The Herds’ Festival at Midlothian—Old customs in connection with
Archery—The Hangman’s Right at Dumfries—The Cure for Scolds at Langholm—
Customs regarding Holy wells—Curious customs at Rutherglen—The feast of
Sour Cakes—Riding the Marches—Foot-Race at Biggar—Riding the Stang.
ABOUT a century ago, the
1st of August was celebrated as follows by the herds of Midlothian
:—Early in summer the herds associated themselves in
bands—each band proceeded to erect a tower in a central locality to
serve, as a place of meeting on Lammas. The tower was built of sods; and
was generally four feet in diameter at the base, and tapered towards the
summit, which rose about eight feet from the ground. There was a hole in
the centre for the insertion of a flag staff. The budding of the tower
commenced a month before Lammas. For the space of this month one of the
builders kept watch in order to prevent its being attacked by any of the
rival communities. This warder was provided with a horn which he sounded
in case of an assault. On the approach of Lammas each party appointed a
captain. He was entrusted with the duty of bearing the standard, (a
towel borrowed from some farmer’s wife) decorated with ribbons and
attached to a pole. On the morning of the festival he displayed this
flag on the summit of the tower. The assembled herdsmen waited under his
leadership, to resist an assault of the enemy. Scouts were dispatched at
intervals to ascertain whether any foe was near. When menaced by danger
horns were blown, and the little army marched forth to meet the
advancing enemy. At some engagements a hundred combatants would appear
on each side. After a short struggle the stronger party yielded to the
weaker; but there were instances in which such mimic warfare terminated
in bloodshed. If no enemy appeared before the hour of noon, the garrison
removed their standards and marched to the nearest village, where they
concluded the day’s amusements with foot-races and other diversions.
ancient and once royal sport of archery was much encouraged in Scotland
by James I. In his reign men were required to ‘‘busk themselves archers”
from the early age of twelve years. James V. presented silver arrows to
the royal burghs, to which the winners in the annual competitions might
affix silver medals as memorials of their skill. The Edinburgh Company
of Archers is privileged to rank as the Queen’s Scottish Bodyguard.
There were two kinds of archery, point blank archery, i.e., shooting at
“butts,” and popinjay archery, such as that occasionally practised by
the members of the Kilwinning Archery Club, and described as follows
:—The ancient custom of shooting at the popinjay existed at Kilwinning
as far hack as the year 1488. The popinjay is a bird known in heraldry.
It was cut out of wood, fixed at the end of a pole, and placed at a
distance of a hundred and twenty feet on the steeple of the Abbey. The
archer who brought down the mark was honoured with the title of Captain
of the Popinjay, and received a parti-coloured sash. He was master of
the ceremonies for the ensuing year. He sent cards of invitation to the
ladies, gave them a splendid ball, and transmitted his honours by a
medal with suitable devices affixed to a silver arrow.
SINGULAR CUSTOM IN CONNECTION WITH THE OFFICE OF HANGMAN AT DUMFRIES.
following singular custom formerly existed in Dumfries:—The county
hangman went through the market every market day furnished with a brass
ladle or large spoon, pushed it into the mouth of every sack of meal,
com, etc., and carried it off full. The small quantity of meal so
abstracted was termed a “lock,” and, when spoken of, the hangman was
frequently alluded to as the “lockman.” When the farmers refused any'
longer to comply with this custom, the matter was brought before the law
courts, and the hangman was found to have a right to the perquisite of
office. In consequence of this decision, many of the farmers refused for
a long time to send their meal and com to this market.
CURE FOB SCOLDS AT LANGHOLM.
Langholm was long ago famous for an iron instrument culled the “Branks,'’
which fitted upon the head of a shrewish female, and projecting a sharp
spike into her mouth, effectually silenced the organ of speech. It was
formerly customary for husbands who were afflicted with scolding wives,
to subject their heads to this instrument, and lead them through the
town, exposed to the laughter and reproaches of the people. Tradition
affirms that the discipline never failed to effect a complete
reformation. “The Branks,” so Dr. Platt observes, “was much to be
preferred to the ducking stool, which not only endangered the health of
the patient, but gave the tongue liberty between each dip.”
CUSTOMS REGARDING HOLY WELLS.
remedial qualities of certain wells were, it would appear, well known to
the ancients. The Roman and Greek physicians were familiar with their
efficacy. The Orientals again attributed the cures effected by their
means to supernatural agency. Our own heathen forefathers believed that
wells were originally constructed by demons or devils for the
destruction of mankind, but that the Saints had interfered to prevent
their malignant design, and by their prayers had succeeded in
transforming what was formerly intended to prove a curse into an
inestimable blessing. In many instances, however, the ancient worship of
Neith, the Goddess of Waters, was accountable for the reverence in which
certain reputed wells were formerly held by the populace; and after the
Reformation a clerical raid was instituted against the so-styled “
heathenish well worship.”
were formerly three wells in the parish of Culsalmond, St. Mary’s Well
on the farm of Calpie, St. Michael’s at Gateside, and another at the
foot of the Culsalmond bank, a little to the west of the Lady’s
Causeway. On the first Sunday of May, multitudes resorted to them from
distant parts, in the full belief that by washing in the stream and
leaving presents to the saints, as their heathen ancestors did to the
spirits presiding over the well, they would be cured of their diseases.
Pieces of money were always left in the water corresponding to the
circumstances of the afflicted persons. Some time ago while digging a
drain at the foot of the bank, the workman stuck his pick into the back
of the well which had been there; a large quantity of water sprung up
into the air, in which he observed a shining substance. This proved on
inspection to be a gold piece of James I. of Scotland as perfect as when
it came from the mint.
SINGULAR CUSTOM AT RUTHERGLEN.
ancient town of Rutherglen was long famous throughout the country, for
the singular custom of baking what was called
cakes” about eight or ten days before St. Luke’s fair—for they were
baked at no other time in the year. A certain quantity of meal was made
into dough with warm water, and laid up in a vessel to ferment. Being
brought to a proper degree of fermentation and consistency, it was
rolled up into balls proportionable to the intended size of the cakes.
With the dough there was commonly mixed a small quantity of sugar and a
little anise seed or cinnamon. The baking was executed by women only,
and they seldom began their work till after sunset, and a night or two
before the fair. A large space of the house chosen for the purpose, was
marked out by a line drawn upon it. The area within it was considered
consecrated ground, and was not to be touched by any of the bystanders
with impunity. Every trespasser paid a small fine, which was always laid
out in liquor for the use of the company.
hallowed spot was occupied by six or eight women, all of whom, except
the toaster, seated themselves on the ground in a circular form having
their feet turned towards the fire. Each of them was provided with a
bake-board, about two feet square, which they held on their knees. The
woman who toasted the-cakes, which she did on an iron plate suspended
over the fire, was called the
and the others were styled her
These were distinguished from one another by names
given them for the occasion. She who sat next the fire towards the east
was called todler.
Her companion on the left hand was called the
And the rest had arbitrary names given them by the bride, as Mrs. Baker,
operation was begun by the todler, who took a ball, formed it into a
small cake, and then cast it on the bakeboard of the hodler, who beat it
out a little thinner. This being done, she in her turn threw it on the
board of her neighbour, and thus it went round from east to west,
in the direction of the
suns course, until it came to the toaster, by
which time it was as thin as a piece of paper. Sometimes the cake was so
thin as to be carried by the air up the chimney.
the baking was wholly performed by the hand a great deal of noise was
the consequence. The beats, however, were not irregular nor destitute of
an agreeable harmony, especially when they were accompanied with vocal
music, which was frequently the case. Great dexterity was necessary not
only to beat out the cakes with no other implements than the hand so
that no part of the cake should be thicker than another, but especially
to east them on each other’s boards without ruffling or breaking them.
toaster required considerable skill, for which reason the most
experienced person in the company was chosen for that part of the work.
One cake was sent round in quick succession to another, so that none of
the company were suffered to remain idle. The scene was one of activity,
mirth, and diversion.
there is no account even handed down by tradition respecting the origin
of this custom it must be very ancient. The bread thus baked was
doubtless never meant for human use. It is difficult to conceive how
mankind, especially in a rude age, would strictly observe so many
ceremonies, and take such great pains in making a cake which, when
folded together, made but a small mouthful. Besides it was always given
away in presents to strangers who frequented the fair.
custom seems originally to have been derived from paganism, and to
contain not a few of the sacred rites peculiar to that impure belief:
such as the leavened dough, and the mixing it with sugar and spices ;
the consecrated ground, etc. But the particular deity for whose use
these cakes were first made, is-not easy to determine. Probably it was
no other than the one known in scripture (Jer. v. ii. 18.) by the name
of the Queen of
Heaven, and to whom cakes were likewise
kneaded by women. This custom is now obsolete.
sour cakes it was formerly the practice to
roasts for St. Luke’s fair. Till of late
years almost every house in Rutherglen was furnished with dozens of
them. They were the chief articles of provisions asked for by strangers
who frequented the fair.
THE MARCHES AT RUTHERGLEN.
Biding of the Marches is an ancient “burghal celebration,” and was very
requisite when written documents were in constant danger of being
destroyed. In former times lands had been bestowed by the sovereign on
most of the towns where the ceremony was and is still observed. The
boundaries of such possessions came to be determined by processions,
etc.; and although in the course of time these lands passed into other
hands, the old custom of “marking the boundaries” in accordance with the
ancient fashion was still retained. At Rutherglen the ceremony was
performed in the following manner :—The Magistrates with a considerable
number of the Council and inhabitants assembled at the Cross, from which
they proceeded in martial order with drums beating; and in that manner
went round the boundaries of the Royalty to see if any encroachments had
been made upon them. These boundaries were distinguished by march-stones
set up at some little distance from each other. In some places there
were two rows about seven feet apart. The stones were shaped at the top
like a man’s head, but the lower part was square. This peculiar figure
was originally intended to represent the god
of whom there were formerly so many rude representations.
was a custom from time immemorial for the riders of the marches to dress
their hats and drums with broom, and to combat with one another at the
newly erected stone, out of respect perhaps to the deity whose image
they had set up, or that they might the better remember the precise
boundaries at that place. This part of the ceremony was afterwards
postponed till the survey was over and the company had returned to the
Cross, when, having previously provided themselves with broom, they had
a mock engagement, and fought seemingly with great fury till their
weapons failed them, when they parted in good fellowship.
CUSTOMS AT BIGGAR.
the parish of Biggar there were formerly held three fairs,—Candlemas
fair, Midsummer fair, luad the old Biggar fair, held on the last
Thursday of October O.S. On the evening previous to the Midsummer fair,
it was formerly the custom for the Baron Bailie to advertise that a foot
race would be run along the streets, and that a pair of gloves would be
the prize. It was also an ancient custom, and one which frequently
caused much rioting and confusion, to throw out a football.
young men immediately divided themselves into two parties. The ball,
which was made of leather stuffed with wool, was thrown up at the Cross
in the centre of the town. The party who could kick the ball, in spite
of their antagonists, to the other end of the village, were the victors.
No prize was awarded in this contest.
connection with Biggar, Forsyth in his “Beauties of Scotland,” relates
that “here as well as in other places in Scotland a very singular
practice is at times, though very rarely, revived. This is called
“Biding the Stang.” When any husband was known to beat his wife, and
when this offence was long continued, while the wife’s character was
known to be spotless, the indignation of the neighbourhood becoming
gradually greater, at length bruke out in the following manner. All the
women entered into a conspiracy to execute vengeance on the culprit.
Having fixed on a particular day for the prosecution of their design,
they suddenly assembled in a great crowd and seized the offending party,
they taking care at the same time to provide a stout beam of wood upon
which they set him astride, and bore him aloft, his legs tied beneath.
He was then carried in derision through the village attended by the
hootings, scoffings, and hisses of his numerous attendants, who pulled
down his legs so as to render his position a very uneasy one. The grown
up men in the meantime remained at a distance and avoided interfering in
the matter. It was lucky for the culprit at the conclusion of the
ceremony if a ducking was not added to the rest of the punishment. The
origin of this custom is unknown.