@John Watts

A 5-14 Curriculum Resource Book Lothian Region Education Department 1995




The title of this booklet, Scalan, is the name of a small, clandestine seminary set up in the Highlands for the training of boys for the Catholic priesthood in the Penal times ..

The booklet is intended as a resource for the 5-14 school curriculum. It is aimed at the P7-S2 age range, and will perhaps be most suitable as providing extension material for children at Level E.

It is in two parts. The first and main part is the story of Scalan, and is for reading by pupils. It begins by explaining the background to the setting up of the school, goes on to describe the kind of place it was and some of the events and personalities in its eighty-two year history, and ends by pointing to its links with the present and its place in heritage. The second part identifies some key questions - general issues or particular themes - raised by the story, and offers a few suggestions for learning activities based upon them, as well as a concise bibliography and list of addresses for those who wish to pursue the subject further.

The subject, and the particular approach taken, have been deliberately chosen to dovetail with several general aims and specific programmes of study identified in SOED 5-14 National Guidelines. In particular, they offer a close match with the following (numbers in parentheses refer to page and section numbers in the appropriate SOED documents):

Environmental Studies (Social Subjects: Understanding People in the Past) .

Investigation of a topic in a Scottish context; tracing developments (in farming, transport and housing); touching on political, economic, social and cultural issues; referring to the values of a past society, the effect of past upon present, heritage, and preservation; introducing appropriate terminology; and affording the opportunity to explore key questions; find, access and evaluate historical evidence; and use maps, tables, drama and role play (pp.34f and 39-43).

Religious Education - RC Schools (Christianity) A topic illustrating

The Church as a pilgrim people, and the concept of Pilgrimage (E4.1, p.43); Apostleship, and the willingness to follow, suffer, sacrifice (E4.4, p.47).

The story tells of the plight of a particular minority at a particular time, but in doing so raises more general issues of minority rights, freedom of conscience and the use of the Law, which match well - for example - with the aim of helping young people to 'appreciate moral values such as .... liberty, justice, fairness' identified in the non-denominational Religious and Moral Education Guidelines (p.2).

The booklet points to Scalan's place in Catholic heritage, but also to its part in the broader Christian and national heritage. It presents Scalan not as a point of division but as a focus for closer mutual respect. As such it has a contribution to make to the aim identified in the Personal and Social Development Guidelines offostering esteem for one's own cultural background and at the same time for that of others (pp. 10 and 12).

Scalan, in fact, offers a 'way iil' to a whole range of issues, themes, movements and events that classes may want to explore, and as such its story may appeal to pupils and teachers of all faiths or none.

Although this booklet has been written for Lothian schools, and with the 5-14 curriculum in mind, I hope it may also be of interest to young people further afield, whether in school, the parish or the home. Perhaps it may whet the appetites of some for a deeper exploration of the subject than the present brief account can provide.

May I thank Miss Teresa Gourlay of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh Education Office, and Mr Norman Henderson and Ms Janice Quinn-Magee, staff of Lothian Region Department of Education, for their support in its publication.

John Watts

Summer 1995




Have you a map of Scotland before you?

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Map showing the main areas of Catholic population in Scotland in 1700.

Find the mouth of the River Spey, for that is where your journey begins. Now trace the river upstream. You pass the towns of Fochabers and Rothes and for nearly thirty miles you follow the wide green Strath Spey, until you come to a place where another river joins it. This is the Avon which the people here pronounce 'Aah-n' - and you follow it awhile. If you were to trace it to its source you would be up among some of the highest mountains in Scotland. But soon you must leave it, and turn again, eastwards now, into the Glen of Livet. Always upstream, always higher. Close by the distillery ofTomnavoulin the Livet is met by the Crombie river, and this is the road you now take. You pass on your left the round-domed hill of Bochel - well named, for the word means 'shepherd', and it seems to stand sentinel guarding the narrow throat between high ground through which you pass, until the land opens out before you into a wide green saucer among the hills. You have entered the Braes of Glenlivet, close to 400 metres above the sea, but still good land, you notice, with ploughed fields here and there.

You have been keeping the Crombie close at your side and it has become little more than a burn. And now the road comes to an end, and beyond it all you have is a muddy path and, looming ever closer, the black heathery hills. You walk on, over a ridge, and ahead, where the Crombie runs like a silver ribbon over the grassy meadow, you come upon a building quite unexpectedly. The last homely house! It looks like a house, at least. It is tidy, and seems well cared for. Yet you can see that it is deserted. No peat smoke rises from its chimneys. There are ruined mills nearby, long since abandoned. Evening is coming on, with a shiver of wind. Misty clouds brush across the hills. You are alone, hesitating whether to go or stay. There is no-one, no habitation to be seen in any direction; no sound for company. But there is a sign before the door, and it is newly painted. It reads simply, 'Scalan College 1716-1799'. A college? Here in this lonely place? Whose might it have been all those years ago? What was it for? And what could have become of it?

It has a story, and to find it out we must turn the clock back three hundred years, to the beginning of the eighteenth century.



What would it have been like in Scotland in 1700? Imagine life without the postman ... without the hospital; Glasgow a town of just 10,000 people, and only twice that number in Edinburgh itself. But Edinburgh was a good eight days' journey from the Braes of Glenlivet, and as far as its farmers were concerned that might as well have been a hundred, for none but the most wealthy in society ever made such journeys. There were no roads in the Highlands fit to take a cart, and few Highlanders would ever have set eyes on a wheeled vehicle. If they travelled it was on foot; or on horseback, with their baskets slung on either side of their mount or, on the flatter terrain, horse-drawn on poles that scraped the ground as they went, like the travois of the native Americans.

Wherever the Highland land was fit to cultivate you would find a 'farm town': it was not a town, nor like a modem farm; but a huddle of four or five houses, whose families shared the land - so that where one dug his furrows or 'rigs' this year his neighbour might dig next year - and where they shared also the rough hill grazing that lay between their farm town and the next. The land on the lower hillside, not fit to dig but still lush and green, was called the shieiing. It too was held in common, and the women and children brought the cattle onto it in May, and stayed with them there the summer through.

Distance, and wild weather, and the mountains 'horrid and rude', made the Highlands seem like a foreign country to the Lowlander, the more so because its people spoke a different language Gaelic - and most of them knew no other. Few city dwellers ventured beyond the Highland Line, therefore; one who did so said he felt likeColumbus discovering the New World.

It was a world where the old clan way of life still lingered; where the Chief looked after his people and passed judgment on their disputes, and they followed him and fought for him; where the land was his to divide out in rent to the senior members of his clan (known as 'tacksmen' because the rent was called 'tack'), and they in turn rented it to the tenants of the farm towns, who usually paid with goods rather than money.

In the Braes of Glenlivet the way of life would have appeared even more curious to a Lowland visitor, because there nearly all the people were Catholic. Today three quarters of a million Catholics live in Scotland. But in 1700 there were certainly less than 20,000, and they were confined to a few places in or beyond the Highlands. Elsewhere there were almost none, and most Scots would probably never have set eyes on one.



The 'Old Faith' had in fact almost died out after the Protestant Reformation. And where it remained the Government did everything in its power to finally wipe it out, by passing Laws that made it almost impossible for anyone to be a Catholic. Extracts from the Law of 1700 are shown on page 3. As you· can see, priests and those who harboured them were to be banished, on pain of death if they ever returned; no Catholic could own or inherit property, (which would pass to his closest Protestant relative;) nor be employed as a teacher, nor be educated at home in his own faith. To escape these penalties a man must solemnly renounce his religion.

F or a few years this law was enforced pretty strictly and no chance was missed to make life hard for Catholics and to ridicule them. We read that in 1704 the Edinburgh mob joined a mock procession organised by some of the leading citizens, in which the public hangman was clothed in priest's vestments and others carried a crucifix and chalice, parading through the city before solemnly burning them at the Mercat Cross.

Catholics were most at risk in the places where they were only a tiny minority. In those parts where they formed the majority they were usually safer; and in 1700 as the map on page 4 shows, this really meant two areas of the country - certain remote parts of the Western Highlands and Islands; and parts of the lands ofthe Duke ofGordon in the North East, that stretched from the coast into the Grampians and included Glenlivet. In all these areas the chiefs were Catholic, and the people enjoyed their protection. The Duke of Gordon was powerful enough to influence the appointment of Circuit judges, who usually dismissed the charges against Catholics, and even when a case was upheld the sentence was rarely carried out. This at least was the complaint of their enemies, as can be seen in their reports at this time. As the extract from the Report on page 7 makes clear, they objected to Catholics not only because of their religion, but because most of them were Jacobites who supported the return of the Royal House of Stuart and so were seen as a threat to King George and the Government.

Priests were especially hated. Even when things were quiet they tried to keep a low profile, and often they were forced into hiding, moving from safe house to safe house, or sleeping in woods or caves or on the hillside, and holding services only after dark.

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Extracts from the 'Act for Preventing the Grouth of Popery', 1700, Acts of Parliament of Scotland, VoL )(,pp. 215ff, National Library of Scotland.




There were at this time only a handful of priests to serve those areas, vast in size and laborious to cross, where the Catholics of Scotland lived. Being so few, each had great distances to cover, and perhaps would not see some of his flock for months or years at a time. Some died young, broken by the hard life they had to lead.

These men had all been trained abroad, in 'Scots Colleges' set up for that purpose in Europe because, since the Reformation, it had not been possible to train them in their own country. But it was also illegal to send young men abroad for education, and hard to persuade ships' captains to carry them. And some who went and tasted the comforts of the South returned ill prepared for the hard life in the North. How then could the Church solve its chronic shortage of priests, and give them the kind of preparation they needed? The best answer was the one that until now had seemed impossible train them in Scotland. But if so, it would need to be done in secret, and somewhere where the people would not betray them.

One or two experiments were tried - just two or three boys living with a priest and being taught by him. We know that there was such a 'school' in Glenlivet in 1699. But when the priest was moved to another area it had to be abandoned. What was really needed was a proper school or 'seminary', a building with rooms for boarding and for lessons, and with a priest who would be master full-time and who could be replaced when he left. Such a seminary would last.


Such was the dream that lames Gordon already had in mind when he was made a bishop in 1706, a dream that he would see fulfilled eight years later. The place he chose was far in the West, on an island on Loch Morar. It was well chosen - remote, in a Catholic stronghold, 'situated in the heart of our best and surest friends, where by boat all necessities could be brought and all unnecessary distractions could be kept off'. It would not have been much to look at - just two small huts made of turf: one served as a chapel, and in the other the boys studied, slept, and ate. In charge was a young priest, Mr George Innes (for in those days priests were known as 'Mr' not 'Fr'). He had just six pupils. But the standard of learning was high. The school seemed to be just what was needed.

And then, less than two years after it began it was over. In 1715, the lacobites rose. The rebellion failed, and the Catholic clans who had supported it found themselves under bitter attack from the forces of the Government. The seminary which had seemed so safe beyond the mountains, now proved all too easy to get at from the sea. In the spring of 1716 the master decided that he could no longer safely keep it open. He sent the boys home, but kept in touch, waiting for the chance to start again. And,the following year his chance came. But not on Loch Morar, and not in the West. It was in the Braes of Glenlivet in the East that the seminary was re-opened, and this time it would last for over eighty years.


The same fear of Government soldiers that had forced Mr George Innes to leave Morar also caused the priest at Glenlivet to leave his home. He had been staying down in the lower part of the glen, but now he thought it would be safer to move to a remoter place. At the very head of the Braes there was a piece of land called Scalan, a shieling shared by the farmers of the upper glen for their summer pasture. It was to one of the shieling huts that the priest moved. Once he was settled there he got permission of the Tacksman to build himself a house on a narrow shelf of ground right on the west bank of the Crombie bum. He chose that spot because of the natural underground well beside it, that gave him his drinking water. In the picture on this page you can see the well, the bum, and the shelf of land above it where his house stood.

The Crombie burn, showing the natural well and (left) the shelf of flat ground above the bank.

Building a house in the Highlands in 1716 was not the task it is today. A man could finish the job in a day or two, once he had the materials ready. First, he would lay a course of stones, maybe ten paces long and four wide, leaving a gap for the door facing east away from: the wind. Then he set the wooden wall posts upright in the stone course, to about head height, and bound onto them the walls that he built up out of woven willows and daub. The outside of the walls he strengthened with sods of turf. To the tops of the posts he secured couples and roof beams, all held in place by the ridge pole or 'roof tree' that ran the length of the house. Materials for the roof would depend on what was to hand - probably at Scalan it would be layers of thin-cut sods laid like tiles, held down with wooden pins, and with heather or fern fixed in for thatch. Once the roof was up all that was left was to set a wattle wall inside to divide the house from the byre, and to hang the door. With luck that door could be swinging on its hinges before the sun set on the second day.



Bishop Gordon was quick to see that the new-built house by the Crombie bum would exactly suit the needs of a small seminary. This was Gordon country, and as safe as anywhere could be. It was - he hoped - too far from the soldiers' barracks or the manse to be noticed. It could hardly have been further from the sea. The land down the glen was open enough to see the coming of enemies, who could anyway only approach slowly for their one narrow path led through a morass. Yet the land would yield oats and bere, and peat nearby for fuel. There were trout in the Crombie, and the bum itself offered a washing place and, if dammed, a pool for bathing. All in all, it was just the place to begin again. So in the summer of 1717 he moved the Glenlivet priest out and made the house free for Mr Innes and his boys.

But those of them who had been used to the West must certainly have felt the difference when the first winter came. Scalan was drier, perhaps, but it was far colder than Loch Morar, which lay almost at sea level. In their new home the harvests were always late. The winters were severe, and came so early that supplies must be got in by the end of September to be sure of them. When cloud covered the hills on every side the sun might be hidden from view for weeks. A favourite story is told of one of the students of later years whose friend was setting out for. the coast. 'While you are there,' he asked him, 'pray be so kind as to make very particular enquiries after the health of the sun and do not fail to present my compliments to him. I live in hope of one day renewing our personal acquaintance.' It is said too that one winter when the snow lay for five months a Scalan boy, now a priest, was visiting a dying man in a glen nearby. At one place where the snow had drifted his guide had to warn him to turn his horse aside, for they were walking over the roof of a house and it was about to put its hoof through the hole that served for a chimney.

Today the landscape around Scalan is deserted, as you can see from the photograph on this page. But records from the eighteenth century reveal that this was not the case then. The first recorded map, for instance, which dates from about 1750 (page 9), shows several farm towns, downstream but still close by, each with their own dug fields. When we remember that each one supported maybe four or five families, it will be seen that there was quite a thriving population.

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Extracts from 'Additional Memorial Concerning the Growth of Popery', 1720, MS 68 folio 32, reproduced by kind permission of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.



Scalan from the West, looking towards the Ladder Hills.

From the nearest farm, Badaglashen, Bishop Gordon managed to get land on tack on the east side of the bum facing the house; on the west side he leased a strip of the shieling land that runs up the hill. It was his intention that the seminary would be a farm as well as a school, so that it could as far as possible be self-supporting and also pay its way. It would provide meat, wool, milk, oats and bere for the house, and surplus to sell. The map shows quite clearly the seminary's arable fields, on both sides of the river, where today there is only grazing for sheep. Bishop Gordon's plan was necessary because the Scottish Mission was miserably poor and could not possibly afford the full cost of the seminary. But he was also following a long tradition, for religious communities such as the monasteries had for hundreds of years combined study, prayer and working the land, all in the service of God.

Scalan and the Braes of Glenlivet, from the Map of Scotland compiled by William Roy, c.1750. Original in the British Library (Map Library), London. Photographic slides in the National Library of Scotland (Map Library).


This then was the boys' new home. But what would their daily life have been like? Bishop Gordon and Mr Innes modelled the rules and routine as far as possible on the Scots Colleges, where they themselves had been trained, but with one or two necessary changes due to Scalan's climate and remoteness. After some years the Bishop drew up a set of Rules, thirty-one in all, a sample of which are set out on the next page. They give us a vivid picture of the life the boys lived.



1 The schollars must converse as little as possible with strangers, and therefor when any

come to the house let them be entertain'd in another room.

4 Servants or  workmen should not be allow'd to eat or play or discourse with the scholars

unless the master approve it or be present ... And the scholars should be very carefull never to go to the kitchen.

5 Let the house be allways kept quiet without any noise, quarrel or disturbance & let silence

be kept during the time of studys, at night after the evening prayer is over, and in the morning till the prayers be said.

10 The house being chiefly dessign'd to educate them in piety more regard must be had to it

than to learning, & more care must be constantly taken to instill it into them as certainly it is infinitely more valuable than learning, and without it learning is but a sword in a madman's hand ...

11 Care should be taken that they pray not only evening and morning, but ,7now and then in the

day time, as a little before dinner and supper, & when after recreation they fall again to study ...

14 They should confess every fortnight and communicate once a month at least.

17 They should be taught from the very beginning by way of recreation or easy study something

of sacred and ecclesiastick history, especially of the Lives of the Saints. It were jitt also that they should all learn by way of diversion or easy study something of the ffrench & Irish or Highland language fie., Gaelic) ...

18 They may learn also according as they advance something of Geography, Chronology,

History and Critick, by the by, without much trouble or application. It is jitt that all learn some litle of the Greek, & likewise of Rhetorick, when they know the Latin pretty well. And those who are well advanc'd in philosophy or divinity may learn somewhat of the Hebrew, if they have a genius for tongues ...

19 They should rise in summer at five & in winter at six and accordingly go to bed at nine or

ten at night ...

22 About eight such as please may take breakfast.

23 At twelve they should dine; & after dinner they should be allowed at least about an hour of recreation. And at dinner and supper there should be readingfrom the Scriptures ... After supper near an hour of recreation should likewise be allowed.

30 It is necessary that the Master or some body he can trust have still an eye over them when they are at their walking, diversions or plays, yet they should have all manner of innocent liberty allowed them, nay they should be encouraged and obliged to take corporal exercise and diversion because it is not possible for young folks who study much to keep their health without a great deal of exercise.


As you can see, the Rules were quite strict. The Bishop expected the boys to be hard-working, obedient and devout. But - reading between the lines - he showed a kindly understanding of them too, and allowed for their fun. Sundays were free from study; so was one afternoon in the week.

A boy usually joined the seminary at about the age of twelve. Some left in their teens to complete their studies abroad; others took their whole course of training at Scalan, and left as ordained priests in their twenties - it was these who would be studying the more advanced subjects such as Hebrew referred to in Rule 18. Parents were not required to pay for their sons' lessons or board, but were asked to provide their clothes, shoes and blankets.


One of the original scholars, who completed his training at Scalan and turned out to be one of its most famous pupils, was Hugh MacDonald. Like most of the early pupils he was a gentleman's son, for his father was the Laird of Morar. He had been one ofMr Innes' first pupils at Loch Morar, just a mile or two from his own home, and when that house closed and he came across to Scalan he was already about eighteen. At twenty-six he was ordained, a 'Heather priest' - that is, one trained entirely in Scotland - and the first since the Reformation. At the young age of thirty-two he was made a bishop and put in charge of the Highland Catholics, leaving Bishop Gordon to concentrate on the Lowlands. Hugh MacDonald served his people as bishop for over forty years, but for most of that time he could not live among them because he took the side of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and after Culloden he became a fugitive. He managed to escape to France, and when he slipped back into Scotland he stayed under cover, using false names. Given away by a friend, he was imprisoned and banished, but he soon returned quietly to his work, looking after his priests and people as best as he could from a distance. His life story tells us much about the trials and difficulties of the Catholic Church in the eighteenth century, and of its enemies.


Those enemies seem to have known all about Scalan, despite the efforts made to keep its existence quiet. An early report sent to Edinburgh mentions 'a Popish Nursery in the Scallay of Glenlivet' and actually calls it famous! The writers give the names of the master and his assistants, and other accurate details. But the master would have been amused to read their description of his little turf school - a 'fashionable House with suitable office houses' they call it - and of his most promising pupils who, they claim, were 'pickt out by the Priests and sent regularly every year to Germany, ffrance and other places in great numbers to be farder taught.' If only it had been so. In fact, the numbers sent abroad were small, and not at all regular. It seems to be part of our human nature to exaggerate the strength of the opposition!

Certainly the Kirk's investigators believed that Scalan was a threat, and we know that they tried more than once about this time to get it closed. They made life so hard infact that the school had to be abandoned for a while in 1726. That it survived was thanks not only to the courage of master and boys, but to the help of the Duke and some of the local Protestant gentlemen who knew the seminary and saw that it was doing harm to no-one. But from its enemies' point of view it should be closed because it was breaking the Law. And strictly speaking, it was indeed breaking pretty well every point of the Law of 1700 (look again at page 3). But as we can see today, it was breaking a Law that was itself unjust and should never have been passed.

In 1728, the Duke of Gordon died, and after his death his children were raised in the Protestant faith. It was greatly feared that this would leave the Catholics in the Gordon lands without support, and put the seminary at risk, but in fact his successors remained helpful and sympathetic. Scalan thrived and grew, and in time the master was even able to replace the old turf house with a new one built of stone and lime.


For this and for so much else in Scalan's early years, the thanks must go to Bishop Gordon, who loved the little seminary which had been his brainchild, and supported it whenever he could. He knew how vital it was to the Church, so important that he decided to bequeath to it all his possessions in his will The seminary came into that inheritance when he died in 1746. His death came mercifully, for it meant that he did not live to hear of the defeat at Culloden of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebellion, which proved so disastrous to the Catholic Church in Scotland, and - like the rising of 1715 - disastrous too to his beloved Scalan.'


After Culloden Government troops were at once posted into all the Jacobite areas - and this of course included parts of the Duke of Gordon's estates - to put down any lingering pockets of resistance and harass the people there. Some priests were imprisoned; the rest went into hiding. Churches were destroyed, and the people took to holding their services in barns, or on the hillside with a flat rock for an altar. Rewards offered for information tempted neighbour to betray neighbour. In Glenlivet the priest's house by the Bochel was burned to the ground. The chapel was spared, only because it was too close to other houses to be burned, but everything in it was taken out and destroyed.

In May the soldiers came up to the Scalan. Mr William Duthie, the master, had been warned of their coming and had time to get most of the books and furniture away before they arrived. The boys also he dispersed to safety. Then he himself climbed the hill and watched helplessly as they put the building to the torch. It was easily done. Within minutes the roof caved in. Soon the whole place was 'reduced to be a habitation proper only for owles and wild beasts.'

Mr Duthie went into hiding. But he came back in the autumn to harvest the oats, and again in the spring to plant the new crop, ready for the day when they might open again. In the summer he managed to patch up the barns, and to build a new house on part of the old foundations. It was cramped and primitive and only made of wattle and turf, but at least it meant that the boys could return.

But life was far from back to normaL A party of soldiers were billeted only half a mile away, with orders to be on the look-out for priests. A warrant was issued for Mr Duthie's arrest. Somehow he managed to keep the school going, but he himself could not risk staying there. He found himself a different place to sleep every night, 'lying many times in a cold barn, at other times in a rainy, droppy hole, going to it in the silence of the night, and coming away before day,' as he wrote to the bishop. There was a real chance that the lease of the land would be lost. The very existence ofthe seminary remained on a knife edge until 1756, when the soldiers were withdrawn to fight in the conflict with the French that we now know as the Seven Years War.

Even then its troubles continued. Soon Mr Duthie was sent abroad and Scalan lost one of its best masters. And so short of manpower was the Scottish Mission after the disaster of the '45 that no priest could be spared to replace him. An elderly and unqualified man was sent in who could not cope with the level of teaching that was needed. He did his best, but he was not up to the job. Between this and the primitive living conditions, the number of students gradually fell away, until there were only three. Standards became lax. Morale was at rock bottom. It is said that two Kirk ministers who had been sent to investigate the seminary did not even trouble to dismount from their horses when they saw it, but rode off expressing surprise that so great a noise should have been made about a place that made so poor an appearance to them and seemed of so little consequence. In their report they called it 'a sort of a college', and.that is about the best that could be said of it.


It was at this low water mark in Scalan's fortunes that Mr John Geddes arrived to be the master. He saw at once the siZe of the task ahead of him, and he set about tackling it step:by step. Within a year he had six students; the year after he had eleven; in time he was able to bring some of them to a standard where they could be sent abroad again at last. He managed to get the lease renewed, and once that was secured he could think about building a better house. He decided to start afresh, and build something bigger and more permanent on the other side of the Crombie bum.

The foundations were laid in the summer of 1767, and the two storey, limestone structure began to rise. When finished it contained a classroom, dormitory, living room and master's room, as well as a chapel on the first floor that was also to serve the local people. In a separate wing were the kitchen and the housekeeper's quarters. Everything about the new house was the best that could be afforded. It must have been heaven after the old hovel. An early map of the Braes, drawn in the mid 1770s, shows the new 'Roman College' clearly on the east side of the bum (page 14). But by then John Geddes was long gone. He did not even get staying to see his new house finished, for the Bishop felt that Scalan was now ~m a sound footing again and that his work there was done.


 It was just three years after he left that Lachlan MacIntosh arrived as a student. He was already seventeen, so it was not long before he was sent on to one of the colleges abroad, but we can still count him as a Scalan boy. It was to Valladolid in Spain that he was sent, and while he was studying there the Duke of Wellington passed through the town and stayed overnight close by the College. He was looking for recruits for his campaign against the French, and offered an officer's commission to any of the students who would go with him. Lachlan was quick to step forward. But he was not many weeks in uniform before the fever struck him down and he was on the point of death. He vowed then that ifhe survived he would go back to the College, and that is what he did. He finished his studies and was ordained, and returned to the Mission. He was at once sent to be the priest of Glengairn, which is not so very far from Scalan. It was his first parish, and it was to be his only one - he stayed there for sixty-four years! Glengairn was one of the wildest parishes in Scotland and the outlying farms were away over the hills. Mr Lachlan had to reach them in all weathers, but he could be seen making the journey on his trusty Shetland pony until well into his nineties. He well earned his name of 'The Apostle of Glengairn'. He was one of that heroic breed of men who devoted their whole lives to serving a poor, remote, unheard-of people.




Scalan and the Braes of Glenlivet,from the 1774 Map ofGlenlivet by Thomas Milne, RHP 1776, West Register House, Scottish Record Office.



Because the new house at Scalan was so well built, and because it lay pretty well on the border between the Highland and Lowland districts, the bishops soon took to using it for their annual meetings together. Every summer for over twenty years they met there. The boys looked forward to their visits, because then they had less hours in class, and probably the food was better than usual; but against that they had to give up their dormitory and sleep in the classroom.

When the bishops arrived for their meeting in the summer of 1783 they found the master, Mr John Paterson, in his sickbed. He was only a young man. He had himself been a pupil of Mr Geddes, and was a worthy successor to him. He knew that he was dying, and he told the bishops that he had prayed that if he was to die it would be while they were there .. He was to have his wish. He died in his bedroom with the bishops at his bedside. But he was a tall man, and he needed a long coffin, and such a coffin would not fit through the low door, and into the narrow corridor and the steep staircase. So John Paterson was carefully lowered out of the little upstairs window to the ground, and from there six men bore his coffin on their shoulders, as was the custqm,. five miles to the cemetery down the glen.

If that bought home to the bishops the lack of space even at the new Scalan, and made them think about perh~ps extending it one day, something happened three years later that settled the matter. It was something that in the days of thatched roofs was ever a shadow lurking at the back of men's minds. A spark from the chimney landed among the thatch. By pure chance someone spotted it; perhaps also the thatch, still damp from the winter, was slow to catch. Even so, a few moments more and the house would have been lost. Master, boys and servants scrambled up to pull away the thatch, and managed to save the house itself. And now - since part of the roof would need to be replaced sooner or later - it was decided to take the opportunity to raise the whole thing and so create more space. Mr Geddes' building had not really been of two stories, but one-and-a-half, because the upstairs walls had only been a metre high with the sloping roof above them, so that each room was like the inside of a tent. The upstairs windows were at floor level just under the roof - the one that Mr Paterson had been lowered from can be seen in the picture on page 16. Now the walls were raised a further metre, giving the upstairs far more headroom. and level ceilings, and allowing space for an attic above it under the new roof (lower picture page 16). It would certainly be to this attic that the boys were banished at night whenever the bishops visited in future, and no doubt they made the most of their freedom up there.

One other improvement was made at the same time. A new wing was added on the south side, which became the kitchen, and the old kitchen in the north wing was turned into a chapel with plenty of space for everyone. The drawings on page 17 show the original and the improved layout of Scalan. There was to be no further building in the lifetime of the college, and the main house stands today very much as it must have looked two hundred years ago, except that its roof is now slated. But it is not so with the north and south wings - today they lie in ruins.



The Masters' bedroom, showing the window through which Mr John Paterson was lowered. The roof originally began just above the window.

The attic added when the roof was raised c. 1788. The photograph was taken from by the stair and shows the north half of the attic.


wpe21998.gif (318325 bytes)

Drawings of the 1767 building and the improvements of 1787-8, from Dean A. and M. Taitt 'Scalan Reconstructed: Architectural and Documentary Evidence', Innes Review, voL xlvi, no. 1, Spring 1995. Reproduced by kind permission of the Scottish Catholic Historical Association, Department of Scottish History, University of Glasgow.



From 1787 onwards the masters kept an Account Book for the seminary and farm, giving exact details of all income and expenditure. This book still exists and it gives us a fascinating glimpse into how the little community lived in those last years. Items are costed in the old £sd system (12d = 1/-; 20/- = £1), but decimal equivalents can be worked out using the conversion.

Id = 5/12p 1/- = 5p

An item at 5/-, for example, is equivalent to 25p; £2/2/6 is equivalent to £2.12112, etc.

We learn that the annual rent for the farm was £4/-/2112, and that the farm manager was paid £4/-/a year in wages. He kept a herd of eight cattle and a flock of a hundred sheep. His main crops were oats and kail.

All domestic arrangements were in the hands of the housekeeper. She was paid £2/2/- in wages, with free board. The staple diet was oats, served as porridge morning and evening, or made into oatcakes, brose or sowens. Two or three times a week she gave the boys meat - from the farm's flock, cured with salt - and occasionally fish, brought in from Aberdeen unless they managed to catch their own trout in the Crombie. Sometimes they ate eggs, which she bought at 1 d a dozen. Ale was the standard drink, for master and boys alike. The housekeeper kept a supply of tea in the press, but she must have used it sparingly, when visitors were to be entertained, perhaps, or on Sundays. It was still a luxury item in those days, for llb (less than 112 kg) of it cost 5/-, the same as her wages for six weeks!

Most of the oats and kail grown on the farm were sold for profit, as was most of the wool produced, keeping back only enough for the needs of the house. The housekeeper did her own weaving, making all the cloth for her curtains and blankets, and for the clothes of the pupils and adults. For the servants and farm workers, she wove blue serge; for the boys blue and black tartan. But the actual making of the clothes she left to others. When Scalan had first opened its doors in the early days of the century Highland families had always made their own clothes - the whole process, from the shearing of the wool to the finished article - and their own footwear, from the curing of the leather to the sewing of the shoe. But by now specialist tradesmen such as tailors and cobblers had become a common sight, and it was a cobbler who was paid to make the boys' shoes, and a tailor who was hired at 5d a day to make up the cloth into garments.

On winter days the house was warmed with peat fires, and one did not have to go far to dig the fuel. On winter nights the main school room was lit by means of a 'fir candle', which was not a candle at all but a splinter of fir wood maybe a metre long, fixed in a bracket on the floor, whose resin burned slowly with a cheerful glow and a welcoming smell. The smaller rooms would be lit with tallow candles or else crusie lamps fixed onto the wall, with strict rules as to their use, especially upstairs which was directly under the thatch.

I have chosen a few items from among the hundred-and-one mentioned in the Account Book, to make a typical shopping list such as might have been given to be brought back by someone going down to Aberdeen on business perhaps:



For the housekeeper,

6 horn spoons @ 2 V3 d 1/2

1 lanthorn

3 blocks of sugar @ 9d 1 Sugar grater

1 white-iron kettle

3 loads fir candles @ 1/4 4/1 pint whisky

1/2/3 6d 2/-


For the master,

3 pen knives @ 7d

4 ink glasses @ 1 d 100 quills @ 5 for Id

1/9 4d 1/8

For the farm (to be sent on),

1 cart

1 stone roller

400 plants ofkail @ 3d per 100

10/6 9/1/-


It was when Bishop Hay took over as master that the Account Book was started, and it was in the character of the man that he took such care of every penny. He was careful in everything he did. Tall, spare of build and pale of feature, his face seemed severe and daunting until suddenly softened by a kindly smile. He was as strict with himself as with the accounts. He never rose after five, nor retired before midnight, and his waking day was measured between teaching, prayer and study. He ate and drank frugally, and his only luxury was chewing tobacco. He was a strict master too, but caring. He would sit for hours at a boy's sickbed (for he had qualified in Medicine as a young man). And at recreation time he would relax, and the boys would pull up the bench and sit and listen to his wonderful tales, of the old days, of his time in prison, or of how he tended the wounded and dying at the battle of Preston pans in the '45.

From miles around the sick came to him. It cost them nothing, for he had made a vow that he would never take money for his medical knowledge. Indeed, the poor always went away with money in their pocket, and it is said that some came with feigned illness in order to return home with alms. Scholarly, saintly, strong, George Hay was an outstanding bishop. By choosing the Catholic faith and the priesthood as a young man he had knowingly given up the wealth, position and fame that society would have accorded a man of his gifts - for he was without doubt one of the great Scotsmen in an age of great Scotsmen.

It is a measure of how important he believed Scalan to be that he left Edinburgh to be its master at a time of need, and stayed for five years until he felt that it could safely be passed on to others. His guiding hand can be seen in the whole spirit of the place. He set the highest standards, because the students deserved the best, and only the best would do. His lessons were challenging. Under him the already fine library built up by previous masters was made even finer, with new books in many languages brought from abroad. He set up a prefect system and a rota of table service and domestic duties. There was a discipline and a purpose as never before. Under his care Scalan became fully what it had always aimed to be, a College - with all the virtues of the ancient schools and colleges; and this with only a dozen pupils, on a shoe-string, in a small plain house, remote among the dark heather moors.



But by now those moors were not just so remote as they had once been. There were roads out of Glenlivet for carts and carriages, and stone bridges over the Livet and Avon rivers where before there had been fords. In good weather the Scalan master could have the Edinburgh mail delivered to the door.

For the Catholics of Scotland the times were changing too. Bonnie Prince Charlie was dead, so those who had supported him were no longer seen as enemies of the State. In the wars against the French and the Americans thousands of Scottish Catholics had fought for the British Army, and proved themselves most loyal soldiers. And now when the French Revolution was threatening Britain, and some people in Britain itself were supporting it, the Catholic bishops spoke up loudly against it and in favour of the King and Government. And so the Scottish Catholics came to be regarded as among the most loyal of His Majesty's subjects. Some people still despised their religious beliefs, but now treated them as a harmless, peaceful minority.

These changes can best be seen in the building of churches. After the' 45 every single one had been lost, and for a while it was not safe to build anything new. The first new church was begun in 1755 and the times were still so dangerous that it was built to look like a sheepcote, with thatched roof and narrow slits for windows. The upper photograph on page 21 shows it as it is today: even after modernisation it does not look like a church. Yet by 1788 it was safe enough to build the church you can see in the lower photograph. It stands only five miles away from the earlier church, but it looks entirely different. It was the first Catholic church in Scotland since the Reformation to be built quite openly to look like a church. It tells us vividly of the change in public opinion that had taken place in thirty short years.

And yet, when it was built, going to Mass was still strictly speaking an offence punishable by hanging! The Law had become, not just cruel, but ridiculous, and it was only a matter of time before it must go. It was abolished at last in 1793, and for Catholics the Penal days were over.



No longer did they need to worship in secret, or apologise for their existence. And this, ironically, spelled the end for Scalan. It had been chosen because it was remote and small; now those very things told against it. There had been a huge rise in the standard of living since the day it was opened, and people now expected an easier, more 'civilised' way oflife. Scalan was just too small and out-of-the-way ... and too cold!

The boys were moved out in the summer of 1799. Bishop Hay had taken a lease on a place called Aquhorties, out of the Highlands in open, rolling country about twenty miles from Aberdeen. A grant from the Government - a Government whose troops had once burned down Scalan ~ had helped him to build a house upon it. It had four floors, with ample space for thirty pupils and three masters, separate rooms for visitors and a chapel two stories high, and it was set in six hundred acres ofland. As the boys entered the gate they saw before them a house as big as a small castle, tall and square and golden in the summer sun (picture on page 23). They took possession of their new home with joy - they must have thought that their journey out of the hills had brought them to the Promised Land.


The Chapel at Tynet, begun 1755, as is today.


The Church at Preshome, built in 1788.




At the very time that they were making that journey there were others, unknown to them, journeying also, seeking new homes. It was the fIrst trickle of poor Irish, leaving their old life for ever and making the voyage across the sea in the hope of a new life in Scotland. It was a trickle that would soon become a flood. These immigrants, with their own culture, made a huge impact on their adopted country, especially in the growing towns in the West which were their first port of call and where they settled in greatest numbers. Most of them were Catholics. In the l790s, just before they started arriving, there had been some 45,000 Catholics in Scotland. By 1830 that figure had at least doubled. Wherever the newcomers settled parishes were hurriedly set up to cater for them, often served by priests trained at Scalan. It can truly be said, in fact, that without Scalan there would have been no Church ready to welcome them; in which case the Catholic Church in Scotland today would be very different from the one we know.

Of course, more and more priests were needed to serve such numbers. And where would they be trained? Suddenly, even Aquhorties, which had seemed so grand only a generation before, was too small for the task. Reluctantly, it was decided that the seminary would have to move house again, and in 1829 the community removed to Blairs, close to the River Dee and just six miles from Aberdeen. This was to be their home for 157 years, a community growing, and striving to live according to its high ideals, and building its own strong traditions. As it grew, in time still more space was needed, and the fine new building was added which is shown on page 23. It seemed to symbolise the Church's gradual and hard-won recovery from the body blow of the Scottish Reformation. How far it had come, clawing its way painfully back from the dark days of its near extinction!


The College of Aquhorties, 1799, now a private house.



Blairs College: part of the new building with the chapel. The photograph only shows a small part of the whole college.


But you may have been wondering what became of Scalan after the boys left. Well, the bishops kept the lease of it for a few more years after 1799, and the master stayed on to serve the local community. But when they gave it up and he moved out the land was divided into farms and the buildings became farm tenants' houses. After that it remained as a 'religious' place only in the memory. Now and then old men, trained there long ago, would pay it a sentimental visit. In more recent times others who had read about it might make a detour on their holiday to see if they could find it.

One who did so just before World War 11 found the buildings in a bad state of neglect. When he afterwards wrote a book of his travels he mentioned the old seminary. 'It is a pity', he wrote, 'that Scalan cannot be purchased by the Scottish bishops and put to better use. For it is witness to the fidelity and loyalty of Scottish Catholics during the worst times of persecution.' It also served as a reminder (he added) that Catholicism is not a 'foreign' faith of incomers, but a part of Scotland's native tradition.

After the War his hint was taken up. A Scalan Association was formed with the aim of buying the old seminary and restoring it as a place of pilgrimage, recognising its importance as 'the most precious material monument we have' of the Church in Penal times. The building, and the ground around it, were bought for £50.

For a long time the Association remained small. But in the last ten years many more people have come to hear about Scalan and to join the annual pilgrimage that gathers there every July. The membership has grown steadily, and it has been possible to tackle the work of restoration that was always intended.

Already the exterior walls have been finished, and a start is being made on the inside. The members are not sure how this should be done - should they try to restore the classroom and dormitory and the other rooms to the way they would have been when in use, with period furniture and perhaps life-size models? That would certainly create a fascinating museum. Or should they leave them as they are now, and preserve that atmosphere of history and holiness surrounding the place which strikes the visitor so powerfully? Which would be more true to Scalan, and to those who made it what it was?

In any case there is much yet to be done, as much as there are hands to do it. Maybe some of those hands are attached to arms belonging to readers of this booklet – Scalan may be old, but it was built for the young, and restoring it should be just as much the business of young people as anyone else.

I hope that some of you, having heard its story, will make a point of paying it a visit, and having a good Highland holiday while you are at it. If you are Catholic it will perhaps hold a special, particular meaning for you. If you are not, its meaning may be a little different, but just as interesting. Scalan is not just a part of Catholic heritage, nor even only a part of Christian heritage; it is a small part of our national heritage. The struggles, ideals and courage of those men and boys long ago can appeal to all of us today. Today people from several religious traditions are working as a team to restore it, and that is as it should be. If we have the right spirit the story of Scalan should not divide us, but bring us closer together. It has a message for all of us.


Up until the 1980s Blairs was still the place where Scottish boys received their early seminary education, and from it some were still being sent to the Scots Colleges in Europe to complete their training. But by now there were also senior seminaries in Scotland itself, which offered an alternative to going abroad. One had been opened in Glasgow, and one In Edinburgh.

It is only when we are grown up that we can really understand what is involved in being a priest. And because of this many people were now beginning to think that a boys' seminary like Blairs - in which they spent their lives from an early age, away from family, friends and the rest of society - might not be the best preparation for becoming a priest in today s world. Better to live at home, and go to the local school like everyone else - and then start training when you were old enough to make an 'adult' decision. And so it was decided that, although Blairs had done its job wonderfully well, it was now time for something different. And so the college closed in 1986 and the older boys moved to the senior seminaries in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In 1993, those two establishments were combined to form one national seminary, Scotus College. And that is the last stage of our journey. For Scotus is the direct descendant and heir of the first turf house at Scalan. Step by step the one has led to the other. Between the two, in one 'home' after another, generations of boys and young men have tried out their vocation,. hundreds have trained for the priesthood, preparingfor a life of dedication to God, their Church and their fellow men.




All these words come into the story, and it would be important to know their meanings. Some you will know already, others you can easily look up. But those marked with a * you will probably need to discuss in class with your teacher.




kail sheepcote




couple daub harl

ridge pole roof tree wattle





heather priest


ordain! ordination








crusie lamp


fir candle



Highland Line





farm town

French Revolution*

heritage *


Penal times*







standard of living



The story of Scalan raises a number of 'key questions' suitable for classroom learning. Some concern broad issues, such as 'Justice' or 'Heritage', which could be explored as general concepts (eg., re Justice, 'Is the Law always fair?'), but also offer opportunity for a more particular approach (eg., re Heritage, the individual child's background and family tree). Others, such as 'Farming' or 'House building', concern ways of living and might best be approached by comparing the eighteenth century situation with that of today. The list below ranges from the general to the particular and has been set out in an order that points up the inter-relatedness of many of the questions. It includes also a few specific suggestions for classroom, school or out-of-school activities, but these are offered by way of illustration only and make no pretence of being definitive or exhaustive, since the classroom teacher will be far better qualified than I to judge what is appropriate.


Is the Law always fair?

Compare the 1700 Penal Law with the UN Declaration of Human Rights; How many points of the 1700 Law did Scalan break?

Freedom of Conscience

Minorities and Minority Rights Are there limits?

Minorities in Scotland today

A human bar chart (using pupils) to show proportions within the population Drama - burning of Scalan in 1746;

- Mr Duthie in hiding


The general concept of a vocation

The vocation of a priest/minister

What is the most suitable training?

What are the qualities/sacrifices necessary?

Interview a priest/minister; Interview a seminarian;

Visit a seminary (eg., Scotus College)

Apostleship - Apostles in every age



What would be the best way to restore Scalan?

Map with detailed plans from I790s;

Use the photographs/take photographs to show the details of building


The concept of pilgrimage

Find out famous pilgrimage centres of Europe/the World; Take part in a pilgrimage to Scalan (or Carfin, etc.);

Talk by pupil/parent/visitor, who has been on pilgrimage to LourdeslFatimalMecca, etc.

The Church as a 'pilgrim people'

Personal Heritage Roots

Pupils' family trees, etc.




Do any members of the class have a Gaelic family background? The extent of Gaelic in 18th century and today;

What has caused its decline; what can save it?

Maps, pie charts;

Interview parent/local person/invited visitor from (eg.) GaelicTV; Gaelic and the school curriculum

Schools and Education

The Boarding School

Advantages and disadvantages; Drama - Scalan meal time

What makes a good school?

Classroom discussion -pupils, teacher, head teacher, School Board member, etc.

The Curriculum

18th century and today;

Drama - Scalan classroom

Life in the Eighteenth Century


The cost of living; 'Old money'

Make up shopping lists, calculate in £ s d.

House Building

Development in the building of houses; Make a wattle and turf house model;

Make a model dry stone 'black' house and stone/lime 'white' house (pottery)


Farm towns and runrig

Roads and Travel

18th century roads, including Wade roads; The post


Play/record/learn some Jacobite songs

Great Scots

18th century - age of Great Scots

Clan System

Distributions of clans; Clan map; Pupils' clans.



Here are a few suggestions for those wishing to further their interest in Scalan:

Become a member of the Scalan Association (individual or school; £5 annual subscription, to the Treasurer).

Have Sea/an News in your class library (published twice yearly free to members; issue no.lO out June 1995, back numbers available from the Editor).

Pupils' articles, letters, poems to Sea/an News.

Pay a day visit to Scalan.

Take part in the annual Pilgrimage, first Sunday of July.

Make a residential ,visit, perhaps using the St. Michael's Centre in nearby Tornintoul, which is ideal for young people. Such a visit could take in other places of local interest - The Lecht, Whisky Trail, Caimgorms, etc.

Enquire as to the possibility of young people actually helping with restoration work - the approach road, garden, and dykes; even possibly the building itself, under suitable guidance. The President of the Association would advise.

The teacher wishing to extend his/her knowledge, and so help young people to do the same, will find a bibliography for further reading overleaf, followed by a list of useful addresses.



Although a number of excellent articles, etc., have been written about Scalan there is as yet no detailed popular account. The following is a list of more easily accessible works. It does not include manuscript or other primary sources, of which there are many, mainly held in the libraries and archives whose addresses appear overleaf.

Anderson W. J., 'The College of the Lowland District at Scalan and Aquhorties: Registers and Documents' , Innes Review, vol. XIV, no. 2, Autumn 1963. Vital article; includes Bishop Gordon's Rules (1722), Bishop Geddes' 'Brief Historical Account' (1777), Registers of student enrolments, etc.

Blundell 0., The Catholic Highlands of Scotland, vol. 1 (Edinburgh 1909), vo!.2 (1917). Vo!. 1 covers the E. Highlands, including Glenlivet and Scalan.

Dean A. and M. Taitt, 'Scalan Reconstructed: Architectural and Documentary Evidence', Innes Review, vo!. XVII, no. 1, Spring 1995.

'Glenlivatensis' (A.S. MacWilliam), 'Scalan 1717-1799', Claves Regni (St. Peter's College Magazine), vo!. XVII, no. 67, Dec. 1946 and no. 68, June 1947.

Gordon 1. F. S., Journal and Appendix to Scotichronicon and Monasticon, (Glasgow 1867), in which the long biography of Bishop Hay includes numerous references to Scalan. Very fine biography, based mainly on Hay's correspondence. Unfortunately there is no index.

Johnson C., Developments in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland 1789-1829, (Edinburgh 1983). Very useful, divided conveniently into thematic chapters, including one on Scalan.

MacWilliam A. S., The Scottish Seminaries - Loch Morar to Aquhorties 1714-1829, typed copy in Scottish Catholic Archives. Indispensible. Includes an extended account of Scalan.


Scalan News. Twice yearly to members of the Scalan Association; ten issues to date (Summer 1995), back numbers available; articles on Scalan itself, Braes of Glenlivet, etc.; news of restoration, readers' letters, etc.



National Library of Scotland George N Bridge Edinburgh, EH 1 1 EW

0131 2264531

Open M, T, Tb, F 09:30-20:30; W 10:00-20:30; Sat 09:30-13:00

National Library of Scotland Map Library Causewayside Building

33 Salisbury Place

Edinburgh, EH9 1 SL


Open M, T, Tb, F 09:30-17:00; W 10:00-17:00; Sat 09:30-13:00

Scottish Catholic Archives Columba House

16 Drummond Place Edinburgh, EH3 6PL 01315563661

Open M-F 09:30-13:00, 14:00-16:30, by prior arrangement

Scottish Record Office

HM General Register House Princes Street

Edinburgh, EHl 3YY

0131 5566585

Open M-F 09:00-16:45

Note: Some items held in West Register House, Charlotte Square; some holdings must be requested in advance

St. Michael's Centre Rev. Fr. Colin Stewart

St. Michael's Catholic Church Main Street


Banffshire, AB3 9EX 01807580226


Scalan Association


Rt. Rev. Mgr. J. Copland

St. Tbomas's Catholic Church Chapel Street


Banffshire, AB55 3AL 01542 882352

Editor of Sea/an News

Mr Alasdair Roberts

Northern College, Aberdeen Campus Hilton Place

Aberdeen, AB9 IFA


Treasurer (for membership)

Mrs Jane McEwan Ogilvie Cottage Gallowhill Glenlivet

Banffshire, AB37 9DL 01807 590340



If you wish any further information, do not hesitate to contact me if! can be of help:

@John Watts

37 Blackburn Road Addiewell

West Lothian, EH55 8NF 01501 762636