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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.

“Crackie-Fartie” (George 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 duty.

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 leather gude,
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.

The Shoemakers' 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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