The story of ‘Bob Dragon’ is pretty much what we might call a ‘shaggy dug’ story, the story of his ghost that is. But nevertheless, it forms a slightly obscure, very intriguing part of Glasgow’s folklore.
‘Bob Dragon’ was the rather tasteless nickname given to Robert Dreghorn, because of disfigurement caused by Smallpox. He was the son of merchant Allan Dreghorn. The family hailed from Ruchill, then a separate part of Glasgow – in fact, Robert inherited the estate and became Laird of Ruchill. Robert’s is a somewhat tragic story. The Dreghorns had ambitions of becoming a great landed gentry family and they placed all their hopes on Robert. But because of the effects of smallpox, it was not to be. He was seen as the ugliest man in Glasgow, described in Robert Allison’s 1892 book, The Anecdotage of Glasgow:
“His body was of a tall, gaunt, and lean nature, with an inward bend in the small of the back his head, which was of enormous dimensions, was admirably suited by a face of the strangest and most repulsive aspect. His nose was acquiline, and turned considerably to one side of the face, on which, indeed, it is said to have almost lain flat. He was blind of one eye, and squinted with the other, while his cheeks had been dreadfully ploughed and furrowed by the small-pox, some of the marks being as big as three-penny pieces.”
Dreghorn was a somewhat solitary character – he lived either alone or with his sister in a large mansion at the junction of Stockwell Street and Clyde Street in what is now Glasgow’s City Centre in the latter part of the 18th century. As well as the Ruchill estate, Robert inherited the mansion from his father, along with a vast fortune. He also inherited a fair sized sum off his uncles. So he had no need to work, thanks to this and careful maintenance of his fortune. Still, he could be found taking his place amongst Tobacco merchants at the Tontine. At the time Glasgow was undergoing the first flush of the Industrial Revolution, and many people in the city made a lot of money in the Tobacco trade.The Tontine Hotel was established by the merchants as a place where they could do business. Over a nice wee bevvy* of course.
When he wasn’t doing that, Robert Dreghorn’s main past-time appeared to be walking up and down Argyle Street and round the Trongate with a particular aim in mind, something which provided many a Glasgwegian with entertainment when they watched. Striding along the street in his fine clothes, wheeching* away street urchins and old people who got in his way with his cane, Robert would keep his eye out on the female talent*. If any young woman took his fancy, he would follow them, keeping a ‘respectful’ distance. It didn’t matter what social class the girl fell into – upper class lady, maid, or factory girl – if he like the look of them, he’d follow them, all the way home. If another girl caught his eye, he’d about turn in his tracks and follow her instead. Robert never spoke to, nor tried to attract any of these girls. He was to remain single all his life. The girls themselves looked on it with good humour and viewed him as harmless. In fact, many of them regarding his antics as an indication of their attractiveness and were quite proud of it.
Despite this quirk, Robert was quite a dour type who never really got on well with others. In fact, he was used by parents as a ‘bogeyman’ to frighten the weans to sleep, as in “Get tae bed noo, or Bob Dragon will come an’ get ye!” Another aged tome of old Glasgow, The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry says of Dreghorn’s temperament:
“But wealth and position brought him neither happiness nor popularity. Naturally of a melancholy temperament, he fell latterly a prey to the miser’s delirium tremens, the horror of dying of want. And by his ill looks, his cold manners, his strange lonely ways, his love of money, and his character (deserved or undeserved) for profligacy… …He died on 19th November 1804 in his house in Clyde street.”
Actually, he committed suicide.
For years after his death, the house remained empty. It was believed by the local population that Bob Dragon’s ghost walked it’s rooms, and they were fain to go there at night for fear of catching sight of him. However, much doubt has been cast over the veracity of these tales. Though if the house was taken on by a new tenant, they didn’t stay long. For instance, Glasgow Burgh Auditor, James Galloway, rented the house very cheaply but had to flit* elsewhere fairly sharpish as his daughter was terrified. Strange sounds and lights were reported coming from the house. In 1812, this was investigated and it was found that smugglers had been using the house. It was actually quite common for ghost stories to be told by smugglers so that the locals would leave them in peace to get on with their nefarious doings. Many a ghost story in Cornwall, for instance, has it’s roots in this.
An ink and oil merchant, George Provand, rented the house eventually. And didn’t have an easy time of it. Water stained red was often seen running out the house, giving rise to rumours that Provand had a little sideline on the go as a ressurectionist, or body snatcher. Two causes are given for what happened next on 11 February 1822. One source has it that a rumour spread about two children being lured into the house. Another that two friends winding their way home after a night in the pub dared each other to have a wee keek*in the ‘haunted’ house’s window to see what appeared to be two severed heads lying on a dripping, bloodstained window. What they really saw was spilt red dye and two jars of paint. But they didn’t know that. Either way, a full scale riot occurred, with a mob storming Provand’s house, wrecking it and throwing the furniture and other related paraphernalia into the Clyde. It literally took the army waving bayonets to get things back under control. The instigators got transported to 14 years in an Australian penal colony, and two were whipped through the streets of Glasgow, incidentally the last time this punishment was ever carried out in Glasgow.
Post-mortem, Robert Dreghorn himself, had an extra legend other than his ghost attached, according to Geoff Holder. At the time he died, his estate at Ruchill would have been forfeited to the Crown had it been known he was a suicide. So, to hide the fact, his family ‘acquired’ another corpse in his place, and had Robert buried at an unmarked spot in Ruchill.The area now forms part of the Maryhill district of Glasgow, the Glasgow Corporation having bought up the Estate at a later date, and forming Ruchill Park. Holder guesses that Dreghorn might have been buried around about the vicinity of Panmure Street and Murano Street (now a student village operated by the University of Glasgow). One day, a person digging by the canal that runs through that area came across Bob Dragon’s corpse. Apparently it hadn’t decomposed, although a fair bit of time had passed since his death. Holder writes that it was believed a suicide’s body would not rot until the time came when the person was supposed to die, as decided by God. The individual who found the body was kept quiet with a little generous cash outlay from the Dreghorn family and the body reburied elsewhere. It’s not known if this is just an extension of the ‘Shaggy Dug’ tendency that seems to have followed Dreghorn after his death.
*Glasgow Patois Glossary for the uninitiated
Bevvy – alcoholic libation
Wheech/Wheeching – to swipe or swiping out of the way
Talent – particularly attractive, have great sex appeal, rather easy on the eye
Flit – move
Holder, Geoff (2009) The Guide To Mysterious Glasgow The History Press, Stroud