Who knew? (Sweet Afton is no more)

Well, with all this Scottish material invading the slumbering quietude that is Northern Irish politics, it’s as well to note that tonight is Rabbie Burns Night, which in turn put me in mind of one of his most famous poems. It opens:

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary’s asleep by they murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

You can get the rest here..

Burns’ sister married and then moved Dundalk, where she was buried. Many years later, in 1919, Sweet Afton, (the southerner’s Woodbine, so far as I as a non smoker can work out) was launched on the Irish market by Carrolls.

It was one of my uncle’s few tangible vices (Victory Vs, and the odd bottle of Smithwicks were his others), although I had the impression as a child that he only ever bought them in tens…

That first verse was printed on the reverse of the distinctive yellow packet. It’s relevance to the experience of smoking would mean more to an aficionado of the blessed weed, but in later years it was sole preserve of a declining number of hold outs from the filter tips which have been dominant since the sixties.

According to Ian Jack even got a mention in Jean Luc Goddard’s 1959 short, Charlotte et Véronique, ou Tous les garçons s’appellent Patrick.

Production stopped at the end of last November. So this Burns Night is the first without someone somewhere turning over a packet and a remembering, if not raising a glass to the poet… So last word to the man himself:

Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us
Damn few,
And they’re a’ deid
Mair’s the pity!


  • Cant speak for Sweet Afton but certainly ciggies like Park Drive & Woodbine were available in 5s………my late father smoked Gallaher Greens but I dont recall them in 5s.
    Whats not to like about Robert Burns. and the everlasting debate about Ye Jacobites By Name. Was he a jacobite or Jacobin. The seperatist tax gatherer as a hypocrite?

    Whats not to like about Burns Night? Its just a fleadh without the culture. 😉

  • Harry Flashman

    What about Senior Service are they still around? On a related vice can you still get Double Diamond beer? Just brings back memories of my childhood, no I wasn’t the one indulging.

  • The other link is Mary Campbell.

    Between impregnating Jean Armour (1785-6), who was promptly despatched to Paisley, and making an honest woman of her (1788), Burns had a fling with Mary Campbell, going as far as planning to elope together to Jamaica:

    Will ye go to the Indies my Mary,
    And leave auld Scotia’s shore?
    Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary,
    Across th’ Atlantic roar?

    Mary Campbell was Burns’s “Highland Lassie”:

    My Highland lassie was a warm-hearted charming young creature as ever blessed a man with generous love. After a pretty long tract of the most ardent reciprocal attachment we met by appointment, on the second Sunday of May, in a sequestered spot by the Banks of Ayr, where we spent the day in taking farewell, before she should embark for the West Highlands to arrange matters among her friends for our projected change of life. At the close of Autumn following she crossed the sea to meet me at Greenock, where she had scarce landed when she was seized with a malignant fever, which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days, before I could even hear of her illness.

    That links directly to Sweet Afton, the final two quatrains of which make the connection:

    Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
    And winds by the cot where my Mary resides,
    How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
    As gathering sweet flowrets she stems thy clear wave.

    Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
    Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
    My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
    Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

    Her death inspired To Mary in Heaven, which has a its final stanza:

    Still o’er these scenes my mem’ry wakes,
    And fondly broods with miser-care;
    Time but th’ impression stronger makes,
    As streams their channels deeper wear,

    My Mary! dear departed shade!
    Where is thy blissful place of rest?
    See’st thou thy lover lowly laid?
    Hear’st thou the groans that rend his breast?

    The emphasised two lines appear on the obelisk in St Nicholas’ churchyard, Dundalk:

    Sacred to the memory of Agnes Burns, eldest sister of Robert Burns, who departed this life at Stephenstown on the 17th October 1834, aged 72 years.

    Notice that Mrs Galt is commemorated under her maiden name, following the excellent Scottish tradition of marriage lasting only “as long as we both shall live”.

    Carroll’s factory was just across the road from St Nicholas’ churchyard.


  • Tis wonderfully ironic that two sets of rivals celebrate Burns myth making as part of their er culture……within a week in January. 25th January & 31st January.
    One set of Rabbie burns fans will ignore his expressly Jacobite poetry which was often coded but occasionally quite open. He was also known to do Jacobite graffiti.

    As the Bonnie Prince reverted to his drunken, self-pitying serial woman abusing self, Burns becomes more nationalist and after Charlies date, a year before the French Revolution a republican.
    But on 31st January “modern” Jacobites crying crocodile tears for the “royal” wastrel wont be quoting from The Highland Widows Lament.

    Nor are they likely to quote “The Rights of Woman” (1793ish)

    “While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
    The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
    While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
    And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
    Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
    The Rights of WOMAN merit some attention”. .

    it finishes “ca ira….the Majesty of Woman”

    That was Burns……Jacobite to Jacobin……the story of Nationalism.

    Written for an Anglo- French actress Luisa Fontenelle.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Malcolm. Harry, Park Drive is one of the few to survive the cull of Gallaher brands a few years ago. Sweet Afton and Major seemed to have fans abroad, but didn’t seem to penetrate further. Gallahers on the other hand seeM to have done well across the UK…


    It’s years since I even thought about cigarettes (rollies seem to be the poison of choice for the kids today), but I’ve been wrecking my brains and the Internet to remember the pipe tobacco brand my great grandfather smoked.

    Up mail the 80s it was a household name. Now I can’t find hide nor hair of it.

  • Not seen Senior Service in twenty years.
    A consequence of banning smokers to Smoking Rooms and the Great Outdoors is that there are no cigarette packets visible. Not even lying in the gutter. Litter Bins have a lot to answer for.

    Circa 1963 there was a curious pecking order to Ciggies. Woodbine and Park Drive were considered common and a bit rough.
    Gallahers Blues was more genteel but stronger than Gallahers Greens. Gallahers Red was a new fangled “filter tip”.
    I think Players was similar to “Greens” and Senior Service similar to “Blues”.

    Embassy and Embassy Regal were smoked by women cos apparrently filter tips were “safe”.
    When I was in Primary 7 our teacher told us to bring in ciggy packets from our relatives and we did a graph to show the most popular.
    Sweet Afton and Major (was that the name) were er not always bought at official outlets.
    As they say youre never alone witha Strand.

  • Old Holborn Mr Fealty?

  • Dammit ….it wasnt Ogdens Nut Flake (as celebrated by the Small Faces)

  • May I join Harry Flashman for once?

    Where are the brand-names of yesteryear? Are they some equivalent of geological ages, or tree rings? They have an afterlife, for example in the ghostly images of ad-campaigns from long ago: those tin-plate signs from gable-ends are now fetching real money.

    Why is Virol still imprinted on my memory, from a huge painted wall at (the old) Liverpool Street station? Did I really see it in a health-food shop quite recently?

    At Glasgow, St Enoch’s (once the main terminus, now a Thatcherite temple to chain stores) I was bewildered by:

    They came as a boon and a blessing to men,
    the Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen.

    When I discovered the US, I also discovered Burmah-Shave roadside signs:

    He played
    A sax
    Had no B.O.
    But his whiskers scratched
    So she let him go

    Why do I remember that Double Diamond not only “works wonders”, but it was also “the beer men drink”? I must have tried it to recall it was equally as foul as Watney Red Barrel. I learned two things from the experiences:

    ¶ Decent beer comes from a brewer, not an ad-man. [Off-topic alert!] Does a similar principle apply with engineers/”designers” over “Boris buses”? £7 million (and counting) for a handful of “prototypes”, conveniently in time for the May election. So don’t start me on “Boris-bikes”, made in Canada and costing the London tax-payer (depending on how the calculation is done) £7,000 to £12,000 each — main function to advertise Barclays Bank. [Sound the all clear!]

    ¶ For every lousy product with a big marketing campaign there is an ad-antidote — cue “making love in a canoe”. Sometimes the campaign was its own corrective:

    You’ll wonder where the yellow went
    When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

    Did anyone actually smoke Strand cigarettes (which even had a theme tune)? Did Sweet Afton suffer terminal failure by being Margot Tennenbaum’s addiction? Or, to put it another way, Sartre got Afton, we got Disque Bleu, everyone got kippered.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ah. I think it was St Bruno.

  • The thing about Strand Cigarettes is that it is regarded as a disasterous advertising campaign.
    I remember it quite well.
    A London street late at night. Having seen a clip recently, it could well be steps near the albert Memorial or Embankment type steps. All atmospheric jazzy music a la Johnny Staccato and a big guy, presumably a male model but in the style of an American visiting PI lights up a Strand.
    The voiceover says “Youre Never Alone With a Strand” which should have been successful except the impression viewers got was that the guy was a loser.

    A good Belfast summer game was “wee shops” where little girls would set up “shops” and empty cardboard boxes served as shop counters. Empty sweety papers, sugar bags, washing powder boxes whatever were the props and the brothers of these little girls used to run around picking up cigarette packets and match boxes.

    Then the little girls went to each others shops and said very grown up things, like “two pounds of sugar, a bar of Cadburys, box of Rinso and 10 cigarettes please”.

    Hmmm do we still have Rinso? Or Lifebuoy? Or two pounds of Sugar.
    I certainly remember Pepsodent.
    But I think one of the first adverts I saw on UTV was J B Kennedys Bread.
    I cant remember the original song but the parody much repeated by schoolkids was
    “J B Kennedys Bread…………Sticks in your belly like lead.
    Not a bit of wonder
    you f**t like thunder
    JB Kennedys Bread.

    And was it 5’o’clock Razor Blades? or 7 O’clock?

  • fitzjameshorse1745 @ 12:30 pm:

    “The lonely man” in the Strand ads was the late Terence Brook. By the look of his c.v., the ad campaign didn’t do much for his career either.

    At TCD, early ’60s, we thought the Trinity Players had a good thing going — Max Stafford-Clark, Mike Bogdin(anov), the late Ralph Bates (remember Warleggan in Poldark?), Jo Van Gyseghem for eye-candy. As years passed, it was painful to see several of the not-so-leading lights reduced to soap-powder ads.

    7 O’clock razor blades seem still to be going, at least in the US: try amazon.com.

    I see, too, that parodying ads (as fitzjameshorse1745 happily reminds us) is now almost an art-form and dignified by the term Subvertising. We were ahead of our time.

  • Raplh Bates certainly I remember although not from Poldark which I never watched. I was probably watching On The Buses on ITV.
    I remember him as a Hammer Horror actor. Noticed him last night in Lust For A Vampire………..as I was channel hopping looking for er Newsnight…..er yes Newsnight. Having accidently encountered Lust For A Vampire, I made my excuses and left (as befits my role as a blogger)

    Joanna Van Gyseghem remembered from Duty Free. Awful show.
    My sense of nostalgia awakened I looked up IMDB and they were actually married. But I guess you knew that.


  • Harry Flashman

    “When I was in Primary 7 our teacher told us to bring in ciggy packets from our relatives and we did a graph to show the most popular.”

    My Primary 6 teacher, may God rest him, smoked those wee Cafe Creme, cigars all day in class, a class of thirty three kids with doors and windows closed and him puffing away for six hours on cigars.

    Didn’t do us a bit a harm mind, *cough* *wheeze*.

    Pepsodent is still a very popular brand of toothpaste here in Asia, I haven’t seen SR Gibbs in a while though, the first ever product advertised on British TV.