Sports and Pastimes of
Scotland Chapter XII. Miscellaneous
Healthful Sports that graced the peaceful scene.
Goldsmith's "Descried Village."
THE game of Rocks has been traced in England back to the
thirteenth century, and there it had the honour of being at last denounced
by the legislature as prejudicial to archery. Bluff King Hal played at the
bowls, and made bowling-alleys at White- hail, but had no scruple iii
rever1ting other people from playing when the archers complained. The Act
which passed in his time against various pastimes, including bowls, remained
on the Statute Book till 1845, when it was repealed.
In Scotland the game was popular for ages, and never
proscribed. Royalty patronized it. Bowling-greens became adjuncts of
Scottish mansion-houses and castles. The old ballad of "The Bonnie House o'
Airly " relates how the Lady Margaret's dowry or treasure was found by the
Marquis of Argyll's men, hidden about the bowling-green.
They sought it up, they sought it down, They sought
it late and early, And found it in the bonnie balm-tree That shines on
the bowling-green o' Airly.
But a weird tradition of the Second Sight, noted in
Wodrow's Analecta, tells how Argyll afterwards got a fore-warning of his
fate under the axe of the "Scottish Maiden," while he was engaged in a game
of bowls with some gentlemen of his clan. "One of the players, when the
Marquis stooped down to lift the bullet (bowl), fell pale, and said to them
about him, Bless me what is that I see? My Lord with the head off, and all
his shoulders full of blood."
Dr. Thomas Somerville of Jedburgh, in his retrospect of
the social state of Scotland during the earlier period of his lifetime,
beginning with 1741, says: "Many of our national games, as handball,
football, golf and curling, though not discontinued, are less generally
practised than when I was a young man. Bowls were then a common amusement.
Every country town was provided with a public bowling-green for the
diversion of the inhabitants in the summer evenings. All classes were
represented among the players, and it was usual for players of different
ranks to take part in the same game. A bowling- green usually formed part of
the policy or pleasure grounds of country houses. At these private
bowling-greens ladies also shared in the amusement, thus rendering it
greatly more attractive."
Much interesting matter might be adduced respecting the
public Bowling Greens of the Scottish cities and towns, beginning with the
capital, many of whose douce folk were often seen (by Allan Ramsay)
Wysing a.jee The byas bowls on Tamson's green.
But our space is diminishing fast, and we shall content
ourselves with a few curious notices of the management of the old Bowling
Green at Cowan's Hospital, in Stirling.
The Town Council of Stirling, with the minister of the
First Charge, are the patrons or managers of Cowan's Hospital, one of the
charitable institutions of the town. On 16th January, 1738, "the patrons
considering a petition given in by several of the merchants, trades, and
other inhabitants, showing the badness of the Bowling Green, and craving the
same might be laid with salt fail], they therefore appoint the masters" of
the hospital "to cause William Dawson, gardener, and keeper of the said
Green, to lay the same with salt fail] as soon as possible, the expense
thereof not exceeding the sum of £10 sterling." In March, next year, the
expense of the improvements was found to be £138 4s. Scots, or £11 16s. 8d.
Sterling; and the patrons ordered "the bowl meal (mail, or charge) to be
augmented to one shilling Scots (a penny, Sterling) from each person
playing." On March 22, 1740, "the patrons appoint the master to provide
half-a-dozen pair of byass bowls to the Bowling Green, and to cause make a
sufficient lodge for the bowls in a proper part of the garden." The bowls
seem to have served for fourteen years, as on 6th April, 1754, "the patrons
appoint the master to provide six pair of new bowls and an odd one for the
use of the Hospital Bowling Green, a great many of those already there being
almost useless." Again, on 5th February, 1763, eight pairs of good byass
bowls and two jacks were ordered to be purchased for the use of the Green.
The price was £3 6s. 10d. Sterling, paid to Robert Home, merchant in
Improvements in the management of the Green became
imperatively necessary in 1777. On May, that year, the managers considering
that of late great complaints have been made to them that the hospital
Green, flower garden, and back walk are not kept in the same good order and
condition which they used to be in: that people are allowed without
distinction not only to make a thoroughfare of the garden, but also to use
the Bowling Green contrary to the original intention thereof; they therefore
authorise the Hospital master to give orders to the keeper of the said Green
with regard to the proper management and regulation thereof, so as that
improper persons may be prevented from taking up the Green and appoint the
said keeper to obey the orders that may be given him from time to time by
the Hospital master thereanent, at his peril; and authorize the Hospital
master to cause build a small brick house for holding the bowls, in such
convenient situation as may be pointed out by the managers." Still there was
dissatisfaction, and on 5th July, 1779, the magistrates framed a set of
Regulations for the Keeper of the hospital Green, etc., the following being
the principal :-"Not to suffer boys and others to make a common thoroughfare
of the garden and terraces, but to keel) the garden doors lockt, and to give
attendance to let decent people, as well strangers as town's folk, pass
through them. To await regularly on the Bowling Green, to allow none but
decent people to play at bowls, and no children or servant-maids, etc., to
walk on the Green."
As a quiet and healthful recreation, particularly for
sedentary persons and those who cannot join in sports requiring a great
exertion of physical strength, the game of bowls, we are glad to observe,
has of late years been extending in many quarters.
II.—RIDING AT THE RING, AND RUNNING AT THE
Riding or Tilling at the Ring, and Running at the Glove,
were favouritc pastimes of the days of chivalry. We read in the old Scottish
He was a braw gallant, And he rid at the ring; And
the bonnie Earl of Murray, Oh he might ha'e been a king.
He was a braw gallant, And he play'd at the ba';
And the bonnie Earl of Murray Was the flower amang them a'.
He was a braw gallant, And he play'd at the glove
And the bonnie Earl of Murray, Oh he was the Queen's luve.
Tilting at the Ring consisted in mounted competitors
galloping singly, spear in hand, towards a ring which was suspended by a
spring in a sheath affixed to a transverse beam oil pole, at a slight
elevation above their heads, and endeavouring to bring off the ring on point
of the spear—three courses in succession being allowed each competitor to
accomplish the feat.
James VI., in his Basilikon, bids his son "specially use
such games on horseback, as may teach you to handle your arms thereon ; such
as the tilt, the ring, and low- riding for handling of your sword."
Up to about the end of last century, Tilting at the Ring
was a favourite sport of the different Societies of Scottish Chapmen, at
their annual gatherings for the election of office-bearers. It is said that
a right to engage in this game was granted by James I. to the Chapmen of
Stirling; and "a tilting lance used at the Chap- men's Sports during the
reign of James V., is pre- served in the armoury of Stirling Castle." The
Minutes of the Guildry of Stirling show that in 1707 the Incorporation
resolved to "cause make ane gold ring to be ridden for at the Ring," on the
occasion of a local fair, " by the Dean of Guild, Treasurer, and twelve
Guild brethren, whom the Dean of Guild and Magistrates shall name, and any
strangers who shall think fit to ride thereat; and recommends to the Dean of
Guild and Treasurer to put what motto shall be most proper oil said ring."
Nearly fifty years afterwards, in 1751, the Guildry ordered the ring, or an
equivalent of 20s., to be given to the Chapmen, "and yearly thereafter
during the Guildiy's pleasure." This grant continued to be given till 1768,
when the Guildry "instead of paying the Chapman 20s. sterling for a Ring for
their Race, allow them to collect the Wax-meall (dues on Bees-wax) payable
by the several Chapmen, etc., for having the benefit of the Market, and to
apply the same for buying a Ring." Next year, however, the Guildry ordered
the Treasurer to pay the Chapmen whatever was deficient of 20S. in the
amount of the wax-duty. This arrangement lasted till 1778, when the Guildry
reverted to the original "complement of 20s. for a Ring to the Chapmen,"
which appears in the Minutes up till 1784. The Chapmen themselves, in 1793,
resolved to have a I lorse Race instead of Ring-riding, and directed "an
application for getting from the Guildry the 2os. which was formerly given
for a Ring-race to be applied towards a horse Race." But in 1800 the
Stirling Chap- men changed themselves into a mere Friendly Society, having
nothing more to do with Ring or Horse races.
In our own day, Tilting at the Ring has held place among
popular games in some districts of Scotland, such as in the sports of the
town of Lanark's festival called "Lammer Day." A Lanarkshire gentleman,
writing to a London paper in June 1874, states that every year at Carnwath,
on the estate of the Lockharts of Lee (the ancient house possessing the Lee
l'enny), a foot-race is run for "a pair of red hose" given by the Lee
family, and the legend is that they hold their lands under a Charter which
enjoins this being done annually. At this meeting, Tilting at the Ring has
been carried on for a very lengthened period, the prize being a gold ring,
given by the Lady Lockhart of the day. A competition of the same kinJ took
place, with stiff hurdles on both sides of the transverse beam and ring
within the Hamilton Palace policy grounds. The public were admitted, and
large crowds attended. In 1873 a public competition was held at Hamilton,
several of the officers of the 1st Royal Dragoons, quartered at Hamilton,
competing along with a large number of other gentlemen. The writer adds—"As
to private competitions among friends, I have witnessed hundreds of them;
and, while tilting on level ground without hurdles is sometimes practised,
it is considered poor fun without a ' lep' on each side, the hurdles being
generally 3 ft. 3 in. to 3 ft. 6 in. high, at fifteen yards distance from
the transverse beam on each side, and the ring has to be taken off and
carried on the lance over the second hurdle." Another correspondent holds
that this pastime "far excels in manly skill and horsemanship the now famous
game of Polo."
When a glove was substituted for the ring, the sport was
called Running at the Glove. The substitution was in this way : the glove,
instead of being suspended in the air, was laid on the ground, and the art
of the sport was for a cavalier riding past at the gallop to pick it up on
the point of his lance.
Dr. Magnus and Roger Ratcliffe, the English envoys at
the Scottish Court during the minority of James V., wrote to Cardinal Wolsey
on 15th November, 1524, when James was but a boy of thirteen: "The Queen's
said grace hath had us furth to solace with the King's grace here, at Leith
and in the fields, and to see his said grace stir his horses, and run with a
spear, amongst other his lords and servants, at a glove."
Robert Armin, in his Nest of Ninnies, 16oS (reprinted by
the Shakespeare Society in 1842), has a jocular story about Jemmy Camber, a
royal fool, riding at the glove, on a mule, in "an even plain grass meadow"
betwixt Edinburgh and Leith.
In the account of expenses of the festivities on the
marriage of Francis, Earl of Buccleugh, and Lady Margaret Leslie, in July
and October, 1646 (among the Rothes Papers), is an entry: For 3 dozen of
spears for running at the glove, £24.
Caitch-ball (a variety of tennis) is a very old Scottish
game, consisting in the striking of a leather-covered ball against a high
wall, with the hand, and after it rebounds, falls to the ground, and rises,
striking it back again. That it was played with the hand is shown in a
poetical bundle of impossibilities, called "Woman's Truth," preserved in the
Ane handless man I saw but dried In caichpule last
The "caichpule " was the court or place in which the
game was played.
The game frequently appears in the Lord High Treasurer's
Accounts in the time of James IV. The following sums were paid to the King,
"to play at the each," while he was in Stirling: 1496, May, £6 10s., and
June, £2 14s.; 1497, September, £2 14s. 1498, April, £5 and May, £18. James
VI., in his Basilikon, recommends "playing at the caitch or tennis."
The Kiles were what are now called Skittles or Ninepins.
Struitt says: "Kayles, written also cayles and Kyles, derived from the
French word quilles, was played with pins, and no doubt gave origin to the
modern game of nine-pins; though primitively the kayle-pins do not appear to
have been confined to any certain number;" and he gives instances of six and
eight pins being used. The arrangement of the kayle-pins differs greatly
from that of the nine-pins, the latter being placed upon a square frame in
three rows, and the former in one row only." There was a variety of the game
called club-kayles, in which a stick was thrown at them.
James IV. sometimes played at the Kiles. After the
Reformation, the game was another cause of Sabbath desecration. In the
minutes of the Kirk-Session of Perth, under date of 6th October, 1589, we
read that "as at the playing of the Kylles in the North and South Inches,
the Sabbath is broken and God's holy name profaned," the Session "ordains
the hailies to break them, and note their names that play at them, and give
them in to the Assembly ilk Monday, that they may be punished."
;-icket is of English origin, and was only introduced at
a comparatively recent period into Scotland, where it has become thoroughly
naturalized. In its origin, it was probably an offshoot from the old pastime
of club-ball, which was played in England as early as in the thirteenth or
fourteenth centuries but when cricket first became a distinct game has not
been decided. The scholars of the Free School at Guildford played cricket in
the reign of Queen Elizabeth—this being the earliest mention of the game by
its modern name, though it seems to have existed long before under another
See where the school-boy, once again dismiss'd,
Feels all the bliss of liberty, and drives The speedy hour away at the
brisk games Of social cricket. It delights me much To see him run,
run, and hear the cheerful shout Sent up for victory. I cannot tell
What rare effect the mingled sound may yield Of huntsmen, hounds, and
horns to firmer hearts Which never feel a pain for flying puss To me
it gives a pleasure far more sweet To hear the cry of infant jubilee
Exulting thus. Here all is innocent, And free from pain.
Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, notices cricket in
1685. One of the songs—"Of a noble race was Shenkin" - —in Tom D'Urfey's
Pill's to Purge Melancholy, commences thus—
Her was the prettiest fellow At football or at
Pope and Swift both allude to the game. It was played at
Eton in Horace Walpole's younger days. The British Champion of 8th
September, 1743, published an article on "Publick Cricket Matches," from
which it appears that "noblemen, gentlemen, and clergymen" were then, as
now, in the habit of joining with their social inferiors in playing the
game; that notices of the matches were given by advertisement in the
newspapers, and that large num- bers of people flocked to behold them. The
game afforded an anonymous poet in the Gentleman's Magazine for October,
1756, occasion "to point a moral":
THE GAME OF CRICKET
An Exercise a! Merchant Taylors' School,
Peace rind her arts we sing—her genial power Can
give the breast to pant, the thought to tower, Tho' guiltless, not
inglorious souls inspires, And boasts less savage, not less noble tires.
Stich is her sway, when Cricket calls her train, The tons of labour,
to the accustom'd plain, With all the hero's passion and desire, They
swell, the)' glow, they envy, and admire; Despair and resolution reign
by turns Suspense torments, and emulation burns. See in due rank
dispos'd, intent they stand, In act to start—the eye, the foot, the
hand, Still active, eager, seem conjoin's in one One Tho' list, all
moving, and while present gone. In ancient combat, Irons the Parthian
steed, Not more unerring flew the barbesl reed Than rolls the ball,
with varied vigour played, Now levell'd, whizzing o'er the
springing blade, Now toss'd to rise more fatal front the ground,
Exact and faithful to th' appointed bound, Yet vain its speed, yet vain
its certain aim The wary batsman watches o'er the game Before his
stroke the leathern circle flies, Now wheels oblique, now mounting
threats the skies. Nor yet less vain the wary batsman's blow, If
intercepted by the encircling foe, Too soon the nimble arm retorts the
ball, Or ready fingers catch it in its fall Thus various art with
varied fortune strives, And with each changing chance the sport revives.
Emblem of many colour'd life—tire Stale By Cricket-rules
discriminates the great The outward side, who place and profit want,
Watch to surprise, and labour to supplant While those who taste the
sweets of present winnings Labour as heartily to keep their innings.
On either side the whole great game is play'd, Untried no shift is left,
unsought no aid Skill vies with skill, and pow'r contends with pow'r,
And squint-eyed prejudice computes the score. In private life, like
single-handed players, We get less notches, but we meet less cares.
Full many a lusty effort, which at court Would fix the doubtful issue of
the sport, Wide of its mark, or impotent to rise, Ruins the rash, or
disappoints the wise. Vet all in public and in private strive To
keep the ball of action still alive, And just to all, when each his
ground has run, Death tips the wicket, and the game is done.
The main point with which we have to deal is the precise
period when cricket was introduced into Scotland.
Several towns claim the precedency. It is stated that
the game was played on Glasgow Green in 1817 and 1818; and that a club was
instituted at Greenock in 1823. The Grange Club of Edinburgh dates from
1832. Perth, however, can put in a prior claim.
The Perth Cricket Club was formed in 1827; but cricket
had been played on the North Inch fifteen years earlier. In 1812, the
cavalry stationed in the Perth Barracks were in the habit of playing cricket
on the Inch and at that time the boys of a public school formed themselves
into a club, and pursued the game on the same ground.
It would thus appear that the "Fair City" has a good
claim to be called the cradle of Scottish cricket, or, as the cricketer's
Annual (No. 2, P. 28) phrases it, "the birthplace of cricket in Scotland."
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.