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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Old Haddington and its Characters


HADDINGTON had its town piper and drummer, or “swacher,” from time immemorial. They were old fixtures of the burgh, but now-a-days it seems not to be the fashion to keep up old customs and associations. “Coal and candle,” which should have been kept up, is now also abolished. More than a hundred years ago James Livingstone was piper, and Andrew Simpson drummer, or swacher, and they were characters in their day. They were said to have been soldiers, and fought in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. They perambulated the streets of the burgh every morning at five o’clock in the summer, and at seven in the evening. They skirled up their music to awaken and enliven the townsfolk. They were generally accompanied by a silly lad of the name of Harry Barrie. An excellent engraving of the three, now very scarce, by R. Mabon, a local artist of the day, represents the piper and drummer in full march at their morning vocation, with pipes and drum. They were dressed in the burgh’s ancient gray-plaided garb, with short knee-breeches, long coats, and buckles in their shoes, followed by Harry Barrie bare-legged. Richard Gall, the Haddington poet, immortalises them in the following verses:—

“When the grey morn began to keek,
And ’boon the toun is seen no reek,
Jamie wad rise, and his pipes cleek,
An’ then wi’ speed,
He’d rouse the tounfolk frae their sleep,
But now he’s dead.

O ! but it was right droll to see
At e’en come east the toun the three,
Then Jamie wad some Scots tune gie,
Fu’queer indeed;
He’d hit your taste just to a tee,
But now he’s dead.”

They were general favourites, and often received gifts from the Town Council and burgesses. Their salary was ^40 Scots yearly. The town drummer, or swacher, seems to have been a very ancient fixture in the burgh. In 1572, the treasurer was ordered to buy a swach for the town. In 1598, one William Strauquhan was fee’d as swacher for one year. The tuck of drum is seldom or never heard on the streets of Haddington now. The office of piper seems to have died out with old James Livingston, but was resuscitated somewhere about the year 1824 by the appointment of Donald M‘Gregor, a famous piper; but at his death the office became vacant, and has never been filled up.

Adam Cockburn, watchmaker, will be recollected by old Haddingtonians. He was a bit of a poet, and a queer customer. He wrote a number of verses, and presented them in manuscript to the Incorporation of Hammermen, of which he was long a member, when he went to Canada, forty years ago, where he died. The manuscript has been lost. Some scraps of his verses are still remembered. He never stayed long in one shop, but was always shifting. He wrote thus—

“See Adie Cockburn shifts again,
His work and toil are all in vain;
What’s made in eident sitting
Is lost in constant flitting;
Soon baker’s warm and smoking batches
Will take the place of Cockburn’s watches.”

Cockburn offered a certain half-pay officer in the town by saying he was

“Pensioned at a warrior’s rate,
A burden on the State.”

A prosecution was threatened, when the following lines appeared:—

“O Willie man, ye’re fond of law,
As ye are fond of butter,
About the words that Cockburn penned
Ye made an unco splutter.”

Adam once went down to Gullane, &c., to clean clocks, accompanied with "Pottie” Knox, a glazier, to mend “lozens.” They both got “gay fou” at Gullane, and taking a near cut across Peffer, they fell into it, and got well drenched. Adam on the moment recited the following lines:—

“On Peffer’s banks we sat and wept,
As Haddington we thought on;
Our dripping garments we did hing
The willow trees upon.”

There was a curious character called Sandie Mitchell, who was also a poet in his own way. When he “clinkit” a verse or two in his brain, he was fond of publishing it to his neighbour, Mrs Forrest. Two specimens of Sandie’s poetry are the following :—

“In his shop, Johnny Farley
Sells flour, meal, and barley.”

“Cocks and hens has John Davie,
And he keeps them in a cavie.”

Walter Crighton was a well-known character. He was a clockmaker in the Nungate. Some of his clocks are still to be met in the county, of strong and coarse workmanship. Wattie was a great fancier and breeder of dogs, which were his constant companions. A picture of him, painted by the Brothers Brookes, which was in the possession of the late Bailie Neill, was a capital likeness. Wattie is represented as leading two dogs, and several following. He had a crooked leg, and walked with a “lift.” He kept his dogs in an old house in the Nungate, and when he locked them up for the night, some young Nungate “hempies” used to let them out again, and when he got home, Wattie found them before him, to his great ire and wrath. He travelled the county cleaning clocks, accompanied with two or three dogs, and was well known everywhere, and received hospitality for himself and his dogs.

Richard Hay, commonly called “Dick,” was appointed teacher of the English School in 1798. He and Squire Nisbet, clerk to the Episcopal Church, were great cronies in their day, and had many a gill together. They were both cripples, and used crutches. On one occasion they quarrelled, and Dick, in the Dominie Dirapons style, threatened to send the Squire with one stroke of his crutch down to mother earth, from whence he came. Nisbet, however, was not to be easily subdued, and showed fight, and cried out, “Til mother yearth ye.” The two belaboured one another with their stilts until they were separated. He published the Beauties of Arithmetic, a very useful book in its day. The following doggerel applied to Dick:—

“Cripple Dick upon a stick,
Samson on a sow,
Luckie Dun upon a whin,
They rode a' through.”

Squire Nisbet was a respectable-looking old man in his day, and discharged his duties in the Episcopal Church with satisfaction.

A curious man called Sandie Ramsay—“Aikin Hoy” was his nickname—lived and wrought at Lennoxlove as a gardener. He had a lame arm, and walked very much to one side. When “elevated” with spirits, he was often much annoyed by the boys calling him “Aikin Hoy,” which roused him, and many a chase he gave them from the Waterloo Toll down to the town again. Sandie had a great ambition to become the owner of a watch and chain, and when by dint of saving for many years he became the possessor of these, his joy was unbounded. It is recollected that when he got them he came down to town, dressed iji his best, with the watch in his fob, and the long chain dangling before. Nobody seeming to notice him, he stopped a man on the street and said to him—“I will be very muckle obliged to you, if you will ask me to tell you what o’clock it is.” Sandie produced his watch, and said, “Man, is it no a bonnie ane?” Sandie’s pleasure and joy were brimful, but he went home that night “weel filled up,” and followed by his usual crowd of satellites crying out “Aikin Hoy!”


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