Friday, December 23, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1, Chapter 11

Chapter XI

Law Apprenticeship in Inverness

a) The Office
Towards the end of October 1935 I entered the offices of Davidson Scott & Co. Solicitors, 42 Union Street but was quite unprepared for the transition from sixth-form to 'dog's body' with a legal firm. I had my eyes opened on to 'the real world'.

There were two partners in the firm: Donald Henry Macdonald, B.L., Solicitor and Notary Public and his junior John MacBean, also Solicitor and Notary Public. 'D.H' as he was affectionately called had succeeded to his father's business and was (I was told by staff members) 'the one with the money'. He dealt mainly with Conveyancing, Estate work, being factor for several estates, Income Tax, Trusts and Executries and he was session clerk for Marriages for the town of Inverness. (of that later). John MacBean was the Court partner although he did of course deal with some other aspects of the work. For the purposes of my training 'D.H' was my 'Master' and a good one he was.

On arrival I was placed under the immediate supervision of Miss Robertson the Cashier and introduced to the office boy, George Barclay with whom I was to share the public office. That office had a counter separating us from members of the public who called for one reason or another. Many's a time I was glad the counter was there for many of our erstwhile clients arrived in 'high dudgeon' about one thing or another. George and I also had to operate the telephone exchange putting callers through to either partner or cashier or, sometimes, the typing room. In the latter five or six young ladies sat at typewriters thumping out letters, deeds, summonses etc. In those days short-hand was the order of the day and even I realised how valuable it could be so one winter I spent painfully slogging away at Pitmans under the tuition of Miss Wylie in the village : two sessions each week at 1/- per session - but I'm afraid I had to give up as I lost interest.

b) Marriage Lines
Because D.H. was Session Clerk for Marriages anyone in Inverness who wished to have his or her Banns called in church had to report to me! A special form giving name in full, address, occupation and status (e.g. single, widow etc.) of each of the parties had to be filled in and signed by at least one of them. The charge was 2/6d of which 1/-(one shilling) went to the Minister of the church where the Banns were to be called and 1/6d went to D.S & Co. The completed form together with another called the 'Certificate of Banns' I had to dispatch to the Minister.
After calling on the Sunday and in cases where the Minister knew neither party personally the succeeding Sunday also, he returned the forms to D.S. & Co. having signed the Certificate of Banns. This was to be available to the persons concerned on and after the next Tuesday. Thereafter the wedding proceeded via George MacBean (John's Cousin) who was Registrar and the Minister who was to conduct the wedding ceremony.

On one occasion soon after I started work there appeared at the counter two well known Inverness characters - 'rag and bone merchants' - Margaret and John - who had for 40 years lived in a tent up in the Leachkin, near Craig Dunain. George of course knew them as he lived near the hospital there. We both knew them as being husband and wife as did everyone else in Inverness. John was dressed in a beautiful blue serge suit complete with his war medals, white shirt and blue tie, Margaret was dressed as if going to church or wedding. On being asked by me how I could help John announced that they wanted to be married in the Old Parish Church and the Minister (Donald MacLeod, I think) was to cry them next Sunday. 'But', George interjected 'I thought you were already married'. 'No', said John 'but we have been living together for at least 40 years. God has not blessed us with children but we were reading in the old book what he did for Sarah and Abraham when they were old and we have decided that if we got Donald MacLeod to marry us properly the Good Lord may yet bless us in the same way.'
(See Chapters 16 and 21 of the Book of Genesis). At that time they were in their 70's.

c) AlimentThe first Friday I was in the office the Cashier sent me to the Post Office to buy 17 postal orders each for 7/6d. On my return she told me to charge them all to the account of one of our clients who happened to be well known to me. I was then to hand the Postal Orders to one of the typists. I discovered that she had 17 letters each addressed to a different lady and that the Postal Order was to cover the aliment due by our client in respect of each of his illegitimate children. I could hardly believe my ears! As it happened that very forenoon Mr MacBean had sent me up to the Sheriff Clerk's office in the Castle with what were called Defences in an action raised by a young lady against our said client for aliment for yet another bastard. By the time I left D.S. & Co. in 1938 no less than 21 postal orders were being sent out each week all to different ladies but all paid for by the same client!

d) Wild Goose Chase
As part of my initiation into the law I became the victim of a custom practised on all law apprentices. D.H., bless his dear soul, sent me to the Faculty Library to borrow the book 'Burns on Forest Fires'. I was already aware of a large tome entitled 'Burns on Conveyancing' which was in regular use in the office. So off I went! The library assistant said it had already been borrowed and I should go to MacAndrew and Jenkins and ask them for it. They told me it had been borrowed by another firm so off I sped --- and so I walked from law office to law office seeking this wretched book and being told the same story in each of them. Eventually, after I had walked all round town an old law clerk told to me to go back to my own office and tell my boss that the book was now out of print. On my return D.H. had a good laugh and assured me that now every law office in Inverness would know that D.S & Co. had a new apprentice!

e) Rent CollectionD.H. was a comparatively young man being when I first knew him about 35 years of age. Sadly he had been struck by infantile paralysis at the age of 32 years and was much crippled. It was pathetic to see him pull himself up the stairs to the first floor office - but he never wanted any help. I grew to like and admire him greatly and certainly he made sure that I had a good grounding in the work of his office before departing for Edinburgh.

At term time Whitsunday and Martimus (15th May and 11th November respectively) he would take me to assist with the out of office rent collections. What a thrill it was to travel in a sunbeam Talbot ("the Rolls Royce of small cars, Alex") as he was a very competent driver. One collection took place at the Balintore Arms Hotel and this I use to illustrate the procedure. The time and place of the rent collection having been advertised in advance farmers and tenants called at the hotel from 10 am onwards. I was seated in the lounge with cash box and 'rent roll'. Rents ( and feu duties) ranged from 10/- (ten shillings) per half year to £750 depending on the size of the area of land occupied by the tenant. As each paid his or her rent I receipted the rent book and marked 'paid' on the rent roll. Thereafter the tenant proceeded to join 'D.H' seated at a sideboard from which he dispensed large noggins of whisky - no matter what the level of rent was everybody was treated alike. By lunch time the lounge was a place of much lively chatter and merriment. However at 1 pm the landlord came in and announced that the Factor's dinner was ready. At this all departed and D.H. by this time in very happy mood, and I resorted to the dining room. I, well remember after my first lunch in the Balintore Arms D.H. persuaded me to have an aperitif - a creme de menthe. I did; and for the first time in my life tasted alcohol. Yes, I did like it!

The afternoon was always less busy and by 3.30 p.m. we were on the road back to Inverness. The rent cash was always checked by Miss Robertson first thing the next morning before entering it in her Cash Book and despatching me to the bank with the money and a pay in slip.

f) A real highland funeral
One of our clients the late Colonel Cuthbert of Badcall and Scourie was a fascinating character. Sadly he lost his life by drowning when trying to rescue a sheep which had fallen into a burn up at Badcall in North West Scotland. In his Will he had decreed that on his death a barrel of his whisky was to be taken from the store in Glenmorangie Distillery and set up in the library of Badcall House. All his farmers and tenants were to be invited to the funeral, at which they were to wear their hats, he was to be buried at the bottom of his garden and a large stone already there was to be set up and suitably inscribed. After the burial all were to be invited to resort to the library in order to partake of his hospitality in the shape of good Glenmorangie. Whatever whisky remained was to be bottled and sent to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Inverness Royal Infirmary, Golspie Cottage Hospital and Ross Memorial at Dingwall.

What excitement all this caused in the office but in the end everything was accomplished as Colonel Cuthbert had wished. Never was there a funeral like it!

The distillery people bottled the whisky that remained and sent it to each of the four hospitals. Each carton contained 12 bottles. From three hospitals we received suitable acknowledgement - but from Aberdeen we received one telling us not only of their pleasure at receiving such an unexpected gift but informing us that their records showed that during the whole of the previous ten years Aberdeen had used only one table-spoon of Whisky for medicinal purposes! The Trustees were to be assured that the gift from Colonel Cuthbert would be put to good use in the immediate future by the medical staff even if not for medicinal purposes! I should perhaps add that Badcall House is now the Edrachallis Hotel (a few miles south of Scourie) and that you can still see the grave stone if you care to call as I did recently! The Hotel Manager knew nothing of the story of the grave in the hotel grounds but was suitably enlightened!.

g) More on BannsAnother true story concerning banns may be of interest. A somewhat bedraggled lady and a very pregnant young girl of perhaps 18 years of age appeared at the counter one day. Mother and daughter. The lassie was not allowed to open her mouth. Mother told me they wanted the banns cried in the West Kirk where the Rev. Alexander Boyd was minister. In reply to my question 'and the boy will be a bachelor of course' the Mother said 'Oh no the laddy's only 21'. When I reached the question: 'And your daughter will be a spinster?' Mother assured me that her lassie was no spinster she was a tailoress!!

h) Small Debt ActionsThe firm were Law Agents for H.M. Postmaster General and as such we had to initiate many summonses in the Small Debt Court against folk who had failed to pay their telephone accounts. Well do I remember the crave by 'The Rt. Hon. Thomas MacKay Cooper K.C., M.P., His Majesty's Lord Advocate, for and on behalf of His Majesty's Postmaster General'. How many Small Debt Summonses I have completed (all in long hand) in that form: such Summonses were used only in action for recovery of sums of £20 or less. But £20 was a lot of money in those days.

On one occasion we were asked to write to one, who was already a client, informing him that his telephone account for the previous quarter amounted to the incredible sum of £750 and asking whether he could explain this before the actual account was sent out. It transpired that he and his wife had decided a few months before this to employ a maid/baby minder. The young lady's boy friend had emigrated to New York. He had given her the telephone number of the Y.M.C.A. Hostel in which he was staying and told her to phone him every Thursday night (when the employers were away out) at 9 p.m. She complied with this request and had many long telephone conversations with her boy friend without knowing what the cost of a transatlantic call was! In the circumstances the telephone people agreed with D.H. to charge only one half of the true cost. And, gladly, the young lady concerned kept her job but was banned from using the telephone. The telephone exchange operators were advised of the situation so that they could refuse to put through calls to the Y.M.C.A. in New York!

Other small debt actions were for the recovery of arrears of rent, tradesmen's accounts for work done, aliment for illegitimate babies, groceries supplied 'on tick' by a trusting shop keeper, even window cleaning and so on. In passing I might mention that the office window cleaner was also a client and it was surprising how so many other firms in Inverness delayed paying him until a small debt summons arrived in their office. He told be he had been a navy stoker in World War I, had no other training and when he came out of the Navy decided to try window cleaning. His business prospered and when I knew him he was cleaning most of the office and shops windows in the centre of the town - and he had £30,000 in the Bank!

i) Other ActionsThere were of course many other court cases arising from contracting activities of clients, boundary disputes, bankruptcies, breach of promise of marriage, indeed an endless variety. John MacBean was forever having to prepare Initial Writs or Defences and I must say I really enjoyed my trips to the Castle with these important documents and it has to be said that in D.S. & Co. I received a sound grounding in every form of Sheriff Court Action before ever I found myself in Edinburgh more concerned with Court of Session actions than the Sheriff Court.

There were no planning acts as such in those days but the Dean of Guild Court had to approve all new building proposals or major alterations and so I became expert in such cases. However as an apprentice I was not allowed to speak in this Court - a similar rule applied up in the Castle. There came a day when dear John was not available to attend the Dean of Guild Court when a particular case 'called'. D.H. suggested to me I should stand up and say, all that was required, namely 'I move for Decree my Lord'. I did this but the old Dean questioned the Clerk as to my right to appear, and announced that he was not having apprentices in his court. John MacBean would have to appear next month. Sitting beside me was a well know Inverness Solicitor, D.H. MacNeil ( a true Scottish Nationalist who came to write 'The Scottish Constitution' in later years) He rose to his feet and declared in his authoritarian voice that the law of Scotland did not require a Law Agent to move for Decree or conduct a case in the Dean's Court: the petitioner himself or a friend could appear and speak. And so thanks to Mr MacNeill I made the motion and the old Dean muttered 'Granted'.

j) Accountancy and Income TaxIn order to be admitted as a Law Agent in those days it was essential that one passed the Trust Account and Income Tax examination, whatever other legal subjects one might do at University. I was advised by D.H. to take the correspondence course in that subject offered by the School of Accountancy in Glasgow and I did. With the practical work arising within the office, of which Miss Robertson made sure I had my fair share, I gained experience in the preparation of Trust and Executory Accounts, Estate accounts, Investment Valuations as well as the operation of the cash book and ledgers. In addition the helpfulness of the Inspector of Taxes and his staff on the floor above D.S. & Co. was invaluable: so much so that I became known as our office expert in Income Tax. Before I ever went to Edinburgh in 1938 I had passed my Book keeping. Trust and Income Tax examinations.

One of the less well known tax allowances I learnt about 'upstairs' was one which enabled land owners to claim tax relief on remedial expenditure on land and buildings. Even 'the boss' did not know until I told him. He directed my attention to the substantial expenditure being incurred yearly by the owner of the Poolewe estate, Mrs Sawyer. The rule was that an owner could claim on the average expenditure over the preceding seven years but could not take into account any costs incurred prior to the commencement of that period. So the appropriate claims were submitted to my Income Tax friends and the welcome sum of £450 was refunded. Mrs Sawyer was delighted and with the agreement of D.H. she presented me with the equivalent of 20 weeks wages - namely £5. Yes my 'salary 'was 5/-(five shillings) per week!

k) Wills
Normally when a client made a will it was placed in the safe and remained there until he or she died. But a few of the clients were forever adding codicils or changing their wills. The partners did not, of course, discourage this for it all brought in fees. One client and his wife could write only letters of the alphabet and when signing any document had to have his or her name spelt out letter by letter! The husband had risen from the collection and sale of rags, bones, bottles etc. to become a horse-dealer and fish salesman. As a result they had acquired a considerable fortune and lived in a splendid house on the west bank of the River Ness looking over the river towards the town.

Every month or so one or other of them decided to alter his or her will a job at which I became quite skilled! They would not come to the office for the signing and in due course it was remitted to George Barclay, the office boy, and me to attend upon then in their lavishly furnished home in order to have the necessary signature appended and then witnessed by the two of us. I remember being very much impressed by the ground floor room door knobs. They looked like huge rubies and the lady of the house assured me they were! But I did not believe that!

l) Caught red-handedWhen elderly clients who had lived alone, died it was customary for the apprentice to be sent to collect all the valuables he could find in the house in order to have them valued for death duty purposes. On one occasion I proceeded to a house in Ardross Street with the office 'weekend case'. Leaving the wooden front door open I closed and locked the inner glass door and placed my small case open on the hall table. Whatever I found in each room, e.g. earrings, pearl necklaces, gold watches, rings, brooches, and such like I took and placed in the case. I may say that on such visits one often came across love letters especially in the homes of single ladies whose sweethearts had been killed in the Great War. Perhaps it is not surprising that a teenager should have a glance or two at such romantic epistles!
But back to the hall table: I had placed my last collection of jewellery from the deceased's bedroom when suddenly I became aware of a figure outside the glass door - a police man! Before I could even unlock the door he had blown his whistle and soon was joined by his colleague. 'Caught you red handed boy' said the older bobby 'what do you think you're up to?'. I told them but I ended up being marched between two tall police men one carrying the case of valuables, across the bridge, down Church street, along Union Street and up the stairs to the office. I led them straight into D.H's room! What a surprise he got! However he thanked the police for bringing me and the valuables safely home. After that I always told the police when I was to be on the same ploy: and they were most helpful.

m) Groceries and Tradesmen's AccountsOne of our unmarried wealthy clients had an overdraft of £30,000 from the North of Scotland Bank, a mistress comfortably seated in a nice house 'across' the river and a half yearly grocery account which was never less than £750 all incurred in one shop, Gillanders the delicatessen shop in Queensgate. I never ceased all the time I was with D.S. & Co. to marvel at the amount of debt so called wealthy clients had outstanding to the Banks or to other lenders. In those days before Mortgages were introduced from England the usual way of obtaining a loan was for the borrower if he owned heritable property to grant a Bond and Disposition in Security. This deed conveyed the property to the lender, specified the amount of the loan, the method of repayment and the interest payable. The latter was usually payable half yearly at the Whitsunday and Martimas term and we had a special type of cash book in which were shown the various lenders, rate of interest, period of loan and amount collected at each term. Some of the loans had ben granted many years before I joined D.S. & Co., indeed some had been in being since before the 1914 war with never a rise or fall in the interest rate. Inflation was unheard of - a tupenny bar of chocolate cost exactly that until World War II and an influx of American dollars via the yanks knocked the Pound Sterling 'for six'.

Accounts incurred by our property owning clients for work done by Tradesmen such as Slaters, Plumbers, Saddlers, Painters, Joiners, Wood Merchants, Glaziers and other were usually rendered half yearly at the two terms mentioned earlier.
The first November I was with DS. & Co. Miss Robertson handed me a bundle of such accounts along with cheques for the payments due and instructed me to go to all the tradesmen concerned, hand over the cheques and obtain receipts. Some of the cheques were for several hundreds of pounds and this made me feel very important! To my complete astonishment after I had handed over the slater's cheque and he had receipted the account pertaining to each client for whom he had carried out work, he handed me a five pound note with the words 'and that is for you'. I could hardly believe it! This was known as 'discount' and each trader gave me the appropriate discount. When I returned to the cash room I handed all this discount - a fair sum of money - about £50 - to Miss Roberson she gave me £5 to hand to my mother and said the remainder would be used for the benefit of the staff at Christmas time. In due course each of us did, indeed, receive a nice Christmas box in addition to the bonus given by the partners; in my case another £5! Remember that represented 20 weeks salary for me. One could buy a three speed bicycle with that amount of money.

The apprenticeship privilege of delivering cheques to tradesmen remained with me until I eventually went to Edinburgh in September 1938. So each term time was looked forward to eagerly.

n) Bunting and ChampagneIn May 1937 George VI who had succeeded to the thrown on the abdication of his brother Edward VIII (better known as the Duke of Windsor) was crowned King in Westminster Abbey. He and his Scottish wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon had gained great popularity among ordinary people and celebrations of all kinds were set in motion. So far as D.S. & Co. were concerned we were to have bunting draped from window to window above Union Street - and who had the job of doing it - no not our window cleaner but George Barclay and myself! I think we enjoyed ourselves although neither of us had a head for heights and in order to sling the bunting properly it was necessary for each of us to get out (through a window) on to the ledge some two feet below the window sills! The end result was praised by the two partners and the girls. On the day of the actual coronation 12th May -we were all invited to join D.H. in his room where he had a waiter from the Highland Club in attendance and we were all handed a glass of champagne the first I had ever tasted -and together toasted the new King and Queen. The afternoon was declared a half holiday so off I set towards Ardersier on my bicycle. The effects of the alcohol had, by this time, taken effect and I bowled along with the south west wind behind me and singing at the at the top of my voice! On reaching home my dear Mum wondered what on earth had come over her son. I think I slept for the rest of the day and next morning was told of the dangers of alcohol.

o) And so to EdinburghIn the summer of 1938 D.H. and John MacBean each made contact with firms in Edinburgh with a view to having my apprenticeship transferred so that I could commence study for the Bachelor of Law Degree at Edinburgh University. My application to Inverness County Council had resulted in a bursary of £30 per annum being awarded for a period of three years. John succeeded in securing a transfer for me to Kinmont and Maxwell, W.S. 11 Coats Crescent, Edinburgh the firm where he had 'served his time'. And so all was set for 'wee Alex' to commence with 'K & M' in the third week of September and to matriculate at Edinburgh University the first week of October.
How exciting it was for my mother and Dad too although he was in Yarmouth. The 'old man' too was of course greatly moved at the prospect of his only grand son setting out on a course at University and becoming a solicitor.

My mother saw to it that I was properly 'kitted out', she took me to the 'Fifty Shilling Taylors' in Inverness High Street but decided that suits at that price were not good enough for her boy and so a three guinea suit was ordered. I was there and then measured for my suit, the cloth was chosen, and I was told there would be three fittings. At the same time a heavy Harris tweed jacket and a pair of Oxford bags (flared trousers) were bought. My mother had been told that in Edinburgh all law apprentices wore bowler hats - so I had to have one. Three fittings of the suit there certainly were before the tailor was satisfied with the fit and I was allowed to take it home.

The day of my departure from D.S. & Co. Miss Robertson sent me out to say 'Good-bye' to all my tradesmen friends and the special 'discounts' handed to me by each of them were mine to keep. Quite a handsome going away gift! I remember feeling very sad at leaving all those who had been my friends and colleagues for almost three years for I had no idea what awaited me in Edinburgh. And now I can look back over the years and feel only gratitude for the comprehensive training given by D.H and John.

My departure from Ardersier where I had been born and brought up was not without some sadness as you would expect. Our Minister Reverend Campbell MacQueen Macleroy who had been my guide and mentor for the previous five years and who had admitted me to membership of the church the previous year, was however a source of inspiration and great encouragement. He was widely travelled, and had been a Y.M.C.A. chaplain during World War I, been Minister of the Scots Kirk in Prague for some years and was devoted to the well being of young folk. He gave me an insight into life as an undergraduate and from his talks I gained the confidence to take this big step in my life with courage. From his Young People's Circle of which I was a member I received a going away gift of a Bible suitably inscribed. I still have it after many years of use.

My dear Scoutmaster, Tom White and my fellow Scouts gave me a farewell party in the garrison theatre at the Fort. By that time I was assistant Scoutmaster and Treasurer of the troop and naturally it was with a heavy heart that I had to leave my comrades. I think Tom's chief worry was that the cricket team was losing its opening bat 'stone waller Alex' as I was known. How many bowlers' hearts I had broken with my straight bat!

It was easy to leave the amateur dramatic group as they were forever losing players. But they did give me a send off with a pie, sandwiches and cake tea party and a moving speech by our President.

All my friends in the village knew that one day wee Alex would do as so many Highland boys did 'in order to better themselves' and go south. My mother saw to it that I called at every home where I had a friend and said 'good bye' to all in the house. It was a very moving experience which left its mark on me as the realisation dawned that so many friends in Ardersier really did wish me well.

Leaving the old home, with all its memories, the knowledge of the love of my parents and sister as well as old Grand dad who had so often called me a wee so and so, my pigeons (reduced by this time from 40 fantails to a pair), our dog and cat and the familiar pattern of life in 113, all gave cause for mild heart rending. But determined I was not to let down the parents - the best in the world - who had scrimped and saved to see their boy better himself.

Before leaving D.S. & Co. my boss had indicated to me that after graduating and being admitted as a Law Agent he would like me to come back to the firm. So I was to be away, I thought for only three years - the period of the B.L. Course. How little I knew!!

At Inverness station before the train departed for Edinburgh my dear Mum gave me her blessing and asked me ever 'to trust in God and do the right'. That injunction has carried me through life.
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