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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Coal and Candle


|N the 18th day of May 1593, Haddington was nearly consumed by fire. Tradition affirms that a careless maid-servant, who had put clothes to dry too near the fire, had ignited them, and so caused this dire conflagration. Many of the houses in the town at that time were made of wood and thatched, and would the more easily burn. The calamity is thus noticed in the town's records :—“On the 23d of May the Town Council thought good that the Provost (probably Sir William Seton of the Barns) and Mr James Carmichael, minister of Haddington, should travel with the king’s majesty and council and other noblemen for support to repairing the burgh, presently destroyed upon the 18th May instant, Thomas Spottiswood and Paul Lyle to ride with the provost and minister’s first voyage.” The following entry in the Council records shows the success of the minister and provost’s mission;—“December 8th,—The collection which was given by the City of Edinburgh to those who had their houses and geir burned within the burgh in May last, was ordered for distribution."

It was from the circumstance of this great conflagration having happened, that the following rhyme and warning, called “Coal and Candle,M was instituted:—

A’ gude men-servants where’er ye be,
Keep coal and can’le for charitie,
In bakehouse, brewhouse, barn, and byres,
It’s for your sakes, keep weel your fires;
Baith in your kitchen and your ha’,
For oftentimes a little spark,
Brings mony hands to meikle wark;
Ye nourices that hae bairns to keep,
Tak* care, ye fa' na o'er sound asleep;
For losing o' your gude renown,
And banishing o’ this burrow town.
It’s for your sakes that I do cry,
Take warning by your neighbours by.”

The name of the author has not been handed down.

From 1573 down to within thirty years ago, “Coal and Candle ” was proclaimed by the town-crier every night except Sunday, from Martinmas to Candlemas. After ringing his bell at eight o’clock, he commenced in a sing-song chant to cry it continuously through the principal streets of the town, which occupied half an hour or so. During the first two or three nights he was followed by a crowd of children.

Whenever “Coal and Candle" was heard, it was the signal for the youngsters of the family to go to bed. Old Haddingtonians will still recollect Willie Baird, the town-crier. He performed his task in excellent style and with taste, giving the principal words great emphasis and expression. He was succeeded by John Sinclair, who cried it for many years.

The last crier was William Souness. They were all town-officers. The perquisite allowed was a pair of shoes, but other odds and ends used to be added.

It is a pity that the calling of such an interesting relic as “Coal and Candle,” two hundred and fifty years old at least, should have been given up. Old Haddingtonians much regret its discontinuance, as it was associated with their earliest days, and had become quite historical. It would be a very popular move if the present rulers of the burgh would take means to resuscitate it.


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