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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Incorporations of Baxters or Bakers


ENGLISH readers will possibly require to be told that the old Scotch name “Baxter” is the same as baker.

The baxters or bakers of Haddington were one of the nine incorporated trades of the burgh, and returned a deacon to the Town Council.

The Incorporation had a front seat in the Parish Church of Haddington before it was repaired, on which was the motto, “Bread is the Staff of Life.” They were thirled to grind all their wheat at the town's mills, and were not allowed to buy flour, as is now the custom. No strange baker was allowed to sell bread in the town, a prohibition which, in these days of free trade, seems strange to the present generation.

The Corporation, however, having been broken up after the Scotch Municipal Corporation Bill passed, the thirlage and prohibition fell to the ground. The Baker Corporation were not much given to strife in politics among themselves like some other of the crafts of Haddington, but had always peaceable elections, and were like the flesh-market dogs who fought always on the same side, and more especially in the assize or fixing the price of bread. The Magistrates possessed the power of fixing the price of the loaf of bread, according to the rise or fall in the price of wheat in Haddington market. The town-officer with the tuck of drum went through the burgh on Monday mornings, announcing that the price of the quartern loaf, which was 4 lb. 4 oz. in weight, was now altered, and that small bread, viz., penny rolls, &c., was to be sold in proportion. It was alleged, however, that the bakers did not weigh the small bread in proportion to the loaf, but weighed it according to their own discretion. Many a wrangle took place betwixt the bakers and the magistrates about the prices, the bakers wishing, for their own interest, a rise of one halfpenny a loaf, and the magistrates sticking up for the interest of the public. The following letter, in the possession of the writer, shows that the bakers looked well after their own interests.

“Haddington, 22nd November 1816.

*To the Honourable the Provost and Magistrates of Haddington.

Gentlemen,—We, the undersigned members of the Incorporation of Bakers, conceive ourselves well entitled to a rise of at least one halfpenny upon the quartern loaf, in consequence of a considerable rise upon the price of wheat this day, the general average being near three shillings higher than last week. The quartern loaf in Edinburgh has now rose to one shilling and fourpence. —We have the honour to be, your most-obedient servants,

“William Hunter.
“James Forrest.
“George Hay.
*Adam Todrick.
“Thomas Wright.
“James Goodale.
“James Ramsay.
“William Aitchison.
“John Aitchison.”

The letter was written by William Hunter, a worthy member of the Incorporation. He and the rest of the subscribers are now all dead. The crop of 1816 was a very late and bad one, and bread became very dear.

The Dean of Guild and his council had the power of going through the bakers’ shops, and of weighing the bread to see if it was the requisite weight; if found light it was seized and given to the poor of the town.

A great trade was done by the bakers when the military lay in the barracks. The loaves known by the name of “tammies” are not now known. “Winged rows,” well-known breakfast bread, are also out of existence. On most of the bakers’ signs, a wheat sheaf in the centre, supported by winged rows and dollar biscuits and butter “baiks,” were the arms of the craft. Old Tam Wright was particularly alive to the keeping up the price, and could calculate to the 12th of a penny on the average. Nothing roused the old man more than to have his word doubted or contradicted. It is curious to note that in Haddington Churchyard no less than six through stones have been counted erected to the memory of baxters and brewers, with representations of loaves and implements of the craft on them ; also that in old title-deeds of Haddington properties, mention of malt barns and kilns is very frequently met with.

Long ago it was the custom of many of the bakers to be also brewers, and to supply their customers with “baps and yill.” Such were Bailie Wright, Andrew Hunter, William Cochrane, Robert Howden, Alexander Galloway, &c. The liquor they made was small-beer or penny whip, twopenny and groatum. The following extracts are from an old note-book in possession of the writer, of deliveries of barley to brewers in Haddington, who, it will be observed, were not confined to the male class.

"West Garleton, 11 day of fanuarie 1737, delivered to Marie Young, brewer in Haddington, ten bolls of barley at the highest fiars of East Lothian, from me,

“Patrick Carfrae.”

"26th day of Februar 1737.—To John Walker, tenant in Beanston, 10 bolls barlie.

“22nd day of November 1739.—Delivered to Margret Nasmith, brewer in Haddington, 10 bolls of barley at the highest fiars of East Louding by me,

“Patrick Carfrae.”

The old carters were great drinkers of whisky and small-beer (paupers). “Lettie” (John Davie) used to say he was very fond of paupers—“Dashit, lad, if ever I was to be a great fuddler, strong yill would be my drink.” Long ago there was an excise duty on beer and ale, and it was thought no wrong to try and cheat the gauger, and many curious stories were long kept in remembrance by old Haddingtonians about brewers stealing the worts and putting them in bye-places, out of the gauger's way. On one occasion a brewer sent one of his hands, an Irishman, to watch the coming of the gauger at his close foot. On the gauger making his appearance the Irishman cried out, “Make haste, master, the devil is acoming!” It is said, however, that the brewer was fined before the justices.

If the brewers of these days used anything else but malt and hops in the manufacture of their beer, such other ingredients were certainly innocent ones. A story is told of old Bailie Wright on a brewing day going to Johnnie Fife, merchant in Haddington, and telling him to send down to his shop 20 lbs. of treacle for a customer in the country.

In the Cowgate of Edinburgh, above a doorway adjacent to Messrs Archibald Campbell & Co.’s Brewery, is a lintel on which are excellent cut figures of two brewer’s men, in antique dress, carrying a barrel of ale, “Sting and Ling,” with an inscription below—

“O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.”
Anno Domini 1643. Ps. xxxiv. 3.

The worthy brewer and builder of the house had no doubt in his mind at the time that barley, one of the precious fruits of the earth, was one of God’s gifts to men, and good ale made from barley malt one of His bounties.

A great many customs current at the period we write of are now obsolete, for instance, carrying out the casks of beer to customers, “Sting and Ling,” with a clay head on the top of the cask in place of a cork bung. “Nick-Sticks,” a primitive way of keeping bakers' and brewers' accounts, are now extinct. Each nick made with a knife on the stick counted a delivery of bread or beer. When the nick-stick was full, or say twenty nicks on it, a settlement was made, the seller and buyer keeping a nick-stick each. When the baxter or brewer called and got the nick-stick cleared off, a cronie or two were always present, and not a few “paupers” were drunk for “the gude of the house.”

It was an old custom among the crafts of Haddington that before a new member of any Corporation was admitted to commence business for himself he had to make his “essay,” that was, to do a certain piece of work to prove his fitness as a tradesman. In the case of a baker, he had to go through all the stages of the process of bread manufacture, from the setting of the sponge to the taking of the loaf out of the oven, to the satisfaction of the essay-masters of the craft On such occasions the new member had to stand treat to all comers, and not a little whisky, &c., was consumed in the bakehouse, and many drouthy neighbours met, such as “Lettie,” “Stickie,” “Benjie,” “TheYerl,” “Bloun-thorne,” and “Wattie Crichton.” Such old trade customs are now entirely extinct.


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