Creetown butcher Wullie Lindsay tells his story in Galloway People

He’s still making sausages and boning out beef in Creetown long after others gave up in New Galloway and Gatehouse.

And it’s clear Wullie Lindsay takes pride in keeping his shop going when so many nearby have disappeared.

For 32 years the popular butcher has nurtured the little business on St John Street, flying the flag for independent traders.

Most of the time he’s on the road, serving customers from Gatehouse to Glenluce in his refrigerated van.

Among his stops is Whithorn, a Scotch pie throw from Low Mains farm, where Wullie was born in 1959.

His farming father Archie was of Lanarkshire stock and together with wife Catherine, from Chilcarroch near Port William, raised four children, of whom Wullie was the youngest.

His grandfather, also William, hailed from Strathaven and came down to Galloway between the wars after buying Culnaightrie farm at Auchencairn.

He and wife Sarah had eight children – two girls and six boys – with all the sons going into agriculture.

“All my uncles had a farm – James was in Glenlair at Parton,” Wullie said.

“My dad was 55 when I was born and I had three older sisters, Rena, Sarah and Audrey.

“I was just a wee boy of four when I left Low Mains. My dad sold it and we moved to Moorpark of Barr near Newton Stewart.”

The young Wullie enjoyed Penninghame Primary School but admits Douglas Ewart High School was not to his liking.

“I hated the Ewart,” he says.

Wullie attended Penninghame Primary. He’s around seven years of age in the photo.

“I could not be bothered with it – the teachers and I did not get on. I was only 14 when my dad died and 16 when my mum died. When I sat my O-levels I wrote my name down and after that never wrote another word. When my mind’s made up, that’s it.

“My older sister Sarah took the reins and took me in. I stayed with her and Audrey at Chain Terrace in Creetown.”

Shortly after moving to the Ferry Toon, Wullie started a job in the trade to which he was to devote his entire life.

“I worked for Mattha Paton, who had the butcher’s shop in the village,” he recalls.

“I started doing deliveries on one of those old black butcher’s bikes with the basket on the front. It was 8am to 1pm on a Saturday and Mrs Paton would give me 50 pence. When I got back she would say ‘Where have you been the day Wullie – Girvan?’

“What she didn’t know was that I would be splitting kindling and getting in the coal for all the old folk on my round. They liked a wee blether and a craic. I got more money doing wee jobs for them than I ever got from Mrs Paton. She never found out.”

Outside the school term, Wullie began working full time for Mattha at 14.

“I would work every week of my holidays and the wages were £3 a week,” he says.

“The hours were 8am to 5pm except Wednesday and Saturday, which was 8am to 1pm.

A young Wullie pictured at Clatteringshaws on his way to a Celtic game
A young Wullie pictured at Clatteringshaws on his way to a Celtic game

“Coming up to 16 I got another job doing the milk round with Peter Maitland. You would start at 4.30am and be finished in time to get ready for the school.”

Back in the 1970s, Wullie recalls, finding employment presented little difficulty for school leavers.

“In those days the back pages of the papers were full of jobs,” he explains.

“I noticed a job at Newton Stewart slaughterhouse, went for an interview and got it. That was in November, 1975. The slaughterhouse was owned by Fergie Hastie, and Clifford Smithers and Bobby Beck worked on the killing side.

“I was in the cutting plant as an apprentice butcher, where the manager was Budge McLean.

“When Fergie sold the slaughterhouse I moved down to Plunkett’s shop in Newton Stewart, which I owned too.”

The butchery trade, with its razor-sharp knives, fearsome cleavers and serrated saws, is notorious for inflicting grievous wounds should concentration slip, even for a split second.

Wullie escaped his apprenticeship with all his fingers intact – but only just.

“At the start I could not chop and I used the saw all the time,” he tells me.

“I would saw down a pair of shoulders of lamb but this one time the blade jumped and I cut the leader of the index finger on my left hand. I asked Bobby Beck to patch it up and he asked me to straighten it but I couldn’t.

“’It’s a hospital job for you, boy!’ he said.

Wullie as a baby with mum Catherine and his three elder sisters
Wullie as a baby with mum Catherine and his three elder sisters

“I went to Newton Stewart first and they sent me to Dumfries where they stitched the leader back together. I had my finger in a splint for six weeks until it healed. From then on I always kept it out of the road even though I could use it perfectly fine.

“Even now when I’m linking sausages sometimes I think why am I not using that finger? It’s just instinct I suppose.”

After completing his apprenticeship, Wullie left Plunkett’s in 1980 after landing a butcher’s job back in Creetown in the same shop he’d worked in as a teenager.

The proprietor was Willie (WS) Allan, the renowned cattle breeder who also owned Glenturk, Upper Barr and Muirfad farms.

It was a busy time for butchers.

“Back then Creetown still had the Precast and the quarry,” Wullie recalls.

“Both were going strong and it was a great wee village. More than 100 men and women worked at the Precast.

“You had a busload from Whithorn that would pick up workers from Port William and Wigtown along the way. There was another busload from Stranraer that did the same and on top of that you had your locals as well. It was a busy wee bit.

“I remember in 1976 Billy Dodds from Creetown saying to me ‘you want to come to the precast, it’s £16 a week!’ I was only getting £7 as an apprentice butcher. But I stayed where I was because I enjoyed it, simple as that.

“Back then Creetown had four pubs – the Ellangowan, the Ferrythorn, the Barholm Arms and the Creetown Arms. There’s not one now and only two shops left – myself and the store across the road.”

Three years after joining WS Allan the door to bigger things opened when the shop manager left.

“The house was tied to the shop and Mr Allan asked if I would like to take it on,” Wullie says.

Wullie has been in the butchery trade for almost 50 years
Wullie has been in the butchery trade for almost 50 years

“Then in October, 1986, he came to me and said ‘Wullie, I’m selling the shop and I’m giving you first option – it’s up to you’. That gave me a wee predicament. I was in a tied house with a wife and a seven-year-old wean. Where else was I going to go?

“If somebody else takes over maybe they won’t want me.

“They could have sold the shop two or three weeks after I had turned it down – and then where was I going?

“I had a good bank manager and when I went to him he gave me the full amount to buy the shop and the house. I had to show him all the books and he just said ‘yes, we can sort things out’. I said to him ‘Mr Christie, I would never have believed in my life I would end up borrowing thousands of pounds. ‘Don’t you worry,’ he told me, ‘that’s my problem now because that’s money I have to get back from you!’”

Setting out on his own in 1990, Wullie remembers, he was something of a leap of faith – but his safety net was the community he had grown to know and love.

“I had been in Creetown since I was a boy so I knew everybody,” he tells me.

“All the people were happy for me and wished me all the best. The quarry and Precast had shut then we had BSE and foot and mouth to deal with.

“BSE put the Peter on a lot of things and it took a wee while for customers to get their confidence back again. It was the same with foot and mouth – you kept working and hoped things would get better.”

The closure of the butcher’s shop in Wigtown prompted Wullie to consider taking to the road.

Wullie's mum and dad Catherine and Archie
Wullie’s mum and dad Catherine and Archie

“I said to my wife Lorraine there’s not a place left in this area for butchermeat except Newton Stewart, why don’t we get a traveling shop?

“She wasn’t very sure at first but I said let’s give it a try – and that’s how it came about.

“From the first year onwards, 2008, that went very well for us. The first two or three weeks were quite slow but then it picked up.

“We never advertised – it was just word of mouth, which is the best kind of advertising.

“It’s Gatehouse on a Saturday, Wigtown, Kirkinner, Sorbie and Garlieston on Tuesdays, Whauphill, Barrachan, Mochrum and Port William on Thursdays and Kirkcowan and Glenluce on Fridays.”

Wullie emphasizes the importance of cleanliness in the food trade – especially where a retail outlet sells both cooked and raw meats.

Handwashing with sanitiser is the mainstay of the hygiene regime with customers asked to buy cooked products first before anything else. That way staff who have just washed their hands before serving don’t have to wash them all over again if the customer follows the procedure.

But human nature being what it is, things don’t always go to plan.

“One lady came in and I said ‘my hands are clean dear, would you like any cold meat before I start?’ ‘No,’ she says, “I’ll have four sausages and a pork chop’. Then she asked for boiled ham. ‘You were supposed to ask for that before I dirtied my hands’ I told her. She just said ‘oh, is boiled ham cooked?’ What she was doing with it before that I have no idea!”

Wullie with daughters Lana and Sarah
Wullie with daughters Lana and Sarah

For all the foibles of the public, Wullie still enjoys the job as much as when he started almost half a century ago.

“I love it,” he says. “I like meeting the public and love the work itself. You are not standing there doing the same thing every day of the week – it’s not monotonous.

“If I can keep going another three years I will be 50 years at it. I did not realize that until a wee while ago when somebody asked me how long I had been butchering. When I worked it out I thought I can’t believe that – it’s a lifetime. Not many people can say that nowadays.”

“It’s a dying trade, though,” he adds. “The supermarkets have done for all the wee shops. They want everything under the one roof. Yet the wee independent people like the butcher and the grocer are just as important as them. They have not got rid of me yet – so I’m delighted. And recently I think folk are beginning to appreciate the wee butcher’s shops again. So there’s always hope.”

Wullie’s son, “young Wullie”, is also in the trade and is a manager with Campbell’s Meats at Linlithgow.

Daughters Sarah and Lana, meanwhile, help their dad run the business in Creetown.

“They are very good lassies,” Wullie smiles. “They make the sausages for me and serve in the shop. Like any family we have our moments. But 99.9 per cent of the time it’s great – we don’t have many arguments. The three of us just sit down and get on with things and help each other out.”

Sadly, Wullie’s beloved Lorraine passed way three years ago, a loss with which the family is still coming to terms.

“Lorraine and I met in 1978 while working at Plunkett’s in Newton Stewart,” he recalls fondly.

Wullie with his beloved wife Lorraine
Wullie with his beloved wife Lorraine

“I had been invited to a wedding and I asked Lorraine to come with me. She was a week away from her 16th birthday de ella and I was 19. That was the start – we courted for two years, were engaged for two and were married for 36. ”

Wullie chuckles at the memory of Lorraine finding out how her family of one would soon become three.

“After young Wullie was born it was 13 years before we had the girls.

“At Lorraine’s first scan they told her it was just a very big baby. At the second one they asked what she had been told the first time. Lorraine told her and the midwife just said ‘Well, there’s two now!’ She kept scanning and Lorraine asked what she was looking for. ‘We just want to make sure there’s not a third.’ And Lorraine shouts oot ‘Well, if there’s three I’m doon the Nith!’”

The couple devoted their lives to the business and their family – and made a success of both.

“Lorraine and I worked great together,” Wullie says. “She supported me all the way in everything I did. Mony a nicht she would say ‘I’ll finish up if you make the tea. We could talk about anything and I have not got that now. She died on the sixth of April, 2018. She was only 55. That’s life.”

Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *