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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Haddington Grain Market


MORE than seventeen hundred years ago the Romans discovered the fertility of the soil of East Lothian. There is every probability that their legions were fed from the produce of the crops of grain grown on it. They were a people who understood agriculture well, and would, no doubt, exert their energies and skill in developing the resources of the land and in producing good crops. To say that a grain market existed in Haddington at the time the Romans held possession of the country would (if the town was in existence at the time) perhaps be a stretch of exaggerated historical antiquity, and would be liable to be gainsaid; but true it is that Haddington Grain Market existed at a very early period, certainly in the year 1296, when Alexander, the Barker or Tanner, was the first Provost on record. It is still the leading market in Scotland for the sale of the finest quality of grain, especially for seed corn.

The monks were great and skilful agriculturists of old. They possessed granges and mills in numerous parts of East Lothian during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For instance, they had a domestic farm at Abbey Mains, and their mill at the Abbey which still exists. Agricultural establishments owned by nobles and monks were then the fashion of the age; and there is no doubt Haddington Market existed at that time. Before the days of turnpike roads, and wains or carts, the grain was brought to market on horses’ backs. In a very old table of the town’s custom we find the custom on corn was entered under the head of “horse loads" and was “four pennies Scots the ilk bag; and the mettage for ilk bag of bear or oats four pennies Scots; each bag of wheat, beans, or peas, eight pennies Scots.” The market for the sale of grain and meal was long held on the spot where the Assembly Rooms now stand, and afterwards on the streets until 1854, when the Corn Exchange was erected.

Haddington Market seems always to have been a stock one, and never a sample one, unless when parcels were sold by special contract and delivered according to the fiars’ prices of East Lothian. Large parcels were sold on six months’ credit. The market was always under the jurisdiction of the magistrates, as it continues to be. Many changes have necessarily taken place since Haddington Market was first begun, in customs, manners, modes of business, and transit of grain. The carting of grain to Edinburgh, &c., was at one time an important trade; but the opening of the North British Railway knocked it up all at once. Most of the grain bought in the market was stored in granaries and carted away during the week ; hence arose the custom of giving luckpennies or “couping fill.” The principal Edinburgh and west-country bakers, as well as the town and country ones, got their supplies from Haddington Market on account of its excellent baking qualities of strong fallow growth. It is stated in the Farmers' Magazine for April 1801, that the corporation of bakers in Edinburgh used yearly about 55,000 bolls of wheat, the greater part of which was believed to be of East Lothian growth. The bakers kept large stocks of it. There was little foreign wheat used long ago, except in bad years, and few large steam flour-mills as in the present day. The quantity of grain of all kinds sold in Haddington Market, crop 1858, from 1st October 1858 to 30th September 1859, was 83,114 quarters— money value, ^158,061; from 30th September 1859 to 21st September i860, crop 1859, was 77,481 quarters —money value, £15 5,141. It is believed that the same amounts have been kept up since then, if not exceeded.

The greatest change, perhaps, in Haddington Market within the last thirty or forty years is in the absence of old “familiar faces” of farmers, corn-merchants, and buyers of barley for distillery purposes. Among the old corn-merchants there were James Tod of Ormiston, Alexander Robertson of Joppa, William Gibson of Edinburgh, Mr Glen of Edinburgh, Thomas Hay and Robert Aitken of Musselburgh, Robert Stenhouse of Tranent, J. B. Thomson of Edinburgh, John Inglis of Brunstain, Thomas Dods of Dalkeith, and many others. The distillers were represented by Andrew Taylor of Westbams, John Stott of Linton, Archibald Dunlop of Haddington, John Lauder for W. & J. Aitchison, Clement Wells, and Messrs Rate of Milton. The once well-known names of farmers, viz., Rennie of Phantassie, Brown of Markle, Bairnsfather, Yule, Carfrae, Walker, Bogue, Hay, Brodie, Crawford, Mylne, Skirving, Hepburn, Cuthbertson, Kerr, Slate, &c., are now all extinct or nearly so. Old farmers are getting fewer every year. There were in those days numerous farmers1 clubs, where they dined and made themselves comfortable.

It was often remarked that those who had the farthest to go were the last to leave. There were the “Union Club” in the George, “Whitehead’s Club” in the King’s Arms, “Lamb's Club” in Kilpair Street, one in the Bell and the Black Bull, and some others.

The reports of the prices of grain in Haddington Market have been published in the Edinburgh newspapers for at least one hundred or one hundred and fifty years. The prices have a very important bearing in striking the fiars of the county of Haddington, in so far that they regulate the stipends of the Established clergy, and the payment of grain rents. In old times, sales were often made after the harvest, for delivery during the winter and spring—the prices to be fixed by the fiars' prices of East Lothian, and six months' credit given, which was the reason Sheriff Law, in striking the fiars, added 2½ per cent, to the average prices of each kind of grain. This reason does not now exist, as all grain is sold for ready money. Another reason given was that the fiars were struck in the end of February, and it was supposed that grain was of more value after February and March, and when, perhaps, the bulk of the wheat crop remained to be thrashed and brought to the market. But such a supposition is far from being correct, for it is found that in the present time wheat and other kinds of grain are often cheaper after March than before it, not taking into account the extra good condition of the grain, which is equal to 2s. per quarter at least For instance, the fiars' prices for crop 1874:—First wheat was 46s. 8f d., second, 44s. 10d.; for barley, 43s. 10d., second, 41s. 10d. The average price of wheat on 4th June at Haddington was 42s. 10d., difference, 3s. 10d.; barley, 35s. 6d., difference, 7s. 6d. Oats a little higher on account of the small crop last year.

This is a subject which lies much in the province of the East Lothian Farmers Club to discuss at their meetings. An able report, by Mr H. M. Davidson, on the whole subject of the fiars, was published in 1850. It contains all the necessary information of the mode of striking the fiars, and is quite conclusive in showing that the necessity of adding the 2\ per cent, does not now exist.

It has often been thought by many that an Agricultural Museum in connection with the Corn Exchange would be an interesting and useful appendage to it. Fine specimens of East Lothian grain, in straw and sample, models of agricultural implements, both ancient and modern, geological specimens of East Lothian, rocks and minerals, birds, animals, and antiquities of all kinds, &c., would form objects of interest to strangers as well as natives. Such a project deserves notice from the landed proprietors and public men of the county.

Other county towns, like Kelso, Peebles, and Stirling, have excellent museums of natural history, &c., but Haddington is often “far ahint.”

There were always a number of speculators long ago who laid up large quantities of wheat, &c., during the winter and spring months, to be kept until favourable markets came round for them to realise at a good profit. The latest principal holders of wheat to any extent in Haddington were the late Mr Aitchison of Alderston and Mr Archibald Cuthbertson of Greendykes. The most extensive wheat-merchant in olden times was Mr Alexander Crawford, farmer at Rhodes, North Berwick. For a long period of years he used to fill his extensive granaries at North Berwick during winter, and could at any time supply needy buyers before harvest with wheat of fine quality. Mr Crawford had numerous correspondents in London, Leith, Glasgow, Lynn, Wisbeach, Stockton, Newcastle, &c., who came to North Berwick in the months of August, September, and October to buy his fine East Lothian produce. His name became well known and famous in the trade.

The following is extracted from the East Lothian Quarterly Report of November 1804, published in the Farmers9 Magazine:—“A circumstance may be stated extremely creditable to the quality of the wheat raised in this district; and it is done on the authority of an eminent corn-dealer, who is in the habit of sending wheat to the London market. This gentleman oftener than once in the course of the quarter has topped Mark Lane with wheat purchased at Haddington. One day in particular his price was four shillings per quarter higher than any other cargo presented.” The corn-dealer was understood to be Mr Crawford.

A story about Mr Crawford bargaining for a cargo of wheat with an English merchant is still remembered in East Lothian, and well worth preserving. The dealer was in the lofts at North Berwick with Mr Crawford, inspecting the stock with the view of having a transaction. In such cases it generally happens that a deal of talk and higgling takes place before a bargain is finally closed. The Englishman had offered a certain price that he would not exceed, but which Mr Crawford would not accept. Matthew Cassie, a well-known North Berwick character, very clever and very eccentric, a close and familiar attendant on Mr Crawford when he came into the town, and who always called him “Sandie,” was present at the bargaining in the granary. He tugged Mr Crawford by his coat tail, and whispered to him, “ Chap him, Sandie, and gie him scrimpie (or scrimp measure). A bargain was ultimately made by halving the difference, perhaps again and again. Matthew Cassie’s suggestion spread among almost all the corn-merchants in Scotland and England. The writer of this has heard it mentioned by extensive corn-merchants in Mark Lane, Glasgow, &c.

Mr Crawford was a man of great business energy and shrewdness, hospitable and kind in his own house. He was esteemed by all his friends and acquaintances, and was a capital specimen of the old class of East Lothian farmers. Besides farming five to six hundred acres of land, he burned lime from the Rhodes limestone quarries to a large extent, and shipped it to other districts besides supplying the country demand, and carried on an extensive corn trade, as formerly noticed. He was well known in Haddington Market, which he attended almost every Friday, and was a prominent member of Whitehead’s dinner club, in the old King’s Arms Inn, which was supported by many of the respectable farmers of the county. “Sandie Crawford of the Rhodes” was a household name in almost all the farmers’ houses in the district.

The Crawfords had been tenants of the Rhodes farm for over two hundred years, the oldest perhaps in the county for such a long period on one estate. The late Mr Adam Crawford was the last tenant of the Rhodes ; he left it about the year 1862. On the old family tombstone in North Berwick Churchyard is the following inscription:—“Hear lyeth John Crawford, portioner of Coldingham, and tennent in ye Roads, who dyed July 28, 1706, aged 69 years. And Jane Robertson, his spous, who dyed January 1730, aged 78 years.” (Other old inscriptions follow.) “ Mr Alexander Crawford, after having been tennent in Rhodes for 65 years, died 3rd January 1843, in his 87th year. Born 1756.”

It was the custom long ago for farmers and others to chew tobacco to a great extent. Mr Crawford was fond of it, and used to say that chewing tobacco and drinking grog would make a man live to ninety or one hundred years of age. A deal of money for rent must have been paid from first to last to the Dalrymple family by the Crawfords of the Rhodes.

It is curious to note the changes in the prices of wheat at the close of the last and beginning of the present century. The first fiars prices of wheat for crop 1800 was 67s. 3d. per boll, or over 130s. per quarter; for crop 1802, 32s. 11d. per boll, or 62s. per quarter; for crop 1803, 27s per boll, or 53s. per quarter. Farmers who were accustomed to the extreme high prices of 1799 and 1800, grumbled mugh at the decreased prices of 1802 and 1803. is recorded that a large and influential proprietor and farmer in East Lothian wrote to Mr Addington (afterwards Lord Sidmouth), Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1801 to 1804, complaining of the unremunerative price of wheat (their staple commodity) in Haddington Market, and he ended his epistle in the following words:—“What do you now really think, Mr Addington, when wheat is now only fifty-nine at Haddington?” What a contrast there is in the price of wheat now, compared with olden times.


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