavern signboard on the front wall of the building. Just cause for celebration!!
Glasgow Cathedral
Photo (c) Copyright 2005 Neil McNee

William Gemmell (1910) in his book "The Oldest House in Glasgow",  says that the premises was occupied by various undistinguished owners until it passed to Robert M'Alpen and John Wilson in 1814. "For some time after this it was occupied by Mrs. Dudgeon as an ale-house, and an oil painting by her son, of the Battle of the Bell o' the Brae, hung for years on the front wall as a tavern signboard. This painting is now in the possession of the Club"  (p. 98). Spirit license records show that Andrew and Janet lived at this address from 1841 until Andrew's death in 1846. Janet continued to live at 3 Castle Street until 1854 when she took up residence with her son William. It also seems that William Simpson had misspelled the name Dudgeon and used the wrong initial, W. DUDGEN, on the front of the building , as it is conclusive  from the 1841 Census that Andrew and Janet occupied this residence. William being the second son could have had his name painted on the front of the building, hence W. Dudgen, but it is more likely that it would have been Andrew or Janet's name on the front. We may assume that as William Simpson's watercolours were worked up from sketches done by him in Glasgow 50 years before, that he misread the letter W. on the sketch and misspelled the name Dudgeon (Glasgow Museums, 1998).

The oil painting, called the Bell o' the Brae, by Thomas Dudgeon was painted on leather and undoubtedly brought in business for his parents.  The fact that Thomas chose this famous battle scene, the Bell o' the Brae, to paint as a tavern signboard for his parents business, indicates the importance of the Folklore of this event to the Glaswegians, and the believed  location of this battle demonstrating the obvious connection between the location of the Ale House and where the Battle of the Bell o' the Brae occurred.

The club referred to above by Gemmell is the Provands Lordship Club, which we contacted. They advised that they no longer have the painting in their possession, having handed it over to the Glasgow Art Gallery when the Glasgow City Council took over the management of Provands Lordship.. We were told the Bell of the Brae painting probably still existed but unfortunately the Gallery was closed when we were there, due to relocating. I contacted Mr. Hugh Stevenson, Assistant Keeper of the Department of Fine Art, at the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, and asked him specifically about the leather painting of Thomas Dudgeon which was hanging on the front of Provands Lordship. He advised that all of their artwork was in storage and gave us hope that when the the Gallery reopened the painting would be retrievable. On a subsequent visit in 2009, we were very hopeful of finding the painting however we were told they were now unable to find it, and that it had probably deteriorated to such an extent that it couldn't be restored. Such a shame.

For those interested in the history of the "lean to" on the old house, it isn't mentioned in title deeds to the house until 1753, and is the only difference to the title deeds of 1642, being built on during that period. The property is called " a great tenement of land" and "Stables, Brewhouse, Cellars, Closs and Pertinents" are mentioned, and "a little fore-house and shop presently possessed by Euphan Machen", referring to the "lean to" (Gemmell, 1910, p.98). He also tells an interesting story, about the tavern which demonstrates its popularity.

"To the tavern for refreshment on Sunday came many of the farmers who drove in to attend the services in the Barony Church opposite. There is a tradition that one farmer found himself so happy there that he continued where he was for the rest of the week, and was surprised to find another Sunday arrive before his carouse was finished" (p.99).

From 1784 until 1787, when the "lean to" was still owned by Euphan Machen, it became the infamous residence of the Glasgow hangman. "Here he lived within easy reach of the spot where his grisly duties had to be performed" (Gemmell, 1910, p. 105). The public hangings took place right across the road from 3 Castle Street, at the Bell o' the Brae,  in front of the Royal Infirmary. This was confirmed in 1853, when the workmen who were levelling the mound in front of the Royal Infirmary, found the stone which had been used to fix the gallows, when criminals were executed within the Castle Yard. The hanging ceremony was sometimes performed in front of the almshouse in Kirk Street,  just a little bit further cross the road, and still very convenient for the hangman to walk to work (Gemmell, 1910). "When the dreadful apparatus was not in use, it was, with the characteristic callousness of that age, stored in the Lower Church of the Cathedral (Gemmell, 1910, p. 105). The bodies of the poor sods that were executed  were buried in the common ground lying to the north of the Church. West of the north transept, we can still see cut deeply into one of the buttresses, "the rude figure of a man dangling in a noose from a gibbet." (p.106). This is now of great interest to the crowds, who walk the streets of Glasgow, and who take the time to explore the history of the Cathedral.

An historical map of the Bell o' the Brae area where the alehouse was located and the public hangings took place demonstrates the strategic  location of the alehouse, and can be found on the National Library of Scotland map website, sheet vi. 11.8: 

  1. Gemmell, William (1910). The oldest house in Glasgow. Glasgow, Hay Nisbet.
  2. Glasgow in the 1840s : watercolours by Willam Simpson 1823-1899. Glasgow, Glasgow Museums with assistance from Glasgow Art Gallery and Museums Association, 1998.
  3. Glasgow Herald, Monday, August 14, Issue 4752, 1848.
  4. The story of the Provands Lordship and a guide to the Glasgow Cathedral. Glasgow, "Citizen Press", n.d.(1910?).  (Mitchell Library, Glasgow G 941.435 PRO)

This article is Copyright (c) 2014 by Hope Pauline McNee, All rights Reserved.

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