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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Town of Haddington Library


THE late sale of the Haddington Burgh School premises by the School Board has dissevered from the magistrates and municipality of the royal burgh of Haddington the possession of the room in which the Town’s Library was placed for upwards of one hundred and sixty years. Many historical associations are connected with the old room, and may be soon forgotten. It may be interesting, now that the library has been transferred to new and commodious premises, to note down some particulars connected with it. This valuable library of the burgh of Haddington was gifted by the Rev. John Gray, minister at Aberlady, about the year 1717. As a mark of regard for the place of his nativity, he left the whole of his private library for the use of the community, together with three thousand merks Scots, the interest of which was to be devoted to charitable purposes, under the management of the magistrates and town clerk as trustees. Of this sum twenty-five merks Scots was set apart for the support of the library. In 1807 the Town Council voted a further allowance of £2, 10s. annually for the same purpose, when several additions were made. In 1828 the library was re-arranged and re-catalogued by James Miller, and many valuable books were added. The new catalogue shewed 1335 volumes. In 1843 they had increased to 1738 by donations and additions. In 1738 Hugh Bennet, mason, was allowed by the Town Council £i, is. sterling for cutting and setting up the town’s arms on the library wall, which remain to this day. The stone has the inscription, “Bibliotheca Graiana, 1738,” on it. There is also another inscription of the goat on the old English Burgh School. Mr Gray was buried in the south-west corner within the old church, under a flat gravestone, supported by balusters and ornamented with a spread Bible. The stone is marked by the following lines:—“ Here lyes Mr John Gray, born at Haddington in 1646, minister at Tulliallen, near Cul-ross, in 1667, thereafter minister at Glasgow from 1672 to 1684, then minister of Aberlady from 1684 to 1689, then deprived upon a publik-Died October 24th, 1717. Aged near 71.

“Mihi vivere est Christus mortuus.
Fuge niti quod moribus agas.
Deo Gloria. Amen.”

Translation: “Christ has died that I may live. Shun depending on what thou canst accomplish by mere morals.” Mr Gray was a learned man and great bibliographer, as is fully testified by the many rare and valuable books he left behind him. The greater part of them are theological works, beautifully printed, many in black letters, in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages by foreign printers. They include a “Sarum Missal,” printed at Paris in 1529, another printed at Rouen in 1510; Common Book of Prayer for the Church of England, in London, 1615; another in 1637; and many other rare volumes. There are upwards of forty volumes of pamphlets, mostly of the sixteenth century, which are very rare, chiefly bearing on the history of Scotland from the period of the Covenant to the time of the Union. It is known that the late Dr Laing got his hands among this valuable collection through old Miller, and got away some rare copies, which were never returned. Mr Gray has inscribed his name on very many of his books in a neat old-fashioned style of handwriting, thus:—“Ex Libris Jo. Gray, Aberladie, 1689, summa religioni imitari quem colis.” Many volumes of manuscript sermons by Mr Gray, beautifully written, are in the library. The regulations framed by the Magistrates and Town Council for lending the books were always strict They were confined solely to persons residing within the town. By the fourth regulation the members of the Haddington Presbytery, except those in the town, were excluded from any use of the books except such as they can take in the room wherein they stand, those persons only who reside in the town having a right to borrow them. This regulation was made because it was found that country ministers got away books and were very slow in returning them, and many were lost The Haddington Presbytery used to hold their meetings by favour of the magistrates in the library, but this privilege was withdrawn. To show the great care the magistrates, as trustees, took of the Town’s Library long ago, the following minutes taken from the sederunt book are given :—“At a meeting held on 18th September 1805, present—Provost Banks, Bailie Nisbet, Bailie Simpson, Bailie Ferme, Mr Cunningham, Dean of Guild ; George Donaldson, clerk. The trustees recommended to the librarian to cut up all the new books previous to their being lent out, and particularly to enjoin such persons as borrow the books to take great care that the same are not soiled or otherwise injured, certifying such persons as are careless in that respect that they will not only be liable for the damage sustained, but will be deprived of the benefit of borrowing books in future.” At another meeting held on 17th October 1808, “sederunt—John Martine, Esq., Provost; James Deans and William Roughead, Bailies; George Banks, Dean of Guild; Thomas Nicol, Treasurer; Alexander Donaldson, Clerk. The trustees, considering that the books have been of late much destroyed and soiled, resolve that in future, when any of the books are destroyed or soiled, the persons who have done so shall not only be obliged to replace them, but be debarred from getting books from the library. The librarian having reported that Mr Richardson, dancing-master, a considerable time ago borrowed the third volume of Burns’s poems, but which had never been returned, but, on the contrary, declares that the same is lost, ordain him immediately to replace that volume, and also appoint the librarian not to supply Mr Richardson with books for a year from this date. Signed, John Martine, Provost.”

Dr M'Crie, when he was writing his history of John Knox, applied for some books from the library in the following letter to Provost Martine:—“Edinburgh, 8th December 1816.—There are a few books in the Public Library of Haddington which I am anxious to have the opportunity of examining. I do not know if it is consistent with the regulations of the library to allow them to be carried as far as Edinburgh. If it is, and if the magistrates would indulge me with this liberty, I would esteem it as a great favour, and the utmost attention shall be paid to the safety of the books. I take the liberty of subjoining a list of such as I wish to see, according to the list in the catalogue. Begging you to excuse this trouble, I am yours, with all respect, Thomas M'Crie. John Martine, Esq. No. 401, Melvini Musae; No. 311, Pamphlets, Anno 1621; No. 97s, Napia; No. 802, Poemata Miscellanae; No. 835, Ramsaei Poemata; No. 1200, Pamphlets, Anno 1523.” Dr M'Crie’s request was granted by the magistrates, and the above books are still to be found in the library. The oldest library minute-book existing, although there must have been an earlier one, is dated 19th February 1732, and continued to 1766. The first entry in it is as follows:—“Borrowed Baxter’s Treatise on Justification, being an octavo, printed London, 1676, to be returned in a month by me.—John Cadele.” It is still in the catalogue, No. 805. Two other borrowings follow of same date and in the same style. When the books were returned, the entry was marked with two or three crosses. Other entries in the book are very curious. We find in some cases that a penalty of 1 os. sterling is to be imposed if the book is not returned in a month. Under April 17, 1741, the following entry is made:—“Lent to Mr John Hamilton, minister in Bolton, out of *Bibliotheca Graiana,’ No. 62, folio (Common Book of Prayer, black letter, London, 1615), which I promise to return upon demand, under the penalty of 40s. sterling.” In this old book we find the following old Haddington names as borrowers, viz., Patrick Wilkie, minister, Robert Burton, John Carfrae, John Crombie, John Martine, Peter Bairnsfather, Hay Donaldson, Alexander Sawyers, John Cadele, Robert Wright, Andrew Hunter, James Banks, Wm. Hunter, James Roughead, William Cunningham, Bartholomew Bower, and many others. A perusal of it will afford pleasure to the curious.

The master of the English School, or one of his assistants, was for a number of years appointed librarian of the library at a small salary. This gentleman made a very bad book-keeper, often allowing books to be taken away without recording them, and breaking the regulations by giving them to strangers. George Bee was for many years librarian, and having been bred to business, was of a different stamp, and acted strictly up to the regulations. He would not give away a book unless he was fully satisfied that the borrower was entitled to it, requiring his residence and occupation, which he duly entered. Bee’s successors were all very careful as librarians. In 1828, when the catalogue arranged by James Miller was published, it was found that thirty volumes of rare books were lost or missing. In 1833, on the motion of a young member of the then Town Council, an investigation of the library books was made. It was found that no less than fifty or sixty volumes were amissing. Some were traced to a clergyman’s library in Glasgow, some were found in Duns, and a number in the hands of the Rev. Hew Scott, late minister of Anstruther. A remarkable circumstance occurred in the return of No. 1320 in the catalogue in I^33 (a “Westminster Hebrew Grammar,” London edition), after more than fifteen years’ absence. It is to be hoped that in the new domicile of Gray’s Library, and under the able management of Mr James Watt, convener of the Library Committee—who well deserves the thanks of the community of Haddington for the great attention he has paid to it—care will be taken to prevent the loss of any of the rare and valuable books in the library, the equal of which can hardly now be found in any burgh in the kingdom.

The removal of the Public Library of Haddington to its new premises carries with it, in connection with the old room, many old local stories and reminiscences. From the time of its establishment—over one hundred and fifty years ago—the magistrates of the burgh met in it every Sunday forenoon and afternoon, wearing their chains of office, and walked in procession to the church, escorted by the town-officers with shouldered halberds, and dressed in the town’s old style of livery. The coats or surtouts were of the old-fashioned cut, with single collar and broad lappels, well trimmed with black braid, and mounted with large black buttons; long waistcoat, short-kneed trousers, black leggings, and cockades on their hats. The cloth was of a coarse darkish grey colour, which was long ago manufactured in the town, and called Gilmerton grey. The old dress was changed in Provost Lee’s time—in 1836—to a more modern style. George Cairns, Peter Currie, John Ran dall, and Willie Baird were old town-officers; Sandie Nicol, James Gillies, Sandie Millar, John Sinclair, William Souness, &c., were their successors. The Sunday after the yearly election of magistrates—called the “Kirking Sunday”—was a great event at the library. The whole Council (twenty-six at that time), including the deacons of the nine incorporated trades (the Bunch of Wands) with their colleagues, attended. The ministers of the town, and most of the old burgesses, &c., were invited by the magistrates to assist at the kirking. Cake, wine, and spirits, provided by the magistrates, were supplied. The magistrates’ seat and gallery in the church, on that day, were always well filled. One of the deacons once stipulated with the provost of the day (Mr Dunlop) that there should be whisky and small-beer provided, which drink, being taken together, was long ago called “a heater and a cooler.” This old practice of marching from the library to the church every Sunday has for some years, for various causes, been almost given up, and the magistrates’ seat is seldom occupied. Old Haddingtonians still bear this ancient custom in their recollection as a relic of former times.

Edward Irving was a great reader from the library, and made frequent borrowings of standard books. His first signature will be found, in a bold clear hand, in the record book on the 3d July 1809, when he borrowed “Burns’s Poems.” He once preached in Haddington Parish Church, forenoon and afternoon, about the year 1822. His popularity in London as a preacher at that time was at its highest pitch. The church was densely crowded at both diets. His text was, on both occasions, “ Search the Scriptures,” John v. 9. The writer of this still recollects his brilliant bursts of eloquence. The very large congregation was intensely riveted with the fervour of his preaching, and his grand oratorical powers.

For many years the old Haddington Ladies’ Society, better known by the name of the “ Penny Ladies,” and which was kept up by most of the respectable ladies of the town for relieving poor and deserving old persons, held their meetings in the Town’s Library. In cold weather a good fire was provided for them at the expense of the town. Mr Lea was long their treasurer, and was succeeded by Dr Cook, in whose able hands this old deserving charity was for many years admirably managed. In the time of Mr Patrick Hardie, as master of the English and Mathematical Schools, from 1822 to 1837, library was used for two months before the annual examination, in August, for drawing maps. The sheets of paper were spread on tables, or on the floor. In this branch of education Hardie was an enthusiast, and many of his pupils became quite proficient. Their maps were varnished, and mounted on rollers. Some are still in existence, and are yet deemed worthy of praise. Recitations from “ Ewing’s Elocution ” were also rehearsed in the library in anticipation of the examination. Few, alas! among many in these happy school-days now remain. The old library room, like many other old things, has passed away. The recollection of it and its old associations as one of the venerable institutions of the burgh will soon become a matter of history. “The times are perpetually changing, and we change with the times."


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