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Old Scottish Customs
Chapter VII

Customs connected with St. Filan’s Well—Scottish Custom regarding May Dew—St. Serf a festival at Culross—Palm Sunday held at Lanark—Riding the Marches at Lanark—Killing a Sheep at Lanark Old Custom at Kelso—The King’s Kase at Ayr— Burning the Chaff after death—Creeling the Bridegroom in Berwickshire—Marriage customs and Superstitions in Invernesshire—Ancient customs at Carluke—Scottish funeral customs—Horse-Racing in Scotland—Farmer’s Parade in Ayrshire—Shooting for the Siller Gun at Dumfries.


ST. FILLAN’S well, like some others, was long believed to cure insanity, and the luckless sufferers received very rough handling to effect this, being thrown from a high rock down into the well, and then locked up for the night in the ruined chapel. On the witch elm that shades St. Fillan’s spring, were hung the gay rags and scraps of ribbon wherein the saint was supposed to find delight—the average of two hundred patients were annually brought to this well. A very important feature in the ceremonial of St. Fillan’s, Struthill, and other wells where lunatics were cured, is, that after their bath in the holy fountain and their surmise processions, they were tied to a pillar supposed to be far more ancient than the Christian church wherein it stood. If next morning the patients were found loose the cure was esteemed perfect and thanks returned to the Saint. To this well the country women used to carry their weak and delicate children, and bathe them in the water, leaving some pieces of cloth hanging on the neighbouring bushes as a present or offering to Celia Fillan the tutular saint of the parish. This custom was preserved until the middle of last century, when by the ministers command the well was filled up with stones.


Early on the morning of the first of May, young people used to go in parties to the fields to gather May Dew; to which some ascribed a happy influence and others a sort of medical virtue. Fair maidens might be seen tripping through the meadows before sun-rise, having been told by their elders “ that if they got up in time to wash their faces with dew before the sun appeared they would have fine complexions for the remainder of the year.”


St. Serf was considered as the tutelar saint of Culross (this place was at one time famous for its girdles) in honour of whom there was an annual procession on his day, viz. 1st July, early in the morning of which all the Inhabitants, men and women, young and old, assembled and carried green branches through the town, decking the public places with flowers. The remainder of the day was devoted to festivity.


In the latest statistical History of Scotland, it is stated, that until the last thirty years Palm Sunday—probably the eve of that festival, was observed as a holiday at the Grammar School; and the scholar who presented the master with the largest candle-mass offering, was appointed king and walked in procession with his life-guards and sergeants. The palm or its substitute, a large tree of the willow kind decked with a profusion of daffodils was carried before him; also a handsome embroidered flag, the gift of a lady residing in the town to the boys. The day finished ofl with a ball.

Another ancient custom, already described in connection with this place, was the Riding of the Marches on the Lammas or Landsmerk day. All persons who attended for the first time were ducked in the river Ususs, in the channel of which one of the march-stones is placed; and horse and fast races for a pair of spurs take place upon the moor. The burgh of Lanark from a very early date possessed an extensive and valuable piece of land in the neighbourhood, which in the old charters is designated territorum burgh and it was the duty of the magistrates, burgesses, and freemen to perambulate the march of their territory, after which a report was drawn up stating that the March stones had been found in their ancient position ; this was signed by the witnesses, magistrates, and transmitted to the Exchequer. This custom is still kept up, although many modern innovations have crept into the ceremony. The Court who carries the Standard on the occasions of the processions, undoubtedly represents the person who, when the burgesses formed an important part of the armies of our earlier monarchs, was entrusted with the Banner of the burgh. This custom is of Saxon origin, and was in all probability instituted here in or subsequent to the reign of Malcolm I.

Mr. Chambers, in his “Popular Rhymes of Scotland,” gives the following amusing account of Lanark in the olden time. It is reported that the burgh of Lanark was in former days so poor, that the single flasher, of the town, who also exercised, the calling of a weaver, in order to employ his spare time, would never dream of killing a sheep until he had received orders for the entire animal beforehand. Era commencing the work of slaughter he would call on the minister, the Provost, and the town council, and prevail upon them to take shares. But if no purchaser appeared for the fourth quarter, the sheep received a respite until such could be found. The bellman, or shallyman, as he is called there, used to parade the streets of Lanark shouting aloud the following advertisement:—

There’s a fat sheep to killI
A leg for the Provost
And one for the priest.
The Baillies and Deacons
They’ll take the neist;
And if the fourth leg we cannot sell
The sheep it maim leeve and gae back
Tae the hill.


Of the old Border games, foot-ball is the only one which is kept up with any degree of spirit. It was a long established practice for the Hector of the Grammar school and the other teachers in the town of Kelso to present “the king,” that is the boy who made the. most liberal Candlemas offering, with a football, which formed a source of amusement to the pupils for several weeks afterwards. The custom formerly connected with this game of the schools marching in procession through the town with a gilded ball on the top of a pole has long been abandoned.


In consequence of King Robert Bruce having experienced benefit from drinking the waters of a medicinal spring near the town of Ayr, when afflicted with a scorbutic disorder which in those days was styled leprosy, after ascending the throne he founded the priory of Dominican Monks, every one of whom was under the obligation of putting up prayers for his recovery, daily, and twice in holidays. After his death those masses were continued for the salvation of his soul.

King Robert likewise erected houses round the well—which after his recovery was called King’s Ease or Case,—for the accommodation of eight lepers who were each allowed eight bolls of oat-meal, and 28s. Scotch money per annum. These donations were levied upon the lands, and are now laid upon the Duke of Portland. The farm of Shiels, in the neighbourhood of Ayr, was bound to give, if necessary, straw for the lepers’ beds, also some to thatch their houses annually. Each leprous person had a drinking horn presented to him by the king, which continued to be hereditary in the house to which it was first granted. Out of compliment to Sir William Wallace, King Robert Bruce invested his descendants with the right of placing all the lepers upon the establishment of King’s Ease. This patronage continued in the family of Craigie, till it was sold with the lands of the late Sir Thomas Wallace. The burgh of Ayr then purchased the right of applying the donation of King’s Ease, to the support of the poor-house of Ayr.


It was formerly a national custom for the relatives of the dead, the day after the funeral, to carry the chaff and bed-straw on which the person had died, to some hillock in the neighbourhood of the house and there burn them.


The ancient matrimonial ordeal of creeling the bridegroom was observed at Eccles in a somewhat different way from other parishes. Once a year, or oftener, according to circumstances, all the men who had been married within the previous twelve months were' creeled. With baskets, or creels, fastened on to their shoulders, they ran at full speed from their own houses to those of their nearest newly married neighbours, pursued by the unmarried men, who endeavoured to fill the baskets with stones, while the wives followed after with knives, striving to relieve them of their burdens by severing the ropes which attached the creels to their persons.


When a fisherman’s marriage took place in the parish of Avoch the following superstitious practice was observed with a view, it was said, of thwarting the power of witchcraft. That was when the bridegroom’s party arrived at the church door, the best man untied the shoe upon the left foot of the bridegroom, and formed a cross with a nail or a knife upon the right hand side of the door—the shoe remaining untied.

The fishermen were generally married at an early age, and seldom selected a bride above nineteen—The marriage .was solemnised in the church on a Friday, but never before twelve o’clock. On one occasion, there were three marriages to take place on one day. The friends of the parties, according to custom waited upon the minister previously to engage his services. They were assured he should be in readiness and requested them to fix upon a convenient 'hour for the three parties to be married at once. The men looked grave, shook their heads, and said nothing. The minister entirely at a loss to understand this sudden gravity of countenance, the shaking of the heads, and the profound silence, begged them to explain their singular conduct. After some delay and hesitation upon their part, he was given to understand that were the three parties to be married at once, the consequences might be most serious, for there would be a struggle made by each party to get first out of the church, believing us they did that the party who contrived to be first would carry off the blessing. To prevent the contention that might take plaice under such circumstances, the minister offered to marry each party in succession. But next came the question of precedence, a delicate and difficult point at all times to settle, at least to every one’s satisfaction, a point the deputies acknowledged they were quite unable to decide. This is not to be wondered at, considering that each party was anxious to be married first. After mature deliberation the minister thought fit to propose that the parties first contracted should be the first married, the proposal was unanimously agreed to, and the three couples were married on the Sunday following, in succession, especial care being taken that neither of the parties should meet the other on the way to and from the church, because it would be considered unlucky.


Ancient customs and superstitions have rapidly disappeared in the parish of Carluke. About the middle of last century there might have been seen hanging in some byres a phial of Lee-Penny Water, to keep the cows from miscarriage in calving, and to prevent the milk from changing. To obtain the former of these objects, the barbarous custom of burying a live calf beneath the steps of the byre door was actually put into execution about that time by the servants of a respectable proprietor in the neighbourhood.

With regard to Lee-Penny water, the reputed talisman known as the Lee Penny is called so on account of its being set in the centre of a coin. This celebrated amulet was brought to this country by Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee, who accompanied the good Lord James Douglas to the Holy Land, and was believed to possess certain valuable properties. The Saracen lady from whom Sir Simon received the relic in part payment of her husband’s ransom, acquainted him with the manner in which the amulet was to be used, and the uses to which it might be put, —the water in which it was dipped being reckoned, as she told him, to possess many medicinal virtues. The Lee Penny, since its arrival on Scottish shores has, it is said, wrought the most marvellous cures on man and beast, and has been sent for as far as from the northern counties of England. In the reign of Charles III. the people of Newcastle, when suffering from the plague, sent for and obtained a loan of it, depositing the sum of £6000 in its place as a pledge.


The following orders were formerly observed in many parts of Scotland at the funerals of all persons who aimed at respectability of station. In “bidding to the buriall,” no hour was mentioned, as ten in the morning was understood to be the time of assembling, and two or three in the afternoon as that of “ lifting,” and the intervening time was occupied in treating with “ services ” the various individuals as they arrived ; these services being interspersed with admonitions, lengthened prayers and graces, when the mingled worship and entertainment terminated, the people proceeded to the churchyard after a scout stationed on a rising ground in the neighbourhood, gave intimation that no additional mourner was seen approaching the place of meeting. The following wa3 the regular succession of the services:

1st Service—-Bread and cheese with ale and porter.
2nd „ —Glass of rum with “burialbread.”
3rd ,, — Pipes filled with tobacco. To prepare the pipes was one of the duties of the women who sat at the late-wake.
4th , —Glass of port wine 'with cake.
5th , —Glass of sherry with cake.
6th , —Glass of whiskey.
7th , —Glass of wine not specified.
8th , —Thanks returned for the whole.

After which the service was renewed as soon as another individual made his appearance.


James IV. established horse-racing as a royal sport, and the first notice of horse-racing in Britain occurred in his reign. During’ the reign of Queen Mary, district horse races were began. In 1552 an annual horse race was established at Haddington and Lamington.


In former times the farmers’ parade or race in the Lochwinnoch district was held on the first Tuesday of July. The horses were ranged according to their colours, with a captain at the head of each company, and the whole marched under the command of a colonel. The hats of the riders were adorned with ribbons, flowers, and newly shot oats, and some of them had showy sashes and other ornaments. The trappings of the horses were equally gaudy. One of the fanners carried a large flag, and they were accompanied by a piper or a band of instrumental music. Some of those who rode the fleetest steeds, after the parade was over, tried their speed in a horse race.


We are told, that when James I. went to Dumfries, he was so well pleased with his reception, that he presented to the town, a small model of a gun in silver, to be the object of a shooting match at periodical intervals, in imitation of some such sports, which were exhibited before him, on this occasion. The siller gun as it is called, has been since shot for every seven years, in much the same manner as silver arrows have been contended for, by archers at Musselburgh, Peebles, and St. Andrews. The place of sport, is a low holm by the side of the Kith, about a mile below the town, called the King’s Holm. But this festival of the siller gun, has of late years been unpopular, from the number of accidents by which it is so disagreeably characterized. It unfortunately happens, that the important part of the festival, termed the “Drinking,” is never postponed as it ought to be, till the termination of the sport, but diffused generally throughout its continuance. The consequence is, that the whole scene becomes one of riot and outrage. To show that people are not prevented from shooting when :a state of intoxication, a case is recorded of a man having once fired, when so overcome by liquor, that the gun was held for him by his friends, and yet he hit the mark, and was declared victor, though it was said, he was not aware of his good fortune, nor conscious of the honours that were paid him till next morning. In his ballad of the “Siller Gun,” John Mayne has celebrated the annual commemoration of the festival. The following verses, are illustrative of the orgies practised on the occasion :

“Louder grew the busy hum
Of friends rejoicing as they come,
Wi’ double vis the drummers drum
The pint stoups clatter,
And bowls o’ negus, milk, and rum
Flew round like water.”

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