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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
The Haddington Goat


HOW the burgh of Haddington in olden times adopted the Goat as its seal, or coat-of-arms, is a point which cannot be satisfactorily cleared up at the present day; but perhaps it was as appropriate at the time it was adopted as a black bear, for Berwick, or a salmon for Peebles. Goats were no doubt very numerous, not only in patriarchal times, as we read in the Bible, but also in this country and in this locality, the rich valley of the Tyne affording them plenty of meat. Perhaps their domestic habits, and the fact of their supplying food for man by their milk and flesh, and raiment by their skins and hair, suggested the idea of the burgh of Haddington immortalising them as its coat-of-arms. Now, however, perhaps a dozen could not be collected in the whole of East Lothian, although the old tenants of the farm of Hollandside, some sixty years ago, used to stock Traprain Law with them.

In the time of Alexander, the barker (or tanner), who is the first-mentioned provost of the burgh in 1296, it is probable, although not certain, that the goat was first adopted as the coat-of-arms of the burgh, and has continued down to the present day. The seal is kept by the Town Clerk as custodier, and it is his duty to affix it to all public burgh deeds and burgess tickets, whether honorary or not. The old seal was a plain, shabby thing; but a large and handsome one was suggested by William Waring Hay, Esq., of Newtonhall, an eminent antiquary of the county; and in Provost More's time, in 1850, a new one, engraved by Sclater, Edinburgh, was got. It represents the goat in a climbing position on a tree, with the portrait of King David I. sitting on his chair of state, both on separate shields, with the inscription, “Sigillum Commune Burgi de Haddington,” and “David Dei Gratia Rex Scottorum.”

Goats are good climbers; here you see
This, active goat has climbed a tree,
And on the top will sit and eat
That bunch of leaves so green and sweet.

A good painting of the goat, alongside of the portrait of old King David I., who first gave Haddington a charter in 1128, hangs in the sideroom of the Corn Exchange. It was put up at the expense of the late Provost More. A small burn which runs down the Dean from Harperdean, is called the Goat Burn; and hence Goatfield, the property of Mr Adam Neill, Mr Hislop, and others, may have had its name. No doubt the goats would often pleasantly ruminate and eat the herbage and bushes on its banks. On the wall of the Town's Library, established by Mr John Gray, minister of Aberlady, in 1717, a figure of the goat on a stone tablet was cut and put up in 1748, and it is still to be seen. It bears the inscription, *Bibliotheca Graiana, 1738." There is also another on the Burgh School, which probably was put up at the same time. Neither of them displays much artistic taste, but are interesting relics of former times. There is likewise a figure of the goat on the west end of the Ball Alley, executed in somewhat better style.

The Magistrates' chains of office have the goat embossed on them. A story is told of an old Haddington bailie who could not fall asleep at night on high days or holidays, unless he had his chain of office round his neck, and hugged the goat to his breast A very decent old member of the Shoemaker Corporation, named George Muirhead, now long dead, was called “The Goat,” and took kindly to the name.

Goats, within the present century, were kept as pets about the town and country, and old Haddingtonians will recollect the last one which frequented the George Inn yard in Blackwell's time. He was the last of the “Goths,” and was of a large size, and of an ancient hoary aspect. He was a terror not only to all the bairns of the town, but to old and “orra” folk. He was a pawky, ill-contrived beast, and thought nothing of pouting and “lafting” folk. - The “Dyer,” an old Haddington character, had a mortal hatred to him, for, having strayed into his dye-house one day, he fell into one of the vats, and came out dyed bitie. On another occasion he pouted against him as he was coming home one night through Birley's Wa's, knocked him over, and nearly “davered” him. The “Dyer” afterwards shunned him as much as possible. This famous goat died somewhat about the year 1828.

A story is told of two Scotchmen who forgathered in New York. The one asked the other what part of Scotland he came from. He replied he came from Haddington, the birth-place of John Knox. The other one said he would not believe him unless he could produce some proof of what he said was true, and asked him the name of some place or fact in Haddington. The other replied, “D’ye ken Birley's Wa's, and the goat at the George Inn?” The doubter was soon satisfied, and no doubt the two heartily fraternised over a good jollification. The recollections of old associations, when pleasant ones, are always the source of happy feeling, and they must be the more so when individuals meet in a foreign land and can talk over scenes and stories of their native land and birth-place. This remark recalls to the recollection of the writer an anecdote he has heard, and which also happened in the city of New York. A Haddington man laid a wager with another, that he would, by calling out some verses, soon discover whether any Haddington people were to be found in the city. He began to call out

"A' gude men-servants where'er ye be,
Keep coal and can’le for charitie, &c.”

In a short time several people appeared, all Haddingtonians, and claimed kith and kin with the old Scotch burgh. We have no doubt the same or similar occurrences have often happened among the wide-spread and extensive colonies of the British empire.


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