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Fraser's Scottish Annual
The Muckle Fair


By James Glover

WE all point with pride to our School Boards and Educational Institutions and their achievements in improving the mental condition of the people, but there is one result of their teaching which is, perhaps, to be regretted—the weeding out of original "characters," and the next generation will have none of these children of nature to look back on, whose words and actions bring out a smile even on the faces of the keen-eyed business man of to-day. We are getting rid, too, of the solemn croakers who are continually contrasting the present (unfavorably) with the past; who fold their hands and twirl their thumbs, and dilate in languishing tones of the "good old days." Those who see nothing but evil in anything that is new, and nothing but good in everything that is old, and who assert unhesitatingly that every change that has taken place in methods and manners since the dawn of the present century has been for the worse and not for the better—they, too, are passing away. In larger towns the Scottish tongue is getting every year more hopelessly mixed with foreign importations, and even in the Border valleys far removed from the sound of the steam whistle the soft beauty of the speech of auld lang syne which Hogg knew and Burns sang is "gey near by wi't." Old customs are going too, but custom dies hard after it has become fossilized by age into established law and usage, and there are many such still extant which have survived from former ages, the meaning of which is somewhat obscure, in the holms, howes and bonnie knowes of the Borderland.

Among the ancient "clachans" that only await the touch of a Barrie or a Ferguson to make them as famous as Kirriemuir or Glenbruar there are few that are as rich in pay ore as "Th' Muckle Toon o' th' Langholm," a flourishing beauty spot in Eskdale, Dumfries-shire. From the "toon fit" to the "gallows side "—the latter grimly reminiscent of the days when every laird kept his private gallows, the town straggles in approved fashion along both sides of the Edinburgh road, and has had the orthodox "back raw" added again and again as population increased, until a brisk enterprising town has been built up - a go-ahead energetic place. Yet its growth has not destroyed those eccentricities of character which the march of progress so often wipes out. The origin of the town is lost in the "mists of iniquity," and as Johnie Armstrong of Gilnockie had one of his strongholds in close proximity to the town it is reasonable to suppose that after Johnie made his ill-fated journey to Clenrickrig his retainers instead of continuing to steal their neighbors, beeves settled down to their several occupations and so formed the nucleus of the town.

The Muckle Toon along with one or two others in the Borderland has the privilege of being a Royal burg, having received grants of land on condition that they appointed men (wardens) to ride round the marches or limits 'to see that all was right, otherwise they forfeited their claims to the Royal gift. This old time custom is celebrated most enthusiastically every year in the interesting and imposing ceremony of the Common Riding.

If you wish to see all of the observance you must not be too fond of the blankets on the morning of the fifteenth day of July auld style. The fife and drum calls you early to action and the stirring tones of "Hey Johnie Cope are ye waukin' yet," brings every sluggard to the floor. After the dog-trail comes the chief proceedings of the day—the riding of the marches. The cornet wearing his badge of office bearing the town standard and flanked with the comets of the two years preceeding, heads the procession of horsemen—a gallant company, gray haired veterans galloping side by side with beardless youths. Away they go in a cloud of dust up the steep Kirkwynd over Hooley's mount till lost to view behind Whita's heights while the spectators snatch a hurried breakfast ere starting out with redoubled excitement to gain a good point of vantage at the town cross before the cavalcade returns from the commons. Here, standing on horseback on the cornet's mount for preference, one of the town fathers proclaims the fair as follows:

PROCLAMATION
OF
LANGHOLM FAIR AND COMMON RIDING,
Held the day after the Summer or Lamb Fair, 27th July, annually.

GENTLEMEN,—The first thing that I am going to acquaint you with are the Portioner's Grounds of Langholm, from whence their services are from—

Now, Gentlemen, we're gan' frae the Toun,
And first of a' the Kill Green we gang roun';
It is an ancient place where clay is got,
And it belangs to us by RIGHT and LOT,
And then frae there the Lang-Wood we gang through,
Where every ane may breckons cut and pu';
And last of a' we to the moss do steer,
To see gif a' oor Marches they be clear,
And when unto the Castle Craigs we come,
I'll cry the Langholm Fair and then we'll beat the drum.

Now, Gentlemen, what you have heard this day concerning going round our Marches, it is expected that every one who has occasion for Peats, Breckons, Flacks, Stanes or Clay, will go out in defence of their properties and they shall hear the PROCLAMATION of the LANGHOLM FAIR upon the Castle Craigs.

Now, Gentlemen, we have crane roun' oor hills,
So now I think its right we had oor fill
Of guid strang punch—'twould make us a' to sing,
Because this day we have dune a guid thing;
For gangin' roun' oor hill we think nae shame,
Because frae it oar peats and flacks come hame;
So now I will conclude and say nae mair,
And if ye're pleased I'll cry the Langholm Fair!

Hays Yes, that's ae time! Hays Yes, that's twae times! Hays Yes, that's the third and last time!

THIS IS TO GIVE NOTICE,

THAT there is a muckle Fair to be hadden in the muckle Toun o' the Langholm, on the 15th day of July, auld style, upon his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch's Mark Lann, for the space of eight days and upwards; and a' land-loupers and dub-scoupers, and gae-by-the-gateswingers, that come here to breed hordoms or dordoms, huliments or buliments, hagglements or bragglements, or to molest this public Fair, they shall be ta'en by order of the Bailie and Toun Council, and their lugs be nailed to the Tron wi' a twalpenny nail; and they shall sit doun on their bare knees and pray seven times for the King and thrice for the Muckle Laird o' Ralton, [The Laird o' Ralton was a natural son of King Charles II.] and pay a groat to me Jemmy Fergusson, [Jernmy Fergusson was appointed Bailie for the Laird o' Ralton, and lived within the common-right of Langholm near to Middlemoss.] Bailie o' the afore-said Manor, and I'll away hame and hae a bannock and a saut herrin' to my dinner by way o' auld style.

Huzza! Huzza!! Huzza!!!

Racing, wrestling and other sports fill in the day—a day looked forward to with keen interest, not by the townspeople alone, but by Langholmites everywhere who have wandered far from their native vale —a day of reunion—"a green oasis of romance in the desert of present day matter of factness." - Toronto.


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