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Sports and Pastimes of Scotland
Chapter VIII. The Revels of Fastren's E'En


First comes Candlemas,
And then the new moon,
And the first Tuesday after that
Is Fastren's E'en.

Old Rhyme.

The British carnival in days of yore was called Fastren's E'en, or Fasten's E'en, in Scotland, and Shrove-tide, or Shrove Tuesday, in England: its particular day being regulated by that on which Easter might fall, according to the rule that Shrove-tide must be the seventh Tuesday before Easter. From what derivation the name Fastren's E'en proceeded is doubtful: it may have meant the day before, or eve of the Fast of Lent, or again, the Feast of the martyr-brothers, SS. Faustinius and Jovita, of Brescia, who suffered for the faith by being beheaded in their native city, circa 121, under the Roman Emperor Adrian. But it signifies little what was the exact origin of the Scottish designation of Shrove-tide we know that in the centuries before the Reformation, Fastren's E'en was a holiday of roystering revelry and disport, as the people having shriven or confessed themselves and obtained absolution for their sins, plunged into excess of good cheer and frolic during the few hours which intervened ere the morrow, Ash Wednesday, ushered in the period of abstinence and austerity.

Although certainly not inducing in any degree the riotous merriment and pastime of the day, yet there was ever something in the natural season itself tending to inspire lightness and gaiety of heart at Fastren's E'en. For then the reign of surly \Vinter" is over : and though the gloomy king, mantled with mist and cloud, and wearing his icicled diadem, still lingers on the northern mountain tops, whence in oft-recurring gusts of rage he casts forth his tempests, yet in his lost domains young Spring has assumed the supremacy, and is breathing life into the clods of the valley, and calling to resurrection the bright and beautiful floral children of the Earth. Already the Fair Maid of February, Emblem of Purity, the Snowdrop, smiles in her simple charms on the bleak waste. Now awakes an eager chorus from the leafless groves: the buds are red on the hedges: and winged atoms are dancing in the genial air of noon, when the West wind comes across the naked leas with a sough of summer. And hearken to the voices of the waters I Freed of their fetters, which broke and dissolved away at Spring's magic touch, the rivers, swelling from bank to brae, roll along in their majesty, with a tumultuous exultant roar like drunken laughter, tossing on their bosoms the wrecks of flooded haughs. Every woodland brook is full to the brim, and the hill-burns brawl down furiously to the plains. Diffused abroad seems a deep sense of relief—of emancipation. Storms may burst; the gathered clouds may pour their deluges; and the snow-drift may darken the day but a rejuvenating spirit is at work, and will quickly restore universal Nature to her pristine freshness and loveliness. Foliage will clothe the naked boughs, and rustle joyously in the breezes ; the woods will ring with melody; the flowers will bespangle the meads. Yet all will not be restored. There are vanished treasures of the past which not even the power of Spring can bring back to gladden the heart, and which live only in fond remembrance and unavailing regret.

Nought of the pure influences of the season could have moved the feelings which found delight in the coarse festivity, the barbarous sports, and the Bacchanalian madness of Fastren's E'en. "The common people," says Sir Walter Scott, describing, in the Fair il/aid of Perth, the festival as it was held in Perth, when Robert III. was King, "had, throughout the day, toiled and struggled at football ; the nobles and gentry had fought cocks, and hearkened to the wanton music of the minstrel; while the citizens had gorged themselves upon pancakes fried in lard, and brose, or brewis—the fat broth, that is, in which salted beef had been boiled, poured upon highly-toasted oatmeal, a dish which even now is not ungrateful to simple, old-fashioned Scottish palates. These were all exercises and festive dishes proper to the holiday. It was no less a solemnity of the evening, that the devout Catholic should drink as much good ale and wine as he had means to procure; and, if young and able, that he should dance at the ring, or figure among the morrice-dancers, who in the city of Perth, as elsewhere, wore a peculiarly fantastic garb, and distinguished themselves by their address and activity." At the Court of James IV. the festival was celebrated with Guizing (masking), Morris-dancing, and Tourneying, as abundantly shewn by the Lord high Treasurer's Accounts.

When the Reformation triumphed in Scotland this holiday, was, of course, abolished along with the other festivals of the Romish Church. But in some of its fashions and pastimes, Fastren's E'en lived on, notwithstanding the ban of the Kirk. Among the characteristic sports of Shrove-tide, both in England and Scotland, cock-fighting was in high esteem; and it seems to have been anciently common in English schools. The writer, Fitz-stephen, who died in u91, speaking of the amusements of London, says that "yearly at Shrove-tide the boys of every school bring fighting-cocks to their masters, and all the forenoon is spent at school to see these cocks fight together." Doubtless the like practice obtained in Scottish schools long before the Reformation, and probably was kept up here and there till the era of the Covenant, when it must have been totally suppressed ; for at the Restoration it was ostentatiously "revived," to the great satisfaction of the Cavaliers. Referring to the Fastren's E'en of 1661, the Afercurius Cilcdonius of Edinburgh records that "our carnival sports are in some measure revived, for, according to the ancient custom, the work was carried on by cock-fighting in the schools, and in the streets, among the vulgar sort, tilting at cocks with fagot-sticks." It may be presumed that the example spread over the country. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the science of cock-fighting was popular among certain classes of the citizens of Edinburgh. In 1702 a cockpit was opened at Leith Links, the prices of admission being 10d. to the front row, 7d. to the second row, and 4d. to the third; and speedily, says Arnot, in his History of Edinburgh, "the passion for cock-fighting was so general among all ranks of the people, that the magistrates" of the city "discharged its being practised on the streets, on account of the disturbances it occasioned." In 1705 Mr. William Macbrie, residing in Edinburgh, who had been teaching "the severe and serious, but necessary exercise of the sword,' turned his attention to the despicable sport then come into favour, and which he called "as much an art as the managing of horses for races or for the held of battle," and published an Essay on the subject. Ile extolled the cruel diversion to the skies, and earnestly wished that "village may be engaged against village, city against city, kingdom against kingdom, nay, the father against the son, until all the wars in Europe, wherein so much Christian blood is spilt, be turned into the innocent pastime" of which he was treating. Edinburgh continued to patronise the sport for some time ; but at length the taste turned, and before the middle of the century, cockfighting had died out as one of the public amusements of the capital. After a lapse of years, however, it came again into repute, though happily not for any lengthened period. The following notes occur in the "Comparative View of Edinburgh in 1763, 1783, and 1793," drawn up by Provost Creech, and inserted in his Fugitive Pieces:

In 1763—There was no such diversion as public cock-fighting in Edinburgh.
ln 1783—There were many public cock-fighting matches or mains, as they are technically termed; and a regular cockpit was built for the accommodation of this school of gambling and cruelty, where every distinction uf rank and character is levelled.
In 1790—The cockpit continued to he frequented.

But, strangest of all, throughout the eighteenth century, from its opening to its close, the savage diversion was in full swing, as an established institution, in most of the schools in Scotland. Whenever Fastren's E'en came round, the schools were transformed into cockpits, and in various cases the sport was also indulged in at Candlemas. The boys brought the combatants, and the whole day was devoted to the sport. The masters profited by it. Dues of 2d. or so were paid them for each bird introduced and besides, the killed birds, and also the fugies, namely, those who proved craven, became their perquisites Sometimes the boys were treated to drink at the close of the proceedings ! Indeed, in poor parishes, these dues and perquisites were accounted as part of the stated salary of the teacher. Thus, the Rev. John M'Queen, minister of Applecross, Ross-shire, says, in his Statistical Account of that parish, published in 1792, that "the schoolmaster's salary is 200 marks Scotch; he hath no perquisites, but the quarter payments of 1s. 6d. for English scholars, and 2s. 6d. for Latin and arithmetic; and the cock-fight dues, which are equal to one quarter's payment for each scholar." Sir James Macintosh, when at Fortrose School in 1776-77, had this entry in his bill "To cock-fight dues for 2 years, 2s. 6d. each, 5s." And such rude diversions did not altogether cease at the end Of last century, but were practised in different districts for years afterwards. The editions of Hayle's Games of the period included a "Treatise on Game Cocks," with rules and calculations for the fight.

Football and other ball games were prominent amongst the popular amusements of Fastren's E'en. An annual ball-match, on that festival, was held at Scone, between the married men and the bachelors, which gave rise to the old saying—"A's fair at the ba' o' Scone." It is said that this contest had its origin in the chivalric ages.

"An Italian," as the story goes, in the Statistical Account of that parish, 1796, "came into this part of the country, challenging all the parishes, under a certain penalty in case of declining his challenge." Every one of the parishes "declined the challenge excepting Scone, which beat the foreigner; and in commemoration of this gallant action the game was instituted," to be played yearly on Shrove Tuesday. The competitors ranged their sides at the old market cross of the village. "A ball was then thrown up, and they played from two o'clock to sunset. The game was this. He who at any time got the ball into his hands, ran with it till overtaken by one of the opposite party, and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, lie ran on : if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party ; but no person was allowed to kick it. The object of the married men was to hang it, i.e., to put it three times into a small hole in the moor, the dool or limit on the one hand; that of the bachelors was to drown it, i.e., to dip it three times into a deep place in the river, the limit on the other. The party who could effect either of these objects won the game. But if neither party won, the ball was cut into two equal parts at sunset." It is added that "whilst the custom continued, every man in the parish, the gentry not excepted, was obliged to turn out and support the side to which he belonged ; and the person who neglected to do his part on that occasion was fined; but the custom being attended with certain inconveniencies, was abolished a few years" previous to 1796. The Fastren's E'en football match at Fisherrow, in the Lothian parish of Inveresk, was between the married and unmarried fish-women, and it is recorded that " the former were always victorious." A rural poet, David Anderson, the Apprentice Coppersmith, who published his Scottish Village at Aberdeen, in 1808, has a sketch of how the holiday was spent among the country-folks on the banks of the Don :-

Now Fastens Even comes, sweet rural night,
Life's sweet reviver, and sweet Springs delight.
Blythe ev'ry peasant hails its joyful morn,
But more for night their gladden'd souls do burn.

The twilight now close on the back of noon
Comes jovial in, attended by the moon
Then forth the Gamesters' equal parties draw,
To worst each other, driving balls of straw,

Then to the field, the ball with fury spurns,
All crowding strive, the battle warmly hums
On either side, the eager contest's fir'd,
And each to win the glorious game's inspir'd.
Now scattering whiles, they rage, and run, and push,
Now in a group, fast madd'ning on they rush,
While down the field one party victors go,
Now driven back by some unlucky blow,
Calm whiles it sinks, but loud again begins,
Now warms their blood, then spurns each other's shins.
Till equal games upon each other get,
Then to some dance off cheerfully they set.

On the Border, ball-play on Fastren's E'en has been an old custom. At Hawick, as related in Robert Wilson's JJisto;y of that burgh, "a football was played annually on Fastren's Eve within the town," up to about the year 1769, "the inhabitants who lived on the West Side of the water of Slitrig being matched against those who resided on the East Side of it. This amusement had a bad tendency in keeping up, and promoting, a species of war or fighting that had been carried on, time out of mind, between the people (principally boys) of East and West divisions of the town. This feud, in which the boys below sixteen years of age were the chief combatants, was fostered by their seniors and even parents and masters have been known to encourage their apprentices and children to join in the scene of contention. The youngsters of that period, too, formed themselves into regiments had drums, standards, and halberds, and were armed also with stones, clubs, and even swords. These battles were sometimes carried to such a height, that adults were induced to mingle in them. This warlike propensity was fiercest for two or three weeks before and after the playing of the ball on Fastren's-eve."

At Jedburgh and Dunse the yearly ball-play has been kept up to our own times. At Jedburgh the game was originally football, and was pursued along the streets of the town, until the Town Council formally prohibited the sport by the following Minute, dated i ith March, 1704:

The Council, having duly considered that the tossing and throwing of the football at Fastringe's Evin, within the streets of the burgh, has many times tended to the great prejudice of the inhabitants (who now all call for a discharge thereof), there having been sometimes both old and young near lost their lives thereby: therefore they, with all unanimous advice and consent, discharge the same now and in all time coming, as also the ringing of the watch-bell at that time, with certification of one hundred pounds Scots to all contraveners, besides what are contained in the Acts of Parliament of King James the Sixth and his successors relating thereto, and discharging the same.

After this prohibition, the hand-ball was substituted, and the new play took the place of the old.

But "Dunse dings a'! " In the case of this burgh we have a graphic account of its ball-game in the Transactions of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, and thence transferred to the pages of the Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions, etc., for 22nd January 1848, from which we now extract it in extenso:

THE GAME OF BALL, AS PLAYED AT DUNCE ON FASTERN'S EVE.
By Mr. Thomas Brown.

As one object of this Club is to examine the antiquities of l3erwickshirc, a brief notice of the above game may not be unacceptable. Though still kept up, the interest taken in it has greatly decreased, and it may not improbably disappear ere long. It is not so much, therefore, from its present state that a complete description is to be drawn, as from the recollections of the oldest inhabitants. I have only to regret that the details here presented are not more complete.

Fasterns Eve, or, as it is here called, Fastern's E'en, was once almost, if not altogether, a holiday to the inhabitants of Dunse. As in many other parishes, cock-fighting was the principal amusement during the forenoon, and, at one period, it seems to have been in high estimation. The parish school, which was set apart for it, is described as having been sometimes crowded to the door, and the fees collected on the occasion formed a perc1uisitc of some value. It is certainly to the honour of the present generation that this practice has disappeared.

The amusements of the afternoon are both more peculiar and inviting. The game is ball, played in a manner which, if not peculiar to Dunse, is at least not common. Preparations for it used to begin nearly a week before. Three young men were chosen to conduct them, and were called "ba'-nien." They met on the Wednesday of the preceding week, to hold, along with their friends, the shaping of the ball, when they paraded the town, accompanied by a drum and fiddle, playing the tune:

Never let the grace go doon,
For the gude o' our toon.

In this style they called at the houses of the more respectable inhabitants, danced with the servants, and received contributions.

Till the day itself arrived, their only duties were to collect these contributions and prepare the balls. Three are required for the game, but four are always prepared. The family at Dense Castle have so liberally supported the practice that it has been customary to leave there one of the balls, which, it is said, are preserved. Of those played with the first is gilt, and called the ''olden ball " the second, from its colour, is called the 'silver ball ' the third is spotted.

About eleven o'clock in the forenoon the honour of throwing oil the ball was at one time exposed to auction in the churchyard over one of the tombstones. The arrangement of the working classes in Dunse, tinder the different trades, was at that time more complete than at present and it was it subject of considerable competition among them who should have the honour of throwing up the ball. My informant states it, as a very early recollection, that the whip-men (carters) bought it for fifteen shillings—a suns which, making allowance for the difference of the value of money, shews the estimation in which it was held. The children of the Drummelzie family, or of the more respectable families in Dense itself, have of late enjoyed the honour, but it has not unfrequently been left to the ball-men themselves.

It was from the top of a small building that stood close to the old Town-house that the bail was usually thrown. Since that was taken down, it is simply from the street. About one o'clock the shops are shut, the golden hail is thrown off, and the game begins. -

The opposing parties are the married and unmarried men. Their object is not to kick the ball, but to snatch it up and carry it off. This, however, is exceedingly difficult. It is thrown into the middle of the crowd, and whoever happens to gain it, is sure that hundreds will rush on him from every point. The scenes to which this leads are, as may be supposed, exceedingly varied and amusing. Al one time the crowd is rolled together in a mass, every individual in which is making the greatest exertions to gain or retain the ball. And should the possessor of it be able to escape or to throw it to any distance, the rush which is made, and the eager pursuit, exhibit a very animated sight. The game of the married men is to carry the ball into the church, the doors of which are set open on the occasion. The unmarried men endeavour to reach any null in the parish, and put the hall into the hopper.

The Contests, though conducted in good humour, are usually very determined, and when the game was in higher estimation than at present, it is said that accidents sometimes happened front the pressure of the crowd.

Though the unmarried men might carry the ball to any distance in the parish, they generally endeavour to reach Clock-mill, about half-a-mile to the west of Dunse. It was once customary, therefore, for a party of their opponents to be stationed before it, and many a hard contest took place there. The parties, however, scarcely met on equal terms. The young men, spent with previous exertion, were no match for these fresh opponents, and it not unfrequently entimt in their being plunged in in the mill-lade. If, however, in spite of all opposition, the mill-hopper was fairly reached, the game was won. And then cane the honours. The miller entertained them with pork and dzemplins and, what was of far more importance, dusted them, especially their hats, with flour. Like the laurel wreaths of other regions, this marked them out for the gaze of their fellow -townsmen.

In this way the three balls are played for successively. The person who succeeds in kirking or in milling—such are the phrases—the first or golden ball, receives front the ball-men a reward of 1/6, for the second 1/-, and for the third 6d.

I have no means of ascertaining the antiquity of this practice. The oldest inhabitant tells its that, ever since they recollect, it has been falling off. It scents, indeed, at one time to have been engaged in with much greater spirit. Whoever did not play was marked, and the inhabitants not unusually assembled next day to inflict punishment. They dragged him forth—carried hint down to the Cross, and, as is said, knocked him against it. When one thinks of the population, leaving for one day their laborious occupations, and entering with spirit into the excitement of this game, he would be a stern moralist who would forbid them the enjoyment. But every picture has its darker shades. The evening was generally spent in (lancing and drinking. It was remarked, too, that if any private quarrels had arisen, they were one way or other settled and set at rest on Fastern's E'en.

We see that this play closely resembled the "B )a' o' Scone," and has survived it to the present day.

The fashion in which the time-honoured festival was celebrated in Kilmarnock, has been delineated by a poetical son of "auld Killie," John Ramsay, in his Woodnotes of a Wanderer (1848). Holiday was held in the town. The performances began with the "water-warks," or fire engine, being brought into the streets and set to play at random.

Jock Stewart took a pipe's comman',
Though for his neck 'twas risky,
And dealt it roust' wi heavy han'-
Yore sure it wasna whisky.
For, had it been, he wad, I ween,
Ta'en rather better care o't
Nor by his drouth, to ony mouth
Hae had ae chap to spare o't-
On that same day.

Out owre the heighest house's tap
He sent the torrents scrievin';
The curious crowd aye nearer crap
To see sic feats achievin'.
But scarcely had they thickened wed,
And got in trim for sinilin',
When round the pipe gaed like an eel,
And made a pretty skailin'
'Mang theist that day.

Now here, now there, he took his mark—
Now down, now up, he liftit
And droukit some unto the sark
That hadna -me to shift it.
And aye the callants were as keen
To stan' and get a blatter,
As they had Roman Catholics been,
And it a' holy water
That fell that day.

When the populace had sufficiently enjoyed these ablutions, they matched in procession, headed by the Town Councillors, with halberdier and drummer, to the outskirts of the burgh, where foot-races were run for suitable prizes. Such was "auld Killie's" Fastren's E'en in the early years of this century. During last century, the members of the Weaver Incorporation of Perth (a very numerous body) kept Fastren's E'en by partahing of cogs of fat brose in the morning, and assembling at night-fall in the public-house of one of their tenants, where they regaled themselves for hours with the strong and heady "twopenny" ale which he brewed. In such and similar festivities, the Incorporation, it is recorded, "guzzled away their funds."

Finally, in regard to Ball-play, we may add that Colonel Forbes Leslie, in his Early Races of Scotland (Vol. I., p. 125), is of opinion that "the playing ball was not originally foot-ball, for no one was allowed to kick it."


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