Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Turra Coo

The Turra Coo with her 'makers'

My mother's family came from the north east of Scotland and more than a few from the Turriff area. Turriff is about half an hour's drive south of Banff in the Moray coast.

When I was a child I often spent my summer holidays in Aberdeenshire, being thrust onto the bus at Dundee but knowing I would be met by someone standing at the roadside south of Aberdeen. Usually it was my grandmother's sister who would walk the 2 miles from her coastal croft and she would be standing there, resplendent in clean pinny and her second best shoes.

Two of her seven sons has settled in Turriff and made the effort to visit their parents regularly and the Turra Coo was a story often told to a bairn such as myself. They delighted in spreading the word about how a small market town defeated the government.

Here's the story:

In 1913, the Turra Coo hit the headlines when it was transformed into a symbol of defiance by local farmers in their furious opposition to the new National Insurance Act championed by David Lloyd George, the then chancellor and future prime minister.

The act made health insurance payments compulsory for workers between 16 and 70. But local farmers complained the level of contribution for their farmhands was too high as they were rarely sick.

Robert Paterson was one of the local farmers who refused to pay the new contributions. And the shorthorn was seized by sheriff's officers to pay his debt to the government.

The auctioneer's attempt to sell the cow sparked a riot as an angry mob, 100 strong, pelted the sheriff's officers with eggs, soot, turnips and cabbages.

The animal was later quietly sold in Aberdeen and bought by local farmers who returned it to Mr Paterson. But the furore also led to the formation of the Scottish Farm Servants' Union to campaign for better pay and conditions in the agricultural industry.

Now the small town has commissioned a life-sized bronze of the wee white coo for the princely sum of £84,000. Well done Turriff. I'll be sure to pay homage to the Coo before the year's out.


JRB said...

Morning Subrosa

Well done for broadcasting the story of the Turra Coo to a wider audience.

The memory of Turrif’s famous white cow lives on up here, as does the same spirit in the farming community.

An interesting addition to the story, as I understand it …

The sheriff’s officer was originally sent to the farm to remove property to the value of the fine; ie tables, chairs etc. But the local population who were there refused to assist the officer in removing any of the farmers furniture.

Having initially failed, the officer was sent back for a second time, to impound any 'moveable' object – hence the coo.

Joe Public said...

In these constrained times, if our local authority considered wasting £84k on a statue, there would be a rebellion.

subrosa said...

Afternoon John. Aye it's a good story and thanks for expanding it. The farming community here are of a similar character - of course they all work together.

subrosa said...

I don't think it's wasted Joe and I don't think the council tax payer is funding all of it.

Obviously the good people of Turriff don't see it as a waste but a reminder of a past community which they wish to keep.

Edward Spalton said...

Reminds me opf the Tithe War in Norfolk and Suffolk in the Twenties. Although the custom of tithing (taking ten per cent of the farm's output or cash equivalent) for the Church of England had lapsed in most parts of the country, it continued in East Anglia. When the wartime Corn Production Act was repealed in 1921, farm incomes fell but the assessments for tithe remained unaltered.

As quite a few of the farmers were non-conformists anyway, they started to refuse. Bailiffs were sent in to seize stock and equipment. At the local sales only derisory bids were made by neighbours who then lent the stock back to the original owners. A carthorse was sold for 6d.

The authorities soon brought in outside firms who would take the seized stock and sell it in areas far away. This provoked real resistance. On one of my journeys I saw what looked like rather a rough war memorial in the hedge opposite a local church. It "commerated"(sic) the seizure for tithe of cattle and household goods from a local farm, including the baby's cradle.

The leader of the resistance was a patriarch called Arthur Mobbs. I did once have the chance of meeting him but much regret passing up the opportunity to go and have a few beers with some other young farm sales reps and talk about the camshafts of our Cortinas.

I forget now how the Tithe War was settled but, if you start a Suffolk or Norfolk farmer on the subject, he will usually tell you at length. Perhaps the present generation has forgotten but I doubt it. Memories are long in the countryside.

subrosa said...

What an intriquing story Edward. It shows the farming community are fiercely loyal to each other doesn't it, regardless where they're situated.

Memories are indeed long in the countryside. Possibly to do with less 'social mobility' than other vocations. Mind you, so many lost their jobs here around 40 years ago when machinery took over much of the work.

Dramfineday said...

Have I got the wrong end of this story here?

A bunch of farmers trying not to pay money out? Nothing new there, I agree but this was to provide health benefits for their workers? So why are we celebrating a revolt against an enlightened tax? The fact that farm workers then had to form a union and fight for "rights" and the government had to operate various boards to ensure the workers received a living wage was a good thing?

So who is the coo representing here, tight wads and their "victory" over the workers?

subrosa said...

As far as I understand it Dram, the farmers objected because they thought country folk didn't succumb to illness in the same way at townies.

It did them a favour though. The NSU us a strong, professional and organised union these days.

Dramfineday said...

It's an awfie thing getting the wrong end of a coo SR

subrosa said...

Tell me aboot it Dram. Suffice to say in a Somerset field back in the 60s I learned that lesson.

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