Like most towns, local life is enlightened by the worthies in the community. And a real worthy cannot be manufactured, they are born to their eccentricities and develop as they grow.
And Bo’ness has been fortunate in having its fair share of worthies, amusing us with their individual antics which places them in a class of their own.
On looking around, you can’t find characters who aspire to the name of worthies today. And yet in saying that, it isn’t until someone has died that they possibly qualify for the honoured description.
On looking back over the years, I can personally remember worthies still talked about. Others are before my time and my grateful thanks is extended to Mr Charles Martin who has assisted me with stories concerning worthies who peppered our history down through the years.
Wonderfu’ Jake who it is claimed ” Fell Up the Pit,” Bungie King who won the Military Medal in the First World War, Johnnie Widen, railway porter extraordinary. Tammie Heugh who installed himself in the re-cycling of jam jars long before anyone thought of “Glass Banks” and the like.
John Jeffrey’s the Town Councillor who had the vision and foresight to suggest damming the River Forth are all worthy of mention.
I remember ” Bungie King ” very well as I worked beside him for a number of years. ” Bungie ” was a quiet man who never dominated talk, but when he said something, it was invariably witty.
The story goes that a re-union dinner was held in Bo’ness of the men who survived the First World War with the Bo’ness Company. Major Foot was the man in charge.
True or False, he told a story on that occasion on how it was that ” Bungie ” came to win the Military Medal.
Apparently, the Company were pinned down in the trenches by a German machine gun. Major Foot crawled up the line asking for volunteers to go over the top and silence the gun post.
By the way of an inducement, he held up a silver flask of whisky saying that the man to go over would savour its contents. As he said this, mortar shells began to explode all around which resulted in the silver flask being blown out of the good Major’s hand and over the trench into ” No Man’s Land.”
Quick as a flash, ” Bungie ” followed the flask blazing away at the enemy at the same time. He recouped the flask and nothing more was heard of the machine gun. Bravery or the love of a wee dram, ” Bungie ” was duly awarded the M.M.
To get him to talk about this when I knew him was an impossible task. All I got when I asked if it was true was a quiet smile owning up to nothing and denying nothing.
Tammy Heugh wasn’t really a Bo’ness Worthie, he lived in fact in Linlithgow, but conducted his business in Bo’ness giving away home-made ” Burlers ” and ” Parasols.” He had a high old-fashioned pram with a bag slung underneath where he put the jam jars.
The pram was festooned with his goods of exchange. Also in the pram was a roll of wallpaper and sticks with which he made his ” Burlers and Parasols ” when required.
He threw his leg, being born with a slight deformity. Summer or Winter he dressed in a long well-worn coat which seemed to match his ” Clapped in jaws,” drooping moustache and topped by a bunnet of indeterminal age. He walked the flints Brae more often than the Linlithgow Bus Service.
I thought as a child that the name Heugh was a by-name and it wasn’t until many years later that I met his brother to discover that Heugh was in fact his real name.
“Gubbie Anderson” was yet another local “Worthie.” Fond of the demon drink, he was more often found intoxicated than otherwise. That was until he got the message and joined the Salvation Army.
On enrolment, he asked to play a cornet, failing in that, he was given a try at other instruments, but was found bereft of talent. It was eventually agreed that playing the big drum was his forte.
But his career as a drummer was short lived. During a Saturday evening service at the foot of the Wynd, his exuberance carried him away and striking the drum with more strength than was necessary, he burst the drum skin. His excuse was ” I fair enjoy that hymn.”
“Gordie The Berry” I suppose was a “Worthie” of which more stories are told locally than of any other “Worthie” in the exclusive club. He waited at the harbour for the family “Gardiners” fishing smack returning with its catch. What the family didn’t sell, they gave to “Gordie.”
He would then circle the town shouting ” The bigger the bowl the bigger the bargain.” The proceeds would inevitably find their way into the tills at the local pubs.
He lived in a wash-house in those days at the foot of the School Yard Brae. Next door to him lived two ladies, small in stature “Agg and Mag.”
The ladies would visit the nearby pub with a tin “pitcher” clutched under their black aprons which was filled to the brim. They would pass the evenings sitting sipping their beer and passing comment on the people walking past.
While this was going on, “Gordie” would be in an inebriate state and proceeded to sharpen a large knife whispering to himself “She’s fur it the nicht.”
Who he referred to, no one really knows, but suffice it is to know that the local Police would offer him a night’s board insuring against the possibility that he would not put into practice what he promised to do. Whither “Agg” or “Mag” featured in his gory plans is left to conjecture.
Jimmy Fleming was a well-known “Scaffy.” now known as street attendant. On a Town Council outing to Ayr, Jimmy turned unwell. His normal duties was clearing out the street “Middens,” a job which carried with it an aroma which was not welcomed in other circumstances.
As was previously said, Jimmy turned unwell during the outing. All manner of things were tried to revive him all to no avail. That was until a workmate thought matters out. They carried Jimmy outside and laid him down near to a “Gundie” – a drain, his recovery was immediate, his problem was that the daily dose of smell associated with his job had been missing.
Of more recent years, Sammy McLean elevated himself into the club more by accident than design. Sammy was a well-known band leader possessing a talent of exceptional standards. He could play almost every instrument known and before the war and during it, his band was popular all round the area.
He toured the States known as “Scottie McLean” and indeed was invited to perform at the White House for President Eisenhower.
A story related by himself took place in Dodge City. He was in that location taking part in an annual parade. “Scotty” did his stuff and then changed clothes to have a look at the city.
While looking in a shop window, a Police Car drew up with wailing siren, the officers instructed “Scotty” to lean against the wall. He was handcuffed and driven at speed to the police headquarters where he was about to be charged with murder.
He was hustled into the interrogation room where the Chief of Detectives started to question him. It was very quickly established that “Scotty” was not the man they were after.
He was then invited by the Chief to spend the rest of his stay with him and his family. And so it goes on through the history of Bo’ness. The stories about John Jeffries, Wonderfu’ Jake and Johnnie Widen must wait for another day, space does not allow mention of other characters whose individuality marks them down as something special.
Hopefully, in the future editions, we will get round to educating the newcomers to Bo’ness about the people who added colour and perhaps their eccentricities to local life in the past.