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 kings 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 ministers first voyage. The following entry
in the Council records shows the success of the minister and provosts
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
whereer ye be,
Keep coal and canle for charitie,
In bakehouse, brewhouse, barn, and byres,
Its 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.
Its 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 oclock, 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
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