The People of Burns Cottage: The Drunken Miller

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Many different people have lived in the Cottage over its years. One particularly infamous and long standing resident was John Goudie, known colloquially as ‘Miller Goudie,’ who lived at the cottage for forty years with his wife, Flora Hastings. It is he and Flora who start the pub at Burns Cottage and over the years of their tenancy he was remembered as ‘seldom ever sober’!

This painting shows Flora and the Miller entertaining a group in the Cottage kitchen.
This painting shows Flora and the Miller entertaining a group in the Cottage kitchen.

As a young boy Miller Goudie moved to Alloway to work at the Dutch Mill and it is there that he met and married Flora Hastings. Of their union, Flora claimed that she had married Goudie to spite another man, but there must have been some attraction as she described her husband in his younger days as being ‘brawest wee man that ever stepped in shoe leather.’ Together they ran a pub called The Sign of the Bush, before spotting an business opportunity in the Cottage, which was becoming a place of pilgrimage. It is they who seem to start the tradition of the Burns Supper, holding them in the Cottage kitchen.

The Haggis Feast, 1840, Alexander Fraser. A romantic depiction of the first Burns Supper in 1801.
The Haggis Feast, 1840, Alexander Fraser.
A romantic depiction of the first Burns Supper in 1801.

The Miller had unfortunate relationship with drink, with one account recalling him sitting drunk in a corner. It was Flora who ultimately ran the business, not trusting her husband to do anything more than help the customers drink the liquor! Over the years Goudie became known as a henpecked spouse with one local resident stating that ‘Flora never could fancy him in any other position than Miller Goudie in, not of, Burns Cottage.’ She would often tell him off in public and kept him penniless so that he was kept in the house and out of trouble! In Reminiscences of Auld Ayr, the author recalls this experience of seeing the Miller secretly hunt for cash after Flora had left the room

the Miller then rose, and going to the drawer, began to turn over what we deemed to be a lot of old nails. As he was fumbling amongst them, the door opened and in stalked Flora, to take some things from a press in the apartment. The Miller was dreadfully taken aback. Hurriedly pushing the drawer back in its place, he resumed his seat. Flora said nothing but departed. The Miller then resumed his search, and this time, not being interrupted, succeeded. ‘Dod man,’ said he, as he again took his seat, ‘I was nearly catched there.

An 1829 etching by David Octavious Hill showing the Miller and Flora in the Cottage kitchen
An 1829 etching by David Octavious Hill showing the Miller and Flora in the Cottage kitchen

Goudie was also mentioned as an old man in the Dumfries Courier which said that, ‘when visiting Alloway you shouldlook in on Miller Goudie at the cottage who, though now an old man, and by no means a teetotaller, seems in better keeping condition than he was 30 years ago.’ The Miller died in 1842 and, for all Flora claimed to have married him out of spite, she was not the same after his death and died herself in 1843. At their funerals this poem is said to have been recited:

‘For forty years it was his lot
to share the poet’s humble cot
And, sometimes laughin’, sometimes sobbin’
Told his last interview wi’ Robin.
A quiet blithesome body
Without a foe was Miller Goudie.

And scarce twa simmers leaves were shed
When Flora by his side was laid
A landlady more kind and couthie
Ne’er set a stoup afore the drouthie.
To thousands upon thousands she
Brought smiling in, the barley bree,
With mingled awe and pride revealing
The neuk where Burns first graced her shieling
For fifty years cherish’d ither
And now in peace they rest thegither.’

The grave of Miller Goudie, his wife Flora and their infant son John at Kirk Alloway
The grave of Miller Goudie, his wife Flora and their infant son John at Kirk Alloway

The grave of the Miller and Flora can be found at Kirk Alloway ,where they are buried with a son who died in infancy. So next time you are at Burns Cottage remember not only Robert Burns, but also the lives of this eccentric and colourful couple who lived for so long in Burns’s house!

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