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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XXVIII


MORE PARICULARS ABOUT THE TRADE – THE MANUFACTURE OF WOOL – PROBABLE POPULATION OF THE BURGH AT THE TIME OF KING JAMES’S VISIT – CONSTITUION OF THE TOWN COUNCIL – RIVALRY BETWEEN THE MERCHANT AND DEACON COUNCILLORS – EXCLUSIVE PRIVILEGES AND EXTENSIVE POWER OF THE MUNICIPALITY – INQUISITORIAL REGULATIONS FOR THE FABRICATION AND SALE OF WARES – STRINGENT “LIGUOR LAWS” IN BYGONE TIMES – TAVERN SPENDINGS BY THE MAGISTRATES AND COUNCILLORS – SINGULAR EDICTS REGARDING MARRIAGES, BAPTISMS, AND EDUCATION – INFLUENCE OF CALVIN UPON SCOTLAND.

AT the time of King James’s visit, the town was in a prosperous state. It had grown considerably in size, and its trade had greatly increased, since the Union of the Crowns, and the settlement of the Debatable Land. The existence in it of such a variety of crafts – each of sufficient importance to be made a corporate body, and to be invested with peculiar privileges – is in itself an evidence of the Burgh’s advancement. Not only were there settled in it such indispensable trades as smiths, masons, wrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, and butchers, but others more suggestive of luxury and refinement – glovers, furriers, and dyers. All these, as has been already explained, were combined into one aggregate corporation before the close of the sixteenth century; and early in the seventeenth century they occupied such a good position as to merit special recognition by the King.

Long before the latter period, Dumfries had become the seat of a flourishing cloth manufacture, which gave employment to innumerable distaffs throughout the district. [Galloway was one of the principal wool districts of Scotland; and [in 1600] much of its produce was sent to the Burgh of Dumfries, to be made into broad-cloth, for the manufacture of which this town had obtained much celebrity. – History of Galloway, vol. ii., p. 6.] Spinning wool into yarn was at that time, and ages afterwards, the chief indoor occupation of females in town and country; and the highest ladies in the land, like the Roman matrons of old, took delight in the labours of the wheel. From the home-spun articles thus produced, the websters of the Burgh wove a substantial cloth, which, as “hoddin-gray,” [Hoddin, “homely,” a corruption of “home-done.” “What though on hamely fare we dine, Wear hoddin-gray, an’ a’ that?” – BURNS.] garmented common folds; or, when of a finer sort, and dyed a patrician blue by the litsters, became a fit attire for the lairdly and mercantile classes, or others of high degree. This fabric was the chief staple of the Burgh, and much money must have been turned over yearly by the regular shopkeepers who dealt in it – not to speak of what was done by plebeian stallingers, who exposed it in their street craimes [Eventually “craimers,” by an Act of Council dated 20th August, 1656, were prohibited from selling any staple ware.], or by pedlars, who carried it on their own backs, or by pack-horses, to all the country round; and who, when crossing the Sark with their burdens, became the forerunners of the famous “Scotch travellers,” in the South, of a later day.

When the Silver Gun was presented, the freeman of the Trades, or masters, numbered, according to a rough calculation, about one hundred and eighty; and supposing their journeymen and apprentices to have been of the same numerical extent, the operative body, as a whole, would be three hundred and sixty strong. A hundred and seventy years afterwards, the Trades formed a tenth part of the inhabitants; and assuming them to have stood in the same proportion in 1617, the Burgh at that date would have a population of three thousand six hundred souls, with probably four hundred additional beyond the royalty, in the landward part of the Parish.

For a long period the incorporations had no building of their own, so that their annual meetings to choose office-bearers were held in the open air, at Kingholm, on the Upper Sand Beds, in “Adam Anderson’s orchard neuk,” or under such shelter as the ruined Castle, or St. Christopher’s Chapel, could afford. The oldest Trade minute extant, except one, records an election by the weavers in the following terms: - “At Dumfreis, the twentie-nynt day of Septtember, the year of God 1655 years, the whilk day conveint at the back of the Sactell-yeard, James Fergusone, deason; Thomas Patterson, tresserer; Robert Gibson, William Mackburny, Richard Dun, John Kennan, William Grier, Thomas Gibson, masters; Rodger Wardloa, officer – with the consent of the hale traid were ellectit for ane year to come.” [The oldest records the measurement by the deacon of the weavers, and other office-bearers, of some webs, in the course of their official duty – date “the twalt day of Agust, 1654.” The Minute-book of the Weavers, from which we have quoted, is in the possession of Mr. David Dunbar, Dumfries.]

The minutes of the shoemakers go back to the 23rd of October, 1657; and as an entry of that date gives the list of the entire freemen than belonging to the trade, it is worthy of being subjoined. It runs thus: - “The whilk day the whole body of the shoemaker trade of the burgh of Drumfreis and Bridgend having convened with the deacons, masters, and box-master of the said trade at the Chrystall Chapple, having finished their former buik, have fund it expedient that the names of all the frimen be insert in this builk, viz: - John Maxwell, deacon; John Scott, lait deacon; Robert Neilson, treasurer; William Paterson, Thomas Hayning, Andro Grierson, John Dickson at Goatheid, and John Dickson at Porthole, masters; James Wright, officer; Thomas Kirkpatrick, Henry Grierson, John Freemont (elder), John Wright, Thomas Dickson, James Heron, James Smith, James Hayning, John Braidfoot, John Freemont (younger), William Swan, James Mason, John Batie, Archbald Edintoun, Adam Newall, William Henrison, Robert Urie, and William M’Kinnell, freimen in Drumfreis, and indwellers there, and thereupon the said deacon, masters, and haill body of the said trade have received articles, R.Bartane, clerk. And further the same day they thocht it expedient to insert in this buik the names of their freimen dwelling at Bridgend, viz.: - Edam Kirkpatrick, Robert M’Kill, John Welsh, David Welsh, William Crosbie, John Denholm, James Wilson, John Lewis, William Irving, Thomas Williamson (elder), Thomas Williamson (younger), and Thomas Lewis, R. Bartane, clerk.” [Minute-book of the Shoemakers, in the possession of a surviving freeman, Mr. Williamson, Dumfries.]

Such is the roll of these primitive Crispinites, thirty-nine in all, the fathers of the craft in Dumfries and Maxwellton. By 1790 the freemen shoemakers had increased to a hundred and ten; and in 1833, when the corporation was about to break up, they numbered a hundred. No such list has been preserved of any of the other trades. In 1703 the master weavers were twenty in number; in 1790 they had increased to forty-two, and in 1833 had diminished to thirty.

When the Trades acquired a right to be specially represented in the Town Council, seven members were assigned to them, consisting of the deacons of each, one of whom was also convener consisting of the deacons of each, one of whom was also convener of the United Incorporation: as such, he was reckoned the third in municipal rank, the Provost and the oldest bailie alone taking precedence of the deacon-convener. The entire Council, down till the passing of the Burgh Reform Act in 1833, consisted of these seven deacons, twelve merchant councilors, and the members of the bench – a provost, three bailies, a dean, and a treasurer. As recorded in their charters or seals of cause at the period of the Union, in 1707, the Trades ranked thus: - (1) The gows or smiths; (2) the wrights and masons, generally termed squaremen, and with whom were also associated cabinet-makers, painters, glaziers, coopers, and slaters; (3) the websters, or weavers; (4) the tailors; (5) the shoemakers, or cordwainers; (7) the fleshers. The deacons were freely chosen by their respective freemen; but the other members of the Burghal parliament, though once chosen by the constituents, were self-elected at the time we have now reached: or, more strictly speaking, the annual vacancies that occurred in the merchant part of the body were filled up by the remaining councillors, so that the inhabitants at large had no direct voice in the election. The Trades appointed their deacons annually; but the legitimate usage was to continue them in office two years [Towards the close of the seventeenth century, however, the practice crept in of re-electing the deacons much more frequently. In 1684, John Dickson was chosen deacon of the shoemakers for the ninth time consecutively. An Act was passed on the 7th December, 1685, prohibiting deacons from continuing in office more than three years at a time.], so that the latter were also biennial members of Council. A week before the annual election of magistrates, four new merchant councillors were chosen, who, with four additional votes, called “led votes, or voices,” exercised by the trade members, swelled the number of voters at an election to thirty-three.

At one time, as already explained, there were four other trades incorporated in the Burgh – the lorimers or amourers, the pewterers or tinsmiths, the bonnet-makers, and the litsters or dyers – all of which became defunct, or were merged into the remaining seven; the dead, vanished corporations, however, still speaking in virtue of these “led voices,” uttered on their behalf. When the Provost, bailies, dean, and treasurer were chosen, these supplementary votes lay dormant for another year; and as, a week after the annual election, the Council was purged by the ejection of four merchant members, it was thereby reduced to its legal numerical strength of twenty-five. [Some irregularities as regards the purging of the Council appear to have taken place, so as to render necessary an Act, dated 14th September, 1724, which fixed the 22nd September as the day for electing four merchant councillors; and the 29th of September as the day for electing the magistrates.] In 1627 a prison was erected on the site of the old Deanery, an apartment of which was occupied as the Burgh Court and Council Chamber. This “Tolbooth” stood on the east side of High Street, a little more southerly than the present Mid-Steeple. In two important respects the merchants differed from, and were inferior to, the Trades: they had no head or chief, and were not properly incorporated. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Perth possessed merchant guilds, presided over by a dean; but though Dumfries numbered an official of the same name in its list of magistrates, he had no more authority over the merchants than was exercised by the other occupants of the bench. To the dean of Dumfries was entrusted the duty of regulating weights and measures, and taking other securities for fair dealing between buyers and sellers; but he acted in this and other respects simply as a magistrate, and not as having any special connection with the mercantile community. The merchants, fully aware of the disadvantages under which they laboured for want of being organized, endeavoured, in 1660, to get a bill for their incorporation passed by the Council.

The attempt aroused the jealousy of the deacons, who supposed that what was meant for a gain to the shopkeeping interest would prove a loss to the sons of labour. No sooner was the obnoxious bill introduced, on the 30th of December of that year, than up rose the chief of the deacons, and the convener of the Trades, William M’Kinnell by name, and stoutly protested against the measure. After doing so, he and his brother craftsmen in the Council rose in wrath to leave the meeting; whereupon Provost Irving bade the officer keep the door “steekit,” and let no one out till the close of the proceedings. Deacon John Taylor, however, exclaimed defiantly, “Wha daur keep us in!” and the compromising Seven rushed out of the chamber, Bailie James Muirhead “taking instruments,” and setting forth that “the haill merchants of the Counsall hes thought fitt, and hes voted that this burgh be a gild burgh, if they can get it conveniently and honorably done.” At the next meeting of Council, Convener M’Kinnell followed up the opposition by protesting, in name of his constituents, that all the business done by the Council, between the last day of December, 1660, and the 5th of January, 1661, was “null and of nane effect, and sall have no binding power.” In the course of a month or so, however, the irate men of the Trades became more placable, and the merchants having made some concessions, a resolution in favour of the Guild Bill was adopted unanimously, the deacons stipulating that the guild be formed on the Edinburgh and Glasgow pattern, “and that the gildrie may not prejudge them of the benefit of a former act of Counsall granted in their favour in the year 1648;” the merchants, on the other hand, requiring that both the constitution and rules of the projected body shall be referred to the Convention of Burghs. [Town Council Minutes.] From some cause or other, however, the guild movement did not prosper: it may have been defeated by the renewed opposition of the Trades, and, at all events, till this day the Dumfries merchants have never been incorporated.

The Town Council, constituted in the manner we have described, possessed an extraordinary amount of power in ancient times. The minute-books of their proceedings, which go back more than two hundred years, illustrate at once the manners of the people and policy of their rulers – both of which, in the seventeenth century, differed materially from what they are at the present day. Dumfries, like every other Royal Burgh, possessed exclusive privileges, on the enforcement of which it was thought its very existence depended. Maintain these, and the town would prosper; relax them, and beggary – ruin would be the result. No stranger could settle within the Burgh unless leave was asked and obtained; and no one, even after being allowed this liberty, could open a shop for the sale of wares, or work as a tradesman, till he had become, by purchase or favour, a burgess, in the one case, or both a burgess and a freeman, in the other. The Council was the chief fountain of all this power and honour; and after the merchants and operatives, native or “fremmit,” had safely passed through these preliminary ordeals, and had begun to practice their respective callings, they were tantalized by a set of inquisitorial rules and orders, all, however distasteful, being reckoned advantageous to the trade and general interests of the town. Our forefathers must have often winced under the lash of such over-legislation; but they comforted themselves with the thought, that the system under which they bought, and sold, and laboured, protected them from being swamped by a flood of rivals, and was a very good thing in spite of its defects.

It mattered not whether the article fabricated or sold was food or drink, light or fuel, raw clothing material or finished garment, each and all had to be vended or fashioned under certain specified conditions, the breach of which was punished by fine, imprisonment, and, in extreme cases, by forfeiture of burgess-ship, or banishment from the Burgh. Sometimes the Council would speculate largely in meal or fish: thus, on the 22nd of May, 1660, they accepted of “ane bargane of 40 bolles meill, meid to them be William Craik, at 20s. 6d. [Scots] a peck;” and about the same period they fined a cooper from Glasgow in ten merks because he had the hardihood to sell herrings within the Burgh to private individuals, before first offering them to the honourable the Corporation. Forestalling the market and selling goods in private houses were deemed serious offences, and as such severely punished. A delinquent who disposed of his salmon anywhere save at the Fish Cross was liable to a fine of ten merks, and the loss of his fish. So recently as November, 1717, we find the dean seizing a daring Annandale man because he ‘pactioned for the pryce” of several bundles of lint with private people – dragging him before the Council, and getting him amerced in five shillings sterling; and in the following year an Act was passed discharging the inhabitants “from buying up any fowls or eggs till first the same be brought by the owners thereof to the mercat-place, viz, the Fisherow;” the penalty for infringement being forty shillings Scots, and the confiscated of the articles. Then, it was a common thing to fix arbitrarily the market value of goods; our ancestors knowing nothing, apparently, respecting the laws of supply and demand. Cloth had to be measured in a certain specified way, as well as sold at a stated price. On the 12th of November, 1658, the Council “ordained” that all Scotch and English candles within the Burgh “shall be sold at ffour shilling six pennies Scotts ilk pund Scotts weight, and the half pund at eight-and-twentie pennies,” under a penalty of five merks; and at the same sitting it was decreed that no person should sell tallow outside the town, “nor transport it furth thereof,” under a fine to the same amount, and the confiscation of the tallow.

To bring grist to their own mills exclusively was a ruling object of the Council. On the 24th of January, 1645, a person was fined in five merks for getting his malt or bere ground elsewhere, and had to give besides double multure to the miller [Multure. “1 Nov., 1687. – The tacksman of the mills allowed to take half a peck of ilk ten pecks of malt as multure.” – Town Council Minutes.]; and on the following 25th of June an edict was issued confiscating all malt that should be brought ready ground into the town.

Ale was the national liquor of the humbler classes during the seventeenth century, whisky being then unknown. None were allowed to brew or sell liquor unless they were burgesses, and had received a license (for which only a nominal sum was charged) from the magistrates; and, by an Act passed in 1689, innkeepers were also required to possess accommodation for quartering “four footmen and two horsemen in meat, drink, and bedding.” Those who brewed the drink sold it also, in what were sometimes called change-houses. Then, as now, we need scarcely say, “the barley-bree” was the cause of much mischief, though we see no reason to suppose that the Dumfriesians of two hundred years ago were addicted to intemperance: we are disposed to conclude that they were the reverse, as few names of bacchanalians are noticeable in the criminal records of the Burgh. The public-houses at that time were subjected to a rigorous inspection, two councillors being appointed to do this duty in each of the four wards – the Townhead quarter, the Cross quarter, the Lochmabengate quarter, and the Kirkgate quarter; and, however wonderful it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that our Burghal legislators (who, with all their ignorance of free trade, did many wise things) actually anticipated and outrivalled Mr. Forbes Mackenzie, by limiting the hours in which it was lawful to sell intoxicating liquors in Dumfries. In accordance with this legislation, the brewers, before obtaining leave to brew and sell liquor, were required to make a declaration as follows: - “That no vitious or scandalous personnes shall be harboured or resett in our houses, and that we nor any of our families sall be found drunk, and that we sall resett no drunken personnes whatsoever, and that we sall not sell drink to any persone or personnes within our houses on the Sabbath, and sell nor resett nor give drink to any personnes after nine o’clock at nyght; and that if we sall be at any tyme found contravenors of these presents, we sall pay for the first fault five merks, for the second ten merks, and for the third fault to be depryvit of the libertie of brewing.”

Wine, chiefly brought from France, was then, as at present, the favourite beverage of the upper classes. In 1661, it appears the supply had become very short; and the Council, according to their stereotyped notions in matters of trade, ordered all vintners within the Burgh “to sell their French wyne for five groats a pynt, under the penaltie of ten marks Scotts money.” A resolution to this effect was carried, but not till “Thomas Irving, eldest baillye” – who lived in advance of his colleagues – had protested against the folly of “setting pryce upon any forraine wair.”

The treasurer’s accounts relating to the middle of the seventeenth century show that the Burgh authorities were often very liberal in their “spendings” for liquor at the public cost. [It may be useful here to state that, since about the close of the fourteenth century, Scots money had become so depreciated that its value, as compared with sterling or English, was as one to twelve. One shilling Scots, after that period, was just equal to one penny sterling: and one pound Scots, to one shilling and eightpence sterling. One merk Scots was equivalent to 13 1/3d. sterling.] At one time – and probable the practice was long maintained – they had a tavern of their own, kept be Dame Agnes M’Kill, who ran up a regular score against them, which amounted annually to a good round sum. It was customary, too, for the Provost to keep a well-stored wine cellar and a hospitable board – the “little bill” due for which by the town amounted to £797 Scots, from the 29th of March, 1670, till the 6th of October, 1673. Not content with treating themselves and others on great public occasions, the magistrates and councillors fortified themselves for their routine duties by frequent potations. On the anniversary of the King’s birth-day, at the yearly elections, at the letting of the Burgh revenues, at the allotment of the pastures, and when any notable person was made a burgess, they “pushed about the jorum” in no stinted style; but them, in addition to such allowable libations, we find in the books such entries as the following: - “10 Jan., 1669. – Item” Before the magistrates went to church, a gill of brandie and a choppin of ail, the Provest and Bailie Cowpland being present, 2s. 10d. 11 Jan. – Item: Due by them, a choppin of seck and pynt of aill, befoir they went to the Councill, the Proveist, Baillie Cowpland, Bailie Newall, and the tua Deacon M’Kinnels being present, £1 1s. 8d. Again: - “12 Feb., 1672. – Two pynts of aill befoir the magistrates went to the kirk, 3s. 4d. 13 Feb. – Mair ane choppin of wyne and ane qwart of aill before the magistrates went to the Counsell. 28 Feb. – Mair three pynts of aill befoir the baillies went to the court, 5s.”

“Leeze me on drink!” was the favourite congratulatory motto of these Burghal magnates; and how they did act upon it to propitiate their lordly patrons, as well as to “moistify their own leather,” is seen in such charges as these: - “23 July, 1672. – With William of Terregles and Springkell when they came from my Lord Maxwell anent the Bridgend Mercat, seven pynts of wine, and 4 shillings for tobacco and pypes, £7 4s. 30th July. – Sent for to the Castle by the Provest, Bailie Stephan [Irving] Bailie Cowpland, and the Conveiner, with my Lord Maxwell, four pynts of wyne, and a glasse, is £4 6s. Nov. 11. – The Pro., b. Steph., B. Coupland, the Coveiner, Deacon Crosbie, and Deacon Herron, with William of Terregles, Maeby, Carnsalloch, Newlaw, and the gentlemen of the pairty, when they were made burgersses, fyftein pynts of wyne, tua pynts of ale, and one gill of brandy, £15 5s. 10d. Ap. 5, 1669. – Drunken in companie with the Erll of Nithsdaill, my Lord and Master of Maxwell, the Lairds of Mabie and Cowhill, younger, and severall uther gentlemen, the Proveist and thrie Bailies being present, £7 4s. Item, in that same companie for five pynts of aill, and for tobacco and pypes, 10s. 4d. 10 May, 1672. – Ane pynt of wyne sent for by Bailie Stephan to the Castle, with my Lord Mithsdale, £1; that day sent for by the Provest to the Castle, with the Earl of Nithsdale and Lord Maxwell, ane pynt of wine, £1. May 25. – With the Earl of Nithsdale, Lord Maxwell, Gribton, and other gentlemen, when Capt. Wachope was made burgess, the Provest and Bailie Stephan present, ten pynts wine, and vi. sh. For aill, tobacco, and pypes, £10 12s.

We may fittingly follow up these bacchanalian jottings with an entry or two about the magisterial feasts. When the fires of persecution were raging in the district in 1664, the rulers of the Burgh, heedless of the sufferers outside, dined luxuriously, like Dives, on the election day. They spent £6 2s. for “six pynts of wyn, four pynts of ail, and tobacco and pypes” on the preceding evening, the charges for the banquet itself being as subjoined: - “October 3, the day of the election. – Threttie-two pynts and one chopin of wyne, £28 16s.; three muchkins of seck, £1 16s.; six quarts of extraordinary ail, £1; tobacco and pypes, £1 16s.; ordinary, forty-thrie men at two tables, at 12 sh. ilk man, £25 16s.; after tables, thrttie at 6 shs., 3 18s.” – the whole account amounting to £69 4s. The charge for the dinner in 1667 is less extravagant: - “46 men dinner is £27 12s.; 15 later meat men, £4 10s.; 14 pynts of wyne, £14; brandie, £1 5s.; aill extraordinar, £1 10s.; tobacco and pypes, 18s.:” in all, £49 15s.

A case of assault, which occurred towards the close of 1670, and made a great noise at the time, arose, probably, out of one of these convivial gatherings. No wonder that it occasioned much excitement. The sufferer was the greatest official personage in the Burgh: his assailant, a scion of the house of Douglas. Under what precise circumstances the Laird of Kilhead “laid violent hands” upon Provost John Irving, cannot be ascertained; but it is recorded, that on the 9th of December in the above year, the Council, all in one voice, reprobated the outrage committed on their chief, and ordered letters to be sent to the Earl of Annandale and the offenders’ father, Lord Drumlanrig, craving redress, with the intimation, that if it were withheld they would “ pursue for a legal reparation before the Lords of his Majesty’s Privie Counseil.” Well advised by his friends, Sir James Douglas of Kilhead, accompanied by Robert, Lord Maxwell, presented himself at Provost Irving’s house, where, in expectation of his visit, were assembled the provost; the three bailies, Stephen Irving, Martin Irving, and Francis Irving; the late bailies, John Cowpland, John Corbet, and James Kennan; the deacon-convener, Thomas Anderson; the treasurer, Thomas Richardson; and the deacon of the smiths, William M’Kinnell. In presence of this representative meeting, Kilhead, going – figuratively – down on his knees, before the offended majesty of the Burgh, “acknowledged his lait inscuradge towards the said John Irving, Provost, and humbly craved the said provost, and the haill incorporation, pardon therefore; and declared that quhat he did was not of any prejudice against him or the town, but that, on the contrair, he loved and respectit him and the hail town; and faithfully promised, that he should be so far from wronging of any inhabitant of this burgh quhsoevir, heirefter, that he should be a friend to them, in all tyme comeing, to the utmost of his power.” A most handsome apology, which, we need scarcely say, the Council at their next meeting accepted; and thus a difficulty which might, if mismanaged at the beginning, have ruptured the friendly connection that existed between the Burgh and the Drumlanrig family, was amicably disposed of.

When Mrs. M’Kill, at whose house these Burghal entertainments were held, furnished her quarterly bill against the Council, she also supplied the treasurer with a note of her own expenses, some items of which are curious and instructive. When the websters came to warp her sheets of home-spun, she treated them to three pints of ale, charge 3s. 8d. The landlady had a little farm, which grew not only barley and oats, but wheat; and when the wheat was reaped, an extra dinner, including “ane legg of mutton,” at 10s. (tenpence sterling), was provided for the occasion. Then, for “aill at the shearing of the wheat” there was a charge of 13s. 6d.; “for the sheirers for sheiring the wheat, 11s.;” “the man that mowed the beir” received 4s.; and among the other entries at the harvest season we find charges “for aine sheip’s heid and ane legg of mutton, 8s. 8d.;” for three chickens, 5s. [rather more than three half-pence farthing sterling each]; and for herring at the inning of the wheat on the 10th day of September [old style] 9d.” We learn from other charges that in those days a peck of meal cost 1s. 2d. sterling, a pound of butter 4 1/2d. sterling, and a dozen of eggs fully a penny farthing. Mrs. M’Kill’s daughter or maid-servant, Marion, was supplied with a pair of shoes, the cost of which is set down at £1 2s. Scots; that is to say, 1s. 10d. sterling – no inconsiderable sum, being equivalent to the third part of a labourer’s weekly hire two centuries ago.

So multifarious and heavy were the duties of the Council, that meetings were held every Monday; and the member who was a quarter of an hour late was fined 12s. Scots; while if he did not show face at all the fine was increased to 20s., unless the absentee was protected by “an excuse intimated to and accepted by a magistrate.” A small annual allowance, called a “pension,” was enjoyed by the chief office-bearers. In 1639, there was paid to John Corsane, Provost, £66 13s. 4d.; £40 to each of the three bailies, and to the dean and treasurer. Much of the business done at the table was deemed sacred; and woe to the reckless representative who dared to make it patent to the vulgar public! – an Act dated 3rd December, 16743, providing that “any councillor divulging any secrets moved or spoken in council shall be fined in 40 lib., and put out of the Council with disgrace.”

One of the Council’s wise enactments was passed on the 10th of June, 1667, when they resolved to give effect to a permissive law adopted by the Convention of Burghs, in favour of making uniform all the weights and measures used in the town – the weights to be according to the Lanark standard; the firlot according to the Linlithgow standard; the ell-wand, rule, and foot measure to be furnished by the Edinburgh Dean of Guild; and a measure called a gauge, or jug, to be made after the Stirling model. Another Act, of a more recent date, prohibits butchers from “blowing and scoreing meat,” and from offering for sale “dead kids, lambs, or spoyled meat,” under pain of forfeiting two pounds Scots, and the meat besides. If at any harvest season some poor people desired to earn “a penny-fee” in reaping corn at a distance, they might be hindered by such an edict as the following, which bears date 29th July, 1661:-“It is ordaint that no persone or persones, residinters within this burghe, goe to Lowthian to shear, under the payne of [blank], as also that they nevir be resett within this burghe; and that the peats and turves now in their howses sall be takine out, and put in the tollbooth for the use of prisoners; and that all resetters of them at their home-comeing pay ten punds Scots.” Sometimes the Council interfered with the Trades in a manner that must have been peculiarly repugnant to the craftsmen. Thus, on the 10th of September, 1662, a bailie was appointed to attend the election of the deacons, to tender the oath of allegiance to each freeman, to debar from voting those who refuse to be sworn, and to imprison all who, in defiance of his interdict, exercised their suffrage. Not only did the Council exercise a despotic oversight of secular affairs, but they co-operated with the Church courts in efforts to enforce morality, and at least an outward observance of religious ordinances. Thus, on the 14th March, 1664, they passed an Act intended to check the practices indulged in by many of going abroad, walking idly from house to house, and gossipping out of doors on the Sabbath day – the penalty imposed for each of such offences being a fine of twelve shillings Scots, to be paid to the kirk treasurer for the use of the poor; and on the same day the Council, understanding that there were “many idle persones quho habitually curse and sweir, both publicly in the oppin markittis and streitts, and in aill-houses and inns,” resolved to amerce each offender six shillings Scots – such fines to be also applied for the benefit of the poor.

The ubiquitous power of the Burghal parliament was specially felt in social matters: it was manifested at births and marriages, and only terminated with the grave. If a young couple wished their wedding to be signalized by imposing festivities, they had first to consider whether they might not have to pay too dearly for the indulgence. At one time, it would seem, it was customary in Dumfries to have large, costly, and protracted marriage entertainments, which provoked the Council to launch forth an edict, on the 6th of July, 1657, restricting the attendance at and expense of such convivial meetings – the former being limited to twenty-four persons, the latter to eight pounds Scots, “and that under the payne of twenty pounds, whereof the one half is to be payt by the bridegroom, and the other half by the inkeiper quher the bridle is kept.” Then, if the same or any other married pair desired to make a hospitable or ostentations display at the baptism of their first-born, they had to bear in mind a ukase, also passed at the above sitting, restricting the attendance at the sacred rite to twelve individuals, under a penalty of ten merks, toties quoties.

The reader, after these statements, will be quite prepared to learn that the subject of education did not escape the Argus eyes of the Council. Honour to them that they, at such an early period, set up a grammar school in the Burgh; but that they should have sought to maintain it, and crush all rival seminaries, by the means revealed in their minutes of March 14th, 1660, is not at all to their credit. The record of that date states, in effect, that the Council, considering the prejudice the town sustains by the inhabitants detaining their children from the Burgh school, and sending them to other “pettie schooles” in the town or neighbourhood, ordain “that all the inhabitants put their children, especially lads, to the High School,” between the present time and the 21st of May next, “and that under the penalty of ffyve merkes, to be payit by ilk persoun faillyen for ilk manchyld they sall abstract frae the said schoole” – the same penalty to be paid by those who have children come of due age, with means to educate them, who do not put them to the Burgh school; while, further to secure a monopoly to that favoured establishment, the “pettie” dominies who attempted to break it down by teaching any of the pupils reserved for it, were also made liable to a fine of five merks for each offence.

These false views in political economy were not by any means peculiar to Dumfries or to Scotland – they were characteristic of the age; and when the magistrates of the town undertook the censorship of morals, they only carried into effect principles that were pretty generally recognized at the time, though the influence of Calvin on Scotland, through her great reformer, Knox, gave them more prominence there than in other States – Geneva, perhaps, excepted. Calvin’s ideal was that of a Christian commonwealth: “Christian in the details as well as in the general spirit of its laws, and considering itself responsible faith to occupy in the State the place which we in modern days assign to it in the individual; and consequently he wished the State “to force the individual to do, in virtue of the common faith, all that the same individual, supposing his to be a true Christian, would do in virtue of his individual faith.” [Bungener’s Calvin, p. 108. The same writer, in describing the influence of Geneva on Scotland, through Knox, says: - “Knox, on leaving Geneva, felt as a new man; and Scotland, on seeing Knox again, felt as if he had been breathed upon by a new breath of doctrine and of life. Let us leave to abler men to study how the genius of Scotland, personified by Knox, entered into communion so intimate with the genius of Calvin. Let us simply state what was, and what is. For three centuries Scotland has manifested it with noonday clearness. She has been proud and happy to be connected, through Knox, with a greater than Knox: and this gratitude, deeper now, perhaps, than at any other period, is not less glorious to Scotland than to Calvin.” (Pp. 279-80.)] It was because views of this kind, communicated from Geneva, where they were practically realized, pervaded the Scottish mind, that the magistrates, great and small, felt themselves bound to take cognizance of sins against the Decalogue, as well as transgressions of the civil law. Then, while our town councils seemed sometimes to be encroaching upon clerical rights and duties, presbyteries and kirk sessions often invaded the magisterial domain by exacting pecuniary penalties for spiritual offences. But on this topic, and others allied to it, we shall have more to say in a subsequent chapter.

Other functions exercised by the Council remain still to be noticed – those of a judicial kind. They shared with the magistrates the right to try all cases, civil or criminal, brought before the Burgh court. We never read in the old minute-books of the Provost and bailies administering the law: it was the Council, inclusive of them, who dealt out justice on all persons charged with temperance, slander, theft, assault, forgery, or other crimes which did not involve a capital sentence or transportation. The Burgh seems to have been itself a sheriffdom; and very jealous its authorities were lest their jurisdiction should be encroached upon by the County officials. On the 11th of July, 1662, the Council sentenced Thomas Johnstone, the turnkey of the Tolbooth, and William Douglas, a town’s officer, to be imprisoned eight days each “for taking a country man to the Shirref-depute to be judged who commitit a batterie” in the Burgh. The same feeling is still more forcibly shown in the following minute, dated 5th September, 1663: - “The Counsel, considering the great abuse of their authoritie by Elizabeth Gibson, relict of Thomas Crawford, by writing an address to the Shereff-deput of Nithsdaill for repairing a wrong done by one of our burgesses to her, whereby she has endeavoured to move the Shereff-depute to encrotch upon the privileges of this burgh contraire to the bound fidelitie of a burgess’ wife; therefore the magistrates and Counsel discharges hir of aney privilege or libertie she can pretend to of freedom of trade within this burgh.” Minor offences were punished in the Burgh court by slight fines, or exposure on the pillorie or in the stocks, and those of a more serious nature by heavy fines [In 1666 the Council fixed the fine for a simple assault at £5 Scots, and for assault to the effusion of blood, at £25. In 1676 it was enacted, that “the first that votes in the Council to give doun [reduce] a fine, was to pay the fine himself.” – Town Council Minutes.], lengthened imprisonments, scourgings, or banishment from the town; and often two or more of these punishments were conjoined in the sentences passed on incorrigible delinquents. A few illustrative instances will suffice.

On the 29th of January, 1668, a woman, whose “raucle tongue” had been too roughly used against a neighbour, was ordained to be “put upon the trone with great letters of ‘Scandall’ on her heid.” On the 9th of July, 1670, a “servitor” to Yorstoun, having, when “most scandalously drunk,” abused the magistrates by “scandalous speitches,” was sobered by being “set upon the Mercat-cross” for four hours, and afterwards “cast into the Theivis Hole” for eight-and-forty hours. A man who had counterfeited “the subscription and hand-sryte of Major Thomas Carruthers,” in a letter purporting to have been sent by that gentleman to George Maxwell of Munches, was, on the 4th of August, 1662, condemned to be imprisoned till the following Wednesday (market-day); then to be placed on the pillory, with the forged letter, and a label “making mention of his trespasse,” pinned to his breast; and finally to be conveyed beyond the Burgh roods by the common executioner, with the intimation that there would be a rod in pickle for him should he venture to return. We close with the following curious case of “red-handed” justice, administered in accordance with the well-known principle of Scottish law, by which summary punishment might be inflicted on criminals “taken in the act.” On the 12th of June, 1663, an individual was ordained “to be convoyed out of the town be the hand of the hangman, and nevir to return therein, and a bauk [drum] to be bait at his heills; nane to resett him in their howses under the pain of ten merks, he being taken reid-hand steiling malt out of the sack standing in the mylne.”


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