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Memories of staying up for the bells at Hogmanay in 1950s Glasgow


Remembering the fun of staying up for the bells to welcome in a new year in Fifties Scotland.

It was the last day of 1957 in Glasgow and I remember the whole house being filled with the smell of clootie dumpling and lavender polish, writes Ann Craig.

I had been sent down by my mum into the street three times to see if the curtains were sitting nice and if the Christmas tree was at the best angle to show the lights and the new wee fairy on top. My dad would be in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the biggest pot of soup humanly possible to make on a stove, and cutting up his freshly-made shortbread and black bun.

The house would be gleaming, but still my mum would be rubbing imagined smears off the piano lid. It was her pride and joy, a German overstrung which she polished more often than she played, but she played well by ear and might entertain us tonight if she drunk enough sherries.

New Year food and drink

The sideboard looked lovely, shining and dressed in its best red plush runner. Sitting on a big red plate, in pride of place, would be my dad’s perfect clootie dumpling, filling the room with its rich, spicy, mouth-watering smell. Beside it was a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry and a full bottle of Bells whisky, surrounded by our best glasses.

Next to them would be my daddy’s ginger cordial and blackcurrant wine and a plate groaning with sandwiches of potted heid, pressed tongue and ham.

I would have cleaned the stair head windows earlier and washed down the stairs, the whole close would smell of bleach and each door handle would be polished till it shone. My mum had me do upstairs as well because the wee woman up there was not well and her neighbour never washed the stairs at any time. In those days it was bad luck to bring in the new year with last year’s dirt so I did their stairs and windows, polished the walls and silently polished their doorknobs as well.

My mum used to twirl and show me her new outfit. She looked lovely with her red hair freshly-washed and her curls bouncing around her shoulders. My dad would have put on a clean shirt and would sit there quietly approving. I’d be all ready, wearing my new Christmas frock, my hair tied back by a blue ribbon.

Listening for the bells

Mum would tell me to open the window to listen for the sound of the bells. At the same time she told my dad to roar up the fire, so it felt like a military operation. Then we’d wait in silence, as did the whole world. And then from the church at the top of the road we’d hear them; the Bells, their rich sound counting out the old year and welcoming in the new one. 

As they fell silent, my world erupted into family hugs and toasts, doors being opened and friends pouring in, glasses being filled and clootie dumplings being shared, with the wee ones excited at finding silver sixpences hidden.

I was eight years old and still remember, as though it were yesterday, staying up to see in my first Glasgow Hogmanay.

QUICK LINK: Hogmanay with the loony dookers!

Robert the Bruce guide

Image: By John Masey Wright (1777–1866, artist)John Rogers (c. 1808-c. 1888, engraver)Adam Cuerden (1979–, restorationist) - The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing the Poems, Songs, and Correspondence. Illustrated By W.H. Bartlett, T. Allom, and Other Artists. With a New Life of the Poet, and Notices, Critical and Biographical by Allan Cunningham, London: George Virtue. See above for notes., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26749729

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