The Talla Water Works (Poem)

Author: 
Heatherbell

This poem by 'Heatherbell' remembers the period of construction of the Talla Reservoir.

From 1895 to 1905

Ten changeful years have passed away
Since that eventful autumn day,
When crowds assembled in the field
A little bit beyond The Bield,
Where stood the marquee for the fete
Near where the Tweed and Talla meet.
A crowd like this was ne'er seen here,
From town and village far and near
The people flocked along the road
To see the lady cut the sod,
For that great work in Talla Glen
That labour gave to many men.
She cut the sod with easy grace
And for it found a resting place,
Then stood to watch with smiling lip 
The Baillie clean the barrow tip,
In just the right old Navvy style
Indeed t'was worthy of a smile,
And now when all was done and said
Speeches and presentations made
The Guests then to the tent repaired
Where lunch for them had been prepared
While those who had unbidden come
Partook of what they brought from home
The setting sun soon closed the day
And people homewards took their way,
Knowing they ever would remember
The twenty-eighth day of September.
Soon after that the navvies came,
Some were old and some were lame,
Some Scotch and some with English smile,
And some from Old Erin's Isle.

When pay day came and even sub,
They spent their money at the club.
That club of which we heard so much
From Ministers and other such,
And some down to the Crook would run
The landlord then was Mr. Gunn,
The whisky carts like greedy sharks 
Came regularly to the works
Till law demanded they should cease,
Then roads were quieter through the piece
At Talla, Shortreed kept the store,
Where he sold ham and eggs galore,
Steak and onions, cheese and kippers,
And cigarettes to please the nippers,
Tea and tobacco, boots and cords,
White moleskins, shirts and washing boards,
Thus for a time the work went well;
But how it happened none can tell-
Young's firm went smash and Jamie died,
And many for their money sighed.
With all due care and plans revised,
The job again was advertised.
And Mr. Best, the contract got;
The Crook, the store, and, well, the lot.
His manager was Mr. Sloan.
A man whose motto was, "Push on!"
"Push on" they did, and now we sigh
To think we soon must say "Good-bye"
To many happy days we've had,
And all the navvies good and bad,
Strange is it not that when they came,
We almost shuddered at the name.
But now we tell another tale,
For all those years within the vale,
Where they have toiled day after day,
We never have had cause to say
Aught against this class of men,
Save getting tipsy now and then.
Tho' sad it is to see them thus,
They're always well behaved to us.

A lonely life poor souls they lead;
But grateful for a kindly deed.
Gen'rous they with one another
Share their last 'bob' with a brother
Who has been down upon his luck,
And landed 'mong them 'stoney broke'.
My work amongst them mostly lay
I liked it, and I knew their way.
Their letters home I often wrote,
Or to their 'Uncle' when they brought
The cash and tickets, to get out
Clothes pledged when on a drinking bout.
The 'notables' I knew them well.
A few good jokes I fain would tell,
Had I the talent and the time
To weave them into decent rhyme;
But that would fill an evening paper,
And I might suffer for my caper.
Inspectors there were not a few
Henderson, Watt, and Shepherd too,
Watched o'er the works with eagle eye
To see that Best no tricks should try.
Best's office high and lofty stands,
A view extensive it commands.
The occupants of this domain
Were Phillips, Johnnie Cash, and Bain,
And Drohan too beloved by all,
When far away we'll oft recall
His native wit and pleasant smile
A true son of the old Green Isle.
Victoria Lodge in all its pride,
Stands on the bonnie green hillside
Where came the thirsty Water Trust
To see the works, and often just
To blend 'The Talla' with 'Glenlivet'
And have a feed, would you believe it?
'Aye,' many a 'tuck in' have they 
For which poor city folk must pay.
The Club as such it is no more;
Part of the building forms the store,
Which is as everyone can tell,
By H. McKenzie managed well.

 

 

 

And part of it is set aside, 
Accommodation to provide
For those whom hut-life has fears
Time-keepers, foremen, engineers,
An estimable worthy lady
Attends to them and keeps it tidy.
Large gatherings in the spacious hall
We've often seen, and never shall
Forget the many happy nights 
At concerts and such-like delights.
I fear we ne'er again shall see
The happy faces round the tree
At Christmas, which made each one glad
With gifts for every lass and lad,
Fathers and mothers, men and all,
Got something 'ere they left the hall.
To some, that holy hour sweet,
On peaceful Sabbaths, when we meet 
Within the hall, to praise the Lord,
And listen to His blessed word.
Here Mr. Ross, a worthy man,
With all his might does what he can
To help those who have gone astray,
To turn from wickedness away,
With little loving kindly deeds,
And words of cheer to suit their needs.
When accident occurs, he's there
To dress the injured limbs with care.
The right man in the right place, he
In Heaven, his reward will be:
'Thou good and faithful soul, well done!
A harp and crown, most nobly won.'
The priest, too, was a man respected
By all, not only those connected
With his own church, but all who came
In contact with him formed the same 
Opinion, kind and friendly feeling,
Altho' at different altars kneeling
A feature of those long years was
That never did religious cause
A barrier 'twixt us to be cast
Or hinder friendship, firm and fast
In harmony we jogged along,
And neither never said "you're wrong."

When travelling, we'll miss the Pug, 
That to and from the station snug,
Took us when we from home did go,
In summer heat or winter snow.
And John the guard we'll often mind
Obliging, cheery, aye and kind.
The opening day is here at last
And crowds to Talla gather fast.
Some walk, and others speed along
On bicycles to swell the throng.
And not a few have travelled far
On 'four in hand' and motor-car.
By special train the guests arrive,
And soon the whole place seems alive.
It is, indeed, a pleasing sight:
Flags waving high and streamers bright,
Flutter along the bank so green.
And round by where the tents have been
Erected to accommodate
The privileged crowd within the gate,
Where two policemen stationed are,
The uninvited to debar.
I wonder if the Trust expected
They'd need to be police protected,
Or were the 'bobbies' just brought there
To lend effect to the affair?
In case of accident that may
So easily occur that day;
Or a sudden illness of a Baillie
Who might partake just rather freely
Of dainty dishes, sweet and fine,
Or rashly sample too much wine
Dr. McKinnon is waiting where
The Red Cross flag is waving fair
All that is needed to complete
This great display is music sweet.
I'm sure it would have sounded grand 
Among the hills, a good pipe band.

But hark! What sound is that I hear? 
It is the Pebroch, loud and clear,
Its wild notes echo through the glen,
And cheer the hearts of maids and men,
As round the bank the piper struts
And out and in among the huts.
He's unknown to the Corporation,
And is not there by invitation;
So needs must limit his parade
To grounds outside the barricade.
In solemn tones the parsons pray
That heaven will bless what's done today.
Then this aristocratic throng
Lift up their voices in sacred song,
The hundredth Psalm, that grand old strain;
A few can scarce from tears refrain.
And now is done with success too,
That which the king declined to do,
By honoured ladies from the city,
In style that charming is and pretty.
And Edinburgh is supplied
With what they have so long for sighed.
A wealth of water sparkling pure,
None better could the trust procure,
Had they searched all the land o' Scots,
From Maiden Kirk to John o' Groats.
The final function now is past,
And friends are disappearing fast,
With whom we have so happy been;
Without them 'twill be dull I ween.
Scattered they will be far and wide,
And some may cross the rolling tide;
But memories dear, will age remain
And hope that we shall meet again-
If not on earth, then above
Amid the happy realms of love.
It is with deep regret that I
Bid all the Talla folks goodbye!

Heatherbell

Related links

All photographs of the Talla Railway.
Talla Railway by John Furnevel.