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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Haddington and the Market Cross


AMONG other old historical associations which Haddington can boast of is the fact that there was once a palace in the burgh, and that in it was born an old Scottish king, Alexander II., on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24th August 1198. Tradition has handed down that the site of the palace was where the County Buildings and Jail are now built. The ruins were taken down in 1833, and were of considerable extent and importance. Adam Neill in his Haddington County List of 1834 has given a fine woodcut of the ruins. They consisted of several elegant and well-proportioned Saxon pillars and arches, a vault and some arched passages communicating with them. They were without doubt the oldest buildings in the burgh. Mr Neill’s woodcut should be reproduced as a memorial of a very old building, and of Alexander II., King of Scotland.

Many old erections, markets, fairs, customs, etc., now almost out of date and memory, in Haddington may perhaps interest readers. We will endeavour to note a few of them.

“Mercat croces,” in old Scotch burghs, have always been objects of interest either local or general. They seem to have been commonly considered a necessary historical appendage to a royal burgh, testifying in many cases to its antiquity, and to the preservation of many traditional public events in by-gone times ; not to speak of royal proclamations which are kept up to the present time, and thus made patent to the public at large, by being affixed to market crossest Many of the crosses in royal burghs in Scotland are excellent specimens of the artistic skill of olden times, while the renovated or newly erected ones display a refined taste very creditable to their designers. It may be interesting, now that a beautiful market cross has been presented to the ancient royal burgh of Haddington, by the liberality of the Messrs Bernards, brewers, Edinburgh, to notice some particulars about its old cross—not the worn fir stick which long disgraced the respectability of the burgh, but the former stone cross, a handsome structure in its day.

It is almost impossible at the present time to tell the date when a “mercat croce” was first erected in Haddington, but it is very probable that a cross was first erected during the reign of David I., in the twelfth century. It is possible, however, that a search of the burgh Council books may throw some light on the subject, which must be a congenial task to a local learned antiquarian mind. The old stone cross stood in the High Street, nearly opposite the bottom of the Fish-market Close, opposite the shop of Mr Aitchison, baker.

It had a square basement, with four steps, surmounted by a round stone pillar as thick as a man’s waist, with the figure of an animal of some doubtful species, not unlike a monkey, on the top of it, and was about twelve feet high from the causeway to the top. The cause of its demolition and subsequent removal came to pass in the following way about the year 1811. Two Haddington youths—James Fairbairn and Frank Oliver—along with an English artisan, had got on the “ spree ” one summer night, and early in the morning had lain down on the steps of the cross to enjoy a rest or perhaps a sleep. A wager was laid that the Englishman would not climb to the top of the cross and bring down the “Puggie” After sundry attempts, he accomplished the feat, and brought down the “puggie”—and himself; but in doing so the rickety pillar gave way, and fell down, breaking into numerous fragments, which, like Johnnie Fife’s waistcoat, “would not mend.” The Town Council of the day in its wisdom put up the late wooden post in its stead as the cross of the royal burgh of Haddington, and changed it to a new site. The mutilated stone “puggie” was long in the possession of the late Henry Shiells, tobacconist. It is probably in existence yet, and if so, should be preserved as a relic of olden times. During the reign of Edward VI. of England, the country was called on to resist the invaders, and it was ordered among other things by a royal proclamation “that all fencible men betwixt sixteen and sixty should appear at the Marcat Crosses of Haddington, Dunbar, and North Berwick weile boddin in feir of war.” When Mary Queen of Scotland was married to the Dauphin of France in 1558, the joyous event (thought so at the time) roused the loyal and venerable Knight of Lethington—Sir Richard Maitland —who composed an epithalamium of six stanzas on the occasion. The third is as follows :—

All burrows touns, ever ilk man, you pray is,
To make bainfires, fairseis, and clerk play is,
And thro, your rewis, canels, dance and sing;
And at your Cross gar wine rin sundrie ways
As was the custom in our elders’ days,
When they made triump for ony thing;
And all your stairs with tapes trie gar hing.
Castles, shoot guns! shippis and galayis,
Blaw up your trumpets and on your drums ding.

Haddington is the “burrows toim” here alluded to. In a proclamation issued by Queen Mary and Darnley from Dunbar, dated 16th March 1565, the following passage is met with::—

And their Majesties (on their way to Edinburgh), God willing, being of purpois to be Haddington this nixt Sonday, the 17th day of March instant, ordainis theirfor letteris to be direct to officiaris of armes to pass to the mercat cross of the said burgh of Haddington, and utheris places neidful, and thair be open proclamation in thair Majesties name and authority command and chargeable, etc., as aforesaid, and to attend and pas furthwart with thair Majesties towart their hienesses burgh of Edinburgh or uther place as thai salbe commandit, conforme to the said proclamations past thairupon of befoir, under the pane of tynsale of lyff, landis, and gudis.

In 1573, the following order by the Council is found:— “The Town Council ordained Adam Wilson, younger, to buy and bring hame ane puncheon of claret wine for a propine to the Regent, to be pitched at the Mercat Croce, with a dozen of torches and the spice, and to be allowed for the puncheon xxij ” And in old times the Cross was the rallying place for the burgesses to assemble when they were summoned to fight the English in the border raids.

The above extracts show that the Market Cross of Haddington was of some importance in the history of the country. In later times, we find that in 1810 it was agreed by the Town Council of Haddington, in order to show that their loyalty continued unabated, that the king’s birthday on 4th June should be celebrated as formerly, and that the burgesses should be regaled with wine and toddy at the cross at the town’s expense. The lamp-posts, &c., were all dressed with laburnum, lily-oaks, bays, &c. A bonfire of logs, roots, and branches of trees, &c., collected weeks before the king’s birthday by the apprentices and school-boys of the town, from the Long Planting, Thieves’ Dykes, &c., for a number of years took place at the cross, but the bonfire was afterwards removed to the Sands as a fitter place. The roar of small cannons, pistols, and guns discharged, the cracking of squibs, &C., kept up to a late hour at night, caused no small commotion in the quiet burgh. This old practice of drinking the king’s health at the cross was continued to a late date, down to about 1832, when it was abolished. At Queen Victoria’s marriage, however, in February 1840, the magistrates, council, and burgesses turned out in large numbers and drank her health at the cross in a very enthusiastic manner. Mr Thomas Lea was then provost.

A barbarous custom called the “cat and barrel” was long kept up by the Carters’ Society, and took place at the cross, on their race-day in July. A cat was confined in a dryware cask containing soot, and hung at the end of a beam fixed to the top of the cross. Each rider was armed with a wooden mell, and rode at full speed under the barrel, and gave it a blow with his mell, which operation was continued until the barrel was staved. The poor frightened cat on its release was pursued by the assembled crowd, and was very often trampled to death. The magistrates felt it their duty to put a stop to this barbarous custom ; but the carters, as long as their “play” existed, continued to ride their “Bassies” for three times in a circle opposite the cross, which terminated the horsemanship of the Carters’ Race-Day.

The steps of the cross afforded a resting place for country girls, hinds* wives, &c., with their heavy baskets of butter and eggs, after a long walk in a warm summer morning. They were also a meeting place for town blackguards, beggars, and vagrants of all kinds, who seemed, through old custom, to have acquired a prescriptive right to the use of them. This may have been a reason why the magistrates and council did not resuscitate the old cross. All royal proclamations and written legal documents requiring publicity were, and still are, affixed to the cross. It was always the custom to proclaim the two public yearly fairs of St Peter’s and Michaelmas by the town-officers before witnesses at the cross. At these fairs at one time, the High Street was lined with pedlars, chapmen, and gingerbread krames or stalls, from the cross to the Tolbooth, on both sides of the street; but they have long ago become extinct, and St Peter’s and Michaelmas fairs of Haddington have now become matters of history.

The juggs stood at the cross, and were judicially used for putting offenders in for punishment. The last person that was put in was a servant of David Gourlay’s, distiller, High Street, for stealing aqua-vitae from his master, in 1785. Punch once facetiously remarked that persons sitting with their legs in a wooden frame or the juggs were like children in the wood.

The Old Tron was a large ugly wooden erection used for weighing packs of wool, cheese, lint, tallow, hides, &c. It stood nearly opposite the shop now occupied by Mr Thomas Smith, grocer, in High Street, and directly in front of the George Inn. In the days of posting it was very much in the way of carriages drawing up at the inn door, and was a source of much annoyance. It was said that the pillars were cut through one night, and it fell down and was never put up again. Mr Sang at that time occupied the George. The customs or dues of the Tron were long ago paid in kind as well as money. Every pack of wool weighing 8 to 9 stones paid a fleece and twelve shillings Scots. Every stone of cheese, lint, &c., one shilling Scots. “Tauch” or tallow, four pennies. Every ox or cow hide, six pennies. The old dues of the Tron are still kept up in the new custom table, although there has been no Tron for eighty years and more.

The butter, egg, and poultry market was held every Friday morning opposite the cross, on the ringing of the town bell. A large, respectable assemblage of buxom country wives and lassies it was, with their clean, trig dresses, and baskets covered with white cloths. Fresh eggs, and sweet butter rolled up in “dokin” leaves, were then to be had at a moderate price, as well as young chickens and ducks, and turkeys and geese for the Christmas time. The bailies frequently visited the market, with their officer and weights, to weigh the butter, and often took possession of what was much deficient in weight, which was distributed among the poor. The same duty, to weigh butter, bread, &c., and inspect meal, is still part of a bailie’s duty, but it has long ago fallen into desuetude. The Friday before Fastem’s E'en (9th February) was a great day for the sale of cocks, and many an old Haddingtonian spent some shillings for them, both for the table and for the old custom of cock-fighting on Fastern’s E'en. It is related of Mr James Pringle that he bought a couple of cocks the Friday before Fastem’s E’en for over fifty years. The butter, egg, and poultry market, like others, is now entirely out of existence, grocers’ shops and cadgers having entirely altered the trade.

The vegetable market was also held at the cross, not only on Fridays, but also on Tuesdays long ago. The fish market was held opposite the Black Bull and Crown Inns. It was supplied by fish-dealers with carts from Dunbar, Cockenzie, and Prestonpans. Many will still recollect Jenny Pow and her gudeman, Davie Hastie. Jenny “wore the breeks” when Davie got “fou”—a frequent occurrence. She used to order him out of her presence, and confine him, a very wholesome punishment, which might be well practised now-a-days* Jenny was a woman of a strong nerve. She often brought in smuggled salt below her fish, but it was sometimes seized by the Excise. Old Peter Carse, a character in his day, went through the town, on the arrival of the fish-cart, crying “Caller haddies and cod, new come in.” He blew through a "nout’s” horn, and it was said that his clear voice and sonorous blast could have been heard from the Custom Stone to the West Port.

The arrival and departure of the mail coach was a great daily occurrence. Drawn up at the George Inn to change horses, many anxious hangers-on, during the days of Wellington and “ Bonny,” were present to hear the news of battles from the guards or passengers in the coach, not to speak of the events of a Derby or a St Leger race.

The Haddington fairs were also grand events, but they also are gone. They were given, disponed, or granted to the provosts, bailies, council, burgesses, and community, in a royal charter, by James VI., in 1624, and ratified by the Parliament of Charles I., in 1633, and were to continue for eight days. The summer, or St Peter’s fair, was held in July. Michaelmas, or Midsummer one, was held 29th September. Rows of stands and kraims, with all descriptions of merchandise, from gingerbread to cloth, shoes, and handsaws, reached from the Tolbooth to the cross on both sides of the street, and lots of shows, merry-go-rounds, hobby-horses, &c. The schools were all vacant that day, and a considerable influx of country folk came into the town. Long ago two fields in Newton Port, known by the name of the Crofts, were the place where the fair for horses, cows, &c., was held, and until lately the town-officer, by authority of the magistrates, and especially of Bailie George Amos, opened the gates of the fields and proclaimed the fair. Since no fairs are in existence, this right may now perhaps be lost. We find a notice in the Town Records as far back as 1676, that the horse and “nout” market was removed from the West Port to the Crofts.

It was the custom long ago for shoemakers to come every Friday from Tranent, Seton, Prestonpans, and Cockenzie, to sell their shoes on boards opposite Mr Brook's and Mr Cowan’s shop (Johnnie Fifes in those days). We find that in 1784 an altercation took place between the “outlanders” and the Cordiners of Haddington, always a pugnacious race. The Cordiners exacted £1, is. of entry and tenpence per quarter for the privilege of selling shoes, and in default of the payment of this exaction, their shoes were poinded and carried off without any warrant whatever. No shoes have been sold on the streets for at least thirty or forty years past.

An erection called the hay weights, long used for weighing hay, straw, bark, &c., stood where the old oat and barley markets were held. It was a high, ugly edifice, covered with tiles, and supported on large wooden pillars. It was taken down about 1822, and the present weights substituted.

There was a narrow lane long ago, running from the George Inn Wynd to the old Tolbooth, and probably from Birley’s Wa’s to the west end of Mr Brook’s property, betwixt the houses on the High and Back Streets; parts of it can still be traced. We find from old records that in 1532 and also in 1572 the Town Council ordained that watchmen should be engaged at the town’s expense to watch nightly on the Tolbooth-head from nine hours at night to four the next morning, and their fee to be six pennies each night, off the common good at the will of the bailies. It appears to have been thatched at one time, for we find in 1539 the Council think it expedient “to complete the knock (clock) house, and the slating of the Tolbooth this year, and the laif (rest) to be left quhile they be farther advised.” In 1559, the Council ordered the treasurer to beit and mend all the fauts of the Tolbooth. It continued in its ruinous state until the townhouse was rebuilt in 1742, so much so, that the Council had to meet in Provost Lauder’s house. The south side was rebuilt in 1825, and the present elegant spire, one hundred and fifty feet high, is from a design by Gillespie Graham, architect, Edinburgh. The old steeple was a very antiquated thing, in the old Dutch round style. The clock in it was completely worn out. The new one cost £300, and was made by Clerk of Edinburgh. The north side was rebuilt in 1850. The meal and salt markets were where the west end of the Assembly Rooms was built in 1788.

Tibbiedale extended from the meal market to the West Port, and is now called Court Street.


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