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BELLE STEWART B.E.M. (1906 – 1997)

BELLE STEWART B.E.M. (1906 – 1997)

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1906 Belle Stewart


The Berry Toon

Folk Singers and Storytellers

The Travelling Community

The Scottish Folk Revival

BELLE STEWART B.E.M. (1906 – 1997)


Belle Stewart was born Isabella McGregor Stewart on 18 July 1906 in a small bow tent on the banks of the River Tay at Haugh of Claypots Farm, Wester Caputh. Belle belonged to a family of travelling people and her parents were Martha Stewart and Donald MacGregor, a tinsmith and pearl fisher. Belle’s father died when she was only months old, and her mother, fearing that her children might be taken into care, moved into a house in Blairgowrie.

Belle grew up surrounded by stories and songs that had been passed down over the centuries.

In 1925 Belle married Alex Stewart, her second cousin, in Ballymony, Ireland. Belle and Alex eventually settled in Blairgowrie, but still travelled in Summer for pearl fishing and agricultural work.

The Stewarts of Blair became well known performers on the folk scene and performed all over Europe and America.

Hamish Henderson, the co-founder of the School of Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh) first visited the Stewart family in 1954. A large collection of songs by Belle, her husband and daughters Cathy and Sheila were recorded by Hamish.

Inspired by the annual gathering of travelling people in Blairgowrie for the Berries, Belle composed the song ‘The Berry Fields o’ Blair.’

YouTube video – The Berryfields of Blair by Belle Stewart

In 1981 Belle Stewart received the British Empire Medal for services to traditional music.

Aged 91 Belle Stewart died in the Cottage Hospital, Blairgowrie, on 4 September 1997. An obituary by Hamish Henderson read: Belle’s clan is undoubtedly the custodian of an amazing treasure house of Scottish and Irish folk music. The way of life which engendered and preserved this astonishing cultural phenomenon is nowhere better recorded than in Belle’s own song
‘The Berry Fields o’ Blair.’

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