County Folk Lore is a collection of stories written by Ewart Simpkins John in 1914, and is released for free on The book explores the different uses of the social sciences, and we have selected the specific chapters that highlights life, old sayings and superstitions from around the Fife area and specifically in Lochgelly.

  • Better haud weel than mak’ weel.
  • Better wear shoon than sheets.
  • Feed a cold and starve a fever.
  • If ye want to be sune weel, be lang sick : i.e. keep your bed till you are better.
  • ” He’s meat-heal ony way,” is said of an invalid whose illness is not believed in.
  • Nervous people are said to be ” feared o’ the death they’ll never dee.”
  • ” He’ll no kill,” and ” He has a gey teuch sinon (sinew) in his neck,” aro said of hardy persons.
  • ” Let the sau sink to the sair,” was said jestingly as a reason for drinking whisky instead of rubbing it in as an outward application.

Hygiene and General Treatment. The tune of day or year is held to exercise an influence on birth, death, or disease. If a woman in labour passes ” the turn o’ the nicht,” it is said, ” She’ll maybe gang the roond o’ the knock (clock) noo.” So too with a moribund person.

Skin eruptions are often explained as ” just the time o’ year.” Boils, pimples, rashes, etc., are held often to come out in the spring. Spring Medicine. In springtime there is a necessity ” to clear the system ; ” which is best done by a purge and a vomit. A well at Balgreggie, Auchterderran (mentioned in Sibbald’s Fife), was once resorted to for this. This well has now fallen in, and is simply a marshy spot.

  • Sulphur and cream of tartar is a favourite spring drink.
  • Water. On coming to another place, the ” cheenge o’ water ” is held to cause boils, pimples, and other skin eruptions.
  • Living too near water causes decay in the teeth.
  • It is dangerous to give cold water as a drink in fevers and feverish conditions, or in the puerperium.
  • It is held that ” measles should not be wet,” and this is often a valid excuse for keeping the patient lamentably dirty.
  • Too much washing is weakening. The old-fashioned Fife miner objects, on this account, to wet his knees and back.
  • A pail of water should not be left standing exposed to the sun, as the sun ” withers ” it.

Air. The smell of a stable or byre is wholesome for children and invalids. Change of air is advantageous in whooping-cough. (The length of time the change lasts is of no moment.) On one occasion a miner took his child down the pit into the draught of an air-course for change of air. It died of pneumonia two days later. In some cases men have been known to take more bread with them for their ” pit-piece ” than they needed, and the surplus bread, which had received the change of air, was given to the patient.

Earth. Breathing the smell of freshly-dug earth was held to be good for whooping-cough, and also for those who had been poisoned with bad air. A hole was dug in the ground and the patient ” breathed the air off it.” A ” divot ” of turf was sometimes in the old days cut and placed on the pillow.

Blue flannel is held to be ” a rale healin’ thing ” when applied to bruises, sore backs, etc. The working shirt of the Fifeshire miner is always of blue flannel.

Ointment. Butter wrapped in linen and buried in the ground until it becomes curdy is held to be a fine natural ” sau ” (salve) for any broken surface.

Diseases and Remedies.

For Bleeding at the Nose. A doorkey put down the back, or a cold cloth or sponge applied suddenly to the perinaeum.

Burns. Holding the burnt part near the fire ” draws oot the he it ” from the burn.

” The drinking diabetes.” In 1904 a child suffering from “diabetes ” was directed by a ” tinkler wife ” to eat a ” saut herrin’.” After it had done this, the child’s arms were tied behind its back and it was held over running water. A ” beast ” (which had been the cause of the trouble), rendered very thirsty by the meal of salt herring and hearing the sound of water, came up the child’s throat, and the child recovered.

” Fire ” (any foreign body, metallic), in the eye, is removed (short of working at it with a penknife) by the operator (i) licking the eye with his tongue : (2) drawing the sleeve of his flannel shirt across the eyeball : or (3) by passing a looped horsehair below the lid.

Headache. A handkerchief (preferably a red handkerchief) tied tightly round the head is good for headache.

Hydrophobia was treated in the old days by smothering the patient between two feather beds. A house in Auchterderran was pointed out where this is said to have been done.

Inflamed eyes are cured by wearing earrings : by application of fasting spittle ; by the application of mother’s milk ; and by cow’s milk and water used as a lotion.

Piles, treated by (1) sitting over a pail containing smouldering burnt leather ; (2) the application of used axle-grease.

Rheumatism (” Pains “) is treated by (1) switching the affected parts with freshly-gathered nettles ; (2) carrying a potato in the pocket ; (3) supping turpentine and sugar, or (4) sulphur and treacle ; (5) wearing flowers of sulphur in the stockings, or rubbed into blue flannel ; (6) by inunction of bullock’s marrow twice boiled ; (7) rubbing in ” oil o’ saut ” or ” fore-shot.”

Ringworm is treated with (1) ink ; (2) gunpowder and salt butter ; (3) sulphur and butter ; (4) rubbing with a gold ring.

Toothache is caused by a worm in the tooth, and is cured in women by smoking (Auchterderran). It may also be cured by snuffing salt up the nose (a fisher cure, St. Andrews), or by keeping a mouthful of paraffin oil in the mouth (Auchterdcrran). A contemptuous cure advised to a voluble sufferer is, ” Fill your mouth wi’ watter and sit on the fire till it boils.”

Warts. Cures : (i) rubbing with a slug and impaling the slug on a thorn. As the slug decays the warts go ; (2) rubbing with a piece of stolen meat, as the meat decays the warts go ; (3) tying as many knots on a piece of string as there are warts, and burying the string, as the string decays the warts go ; (4) take a piece of straw and cut it into as many pieces as there are warts, cither bury them or strew them to the winds ; (5) dip the warts into the water-tub where the smith cools the red-hot horse-shoes in the smithy ; (0) dip the warts in pig’s blood when the pig is killed. Blood trom a wart is held to cause more.

Whooping-cough. Besides the cures for this mentioned above, there arc the f ollowmg. (T) Passing the child under the belly of a donkey. (2) Carrying the child until you meet a rider on a white (or a piebald) horse, and asking his advice : what he advised had to be done (3) Taking the child to a lime-kiln. (4) Taking the child to a gas-works. During an outbreak of whooping-cough in 1891, the children of the man in charge of, and living at, a gas works did not take the complaint. As a matter of fact, the air in and near a gas-works contains pyridin, which acts as an antiseptic and a germicide. (5) Treating the child with roasted mouse-dust. (6) Getting bread and milk from a woman whose married surname was the same as her maiden one. (7) Giving the patient a sudden start.

Worms. Medicine for worms had to be given at the ” heicht o’ the moon.” The worms are held to ” come oot ” then. Another method was to make the sufferer chew bread, then spit it out and drink some whisky. The theory is that the worms smell the bread, open their mouths, and are then subsequently choked by the whisky ! (Cf. Diabetes, above.)

Animal Cures.

Cat. A black cat’s tail rubbed on a stye in the eye cures the trouble.

Cattle. f I have seen cow-dung used as a poultice for eczema of the scalp, for ” foul-shave,” and for suppuration (abscess in axilla). The general belief among ” skeely wives ” is that a cow dung poultice is the ” strongest-drawin’ poultice ” one can get.

Cow’s milk mixed with water is used as an eye-lotion.

The marrow of bullock’s bones, twice boiled, is used as an inunction in rheumatism.

One often hears of an ox having been killed and split up ” in the auld days’ and a person who was ” rotten ” (syphilitic) put inside it, to get ” the tribble drawn oot.” Told of ” the wicked laird of B.” A horse is also said to have been used.

Dog. On the advice of a ” tinkler wife,” a litter of black puppies was killed, split up, and applied warm to a septic wound on the arm. (Auchterderran.)

Donkey. Children are passed under the belly of a donkey to cure whooping-cough. Riding on a donkey is supposed to be a prophylactic measure.

Eel-skin is used as an application in sprains. It is often kept for years and lent out by the owner as required. It is kept carefully rolled up when not in use.

Hare. A hare-skin is worn on the chest for asthma. The left fore-foot of a hare is carried in the pocket as a cure for rheumatism.

Horse. The membranes of a foal at birth (” foal-sheet “) are kept, dried, and used as a substitute for gutta-percha tissue in dressing wounds.

The advice of the rider on a white or piebald horse is good for whooping-cough.

Limpet shells are used as a protective covering for ” chackit ” (cracked) nipples.

Man. Saliva is rubbed on infants’ noses to cure colds.

The smell of sweat is held to cure cramp : the fingers are drawn through between the toes to contract the smell.

Urine is used as an application for ” rose ” (erysipelas).

Rubbing a birthmark with the dead hand of a blood-relation will remove it.

Mouse. The “bree ” in which a mouse has been boiled is used as a cure for bed-wetting in children. Or the mouse may be roasted, after cutting off its head, and then powdered down and given as a powder, both for bed-wetting and for whooping cough.

Pediculi capitio are supposed to be “a sign of life/’ i.e. they only appear on the head of a healthy child. By a curious piece of confused reasoning I have known them to be deliberately placed on the head of a weakly child with the idea that the invalid would thereby gain strength.

Pig. A piece of ham-fat tied round the neck is good for a cold, bronchitis, or sore throat.

” Swine’s seam ” (pig-fat) is an universal application for rubbing to soften inflamed glands ; to rub the glands of the throat ” up ” when they are ” down ” (i.e. when the tonsils are enlarged and easily felt externally) ; for sprains ; for heumatism, lumbago, sciatica, etc.

Pig’s blood is a cure for warts. When the pig’s throat is cut, the warty hand is applied to the gush of blood.

Pig’s gall is a cure for chilblains.

Skate. ” Skate-bree ” (the liquor in which skate has been boiled) is held to be an aphrodisiac. ” Awa’ an’ sup skate-bree ! ” said tauntingly to a childless woman.

Slugs. The oil of white slugs is used as a cure for consumption. They are placed in a jelly-bag with salt, and the oil dripping out is collected.

The oil of black slugs is used as an external application for rheumatism. The slugs are ” masked ” in a teapot with hot water and salt.

Spider. ” Moose- wabs ” (spiders’ webs) are used to check bleeding, and are used as pills for asthma.

Vegetable Cures.

An infusion of Bramble-leaves is used in diarrhoea.

Infusions of nettles and broom-tops for ” water ” (dropsy).

Infusions of dandelion-root for ” sick stomach.”

” Tormentil-root ” is used for diarrhoea.

Yarrow, horehound, and coltsfoot for coughs and colds. An infusion of ivy -leaves is used as an eye-lotion. Ivy-leaves are sewn together to form a cap to put on a child’s head for eczema. Kail-blade (cabbage-leaf) is used for the same purpose. Ivy leaves are applied to corns.

Marigold leaves are applied to corns.

” Apple-ringie ” (southernwood) and marsh-mallow poultices are used as soothing applications in pain, in ” beelins ” (suppurative conditions).

” Sleefr” (long, thin, hairy seaweed) is used as a poultice in sprains, rheumatism, etc. (Buckhaven).

A ” spearmint ” poultice is used as a galactagogue.

Potato, carrot, and turnip poultices are often used.

Poultices of chopped leeks, of chewed tobacco-leaf, and of soap and sugar, are common for whitlows.

A potato carried in the pocket is good for rheumatism.

Freshly gathered nettles are used for switching rheumatic joints.

Mineral Cures.

Coal. A piece of coal is sucked as a cure for heartburn.

Sulphur. Sulphur is a cure for cramp. A piece of sulphur under the pillow would protect all the occupants of the bed. It is sometimes worn in the ” oxter ” (armpit), and sometimes sewn in the garter, when it is called a ” sulphur-band.”

Flowers of sulphur are dusted into the stockings for rheumatism, or rubbed into blue flannel and applied for lumbago.

Sulphur and cream of tartar is taken as a ” spring drink.”

County Folk Lore VII

Author: Ewart Simpkins John
Publisher: Sidgwick And Jackson Limited
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