T he Penny Project *

(The Witch of The Auld NorthBurn)

Once upon a time-
In the 18th century any roads in the Lanarkshire area were little more than 'dirt tracks'. Whinhall Road and the Coatbridge to Glenmavis Road were just such dirt tracks and were used mainly by strings of pack horses. Travellers preferred cross-country routes which tended to be shorter and 'cut corners'. Whenever possible they walked on the crest of hills or ridges and sometimes on the high banks of burns. These routes also tended to be less muddy and safer from robbers or highwaymen. 

The North and South Burns were open streams. The North Burn flowed quite fast through Mavisbank, under the Burnie Brae bridge, through the woodbine fields (on the lands of Airdrie Estate), and then north to Kipps via "Kipps Brig" (the bridge over the burn in what is now known as Burnbank Street). In those days the Burn was deeper and wider, its banks were some 10-20 feet high. Most of the land south of Commonhead House and north of the Burn was used as common grazing land.

Whilst the water of the South Burn was freely used at various points for commercial purposes, industry dared not disturb the peaceful waters of the North Burn for fear of incurring the wrath of Maggie Ramsay.

Maggie Ramsay, from Airdrie, was always suspected of being a witch and was thought to be in league with the devil. She was often seen walking the length of the Aul' North Burn gathering ingredients for her potions and talking away to herself or her unseen devilish companions.
The areas where she walked were regarded as sacred spots - NO ONE, young or old, DARED to venture there after dark. When Maggie was about, other walkers gave her a wide berth, and kept their eyes averted - just in case.

There are a few versions of Maggie's story but the most plausible one was quite sad. Maggie's family were wealthy and, as a young girl, she fell in love with a farm worker employed by her father. Finding out about the affair, her father fired the young man and forced him to leave the area. Demented with love, Maggie searched the length and breadth of Scotland for her sweetheart but never found him. Eventually giving up all hope, she settled near the Auld North Burn where she eked out a living as a wise woman or spey wife and people came to her to hear their fortune
Most spey wives had a lucrative sideline in fortune telling and Maggie was no different in this respect. She built up quite a large clientele and women (and some men) came from as far away as Glasgow to hear Maggie tell their fortune.

One day, when Maggie was about 30, a stranger came through the town. He spoke to no one and no one spoke to him. A tall, dark man with a ring in his right ear, he walked to the front of Maggie's little house and stood there silently. Maggie came to her door and looked at the stranger. With a scream of fright she fainted on the spot. The stranger, satisfied with the effect
of his presence, turned and walked silently away.

Some said that the stranger was Maggie's lost love, others that he was a darker soul altogether. Whoever he was, Maggie wasn't telling. But she changed from that day on and became unfriendly to the townsfolk. She no
longer gave freely of her skills but demanded payment that none dared refuse to give.
But later she became bad tempered and tended to be a recluse.
Maggie disappeared from the North Burn area in the early part of the 19th century. Some say that she had fallen down a well or had been swept away during a heavy flood. The story goes that Maggie placed a curse on the North Burn in that anyone who wrongly abuses it will have no luck and will suffer her wrath.

In 1832 a quarrier named Forsyth, feloniously put a charge of gunpowder in Maggie's chair and blew it into smithereens. He used the material thus gained for building a road.     Legend has it that he never afterwards prospered and that he drank himself to death.

In 1865, an Airdrie teacher reprimanded her class for believing in the legend of Maggie and swore to walk alone by the river bank at night, throwing horse dung in the water. She was found the next morning, hanging from a willow tree growing at the spot where Maggies Chair once stood.

The poem The Aul' North Burn was written in 1868 by the Airdrie poet Wm. McHutchison, and refers to Maggie and the people of the time playing in the area of the North Burn.

In this era most of the land north of the North Burn was common grazing land with its northern boundary at Commonhead near Commonhead House. The banks of the North Burn were quite high and the area was liberally covered with whin, wild rose and honeysuckle bushes.

Tae sing that spot o' youthfu' joys
Nane has a better richt
I've row'd upon it's flow'ery braes
Frae day's first blink till nicht

The field to the south west of the Burnie Brae was almost surrounded by Woodbine bushes (Honeysuckle) and sloped steeply away from the burn. On this slope the children played at Rows and Chows or Row Chowing (sometimes called Roly Poly) - they literally rolled down the hill.
In Maggie's day the field was known as Fiddlenaked Park because it was said to be frequented by witches and warlocks after midnight as they danced to unearthly music all night long (a medieval disco?). Later the field was used for playing football and was known as "The Woodbine" or Woodbine Park

That was yae spot we laddies left
When it grew gloaming grey
We heard Maggie whurrin' 'mang the whins
An' bushes on the brae

Maggie walked continuously up and down the length of the burn, talking loudly to herself (or someone else)? Pausing now and then to sit on her chair (Maggies Chair - a large square piece of rock in the middle of the burn) and carry out her ablutions, taking an occasional dip, combing and arranging her long tresses.

But monie a moonlicht game we played
Nane feared for Maggie's spell
At tig, upon the smooth green grass
Beside the Aul' Wee Well

To the north of the Woodbine and the North Burn was a well where local lads and lasses used to congregate and play at their favourite game of tig. They believed that the well was out of sight of the burn, out of Maggie's sphere of influence and so they felt safe.

But time wi' magic wand has swept
Across this fairy scene
And these loved spots hae passed awa'
As they had never been

These loved spots hae passed awa', Indeed. The towns grew up. The common land disappeared as farming, housing and industrial sites.

Still monie a heart far, far awa'
Can tell ilk nook an' turn
In fancy aftimes join the sports
By Airdrie Aul' North Burn

The poem "The Auld North Burn" was written in 1868 by Airdrie poet Wm. McHutcheson

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