NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

'Turra coo' tax protest remembered 100 years on

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Media captionThe "Turra coo" sparked a riot on the streets of Turriff when it was due to be auctioned in December 1913

It is exactly a century since civil disobedience swept through the small Aberdeenshire town of Turriff.

There was rioting on the streets after a local farmer took direct action to challenge the government of the day on taxation.

Robert Paterson didn't win, but he did leave his mark on the town.

The story of the "Turra coo" begins in 1911. The Liberal government had just introduced National Insurance payments.

People across the country were refusing to pay it and farmer Robert Paterson was one of many.

He had been a "well-kent" face in and around the town. He employed lots of men on his farm at Lendrum. His refusal to make the new payments for his workers meant he was fined.

When the sheriff's officers came to collect his fine, they took the only thing of value that was moveable.

"It might have been OK if the sheriff officers had poinded an implement, a plough or something like that," said Allen Stephen from Turriff Heritage Society.

"But the whole thing became tied up in an emotional incident because they took the little white cow."

And that little white cow was to be sold at the local mart, but almost instantly the sheriff encountered a problem.

Image caption The cow was painted with the slogan "Free!! Divn't ye wish that ye were me"

Kate Ferguson, from Turriff Tourism Action Group, explained: "People supported him wholeheartedly so the auction wouldn't go ahead because they were supporting that farmer, and the cow."

Not to be deterred, a sale was instead organised in the town's main square using an auctioneer from Aberdeen. It was on 9 December 1913 and it drew massive attention.

On the morning of the sale the square was packed with people - farm workers who had been given a half day off by the people who employed them.

The beast was brought up the main street into the crowd to be sold.

It was agitated. The people waiting were agitated. And there was much anticipation.

"Various rumours and reports suggested that a dog barked," said Mr Stephen. "Some others suggested that Paterson himself came up and spoke and said 'yoo hoo' and scared the cow.

"Anyway she took off and the boy cut the rope and the cow is alleged to have run along Duff Street."

It was then that the riot broke out. Soil and soot were thrown at officials. Fireworks let off. A policeman was hit full in the face with a raw egg (the officer standing in front of him had ducked just in time).

The auctioneer had to take refuge in a stable and the sale of the "coo" was abandoned.

Image caption A sculpture of the "Turra Coo" now stands in Turriff town centre

"It was taken into Aberdeen and sold there," said Ms Ferguson.

"A group of farmers actually bought the cow and presented it back to Robert Paterson at Lendrum."

When the fuss died down the "coo" returned to the farm to live out the rest of her days. The sheriff got his money and National Insurance payments continue to this day.

In the end, the only real victor was the "Turra coo".

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