Continuing the story of James McHardy, second piper to Queen Victoria from 1878 until 1881.

Edith Paterson (nee McHardy), the younger daughter of McHardy – ‘the Piper’ – was the author of the booklet of her father’s life. Brought up in the Alford area of Donside, Aberdeenshire, she became an accomplished amateur musician (voice, fiddle, piano, organ), played in her father’s dance band, and accompanied his fiddle playing on Aberdeen local radio. She learned from him the fingering of the chanter, but never graduated to the full bagpipes. After a life as lady of the Manse, often teaching music (even pipe fingering on occasion), in her later years she set herself the task of perpetuating the memory of her father and his music (compositions for pipes and Scots fiddle). His manuscript music remains in her possession, a few piping tunes having been included in published collections of pipe music — Bob Worrall’s International Collection: Highland Bagpipe Music, Book Two (1992) contains two of her father’s strathspeys. To judge from the reputation that he long retained in upper Donside ‘the Piper’ must have been unusually talented as a performer.

Mrs Paterson’s late brother, Jimmy, learned the pipes from his father, but emigrated to Canada after the First World War, there to hand on his knowledge to local musicians and serve as a Pipe Major in a Canadian regiment in the Second War.

As for the actual bagpipes used by her father, his original set went with Jimmy to Ontario where they remain with the family. His second set was in Mrs Paterson’s possession until 1994, when she bequeathed them to a related McHardy, Kenneth, a young doctor and piper in Aberdeen.

At Balmoral, much of Jamie’s time was spent in attendance on the Queen when she went driving or tramping among the hills. Though it has been reported from time to time that he was “piper/valet” to the Queen, this title seems inappropriate in connection with a lady. The “valet”-ing would consists only, I think, of cleaning her footwear, but he would carry her umbrella, cloaks, picnic-hampers and other impedimenta on her safaris among the hills and moors of upper Deeside.

On one particular occasion, they were caught in torrents of rain and Jamie’s kilt-jacket was soaked. Reaching the shelter of one of the Shiels, the Queen charged Jamie to take off his jacket immediately and get dried. Jamie heard her or he heard her not and repaired to a room where he continued in the drenched jacket as he busied himself with some job. Presently the door opened and who should present herself but the Queen Empress! She looked at him sternly and said, “I told you to take off that wet jacket!! Jamie tried to make little of the matter saying, “It’s not very wet, Your Majesty.” Putting her motherly solicitude in the background and assuming the authority of Head of the Realm she said, “I command you to take it off.” There could be no further argument. The mother in the Burnside farmhouse could rest assured that her teenager had a softer influence in his life than the brusque, dictatorial John Brown.

The Royal Party at Balmoral possibly some time in the 1890s.
The Royal Party at Balmoral possibly some time in the 1880s.

My father used to say that the Queen always seemed to be amused by the sight of a small man. Her dear Albert was tall, and this fact may be in some measure the reason for the Queen’s favour for stalwart John Brown in whom she could have had no more faithful henchman. She appreciated his loyalty and would hear no ill of him. When a lady-in-waiting complained that John Brown had called her “wumman,” the Queen looked at her calmly and said, “Aren’t you a woman?”

William Ross in later years.
William Ross in later years.

Part of each day was taken up by instruction from Ross, the Queen’s piper. His methods were summary: in the early stages of chanter-practice a wrong note was rewarded by a sharp stroke across the knuckles from the maestro’s chanter. My father used to remember in later years the agony of having a finger whanged between two chanters. As he said, “Ye didna mak’ the same mistake twice!!” When he had, as he supposed, practised a tune enough to “know” it, Ross did not ask to hear it but set Jamie the task of writing it down from memory complete with gracenotes. Hard times for a young lad already a skilled, if untaught, player. But the stringent training bore rich fruit and Jamie became a master of his instrument.

When I was about three years old, my father left Haddo House to become gamekeeper on Whitehouse estate on Donside. Henceforth this chronicle will be founded on personal memories instead of on hearsay, which last is nevertheless as authentic as hearsay can be.

A garden party at Whitehaugh House, 1904. McHardy can be seen at the far left. He would've been 41 years old at the time. [Alford Heritage Centre and Museum].
A garden party at Whitehaugh House, 1904. McHardy can be seen at the far left. He would’ve been 41 years old at the time. [Alford Heritage Centre and Museum].

One of my earliest memories is of seeing my father setting out of an evening in full regalia to pipe for the shooting guests at Castle Forbes. On other occasions he was accompanied by my brother eight years my senior also in highland dress. Around 1910 it was exciting to see members of one’s own family being borne away in a motor-car. For his engagements at Castle Forbes my father composed the march, Mrs Pelton’s Welcome to Castle Forbes. It is possible that she was not guest but tenant at the castle for the shooting season. I cannot now say.

The year 1914 brought the Great War and my father went the rounds with Recruiting Sergeants rallying to Arms. From the drones of his pipes hung small replicas of the Union Jack and the Lion Rampant; when the war was over, he was much sought after to play at the unveiling of memorials to our Glorious Dead. His rendering of The Flowers o’ the Forest was memorable. I wonder whether he was the first to effect a tremolo on the pipes.

By 1914, my father had accepted the wider sphere of farm manager, part of his new job being the care of the laird’s sheep. We can imagine that his new work gave him great satisfaction; with his two dogs he would go to “look” the sheep on the hill as he had done as a boy in Corgarff. He was a splendid handler of dogs and could, as good shepherds do, guide them by varied whistles when they were far away on the heights. Sometimes I would accompany him on his rounds and he would get much amusement from the fact that though the dogs were always my good friends, shout as I might, they took no orders from me. When we returned to Whitehouse after a period on a farm by which time I had grown up, there were times when my father was slightly unwell and I would deputise for him among the flock. No amount of wheedling would make the dogs go with me till my father told them to go. Then, and only then, they went with me and followed my commands. Clever, faithful beasts!

Ever possessed of a quick temper, my father one day fell out with the laird and gave notice of resignation. No schemer, he had given himself very little time before the Whitsunday Term to find another livelihood. However, at the 11th hour, he was able to rent the farm of Little Drumlassie on Learney estate and thither we went by box-cart at the end of May 1917. A week before, my father had collected a cart from his farm and old Rose, 20-year-old farm-horse to draw it. I remember still how she covered the ten miles in style. She had lived most of her life at Drumlassie and was happy to return after her few days away. She pranced along like a three-year-old. Our furniture followed more sedately on two long carts. The piano arrived safely!

Life at Drumlassie was tough, but interesting. In summer, work went on from 06:00 to 23:00. Father toiled on the land with inexpert assistance from two women-folk but with happy anticipation of the time coming when my brother would be released from the army.

The dwelling-house was semi-derelict, the garden over-grown. Ivy covering the ‘ben’ chimneys grew downwards into the spare bedroom. My mother wept, but with commendable stoicism applied herself to the monumental task of making the rooms habitable. It was some years later that we at last graduated to wallpaper and Nurse Edith Cavell and other famous faces disappeared from the walls forever.

Our domestic water was drawn from a well in the garden kept sweet by a trout which ate up all foreign bodies. Ice-cold in the hottest weather it was by far the most refreshing to drink of any we have known elsewhere apart from springs in the hills. On very hot summers — which we did have then, my mother used to put our butter in an enamelled bucket and suspend it in the well to keep it from melting into oil. Our only means of refrigeration!

Drumlassie yielded a living but nothing over. Rabbits ate the turnips and the short corn-crop. The land was almost marshy in parts and like a rocky hillside in others. But we were happy there and healthy. Still a child when we went there, I was watching my father one day mending one of the broken-down fences. His hammer, nails, staples, coil of wire, etc., were not always to hand as he moved back and forth, but I just stood and watched. Presently he said, “When I was a wee boy I was learnt to lend a hand when somebody was working.” Feeling myself under reproach, I sprang to the task of holding up ends, and, all my life since, have tried to “lend a hand” where need arises. That short sermon was more fruitful than many a lengthy oration.

Presently, we were getting together a band to play at dances. John Riddler was the other fiddler and Frank Adam, playing by ear, was a tower of strength with his piccolo. Released from the restrictions and sorrows of war, people went daft in Eightsome Reels and other square dances, and the noise was like an echo of the turmoil in the underworld. My father had a strong bow-hand, but without the shrill quality of Frank Adam’s piccolo we could never have sounded the halls.

(to be continued).

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5