Duncan Harley reviews ‘Scalan – Leaves from the Master’s Day Book’ by John Watts.
Commissioned by the trustees of the Scalan Association to mark the 300th anniversary of the secret seminary at Glenlivet, Leaves from the Master’s Day Book, is a fictional account of the day to day activities at the seminary during the post-reformation years 1741-1756.
John Watts is no stranger to the Scalan story having previously published the thoroughly researched Scalan – The Forbidden College, 1716-1799, a detailed chronological account of the history of the clandestine community from inception right through to eventual closure following the repeal of the Penal Laws.
In this new book, Dr Watts has used his extensive knowledge of both the history of the times and the specific history of Scalan to create a daily diary, or day book, recording both the mundane aspects of daily life at the seminary and the wider political events which impacted on religious life in those troubled times.
Written in a style typical of the mid-eighteenth century the text consists of entries from a fictional diary kept by the college’s tenth master Mr William Duthie detailing events from fifteen of his seventeen years at the college. There is of course no surviving diary however William Duthie was indeed a master at the college and his tenure included a period of reconstruction following the destruction of Scalan by government troops on 17th May 1746.
“Yester afternoon our greatest fear was confirm’d. A troop of 8 Red soldgers marched up to Scal. at about 2 ½ of the clock. Of course they found it empty, w’ nought within, and nought w’out but the peat stack. I imagine they were much chagrin’d to find the birds flown, for now they took out their spite upon the house itself … W’in 2 hours they were away back whence they had come, leaving us only black walls and ashes.”
Scripture study, the arrival of visiting Bishops and the wider context of the politics of the time are all detailed in the diary alongside mentions of whisky smugglers, cattle thieves and events surrounding the 1745 rebellion.
From the outset, Dr Watts states his intention that Leaves from the Master’s Day Book should allow the reader an open door to Scalan and few would disagree that he has indeed achieved his aim.
Available from The Scalan Association and Blairs Museum, Aberdeen (95pp) at £3 plus postage.
Words © Duncan Harley. First published in the March issue of Leopard magazine.
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