Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington Incorporation of Shoemakers
SHOEMAKERS were the most
unruly and ill-agreeing set of all the nine incorporated trades, and at
almost every annual election strife and wars took place among them.
The faction for deacon
used to commence on Haddington race day, a Monday in July, and that
being an idle day generally with shoemakers, the craft assembled at the
race-ground on the Post Road, when the question who was to be deacon was
started. Deacon Convener Muat was a great man, and the soul of his party
on these occasions. “Come, my boys,” he used to cry, “who is to give us
the first offering drink for deacon? I’ll start the ‘Whistling Baboon;'
who says, *No ?9 99 The strife after this was not long in commencing.
The election took place always on the 11th September, during which time
many a “Shankam” had to be paid for by rival candidates.
A keenly contested
election, with many protests, took place in 1806, betwixt David Beale
and Alexander Profit, which was decided in a process before the Court of
Session in favour of David Beale and the Elcho faction. The Sederunt at
the election consisted of thirty-five members, now all dead, among whom
were five Muats, three Woods, two Watsons, two Erskines, three Profits,
two Smiths, two Newtons, J. Dunbar, &c.
The number of votes for
each were seventeen and eighteen. A copy of the process is in the hands
of the writer of this.
In that year the Town
Council was nearly equally divided in politics; one party being for Lord
Elcho, father of the late Earl of Wemyss, and the other party for the
Earl of Lauderdale’s side. At that time a deacon was “no small drink” in
the Council, hence the keenness with which politics were carried on in
these days. Lord Elcho, to the day of his death in 1808, had the support
of Haddington and Jedburgh in the Tory interest; the Earl of
Lauderdale’s party, of Lauder, Dunbar, and North Berwick, in the Whig
interest. The Honourable William Lamb, afterwards Lord Melbourne, was
returned, in 1806, in the Lauderdale interest, member for the five
burghs, without opposition.
In the Shoemakers’
Corporation there were a great many curious characters, now almost
forgotten and unknown, except to old Haddingtonians. Something peculiar
could be told of almost every one of them. There was the Rattler, the
Smacker, Gullane Point, Crackie-Fartie, Crift, The Roman, The Goat, Bub,
Bairdie, Bloody Tom, Yerkie, King of Prussia, Diff, etc.
Willie Marshall was
deacon in 1790, and was called the “Smacker.” He was once offered £i$
for his vote. It was said he took the money and cheated the briber too.
The remark became general, to play the “Smacker.”
George Muat, once a
trades bailie, is said to have got his nickname for the following story
he told. He had been once working journeyman at Berwick, and getting on
the spree, he, with some of his cronies, got hold of a boat, and rowed
round from Berwick as far as Gullane Point or Jovie's Neuck and back
again; at least he said so. “Gullane Point ” stuck to him all his days.
Wood) was a private in the Haddington Volunteers. A good story is told
of him. He was at Belhaven Camp, in 1803 or 1804, when the invasion by
Bonaparte was nightly expected. Being one night on sentry, he heard a
loud noise on the beach, and conjecturing that the French were landing,
he fired off his musket and ran to the camp, crying out that the enemy
was landing. The whole camp turned out in great haste. It turned out
that the noise proceeded from some wild geese cackling in Belhaven
water. The laugh was loud against him, but he certainly was doing his
Willie Baird, or
“Bairdie,” was also a member of the craft, and afterwards town's officer
and drummer. The boys of these days used to annoy him very rtiuch by
calling "Bairdie” to him, and being of rather an irritable temper, he
was easily roused. On one occasion, the boys on being chased took refuge
in the churchyard, which was open at that time. They had hid themselves
among the tombstones. He thought he had cleared the place of them, but
one cried out “Bairdie” as he was leaving. “Bairdie yet,” he cried out,
and a fresh encounter took place. He got the name of “Bairdie Yet” all
his days. It is supposed to have been one of Bairdie’s ancestors who was
mentioned in the “Congress,” in the following lines—
“And Bairdie, he got
A’ for to mend his shoon.”
The Incorporation of
Shoemakers had a prescriptive right of preventing strangers from making
and selling shoes in the burgh, except apprentices bound for the
freedom, and king's freemen — viz., discharged soldiers and sailors, or
their sons, which was a benefit conferred on such by Government. A Mrs
Peddie had opened a shop to sell French and fancy shoes and boots.
Convener Muat, with his colleague, paid her a visit and compelled her to
shut her shop. There was no freedom of trade in those days.
Sandie Profit will still
be remembered. He was several times deacon, and when in full dress, with
white neckcloth and powdered hair, was “a real buck.”
The Haddington shoemakers
for many years attended Dunbar and Gifford fairs, with their boxes full
of shoes for sale. It was easier for the Haddington “snabs” to go to
Dunbar fair than to come back from it. They were like the Kippen
distiller, who, in going home, drank a dram at every public-house
betwixt Stirling and Kippen, eleven in number, and sung out, “ As we
journey through life let us live by the way.” There were often broken
heads betwixt Dunbar and Haddington before they got home.
On a signboard of a
Haddington shoemaker, who also kept a public-house, was the following :—
“We have sought for good
ale all day,
And found it at the Last.
Nothing like leather.”
He had a last hanging
over the sign.
Corporation box has been empty of cash for many years. In it at present
there are only a bad half-crown and some old papers.
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