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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Lizzie Richardson


IN an old tenement in Church Street, betwixt Mr John Richardson’s dwelling-house and the Grammar School, up two storeys of an old-fashioned, round-about stair, very dark in the under part of it, there lived, fifty or sixty years ago, an old woman of the name of Lizzie Richardson. It wag a common custom long ago for farmers sending their families to the Haddington Schools to take a house for them, and place them under the superintendence of a trustworthy person, who took the management of the house, and looked after them. Lizzie Richardson was servant in this capacity to the very old respectable family of Shirreffs of Mungoswells. When the Shirreffs were done schooling, and old age came on Lizzie, she took up her domicile in the above house, and began the trade of “clagham” maker to help her slender income, in opposition to Nannie Cairncross, an old-established seller of the same article in Jack’s Land opposite. Lizzie, being a superior kind of woman in her station of life, soon became a general favourite with the numerous scholars ; and, as she made good stuff, her manufacture of “clagham” became famous. Attracted by her kindly manners, her humble dwelling became a favourite resort of the lads and lassies, many of whom, now old ladies and gentlemen, will still recollect old “Clagham Lizzie,” and the happy hours spent in her house; but, alas! the recollection of many who have died in the course of fifty years throws a gloom over old reminiscences.

Lizzie was a firm believer in ghosts, warlocks, witches, fairies, kelpies, brownies, and all such evil-disposed persons and spirits, and told many a fearsome story about them to the delight, and often, at times, to the fear and dread of her youthful company. On Hallowe’en night her house was filled with young folks, who entered heartily into all the ceremonies of the festival, in “dooking” for apples, burning nuts, “the luggies three,” eating apples at the glass, &c. On such a night Lizzie was particularly eloquent with her old stories. One story she used to tell, and which she firmly believed, of a witch wife, who lived at Dingleton, near Drem, who had the power of transforming herself into a hare, which one day some collie dogs set on and broke its leg. The hare ran into a house below the door, and some of her neighbours going into the house, found her lying with a broken leg. On fairies’ freaks she was particularly great, for she had been told by old folks who had seen them running along bean and grass fields, dressed in green, little bonnie creatures ; and she firmly believed that “unchristened bairns” had been stolen away out of their cradles, and “fairy bairns” left in their place by fairies, especially on Hallowe’en night, when they were all abroad on their baneful errands, and holding grand cantrips. The west side of Traprain Law, she affirmed, was a special meeting-place of the fairies. When the country folks saw a light on the west side, near Green Loaning row of houses, there was sure to be a fairy tournament.

The light sparkled like a bright star, which the folk alleged was the reflection of a bright diamond they had, but when the place was approached by inquisitive folks, the light instantly vanished. Lizzie’s legend of the fairies of Traprain Law, derived from old tradition, and firmly believed in in olden times, is quite in accordance with traditions scattered over the whole of Scotland, and specially mentioned in Hugh Miller's Legends of the North of Scotland, and Miss’ Gordon’s Cruise among the Hebrides, and everywhere in Sir Walter Scott’s Scotch novels. Lizzie also believed that evil fairies hurled elf shot, or flint arrow-heads, against cattle, who thereupon pined and died; and was strong in blaming witches for preventing butter coming on churning days.

A great story of Lizzie’s was about the laird of Coul’s ghost, which appeared and conversed on four different occasions with the Rev. Mr Ogilvie, minister of Innerwick, in the year 1722—viz., at Innerwick, Oldhamstocks, Elmscleuch, and Old Cambus Muir, near the Pease. The ghost conversed with Mr Ogilvie on different subjects, relative to both his temporal and spiritual matters. It rode a grey horse all the way from Dumfries to meet Mr Ogilvie, which horse was Andrew Johnston, one of his tenants on the estate of Coul, who died forty-eight hours before him, and was transformed into a horse. On this wonderful story of Maxwell, the Laird of Coul’s ghost, a pamphlet of twenty-four pages was in circulation by hawkers seventy or eighty years ago, but is now very scarce. The writer, however, is in possession of a copy of this literary curiosity.

Traditions, which she had received when young from old people, and cherished in a retentive memory, carried Lizzie back to a very remote period. Among other traditions, she used to tell that she had known an old man in her youth who had seen the spear and glove with which Livingstone of Saltcoats had killed a famous wild boar that infested the neighbourhood of Gullane, &c., and for which all the land from Gullane on to North Berwick Law was bestowed on him. She had also heard from her great-grandfather the account of the battle of Flodden in 1513, so disastrous to the Scotch nation. Adam Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, led the gentlemen and youth of East Lothian to the fatal field. There was scarcely a family of any note in the county that did not mourn the loss of some relative in the bloody conflict. She had been told of some of the descendants of one Ronny Hood of the Hule, one of the few who came home. A single couplet is preserved about him :—

"For a' that fell at Flodden Field,
Ronny Hood o’ the Hule oam, hame.”

The Hule is a small hamlet on the farm of Prora, in the parish of Athelstaneford, which still exists in name.

Lizzie had seen the two soldiers of “Grant's Fencibles” shot for mutiny at the Yellow Mires, on Gullane Links, in 1795. She used, with great abhorrence, to describe the scene, which the whole public feeling joined in denouncing as an extreme sanguinary example of military discipline. Lizzie was a specimen of a class of old women now almost extinct. With a wonderful memory, she delighted many a youngster with her old stories. She died somewhere about 1825, at the age of four score and upwards.

The shop in the front of the old tenement was long known as the apothecary shop of Dr Thomson, a medical practitioner in Haddington, who lived in the adjoining house, now occupied by Mr Richardson. The shop was afterwards tenanted by David Peffers, commonly called David Peppers, a decent old Haddington carter and Acredale farmer.

Graham's boarders used to act plays in the back part of the old hou&e, where “Douglas" and “Revenge” were more than once performed, to the real delight of the audience. W. Wells and Robert Boyd, late schoolmaster of Oldhamstocks, assistants to Mr Graham, along with Willie Hill, Dr Thomson's apprentice, were stage managers and prompters; Betty Firth, daughter of Willie Firth, the old tyler of the Mason Lodge, officiated as curtain-drawer.

Nannie Cairncross, Lizzie Richardson's opponent in the clagham trade, lived on the ground flat of Jack’s Land, exactly opposite. Nannie was a .well-known woman in her day, and proprietrix of the house she lived in. She had been married to one Davie Johnston, a coal carter, in her younger days. He was a feckless bodie by all accounts, and Nannie wore the “breeks.” He never kept a decent horse, and when rallied on this score, he used to say that when a horse came to be over forty or fifty shillings, it was “ower dear for him." A dispute once took place betwixt Nannie and a neighbouring owner, about a piece of a wall, and had to be settled in the Dean of Guild Court. Nannie pled her own case. One of her facts being disputed, she said, “Do not tell me so, for I was barrowman myself when the wall was built by my faither.” Nannie was a great favourite with Graham's scholars and boarders, while Lizzie was principally patronised by Hardie’s. At the yearly dinners, kept up for many years by Mr Graham’s old Scholars and boarders, in the Bell Inn, Nannie appeared after dinner, dressed in her best cap and gown, with a white apron filled with clagham, which she distributed among her "auld callants,” as a remembrance of “Lang Syne.” Nannie was treated with a glass of the best, and drank all the company’s good health, not forgetting the worthy old rector. She left with a deal of coin in her lap. Such reminiscences of old Lizzie Richardson and Nannie Cairncross will soon be out of recollection by the now sadly-thinned ranks of Graham’s and Hardie’s old scholars.

Many old Haddington folk will still recollect a woman of the name of Christian Wilson, or, as she was called, “Wandering Kirstie.” A native of the Nungate, and come of respectable folks, she was married when young to a lad of the name of Henderson, also Nungate bom, who was a soldier, and died with his regiment in a foreign land. His death affected Kirstie’s intellect, and unsettled her to such a degree that she wandered for twelve years at least from the east end of the Nungate Bridge to the Custom Stone, morning, noon, and night, backwards and forwards, always looking for her husband coming home. Her whole askings and waitings were about her man! “Oh, he is long in coming! hae ye no seen him yet? He promised to come hame, and buy Monkrig and a carriage for me, and make me a grand leddy.” Some kind ladies in Haddington sympathised with her in her sad state, and tried several times to get her to settle down by diverting her attention to sewing, spinning, and other domestic matters; but all to no purpose. Poor Kirstie never smiled on their efforts ; her whole mind was wrapt up in the remembrance of her man, and her whole wail was, “Oh, if I could only see my dear man!” In her dress she was always very clean and neat, with a white cap and old-fashioned short-gown. Kirstie was quite harmless, and respectful to every person, and was equally respected by old and young, who sympathised with her sad story. She died of cholera, which was so fatal in Haddington and Nungate in 1831. Kirstie’s case was one of extreme devotedness to the memory of her husband, worthy to be immortalised by the pen of poets like Cowper or Campbell, both of whom have in similar cases (imaginative perhaps) described with great power the sad condition of weak and mind-suffering humanity.


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