The Story of the Beginnings of The Fishermen’s Hall and Other MemoriesThe Story of the Beginnings of The Fishermen’s Hall and Other Memories Printed from The Banffshire Advertiser, January 6th 1981 and for a further two weeks.
It was in the year 1885 that a final determination was arrived, to build a hall in a central position in Buckie, which would form a rallying point for the fisher folk in the community and their families and friends.There was a strong feeling that they needed some centre where they could meet and discuss matters pertaining to their industry and their welfare. Later, they extended this view of the hall and it was opened to the general public as a place where entertainment and political meetings were held. It was even used as a “penny-cinema” in the 1920s.
The meeting, which set the ball rolling, was held in the Baron Street Hall, later occupied by the Salvation Army. It was organised by the Rolling Wave Lodge – a Good Templars Group No.704, on 5th February 1885. At the meeting, a concert was held, and the proceeds were donated to the furtherance of the scheme. Hanging from the roof was a fine model of a Zulu fishing craft, named the “Unity,” with full and unbarked sails.
The work proceeded with energy and determination and the hall opened to the public on New Year’s Day in the following year, 1886. When the hall was completed, there was framed a constitution for it, and ever since then, it has been managed by a body of trustees acting under the constitution. It was opened by Mr R.W. Duff, then M.P. for the county.
The day’s proceedings commenced at noon, when the Volunteer Band, under its leader Alex Forbes, led a procession of fishermen and friends through the main streets of Buckie. At exactly one o’clock, the procession drew up at the Railway Station to greet Mr Duff. He stepped on to the platform, waved his silk topper, and wished everyone a Happy New Year.
At the Hall, the back of the platform was decorated by evergreen leaves to spell out the word, “Welcome” on a scarlet back-cloth. Other mottos spelt out in green were:- “By Industry We Thrive,” “We Fear no Foe,” “Let Whig and Tory a’ agree” and “Unity is Strength.” The hall was crowded. Mr Duff was accompanied to the platform by Mr John Macdonald, Bank Agent, Rev Alex Millar, Free Church, Rev John Cook, U.P. Church, Dr Duguid, John Webster, chemist, John shearer, bank Agent, W.F. Knight, Merchant, John L. McNaughton, Solicitor, W. Hall Crawford from the “Banffshire Advertiser”: George Wright, Chemist, and John Reaich, Convener of the Hall Committee.
Also on the platform were a group of leading fishermen, including Alex Cowie “Gullie”, John Cowie “Strath”, George Murray “Bodge”, James Murray “Burd”, William Murray “Prince”, Peter Murray “Barron”, John Murray “Gyke”, and James Thain “Thainie.”
The Rev Mr Miller opened the proceedings with prayer and the Chairman, Mr John Macdonald, made a short speech. In the course of his remarks he said, “It would be interesting to cast a prophetic glance before and look into the immediate, if not the dim and distant future, to sketch out something of the great improvements possible for them as a society to carry on for the common good and the interest of the hall in which we are now met.”
Part 2 – January 13th 1981 (Article continued)
At the formal opening ceremony held in the hall on New Year’s Day, 1886, Mr John M Donald, Bank Agent, took the chair on the motion of Mr John Reaich, Convener of the Hall Committee. The M.P. for Banffshire, Mr R.W. Duff, was the honoured guest. He had travelled from Fetteresso to Aberdeen but just missed the connection for Keith. The railway authorities of these days must have been very obliging, because they arranged a special train to travel to Keith to take his party from there to Buckie by the Highland Line.
Even in those days, there seemed to be some difficulty with the ceiling and Mr Duff mentioned this. Regretting the absence of Lord Aberdeen, he said that his lordship was engaged in a work of great labour and importance to the sea-faring community as Chairman of the Committee on Unseaworthy Ships.
“I am sure,” said Mr Duff, “that he would have found the new ship we are commissioning today in every respect sea-worthy, and although I believe at one time there was something a little wrong with its top rigging, he would certainly now have found the vessel entitled to an A1 certificate.”
Mr Duff said that he had opened the Volunteer Hall, back in 1878, but so rapid had been the development of the town since then, that the community now required a hall double the size of that. He was grateful to the railway people for helping him out, and he could hardly believe that he had left Aberdeen at 11am and had been in Buckie at 1pm.
He had words of praise for the foresight and the munificence of the late Gordon of Cluny who erected the fine, new harbour, and the fishermen who used it. “It is the fishermen that have made the town of Buckie what it is today,” he said. “and it will be none the less agreeable to many of us if the hall, at times, is redolent of herrings..”
Remarking that the Scottish Fisheries Board, in their last report, estimated that, including the fishermen’s families, one-seventh f the population of Scotland were entirely dependent on the industry for their living, he said that the energy and self-reliance of Scots fishermen have made the industry what it is. “These qualities,” he observed, “ will doubtless be brought to bear on any new difficulties you may have to encounter, and I feel assured they will enable you to overcome them.” Amid loud applause Mr Duff declared the Hall open.
Provost Black from Elgin was the next speaker. In view of the renewed speculation about the future of some of our North-East railway links, it is with a rather wry smile that we read in the pages of the “Advertiser” of January 7th 1886, that the Provost looked forward to a day later in the year, “when the whole coastside towns and districts of Banff and Moray will be linked together by direct railway communication.” Buckie, he said, needed the coast railway; it had a population of 5000 now and he was only afraid that by the time it reached 10,000 the good city he represented (Elgin), would begin to be jealous of it. He recalled visiting Buckie to hear the Rev. Mr Shanks preaching in the old church in the Square before the 1843 Disruption. The reverend gentlemen would go out on wee-days, take off his coat, and work alongside the men putting up a wooden harbour west of the Coastuard watchhouse. He also recalled many meetings chaired by Sir Robert Gordon of Letterfourie, when the Buckpool Harbour was being planned and constructed.
Mr John Allan gave the felicitations from the town and community of Banff, and remarked that Buckie had come a long way since his initial visit. On that occasion, he said, it was not only impossible to find a hall, but even to find comfortable room was difficult.
Mr John Reich, President of the Fishermen’s society, outlined the motives behind the construction of this building. The object of the Society, in connection with which the Hall was built, was to promote the social and moral welfare of its members and the general community.
The Trustees were 12 in number and their names were:John Reaich, Alex Cowie (Gullie), John Murray (Gyke), James Thain (Thainie), William Murray (Prince), Peter Murray (Barron), James Murray (Burd), William Reaich (John), Alex Reid (Reidie), George Murray (Bodge), John Cowie (Smith) and John Black.
It had been agreed that the Rolling Wave Lodge of Good Templars was to have the use of the Hall every evening, and religious services were to be held on Sunday, but not during the hours of church service.
Part 3 20th January 1981 – Concluding Article
At the opening of the Hall. It was announced by Mr John Reaich, President of the Fishermen’s Society, that the whole of the rules governing the new Hall were embodied in a deed of constitution, which was recorded at the Sheriff Court in Banff.
Prominent leaders of the fishing community, Mr Alexander Smith, “Cockie”, and Mr Alex Cowie “Gullie”, addressed the meeting from the platform. The latter speaker remarked that he was the oldest fisherman present, and had gone to sea for over 40 years. The boat on which he had started was called a “Big Boat,” and yet it had only 29 feet of keel.
Mr William Reid, “King” expressed the pleasure he felt at being present at the opening of the Hall. He was followed by the Rev Mr Cook, who said it was one of the most beautiful buildings in the district. Since he had come to Buckie, the little villages of Ianstown and Gordonsburgh had sprung up. If they were to visit a fisherman’s house, they would find that beauty and cleanliness existed everywhere around. In jocular mood, he appealed for funds to help run the fine new building. The qualifications of a chairman were first to look sunny; the second, to talk funny; and the third to ask for money. He thought that their Chairman had ably fulfilled the first two of these requirements, but that it was now up to him and the audience to fulfil the third.
Mr William Murray, “Baron”, said he was another fisherman who could claim over 40 years service. There had always been unity and co-operation. When the boats were drawn up at the Hythie, before the harbours were built, they all turned out to a man, and sometimes the women came along too. He proceeded to propose various votes of thanks, which was greeted with acclamation.
In the evening, a concert was held in the Hall in aid of the building fund. The Hall, seated for 1,000 persons, was crowded, even standing – room being at a premium.
Dr Simpson opened the proceedings, and called on the choir to sing, “God Save the Queen.” The concert party was under the direction of Mr William King. Mr William Smith was in fine voice while rendering, “A Guid New Year to ane and a’.”
Our commentator from the “Buckie Paper” was delighted with the recitations of Miss May Cowie and the singing of Mr and Mrs K. Munro, but was obviously critical of a professional humourist from Aberdeen called Dixon. “His vocal abilities were not of a high order,” wrote our reporter nearly one hundred years ago, “and, later on, his selection of songs were not at all to the taste and culture of a mixed audience.” The chorus party came in for a bit of stick – “the time was not altogether faultless, and the treble perhaps the leas thing weak.”
However, praise was lavished upon Mr Alex Thomson, Miss Agnes Swift, and Mr Alex Mitchell, Burnside.
To conclude the evening, the Chairman referred to the excellent acoustics of the new hall, which reflected great credit on the architect, Mr Perry. Votes of thanks were proposed by Mr John Cowie, “Bullen.”
Since those far-off days, the hall has seen many stirring sights. Recently, musicals like, “South Pacific,” and “Oklahoma” have been the vogue, but Gilbert and Sullivan, with the “Mikado,” as the supreme attraction, attracted crowded and enthralled audiences. I can vividly remember acting the part in the hall of a detective trying to trap a Welsh lad who went around carrying a woman’s severed head in a hat box – Danny, I think his name was.
Many ofus oldsters can recall the old-time”soirees” with the oranges, the cuppie of tea and the biscuits in the “buggie.” The “burstin’ o’ the pyocks” was the highlight of the evening with Hugh MacCallum ranging round trying in vain to secure order while a duet- “When Ye gang awa’, Jeannie” was being offered, but not accepted, from the stage. Earlier still, Banff’s own “Doctor” Wlaford Bodie, hypnotist extraordinary, M.D. ( for Merry Devil), trod the boards. Scott Skinner performed here, and many a hard-fought heckling meeting was held in the Hall.
On January 1st 1936, as some of us will recall, the Jubilee concert was held in the Hall. The “Strathspey Trio,” William Reid, Joseph Murray and William Cleland were the star attraction, while Bessie Robertson (mezzo-soprano) was in fine voice with, “Bless This House.” The sweet soprano of Dora Green blended well with the baritone of optician and singer Tom Lang. Other attractions were the novelty dancing of Willie Barr Cochrane and George McBeath. There was a group called the Honolulu Trio and the singing of the Fishermen’s Male Voice Choir was “resonant and true.”
Dr Geddes Smith led his orchestra with acceptance, and Miss Mary Badenoch performed brilliantly on the piano. Dr Smith also acted as producer for the show. He wrote a short valedictory lyric, which he presented on the occasion.