Old Customs at Kirkmichael—The Pedlar’s
Tournament at Leslie—Superstitious custom at St. Monance—The Touch Hills—The Maiden
Feast in Perthshire—The Society of Chapmen at Dunkeld— Announcement of
Death at Hawick-—The customs in connection with Nicknames—Religious
custom on the approach of Death—Riding the Marches at Hawick — Scottish
Masonic customs — Candlemas customs.
OLD CUSTOMS IN BANFFSHIRE.
ALTHOUGH quite unable to
furnish any reason for their superstitious observances, the inhabitants
of the parish of Kirkmichael, Banffshire, were formerly the slaves of
times and seasons. The moon in her in crease, full-growth, and decline,
was with them the emblem of a rising, flourishing, and declining
fortune. While in the wane they refused to engage in any important
business, such as marriage, etc., but when in the two former stages of
her revolutions, whatever was the nature of the undertakings in which
they were employed, they predicted for themselves a successful issue.
They had customs for Hallowe’en and the first night of the New Year. On
the latter evening they were attentive observers of the weather.
According as it was calm or boisterous, and as the wind blew, they
prognosticated the nature of the weather they would have till the end of
THE PEDLARS' TOURNAMENT.
The green of Leslie was
in former years the theatre of annual sports of a rather ludicrous
nature. The chief if not sole performers in these rural pastimes were
the honourable fraternity of pedlars or packmen, who, by tilting at a
ring, with wooden spears, on horseback, endeavoured hard, to imitate the
chivalrous knights of old. Much merriment was excited, whenever these
doughty pedlars —their horses at full stretch—missed striking the ring,
which, unfortunately for their composure, was but too often the case ;
as it ’nevitably followed that the circumstance caused them to drop both
reins and spears, and cling convulsively to their saddles. At these
times the appearance presented by these modern Quixotes was in the
highest degree ludicrous.
SUPERSTITIOUS CUSTOM AT
The ancient bell which
formerly rung the good people of St. Monance to church, and which hung
suspended from a tree in the churchyard, was, strange to say, removed
every year from that position during the herring’ season, the fishermen
entertaining the superstitious belief that the fish were scared away
from the coast by its noise. No compliment this to the sounds produced
by the bell in question.
PILGRIMAGE TO ST. CORBETS
At the summit of the
Touch Hills, Stirlingshire, a little to the west of Stirling, there may
be seen by the curious a crystal well which in ancient times was
believed to possess the peculiar quality of insuring for a twelvemonth,
the lives of all who drank of its waters, before sunrise on the first
Sunday in May. In 1840 there were old men and women then alive who in
their younger days had been of the number of those who made annual
pilgrimages to St. Corbet’s Well on the morning in question. They
described the gatherings on the anniversaries as having been splendid.
Husbands and wives, lovers with their sweethearts, young and old, grave
and gay, crowded the hill tops in the vicinity of the well long before
dawn, and each party on their arrival took copious draughts of the
singularly blessed water. It is reported that St. Corbet, after a lapse
of years, deprived the well of its life-preserving qualities in
consequence of the introduction of “mountain dew” of a less innocent
nature into these annual festivals.
THE MAIDEN FEAST.
In some parts of
Perthshire it was till very' lately the custom to give what was called a
Maiden Feast, upon the finishing of the harvest; as a preparation for
which the last handful of com reaped in the field was called the Maiden.
It was generally so contrived that this fell into the hands of one of
the prettiest girls in the field; it was then decked up with ribbons,
and brought home in triumph to the sound of bagpipes and fiddles. A good
dance was given to the reapers, and the evening was devoted to
merriment. Afterwards the “Maiden” was dressed out, generally in the
form of .a cross, and hung up, with the date attached to it in some
conspicuous part of the house.
CHAPMEN AT DUNKELD.
The Society of Chapmen or
itinerant merchants was a very ancient institution. The original charter
was from James V. The general annual meeting of the Society was held
alternately at Dunkeld and Coupar Angus. The. meeting was styled a
Court. All members coming to the market were obliged to attend it. They
were summoned by one of the office-bearers, who, to enforce their
attendance, went round to the different booths in open market, and took
from each a piece of goods, or 2s. 6d, as a pledge for the owner’s
appearance. Each member was obliged to produce his weights and measures,
which were compared with standards, kept for the purpose. After the
court, the members dined together, and spent the evening in some public
competition of dexterity or skill. Of these, Riding at the Ring, an
amusement of ancient and warlike origin, and already referred to on a
previous page, was the chief. Two perpendicular posts were erected on
this occasion, with a cross beam, from which was suspended a small ring.
The competitors were on horseback, each bearing a pointed rod in h;s
hand, and he, who at full gallop, passed between the posts, carrying
away the ring on his rod, gained the prize.
“He was a braw gallant
And be rode at the ring;
And the bonnie Earl Murray
He was fit to be a king.”
OLD CUSTOM AT HAWICK.
On the event of a death
occurring in the parish of Hawick, it was formerly the custom for one of
the burgh officers to proceed through the different districts of the
town, ringing his bell, and intimating the death ; which intimation was
accompanied by a general invitation to the funeral. The bell •vas then
taken to the house of mourning, and placed on the bed where the dead
body lay, and in a position from which it was deemed sacrilegious to
remove it, until the time appointed for the interment.
At one time the strange
custom prevailed all over Scotland, of distinguishing individuals by
other than their proper names. This custom was at one time exceedingly
common and was probably adopted in ancient times for the purpose of
drawing a broader line of distinction between persons, who, belonging to
the same class and bearing the same names, could not, but for this
method, be easily distinguished the one from the other. It is not a
little singular that these designations have been handed down from
father to son in regular succession through the course of many
generations. Indeed there are some old people who have been so long
accustomed to this singular fashion that their proper names are but
seldom used, and remain quite unknown to many of their neighbours. Even
in the Register of Deaths, where, one would imagine, the evidences of
such a strange-custom were least likely to be traced, there is actually
a faithful record of the soubriquets by which the ancestors of the
present generation were commonly distinguished.
BURYING WITHOUT A COFFIN.
It was customary in some
parts of Scotland to employ only one coffin in the interment of paupers.
This by all accounts, was used merely for the purpose of conveying the
corpses to their final resting place, and was so constructed as to be
capable of opening by a hinge underneath, by which means the body was
permitted to escape when lowered into the grave.
RELIGIOUS CUSTOM ON THE
APPROACH OF DEATH.
The following custom long
prevailed in many places. When any member of a family was considered to
be dying, the apartment was not only frequented by relations and
neighbours, but in many instances, the entire company united in
religious worship, selecting one of the psalms most suited to the
occasion, such as the twenty-third, the forty-third, or the hundred and
eighteenth. This they sang with a low and solemn melody, while the soul
of the dying person was passing into the world of spirits. And then,
when the mortal struggle appeared to be over, it was succeeded by a song
of triumph and of praise, consisting not frequently of a portion of the
hundred and seventh psalm.
RIDING THE MARCHES AT
The ceremonies observed
in the parish of Hawick at the riding of the marches, were pretty
similar to those engaged in, at other places. The honour of carrying the
standard of the town, the original of which is said to have been taken
from the English after the battle of Flodden, devolved upon the Cornet,
a young man previously selected for the purpose.
The following are a few
verses from an ancient song, which was sung by the Cornet and his
attendants, from the roof of an old tenement belonging to the town.
“We’ll a’ hie to the moor
Drnmlanrig gave it for providing
Our ancestors of martial order
To drive the English off our Border.
At Flodden field our
fathers fought it,
And honour gain’d though dear they bought it,
By Teviot side they took this colour—
A dear memorial of their valour.
Though twice of old our
tower was burned,
Yet twice the foe men back we turned,
And ever should our rights be trod on,
We’ll face the foe on Tirioden.
Up wi’ Hawick its rights
Up wi’ a’ the Border bowman!
Tiribus and Tirioden,
We are up to guard the common.”
SCOTTISH MASONIC CUSTOMS.
The eve (if St. John is a
great day amongst the masonic lodges of Scotland. What takes place at
Melrose may be considered a fair example of the whole. Immediately after
the election of office-bearers for the ensuing year the brethren walk in
procession three times round the cross, and afterwards-dine together
under the presidency of the newly elected Grand Master. About six in the
evening the members again turn out and form into line two abreast, each
bearing a lighted flambeau, and decorated with their peculiar emblems
and insignia. Headed by the heraldic banners of the Lodge, the
procession performs the same route three times round the cross and thus
proceed to the Abbey. On these occasions the crowded streets present a
scene of the most animated description. The joyous strains of a well
conducted band, the waving torches, and incessant showers of fireworks
make the scene a carnival. But at this time the venerable Abbey is the
chief point of attraction and resort; and as the mystic torch-bearers
thread their way through its mouldering aisles and round its massive
pillars, the-outlines of its gorgeous ruins become singularly
illuminated and brought into bold and striking relief. The whole extent
of the Abbey is, with measured step and slow, gone three times round.
But when near the finale, the whole masonic body gather to the chancel,
and forming one grand semi-circle round it where the heart of King
Robert Bruce lies deposited, near the high altar, and the band strikes
up the patriotic air, “Scots wha ha’e wi’ Wallace bled,” the effect
produced is overpowering. Midst showers of rockets and glare of blue
lights the scene closes, the whole reminding one of some popular
Saturnalia held in a monkish town during the middle ages.
OLD CANDLEMAS CUSTOMS.
There was a curious
custom of old standing in Scotland in connexion with Candlemas Day. On
that day it was lately a universal custom in some parts of the country
for the children attending school to make small presents of money to
their teachers. The master sits at his desk or table exchanging for the
moment his usual authoritative look for one of bland civility, and each
child goes up in turn and lays the offering down before him the sum
being generally apportioned to the abilities of the parents. Sixpence or
a shilling were the most common sums in many schools, but some gave half
and whole crowns and even more. The boy and girl who gave most were
respectively styled King and Queen. The children being then dismissed
for a holiday proceed along the streets in a confused procession
carrying the King and Queen in state exalted upon a seat formed of
crossed hands which probably from this circumstance is called the King's
chair. In some schools it used to be customary for the teacher on the
conclusion of the offerings to make a bowl of punch, and each urchin was
regaled with a glass to drink the King and Queen’s health, and a
biscuit. The latter part of the day was generally devoted to what was
called a Candlemas bleeze or blaze, namely, the conflagration of any
piece of furze which might exist in their neighbourhood, or, were that
wanting, of an artificial bonfire.
An old popular custom in
Scotland on Candlemas day was to hold a football match the east end of
the town against the west, the married men against the unmarried, or one
parish against another. The Candlemas
Ba' as it was called
brought the whole community out in a state of great excitement. On one
occasion not long ago when the sport took place in Jedburgh, the
contending parties after a struggle of two hours in the Jed, fought it
out amidst a scene of fearful splash and dabblement to the infinite
amusement of a multitude looking on from a bridge.