By An Old Resident
[This article appeared in the Dundee Yearbook 1910, pp. 109-110.]
My recollections of Newport go back for longer period than I care to say. That, I think, is the stereotyped phrase used by the man not quite in his first youth who casts his eye back on the path of life which his feet have traversed. I remember Newport well in days of old, and coming back to it after a long absence have been forcibly struck by the contrast between Newport today and Newport as it was in that further off time.
First of all as I cross the river in the swift new Ferry boat I remember the day when we thought the Forfarshire a fine, smart, modern craft. The old Fifeshire, I see, is still doing service. She seems to be an evergreen, which age cannot wither. Landing on Newport Pier, I have visions of old Piermaster Milne and John Jackson, the parcel deliverer. A worthy pair they were, these two - shrewd, hard-headed old Scots, a little short in the temper perhaps, but genial, too, in their way. "In age as a lusty winter, frosty but kindly." In those days the ferry boats often stuck on the sandbank giving the men and passengers a holiday of two or three hours. How the schoolboys rejoiced if that happened to the boat that took them across to their classes! Ice used to come down in great quantities, too, and gave much trouble. I remember one famous winter when great sheets of ice stretched from side to side, and the banks of the Tay were like the shores of Greenland. The steamer sailings then were greatly curtailed.
"Will there be a last boat to-night?" I asked Mr Jackson on one of these days.
"Oh, aye," he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, "there will be a last boat, but I dinna ken what time."
"Is there a parcel for me?" I asked Mr Milne once.
"No," he replied.
"'There was to be one," I remarked.
"Aye," he rejoined with a wise shake of his head, "but 'was to be' and 'is' are twa very different things!"
A little bit of hard-won philosophy of life, that I doubt not!
Newport as I knew it first, was a very "churchy" place. The first question asked about newcomers was - "What church do they go to?" There was much religious zeal. The Moody and Sankey and other revivals were strongly felt, and evangelical appeals were eagerly responded to. Newport, like other places, has, I daresay, broadened out since then. Whether the change is for the better who can say? Good old Dr M'Leod was the Nestor of the Free Church, and the equally good and kindly Rev. John Tait gathered round him a large and warmly attached congregation in the Independent Church - a church that owed much in still earlier times to the old and famous Newport family of Just, whose tombs in Forgan Churchyard go back to the middle of the eighteenth century. Dr Thomson was minister of Forgan Parish Church in these days, and an excellent preacher he was. Dr Fraser, I am glad to see, is still ministering to his people in the Newport Church.
Two outstanding men in Newport - leading institutions of the place - were Dr Stewart, "Physician and Surgeon," as he called himself on his big brass door-plate, and Mr John Fergusson, schoolmaster. Dr Stewart, alas! has passed away, though he is worthily represented by his son. Mr Fergusson, I am delighted to see, is enjoying a hale and hearty retirement - I would scorn to call it old age.
Yes, there were famous men in Newport in the old days - bigger individualities, I suspect, than the place can boast of now. I remember the beginnings of the burgh when Chief Magistrate Scott was at the head of affairs, and Senior Magistrate John H. Walker was his right-hand man. Provost Robertson of Balmore gave great assistance, as likewise did Mr Alexander Robertson who built so many fine houses in Newport. Mr Harry Walker was then at Westwood - a singularly strong, vigorous personality, a man with a kind heart as well as a keen intellect. Mr (not then Sir) John Leng lived at Wellgate House, close to the river, an admirable place for him, for in those days he delighted in boating. By and by Sir John built his fine mansion of Kinbrae. Then there was the "Old Laird," Mr Berry of Tayfield. In those days when modern Newport was in course of formation, Mr Berry came much in contact with Newport citizens, and greatly impressed them by his fine qualities. Three other worthy "Scotts" come to mind - Mr Hugh Scott, Duncraig; ex-Bailie Scott, Kilburn Place; and Mr Andrew Scott, for a long number of years the genial and pawky dominie of Forgan School. East Newport had admirable personalities in Mr Duncan Sidey, of the Clydesdale Bank; Mr William Thomson, Floralbank; and Mr Alexander Fairweather, a gentleman who had travelled much, and could talk in the most interesting way about his experiences. There were some good old salts, too, such as Captain Brown, Captain Tosh, and Captain Cappon. These were real salts, who had commanded sailing vessels and braved the dangers of the seas in ways unknown to modern sailors. A quaint personality was "the village Hampden," otherwise Mr John Hampton, a famous pansy-grower, and a fierce critic of Provost Scott, to whom he referred in public discussion as "the great Panjandrum." Mention of Mr Hampton recalls Mr Edward Moir, a great authority on Alpine plants, who had a fine collection of rare flowers in his garden in East Newport.
Newport boys, I daresay, have many things to interest them now, but nothing, I fancy, quite so exciting as the old regattas used to be. There were two each autumn - a principal one and a supplementary contest a fortnight or so later. Newport then had some enthusiastic rowing men, to aid in whose efforts and to wrest prizes from them rival crews come from Perth and Broughty Ferry. A number of young engineers employed at the building of the first Tay Bridge supplied a splendid crew, and the result was many an exciting contest. What with cycling, lawn tennis, and motoring, the river is now well-nigh deserted, though, I believe, there has been a revival in recent years.
One outstanding and unforgettable thing in the history of Newport, as in that of Dundee, is the fall of the first Tay Bridge. Those of us who were in Newport then will never forget that night nor the ghastly days which followed. when bodies were picked up in the river and wreckage was washed ashore. For long I preserved a bit of one of the carriages picked up on the beach. But no memory of the old catastrophe can in the slightest shake the confidence felt in the grand new Bridge, which forms the means of communication with Dundee for the majority of the inhabitants. I can remember that developments of the Tay Ferries traffic were spoken of. It was thought that piers might be erected at East and West Newport, and a smart, passenger boat might ply between them and Dundee. But during nine months of the year, there is, I fear, no traffic to justify an experiment of the kind. But Newport, I understand, is not without schemes and ambitions. It will shortly open a fine new recreation ground, and there talk of a golf course at St Fort. As the burgh contains so many enthusiastic golfers, that project should not be difficult to carry through. I note that the river opposite East Newport is now alive with submarines and other war craft, though, I understand, when they came first they received a rather cold reception from some of the inhabitants.
An old resident, looking on the beautiful burgh, exclaimed - "Oh, Newport, Newport, one thing thou lackest!" And the one thing is Sunshine. Newport is on the wrong side of the hill, so that during the Winter a great part of the place, particularly towards the West, lies in shadow. But one cannot have everything, and the price must be paid for shelter from the east wind, and also for occupying a position on a hill which makes drainage particularly easy. I do not see, however, why Newport should not extend on the other side of the hill as well. Difficulties as to feuing, I believe, have hitherto stood in the way, but nowadays landlords are beginning to discover that they cannot occupy the old hard-and-fast position any longer. For some years Newport has not increased, and lately, I am told, a large number of houses were standing empty. I cannot think however, that a place so beautiful, and possessing so many advantages, will permanently decline. It will always be a favourite with those who can appreciate quietness, pure and bracing air, natural beauty, and a glorious outlook on river and mountain.
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