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 oclock 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 burghs 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
And boon the toun is seen no reek,
Jamie wad rise, and his pipes cleek,
An then wi speed,
Hed rouse the tounfolk frae their sleep,
But now hes dead.
O ! but it was right droll
At een come east the toun the three,
Then Jamie wad some Scots tune gie,
Hed hit your taste just to a tee,
But now hes 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 feed 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 MGregor, a famous piper; but at his death the office became
vacant, and has never been filled up.
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
His work and toil are all in vain;
Whats made in eident sitting
Is lost in constant flitting;
Soon bakers warm and smoking batches
Will take the place of Cockburns watches.
Cockburn offered a
certain half-pay officer in the town by saying he was
Pensioned at a warriors
A burden on the State.
A prosecution was
threatened, when the following lines appeared:
O Willie man, yere fond
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 Peffers banks we sat
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 Sandies poetry are
the following :
In his shop, Johnny
Sells flour, meal, and barley.
Cocks and hens has John
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
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 RamsayAikin Hoy was his nicknamelived 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 himI will be very muckle obliged to you, if you
will ask me to tell you what oclock it is. Sandie produced his watch,
and said, Man, is it no a bonnie ane? Sandies 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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