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Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter XXI. The Girdles and Ordersmiths of Culross


SCOTLAND has long been pre-eminent as the “Land o’ Cakes ”—an epithet which, if Bums did not coin, he has certainly rendered immortal, by the opening lines in his elegy on Captain Grose:—

“Hear, Land o’ Cakes, and brither Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to John o’ Groat’s.”

For, up to comparatively recent times, the great “staff of life” in Caledonia was oatmeal, whether in the form of cakes, porridge, or brose—the last being the simplest preparation, as it merely involved the pouring of boiling water on the raw material. Though wheaten bread was always known, it was generally regarded as a luxury, only to be partaken of on special occasions; whilst the baker, as a public artist and purveyor, was a much less important personage than he is now—most households being, to a large extent, quite independent of his services. Amid all ranks, oatcakes, barley-bannocks, and occasionally fiour-scones, were articles of universal consumption, and a regular baking of these commonly took place every week. It will readily be comprehended that this must have formed an important domestic institution, and that every house must have been provided with the proper implements for accomplishing this work. Of these the girdle, [Dr Jamieson derives this word from the ancient Swedish grind, the shovel used for the oven—or the verb graedda, to bake.] or circular iron plate, for toasting cakes over the fire, was the most necessary, and, as such, constituted a requisite in every Scottish family—as indispensable as the broth-pot or the washing-tub. And for many long years the only source of supply of so necessary a utensil was the town of Culross, which held a monopoly of the manufacture of girdles. Sir Walter Scott puts into the mouth of Madge Wildfire, in the ‘ Heart of Mid-Lothian,’ the following reference to it:—

“The hammermen of Edinburgh are, to my mind, afore the world for making stancheons, ring-bolts, fetter-bolts, bars, and locks. And they arena that bad at girdles for carcakes neither, though the Cu’ross hammermen have the gree for that My mother had ance a bonny Cu’ross girdle, and I thought to have baked carcakes on it for my puir wean that’s dead and gane nae fair way."

Another evidence of the celebrity of the manufacture is to be found in the threat which, it is said, an angry mother would sometimes hold over a troublesome child: “ If ye dinna behave yoursel’ better, I’ll gar your lugs ring like a Culross girdle! ”

The merit of having invented girdles was claimed by the girdlesmiths of Culross; and though this is perhaps questionable, there was certainly an old tradition that they had been made there from time immemorial—and we have no record of their having been made, to any extent at least, in any other locality. There was plenty of ironstone in the surrounding country for supplying the necessary material. And it is generally reported that one of the requisites with which King Robert Bruce ordered his soldiers to be provided, in their forays into England, was an iron plate for toasting cakes, though the old song speaks only of oatmeal and brose:—

“Then our sodgers, arrayed in their kilts and short hose,
With their bonnets and belts, which their dress did compose,
And a bag o’ aitmeal on their backs to mak brose.
For it’s O the kail brose o’ auld Scotland!
And O the auld Scottish kail brose! ”

We know that King Robert encamped with his army for a while at Culross, in anticipation of a threatened invasion from England; and it is very possible, indeed, that the iron plates or girdles above-mentioned may have been procured for the troops, from this quarter.

Neither in the erection of Culross into a burgh of barony in 1490 under Abbot Hog, nor in its subsequent elevation to the rank of a royal burgh, is there any mention of the girdlemakers or their craft,— the corporation in which they were really included, though not specially referred to by name, being that of the fabri or smiths. The earliest evidence which I have been able to find regarding them is a document preserved in the girdlesmiths’ box, which, with the other papers therein contained, is now in the possession of Mr W. K. Penney, Culross. It is a notarial instrument, ratifying an agreement among the “craftis mene of smythes of the toune of Culrois, convenit altogether, with ane consent and assent, for the utilitie, weill, and profeit of us and our craft, and the commoun weill of us all,” and is executed at the monastery of Culross on 12th May 1549, in the fourteenth year of the pontificate of Pope Paul III. The chief article of contract is to the effect that no forge shall be erected by the servant or apprentice of any craftsman till he be judged qualified by the corporation to carry on the trade, and that he shall have sufficient means of his own without being necessitated to borrow on credit. It is also agreed “ that naine of us sail use this craft of ours in na toune nor place of Scotland, bot allenarlie in the toune of Culrois, quhair it hes bein ay usit of befor.” The penalty to be incurred by any contravener of the articles of agreement is, for the first offence, to be reduced from the rank of a master to that of a servant for one year, or to pay a fine of twenty merks Scots; for a second offence, the delinquent is to be debarred from exercising his craft for three years; and for a third, he is to be expelled from the corporation. One of the parties to the contract is a certain “Duncane Prymrois,”—doubtless the same as the “ Duncan Primrose, burgess of Colrois,” father of Gilbert Primrose, surgeon to James VI., and direct ancestor of the present Earl of Rosebery.

There can be little question, I think, but that the art of girdlemaking is included in the “ craft ” above referred to, though it is not expressly named; and indeed the great probability is, that it formed the main subject of the above provisions. Though the smiths of Culross seem always to have regarded themselves as possessing a “vested interest” in a prescriptive right to the exclusive manufacture of girdles, it is not till the end of the sixteenth century that we find this monopoly formally recognised. Here is the famous letter of King James VI. reviving rather than establishing that privilege, which, for nearly a hundred and fifty years to come, was to make Culross a household word throughout the length and breadth of Scotland:—

“HEX.

“My Lobdis and Bakonib,

Provost and Bailleis of oub Bruchs,—

“Foraomeikill as we are credible informitt be the girdelmakers, inhabitants within the bruch of Culross, that thair is sindrie men vilipendis and usurpis thair priviledges, and without all kynd of ordoure intromitts thame selfs with the said craft, and wyrkis in that craft without authorizing of the remanent brethreine bodie of the craft and thair admissioun, as thai aucht to have, according to thair auld priviledges: Quhairfoir it is oure will, and we command yow, that in all tymes heirefter ye concur, fortifie, and assist the frie men of the girdelmaker craft within our said bruch in all thingis according to thair usuall and antient priviledge, swa that na persone nor personis tak upoun hand to work any of the said girdills, except thai be lawfullie admittit and authorizit be the haill bodie of that craft to that effect; and ye, and ilk ane of yow, will answer to us upoun yor obedience at yoT uttermost chtdrge and perill, and under all hiest pane and chairgis that efter may follow. Be thir presentis, gevin under o' signet and subscryvit with oure hand at Halyrudhous the xxviii day of November, and of or regince the xxxiii yeir, 1599.

“James R”

It appears from a statement contained in a written pleading given into Court by the girdlesmiths of Culross, in a lawsuit with the smiths of Low Valleyfield in the latter half of the seventeenth century, that King James VI. had, in the year 1599, paid a visit to Culross, and there witnessed the process of girdle-making. Doubtless he must often have been there when engaged in his hunting expeditions in the neighbourhood of Dunfermline, which, during his occupancy of the Scottish throne, seems to have been his favourite residence. And as both Edward Bruce, Lord Kinloss, and his no less distinguished brother Sir George, were natives of the parish of Culross, and esteemed friends of King James, there can be little doubt of the monarch often finding his way to the little monastery town, which had so many pleasant surroundings. Sir George Bruce had been very active at this period, as we learn from the burgh records, in procuring a charter from his Majesty erecting Culross into a royal burgh; and it is highly probable, considering the important stake he had in the prosperity of the place, that both his influence and that of his brother Lord Kinloss were employed in obtaining a concession of such a valuable additional privilege as the girdle monopoly. It is true the grant could scarcely be considered a constitutional one, being merely bestowed by the fiat of royalty; but in that age such an objection had little force, when the granting, of monopolies was a frequent and recognised method with sovereigns of gratifying a favourite without the necessity of bestowing a grant of lands or paying down a sum of money.

From the pleadings in the lawsuit above referred to, it seems dear that there was really an ancient gift to the smiths of Culross of the exdusive privilege of making girdles; but at what time or by what sovereign it was granted, is not stated. It is alleged, however, that the original deed of gift, and other evidents connected with it, were lost at the storming of Dundee,—an event which took place on two occasions during the seventeenth century, first under Montrose in 1645, and then under Monk in 1651—though the loss of the Culross documents is most probably to be referred to the latter of these occurrences. The letter of King James is therefore only to be regarded as a rider to or corroboration of a charter or deed of gift already in existence, and obtained from him to secure the privileges and stimulate the trade of the young and rising royal burgh.

In common with the coal and salt trades, the girdlemaking craft seems to have shared largely in the general prosperity which marks the condition of Culross during the reigns of James and Charles I.,— from the dissolution of the monasteries, in short, to the commencement of the great Civil War. It did not, however, as already stated, form a corporation of itself, but it constituted the principal and most influential class in the general corporation of smiths or hammermen. This last included several trades, such as blacksmiths, cutlers, saddlers, and one or two others; but though each one of these was included under the general denomination of smiths, and had a right to all the privileges, including that of being elected to any office belonging to the craft, it was only the girdlesmiths who attained to the dignity of forming a separate and independent class, or, as one of the Acts of the corporation expresses it, of being “ of ane sufficient number and corram ” [quorum]. Whilst the other “workers of iron” within the community of hammermen were free to engage in any branch of the trade except girdlemaking, the professors of the last-named craft were debarred strictly, by their own rules, from engaging in any other, and exercised a rigid surveillance in excluding the non-privileged members of the fraternity of smiths from any participation in the special employment and rights secured by royal grant to the girdlesmiths as a monopoly.

Whilst, then, the girdlesmiths exercised what might be termed an imperiwm in imperio, the record of their proceedings is to a considerable extent mixed up with that of the community of smiths, and it becomes somewhat difficult to remember and trace out the distinction. It was they, certainly, that gave the general tone to the corporation, securing for it the precedence over the other crafts of

Culross on all occasions, festive or otherwise; and we shall not greatly err, in discussing any matter in which the smiths are concerned, in regarding it as chiefly connected with the girdlemakers and their vocation.

Along with documents of various kinds relating to the craft, the girdlesmiths’ box already referred to contains two minute-books recording the transactions of the corporation. One of these is a small quarto volume, containing the earlier entries, which are scattered over its pages very much in random fashion, as if they had been written down at haphazard, wherever a blank sheet of paper presented itself. Generally, however, they may be stated as extending over a century, from 1634 to 1733. The other is a folio volume, containing the entries from the latter date to 1851, when the ancient corporation of the Culross hammermen draws its last breath in the election of William Brand to the office of deacon. Independent of its contents, its boards possess an interest as having apparently belonged to some old volume in the library of the monastery of Culross, and been afterwards degraded into enclosing the records of a heretical corporation. They have engraved in their centre a design representing the angels’ salutation to the Virgin, with the motto on the border, “Ave Maria . . . Domintjs tecum ...” These four words are the only ones legible. The word between “Maria” and “Dominus” looks like “plena” or “pura,” and that following “tecum” may be “quies.” Above and below this has been subsequently stamped on one of the boards, “God prosper the Hammermen of Colros;” and on the other board, “A Book for the Hammermen of Colros.”

At the commencement of the earlier minute-book of the girdlesmiths is the following quotation from the Book of Job, “Seke unto the Lord betymes, and make known thy supplication to the Almighty; thogh thy beginnings be smal, yet thy latter end shall greatlie increase.” This pious aspiration can hardly be said to have been realised in the case of the Culross hammermen, since whatever might be the extent of their beginnings, their prosperity had, in common with that of the burgh in general, reached about this period (1634) its zenith. Shortly afterwards, with the commencement of the Civil War, it experienced a decline, which went gradually onwards, and by the middle of the last century the glory of the craft had come to an end. In June 1634 the craftsmen obtained from the kirk-session permission to erect at their own expense “ane loft at the west end of the kirk, to belong to the said craft and their successors, as craft seat proper, and belonging to them in all time coming.” Persons still living remember the smiths’ loft in the situation here indicated in the church, prior to the alterations in 1824, with the trade device of the crown and hammer painted on the front panel of the gallery. As in the case of the other corporations, the attendance of the members was expected every Sunday, and rigidly enforced both by their own laws and those of the Church. At this time there were sixteen master-smiths in Culross—a strange contrast to the state of things at the present day, when there is not one forge within the burgh, and only two smithies in the whole parish, one at Shiresmill and the other at Balgownie Mains.

With the dignity of acquiring a seat or loft in the church, the smiths seem to have bethought themselves of purchasing, on behalf of the corporation, a fine velvet mortcloth, which they lent out on the occasion of funerals both to their own members and the public in general, on payment of certain charges. It appears to have been rather a profitable investment for the corporation, but brought them at the same time into collision with the kirk-session, who found their own fees diminished in consequence of the smiths’ mortcloth or pall competing for public patronage with that belonging to the parish. By an edict of theirs, accordingly, issued in 1646, just after the termination of the visitation of the plague, it is enacted that any parishioner using the smiths’ mortcloth shall pay to the kirk-session also the same charges that he would have been liable in had he been furnished with the use of the parish mortcloth. This Act was passed during the palmy days of Presbytery, when the authority of kirk-sessions was at its highest. How far it was enforced, there is no evidence to show; but apparently it had soon fallen into abeyance, as after the Restoration we find in the smiths’ minute-book, under the date of Michaelmas 1669, the following entry:—

“Anent the mortcloth.

“The day forsaid Alexr. Halliday ia ordained to keep the mortcloth, and to lend the same to who shall desyre the same, and receave the mony therof till compt making.”

A touching circumstance in connection with the girdlemakers is to be found in reference to the last visitation of the plague in Scotland, in 1645. We have already seen some account of the pestilence in the records of the kirk-session, and how it was commonly the practice to inter the bodies of the victims in lonely and remote places away from the churchyard. Culross Muir, then unplanted and unenclosed, seems to have been used for this purpose, among other localities. As the wanderer traverses the glades of Tulliallan forest, which now covers a large portion of the moor, he will be not a little startled, in the region of the wood adjoining the Walls Cottages or Half-Way House, to come upon an ancient tombstone of the cromlech or through-stane type. The surroundings have all the weird-like aspect described in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of “Ulalume.” The inscription reads as follows:—

“Here lyes Eobert, Agnes, Jeane, Baida, children was to ICer bvrges of Cvlros,

[who departed] af this Lyf in the Yisetaseon 24 Septr. Ano 1645.”

In the centre of the stone is a shield or scutcheon, and below this a representation of the crown and hammer, the insignia of the girdlesmiths. The letters “er” before “burges of Cvlros” are doubtless the final syllable of the word “girdlemaker.” We know that at this period there was in Culross a girdlesmith of the name of James Baid, Bade, or Bald (for in all these ways the name is spelled, the last having become ultimately the proper or settled orthography), who in the years 1653 and 1657 was, we learn from the minute-book, chosen deacon of the corporation. The antiquarian will be interested in this record of a bygone age, whilst to every one the simple inscription tells its own pathetic tale of the three children, a brother and sisters, who were cut off by the great pestilence, and found in the lonely moor a grave which, like that of the “ Babes in the Wood,” is now sprinkled with leaves, whilst the robin-redbreast and his mates carol their song from the overshadowing trees.

The laws made by the girdlesmiths for the regulation of the affairs of their craft are in most respects similar to those of other corporations, with the addition of a few specialties arising from their peculiar condition and privileges. One of these was the privilege of having a deacon and boxmaster of their own; but from reasons of convenience this seems to have been generally waived, and the right of nominating as well as being elected as office-bearers was by common agreement conceded to and shared with the whole corporation of hammermen, of which the girdlesmiths formed the principal and most influential class. They adhered, however, most rigidly to the special rights secured to them by the monopoly ; and whilst strangers or persons who had not served an apprenticeship within the burgh might, on payment of certain fees, be received as freemen, and allowed to practise all the ordinary branches of smith-work, the admission to the girdlemaking craft was strictly confined to such as had served an apprenticeship of five years to a girdlesmith in Culross, and after that a period of three years as a journeyman. Eight years must thus elapse before any one could attain to the rank of a master—though a special exemption was made in favour of an apprentice who at the end of his time had married the daughter of a freeman belonging to the same craft, and who thus was entitled to commence forthwith as a master without the necessity of any further service.

When an indenture was signed between a master and his apprentice, the latter had to be presented to the trade at their first quarterly meeting thereafter; the indenture was deposited in the box, the names of the parties duly recorded, and the sum of 3 Scots paid by the apprentice “ for his prentise pitcher to the trade.” He was taken bound to serve his master faithfully by day and night; to eschew all idleness, loose company, and practice of unlawful games; and to attend the church regularly every Sabbath. His master received an apprentice fee (generally about 40 Scots), and engaged himself in return to maintain his apprentice at bed and board, and instruct him in his calling to the utmost of his power. On the expiry of his period of service the apprentice was entitled to be admitted as freeman, but was first obliged to produce evidence of his handicraft skill by making a girdle in the presence of a committee of masters. This ordeal having been satisfactorily passed through, he had to treat the whole corporation to the “ speaking pitcher,” or else pay the sum of 4 Scots, after which he had to pay a further sum of 4 Scots in name of entry-money. Lastly, before being admitted as freeman, he had “to provyde his denner, suficientlie furnished with meate and drink of severall sorts, acording as he sail be injoyned by the deacone, or els to pay downe to the box the soume of ten pund Scots, acording as he sail be ordained.” He had also, when he Bet up for himself as a master, to satisfy the craft that he was “ wordie of fifty punds of his awine ” before he could be permitted to “kindell his fyre” or “take up ane booth.”

Such, in its general features, was the novitiate of a girdlesmith of Culross, though modifications seem to have been introduced from time to time, along with relaxations, more especially in later days, from the strict severity of the rules. One special exception had always been made in favour of a girdlesmith’s widow, who was allowed to carry on the business of her deceased husband—with this provision, however, that at least her foreman or head smith should have served a regular apprenticeship to the trade within the burgh.

The trades-union principle of restricting production seems to have been fully acted on by the Culross girdlesmiths:—

“1 October 1639.

“It is ordained by the deacone and the brethren of craft that no girdelmaker sal make of twentie-sax inch girdles in ane day, but two fitit girdilla; [Girdles provided with feet] mair of twentie-four inch girdils, two fitit girdils; mair of littel girdils, four unfited: nnder the paine of sax pund, and that to be precislie liftet without farder delay.”

The following both illustrates the same principle and gives some information regarding the hour for beginning work in Culross in the seventeenth century. It is the first time I have heard of a fine exacted for early rising:—

“9 January 1660.

“The smithe craft of Culross being wholly meet together upon the fornamed day, and altogether consent for to hold themselves and ther servants to rise no sooner than fyve, or at soonest foure hours of the morning, under the penaltie of twenty shillings Scots to the master, and 12s. for ilk ane of the servants—and that to be keepit up of the first of ther wages.”

My reader may now be curious to have some account of the process of girdlemaking, the practice of which was fenced in by so many restrictions. This I am enabled to furnish from the MS. lectures of the late Rev. William Stephen on the ‘ Antiquities of Culross ’:—

“There is said to have been two modes. The master-smith chose a lump or mass of iron such a size as he judged sufficient to make the girdle intended. He himself handled the tongs, and was assisted by two or more apprentices or servants, who used the hammers, it being contrary to Act of trade for any but a master to use the tongs, the apprentice or servant only using the hammer, which required less skill and more strength. The iron, when duly softened by the heat of the fire, was beaten out by the hammermen, called also strikers, the master turning it on the anvil with the tongs; and this process of heating and beating was con-tinned till the requisite thinness and size was obtained. The other mode was this: The smith, using a small piece of iron, began at the centre, called the crown. He then took a thin bar of two inches or so in breadth, and of a convenient length, the outer edge of which was broader than the inner, like a knife; and the centre piece and the bar being continually heated in the fire and beaten, were welded or united into one mass by the hammer. This mode required only one smith. The girdle, however, was not yet finished according to either mode. Much labour was needed to smooth the rough plate by means of a hammer of a peculiar form; and we are told the smoothing and tempering called into requisition the chief care of the craftsman, and required his highest skill. The handle, which was welded to the plate, was of two kinds. It either projected from the girdle in the same plane—which was the kind used by the Culross people—or it formed a bow across it; and some of the bows had a swivel for turning the girdle, which was the variety preferred by the Perth people. Another qualification of a good girdle was, it must be well footed. This requisite I did not understand until I saw in possession of Mrs-an old girdle with four feet (two on each side), for supporting it on the hoba. Modern girdles have no feet. . . . Girdles were made both in Culross and Valleyfield in the end of last century; and I find that some half-dozen persons now living [1869] remember having seen the process of girdlemaking. . . . There are few girdles now to be found in Culross. I have only found four, and two in Low Valleyfield. One of the latter, which was broken, had a bow and swiveL Two in Culross are in good preservation; one especially is a genuine old specimen, with the brand.”

The following document, preserved in the girdle-smiths’ box, may be quoted here as exhibiting the different qualities and prices of the Culross girdles. It is dated at Perth, the 27th November 1668, and is a contract between John Wilson, Dean of Guild of that burgh, and certain merchants subscribing with him, on the one hand—and John Christie, one of the girdlemakers of Culross, as representing and commissioned by the corporation, on the other. By this agreement the said John Christie binds and obliges himself and the other girdlemakers of Culross

“To furnish the said John Wilsone, Deane of Gild, and remanent merchants of the said burgh of Perth, under-subscryvers, with good and sufficient girdles of all syses that they or either of them shall happine to requyre; and that they shall be weill footed and dressed every way, and that before their transportation from Culros they shall be sichtit by sworne men of the said incorporatione, and approven to be sufficient, and thereftir receave their stamp or seall upon every ane of them, being the crowne and hammer, with the name of the toune Culros about the same; and that they shall be of sufficient breadth—that is to say, the first syse, commonly callit the narrow girdles, to be of measor upon the elwand at least half ane elne wanting ane inch; and the second syse, commonly callit broad girdles, to be of measor upon the ellwand half ane elne, and half ane quarter wanting ane inch, at least; and the third syse, commonlie callit twenty-six inch girdles, to be of measor upon the ellwand half ane elne, half ane quarter, and ane inch, at least: and that the said John Wilsone, Deane of Gild, and remanent merchants foresaids, shall be answered and obeyed of the samene in tyme coming, upon fourteine dayes advert-ishment to be made be them or either of them to the said John Chrystie and remanent members of the said incor-poratione, provyding they be no feuer in number sent for than ane load 2 at once. For the whilks causes the said John Wilsone, Deane of Gild, and with him the remanent merchants of the said burgh of Perth, under-subscryvers, binds and obleisses them, ilk ane of them for their owne pairttis, to mak good and thankfull payment to the said John Chrystie, or any other member of the said incorporatione from whom they shall receave any of the forsaids girdles, of the sowmes of monie following,—viz., for the first syse, the peice therof twenty-six shilling eight pennies Scots money; for the second syse, the peice therof fourtie-six shilling eight pennies; and for the third syse, the peice therof thrie punds thrie shilling four pennies. And siclyke shall only furnish and serve themselves with those girdles which shall happine to be made be the members of the said incorporatione of the girdlemakers att Culros, and which shall have their seall and stampt upon them as said is, other-wayes to pay to them thryse alsemuch as the pryce of any girdle they shall happine to buy or sell heirefter not swa bocht and stampt (except what is presently in their custodie allenarly). And farder, it is hereby declared, with consent of both parties contracters, that this present agreement is to stand swa lang as the pryce of the stone of iron beis att or below threttie-twa shilling money forsaid; and if the samene beis deirer, the augmentatione of the piyces of the forsaids girdles to be in the merchants’ discretione. And in lyk manner, in cais it shall happine the said John Wilsone, Dean of Gild, and remanent merchants foresaids, or either of them, to be refused or denyed of the saids girdles from the said John Chrystie or the members of his said incor-poratione, upon the pryces forsaids and advertishment above written, the deacone of the samene being acquainted therewith, it is hereby provydid that it sail be leisome to them to buy their girdles whair they pleas, notwithstanding of this present contract.”

A similar contract with Glasgow merchants, bnt containing terms a little more favourable as regards prices, is dated 9th December 1668, and also preserved in the box.

In connection with Robert Blaw, one of the girdlesmiths after-mentioned, a curious circumstance is recorded in the minutes of the Guildry of Culross, under the date of 19th September 1667. His forge adjoined the house of no less a personage than Alexander, second Earl of Kincardine, who probably at that period still occupied the family mansion of the Bruces, known in later times as “the Coloners Close,” but in which the Kincardine family seem to have resided for a number of years before removing to the splendid abode of the Abbey. Such a proximity gives a curious idea of the simplicity of the times, when the clouted shoe could be allowed to come so near the courtier as to gall his kibe. The girdlesmith’s fire was breaking through into the nobleman’s premises, to the imminent danger of the latter. He is first fined 2 Scots; and then, proving contumacious, has an additional fine of 20 Scots imposed, with an order to build up within twenty-four hours the breach which he had made in the mutual wall.

There is a document preserved in the girdlesmiths’ box which contains some details regarding the quantities of girdles made in Culross during a period which may be roughly stated as extending over nearly seventeen months, from the commencement of 1674 to the middle of 1675. Unfortunately it is only a scroll, and is not very clearly or distinctly expressed, seeing that in some parts it gives a regular list of the girdles made—as seems to have been taken every week—and in others merely summarises without stating particulars. Each account commences on 24th January 1674, and terminates in May 1675, but on different days of that month. As the document comprises only the names of six smiths, it cannot probably be said to exhibit a statement of all the girdles made in Culross during the period just mentioned, but it enables us to form some general idea of the extent of the manufacture, and also of the quantities which an individual maker would turn out from his forge within a given time. I have accordingly endeavoured, in the following table, to present an abstract of the contents of the “scrole.” In the case of the first account—that of William Blaw—a distinct statement is furnished in the original of the different qualities, according to the trade nomenclature, of 116 26-inch, 185 broad, and 364 narrow girdles, composing in all an aggregate of 665.

But in all the others this classification is only partially made. The amount of stamp-money levied by the trade for its general benefit, at the uniform rate of a halfpenny sterling, or 6d. Scots, on each girdle, is in all cases given :—

The stamping of the girdles with the device of the crown and hammer and the name “Culross” was an indispensable ceremony before they could be offered for sale. Certain members of the craft called “visitors” were appointed in rotation to examine the girdles made, and when satisfied as to their sufficiency, to impress the stamp. The “bawbee fee" levied on this occasion, must have formed of itself a respectable revenue to the corporation.

Though the girdlesmiths seem to have adhered very strictly for the most part to their regulation excluding all from the privileges of the craft who had not served a regular apprenticeship to it, they nevertheless appear occasionally to have relaxed this role. We accordingly find them in 1666 admitting John Haliday, blacksmith, and deacon in general of the hammermen, with Robert Sands, also blacksmith, to the full liberty and privilege of exercising the girdlemaking trade, in addition to their other occupations. It does not appear whether any consideration was given by Haliday for acquiring this right, but the minute-book shows that Sands paid for his privilege the sum of 100 Scots.

Besides the three descriptions of girdles already mentioned, there seems to have been another which constituted an illicit branch of manufacture, and forms the subject of the entry quoted below. What the term '*callope girdles” means, I have not yet been able to discover; and it is not to be found in Jamieson’s Dictionary. Can it be a corruption of “scallop,” as denoting a small shell-shaped girdle?

“20 Jany. 1671.

“Act adicionall conskrning the Discharging of making of Callope Girdills

“We, the incorporatione forsaid, having taken to our con-sideratione the greate prejudice that dooth daylie aryse to our calling throw the making of callope girdils, heath therfor acted and ordained, and be thir presents acts and ordains, that in no tyme coming any of the members of this incorporatione nor our prentises sail make any of the forsaid callope girdils, nor no girdils of any lesser syze than nyntine inches, comonly called narow girdels, excepe they be to gifte to a freind, and mead with libertie from the deacone; and that under the paine of fourtie shiling Scots for every feallie, to be uplifted and applied to the use of the trade.”

A rigid discipline was exercised by the girdlemakers over such of their members as were contumacious in the way of refusing obedience to the laws of the trade, of non-payment of the fines imposed on them, or using disrespectful language towards the deacon and officers. In case of any transgression, the offenders were liable “ to be discharged of their worke by stryking out of thair teu iyron, and thair other workloums to be disposed upon our pleasour, conforme to the ancient custom of this incorporation.” That is to say, the nozzle or tube of their forge-bellows was to be taken out, and their tools to be carried away—a species of legalised “ rattening,” so familiar in the case of strikes and recalcitrant trades-unionists at the present day.

A strange fracas occurs in 1668 between the magistrates and town council and John Christie, girdlemaker, also deacon in that year of the corporation. of smiths. He is accused by Bailie John Burnside of illegal conduct in exacting a “buist penny,” or marking fee, from the hardware merchants who frequented Culross fair. Thereupon

“The said Johne Chrystie, deacone of the said craft of the smythe craft, rose up in counsell in ane most boasteus and insulting way, and declared in presence of the saids bailleis and counsell that he did approve of the deed that was done be him towards the said chapmen the last fair-day. . . . And farder, the said Johne Chrystie in ane verie boasteus and menasing maner chopped upon the counsell tabell with his fauldet neeve1 three severall tymes, and in ane commanding way ordanit the remanent deacons of craftis that war there sitting to ryse presentlie from the counsell tabell and mianteane the priviledge of his craft, for he should have the business done without the consent of bailleis or counsell, whether they would or not; and farder declared that if the saids deacons of craftis would not presentlie ryse and concure and asist him in his designe, he would caus thame doe it in defyance of the saids bailleis and counsell.”

For these “brave words  the magistrates fine John Christie in the sum of 500 merks,—on being summoned again to pay which, he defends himself by the curious plea, that his accuser John Burnside had rendered himself incapable of acting as bailie from not having subscribed the declaration imposed by Act of the Scottish Parliament. These were the persecuting days of Lauderdale and the Privy Council, and doubtless this declaration was one of those obnoxious engagements by which the Government sought to render the Scottish communities entirely subservient to its wilL Most probably the appeal had all the results desired, as it was most dangerous for the magistrates to contest such a point, and thus draw upon themselves the attention of the Privy Council. At least we hear no more of John Christie’s fine.

We are not, however, done yet with John Christie. A few years afterwards, as we learn from the burgh records, he had come under an obligation for 600 Scots, for the payment of which a certain William Reid was his cautioner. As a security to the latter, he made over to him in a bond of relief his household furniture, all the articles of which are detailed at length. The list seems worth quoting, as giving an idea of the plenishing of the house of a Culross girdlesmith in the seventeenth century. It also gives an account of the tools used in his trade:—

“Ane dresser ambrie, ane drawing wanscot table, ane wanscott tabell standing above three roundell tables, ane dusson of lether chairs, ane dussone of timber chairs, two fyr tabells, ane wanscott furme, two falding-beds, fyve kiste, three looking-glasses, six buffet stoles,4 two dry seats with the pannes therof, three furnished beds with coverings and courtines conforme—to witt, one reid, one blue, one grein— ane strip buird-cloathe, three domick buird-cloathes and three of linning, six dussone of naiprie,8 six toules, eighteen pair of sheets, eighteen coadwards,* four chimley brasses, one with gallows, three pair of tongs, three poaring , ane pair of standing , ane handed girdle, ane iron poat, two brass poats, ane iron frying-pan, ane duss-ing of puther pleatts, ane dussing of puther trenchers, three brass panes, two hinging chanlers of brass, thrittein half fatts,1 sextean pleatts, threetean salt-fatts, fyve pynt stoups, ane quart stoup, four mutchkin stoups, four choppin stoups, with ane half-mutchkin and a quarter-of-mutchkin stoups, ane small sword with ane sticket2 gray belt, ane snapwork goune, ane pair of pistolls, ane pair of bandoliers, ane pair of buits, a ryding sadle, ane pack-sadle, ane iron studie8about ten stone weight, ane pair of bellosses, two foir-hammers, two girdle-hammers, six hand-hammers, four pair of tongs, two pair of girdle tongs, together with ane full stand of brewing lomes.”

Such being the inventory of a girdlesmith’s house-hold gods, we must regard him as, all things considered, a man of tolerable competence and comfort. The “ drouthy ” propensities of the craft, as well as its pugnacious qualities, are well illustrated by the liberal provision made both for the implements of conviviality and warfare.

The following tells its own tale, and seems also worth quoting in its entirety, from the curious view it presents of the old primitive idea of the debtor being the bondman of the creditor, who was considered entitled to “ take out ” his claim in personal service:—

“Minot of Agreement with John Sandis anent that money that he is restand to the Trade, as Ca-tioner for his father.

"John Sands being debitor to this incorporation for the some of ane hundereth punds Scots, the which soume was advanced by the remnant girdilsmiths in anno 1664 for his father, he then being ane frieman of his calling, and was depursed by us for assisting to get our ancient priviledges renewed unto us by the King’s Majestie, att which tyme ilk ane of thes freimen advanced the lyke soume for themselves ; for the qlk soume Walter Sandis as principall, and this John Sands as cationer, in anno 1670 granted to this incorporation ane bond for the said soume of ane hun-derethe punds, payable at Martinmas 1671, with ane year’s annual rent, and bearing annual rent ay and quhill the said soume be paid: And now at this tearme of Mertimes last past, we being desyrous to heave up the said soume, with the annual rent therof, to the effect that we might mortifie the same for payment of the minister’s stiping, therfor we cause registrat the said bond, and raise letters of homing and captione therupon, and imprison John Sands for payment; but finding no probabilitie to get payment, we was forced to take his bond of corroboration for payment of this principall soume and annual rent, being seven years past at Mar-times, which extends to fourtie-two punds, and eghte pund of necessar expensis, depursed by us, which bond is now ane hundereth and fiftie punds of principall, and heath taken his ingadgement to serve as a jumayman ay and whill he pay the said soume, or els find us suficient catione for the same; the which service he is to make every weike about amongst the heall freimen, bot if any of the freimen be detained from being able to work himself, either by sick-nes, or ocasione to goe abrod, or any other way that he cannot get his work attended, then and in that ceasse it is expresslie condescended unto that the said Johne Sands sail suplie his place and worke to him untill he returae to his worke, and therafter heave toure about of John Sandis without any rememberance of that tyme that he did worke to this absent master, and every weik to keip up 8/- of John Sands* wages, and to be comptable therfor at every quarter meiting befor the incorporation”

A mingled feeling of pity and indignation is excited in reading the above, combined also, it must be confessed, with a slight sense of the ludicrous, as we reflect on the hapless lot of the poor fellow, whose filial affection had led him into so unpleasant a position, and who was now to be bandied about like a job-horse from one girdlesmith to another. It would be interesting to know how long the bondage continued, and also whether the pound of flesh was exacted to the utmost extent. Is the statement about the money being required to provide a fund for payment of the minister’s stipend a pious clause introduced to cover the harshness of the procedure of the corporation in adding a half to the original debt in name of interest and expenses, and then seizing their debtor as a bondman ?

“In lav, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil 1 In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it, and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament.”

Walter Sands, father of John Sands, on whose account the latter was involved in such hardship, got himself into further trouble with the corporation; and in justice to them, it ought to be remarked that possibly it was not altogether undeserved. Here is their account of the matter:—

“The 5 day of September 1673, our craft being meete in the Toylbooth of Culros, Walter Sands, being conviened befor the said craft, was found lyabell in breaking the Acts of our craft at many sundry tyines severall wayes, especially that Act daited the 1 day of March 1669 years. The deacon having apprehended and taken 3 broad girdils and 6 narow girdils belonging to the said Walter Sands, earnestly desyred that the craft wolde be pleased to give the forsaid girdils to him again, that he might give the iyron of them to those men he was resting it unto. But the wholl craft denyed to give any of them unto hym againe, and ordieaned the deacon to make money of them, and put it in box for the use of the poor of the craft.”

It is not clear from the above whether the request there preferred was made by Walter Sands himself, or the deacon of the craft on his behalf. It certainly seems a severe proceeding to confiscate for behoof of the poor the property of a craftsman who was himself in difficulties.

A female girdlesmith gave the corporation a good, deal of trouble about this time. This was Mrs Margaret Anderson or Sands, already mentioned, widow of the Robert Sands who, without having served an apprenticeship to the craft, had purchased, as we have already seen, a right to participate in its privileges by the payment of 100 Scots. He had evidently not long survived his admission as a freeman; but his business must have been a good one, and was after his death carried on by his widow, who, whatever other qualities she possessed, had certainly a good deal of the virago in her composition. I take a special interest, however, in Mrs Sands, seeing that there is good reason to believe that she lived and flourished almost on the very spot where I am now writing. [ I was then residing at St Mungo’s, Culross.] We learn from the kirk-session records that she lived near St Mungo’s Kirk or Chapel, and had an altercation with the ecclesiastical authorities regarding a piece of ground lying between her house and the western wall of the old burying-ground adjoining the little church. The position of her dwelling would thus correspond almost exactly with the present house of St Mungo’s, one portion of which is very old, and has evidently had attached to its west end a building of some kind, as the doorway leading to it is still traceable in the adjoining waJUL This may have been the forge; and, however dubious my supposition may seem, there is no doubt whatever that this bustling lady-girdlesmith carried on her trade in the immediate neighbourhood. St Mungo’s Chapel, I may inform my reader, immediately adjoins the eastern enclosure of the garden of St Mungo’s—the distance between it and the house being scarcely 100 yards.

Let us now hear the story of Mrs Margaret’s quarrel with the girdlemakers, bearing in mind always that it is only their account that we have of the affair:—

“1673.

“The 21 day of Aprill, our craft being meete together in Toylbooth, Marget Anderson being conviened befor the crafte, she brought Kobert Blaw, present Dean of Gild, with hyr, who neither of them made answer our craft on word to purpose; but the said Margett brak out in passion and gaive our present deacon a lie, forbyding hym to lie any mor, and she Had gud grounds to say that he was hyr ennemy—for the which misdemanure she is onlyed and fyned in fourtie shilings, to be payed befor she have liberty to worke or imploye any to work in hyr forge.

“The whilk day Marget Anderson was fyned in twentie pund for sending girdils to Glasgow without acquainting our deacon; and further ordaines that she nor no other member shall sende any girdils to Glasgow or Pearth, or any plaice else, without liberty asked and gotten from the deacon, and that under the paine and penalty conteaned in the Act made the first day of March 1669 year.”

“24 November 1673.

“Margret Anderson, relick of Robert Sands, on of the freimen of the incorporatione of girdilmakers, she being conveined befor the said tread and found culpable in transgressing of severall Acts which in all reasson she is lyable to fulfill, they heave therfor, out of their own condescendence, consented to passe all hir former transgressions, pro* vyding that within fourtie days hence shee give to the incorporatione ane suficient bond and seurtie that shee sail give deu obedience to all ther Acts of that incorporatione, according as other members of the incorporatione doeth.”

“22 January 1674.

“The foresaid day Margaret Anderson compeiring, did faithfullie promise and ingadge herself, upon the conditions after specefeit, that she shall, in all tyme coming, dulie and punctuallie observe and fulfill the haill Acts of the trade,

Mrs Sands proves incorrigible, notwithstanding all the gracious dealings of the corporation towards her. Again does she prove contumacious, and, in legal phrase, is “ put to the horn,” or charged by letters of homing to answer for her misdemeanours. These consisted mainly of having disposed of a parcel of girdles which had not been approved by the craft and received their stamp. What effect this procedure had we are not informed; but it is evident that her spirit of defiance had been little diminished, as we find, after the lapse of four years, the corporation meeting again in reference to a new and terrible cause of offence which she had given. In explanation of what follows, it may be stated that at this period, and for a good many years previously—as I shall shortly have occasion to detail—the girdle-makers of Culross had been sadly exercised by an encroachment on their privileges by the inhabitants of Low Valleyfield, who were therefore regarded by them with the bitterest animosity.

“27 March 1678.

“Ordinance of thes incorporatione to repair to the magistrats to assist us in the defence of our priviledgis, which this day is most baislie abused by Margret Anderson.

"The qlk day the incorporation of girdlsmiths being con veined, and being informed by the deacon that Margret Anderson heath meade the unworthiest breache upon our treade this day that ever was meade this many ageis, and that by hir bringing in of on Watson out of the Valyfield, and seeting of him up into hir forge to make girdils for hir use; the which unworthie act being considered by us, and also considering thes our priviledges granted unto us by his Majestie and also his predecessours, it is apointed that we first repaire to the magistrats and show to them our priviledges, and creave their concurrance to assist us to stryke out hir teu iyron, and secure the same and other thair work-loums, quhill she be meade sencible of hir doings by hir infringing of our priviledges after such ane insulting manner, and be punished corrdingly for the same if ever heirafter shee be tollerat to heave the libertie of ane forge for making of girdills ” •

It would appear from the following entry that the girdlemakers, without waiting for the warrant of the magistrates, had on their own authority rendered Mrs Sands’ forge bellows useless by “ striking out the teu iron,” or removing the nozzle. She takes the bull by the horns and lodges a complaint with the town council against the craft:—

“Upon the first of April the incorporation, being informed by the deacone that there is ane complaint given unto the counsell by Margret Anderson upon them and all the rest of the treade for thair stryking out of hir teu iyron and bringing therof away with them, whereupon it is ordered by the counsell that our gift, and ratification therof in Parlament, which containeth our priviledges, sail be produced to the magistrats and severall others of the counsell who is nominat, to the effect that they may see the same, and consider therupon whether or not that we heave that poure that we assume to ourselves by the said gift: the which ordinance of the counsell being considered by the incorporatione, we conceav that we are not oblidged to produce our gift befor no inferior judicatories to be commented upon or expounded by them at thair pleasour; yet notwithstanding because we neide not caire much to whos sight the same be presented, we therfor heave consented that the next counsell day we sail all compeire in the Tolbooth, and sail offer the said gift and ratificatione to be reade by the magistrats, upon conditione that, after the reading therof, they sail be immediatlie returned to us againe; and that in the meane tyme John Kennewie, clarke, who heath declared himself to be ane oppen ennemie to our treade, and to be ane instrument against us to reduce our gift and priviledges to nothing, that he sail be removed, or at the least sail stand by when he may have the same reade,—and upon no other tearmes to be produced.”

The expressions at the end of the foregoing are obscure, and the composition, to say the least of it, slipshod; but it is very evident that the girdlemakers found little favour with the town council. They manfully, however, resolve to stand to their guns, and without abating one jot of their corporate dignity, pass the following

“Act discharging Marget Anderson to heave the benefit of John Sands, our jumayman, to work to hir weike about befor shee supliccU the tread, and aknowledge hir rebellious act in bringing in of Watson to make girdils in hir forge.

"The day forsaid the breitherine being conveined, and heaving taken to thair consideration that unworthie rebellious act committed by Margret Anderson by hir bringing in of WilL Watson, smith, in Valyfield, and seeting of him up into hir forge to make girdils, expreslie contrarie to his Majestie’s gift and his predecessors, granted in favours of this our incorporatione, they heave therfor acted and discharged, and be thir presents acts and dischargis our present deacon James Blaw to give back to hir that teu ijnron or any other of hir workloums which they did bring away out of hir forge the tyme that they did find this Watson in the very act of making of girdils; and also discharges hir of the benefit of John Sands, our jurnayman, to worke to hir weike about acording as he is oblidged to serve other freemen, and that ay and quhyll the said Margret Anderson suplic$t the treade, and acknowledge that hir unworthie, wrongous, rebellious act, and refer herself to be sencenred and fyned by this incorporatione, and obtaine thair libertie to kendill hir forge-fyre and seet up hir work.”

These proceedings against a widow woman may not seem very chivalrous on the part of the girdlemakers; but it should be remembered that Mrs Sands, in addition to her former delinquencies, had now committed a flagrant breach of the trade rules in employing a stranger as her overseer, instead of a freeman of Culross. Our pity may more legitimately be expended on poor John Sands, so unceremoniously spoken of as the common bondman of the corporation, and giving a week’s service in turn to each of the members, till his cautionary obligation on behalf of his father should be cleared off. How this business of Mrs Sands was ultimately settled we have no information; but it is probable, from the following entry (the last regarding her), that she remained to the end successfully defiant:—

“16 Octr. 1679.

“The said day Maigret Anderson is ordained to be spoken unto by James Cowie, to pay to Sot. Blaw, betwix and Saturday, the soume of 4,14s. 8d., els to be discharged of work.”girdlemakers of Culross and those whom they were wont to denominate“ the pretended girdlemakers of Valleyfield.” The contest extended over more than half a century, and was not only a most troublesome and expensive conflict in itself, but proved also the means of ultimately extinguishing the monopoly and ruining the trade of Culross. However much the exclusive privilege claimed by the Tatter town may be opposed to our modem ideas of free trade and unrestricted competition, we ought always to bear in mind the current principles then in vogue, the fact that a prescriptive and uncontested right had been enjoyed by the Culross people from time immemorial, and that the very parties who impugned this right were merely claiming an extension of the monopoly for their own benefit.

The burgh territory of Culross is bounded, as we have already seen, on the east by the lands of Valleyfield, which, since the middle of the sixteenth century, had been in the possession of the Preston family. The estate was not in itself of great extent; but, in imitation apparently of the example of Sir George Bruce, who had raised Culross to such a height of prosperity, its proprietors had endeavoured to achieve a similar success in working collieries and saltworks in the adjoining district. The workmen engaged in these lived for the most part in the straggling village of Low Valleyfield, which extends along the sea-shore almost from Newmill Bridge to the east end of Culross. The undertaking seems to have been so prosperous as to stimulate the Prestons to still higher aspirations, and the ambitious idea was conceived of having a burgh of their own, which might both rival Culross and also enjoy a share in the peculiar and exclusive privileges possessed by the latter. A charter was accordingly procured in 1663 by Sir George Preston in favour of his son, William Preston (reserving his own liferent), of the lands of Valleyfield, which were thereby erected into a burgh of barony, with many of the privileges of royal burghs, including those of holding fairs and markets, of punishing offenders, and establishing the ordinary trade corporations. Among these last are mentioned the fdbri or smiths; and although nothing is said about girdlemakers, the position was taken up that this must include a right to participate in the girdle monopoly hitherto exclusively enjoyed by the smiths of Culross. Some such assertion seems to have been foisted into the infeftment proceeding on the charter of resignation erecting Valleyfield into a burgh of barony. The whole affair was regarded by the Culross people as a gross infringement of their privileges, and, as we have already seen, met with the most determined, and to some extent effectual, opposition. But it was the girdlesmiths who had to suffer most severely and bear the brunt, and certainly the procedure of Sir George Preston and his son does seem most invidious. One of the first steps taken to foil their adversaries was the resolution of the Culross girdlemakers to obtain a fresh grant of their monopoly from Charles II.—an object which was accomplished in 1666; and a parliamentary ratification of the new gift was obtained in 1669. But the people of Valleyfield, disregarding all threats or remonstrances, continued to manufacture girdles, though it is alleged their quality was of a very inferior kind. And a regular contract seems to have been entered into between the Prestons and certain inhabitants of the place, by which the latter, on condition of paying a sum of money annually, were to have the exclusive privilege of manufacturing girdles within the barony of Valleyfield. Meantime the Culross smiths were striving to the utmost to maintain their monopoly, both against their neighbours of Valleyfield and strangers. We find in 1668 a charge on letters of homing given to David Mather, smith in Bridgeness, on the opposite side of the water, “ that he perpetuallie abstein from making of any girdles of any quantitie whatsoever, and that within the space and under the panes all within exprest.” And we have seen how endeavours were made to secure an exclusive market with the merchants of Glasgow and Perth,—all, indeed, evidences of the straits to which the Culross hammermen were reduced by the growing resistance to their monopoly, and gradual declension of their prestige. A charge, too, was given to the Valleyfield girdlemakers, who brought a suspension of it before the Court of Session, and seem to have so far succeeded as to induce the Culross men to open negotiations with the Prestons in the hope of effecting a compromise of the matter. But no compromise apparently could be arrived at, the laird of Valleyfield demanding a composition of a thousand marks Scots, or 55, lls. Id. sterling, whilst 50 sterling was the utmost limit to which the others could be induced to go. One would have thought, when the respective proffers approached so nearly, that an agreement might have been come to; but, the only result seems to have been a sisting of procedure in the case for several years. The Culross girdlemakers had evidently exhausted their resources, and were glad for a while to rest on their oars.

The suspension by the girdlemakers of Valleyfield of the charge given them by those of Culross seems to have been allowed to go to sleep; but in 1687 we find the Culross smiths plucking up spirit again, and determined to have a fresh tussle with the Valleyfield intruders. They accordingly revived the process by what is known in Scots law as a summons of wakening, and gained such an advantage by this step over their antagonists, who made no appearance, that they resolved to have the whole question settled by a summons of reduction and declarator, so as to have their own privileges permanently ascertained, and the claims of the Valleyfield men for ever silenced by getting annulled the charter of erection of the estate into a burgh of barony. The Culross girdlesmiths had apparently calculated on no opposition being made to them; but in this expectation they were too sanguine, as a defence was entered, and the lawsuit dragged its slow length along for more than a quarter of a century. A document preserved in the box, entitled an “ Information from the girdlemakers of Culross against the burgh of barronie of Valeyfield and the pretended girdlemakers therm,” lodged in process in 1688, contains some curious statements. One of these, after arguing that the privilege claimed could not properly be styled a monopoly, goes on to say:—

 For the tempering and beating out the iron to the thin-nes of a girdle soe that it may last against fire for ane age or two, is that which wes invented particularlie at Cullross; and the 8 or 10 workmen who are there are able to serve the whole kingdome, and are able to export manie into Ireland and the north of England, and have swa manie hundreds upon their hands withall, which, tho’ they could sell all they have, they are hardly able to won their bread; and albeit that trade is the hardiest of all toylls, and sufers feu to live to anie age, yet never anie of them arose to anie competent riches, and if they did not regulate their own societie to the number of 8 or 10, and to work 3 days a-week (lest otherways they should make too manie and ill girdles), they would all starve, soe that if others should be allowed to work, everie serving the said trade, not onlie the poor buyers should be cheated with ill work, but the trade should absolutelie decay; and all the burghs royal are so sensible of this, that neither their Convention in general nor anie burgh in particular would suffer their inhabitants to follow this trade; nor can thir suspenders, on the other hand, lose anie thing, for they are blacksmiths to their own trade, and were not bred to this, wheras these poor people would absolutlie ruine, having noe other trade, and the town of Cullross itself e, which subsists by them and their dependents onlie, would ruine with them.”

This may to some extent be only a rhetorical flourish; but it presents, nevertheless, a sufficiently melancholy picture of the state of things which had come to prevail in Culross. The process went on, fell asleep again, and again was wakened. In 1706 a petition was presented by the craft to the Convention of Royal Burghs sitting at Edinburgh, praying the latter to assist them with the services of an advocate, “ we being brought to an most low condition and our trade wholly destroyed by the said, men in Valefield.”

The assistance thus sought for seems to have been given. In the following year Thomas Stevenson, one of the Valleyfield smiths, was apprehended at the instance of the corporation of hammermen, for working within the burgh, and committed to prison, from which he was only released on giving his bond to refrain from doing so in future, under the penalty of 20 Scots. For some years after this we have no information as to the progress of the lawsuit, till in 1716 we find the Culross girdlemakers sending John Blaw, one of their number, as their commissioner to Edinburgh, to effect an amicable adjustment of the matters in dispute with the smiths of Valleyfield. This object must have been, temporarily at least, accomplished, seeing that two years afterwards a mutual agreement was signed by the parties to refrain, each member under a penalty of 6 Scots for each failure, from producing more than “a broad and a narrow girdle each work day, fyve twenty-two inch girdles each two work days, three twenty-six inch girdles in two days, and one twenty-eight inch girdle in one work day.” But it was found impossible to overcome the resistance of particular individuals, who, now that an example of revolt had been set, were ever ready to make a fresh encroachment. In 1719, George Cunningham, smith in Valleyfield, presents—with what success we are not informed—a bill of suspension before the Court of Session of a charge of homing which had been given him to abstain from the manufacture of girdles.

The Convention of Royal Burghs seems to have favoured the suit of the Culross girdlemakers, and besides the legal assistance already mentioned, made a grant to them from its funds of 60 Scots, which was paid through its agent, Mr George Smollett, a relation of the author of ‘ Roderick Random.’ And as General George Preston was now a candidate for the representation of the Stirling Burghs in the British Parliament, some faint hopes were excited that, in return for the votes of the Culross town council, he might lend important assistance in getting the ancient monopoly of the girdlesmiths renewed and confirmed.

All such expectations, however, were destined to be fallacious, and the crowning blow was about to descend. A recreant member of the corporation, named John Watson, had left Culross and commenced the manufacture of girdles in Kilmarnock, where he worked under the patronage and protection of the celebrated Earl of that name, who at a later period laid his head, for the Stewart cause, on the block on Tower Hill. The craft was indignant, and sent its officers to the west country to search for and summon the traitor; the Culross magistrates lent their aid; and even the assistance of the Church was invoked, and not refused. Watson was summoned before the kirk-session to answer for his breach of the oath taken on his admission as a freeman; a certificate of Church membership, which he had forwarded to Culross for some emendation that he wished, was ignominiously tom; and the kirk-session of Kilmarnock was written to “to treat the said John Watson no better than he deserves.” But all this artillery, civil and ecclesiastic, had no effect whatever. Watson, on receiving a charge of homing, presented a bill of suspension in the Court of Session; and this being opposed by the girdlemakers, the action at their instance was proceeded with against him and another contravener of the name of Master-ton. In 1725 the case which is recorded in the law reports under the title of the Girdlemakers of Culross v. Watson and Masterton, was finally decided. The judgment was completely against the Culross smiths, and declared authoritatively that the monopoly claimed by the latter was wholly illegal and unconstitutional. No such exclusive privilege could be sustained in favour of any locality or any body of men.

Notwithstanding this defeat, the Culross girdlemakers still strove, and not unsuccessfully, to vindicate their privileges within the burgh, as will appear from the following entry:—

“24 April 1733.

“The said day Alexander Stevenson, younger, girdlesmith in Valleyfield, being found and apprehended selling girdles within the burgh, and the haill girdles seized, the said Alexander Stevenson, present, acknowledges his fault.

“The trade having considered the transgression, with the confession, fines the said Alexander Stevenson in ten shillings sterling, and ordain the girdles seized to be kept while payment therof, and discharges the girdles to be delivered within the burgh.

“The above sentence being intimate to the said Alexander Stevenson, he payed the fine instantly.”

But it was soon felt to be useless to protract the struggle longer, and the two following entries show that the corporation had resolved to accept the situation, and contend no further with the inevitable :—

"13 July 1754.

“Patrick Donald has entered a complaint to the trade against George Tannochie, elder and younger, for the cause alleging that they are making girdells in Laigh Valleyfield, which crime being contrary to their oath to the trade.

“This 13th day of July 1754, the trade has taken to their serious consideration the detriment and great loss that their girdlesmith trade is at. Considering that they had made formerly an Act that no girdlesmith freeman could take apprentice but one apprentice in their whole lifetime, and the trade considering the decay of trade, and the great loss they are at, has by majority of votes broken the former Act; and they all agree that every freeman girdlesmith could take apprentice at the end of every four years, and that apprentices indentures is to be put in the box, whether he be a freeman's son or a stranger, and to pay the ordinary dues. This day the trade has taken into their consideration the loss that they are at by a former Act that the incorporation made, that no freeman of the girdlesmiths could make a girdell or any part thereof in any part of Scotland except in this burgh of Culross. The trade considering that it being a very hard case that, when any of the members of the incorporation is fallen back in the world, and that they have no liberty by working by way of journeyman to any other person of that trade, or set up in any other place or town, so the trade, by majority of votes, agree that the Act is resinded and broken, and every freeman of the trade has their liberty to work where they please, or where Providence shall order their lot in the world.

“James Holland, Deacon.”

After such a declaration, which may be regarded as a final and distinct abandonment by the girdlemakers themselves of their old and long-cherished privileges, it need excite no surprise that this is about the last time that either the word “ girdle ” or “ girdlesmith ” is mentioned in the minute-book. Henceforward it only records the proceedings of “The Incorporation of Smiths.” Another circumstance still was to complete for Culross the loss of her prestige. This was the establishment of the Carron ironworks in 1760. The cast-iron plates being so much cheaper, soon entirely superseded the artistic and enduring utensil of wrought-iron. Even the use of girdles of any kind began to decline; and so much has been the alteration in our mode of living, that they have come to be almost as obsolete as the knocking-stone or the spinning-wheel.


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