Steeple Jack's Adventures by James Wright

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Steeple Jack's Adventures by James Wright

Post by Stanley » 27 May 2020, 11:45

Transcribed October 2007 by Stanley Challenger Graham from a photocopy supplied by a contributor to the Steeplejack’s Corner Forum on Probably published about 1885, the author claims to be the original Steeple Jack and in long discussions on the forum we can find no reason to disagree with him apart from the fact that there were jacks before him but perhaps not quite as active in advertising themselves. The general opinion on the site is that the term ‘jack’ probably derives from the first high access workers being ex seamen well used to rope access to heights.

The account rings true, is well larded with easily checked references and identifies many of the problems still encountered today. Well worth a read and wider circulation. Thanks to Colin Logan, a working steeplejack, for bringing the publication to my notice before it was lost forever.
Price one shilling.

Being the recollections of James D Wright, the original steeple Jack. Published in Aberdeen by W&W Lindsay. [no date but The British Library has a copy of the book. Publication c 1885.]


The following rambling Reminiscences are printed in the belief that a record of such unique experiences will be appreciated by the public. I have followed the calling of Steeple Jack for 45 years, and though I have suffered from accidents, I am happy that life and limb have always been spared. My three sons have lost their lives in this hazardous work. I am much indebted to Mr Alex. Murray, Advocate, Aberdeen, who has acted as my amanuensis, and without whose help these reminiscences could not have been brought before the public. I have also to acknowledge the courtesy of the Publishers of the People's Journal, in whose columns the articles were published.





















I am a native of Camperdown, near Dundee, where I was born about the year 1829. After being apprenticed to the sea and serving as a sailor for about four years, I took typhus fever, and was treated in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.
After leaving the Royal Infirmary I applied at Leith Harbour for a ship, but was refused on account of having had fever, but was recommended to g0 to Dunbar to join a schooner. On my way to Dunbar in the year 1845 I arrived at Haddington where I observed a great many people looking at the steeple of Haddington old Town House and Jail, where a temporary scaffold was erected at the bellroom window. On seeing this I concluded that some one was going to be hanged ; but on enquiring at a young gentleman about the meaning of the scaffolding he informed me that no one was to be hanged, but that if any one would take down the vane and replace it when repaired he would receive £24. I considered this very good pay for such a voyage.

I was not altogether satisfied with the young gentleman's information, and listened to a conversation between two gentlemen. The one said to the other- “That is a great height for any one to ascend without a proper scaffold. It is just like the people of this country, for they always like the wind to blow the one way."

The same gentleman asked his friend what he would take to go up to the top of the steeple on any plan. He replied that he would not go up there for the wealth of the East Lothians.

The height of the steeple is 150 feet. I offered to take down and replace the vane on condition that they found me a ship. One of the gentlemen remarked to the other “He is a sailor; he might do it; but he is rather delicate-looking to be a sailor."

I informed them that I was newly discharged from the Royal Infirmary from an attack of typhus and brain fever, and was on my way to Dunbar to join a schooner. The gentlemen then invited me to go to the Black Bull Hotel. They offered me a glass of grog, which I refused, thinking that something to eat would be better. The waiter brought me a fowl, and I, being unaccustomed to the use of the knife and fork, made some clumsy attempts to carve it, which resulted in the fowl landing on the floor. After a good repast, we concluded a bargain, to which a plumber named Brown was a party, to take down the vane and replace it after being repaired, Brown furnishing all materials, for the sum of £24.

On Thursday morning I built a kite and flew it across the cardinal points, by which means I pulled up two ropes which I formed into a Jacob's ladder.
In this way I easily accomplished my task, and finished on Saturday in the presence of a large number of people. No conveyances were allowed to run on the main street that day. After the job was completed I was detained by some of the principal gentry of the County, who filled my tarpaulin hat with money, amongst those who contributed being, Lord Elcho, who presented me with a £10 note, at the same time conferring on me the distinguished title of Steeple Jack.

The same year I was summoned to repair the weather-cock of East Saltoun Parish Church, six miles from Haddington. I ascended this spire by means of ladders placed in a zigzag manner in the interior of the spire until I reached an airhole, out of which I placed my tackle, from which I erected a ladder on the outside. In this way I reached the weather-cock. The top ladder in the interior of the spire was borrowed from the henhouse of an old woman in the village, who at first refused to lend it for such a purpose, thinking me “no canny." On reaching the airhole in the interior of the spire this ladder gave way, and I fell to the bottom, landing on the roof of the Session-house, which gave way with my weight, to the amazement of the occupants, two aged individuals, who fled from the premises followed by my dog. I heard the one say to the other, "Run for your life! He has changed himself into a dog. I knew he was not canny."

Though considerably bruised by my fall I was able to accomplish my task that day, after which I was conveyed to Haddington, where I was examined by a surgeon of the Royal Navy, who found that I had sustained severe wounds on the left side and head, which deprived me of my sight for a time.

I had now earned about £80. By this time the brig in which I engaged to sail to Barbados had returned to Dundee with my chest and hammock. These I now claimed, and, in order to deceive my worthy uncle, I purchased some foreign articles from the sailors and proceeded to his house, not being aware that he had watched my past career, as I considered it a disgrace to my family. My uncle questioned me about the West Indies, which I described to him. He inquired if there was a place in the West Indies called Haddington Steeple and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, from which I perceived that he was aware of my adventures at Haddington and East Saltoun. I then produced the money, about £80, which I had earned, which settled all disputes between us.

My uncle remarked that he had some relatives at Dunfermline, where there was an old steeple, a place of great antiquity. This suited my views, as I had a fancy for old ruins. I accordingly started for Dunfermline where I was kindly received by my two uncles, the Messrs Anderson, damask manufacturers there. They questioned me about my climbing propensities, and informed me that they thought something might be done for the spire of the old Abbey of Dunfermline, the resting place of King Robert the Bruce. My uncle introduced me to a Mr Douglas, of the British Linen Company Bank, who introduced me to others by whom I was employed to repair the steeple.

The spindle in which the weather-cock revolved was off the perpendicular, the oak wedge fixing the spindle having decayed. On this occasion I did not use my kite and ladder but ascended the spire by means of two spiked nails, a hammer and a ball of twine. I did not, however, gain possession of the weather-cock without a desperate engagement with the jackdaws, who disputed my authority.

I found that one of the eyes of the weather-cock had been knocked out, which caused the wind to whistle in an unearthly manner, so that the people imagined the steeple to be inhabited by some unhappy ghostly tenants. I removed at the same time three copper balls, which bad become quite thin through exposure to the weather, and contained old coins, some of them made of leather. After being repaired and re-gilded, I replaced the weather-cock ; in addition to which I took down the dial of the clock, which needed to be renovated and renewed. This dial required eight men to carry it.

While engaged at this work I became acquainted with the family of Hunt of Pittencrieff, adjoining the old Palace of Dunfermline. I had the honour of exhibiting the old weather-cock to a large party assembled at Pittencrieff House. Not feeling quite at home I seated myself on a sofa, from underneath which the head of a little girl appeared. “Are you Steeple Jack?" she said. I 1 answered, "Yes." “Oh," she said, “I thought he was a great, hairy giant, but you are like a gentleman."

Mr James Hunt, junior, with whom I became intimate, employed me to replace the chimney of a flour mill on his property adjoining the ancient burying-ground of Dunfermline, where fourteen Scottish Kings and Queens are buried.

On this occasion I employed a pigeon, to which I attached a silk cord. Letting it loose in the interior of the chimney, the bird flew to the top, but I had to shoot it before I could get the end of the cord, which I obtained by the pigeon falling to the ground. The pigeon was not killed, its leg being broken. By having it spliced the bird was made all right again.

I then attached a heavier cord to the first one, by which I ascended the chimney. Having gained the top I had the misfortune to let the rope fall, leaving me in the position of a weather-cock, where I had to remain all night sitting on the decayed brickwork of the chimney, about nine inches thick. The night was dark and drizzly, but I heard the hours strike on the clock, and the night birds fly about the Old Steeple, which was close by. My imagination carried me amongst all manner of apparition, such as ghosts clad in armour, with drawn swords in hand, and awful faces. I had no time to feel cold or hunger, but felt happy that I was perched high enough to be out of the way of ghostly conflict.

Morning came, with a number of people who were happy to see me still in the land of the living. They asked me how they could get me down. I directed them to fly a kite and I would catch the line, which was successfully done. I thus got up my main tackle, repaired the chimney and descended once more on terra firma.

In due time I presented myself to my aunt, looking as black as a sweep. Holding up her hands she exclaimed, "Whom have we got here?"

“Me," I said. “Either you or I must leave," she said, "for I cannot have you here in the shape of a sweep. I thought you were a gentleman when you were repairing the Steeple, but now you have lost all your dignity."

While my aunt was thus expressing her opinion my worthy uncle came in, and was rather astonished to see my aunt so much at variance with me. She pointed at me, saying, "Look at him."

My uncle replied, “I see him and I think more of him than I did before, for he can now repair an engine chimney while at work, which is a harder task than repairing a steeple. Wash yourself James, and keep in mind that a black skin wins white siller."


My friend next took me to the old Palace Of Dunfermline and showed me its ruins, which are very grand. We descended a flight of steps to the King’s cellar where there is a well. My friend pointed out an opening in the solid masonry which he informed me was the entrance to the subterranean passages. I was delighted to hear of such a Place and longed to explore it. I asked my friend if he would accompany me. He trembled and said, “Not for the world!”

Being determined to explore the passages I procured a lantern, matches, small pick, hammer, chisel, and trowel, armed with which I entered the opening, crawling on my hands and feet for about a hundred yards till I came to an arched apartment with stone seats arranged along the walls. Proceeding further along this passage, which I was informed led to King Malcolm's Tower, I reached some broken-down masonry beyond which was a dark place, into which I threw a stone. This fell into deep water with a dull sound, which deterred me from proceeding further in that direction. I then took possession of the keystone of the broken-down arch, the carved head of a man, and retracing my steps pushed the carved head before me. The air was so bad that my lamp would scarcely burn.

I now noticed small passages on the right and left. Still retracing my steps, I discovered a large square stone with an iron ring in the centre, which I attempted to open unsuccessfully, being deterred by the smell. Trimming my lamp, I returned to the arched chamber which I carefully searched, hoping to find old armour or the like but found nothing. Still retracing my steps, I explored a passage on my right, When I observed a funnel built of stone having at the top an iron grating, which I took for a ventilator. Returning to the Main Passage, I now noticed some human bones which terrified me.

On my return to the entrance of the Passage after an absence of several hours, I found a number of people collected who were anxious for my safety. Amongst them was the Rev. Mr Chalmers the Minister of Dunfermline. Mr. Chalmers enjoined me to keep what I had seen to myself, to follow him to the Manse, bringing the carved head along with me. He then questioned me very closely as to what I had seen, and seemed to relish my information. I really believed his reverence, like Sir Walter’s Antiquary, could subsist on antiquities.

From Dunfermline I proceeded to Bedlington, near Morpeth where I got employment in the ironworks and also repaired a chimney. About this time I made a visit to London in a smack.

After another sojourn in Bedlington I returned to Dundee. Here I got employment at the Wallace Foundry, in the locomotive department. I observed a factory chimney much damaged at the top, when I offered to repair it. On asking leave of absence from my foreman I was dismissed.

Having gained the summit of the chimney by flying my kite, I was seen hanging by my heels from the top, securing an iron hoop. On account of my courage my former employers took me back, and afterwards sent me with an engine to the coachworks of Bailie Wallace, Perth, in which establishment I became chief engineer.

At Perth I became acquainted with a Thomas Harris. Harris was on the eve of being married. Having only 15s to defray the expense of the ceremony, I said he would require £15 at least, which caused poor Tom to hang his lugs, but I relieved him by offering to defray the expense. I was to be best man at the marriage, but there was to be no bridesmaid. So I told Harris to find me one, as I had found the money, which he agreed to. I met Tom at his father's house, was introduced to his sister, who was to be my partner, and afterwards my wife.

While at Perth I repaired all the steeples, though I had to use crutches at this time from rheumatism.

Being now a bridegroom, in order to raise some money, I visited Peterhead to repair the steeple of the Parish Church, which I had contracted for. Roderick Gray was then Provost. I took down the weathercock, a fiery dragon, replaced it and, repainted the spire. The Session-Clerk asked if I could attach a lightning conductor also, which I did, but he declined to pay £7 which I demanded. I then appealed to the Provost, who had an interview with me at a hotel. During the night I ascended the steeple and removed the fiery dragon to my lodgings. When the town's officers, came to visit me I agreed to replace the fiery dragon on payment of my account, which led to a settlement.

During my stay at Peterhead I made an excursion to the Links in company with a barber, who was provided with nets. While engaged at the Links we were surrounded by gamekeepers. The following day the barber and I engaged a gig and fast mare, and drove to the residence of the proprietor, Admiral Ferguson of Pitfour. Entering the gate I encountered a man, of whom I inquired for the master. The same man received me in a sailor's uniform, and charged me with interfering with his game. I replied that rabbits were only vermin. He, however, treated me handsomely, but prohibited the barber from coming near his property. By the time I returned to the gate my friend the barber had secured some pheasants which were very plentiful.

After this I went on foot to Dunning, where we booked to Stirling by the railway opened that day, our names being entered in the books amongst the first passengers. At Stirling I repaired a gas chimney and a square tower connected with the Town Buildings. From Stirling I proceeded to Glasgow, but did no work there on this occasion.

Then we went to Kilmarnock, where I repaired a chimney. From Kilmarnock I went to Dalry, where I repaired a chimney for a Mr Haig. At this place I witnessed a battle between Orangemen and Ribbonmen where I was made a special constable, but I escaped from the fight by ascending the chimney. From this point of vantage I witnessed the battle, which lasted all day. From Dalry I proceeded to Hurlet, where they manufacture alum. The owner of the works had a monkey which I carried to the top of the chimney in a box. The monkey was so ill pleased that it attempted to bite me when we descended. From Hurlet I returned to Dunfermline, where I repaired several chimneys.

In 1850 I undertook one of the biggest jobs ever accomplished in the steeple-climbing line. In that year I proceeded with Mr Watson to Glasgow, and was made acquainted with the proprietor of St Rollox Chemical Works. Attached to the same is the largest chimney in the world, being 435 feet in height. [Tennant’s Stalk]

Mr Watson introduced me to Messrs John and Charles Tennant, whom I found in the private office. Mr John was a plain, straightforward man. He asked me abruptly my name and whence I came. I told him that my name was James Duncan Wright.

"But have you not another name?” he inquired.

"Yes," said I, “I have been christened Steeple Jack.”

“Ah”! said John, to his brother Charles, "I have found out my man at last.".

“Phoo" said Charles, “You are both fools to attempt to repair our chimney without scaffolding."

Mr John looked at me for an answer to that. I told him plainly that although it was as high as the moon I would get to the top of it.

Mr John backed me out and told me to proceed. He looked at me with my bonnet in hand and told me to put on my bonnet, saying that he thought I had a better head than his own. “Follow me," he continued, "and I will introduce you to the different managers who will supply you with what materials you may require for the job. I will also go round and show you the chimney."

Having arrived at the foot of the chimney, Mr Tennant said- “Does that height not frighten you?”

"The chimney," I replied, "is a great height and a stranger to me, but fear is a greater stranger."

I have every confidence in you," said Mr Tennant, " and as soon as you touch the top of that chimney I will give you £20."

I made answer that the £20 was already as good as in my pocket.



Amongst the highest erections in the world are the Townsend and St Rollox chimney stalks at Glasgow. The Townsend is 454 feet high, and the St Rollox is 450 feet from the foundation, or 435 feet from the ground level. These immense chimneys are in connection with chemical works, and they are built to that extraordinary height in order to carry the noxious chemical fumes away from the neighbouring population. I now give some account of how I succeeded in repairing the St Rollox stalk without the help of scaffolding.

In preparing to ascend the lofty St Rollox chimney stalk at Glasgow, my first work was to build a large kite, which measured 8 feet 5 inches in length, not like a common pointed kite, but square, resembling a ship's topsail. After the kite was built we went to Sighthill and flew it there. It took me and three of my assistants to lead it down to the works. The kite was flown with two lines; one, which I commanded myself, passed over the chimney top as near the centre as possible, and the second line, bent on and attached to the main line about 200 feet from the kite, was on the opposite side of the chimney, and held by my assistant.

I was successful in striking the very centre of the top at the first attempt, which rather astonished the audience who watched the operation. But everything did not run smooth. The line was no time on the top of the chimney before it was burnt by the hot gas. Being my first attempt I took it coolly, and told my assistants I would have another trial. We did so, and were successful three different times that day, but the line was always burnt down. Day after day we succeeded in getting the line across the chimney top but with the same result, the gas being so hot it would consume a line as thick as a clothes line in less than a minute.

I was getting very down-hearted, being so often deceived. On the sixth day we had wrought against this obstacle an Irishman came to me and told me that for half-a-crown he would let me know of a substance that would kill any gas or acid however strong, so that my lines or ropes could lie over on the top of the chimney as long as would give me time to get up my heavy tackle. I agreed to his bargain, and the Irishman and I went to a druggist, where he got his stuff, a dirty, greasy substance which I had to rub on to my lines and ropes.

On the following morning we all assembled at break of day and commenced operations. I at once set up the kite with new lines attached, coated over with the greasy substance, and we proceeded to our old ground. We had a fine breeze and clear atmosphere, the kite darted upwards like a rocket till it gained an altitude of about 1000 feet. We then led it down to the chimney, which I struck. Immediately I ran round to my assistant, who was in command of the other line, and ordered him to pull down the kite. After doing so we had a communication from the one side of the chimney to the other. I had now only to splice my permanent tackle to the kite line which was lying across the chimney in perfect safety. I gave the word to pull away on the other side of the chimney, and in this way we succeeded in hauling a stout chain across the muzzle of the chimney. One end of the chain was connected with the ground by a rope, and to the other end was attached a single block. By a rope rove through this pulley I was enabled to ascend.

At this stage of the proceedings a messenger was sent from the office desiring me to attend on Mr Tennant. On my arrival I was ushered into the private office, where there were a great many gentlemen assembled. Mr Tennant introduced me to this party, saying-" This is the great adventurer." He asked me how soon I could make an ascent of the chimney. I appointed twelve o'clock the following day. The day duly arrived, and it was a fine morning. I was all ready, my men stationed in proper position, and I myself stepped towards my aerial seat. My dress consisted of a blue guernsey, white duck trousers, a black belt, and a handkerchief of the same colour. I was bareheaded, and at that period my hair was as black as the belt and handkerchief. I summoned all my men round me, and gave them instructions so that there could be no hitch in the ascent or descent. My signals were two-red and green ; the red for aloft, the green to pull down.

As twelve o'clock struck I took my seat amid a deafening cheer that rather took me by surprise, as the main body of my spectators were out of my view. I could not understand where such a welcome came from until I had ascended about 50 feet; on turning round I observed an immense number of faces turned towards me. I gave the red flag a wave three different times. which meant speed. At that stage I went as fast as any one could run on the ground. I gained the top of the chimney in splendid order, with plenty of breath and no fear. I sprung from my seat on to the top of the chimney, and sat in perfect safety, and with the confidence of any clerk sitting on his three-legged stool.

Seated on the lofty eminence I coolly looked down on the immense multitude with their diminutive faces turned up towards me. A full face was no larger to my view than a shilling. I noticed a line of railway stretched away to the mining districts. The rails, with the sun shining on them seemed no
larger than stocking needles, and the railway carriages were like mouse traps. I turned my gaze on the vast city below me, and then to the Clyde. I could see as far as the Cloch Lighthouse, below Gourock. At that moment I wished I had been a landscape painter.

But, ahs, there was something painting me in a very disagreeable manner. I was afraid that the brushes were getting too hard for me, so I jumped into my
boatswain chair and showed the green flag, and descended in less than a minute. John Tennant's hand was in mine and his other hand putting his
overall coat round my person, the gas having affected my duck trowsers in the same manner as the kite lines. In fact, I was glad to get off the platform, which was crowded with ladies and gentlemen, for I had to beat my retreat without trousers to hide my nakedness. I made for the office and got another rig out from one of the chemists, so I looked more respectable, but not like Steeple Jack- Mr Tennant with a number of gentlemen complimented me on my dexterity. We had a few bottles of wine amongst us. I drank to Mr Tennant's
memory, and reminded him of the £20 which I had earned, and which he now handed to me.

Our next proceedings were to examine the rents or fissures which ran from the top nearly half-way down the chimney. I proposed to hoop the fractured parts with malleable iron bands at certain distances, and point up all cracks. This was agreed to, and the execution of this occupied nine mouths. I and my men were very fortunate during the nine mouths of our aerial trips. We were all on good terms, and the whole work, though dangerous, was overtaken without any accident.

One morning I was nearly receiving, I may say, a fatal accident. I had a line of small seats, which were slung with small ropes. These seats were placed round the top of the chimney, so that as I could step off one seat to the other round the chimney without exposing myself to the dangerous gas. Stepping from my main tackle on to the third seat it gave way. In an instant I clutched with my left hand the top of the chimney, and thus supported my own weight, and also a bar of copper, which weighed about 36lbs, which I held in my right hand. In this fashion I was suspended only by the left hand 435 feet above the ground. I
managed to put the copper bar on the top of the chimney, where it was out of danger of failing down amongst my men below. Then I easily got round to my main tackle with both my hands. I consider that this was the most hairbreadth escape of certain death that befell me during my 45 years experience as a climber.

While engaged at St Rollox I got notice from Mr Tennant that the Queen was to visit Glasgow. He asked me if I could raise a large flag on the top of the chimney. I said I could, but I would require a lofty mast, at least 50 feet above the chimney, to carry the flag clear of the smoke. He told me to proceed, and he procured a large colour, the St George's ensign, about 30 yards in length. This was only two days before the Queen's arrival, which gave me no time to complete my mast. However, I got up the lower mast furnished with irons to receive the top mast, which was 70 feet in length. I had everything ready to hoist the night previous to Her Majesty's arrival. I told my men to hold themselves in readiness that we might start by break of day and get the flag up.

We all assembled at three o'clock. The wind was blowing very hard from the Eastward, increasing to a violent storm. I gave orders to pull up the mast, and we managed to get it half-way up the chimney, when all my tackle got twisted like network with the storm, enclosing me and the mast as in a vice. I remained thus imprisoned from 3.30 till 8 of the same morning exposed all the time to the violence of the wind and rain. I had great difficulty in cutting away the numerous ropes which confined me, being in danger of cutting the one I was hanging on. However, I escaped with terrible bruises to the ground, when two of my men had to assist me home, so I was defeated in getting up that noble flag, which still troubles me.


A firm that had heard of my feat at St Rollox brought under my notice a machine to enable people to climb chimneys without scaffolding. I took a great interest in the invention, but the first trial was nearly a serious affair to me. We buckled two machines to the bottom of the chimney belonging to the works. I and my brother-in law Peter, whom I engaged as my partner, ascended to an elevation of 70 feet, when all of a sudden one of the beams gave way, precipitating us to the bottom, but the friction had such a check that neither of us was injured. Peter ran round the chimney to see where I was, and I ran after him. I altered my course and turned round, looking the way that he was coming at full speed, when I came against him. This caused poor Peter to go up to the shoulders in a heap of smiddy coals. Just as I was helping Peter up the inventor made his appearance, raging like a madman about his machines being broken (he was of a very hasty temper, but soon over). I asked him whether he should not ask me whether I was killed or my leg broken, and he, seeing poor Peter extracted out of the coals, thought that something might be wrong. Peter said to him, " Your machines may go to Old Nick, but I intend to stick to the maul" (Peter was a mason by trade).

After much persuasion I induced Peter to consent to follow me in my aerial calling at any sort of a job that I might engage in. We had the machine altered to my satisfaction, and we repaired a number of lofty chimneys in Glasgow and neighbourhood by means of it. On one occasion I got a letter from a firm with instructions to repair five of their chimneys, which I accepted, and repaired the same in a thorough manner. I had all materials to furnish, labourers' wages to pay, travelling expenses, and £3 3s per week for the use of the machine. The material I used was expensive, such as lightning conductors, mastic cement, oils, and hoops of malleable iron, which cost me all the money that I had saved at the St Rollox chimney. When I informed the manager of my outlay he remarked that things were not in a way that he liked. He was afraid that the Company had failed, and that I was to be a loser. This proved to be the case. I never got one penny for my labour and expense at these works. In fact there were a number of strange-looking gentlemen on the premises taking note of every article. One in particular was taking a deep interest in the climbing machine and my tackle. I asked him what he was about. He told me to mind my own business, and not to touch or remove anything out of the works. I told him that the tackle was mine and the machine belonged to another firm. The officer said he did not care for that, so I ordered Peter and my trusty labourer, who was an Irishman, to pack up all tackle, take to pieces the machine, and address them to Yuill & Wilkie to deliver, when the same fellow interfered a second time.

The following day I went to Mr John Tennant and told him my sad story. He inquired if I had any written agreement, which I had not. He merely remarked, “Poor fellow, I'll not see you beat," so he gave me a bit of paper and something scribbled on it in pencil, telling me to go to the cashier with it. The cashier nodded to me and handed me £50, and I nodded back, and would nod
1000 times for fine same benefit. Mr Tennant told me not to trouble myself about them. This shows my readers that " Steeple Jacking” is not all plain sailing

Work being now rather slack, and feeling my treatment by the above firm, I took a disgust at the neighbourhood, and made up my mind to visit Ireland, but not until I had taken down a lofty chimney which belonged to an old chemical work. These works were sold by public roup [Scots dialect term for an auction], and the party who bought the chimney gave it to me to pull down for the sum of £10. I was bound down by the Town Council to pull down this chimney by hand, brick by brick, but it was so hard, the mortar and cement being like iron, I could not save the brick whole, nor would it have paid me to follow the orders of the Town Council. Two old Highland policemen were put on as a watch to prevent me from tumbling the chimney wholesale, which I intended to do. To that end I made a very friendly acquaintance with the two watchmen, and brought in a gallon of whisky, with which I supplied my Highland friends to their entire satisfaction. About twelve o’clock on the third night I had all ready to bring down the chimney bodily with very little strain of a rope attached to the top. I had the bottom cut three-parts round, so that there was nothing left but a thin course of brick to support the chimney. By this time the watchmen were overcome by their native dew, so that everything was clear for me. We stretched the strong rope out to an angle, and cut the remaining course supporting the chimney. Then I gave the word to heave away the windlass or winch, when the monstrous building gave a terrible groan and came down with a crash that awakened the whole neighbourhood. I saw 100 Kilmarnock nightcaps, women's mutches, and white faces with no hair on their beads, crying out, "Mercy on us, an earthquake has happened."

The noise caused by the fall of the chimney brought the regular police to the spot. The police thundered at the door of the lodge to rouse the two old watchmen. When asked by the police what was the matter, the two old boys could say nothing, as they had emptied the jar of whisky. The sergeant of the night police, who noticed the drink on them, questioned them whether there was any one else about the works but themselves.

" Oh, yes, yes," said Dougal; " Steeple Jack is here taking down the chimney."

" Why," said the sergeant, " there is no chimney here. "

" Oh," said Dougal, "is the chimney away?"

" Yes, " said the sergeant.

" Then that Steeple Jack must be the devil himself, for the chimney was there at ten o'clock last night."

" Yes," said the sergeant, “I believe he was, for I saw him purchase some whisky in Peter Lathom's, which I suppose you got a share of, and forgot your duty."

I and my two assistants made our appearance in the porter's lodge, when the sergeant said:- “I am glad to see you, for I was in doubt whether you weren't buried alive. I hope you are not hurt. One of the old watchmen was in a great passion, and abused me and my whisky. But I had gained my wish in pulling down the chimney at one stroke, when, otherwise, it would have taken three of us three months to take it down by hand. I got a slight reprimand from the Town Surveyor, who, said it was a clever and cunning trick to deceive the old watchmen.


I had a visit from my friend Peter one morning, when I proposed to him, that we should go to Ireland.

" Jamie, are you mad ?" said Peter. You are certain to be shot like a crow, for the people there are not to be trusted."

"Peter, " said I, “it is a cowardly thing of you to judge people before they are tried. You know perfectly well what a strict, decent, and deserving man was James Gibson, my former principal labourer. He was an Irishman, and I am ready to give that man a certificate of character for uprightness. I think we will be perfectly safe in Ireland. The steeple of St Patrick's Cathedral has been struck by lightning, which has displaced a large ball from the point. This is my reason for going to Ireland to visit its metropolis."

Peter having agreed to go, we started after bidding farewell to our wives and families. We trudged to the Broomielaw, where we stepped on board a mail steamer bound for Belfast. After a stormy voyage we arrived at the Island of Erin about two o'clock in the morning. We went ashore, leaving behind us till called for a lot of splendid chimney tackle.

Peter and I were rather at a loss how to proceed. We were both hungry and fatigued, and knew nothing more than that we were on Paddy's land. I was startled by a kindly grip of my right shoulder by a man, who said-"Hurrah, my boys, it's a stormy morning, and it's refreshments you want and a bit of sleep before breakfast, so come along with me, for I will not say anything about my character at all at all" I looked at the man, and studied his features, which pleased me, and said-" Come on, my man, I'll go with you."

"Yes, and be shot," I heard Peter mutter to himself.

Noticing Peter's hesitation, I said-" Come on, Peter. I never was a coward. I want you to imitate me."

We then followed our guide, who conducted us to his house, which was neither a public-house nor a coffee shop.

" Never mind," said the man, " the appearance of my house. I will give you an Irish welcome."

" It will be with a shillelagh," said Peter in a low tone.

I winked to Peter to keep himself in a manly position, when our worthy host returned with a large black bottle of Cork malt, saying, " Do you ever get Cork malt in Scotland? No? Well, now the three of us will enjoy ourselves as Tam, o' Shanter and Souter Johnnie did in their day. So make yourselves quite at home, for I am a plain Irishman, and want to live and let live.”

After a few hours rest we got up and had breakfast. Our host showed us through Belfast. We remained till the following day, and prepared for a long march to Dublin, about 84 miles distant. I got every information about the road, the manners of the people-in fact, how to act in every way. So satisfying our worthy friend and ourselves, we shook hands, bade adieu, and shouldered our chimney apparatus, consisting of ropes, blocks, chains, &c., for repairing any steeple or building that we came across, appearing to the public view more like hangmen than peaceable citizens.

We passed through a beautiful country till we arrived at a village about sixteen miles from Belfast. We were both tired, and I proposed to Peter to stop in that village for the night. Peter replied that he wasn't so much afraid in broad daylight as at night. There happened to be a fair in the village, so we had great difficulty in getting lodgings. I made inquiry of a strange-looking man, dressed in a swallow-tailed coat and a battered hat, and carrying a blackthorn stick in his hand. I being dressed something like a sailor, he inquired if I was a sailor man, and if I had been in America. I said I was, and inquired whether he could let us know where we could get lodgings for the night.

" Sure, and that I can." he said, "for I know that you are a gentleman, but I don't know about these ropes you carry, for I take you for a hangman."

This I denied.

Well," said he, “come on."

Hold, my man," said I, “are you a teetotaller?"

He stared at me, asking what that meant. I explained, which caused him to jump and act like a Red Indian, flourishing the shillelagh so near my devoted head that I said, "Is there any whisky to be got?"

" Och, yes," says he. " Follow me, and I will stand a nuggan myself."

We entered a long range of turf or mud houses. Cows, horses, pigs, poultry, men, women, and whisky casks were all under the same roof, with a large fire in the centre of the kitchen. We enjoyed ourselves very much, the people treating us better than they treated themselves. The landlady in particular was very kind, and offered (if we liked) to make up a bed for us for the night. About eight o'clock that evening there was a great gathering in this house to celebrate what they called a wake, to which Peter and I were invited. The commencement was rather mournful, but as the whisky and pipe-smoking went on it became noisy. Lively music was played on a set of Union bagpipes, and dancing commenced. The whisky was going round like an electric wheel, which caused my friend and myself to feel not at home, for high words became quite common, and then shillelaghs became alive, so that things looked rather like Donnybrook Fair. Seeing there was to be some disturbance we made for the door, but were prevented leaving by a stout-looking Irishman, stick in hand, who declared that we must not leave the house, as it would be unlucky. he assured us that no harm would befall us, and told us not to mind what we saw during the evening, but to make ourselves perfectly at home, because, as he remarked, " We respect strangers, which is quite different in England, as I know when I drove cattle there."

As the night wore on, so did the whisky, and the fiery tempers rose in proportion. The shrill, discordant notes of the bagpipes, the shuffling of feet, and yelling of men and women was fearful, and to crown all, Peter, giving me a poke in the ribs, exclaimed, " For God's sake look in that dark corner." A few candles were burning dimly, disclosing a picture I shall never forget. It was the corpse of a man or woman, sitting bolt upright, supported by two females, sometimes moaning, at other times swearing, and even speaking to the corpse, wishing it to tell them why it had left them all alone.

At this stage I requested the landlady to show us where we were to sleep. She pointed, to a rough-made ladder which led to a place like a hen roost. However, we did not mind what sort of a place it, was so long as we were in safety. We hardly had crept into our straw bed when we beard a regular row below. Sticks were freely used, and I observed one man was knocked over by one of his neighbours, who cried out, "By my soul, sure I give you that for kindness." Peter remarked to me, " lf you don't draw in your head out of that hatch hole you may get one for kindness too." So to ensure our safety Peter pulled up the ladder. We slept soundly that night, and getting up early in the morning, we found everything quiet down below, so quiet that I was afraid there might he more corpses in the house than one, but all that I could see was about a dozen heads bandaged up with sticking plaster.

We had breakfast, and were invited to the funeral, which was attended both by men and women. We then drove in a jaunting car for nine miles to a beautiful village in a glen with a large flour mill at the bottom. We stopped at a small public-house, which Peter and I and the driver entered for some refreshment. There were about a dozen millers in the house, who entertained us most liberally. At eight o'clock in the evening we set off in the coach. We shook hands with the friendly miller, who would not allow me to spend a sixpence of my own, but actually defrayed my passage to Drogheda.

On our arrival at the Whitecross Hotel I asked the landlord if we could be put up there. He replied- “Certainly, but you must on no account go into the streets, for the town is in a fearful state at present, so you will come upstairs with me, when you will have plenty of company. The landlord then ushered me into an oblong, room, about 70 or 80 feet in length, with a table running up the centre with forms on each side. The table was covered with meat and drink of various kinds, and I suppose there were fully 50 men arranged on each side of the table, and before each man there was either a blunderbuss, sword, pistol, Irish pike, or some other deadly weapon, which caused me to distrust my landlord. Seeing that I was uneasy, he assured me that we would be well used, and to make ourselves comfortable. There was a gentleman at the further end of the table who acted as chairman. He invited me to approach him, and put the following questions'..

“Where do you belong to?"

I said Dundee.

" Indeed," he said, with surprise, " that is little Ireland in Scotland."

He asked me if I knew any belonging to the Catholic faith? I told him I did, but not to deceive him I told him I belonged to the Free Church of Scotland. '* Well," he said, " they are as good Christians as any other, but only I wish to know something about your native town and some of the people in it, for I have relatives there myself." I happened to know some of his relatives who lived at Lochee. When I told him this he extended his hand in friendship, telling the people near him to do their utmost to make us comfortable. Peter and I had plenty to eat and drink and time to survey the various instruments of warfare.

The party was what was called in Ireland Ribbon Men, and although I was a Presbyterian it made no difference to them. As the night wore on the tumult in the streets grow louder and louder. Several shots were fired, and in the morning many were found seriously injured, two being killed outright. We had breakfast, and were escorted to the railway station, the railway from Drogheda to Dublin being the only railway in existence at that period in Ireland. Previous to leaving the hotel I ascertained that we had nothing to pay for our bed, breakfast, and supper. This shows that Ireland is not so wild to strangers as is reported, but the reverse.


On the morning after arriving in Dublin Peter and I proceeded to St Patrick's Cathedral. In the building I saw a man wearing a black gown, with a skull cap. I did not know whether he was a gravedigger or not, but found him to be a very intelligent man. I inquired who I could see in reference to the repairs of the steeple. He looked at me curiously, and wished to know what method I took to gain the top of the steeple. I informed him that I could go to the top of that steeple without scaffolding before sunset. I think he doubted me, but he said, "You can see the Dean, who will speak to you as plain as I do."

By his direction I found the Dean's residence, and was introduced into his presence. I was rather put about, but the thought of getting the steeple to repair mastered all my delicate feelings. He greeted me with a good morning, and, of course, I wished him the same. He asked me my business, which I showed him by handing him a bundle of my certificates, amongst the first of them that referring to St Rollox large chimney, which rather astonished the Dean. He said to me, "You think you could go to the top of the spire of St Patrick's Cathedral as easy as you have done that large chimney in Glasgow?" I said I could do so, and be on its point before he had his dinner. He remarked that he had not yet got his breakfast, and kindly invited me to partake of breakfast along with him, remarking that it was an honour to have such an exalted personage as I was to eat at the same board. In my heart I would rather not have had the invitation, but the little manners that I had told me to accept the offer. After breakfast we both went to the Cathedral, where he introduced me to my old friend with the black gown, instructing him to show me through this wonderful edifice.

What I saw there gave me much satisfaction, as I must confess I am fond of antiquities. I was much interested in the tombstones bearing the effigies of ancient warriors clad in their mail suits, ancient weapons of warfare, and the tattered and soiled bloodstained banners that hung from the roof of the Cathedral. After seeing all, I was conducted by my black-robed friend to what they called the Chapter House, which was lighted by beautiful stained glass windows illustrating the Gospel history of Our Lord. On leaving the Chapter House I met the Dean, who had been making inquiries at some of the officials of the Cathedral about the repairs of the steeple. He informed me that he was sorry that they could not see their way at the present time to repair the same, which was a sad disappointment to me, for the hope of getting that steeple to repair had shortened the long road from Belfast to Dublin. I shook hands with the worthy Dean and joined my partner Peter, who looked anxiously at me as much as to say, " Have you got the steeple ?" I said nothing, but shook my head, which caused Peter to give a great sigh. I said, " Never mind, Peter; cheer up. We will go and have a right look through Dublin." We visited Sackville Street, which is one of the finest streets I have ever seen. Its vast breadth, with monuments in the centre, gives it a grand appearance. It is more like an oblong square than a street, and so broad that you would scarcely recognise a friend at the opposite side. The next street we visited was situated in a humbler part of the city. It was narrow, and on either side I could see nothing but coffins. I am not sure if you wanted a suit of that kind you might have got one second-hand. We hurried through this extraordinary street and visited the Castle, which is very extensive and strongly fortified. In fact, we visited all that was worth seeing, and I must confess I saw much that was beautiful about Dublin.

Not being able to find a job in Dublin it was necessary for us to sail for Liverpool. Our money was getting too light to carry so much hamper with us, so that we had to sell our climbing apparatus, which cost £15, for 50s. Peter and I stepped on board the boat for Liverpool, not on the deck, but on the back of swine, the decks being literally covered with them, in addition to about 500 emigrants.

I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than a score of times, and have experienced very stormy weather, but this passage beat all that ever I had experienced. It commenced to blow great guns before we left the bay, and continued so till we were abreast of the Isle of Man, our living cargo adding to the confusion.

I went aft to the man steering the vessel. I offered my services to give him a hand at the lee side of the wheel, which he accepted with gratitude. I tried to steer without his help, which I accomplished. The poor man was nearly three hours at that post, and was wet to the skin. I told him to go to the galley and get some warm coffee, and gave him something to put in it which made it coffee royal. The mate of the vessel came to me saying," Who have we got here?" I replied that I was one that was willing to give a hand on such a stormy night-that I could take my trick at the wheel as well as the man that I had relieved. He said- “More power to you, lad. I will bring you something to warm you." which he did. I thought on poor Peter when the mate handed me a tin pot nearly full of warm drink. I asked the mate if he could find my partner, that he might share my punch. He found Peter settled very comfortably betwixt the steam pipe and the funnel, but he declined to stir from his post on any consideration, for he had no sea legs like me. So the mate took the wheel and told me to go to my friend and return as soon as possible, as he was too much engaged otherwise on such a night. After sharing the contents of the tin pot with Peter, I returned to the wheel. Our vessel arrived in the river Mersey about 2am. and was docked about 4am. After bidding the officers of the ship good-bye we landed on English ground.

I was very fortunate here in meeting with one of Mr Musprat's grooms, whose employer was much interested in what I told him respecting the St Rollox chimney. " By the by," he said, I have a friend near Leeds, in Yorkshire, who has a large stone chimney 200 feet high, which is rent from top to bottom." So he gave me a letter to Mr Haig, the proprietor of the works, and a couple of sovereigns to take Peter and me to Leeds.

On our arrival at Leeds, being rather at a loss where we would get lodgings, I inquired of a man who kept a stall selling tripe, sheep's trotters and cowheel, and who gave us accommodation in his house in Swine Street. Next day we proceeded to Newly, four miles on the Bradford Road from Leeds, and found the works. I entered the office and delivered my letter to Mr Haig. He asked me if I had any further proof that it was in my power to repair his chimney and keep the furnaces going. I said I had, and showed him my certificates. We struck a bargain, the Company finding all material and I the labour.

We commenced work immediately, first by making a kite and getting all our tackle ready. The following day was in our favour, the kite was flown successfully, and I was on the top of the chimney in two hours from the time we started.

Newly is a small place inhabited only by the workers, but when I looked down the ground was covered with people, who came from all directions to witness my aerial performance. The work allotted to me was to point with mastic cement the whole of the chimney and hoop the same at every 6 feet with strong malleable iron bars. This whole work was completed in a fortnight.

During the time I was engaged at this job I had daily visits from Miss Haig, who watched my proceedings narrowly. One day she asked me whether I could rig up another tackle close by mine, as she would like very much to go to the top of the chimney. I remarked that it was rather a dangerous journey for a lady, but she insisted on going up so that I had to comply with her request. Miss Haig was betrothed to a gentleman in the army, and the marriage was fixed to take place about three days from the time she ascended the chimney. The chimney was situated at the edge of a quarry about 200 feet deep, so that the distance from the top of the chimney to the bottom of the precipice ,on the side we ascended was 400 feet.

About midway I asked the lady if she was far enough up. She replied- “I am all right, and I want to go to the top." The smoke curled heavily round about, which changed her countenance and made me wonder what country she belonged to, as she had such a dark complexion. I gave the word to lower away, when she stopped me, saying she wished to have a view of the landscape and scenery. I caused her to look down to the bottom of the quarries, which she did. She said it was a great depth. I inquired if she was not afraid. She said, " No, I like the journey." I gave her instructions how to handle the ropes on her downward journey, so we both descended in perfect safety.

After getting out of my seat I went round the chimney to a place where the garden is situated, when I met a military gentleman, who called me everything but a gentleman for allowing that lady to go up the chimney to the danger of her life. I told him there was no danger, for I had her well fastened to the ropes. This, however, did not satisfy him, for he gave me chase round and round the garden, jumping over bushes and vegetables, until I took refuge in a pond of water in the centre of the garden. My military pursuer followed me no farther. Here I remained till Miss Haig made her appearance with a face as black as any sweep, and her fine slate-coloured dress changed to a slatey black. Her intended looked at her for a moment, and burst into a fit of laughter. In the end we all became friendly, and I was engaged to procure fireworks, colours, &c., to celebrate their wedding, which came off in great style.



While at Newly a gentleman' called on me and asked me if I could go to Bristol, as there was a chimney, there connected with a chemical work very much out of repair. The job at Newly being finished and paid for Peter and I took train, and travelling all night, arrived at Bristol at breakfast time, after which I had an interview with the proprietors of the works, and I agreed to repair the chimney, and was successful in making the brickwork secure.

But the lightning conductor had to be altered. In order to do so I had to shift my tackle to the side of the building where the conductor was. The conductor passed through a cornice or projecting course of stone. The hole through which the conductor passed being too small, no allowance having been made for the conductor getting rusty, the stone burst, and the crack being covered up with soot this escaped my observation. I was in the act of going up to work at the conductor, when, away came the stone. 48 lbs. weight, rushing through the air like a cannon shot. A portion of the stone struck me on the left knee, fracturing the joint. I felt no pain at the time, but on leaving my seat I was unable to stand, and when I came to my senses I found myself in the Royal Infirmary, Bristol. [The Times, April 22, 1851, quoting the Bristol Gazette, mentions James  Duncan Wright, otherwise "Steeple Jack", repairing a chimney.]

While I was confined in the hospital Peter succeeded in finishing the job. I came out on two crutches, with my leg spliced like a broken mast. We held a council what was next to be done. There was a letter from Mr Ashton, of Ramsbottom, who wished my services there, so we concluded to go North. By this time my wife and family bad joined me from Glasgow, having heard that my accident was a serious one. Peter's wife and family also came to Bristol, so when we took our departure my troop filled one of the compartments of the railway carriage.

On arriving at Ramsbottom Station Mr Ashton received us on the platform. The inhabitants of the place took us for mountebanks or some sort of wandering performers. However, I soon showed them that I was a performer of some eminence. We lost no time in securing quarters. Then we set to work, and flew a kite successfully and got our tackle all adjusted before sundown the same day, The chimney was 180 feet high. Every day had thousands of spectators watching our proceedings, they never having seen such work. Among my numerous visitors was Daniel Grant, of the firm of Messrs Grant, of Ramsbottom, who invited me to examine the large stone chimney at the Printfield, which had been struck by lightning, when much damage was done to the machinery and buildings. The lightning conductor being iron, and very much rusted, was, in my opinion, a danger instead of a protection to the chimney. The repairing of this chimney, including a new lightning conductor, was left entirely in my hands.

While thus engaged one day I had another visit from Mr Daniel Grant and his brother, who were so familiar with me that I could use any freedom with them. I inquired of Mr Daniel Grant what sort of a building that was on the top of the hill. He informed me that it was a tower built in memory of their poverty when he first came to Lancashire. He told me the history of the tower and of their family, which was interesting. He informed me how his father had left Scotland with his family in rather poor circumstances, he being a small farmer in Inverness-shire, who had lost all through a storm. One night, when they arrived at the very spot where the tower now stands, they took shelter on the bare heath. The last bit of bread and cheese that he possessed he divided next morning amongst his family. Old Mr Grant was dressed like a shepherd, with a crooked stick in hand. In the morning he remarked to his family that the valley of Ramsbottom reminded him of Scotland, and jokingly told them to keep up their spirits, for perhaps that valley might become theirs, and he said-" We will just see." Holding his stick in an upright position, he said-" If the crook of the stick falls to the valley, the valley will he ours. " This prophecy proved to be true, for the crook of the stick fell in a dead line with Nettle Hall, which is situated below the tower. Old Mr Grant was a persevering man.

The morning after sleeping in this place he proceeded to Bury with only fourpence in his pocket with which he purchased some small wares. He soon afterwards became acquainted with the first Sir Robert Peel, a wealthy gentleman, wh0 took an interest in him, and started him in business as a clothier. On one occasion some waggish young fellows thought they would take their fill off Mr Grant. Rousing him up about two o'clock in a cold morning they asked him to show them some of his broadcloth. This he did, showing them mostly all he had in the shop. His waggish customers, getting tired of standing in the cold, requested Mr Grant to cut them off one pennyworth of broadcloth. Mr Grant said nothing, but took the penny and laid it on the corner of the cloth, cut the exact size of the penny, and presented it to them the same as if it had been an order for £5.

The small estate of Ramsbottom, belonged to Sir Robert Peel. The works on the estate were all in ruins and the whole place quite neglected, and it’s owner seemed not to care much about it, for he gave it over to Mr Grant almost as a gift, and since that time the Grants have improved the little glen so much by building works, streets, churches, schools, and public halls, that, from being, possessed of 4d, they have acquired a large fortune, and are ranked amongst the wealthiest merchants in the Manchester market.

I remarked to Mr Grant that I would like to live in the tower. He replied that it was not in a fit state to live in, the place never having been occupied; further, he declared that it haunted. I replied that I would take my chance, haunted or not, and that if he would put it in repair I would become his tenant. This he consented to do. After being repaired to my satisfaction, I got it comfortably furnished, and took possession, along with my family, under the title of “Steeple Jack of the Tower of Ramsbottom."

Being now settled, I received letters from all quarters about the repairs of chimneys and monuments. On one, occasion I was summoned to Preston for a job at Fishwick Factory chimney, exactly 200 feet in height, standing on elevated ground on the banks of the river Ribble. I succeeded here very well, and made the acquaintance of a number of respectable men in good circumstances. [The Times, April 22, 1851, quoting the Bristol Gazette, mentions James  Duncan Wright, otherwise "Steeple Jack", repairing a chimney. Same paper, May 18, 1865, has reports from Wednesbury about John M'Cann, also known as "Steeple Jack".
In my book, Lancashire, the first industrial society, I quote the Preston Chronicle for April 20, 1853 describing Steeple Jack's display at the "Big Factory" chimney in Fishwick? Wright, who "was attired as a sailor", gave "the most startling and extraordinary performance of daring that has been given in this part of the country during our recollection..."
Chris Aspen]
We generally met at the King William Hotel in the evenings to spend an hour. On one occasion a friend read about an accident that befell a poor man in Preston who had a wife and seven children. A bale of cotton fell upon him, which injured him for life. I and my companion considered whether we could get up a subscription for him. One of my friends asked me if I could not give a display of fireworks from the Fishwick chimney on his behalf. I said that I would think on some feat of my own in order that we might raise some funds to start him in a shop. I struck upon a plan that very night, which was this. The chimney that I was working on, including the rising ground, was about 400 feet from the level of the river. I got permission from my employers to get up an exhibition, which was to come down a rope 500 yards in length in 10 seconds, one end of the rope being fastened to the top of the chimney, the other end being fastened at the bank of the river Ribble. The first part of the performance was to ascend the rope at a good speed and stop midway, to prove to my spectators that I had full command of my tackle, consisting of a brake pulley or block, and that I could fetch up myself to a dead halt going at any speed. I accomplished all my feats successfully, and finished at night with a display of fireworks. The three newspapers published at Preston estimated my spectators at 38,000. This exhibition being an open one we had to take what was given. But I was thankful to receive as much as started the poor man in a fair way.

[From Chris Aspin’s book, ‘Lancashire, the First Industrial Society.
‘This account from the Preston Chronicle Of 20 April 1853, was written when Steeple Jack was at the height of his powers:

Last evening, the most startling and extraordinary performance of daring feats that has been given in this part of the countrv during our recollection took place at the 'Big Factory' chimney, Fishwick, in the presence of a larger concourse of gratified spectators than ever assembled in the neighbourhood before. The performer was james Duncan Wright, the renowed 'Steeple jack', the scene of whose unique exhibition was Common Bank Valley, his stage a rope fastened to the top of Messrs. Swainson and Birley's lofty chimney, and stretching out to the extent of 500 yards in the vale below, and his audience 15,000 inhabitants of Preston and the neighbourhood. A colour was waving from the factory, while on the summit of the chimney another flag flaunted in the passing breeze, and on the ground were two bands of music and two pieces of cannon; so that the ensemble of the affair bore a truly dramatic and novel aspect. jack, who was attired as a sailor, seemed in excellent spirits; and as soon as the signal was given by the discharge of the guns, he swiftly ascended the chimney, and very soon landed at the top. He there speedily affixed a pulley to the rope with which was connected a sort of handle, which acts, when pressed to the cord, with the same effect as a brake to a railway train, and to which, moreover, was attached the seat in which jack makes all his aerial flights. Having firmly ensconced himself in the seat, our hero fearlessly commenced the terrible descent amid the cheers of the dense and serried mass of spectators. As swiftly as the arrow did he traverse the rope, which is some hundreds of yards high, and coolly stopped midway, where he fired one barrel of a revolver pistol. He then quietly resumed his mid-airjourney, suspended over a dread abyss, but 'bating not a jot of heart or hope', he left the chimney looming in the distance behind, and soon rejoined the cheering crowd on firm earth. The next feat was one which surpasses all power of description, but must be seen to be properly comprehended. jack actually traversed the rope in the manner above detailed in the marvellously short space of time of ten seconds! He fixed the cord in a more perpendicular positon, the signal was given, oft' went his airy car, a 'whirr' was heard as the pulley revolved -with lightning velocity upon the rope, all was intense and breathless excitement among the people-jack has travelled 500 yards in ten seconds, and arrived safe and sound amid the hearty applause of those assembled! jack afterwards re-ascended the chimney, where he sent up some fireworks, and stood amid a blaze of fire of dazzling splendour.’]

In Preston I had a great deal of work, which we managed to do in a satisfactory manner. Now, the reader must imagine me in every town and village in Lancashire as one naturalised to the country. Indeed I worked all over England at this period, going home to the tower on Saturday night, as I always made it a rule to be at home once a week wherever I was working.

One day I was surprised to receive a letter addressed thus:

To Steeplejack,

Somewhere in England.

On opening this letter, I found it to be a request from Mr Mathieson, of the Woods and Forests Office, Edinburgh, to come through immediately, as the spire of the General Assembly Hall had been struck with lightning, and had set fire to some of the pews in the body of the hall. So I started immediately for Edinburgh.



On arriving at Edinburgh I met Mr Mathieson, Mr Cousins, City Architect, and Mr Eddie, the great optician, who were my employers in the job, which involved my climbing the beautiful and lofty spire of the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, the highest point in the Scottish metropolis.

My first operation was to make a kite of large size. This we attempted to fly in the Castle Square or drill ground, but the wind being from the West, and the Castle standing betwixt us and the wind, it baffled all our skill to get the kite to a proper height. We then adjourned to a road along the South side of the bottom of the rocks where the Castle stands. Here there was a clear course for my operations. I looked about me to see if I could get something heavy enough to make fast to the tail of my kite. I could find nothing suitable; but seeing a stone about 4 lbs. weight I tied it to my handkerchief and made it fast to the tail. I had several police guarding the road to give room to raise the kite; but unfortunately I had one troublesome incident-an encounter with an old gentlemen. This was a great corpulent gentleman with a white hat covering his upper storey. I warned him to keep clear of the line of the kite, especially the tail, as he might be in danger when the kite rose. But he, not liking my interference, asked me what authority I had to speak to him in that fashion. I informed him that I had a roving commission from the head of the police, and I could fly my kite where it suited me. I warned him once more, and he told me to go to - anywhere. I then gave the signal for Peter to run. The kite darted up like a rocket and the tail came round with a swing, the stone at the extremity striking the gentleman with such force that he rolled on the street, his big yellow stick flying to the North, while his white hat found its way to the Grassmarket.

The kite was soon up about 1000 feet, so I thought it was time for me to lead it into proper position. I led it round the Assembly Hall buildings and back to my former ground on the Castle Square. I only studied the line for five
minutes when I passed it clear across the points of the large cross at the top of the steeple. I was passing over my tackle, and I was ready for an ascent at any moment. Mr Cousins asked me to put off my ascent till the following day. On the day of my ascent, there was an immense concourse of people watching my operations, and I had to be guarded by the police till I got a clear road to the entrance to the building. A beautiful sight was visible from my lofty perch. The dense mass of well-dressed people mixed with the military with their scarlet uniforms formed a most imposing spectacle. The view of the city, with the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat to the South and East was grand, and turning my eyes to the North it was grander still, the view extending as far as the Bass Rock, Isle of May and the Fife coast. The outlook was so grand and interested me so much that I almost forgot where I was. When I thought of descending to terra firma, on reaching the roof of the building I could not see how I was to obtain a passage through the crowd of people. However, the hall-keeper let me out at a side door, through which I crossed the street into a Public-house.

I received a message that some gentlemen wished to see me in the Assembly Hall. These were the Lord Provost, Mr Mathieson, and others including the Sheriff of Midlothian, who took a great interest in me. The Sheriff remarked that I would make a good Freemason. I replied that I had several friends who were Freemasons, and that from what I knew of them I had no objections to become a fellow of the craft. Accordingly I was introduced by the Sheriff as a fit and proper candidate for admission to his own Lodge. In due course I was admitted a Freemason in the Lodge St James, No. 97, on 29th April 1852.

The first who took an interest in me was the proprietor of the engineering works of St Leonard's, who, being a member of the craft, accosted me as "Brother Wright. " He told me that he had an engine chimney much out of repair, and as I was a brother mason he thought it his duty to give me the job. I had also an invitation from Messrs W. & R. Chambers to overhaul the chimney belonging to their printing establishment. I received many gifts and invitations from persons in high positions, which had I not been a Freemason I would not have received.

For the guidance of architects, builders and others, I now describe how a lightning conductor should be erected, and the proper materials. The conductor that I was instructed to fit up on the Assembly Hall Steeple was planned by Mr Mathieson, Queen's Architect for Scotland ; Mr Cousins, City Architect, Edinburgh ; and Mr Eddie. It consisted of 16 feet bars, inch diameter, coupled with right and left screwed bosses or couplings, pinned close to the mason work without any insulation, the fastenings being of gun metal. The point of the conductor is tipped with a shoe of platina, fastened by means of a copper shackle to the bottom of the cross. At the ground the conductor is hard soldered to a copper plate 3 feet square, the plate being buried amongst charcoal. The lightning conductor of the Assembly Hall is fitted up as above, and has never failed, though repeatedly struck. There are various sorts of lightning conductors superior to the one above described. The one I generally fit up now is a copper rope with triple points, fastened close to the brickwork or mason work of the building with metallic fastenings, gun, metal if possible, terminating on the earth with a thin copper plate as above, or hard soldered to the nearest water pipes. The size of the rope is from 1” to 3/8” in diameter, the loftier the building the heavier the rope. No insulators should be used, and if the conductor passes over cornices or projections, it is necessary to avoid sharp curves.

On returning to Ramsbottom I was welcomed at the railway station by a number of friends, the news of my feats in Edinburgh having preceded me. My wife showed me a parcel of letters, thirty or forty in number, all about repairing engine chimneys. I selected a chimney to repair at Failsworth, near Manchester, a silk mill, the property of Mr Henry Walmsley. The chimney was upwards of 200 feet high, but apparently it tapered too much, causing a stoppage of the draught at the top. Mr Walmsley wished to know whether I could take 30 or 40 feet off the chimney, which I undertook to do, and, what pleased him most, I undertook to execute the work without stopping the machinery. There were 37 boilers connected with the works, and not one of them would draw.

I commenced operations as usual, gained the top, and commenced to cut a course out right through the chimney, about 40 feet below the top. This was a very difficult job to do. I supported the part of the building I intended to remove on slip wedges, having a lever attached to each wedge, and a rope fro! the end of the lever to the ground. When the chimney was cut three-parts round I came down, and the tackle answered the purpose of pulling down the 40 feet. When the lever ropes which were attached to the wedges were pulled upon, all came out, leaving a proportion of the chimney in a tottering condition. Six or seven men then pulled on the main tackle, which swung the 40 feet of brickwork all in a lump to the ground.

By this operation the diameter of the chimney was enlarged one foot, but the draught was not much improved. On further investigation, I found out a secret that I never thought of. The chimney was fully 500 yards from the boiler-house, and the main flue was led through a field which was level. I had some suspicion that there might be damp or some stoppage in the flue. This belief I communicated to Mr Walmsley, who instructed me to improve the draught at whatever cost. I engaged a number of labourers, and on the following Sunday I opened up a part of the flue in which I found about nine inches of water. I had the water taken out of the flue, and cast a drain to carry it off in future. On Monday morning the steam was got up in half the time it took before, and the draught was so powerful that it shook the very doors of the furnaces. Both I and my employer regretted that we had not discovered that before we took down 40 feet of brickwork. Mr Walmsley was so well satisfied with my work that he presented my wife with a silk gown purchased in Lyons, and made other gifts to Peter.


During eight years' stay betwixt the tower and Bury, in Lancashire, I was fully engaged amongst engine chimneys doing all sorts of repairs. At this period trade in Lancashire was rather backward on account of the American War. [c.1860/65] I got slack of work myself, but fortunately I had saved a little money. Day by day things got worse, till the people were next door to starvation, and, like the prodigal son, would fain have filled their bellies with the husks which the swine did eat.

Seeing things were coming to a desperate point, while engaged at a large chimney at Burnley I determined to venture another aerial exhibition at Padiham racecourse, near Burnley. There being no chimney or steeple near the course, I had to raise a gigantic mast upwards of 200 feet in height. This exhibition was the same as I gave at Preston some years before. My performances were given on as beautiful a morning as could be wished for, and tens of thousands wended their way towards the racecourse. Unfortunately about 11.30am. rain began to fall. This continued the whole day, and caused my spectators to turn back. Nevertheless I went down my angled rope, which measured 600 yards in length, within ten seconds; and to show the spectators that I was master of my performance I stood on the top of the truck of the mast and sheltered myself at the same time with an umbrella, which I found to be a difficult task. This exhibition was a complete failure, and cost me upwards of £80.

However, good luck sometimes follows bad luck. Mr Bardsley, proprietor at the Pomona Gardens, Manchester, engaged me on the spot and paid the money that I had lost. At Manchester I gave a performance every night for three weeks amidst a display of fireworks.

One morning, going from Ramsbottom to Manchester in a railway carriage, I had for a fellow passenger a country gentleman reading the newspaper, who suddenly, looking at me, exclaimed, "Do you believe that?" I asked him what it was. He replied in a broad Lancashire dialect that a man was going to fly from the city of Manchester to the city of Paris in ten seconds. The man that proposed to do so, he said, was a fool.

“I believe it can be done," I said.

"You are a greater fool than he, then," he replied.

" Nothing of the kind," said I. " I will wager you £5 that it can be done."

This he accepted. On our arrival at Manchester we proceeded to the Pomona Gardens, where we met the proprietor. I informed Mr Bardsley that I had wagered £5 with my friend, and asked him to take charge of our money and pay the man who won. I amused my friend till it was time for me to throw off my overcoat, which disclosed me rigged in a uniform that took my friend by surprise. I soon relieved him of his thoughts, telling him that I was the man he had twice called a fool, and pointed to a gigantic picture about 600 yards distant from where we stood.

"Why," he exclaimed, "that is the Tuileries Palace in Paris."

" Certainly it is," I said. Then putting my hand on the mast I asked him what part of the world the mast was in. He replied, "Manchester." "Well," said I, "that rope you see first at that masthead is in Manchester ; also you see the other end of the rope, which is fast to the Tuileries Palace in Paris." He said, "Yes." I told him that in half an hour I would show him my person transported safe and sound from Manchester to Paris in ten seconds.

"Oh, my lad, " said he, "you may go down that rope, which is a terrible undertaking, but not in ten seconds.” He had hopes that even yet he might not lose his £5. However, I came in within ten seconds. He paid like a gentleman.

The next adventure was a large chimney at the blue vitriol works, Green bank, St Helens, which was the most desperate job that ever encountered. The gases that came up this chimney would dissolve iron in a night’s time. Therefore, as fast as I put tackle on this chimney, the chains which supported it were consumed. For instance, if a piece of boilerplate were to be placed on the top of this chimney for 2 hours it would be wasted as thin as paper. I thought more than once that I would never accomplish this job, but to be beaten was not to my liking.

One day a gentleman from Wigan called on me and told me that he had an engagement for me on the Continent. I told him how I was placed with this building. Mr Foot, the acting, manager of the works, advised, me to accept the offer and go off at once. I did not like this arrangement, for it implied that word "beaten" which did not agree with my nature. Mr Foot, my employer, however agreed that nothing could be done. He gave me a certificate and also a present of £5, so I accompanied the gentleman to Wigan, where I had done several clever jobs, especially a large square chimney belonging to Mr Laing's chemical works. This chimney was leaning over the canal about six feet
Off its perpendicular. I was successful in putting it perfectly straight which saved Mr Laing the expense of a lawsuit with the Canal Company.

My new friend and I came to an arrangement that I was to go to Antwerp to repair a large chimney connected with the Belgian Government. The same night I took train to London. From London I took steamer to Antwerp. On going ashore a big man dressed like a dragoon soldier accosted me. “.Parlez vous Francais?" he said. I shook my head, and he asked me in broken English for my passport. I thought it was pasteboard, and told him that I never carried such an article. The steamer's engineer, a Dundee man, observed the fix I was in, and he came up and spoke some gibberish which I could not understand. The big soldier turned out to be one of the chief officers of the gendarmerie. He pulled out of his pocket a small bit of ribbon with something on it and made it fast to the buttonhole of my coat, and told me that this would do as well as the pasteboard. Sitting in my hotel for a few minutes, I was surprised to see about 30 or 40 Englishmen rush into the same room and salute me, with their hats in hand, which is a custom in Belgium. They were all anxious to see me as they had read so much about my aerial feats they had taken
That day to themselves as a holiday on my account. This company of countrymen came from Burgerout,, three miles from Antwerp, the place where I was to go to. They accompanied me to the works, when I reported myself to Mr Wood, the manager. The work that I had to do was to take down an iron crown from the top of the main chimney, 210 feet in height, the iron crown being so much decayed that it had become dangerous. It weighed fourteen tons, and was in eight pieces. After taking down the old crown I put up a new
one in less than three days. The new crown also weighed fourteen tons, and was in eight pieces. It resembled the Belgium crown. I also fitted up a lightning conductor. During my operations on the chimney it was very difficult for me to understand my labourers, and they were in the same fix as regards myself.

The work being very difficult, and the snow falling thick and fast, this was against me. I wanted some one to steady the different sections of the castings, but could get no one to come up beside me. However, there was a blacksmith, belonging to Wigan, and I advised him to come up and give me a hand. Joe was very much frightened, and said if they would put him into a barrel, so that he could not see about him he would come up. A barrel having been got and fitted up, Joe was fetched up by means of my tackle as safely as if he had been sitting in an easy chair. When he arrived at the top I pulled him and his barrel on my scaffold, and tumbled him out like a big cod fish. He played thud on the scaffold, and exclaimed, " By gum, I am dead now."

“Never mind, Joe," I said. "Rise up and have a look about you; everything is strong. "

But Joe did not think so, for he felt the chimney sway about like a ship's mast. All chimneys sway, and Joe, terrified by the motion of the chimney, groaned aloud and wished himself down to terra firma. I took a piece of chalk and wrote upon a bucket that I had a sick man, and asked them to send up a drop of brandy. A bottle was sent up, and I administered some to Joe, which revived him, and he was able to render me valuable assistance. We never minded the snow storm, but section after section came rapidly up, and we as rapidly screwed them together. After the crown was all bolted into its proper place I lined the inside with brickwork. We were not long in dispensing with our scaffold, and got Joe in his barrel once move. I gave the word, " Lower gently." I then slid down the ropes after Joe, and had time to pull him out of his barrel. “By gum" said he, "I'll go no more with thee. Is the brandy done?” Our worthy manager was standing by. We all adjourned to the showroom, where there was a table with refreshments and a number of chairs, I noticed one in particular, and I was placed to the right of this one. The chair on my right was occupied by the manager, the big chair on my left was occupied by a tall noble-looking gentleman, who asked Mr Wood where I belonged to. He informed him that I belonged to the neighbourhood of Dundee. The gentleman then said to me, "Do you know the Earl of Camperdown's place?” I replied, “Yes." He said to Mr Wood that he had been at the shooting on the Camperdown estate, and that if all Scotsmen were like the sample now before him it must be a noble country, and wished that his kingdom could furnish such men. These last words made me very uneasy. Although the bottom of my chair had been red hot, I could not have felt myself in a worse position, for I was alongside of no less a person than the King of the Belgians. He, seeing my confusion, cheered me up, saying that he was only a man like myself, perhaps not such an exalted man as I was.

This did not pacify me. I mentioned to Mr Wood that I was tired, and wished to go home, which I soon did. A basket was put into Joe's hand, which seemed rather heavy. Joe and I took the road for home, but as we had a good cargo of champagne, &c., this caused Joe and me to be rather long on our Journey. When I reached home 1 was not long in getting to bed.


On departing from Belgium, I returned to Bury in Lancashire, but finding there was nothing but starvation before me I sold off my furniture and proceeded with my family - which by this time was pretty numerous - to the town of Dundee, then in a very flourishing state. I obtained work directly, more than I could accomplish and was assisted by my eldest son Jack and his uncle John.

Our chief job in Dundee was the erecting of the conical Points on Sir David Baxter's lofty chimneys. This was a very difficult piece of work, the Points being formed of large fireclay blocks dovetailed at every joint. I may mention that Mr Peter Carmichael sent to Glasgow for a squad of first-class bricklayers to erect these points, but they refused to undertake the work unless a scaffold was erected from the ground to the summit of the two chimneys. This not being agreed to I was sent for. I accepted and erected the two points with only one flying scaffold on each chimney. We started on the Monday, and the agreement was to have steam up on the Monday following; but on Friday afternoon I was able to inform Mr Carmichael, the manager, that he could fire up, for the points were complete. During my stay in Dundee I wrought for several manufacturers.

The principal works in Lochee, a suburb of Dundee, are the Camperdown Linen and Carpet Works, the most extensive works that have come under my notice in all my travels being one mass of buildings and employing upwards of 6000 hands. Jute materials of all sorts are turned out ready for the market. I may mention here that I have been acquainted with the Cox family since ever I knew myself, being brought up as a next door neighbour at a place called Foggielea, adjoining a small estate called Harefield. I remember the old gentleman, or father of the present proprietors of the Camperdown Works. We used to know him by the familiar name of Elder Cox. His dress, I well remember, consisted of a coat with swallow tails, knee-breeches, with a large Kilmarnock bonnet which covered his venerable head. He had a number of apprentices learning to be weaver. He sometimes encouraged them to work by throwing off his large bonnet and declaring, “We shall be rich." One of his sons was named George, now one of the chiefs of the firm. George and I when boys were well acquainted, so much so that we once had a desperate battle over a mavis's nest, which he claimed. I also claimed the nest, having found it first. George said the nest was his, because it was on his father's property, so we had a battle to decide who was to have the nest. The "elder," however, made his appearance, and put an end to the strife, telling his son that it was not fair for him to fight with me, as his tacketty shoes were on, while I had none, so I got possession of the nest.

While employed at Dundee at Sir David Baxter's and other works, Mr George Cox sent for me to repair two of his chimneys, the only chimneys then connected with his works, but now in place of them there is one of the handsomest stalks to be seen in Great Britain. It is built entirely of red and white bricks, the, white forming fancy designs. The lower part of the chimney is square, more like a tower than anything else. The square portion rises to the height of 200 feet, above which there is a circular part rising 80 feet higher.
The square portion is surmounted by a balcony of iron fret-work, and a stairway runs up inside one of the corners to the platform or balcony, the smoke passing up a circular tube inside the chimney. This handsome stalk cost £6000.

The village of Lochee is now united to Dundee. Lochee itself would make a considerable town. When I was a boy I knew every house and inhabitant in the village ; but one might as well count and know all the houses and people in London as know of Lochee now what I knew formerly. There is an old rhyme about Lochee, which runs thus:

‘Lochee itself was built by a loch, sir. And everybody there had a horse and a plugh (plough), sir. With land to keep them 't a'thing they were needing. A bonnet and light blue claith was their cleeding; But now instead of that they're a' grown sairdles, With little bits o' hoosikies and bits o'kail yardies.’

Dundee had its peculiar characters, such as Paddy O'Neil and Blind Hughie. whilst amongst the higher order were Sir David Baxter, Gilroy, Nicol, and a host of other manufacturers, engineers and shipbuilders.

For a considerable time I was employed repairing chimneys and the like in Dundee, Arbroath, Montrose, Brechin, Forfar, Kirriemuir, Blairgowrie, indeed, within a circle of 50 miles from Dundee as the centre. Amongst other engagements I was summoned by Captain Dempster of Dunnichen to repair the ancient steeple of Restenneth, three miles East of Forfar, considered by antiquaries to be one of the oldest places of worship in Scotland. The remains of the Church are roofless and it is supposed that a son of King Robert the Bruce is interred there. I could not discover that any mortar or cement had been used in this steeple, though stones forming the spiral part were all locked into each other. I pointed the spire, built up a portion that had been injured by lightning, regilded and repaired the old weathercock, and erected a lightning conductor to protect the old building from further damage.

After finishing the spire of Restenneth I proceeded to fulfil an engagement with the Magistrates of Forfar to repair the weathercock of the Parish Church, representing a crocodile or fiery dragon without wings. I transformed it into a fiery dragon by adding wings, which gave general satisfaction to my employers. I had also a job from Provost Craik and others. On this occasion I met a very eccentric old man possessed of property and money, a brother of the late Provost Potter. Old James wished me to erect a lead pipe in the form of a syphon which was double, and had to be hoisted up about 78 feet, on Bailie Murray's chimney. This syphon was to be connected with a small engine. The purpose of all this stupid work was to make the sea-water into sugar, which Mr Potter considered an easy matter to do. I accomplished my part to his satisfaction, and the engine was set to work; but James could make no sugar, so he gave it up, like the rest of his undertakings. It cost me a new set of ropes, besides my kite, about £10 altogether, which Jamie refused to pay, stating that there was no sugar made, and that he was not willing to pay me anything for my labour. I spoke to his brother, the Provost, about his conduct, and he told me to take him to the County Court. I did so, and got satisfaction.

On my return to Dundee my wife handed me a letter which a man on horseback had delivered her, telling her when I came home that I was to proceed immediately to the house of Dun, occupied by Mr Erskine, the laird of Dunhouse estate, situated between Montrose and Brechin. This letter was very pressing, so I immediately took train to Bridge of Dun, and it was not long before I was in the presence of Mr Erskine, who told me he had a very strange job for me, to cut down an enormous tree known as the ghost, witch, or haunted tree. The main reason for taking down this tree was its hanging over an iron suspension bridge, which Mr Erskine had a great fancy for. This tree was of great size, being close on four feet diameter at the bottom. The spreading branches were as heavy as any ordinary tree. The ivy which surrounded the enormous trunk was about one yard thick, and made a splendid shelter for birds, such as owls, hawks, and bats of great size. I think these tenants were the only ghosts or hobgoblins that haunted the tree. Whether or no, there was not a man or woman that cared to pass that tree after dark. Perhaps this is because owls' eyes shine in the dark like cats' eyes. I was not a little surprised when Mr Erskine told me what I had to do. I told him I had no notion of the work of a forester, but if he would supply me with the tackle I would endeavour to take down the tree with the assistance of his men. Next day we set to work, getting tackle from Montrose. I mounted the tree, and made fast my tackle, not without great trouble and sudden surprises from large bats and owlets, who disputed my authority. Having got my tackle fast, which tackle upon tackle-or as sailors say lift upon lift-I got two sturdy men with axes to cut as near the ground as convenient. which occupied two days. I then informed my employer that I was ready to pull down the tree, and that if he had any party desiring to see the operation I would wait their arrival. A goodly partly assembled. When I gave the word " pull away," the tree first came to its perpendicular, then tottered, and with another pull of my powerful tackle it played crash in the glen with a noise like thunder, smashing, everything before its ponderous weight. The screams of the birds or whatever it might be were fearful. Superstitious people took to their heels, declaring that I was no better than the demon that haunted the ghost tree. Mr Erskine gave strict orders that I was not to leave the house till my job was complete; I was well treated and well paid, and we parted good friends.


Once more arrived in Dundee I commenced operations along with two of my sons, who were now of great service to me. They were good climbers, and could point brickwork as well and as quick as myself. Our work in Dundee was chiefly repairing engine chimneys, taking down old tops, replacing them with new ones. I generally did this top work at night, even during the winter, to save stopping the works during the day time. When the spring of the year came in there was much talk about the marriage of the Prince of Wales. Two days previous to the day of the marriage I attended a meeting of gentlemen called the Decorative Committee. They asked me if I could do anything to beautify the town on the occasion. I told them that I was at their service to display the colours or flags on all the steeples or lofty buildings in the town. I informed them that I would require a staff of suitable men to assist me. My first step was to call on the Bishop of Brechin (Forbes) to get his sanction for the use of the spire of the English Church situated at the bead of the Seagate. This is the loftiest steeple of a spiral kind in Dundee. The wind was very contrary, and heavy rain fell on the morning I commenced operations. I saw I could not fly the kite to get my tackle on the steeple. The lightning conductor was a small one, only ¼” thick. I tried my weight on it, and it held good, and as I was assured it must at the top be turned once or twice round the spindle I hesitated no longer. I then attached a ball of twine to my belt and grasping the small lightning conductor I made my way to the point of the steeple where I took my seat very comfortably on the cross-bars or cardinal points. The old Town House of Dundee is situated in a large square in the High Street, something like Castle Street of Aberdeen, and it was thronged with people to witness me ascend the steeple without the aid of tackle. Amongst those who were on the platform of the steeple more than 100 feet below me was the late Rev. George Gilfillan and several friends. I made known to my assistant that I had no knife. Mr Gilfillan, hearing my request, sent my man off for something, and returned with a little tin can, which was made fast to my twine, I pulled up the can, took off the lid, and found a new knife amongst a red liquid called brandy. Both these articles came in good time, for I was perishing with cold, it being a terribly stormy morning. Having got breakfast, I engaged twelve Greenland sailors to assist me in erecting colours at different points of the town of Dundee. We first flew front the top of St Paul's a double line of streamers, one passing over Castle Street and the other across the head of the Seagate, about 50 colours on each line, and the large Royal Standard on the top. It had really a fine effect. We did the same to upwards of 30 other buildings, and our aerial decorations were accomplished in two days.

I was ready at ten o'clock to fall into the ranks of the great procession in the Masonic Lodge of St David, Dundee, of which I was an honorary member. All the different Societies, trades, volunteers, including the Royal Naval Reserve,
took part in this procession. It proceeded to the Baxter Bark, where two trees were planted named after the Prince and Princess of Wales. The procession was fully two miles in length. In the evening it was intended to have an ascent of an enormous balloon, conducted by Coxwell, who wished me to accompany him. Unfortunately the wind was blowing a hurricane from the North West, which would have carried the balloon across the German Ocean, so we had to give up the idea.

Soon after the opening of the Baxter Park the British Association visited Dundee. Mr Thomas Lamb, proprietor of the largest temperance hotel in Scotland, asked me if I could erect some flagstaffs for him. I told him that I would be very glad to do so, as it was a branch of my business. I and my sons erected four flag-staffs 30 feet high. In due time the British Association arrived, and a large number of its members took up their quarters at Lamb's Hotel. Amongst them was a coloured gentleman, supposed to be the Governor of Bombay. I became acquainted with this gentleman in rather a strange way. To get on the roof where the flag-staffs were placed I had to go through an empty bedroom on to a balcony, then up a ladder to the flat roof. I was asked one morning to hoist all the colours. I arrived at the hotel about four o'clock in the morning and got on the roof. I had forgotten a coil of small cordage, and descended the ladder and lifted the lower sash of a window. No sooner had I done this than I heard a yell that shook my nerves to such an extent that I lost all control of the heavy sash of the window, which came down with a crash on my neck as if it had been a guillotine. My fright did not end here, for when I came to my proper judgment, on looking round the bedroom which my head had entered I perceived another head as black as my coat, with a pair of eyes glaring at me. Neither of us spoke a word till the black head bowed backward and forward, and at last asked me in very good English what I wanted, and called me a burglar. I denied this stoutly, telling him I had made a mistake of a window. Ah he said, he would not make a mistake and lifted at the same time a very suspicious-looking article, which caused me to give an extra tug to get my head on the outside of the window. The black head observing my position burst out in a fit of laughter, showing as fine a set of ivory as ever was set in a head. Seemingly he had changed his mind, for he laid down the fatal instrument, jumped out of bed, rung the bell, till William, the waiter, made his appearance, wishing to know what was wanted. The black gentleman pointed to me in my trap and wished to be informed the reason why I was there. I told William, to come and lift the sash off my neck and I would explain all. I told him that I had mistaken the window. William managed to convince his black majesty, so that he wished to accompany me on the leaden roof of the hotel after breakfast, which he did, and we became great friends.

He presented me with a ticket admitting me to all the lectures, which were very interesting, especially one that made me think more of myself than ever I did. One gentleman gave a lecture concerning the human and monkey race, and declared that we sprang from monkeys. I thought within myself there must be something in that. I had since a boy been subject to climbing trees, lofty buildings, &c., which caused me to consider I must have sprung from the ape. My family of sons were something similar in their habits. When I had to chastise them for little delinquencies, on trying to get hold of them they would escape from me by running up water spouts, landing like monkeys on the ridges of the houses, making faces at me, and daring me to follow them, which I confess I had often to give up for a bad job.

On leaving Dundee I proceeded to Montrose where I did one or two jobs. Next I went to Aberdeen, where I was engaged at Broadford Works and Sandilands Chemical Works. Afterwards I spent two years in London, and another two years in the North of England. From Newcastle I proceeded by steamboat to Leith, and took up my residence at Fountain House, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh. There I was engaged by an American Company, owners of a large gutta-percha and vulcanite works, the largest on this side of the Atlantic. When I informed Mr Douglas, the manager, that I could repair his lofty chimneys without stopping the machinery he took a special interest in me, and wished me to make an estimate of what it would cost to repair the five chimneys, for, he said, it was as well to give me the whole to do. I and my boys set to work in earnest and we found not only Mr Douglas to be obliging but all we came in contact with at these works. I felt very happy; now I received good pay for my work, and had a comfortable home to go to. One day I received a letter from Mr William M'Ewen, of Fountainbridge Brewery. He had a chimney nearly 200 feet high needing repair. I appeared before Mr M’Ewen, who looked hard at me and remarked, " I know you, but cannot name you," and asked me if I had done any work in Edinburgh before this. I replied that I had fitted up a lightning conductor on the Assembly Hall in 1852.

“I have you now, Jack, though your name is Jamie," he said. “Do you remember being at Jeffrey's Brewery about that time, when a young clerk gave you some beer and showed you round the works?"

I remember the young gentleman," I said, And is the young man still alive?"

"Look at me," he said.

I at once recognised my old friend the young clerk, now the sole master of one of the largest breweries in Edinburgh, and, to crown all, an M.P. which dignity he attained some years after. Amongst the many employers I have wrought for I confess I had greater respect for none than Mr M’Ewen, for I always found him generous in cases of sickness or accident.

My success and happiness in Edinburgh continued uninterrupted until the terrible visitation of Smallpox, which carried off 100 persons every day. Our happiness received a check, for one after another of my family took ill excepting myself and wife. I was fairly done up attending them night and day. I had to be doctor myself and fetched them all round, with the exception of my daughter Jessie. I had a clever doctor for her, but she died. This blow was sorely felt by me, for she was my favourite child. She was about sixteen. We got clear of this distress, but I could not help looking at Jessie's empty chair.


When my sons had regained strength, we proceeded, by order of the Magistrates of Jedburgh, to repair the ancient steeple of the old Townhouse,
Council Chambers, and Police Office. Jedburgh is a border town of Scotland, where many a battle has been fought and many a dark deed done. There is a fine ruin here of ancient type, which is roofless. The churchyard connected with the Cathedral adjoins the old Townhouse. I obtained lodgings for myself and my son Henry, the only one fit for work, the others being still weak on
account of their recent illness. My sleeping room was immediately below the curfew bell, which was rung every night at ten o'clock. This was formerly the court-room, where judgment was passed on many a criminal, the window looking out on the burying-ground, my landlord being the gravedigger and bell ringer. The first night we were rather tired, and we went to bed early. We soon fell asleep, but were awakened by the horrible noise of the large bell, which was rung with a vengeance over our heads. Our host had not told us about the bell, but before going to bed he had told us so many dreadful stories about the churchyard, of things that were sometimes heard and seen, about people who were buried alive, and about the man who was hung first and tried afterwards (which is called Jeddart justice to this day). "Yes," he said, "he was hanged not many feet from where you are to sleep to-night, and the room
you are to occupy is the one he was judged in." I and my son lay and thought over all that was said, which banished sleep from both of us. The night was lighted up by a pale moon. I, lying in front of the bed, had my eyes fixed on the window, which looked out on the churchyard, when all of a sudden the window was darkened by a large figure, resembling a huge bat. I touched Henry and asked him to look at the window. He looked for a moment, and then curled up like a ball under the clothes, being so terrified. I confess I was not a bit better until I heard the mew of a cat. I found to my delight it was the Tom cat, a big one, trying to get in at the upper sash of the window, which had been drawn to admit the air. We soon fell asleep after we knew what the ghost really was.

The worthy Provost of Jedburgh was a little thick-built man of the old-fashioned type. He wore a white apron, and worked in his shirt sleeves, his trade being a saddler. He came to me in the morning and wished to know what time I would ascend the ancient steeple, as he had some friends he wished to invite to see the performance. I told him I would let him know the exact time to invite his friends. I and Henry commenced operations, assisted by a native of the town, and we were successful in getting all the tackle arranged for the ascent, which I could have accomplished in five minutes; but wishing to keep my word with the Provost, I gave him notice to have his friends on the ground by ten o'clock next morning. At that hour people came from all quarters to see the ascent, for they thought it was impossible to climb the steeple without scaffolding. I had among my audience the Queen of the Gypsies all the way from Yetholm, which place belongs entirely to the gipsy tribe. There would be from 3000 to 4000 spectators. I ascended the steeple till I came to the iron rod which supports the weathercock, and laying hold of it I found it was so loose that it came away with my weight considerably off its perpendicular. The bottom part of the iron bar or spindle was fastened through an oak beam, which was so much decayed that the spindle had no support from it. This beam I dispensed with, and substituted two beams of cast-iron, which hold the spindle as firm as a rock. I pointed all the joints of the mason work, regilded the weathercock, and attached cardinal points, these being the first direction points in the district with the letters E. W, N. S. I also gave assistance in putting in an illuminated dial, the first on the Borders.

I had invitations to several places of note, and received several presents, including a belt from my friend the Provost. After visiting home I was called on to do some work in Galashiels, to which place I took my wife and family. We commenced with a large chimney at a place called the Notherdale Works. This is a great tweed manufacturing district. During my stay here I repaired a great many chimneys, and at each work I was presented with as much tweed cloth as made suit of clothes for each of us. My crew, consisted of four sons, self, and wife. When my work was finished I was sorry to leave Galashiels, for the people were extremely kind to me and my family. We were treated as if we were a noble family. We next proceeded to Berwick-on-Tweed, where we did a good many jobs, also amongst the gentlemen farmers round the country. Our next station was my old and respected place Haddington where I was received with great kindness, and was advised to take up house, which I did. Here I was in the centre of the greatest farming district in Scotland. It is a common thing to have on one farm 24 pairs of horses, besides steam ploughs and other implements with steam power. Each farm has also its steam thrashing mill, with chimneys not less than 90 feet high. I had no trouble in the East Lothians in obtaining employment, I was so well known on account of my having repaired the town steeple-one of my first undertakings.

After remaining here a couple of years I was once more landed in Edinburgh. This time I took up house at Tynecastle, at the West end of Edinburgh. The first job I had on my arrival was St Cuthbert's Parish Church steeple, of which church the Rev. Dr Macgregor is minister. I was also employed by Sir James Gardiner Baird of Inchhouse. I had to repoint the whole of the steeple, paint the woodwork, put a new tail to the vane, alter the appearance of the spindle by introducing cardinal points, and completed the work by erecting a powerful lightning conductor. The Rev. Dr Macgregor was on the Continent for the benefit of his health during the time I was engaged on the steeple. On his return he did not know the steeple of his own church, it was so improved in appearance. This job I carried on and completed with the assistance of my two sons, Henry and Peter. My next job was to repair the weathercock and erect a lightning conductor on the lofty and delicate-looking spire of St Andrew's Church, Edinburgh. This being a public place, it brought me a number of jobs I would not have thought of. I had a letter from Messrs Nelson, publishers, and repaired two chimneys for their works situated on the South side of Edinburgh. These new works cover a vast surface of ground, being only one storey in height. Their printing machines and all the other machines are driven by gas engines, and thus do not require lofty chimneys, and so they can dispense with my services. I also did work more than once for Messrs W. & R. Chambers on their engine chimneys. I also came in contact with Mr John Ford, of the Edinburgh Holyrood Glass Works. I had at this period a regular run of work, the most of which is not worth mentioning, it being chiefly small jobs.

At this period I went to Cameron Bridge Distillery during the Winter accompanied by my two sons, Peter and Henry. We took the train, and landed at Cameron Bridge Station about seven in the evening. There was a good deal of snow on the ground at that time. The distillery is between three and four miles from Leven, the nearest place where we could obtain lodgings. We
made up our minds to pass the night in the engine-house, which was clean and warm. The only thing I wanted was something to make a supper of. Across the bridge which spans the river Leven was a shop, which was also a post office. Poor Henry volunteered to go to this shop to obtain something for our supper, but he never returned with his message. Peter and I became very uneasy about his absence. The night manager of the distillery came to me and asked me if I had not two sons with me. I said I Had. He replied “I only see one. Where is the other?" He further said he was under some suspicion that there was something wrong, and that if I would come down to the porter's lodge Mr Haig's coachman would tell me something. I began to feel a strangeness come over me, and went down to the porter's lodge, where,
to my astonishment, I saw about a dozen men with lanterns, torches, ropes, and grappling irons. The coachman took me aside. He held a long light
glass in his hand, with spirits in it, saying, "You will do well to take a little of that, then I will tell you something. I did as directed. " Now," he said, " be firm and hear what I have to say. I think your son is drowned, for I heard as I was
crossing the bridge sounds of distress below the bridge, so we are going to search for him." We formed into two searching parties with grappling irons, torches, and lanterns. A great number volunteered to search for poor Henry.
Each party took its respective side of the River Leven and dragged it down a. far as the Kirkland Mills without success. We continued our search till five o'clock in the morning, being diligently engaged all that dark and cold night, but not a man complained, though we were dripping wet by falling into pools of water covered up by the snow. We continued the search for a week without success. A party declared they had met a young man resembling my son on his way to Dundee. I knew that he was at that, time in communication with a young woman belonging to Dundee. Knowing this, I concluded, which was a great relief, that he was not drowned after all. So Peter and I commenced our work, and finished it without further accidents. On reaching home my wife looked round and inquired where Henry was. She told me she bad a terrible dream about him. I did not know what to say about the matter, and simply remarked that I thought he had gone to Dundee on some business of his own. We still had our doubts about Henry till a month and two days had elapsed since that awful night, when I received a letter from Methil, a small fishing village, stating that an old woman, who was picking up bits of wood along the beach had found the body of my son. The letter had miscarried, so I was not present at the funeral, which took place at Methil burying ground. When I read this letter to my wife and family it acted upon us like a winter day. My poor wife held firm, but I remarked a change in her appearance.


I was next engaged to repair and hoop the huge chimney, 180 feet high, of the Edinburgh and Leith Gasworks. A very awkward job, the chimney being octagonal, a very difficult style to hoop, for one misfitting square will throw the whole hoop out of form. My two sons, Peter and Thomas, assisted me there. One afternoon, the wind being very high, we stopped work about four in the afternoon, and went home. On arrival at my house I could not get admittance or any answer, except a bark, or rather a howl, from my faithful retriever from within. I remarked to Peter, "There is something wrong " and as the door could not he opened I told him to burst it open. On entering the kitchen I found my wife stretched at full length on the floor unable to speak or move. I proceeded immediately to the Haymarket for a doctor, who accompanied me to my house. He examined my wife, and shook his head. He inquired if her parents or relatives had been paralysed. I told him her father had died of that trouble. The doctor replied, " That accounts for the condition your wife is in ; she is paralysed on one side from head to foot." He also stated that the intelligence of the death of my son Henry had caused the trouble.

Peter and I returned to Leith, leaving Tom with his mother, and we managed to finish our arduous task with sad hearts. I was fortunate in getting a good job to do for the Messrs Calender, who had a very extensive tanwork. The chimney connected with these works was 260 feet high, which I pointed, and erected a lightning conductor. My wife recovered so far, and regained her speech. She was able to be taken out in a perambulator to see us working, and otherwise amuse herself.

At this period Mr Gladstone, the great Liberal leader, was a candidate for Midlothian. My employers were both on the Liberal side and as my tackle was on the chimney they asked me if I would fly a few colours if Mr Gladstone gained the day. I told them that I would be most happy to do so for them, and more so for Mr Gladstone. We were all certain that he would gain the seat, and I set to work and borrowed about 150 beautiful flags of all colours and nations, mostly from Leith. About twenty minutes before the telegram came to my employers I got a hint that Mr Gladstone would certainly gain the day. I attached my service tackle to each line of streamers and colours, there being about 70 colours on each line. On the word being given the colours were transported to the top of the chimney. The wind was fresh, the sky clear, and the sun bright, causing the double line of flags to have a gorgeous and brilliant effect. The spectacle was noticed by Lord Roseberry, Mr Gladstone, and their friends at Queensferry House, Dalmeny. A telegram was received by my employers, wishing to know the nature of this display. My employers telegraphed in return that it was the work of Steeple Jack, in honour of Mr Gladstone.

I was as little from home at this time as possible, on account of my wife's illness. One Sunday one of my sons came to me in great haste for me to come to the house, as his mother was very ill. She had another shock, which caused her death in April 1881. After the funeral I hardly knew what to think or do, for the loss I had sustained made a great alteration on me. I had three of my sons living with me, namely, Peter, Thomas, and Robert. We were at breakfast when I proposed we should lock the house and take a journey somewhere else, as I was not comfortable, neither in the house nor in Edinburgh. This proposal was agreed to. Then I said we should go to Carlisle, as I had never done any work there, and it would be fresh scenery to me, and divert my mind from the lonesome circumstances in which I was labouring. We got all our things together, in light marching order, and locked the door of that house, which I never entered again. We reached Carlisle in about a week, going by way of Penicuick and Ecclefechan, thence to Dumfries. We had a small job or two here, which gave me time to visit the grave and handsome monument of the immortal Robert Burns. We were engaged at the steeple of St Andrew's Church, a freestone building, upwards of 200 feet high, situated about the centre of the town. This steeple had been struck by lightning, although protected by what is called a chain conductor. I found the conductor cut to pieces at various distances, a proof that a chain conductor is a thing of danger instead of a protection. I fitted up a patent copper lightning conductor, ¾ inch diameter, with platinum points.

Our next station was Carlisle, where we had a good number of chimneys to repair. We had one rather uncommon job, namely, to take down a chimney about 120 feet high, which had to be removed to make way for a new building. I commenced in my usual way to cut it down at the bottom. In the direction the chimney would fall there was a line of low buildings., which I was told to save, if possible. These buildings were built in a fancy Gothic style, with ornamented brickwork. I cut the bottom of the chimney three-quarters round, introduced slip wedges, which were placed into the gaps or cuttings. 1 had a long rope attached to a lever of the wedge to be taken out, in order that the chimney might come down in a straight line. We got out two of the sets, but one remained fast, so that the chimney rocked as if on a pivot. At last it came down like a tree, smashing the fancy buildings to pieces, making the contents darken the air, for they flew up like a cloud of mud. I was paid for this job with a grudge, my employer being vexed with the dirty mess I had made in pulling down the chimney, but I told him to keep his temper, for dirt was luck.

We next took our journey to Barrow-in-Furness, where we got a job at a brewery. Our next place was Lancaster, the County town of Lancashire, where we had a good many chimneys to repair. We stayed there several weeks, and then proceeded to Liverpool. Liverpool being a large place, and we here strangers, we were at a loss how to proceed, not knowing one street from another. So, choosing the outskirts, I went as far as Kirkdale, where there is a large prison. Here I noticed a flour mill driven by wind as well as by steam, the engine chimney of which was in a very ragged condition. I made application, and was successful in getting it to repair. As we did not like Liverpool, we took lodgings in this neighbourhood within a mile of Bootle, where we fell in with a number of Dundee mill workers employed at a large factory at Bootle by the Messrs Nicoll, of Dundee. The chimney of the factory was cracked and rent for about 30 feet from the top downwards, the top being also out of repair. I told Mr Peters, the manager, who I was. He came to the conclusion to have the chimney thoroughly repaired, which, I must say, was a very hard and difficult task. This chimney being connected with about twenty different boilers, the heat at the top was so great you could fry a beefsteak on the top. On account of my being a countryman of theirs, I received great kindness from Mr and Mrs Peter's and we got on well with the work, doing what was required at the top during the night.

Having finished this job, we took a stroll through Liverpool, till we came to Highfield Brewery, belonging to Messrs Smith, Mumford, & Co. There I observed a ladder reared up against one of the chimneys, but no one appeared to be working at it. I concluded that the party had failed in his attempt to ascend the building. I went to the office, where I met the proprietor, who informed me they had engaged a man, but had to discharge him on account of incapacity and drunkenness. I produced my testimonials, including the one I had just received from Mr Peters, of the Bootle Jute Works which satisfied the proprietors, and we arranged to have three chimneys repaired by me and my sons. During the time I was engaged here I had the satisfaction of meeting my youngest daughter, her family, and husband, the last of whom followed my occupation.

Having finished the work at Highfield Brewery, we took boat from Liverpool to Bristol, my old spot. I was accompanied by my three sons, my daughter, her husband, and family. Thus, my company was getting strong. After a pleasant passage we arrived at Bristol, where we took a house and lived as one family. I had a job at St Leonard's Chemical Works for my old friend Mr Gibb. We were also successful in getting plenty of work here for several months.

At this time I visited the city of Bath, about twelve miles distant, obtaining a job at the sawmill near the railway station. The operation of flying my kite here attracted a number of persons, and was the means of my getting the steeple of St Andrew's Church to repair. This is a handsome structure, standing on the height of Bath. The steeple is 200 feet high. My employers, the chief officers of St Andrew's Church, consisted of five Generals, three Admirals, besides other gentlemen. When flying the kite we were perfectly besieged by ladies and gentlemen of all ranks asking us the strangest questions, for example, if I went up by the tail of the kite. We were very much thought of here, and were invited to many a noble mansion, amusement, &c. The city of Bath is rightly termed the Queen of the West. The bath, which springs from the bowels of the earth, are continually hot, being from 85 to 90 degrees and the water is a cure for many diseases. There is a number of hospitals, and the patients often recover their health and strength by the use of the waters. There is a fountain immediately in front of the Grand Pump Hotel with a continual flow of hot water, with numerous drinking cups for passers-by to drink. Recently old Roman baths have been opened to public view, showing their vast extent and vaulted passages. I confess I was sorry to leave Bath, as of all places in England it is my favourite. Our work being finished we held a council, and it was agreed to go to London.

When we arrived in London we took a house in Limehouse. We then went on the hunt for work. My testimonials soon gained plenty of work for all hands. I remained in London till I took ill, when I came to Aberdeen to visit my eldest daughter, leaving my family to work out the jobs I had got for them.


Many of my readers would like to know something of Aberdeen. Some call it the Granite City, which is quite correct, for it is entirely built of granite, and the streets and pavements are laid with the same hard material. There are a number of handsome monuments and statues, one of which is the noble Duke of Gordon, whose statue stands in the Castlegate, near the Cross. The Gordon Statue is sculptured out of a block of grey granite. Some time ago a little boy presented a conundrum to Mr john Henry Cooke, of the Royal Circus, which gained a prize- “How is the Duke of Gordon the hardest man in the world ?-Because his heart is of stone and his back to the X"

My health having improved with the pure air of Aberdeen which is very different from the air in London, I began to look for work. Amongst others, I became acquainted with Mr Andrew Murray, jun., he occupies a beautiful cottage, situated on the rising ground close by the river Don, named Inverdon. It commands an extensive view of the German Ocean, the city of Aberdeen with its handsome harbour, Torry village, the Girdleness Lighthouse, and the commencement of the Grampian mountains. This gentleman informed us that his wife was much alarmed at thunderstorms, and as his house was elevated he wished me to supply and erect a lightning conductor, which I did to his satisfaction. I found Mr and Mrs Murray to be very plain but kind people. I had occasion to visit Inverdon Cottage often afterwards, and every time I went I had a roving commission to go through the garden, especially at fruit time.

I observed something wrong with the spire and steeple of the Free South East, and High Churches. I spoke about this to Mr Andrew Murray, who introduced me to his brother Alexander, who is Treasurer of the Free South Church. I found him very easy to approach, and have since placed great confidence in him, and he has acted as my amanuensis in writing these reminiscences. At his request, having examined the steeple of the three churches, I found it required to be pointed, and gave in an estimate which was laid before the church authorities.

About this time a sad occurrence befell me which caused me to leave Aberdeen for Sheffield. I received a telegram, stating that my son Peter had fallen from an engine chimney, and was seriously injured. A couple of hours later I received another telegram stating that my son was dead. Taking the first train for the south, I proceeded on my long and weary journey, landing at Sheffield on the following morning. On reaching the Royal Infirmary I found the dead body of my son. I remember going into the dismal room, but I do not remember coming out of it, for when I came to myself I was in a well furnished, warm room in the Infirmary, with my youngest daughter and her husband by my side. At the Coroner's inquest it was brought out that Peter Wright was killed accidentally by falling from a chimney at Sheffield. After we had interred poor Peter, I went to see the chimney and the spot where he alighted. I noticed that the brick work was very loose at the top, and not in a safe condition to withstand any friction or motion. I believe that the accident was caused by Peter handling the heavy stones which formed the top, with nothing to stand upon but these loose bricks, I may state here that I have repaired scores of chimneys in such a rickety condition that I found it very difficult to work on them. I further state that I know of several accidents having occurred through neglecting to have chimneys repaired in time. I may mention that when I visited the works where Peter fell I introduced his young widow to the owner, who expressed his sorrow for our combined misfortune. I told him that I had buried my son at the cost of my topcoat and watch, which I had to pledge for that purpose. I asked him if he intended to do anything for the widow. He declined. I told him that I had not sufficient money to send her home to her parents in London. He handed a half-sovereign to the poor, heart-broken creature, and said that I was trying to get money out of him as an acknowledgment, in order that I might carry out a lawsuit against him. I told him that this was a false idea and that I could not come against him after the Coroner's decision so I left this hard-hearted gentleman and prepared for my journey to the Granite City.

Arriving in Aberdeen, I repaired at once to my daughter, who was very anxious to hear what I had to say about Peter. I told her and her husband all particulars, the whole of us being in very low spirits with regard to what had happened. I took my solitary walks, especially the first thing in the morning, to Point Law and round the harbour. At this time the dry dock being finished, the Harbour Engineer asked me if I could fly a colour or flag on the lofty chimney connected with the dry dock. I did so and also put the finishing touch to the lightning conductor. I may say that I only did this job to divert my gloomy thoughts from what had happened. After this I had several jobs from the Corporation and others.

At this time I received a very pressing letter from my eldest son John to come to Edinburgh, where he followed the same business as myself.

When I arrived in Edinburgh I found that John had no work, which disappointed me very much. However, I proceeded to Fountainbridge and saw my worthy friend Mr M’Ewen of Fountainbridge Brewery, and obtained some employment from him and others. We had two chimneys to repair for Messrs Jeffries' Brewery. Finding there was not work enough for both of us, I now left Edinburgh for a stroll on my own account, my route being through Portobello, Musselburgh, Haddington, Dunbar, Coppersmith, Berwick-on-Tweed. On my way through North Berwick I had two or three farm chimneys to repair. I proceeded to the Westward, passing through Churnside, Coldstream, and Kelso. I made a stop here, when I got a small job, and then turned my course to Galashiels, where I met some friends, and after a short stay I proceeded to Selkirk, Hawick, and Langholm, from thence to Lockerbie. I next arrived at Dumfries, but did nothing there. Wishing to see the Galloway coast, especially the Mull of Galloway, I commenced my journey from Dumfries, and arrived at Castle Douglas, Stewarton, and many other smaller places, until I arrived at a place called the Ferry, which lies right opposite Drummore, an arm of the sea parting the two places. Arriving at the Ferry on a Saturday, I obtained comfortable lodgings, and remained over Sunday.

On Monday morning I took my route round by the head of the bay leading me towards Drummore. About noon it came on a terrible storm of rain, which continued the whole of the day and night. I trudged on my way up to my knees amongst mud, the roads being in a fearful state. Night came on as dark as pitch. I kept the edge of the road, which was nice and smooth, being a grass path. In the darkness I got in betwixt the woods, one on each side, which made my journey so dark I could see nothing. I kept the grass path, taking good care not to fall into the ditch. In this style of march, wet to the skin, I shuffled along. I could not hear the sound of my own feet, and to crown my distress 1 came bump against something which made my hair stand on end. What I had come in collision with played ‘bouff’ on the grass. I was in the same predicament, playing bouff on the opposite side. My fears were relieved when I heard a voice drawling out, “Mr Devil, I'll never get drunk again." I suppose the poor fellow had thought that I was old Clootie. To calm his fears, I told him that I did not think a devil could have any comfort or any business here on such a night, so I assisted my friend up, who was very thankful. He told me that he had been at the village, which was on my road, and got a drop too much. He said that he was sorry to disobey the orders of his better half, and that he had a bottle of whisky, but nothing to draw the cork with. So he desired me to go back about a quarter of a mile to a porter's lodge leading to a large mansion. Being acquainted with the people of the lodge he introduced me to them. A pretty figure I was! I was wet enough before I was knocked down in the collision, but now I felt very uncomfortable about my hinder parts by coming in contact with the wet grass. My friend got the cork out, and we had a fair allowance of hot punch.

It is strange but true that a bad beginning has a good ending. I was asked where I came from, and where I was bound for. The good woman said it was no use of me to think about going to Drummore on such a night in the state I was in, and that I was nearly twenty miles from it. The good woman's husband said that I should go up to the Castle. My friend proposed to take me up to the Castle, as he was a friend of the butler's, and the gentleman who inhabited the Castle was very kind to those who were benighted. On arriving at the Castle the butler saw at once the state I was in. He went directly to his master, who came down to the hall where I was. I told him my story, and showed him a number of testimonials, when he declared that he was very happy to see me, as he knew me when I resided in the Tower of Ramsbottom, Lancashire. The butler got strict orders to get dry clothes for me and make me comfortable, with instructions that I was to see the governor before I left in the morning. Morning came, which found me much improved, and I saw the gentleman, who asked me if it was possible for me to erect a lightning conductor on the tower of his mansion. I told him that I was ready to do any favour for him. A letter was despatched to Glasgow for a lightning conductor, with all its appliances, which on arrival I erected. This work being finished, I parted with my friend for Drummore.


Drummore is situated on the Mull of Galloway, and the point where the lighthouse stands is about twelve miles further on. This is one of the strangest parts of Great Britain. The Mull is a long twenty miles, half a mile broad at some parts, the sea being on both sides. I came in contact here with Mr Marshal, a miller, who engaged me to put a new top on his chimney and point the whole of it.

My next route was for Stranraer, where I had a friend. There being no railway here then, I had to go on foot. I went to the Reformatory School, of which my friend Mr Ross was governor, and he invited me to take up my quarters with him. Here I found much to amuse me, there being about 400 boys in the establishment. In the ground is a double rope walk-one walk above the other. There they manufacture twine, ropes, and nets of all descriptions, furniture, shoes, clothing, bee-hives, and they also do a little printing. I must say I never saw boys in better condition, for they had plenty of good food and warm clothing, and not too hard work. They were often allowed to go into the town to amuse themselves, and they had a splendid brass band to cheer them up. I made two large kites for the boys amusement. The first kite I made was a large one, and in a pretty strong breeze I have seen it run away with half-a-dozen little fellows. The second was in the shape of a Highland soldier, measuring fourteen feet in height, and painted like a 42d Highlander. He was one of the strangest sights, especially when flying in the air, shogling from side to side as if dancing the Tullochgorum.

The Governor gave the boys the privilege to visit the regatta, which they took advantage of, headed by their fine brass band. I also took part in the procession. We saw a number of good races, especially with the yachts. I put in for a race against a man who occupied a very small boat rigged as a sloop. The rigging of my boat consisted of a large kite, which dragged my boat, a small skiff, through the water at such a speed that I was afraid it would pull me out of the water at times. We both made a fair start. My opponent had the advantage of me for the first half-mile, but a good breeze springing up took such a hold of my kite that it made my little skiff tear through the water like a mad thing. I reached the opposite land, and pulled down my kite, which was a very hard job to do. I waited on my companion, whom I left about half-way on his journey. At last he landed, and was very much pleased with the adventures that I had encountered on my passage across the bay. He laughingly said that I deserved the leg of mutton and live goose, for he would not repeat that feat for a living bullock and 100 geese. We now made up our minds to return, which at first was an easier matter for him than for me. He had sails that could be trimmed to the wind, but I had nothing but my eight feet kite and a solitary oar to take me back. There were great odds against me, but as there was a lump of Robinson Crusoe in me I contrived to make my kite into a square sail, it being in the form of an oblong square. I secured it fast to my oar which I formed into a mast, having plenty of twine to make braces and sheets, which wrought my kite that I could sail close to the wind. My skiff being light, and my comical sail having a great surface, it drew me up abreast of my antagonist, who took every advantage to try and outsail me. However, it would not do, for my slim craft stranded on the beach 100 yards before him. Much cheering and merriment were caused by this comical race.

After a few days longer stay here I bade my friends farewell and proceeded to Maybole. My next stage was Troon. Then I proceeded to Govan, then to Saltcoats on my way to Greenock. Between Saltcoats and Greenock is a small village, called Pickup, where I had a strange meeting with a gentleman. I was trudging along rather fatigued when the strange gentleman accosted me with a "Fine evening' " I said it was, and he remarked that 1 had seemingly come some distance. I told him I was bound for Greenock, which was still eight miles off. He replied that there was a small village about a mile off where I could get the train, and that he was going that way to see a neighbour a gentleman named Sir Michael Stewart, W.P.G.M. of Scotland. Hearing this, I mentioned that I was a brother Mason. He instantly extended his hand to me. By this time it was getting so dark that we could not distinguish each other's features, so we had to content ourselves with grips and words known only to Freemasons. At the Railway Station he gave me his card, and told me to be sure and call on him when I arrived in Glasgow. I had much pleasure in making the acquaintance of Sir Archibald. Campbell, Bart., R.W.G.M. of Scotland, a real gentleman, and good to those that need his assistance.

Afterwards I visited Poole, where I set to work to repair the chimney of the gas work. I had to take down the old top and replace it by a new one. Unfortunately for me the managers were unable to stop the draught or prevent the heat and smoke, and there was a large quantity of gas escaping from the retorts, which must have been leaking. I was well-nigh finished with my job when I got so stupefied I could hardly make my escape from the chimney. I got worse every day, and was compelled to keep my room. When convalescent I used to take a walk as far as Parkstone, a beautiful, well-wooded village, the inhabitants of which are mostly of the higher ranks. In the course of my walks I met in with several friends, in particular an elderly gentleman, who turned out to be a Scotchman. He was bad with rheumatism, but was interested in me. and invited me to his residence, a large villa in Parkstone. He had a number of young gentlemen in his establishment, and they engaged me to construct a large kite, which led to my getting many orders for kites to others. In this way I was able to keep body and soul together. I was now so far recovered as to be able to undertake another job at Poole. This was a chimney off the perpendicular, which they had attempted unsuccessfully to straighten. I found it to be 4 feet off the perpendicular, but was able to straighten it within a week. About this time a card was presented to me to attend a great demonstration at Temple Combe, got up by the late Lord Wolverton. I should say there were at least 50,000 persons assembled at Temple Combe, which is about 56miles from Poole. This great concourse of people came from all parts to this meeting. Our railway fares were paid, refreshments, and amusements were all free, and at the expense of Lord Wolverton. The grounds are very extensive, marquees, tents, circuses, merry-go-rounds, swing boats, and Punch and Judies covering the ground. I am certain there were 50 bands of music to enliven the scene, with a grand display of fireworks in the evening. Very nice speeches were delivered by a number of gentlemen, and altogether the day passed in a most satisfactory and pleasant manner, and without accident.

After visiting Bournemouth and other places I resolved to return to Scotland. I took the night train and proceeded by way of Bath, where I had to change carriages. In doing so one of the railway servants came up to me, and asked me if I had heard anything concerning the accident that had befallen my son, Thomas, at Bristol. This party that I was speaking to was a particular friend of mine. I said to him that a joke was good enough, but that I thought he must be off his latitude. I had not long to wait here, but got into the train again. Previous to the train starting my friend held me by the hand, and said in a low, faltering voice, “Your son was killed a fortnight ago by falling 90 feet from a chimney in Bristol." The train started, and I was left alone in a state of mind that I cannot describe to my readers. This was the third son I had lost while engaged at this occupation. The night was extremely cold as the train rushed onwards towards the North. I felt lonesome and very much shaken in my constitution, and the news of poor Tom's death made things worse.

After remaining two months in Edinburgh, I returned to my friends at Aberdeen. In the course of last summer, I had occasion to be in Montrose and Brechin. I resolved to go to Invermark Castle. At that time Mr Allsopp, brewer, of Burton-on-Trent, occupied the Castle. However, I did not see him, so I made up my mind to cross the mountain to Aboyne. I was directed to keep a path like a sheep track. I managed to get up the glen till I arrived at the head deer-stalker's house, where I was to get full directions how to cross the mountain. Seemingly Her Majesty the Queen had been at this place, for there is a well, in the form of a fountain, with an arched or rustic building over it, where Her Majesty had drank on the occasion of a picnic. The first part of my journey was right over the top of a hill. It would be about twelve noon when I gained the summit. I expected to see something quite different from what I looked upon. Why, it was nothing but mountain after mountain. It put me in mind of the Atlantic Ocean in its roughest state. I continued my journey, not knowing where I was going. The heather reached almost as high as my head. By this time I had lost the track. I continued going up one mountain and down another till I was fairly done up. At last, seeing a loftier mountain than what I had been on I made up my mind to get to the top of it to survey the country and try and discover some human habitation. But I could see nothing but mountains covered with heather. By this time the sun was getting low. It became chilly, and by and by mist began to creep over the mountains. I began to think of people being lost in such fogs and mists, and nothing but their bones being found, which made me very uncomfortable. I thought it time to beat a retreat from my elevated position, and, between sliding and tumbling down the side of the mountain, I reached a very snug corner where the heather was thick and soft, so I made up my mind to make this my quarters till morning. I examined the parcel I got at the Castle, which I did ample justice to. I then thought of a smoke, but could find no matches. I was rather disheartened at this. However, on tying up my provisions out dropped a box of patent matches, which I thought the greatest boon I had ever received. I slept pretty well all night, but thoughts of adders caused me to light my pipe pretty often. In the morning there was no mist, so I proceeded on my way to the North over moor and mountain, keeping the sun on my right. On reaching an eminence I saw in the distance a long white line and a small house at the end. I took it for the railway. However I found it to be a road, more like a carriage road than a turnpike. I saw no one to tell me where I was, but was glad to get my feet on a smooth road. I came to know that I was in Glentana. There are several bridges, a ticket being placed on each bridge warning people to be careful in case they should be shot accidentally. This caution is necessary on account of so many shooting parties being in this glen. After a weary march 1 arrived at Aboyne, where I obtained lodgings for the night, and the following day I took train for Aberdeen.


I was as great a stranger as if I had never been in the city before. Not wishing to pay hotel prices, I inquired of a policeman where I could get accommodation. He directed me to Burns' Lodgings, off the Gallowgate. I found this to be a building of great extent, and five storeys in height. I made bold to enter, when I met a very stout gentleman, who asked me if I wanted a bed, and what class? I asked him what the first class cost. He replied sixpence. I had a private room, which was scrupulously clean, and worth double the sum charged for it. The ground floor of the establishment consists of reception hall, dining hall, shop, and kitchen. There are also baths and foot baths. If you want to wash your own shirt there is a way for this also; a place for hair-cutting and shaving; a place for mending your trousers, especially if you had only one pair; a concert is given once a week in the large hall, and there are as many books, draughts, dominoes as you like. Neither profane language nor intoxicating drinks are allowed. The proprietor is a very commanding and straightforward man. He took particular notice of me, being a first-class man and a little better put on than my fellow lodgers, not forgetting that I sported a black leather portmanteau. We fell into conversation and he told me to keep my eyes open, for there were all sorts of characters under the same roof. He further told me that I had no occasion to go to a cook shop, as there was a kitchen with all sorts of cooking utensils, and a grocer's shop where you could purchase anything you wanted as cheap as in any shop in the city of Glasgow in small quantities, as a farthing's worth of tea, do. sugar, a halfpenny scone and a halfpenny worth of butter, one farthing's worth of cream-the total cost of your supper being 1 3/4 d. You must cook it yourself on the cooking range, which is fifteen or sixteen feet in length. The bedrooms are all boxed off, all beds are single, i.e., a bed for each man. In the four upper flats, which are all bedrooms, there are 600 beds. It is an extraordinary sight to see 400 or 500 men of all ages, of all shapes and sizes, differently dressed, of different occupation, and with a different style of cooking eatables. I noticed everything being cooked, from peas brose up to ham and egg. Some had herring, some fish, some bacon, toasted cheese, &c. You would see hundreds of creatures with small frying pans, goblets, tin pots, plates, basins, and all manner of dishes and eatables flying through the place, crossing zigzag in all directions, reminding one of a Scotch reel on a gigantic scale.

After staying here for three weeks for a rest I resolved to leave bonny Scotland and move to England. I took boat for Liverpool, and after Christmas I proceeded to Bath, where I remained till the spring. I then proceeded to Trowbridge, where I was engaged to repair the Duke Street Mill chimney. I was thus described in the local newspaper of 16th April 1887.-"Many of our readers have watched the operations of the individual who, perched on the top of the chimney at Duke Street Mill, 90 feet above ground, in the early part of the week employed himself in first repairing the shaft, and then in adding course after course of brickwork, until he had increased the height of the chimney by six feet; and in the absence of scaffolding no doubt many have wondered how he got to his perilous position. The undertaking appears to be a very risky one, but it was nothing to 'Steeple Jack,' who has, as he modestly claims, repaired the top of one of the highest chimneys in the world -a shaft nearly 500 feet high in Glasgow, and who is ready now to ascend the outside of Trowbridge Steeple, 180 feet high, and repair the block under the vane, so that on Jubilee Day, when the first stone of the new Town Hall is laid, a flag may be hoisted to mark the auspicious occurrence. 'Forty-five years I've been at this work,' says he. That the Duke Street chimney, at the foot of which this conversation took place, is nothing I have been up some chimneys in my time,' and growing loquacious he tells of perilous ascents in all parts, of adventures in the cage and on the ladder, and of narrow escapes from dreadful accidents. Once some tackle gave way and he came down about 80 feet, with nothing but the rope as it ran through the block to check his fall. That was a miraculous escape; but, says he, smiling 'There's life in the old boy yet.' And with a nod the spare muscular fingers grasp the ladder, and he ascends to put the finishing touch to his work. The ladders are pinned to the side of the chimney, so that the ascent is as nearly perpendicular as it can be. He climbs easily enough, and reaching the top steps over and into the shaft, standing while at work on a plank which rests on a couple of bars placed across the chimney. Bricks and mortar are sent up by the tackle as they are wanted, and "Steeple Jack" sets about his task as mechanically as if he were within a, foot of the ground. So far as the brickwork is concerned his task was finished on Tuesday afternoon, when the fires were lighted, but there was not such a free draught as had been expected. Investigation showed that part of the platform in the, chimney was still in position. This was knocked away, and since then there has been no trouble with the draught. As befits such a past master in his profession 'Steeple Jack' is, we hear, a member of the Masonic craft."

I next shaped my course for Salisbury. When you leave Westbury you come to the chalk country, the commencement of a long and dreary march across Salisbury Plains. I was about two miles on my way to Salisbury when I made up to an old man with a cart and donkey. I carried the kite I used at Trowbridge with me, and the wind was blowing pretty hard on our back. The kite being rolled up the old man was anxious to know what it was. I told him its use, and setting to work we got the kite to a proper elevation. It pulled so hard that I made it fast to the donkey cart, which made the donkey stagger a bit. Seeing this a thought came into my head that it would help the donkey along. So I adjusted the line of the kite in such a position that it very nearly pulled the cart without the donkey. However, we both mounted the cart, and from walking the donkey increased his speed to a trot, ending in a gallop. Before entering Salisbury I pulled down the kite, for I observed a good many people on the way to see what we were.

On my arrival in Salisbury late in the day I took lodgings. I waited patiently till morning to have a regular survey of the town, especially the steeple, which is 404 feet high-the highest in Britain. Morning came at last, and found me watching very keenly the lofty steeple. A gentleman accosted me with. a " Good morning," and I returned the compliment, and we entered into conversation as to the height of the steeple. He asked me what my profession was. When I informed him he remarked that it was an impossibility for me to fly a kite sufficiently strong to carry me up to the top of the steeple. I remarked that it wag in my power, by means of my kite, to erect tackle strong enough to carry a ton. He thought it would be difficult to get a line over the, steeple. I then said I had a large kite, and that I would soon get a line over the steeple. This proposal seemed to please the gentleman, who promised to report it to a number of his friends. After some delay I procured my kite, which, with the assistance of some young gentlemen who liked the job, I got to a proper elevation. The kite has two lines-one to bear across the top of the steeple, the other at the opposite side of the steeple to pull down the kite, so that you can have the end of your twine or cord on each side in readiness to splice on heavier lines until you have a strong enough rope to take one up the steeple. This exhibition was performed within an hour, and the steeple of Salisbury was left as before.

SCG./25 October 2007
28,769 words.

This was sent to me by Chris Aspin 13/11/07:

(James Duncan Wright
from Padiham)

James Duncan Wright, the renowned “steeplejack”, the sole inventor of the modern ascent of Pompey’s pillar will give his unparalleled aerial exhibition on the racecourse at Padiham on Whit Monday 12 May (1856). Flying descent of 1500 feet, aerial concerts, balloon ascents, etc. By the kind permission of Major Johnson, the band of the North Durham Militia (stationed in Burnley Barracks) will attend and perform a variety of popular music as will also the band of the Burnley Mechanics’ Institute. The ground to be opened at 2pm and the exhibition to commence at 4pm precisely.
The admission is 6d and working people 3d.

From the Burnley Advertiser 3 May 1856.
Article headed “Extraordinary and daring feats of mechanism”.

This article was noticed and recorded by Margaret Jones, local historian of Padiham.
She stated that 1856 was the last year that horse races were held on that racecourse.

Added to the Local Studies Collection at
Burnley Library November 2007
SCG/13 November 2007
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: Steeple Jack's Adventures by James Wright

Post by Stanley » 27 May 2020, 11:48

I got an enquiry from Chris Aspin today and realised I couldn't find this on the site so I have reposted it. Too good to lose!
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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