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Old World Scotland
Chapter XXI. The Lockman


Lockman, Lokman, or Lockeman is the term seemingly the soft and delicate admiration—that Scotsmen were wont to employ to designate the executioner. Everywhere contempt and mockery rather than regard have been his portion; and that a people so accustomed to call a spade not Only a spade but something worse should choose him an appellation so apparently colourless and inexpressive might fairly be termed a philological puzzle. Yet the mild signification has been sanctioned—perhaps originated—by Sir Walter himself. "Lockman," thus he has it, "so called from the small quantity of meal" (Scotticé, ''lock'') "which he was entitled to take out of every boll exposed to market in the city. In Edinburgh the duty has been very long commuted ; but iii Dumfries the finisher of the law still exercises, or (lid lately exercise, his privilege, the quantity taken being regulated by a small iron ladle which lie uses iii the measurement of his perquisite." Now the facts on which Sir Walter's theory rests are indisputable; indeed, there is an abundance of evidence that throughout the Land o' Oakes the "lock" of meal was the hangman's perquisite from time at least anterior to the period when certain chalders of grain became the legal dues of the parish clergyman. But this by no means settles the question how to explain that the hangman's collection of his salary in kind should be recognised even in his official description— for lockman was the official as well as the popular style—as his most distinctive function, all seeming allusion to his specific duties being omitted. Superficially considered, the other derivation (originally sanctioned by Jamieson) from the better-known signification of the word "lock" as part of a door—the man who locks (i.e., the "dubsman or turnkey")—appears more plausible; for no doubt the hangman and the gaoler were pretty often identical, the criminal being thus under charge of this grim representative of justice from the time that in the character of deempster (doomster) he pronounced the sentence of death against him, until his mortal remains were finally disposed of. But again there is the difficulty—how to explain the seemingly almost morbid tenderness of the Scot's regard for the hangman's susceptibilities, in thus dropping all allusion to the more odious aspects of his office. Be it remembered that the euphimism (if such it were) was accepted from time immemorial; so that you read in Blind Harry's "Wallace" that

"The Lokmen than thei bur Wallace, but baid
On till a place his martyrdom to tak'."

Indeed, it is by no means improbable —so far as facts are known—that "lockman" was Scots for "executioner" when locks in Scotland were not specially associated with security, and sacks of grain in her market-places were scant and far between.

But what forbids the supposition that the epithet sets forth a grim allusion to locks of another kind? Locks more distinctively associated with the doomsman's function? —the locks, to wit, of the man or woman whose finisher he was? - the locks by which he grasped the head it was his to expose to the gaze of the gaping crowd? Such a derivation, be it observed, is in no wise made superfluous by the fact that a "lock," or small handful, of grain, was the official perquisite; nor does it stand in contradiction to the custom, nor in the least diminish its significance. On contrary, it would explain (and this in striking accord with the sordid or brutal humour from which the Scottish vocabulary derives so much of its vigour) the origin and signification of the old word "lock "in Scotland as a quantitative term. It was the quantity grasped by the executioner: that in any case, whatever else.

But let the derivation of the term be what it may, the custom referred to is proof enough that the lockman was very much in evidence. A superficial observer might leap to the conclusion that his emoluments were out of all proportion to his duties. Surely a handful of grain out of every boll in the market-place would mean more than a sufficient supply of food for himself and his family! And had he not also a livery, a free house, and a special allowance for his more important appearances as well? Plainly, therefore, for an official whose duties, albeit unenviable, were far from laborious (much less exhausting), such a salary would in frugal Scotland have been deemed inordinate. But in those elder and sterner years the lockman did by no means loll away his hours in the listless fashion of his modern analogue. His life was busy as well as serious. His diocese, it is true, instead of as now embracing three kingdoms, was contained within the bounds of a single burgh; but in olden time most burghs were able to keep their lockman in constant occupation, while in the larger towns he was fain to delegate some part of his duties to subordinates. For one thing, the death sentence was attached to certain crimes now only visited with imprisonment (as theft and incest), or held deserving of no punishment at all—as adultery or attendance on the mass. Again, the final ceremony was much more complex and more prolonged than now. The criminal was not unaccustomed to address the crowd from time scaffold—occasionally he did so at great length; and when all was over, the body, in the case of strangulation, was commonly suspended for two or three hours before cutting down and decapitating, when it was customary for the hangman to continue his "watch and ward" on the scaffold till the performance of the final rites. Hence the allusion of Dunbar in his "Flyting":-

Nor did the lockrnan's responsibility cease with the public ceremony, for had lie not to affix the several members of the more noted victims in conspicuous places, or sometimes to hang in chains the corse of the heinous malefactor to dangle and rustle in the wind till it became a creaking skeleton? And apart from his deathful duties he had plenty to do in the way of whipping, branding, and mutilation. Not only was it his to apply the severer tortures in cases of exceptional guilt, whether actual or only suspected; he had also a well-nigh unbroken round of daily toil upon the persons of the less heinous. Many of these were handed over to him for punishment by the Kirk authorities; and the Session Records sufficiently indicate how much his services were in request. Then he was under obligation to carry out the summary sentences of magistrates by bearing the culprit to the cross and placing him in the jougs; the application of the pillory —with or without the delicate additions of pinching the nose, nailing the ears, or boring the tongue—usually communicated a spice of daily vivacity to the monotony of burgher life; the more momentous duty of ducking scolds and adultresses occupied much of his solicitude; and to have omitted the observance of scourging criminals through time streets would have robbed market days of their purest flavour of felicity. The "hangman's whip" had terrors more immediately effective than the "fear of hell," and perhaps it impressed the popular imagination more powerfully than either block or gallows. In fact, it was chiefly iii the lockman that both Church and State reposed their trust for the maintenance of order and morality. None played so conspicuous a part in the public eye, and none discharged duties deemed more essential to the welfare of society. His Present effacement may indicate a marked improvement in morality, or a great advance in civilisation, or the discovery that many of his methods were really mistaken and ineffectual; but it is perhaps the most striking symptom of change to be recorded in the social and ecclesiastical life of Scotland during the last two hundred years.


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