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Saturday, 5 April 2014


Where are you, Jean Mudie? I know your name, your years of birth and death, your mother’s and father’s names (Ann, and James who died in 1776). I know your husband and your descendants for seven generations ending in me. I go back to you, but I can’t see where you came from.

Jean Mudie is one of my sixty-four 5x great grandmothers. I couldn’t put a name to most of the other sixty-three, so I suppose I should be quite pleased even to know hers. Hers was not a high family; and that far back, information is scarce. She was most probably a weaver like her husband John Gavine. He was born in Forfar, a weaving town in the county of Angus in Scotland, but moved to the nearby city of Dundee as a young man, perhaps in search of work. There he met and married Jean in 1792 at the age of 26, and there their four children were born.

A weaver and spinner in Dundee, with a loom and wheel of the sort in use at the end of the eighteenth century (photo: Dundee HeritageTrust)

John did well to catch a Mudie. The Mudie family were prominent merchants in the city for centuries – Sir Thomas Mudie was Provost (the Scottish equivalent of mayor) of Dundee from 1648 to 1653, and there’s a large Mudie population with its own plot in Dundee’s ancient burial ground, The Howff.

The Howff is considered one of the most important historical cemeteries in Scotland, some say second only to Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Like Greyfriars, the Howff sits on land once occupied by a Franciscan monastery, whose monks were known as grey friars from the colour of their habits. Both institutions were abolished by the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation in the late 1550s, and both were designated as new burial grounds for their respective cities in the early 1560s because the old ones were full.

The Howff, Dundee (picture by K.A. Laity from her splendid blog)

In Dundee the Franciscan church had been used by the city’s craft and trade guilds for assemblies. When the church was pulled down, they continued to meet on the site, and so the Greyfriars’ Yard became known as the Howff (the Scots word for a meeting place). One of the earliest references to such gatherings in the graveyard is for Dundee’s weavers. According to an article by the late Colin Gibson, the weavers are recorded as having "convenit within ye Holff and comowne burriall” on 13th June, 1585. (Holff is a variant spelling, Gibson notes, in the same way that Golf and Gowff are variants.) The now-demolished north wall of the yard used to carry the inscription “This is the braboners’ head roum.” Braboner is the old Scots word for a weaver.

The Howff was in use as a burial ground for three hundred years, from its designation by Mary Queen of Scots in 1564 to the last interment there in 1857. From early on the Mudies had their own "place" or plot there. Provost Sr Thomas Mudie was buried there in 1660, beneath the mortcloth. This "cloth of death" was available for rent from the city's Guildry to be draped over the coffins of its favourite sons and daughters, and the records still exist for its hire from 1655 to 1817. Each trade within the Guildry had its own mortcloth, although unfortunately the records don't show which cloth covered Sir Thomas. Ten other Mudies were similarly honoured.

The burial records for the Howff survive from the late seventeenth century onwards and in their transcribed form the entries for Mudies alone cover fourteen pages (compared to less than two for Gavines, for example). Amongst them there are some fifty references to Mudie weavers including, in 1772, the burial of Robert, son of James Mudie, weaver. Could this be an infant brother to Jean?

My head is full of Mudies and weavers and Howff burials. But the truth is, I don’t know what James Mudie did for work, or how or whether he and his daughter are related to the rest of the large extended Mudie family in Dundee. All I know is what I’ve told you, and in addition that both Jean and John Gavine are also buried in the Howff. There must be a connection somewhere!

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