The DGWGO S.R.Crockett Monthly – Out And About In Galloway With S.r.Crockett

I’ve recently been in Galloway, driving around, covering some huge distances from Dalmellington to Wigtown. It always amazes me how well Crockett knew the area, given that his mode of transport was at best the train, and more usually either cycle or foot. However you travel, it goes without saying the Galloway is the most wonderful place to visit.

If you drive from Dalmellington to Newton Stewart this autumn you will be following in the path of the first car chase to be written in fiction. It’s a little known fact that Crockett’s novel ‘Vida: The Iron Lord of Kirktown’ has this honour. It’s a book well worth a read, and not just for the exciting car chase (which readers may find somewhat familiar from John Buchan’s later – and more famous – story ‘The Thirty Nine Steps.’

But Vida is not just about fast cars. It is also one of Crockett’s more obviously political novels. And the fictionalised story was based at least in part on factual incidents from his own life a couple of decades before. As minister of Penicuik he played a part in the aftermath of the Mauricewood Pit Disaster (1889).



Crockett raised money for a widows fund and was outspoken about the fact that ‘relief’ should be granted not just to widows who were legally married to the miners who perished, but also to their common law wives. This set him at odds with the Presbytery, and we might see it as the first inklings that he would leave the ministry. He first wrote about the event in first published in the magazine ‘Vox clamantium: the gospel of the People’ by Andrew Reid, in 1894. but with the hindsight of another decade he composed a more comprehensive indictment of the ‘Incubus’ company in the form of Vida which was published in 1907. Throughout the novel he is scathing of the new capitalism – in the form of joint stock companies – and his hatred of social and economic inequalities shines through.

Of course, you can read it as a love story, an action romance – but you miss out a whole layer of depth of social history if you restrict yourself to this reading. For me, the strength of the novel doesn’t lie in the plot (exciting though it is) but in the reflection on the nature of society it reveals.

On my recent journey by car from Dalmellington, via New Galloway to Newton Stewart I reflected on what a long way it is, even in a modern car – imagining doing it in a turn of the century 60HP Mercedes as the characters in the novel do. Whenever I

read the chapters of the car chase it makes me think it would be a great event for those bitten by the vintage car bug. Any takers to ‘follow the first car chase in fiction’ in 2017? Just get in touch. Though perhaps you need to read the book first.

Crockett’s life spanned the time when the motor car was invented. He writes about it in several of his ‘contemporary’ novels and is not always convinced by its charms – he is more firmly of the cycling fraternity – For me it is interesting to see how technological advances such as the motor car were viewed by those who first experienced them. There is plenty of opportunity to do that in Crockett’s fiction. ‘Sandy’s Love’ which is partly set in London, sees the hero set up in the parcel delivery business, first on a bicycle, but his success sees him rise to running a fleet of delivery vans. I like to think of it as a proto-type for the likes of DHL and Interlink, though it also reminds me of the grocery delivery vans whose loss was much lamented by my grandmother. They, of course are with us again thanks to online retailing. It just goes to show that while times change, there’s still a lot of the past to be found in our modern world albeit in a different format. That holds true for transport, the natural world and also, I suspect, for politics.

To read more about Mauricewood you can download the PDF from the Galloway Raiders site. It’s free to download and read, but you need to be a Galloway Raiders member (also free) to access it. You will be asked for your password before you get access. The current password is listed in Raiders News, the free monthly members newsletter which is sent out on 16th of the month. The direct link is: http://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk/mauricewood.html

If you want to read about Crockett and cars, you can do so by clicking this link:


Cally Phillips

This will be available for free for all readers until the middle of November, and if it whet’s our appetite to read more, you can buy Vida direct from the unco store on this link http://www.unco.scot/store/p41/Vida_.html. It’s also available from Amazon but it’s cheaper at unco!

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