Scotland's ugliest woman honoured

 

Jack O'Sullivan
Wednesday 26 May 1999 00:02
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A striking wooden sculpture of the central figure in a local story of the 17th century - marriage to Meg was offered as an alternative to the gallows for Willie Scott who had attempted to steal cattle.
A striking wooden sculpture of the central figure in a local story of the 17th century - marriage to Meg was offered as an alternative to the gallows for Willie Scott who had attempted to steal cattle.

She was the Bridget Jones of her day. Desperate to wed, Muckle Mou'd Meg, heroine of a famous Scottish ballad, could find no takers.

Indeed her quest for her Mark Darcy was doubly frustrating. Poor Meg was known as the ugliest woman in the Scottish Borders.

All of which explains why the 17th-century noblewoman was honoured yesterday by a striking new sculpture, unveiled at Ellibank in Scotland, her family home. The elmwood carving portrays an ugly bride beside her groom. Despite all, Meg got her man.

So what did Meg have that Bridget is missing? A dad who could pull strings or, more accurately, ropes.

Sir Gideon Murray, the King's Treasurer, despaired of finding a match for his unattractive daughter. Then a cattle raider, Willie Scott, was caught red-handed stealing his stock. Sir Gideon came up with the perfect punishment - marry his daughter or hang.

Legend says that Scott was initially so appalled at the prospect that he opted for death. Only when he saw the noose hanging from the gallows tree did he decide he was better off wed than dead.

The new sculpture, set on the banks of the Tweed, shows the pair in the throes of a joyous reel at their wedding feast. Eight feet tall, the sculpture by the Borders artist Rob Taylor overlooks the turrets of the bride's ancestral home near Galashiels. Bridget would be envious.

The depiction of Willie Scott as joyous is not artistic licence. Relate may be amazed to discover that Meg's marriage was long and happy. "Her nature was generous, gentle and free," says the Scottish poet James Hogg's ballad, "The Fray of Ellibank", which immortalises the episode.

During his research, Mr Taylor also decided that Muckle Mou'd may not have been as ugly as her reputation suggested. "She did have a long nose and a very big mouth," he said. "But so does Barbra Streisand. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

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