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Old Scottish Customs
Chapter XII

Old Lammastide customs at Midlothian—Some Galloway customs—Throwing the hoshen— Fykes Fair—Giving up the names—Old games—The priest’s cat—Customs at new moon—Old marriage ceremonies—Bar for bar—The game of Blinchamps —The game of Burly Whush—The game of king and queen of Cantalon.


IN the first volume of the Archaeologia Scotica,published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1792, there is a very good description of the manner in which the Lammas festival used to be celebrated in Mid-Lothian about the middle of the eighteenth century. From this paper it appears that all the herds within a certain district towards the beginning of summer associated themselves into hands, sometimes to the number of a hundred or more. Each of these communities agreed to build a tower in some conspicuous place near the centre of their district. This tower was usually built of sods, though sometimes of stones. It was for the most part square, about 4 feet in diameter at the bottom, and tapering to a point at the top, which was seldom above 7 feet or eight feet from the ground. In building it a hole was left in the centre for admitting a flags Lai;', on which were displayed their colours on the great day of the festival. This tower was generally commenced about a month before Lammas, being seldom entirely completed till close upon that time. From the moment the foundation of the tower was laid it became an object of care and attention to-the whole community, for it was reckoned a disgrace to suffer it to be defaced. As the honour that was acquired by the demolition of a tower, if effected by those belonging to another, was in proportion to the disgrace of suffering it to be demolished, each party endeavoured to circumvent the other as much -as possible. To give the alarm of the approach of an attacking party, every person was armed with a tooting-horn. As the great day of Lammas approached, each community chose one from among themselves for their captain. They marched forth early in the morning on Lammas Day dressed in their best apparel, each armed with a stout cudgel, and, repairing to their tower, there displayed their colours in triumph. If news was brought that a hostile party approached, the horns sounded to arms. Seldom did they admit the approach of the enemy, but usually went forth to meet them. When the two parties met they mutually desired each other to lower their colours in sign of subjection, and if there appeared to be a great disproportion in the strength of the parties, the weakest usually submitted to this ceremony without much difficulty. But if they were nearly equal in strength none of them would yield, and the meeting ended in blows, and sometimes in bloodshed. When they had remained at their tower till about mid-day, if no opponent appeared, or if they themselves had no intention of making an attack, they then took •down their colours and marched with horns sounding towards the most considerable village in their district, when the lasses and all the people came out to meet them and partake of their diversions. Boundaries were immediately appointed, and a proclamation made that all who intended to compete in the race should appear. A bonnet ornamented with ribbons was displayed upon a pole as the prize of the victor. The prize of the second race was a pair of garters, and the third a knife. When two parties met and one yielded to the other, they marched together for some time in two separate bodies, the subjected body behind the other; and then they parted good friends, each party performing their races at thair own appointed place.


On the borders of Galloway when a young woman got married before her elder sister, this sister danced at her bridal without shoes. It was also customary here for the bride to remove her left stocking and throw it at random amongst the crowd. 'Whoever happened to catch it was the first to get married.


There was a singular fair called Fykes Fair held annually at the Clachan o’ Auchencairn. It began at ten o’clock at night, continuing till morning and through part of the next day. All the idle and dissolute characters in Galloway congregated in crowds at this fair.


“Giving up the, Names,” is the designation of what used to be the ceremony attending the giving in to the precentor, the names of those intending to marry, to be proclaimed in church during Divine worship, so that any persons v/ho wished to prevent such and such marriages from taking place might have an opportunity of stating their objections.- They had the power of throwing down sixpence and protesting against such proceedings going any further. This was, however, seldom done. These names were generally given in on a Saturday night. In doing so the parties met in a public house. No females were present. The father or brother of the bride was her representative. The bridegroom and the best man were present. On the. precentor being called in to attend the meeting the names were written down on a slip of paper, the bride’s name by her male relation, and the bridegroom’s by his best man. After this was done, whisky was introduced, and those present speedily became intoxicated.


There is a fireside game called the Priest’s Cat. A piece of stick is made red in the tire ; one hands it to another, saying—

“About wi’ that, about wi’ that,
Keep alive the Priest's Gat.”

round goes the stick, and the person in whose hand the flame goes out has lost the wager, and must pay a forfeit. In olden times when the priest’s cat died, great lamentation ensued throughout the country, as it was supposed to become transformed into some supernatural being or witch who might work mischief; so to keep it alive was a great matter.

There is another old and favourite fireside game played by youths and maidens amongst the peasantry, called Hey Willie Wine, and how Willie Wine, One of the latter addresses one of the former thus, —

“Hey Willie wine, and how Willie wine,
I hope for home you’ll not incline;
You had better stop and stay all night
And I’ll gie thee a lady bright.”

Then he answers—

"What will ye gie if I with thee bide
To be my bonny blooming bride 1 ”

Again she—

“I’ll gie ye, Kate o’ Dinglebell,
A bonny body like yoursell.”

Then he—

“I’ll stick her up in the pear tree,
I lo’ed her once, but she’s no for me,
Yet I thank you for your courtesy.”

This game concludes with the girl proposing a maiden agreeable to the youth. Before the questions are put, the lad whispers to a companion the name he will stop with, so this one must be given before the dialogue ends. The chief aim of this somewhat whimsical amusement seems to be, to discover one another’s sweethearts. In olden times these discoveries were considered very valuable.

The maidens in Galloway, in former days, when first they saw the new moon, sallied out of doors, and pulled a handful of grass, saying—

“New moon, new moon, tell me if you can
Gif I have a hair like the hair o’ my gudeman!”

The grass was then brought into the house and carefully searched, and if a hair was found amongst it, which was not unfrequently the case, the colour of the hair determined that of the future husband. It was also an old custom, on first seeing the new moon, to turn money in the pocket.


The Gallowegians are or were so fond of rhyme that they have a game connected with it. One of the players invents a rhyme, the next who follows must make one to rhyme with it, and at the same time agree with it in sense. The third follows and so on. Those who can invent the best and most rhymes wins the game, and are declared to have the most poetry in their composition.


There is a very curious rustic game termed Blinchamp. When a bird’s nest is found, such as a Corbie's, or Hoodiecroiv’s, or that of any other bird that people dislike, the eggs are taken out of it and laid in a row a little way apart from each other. One of the players has then something bound over his eyes to prevent him from seeing. A stick is then put in his hand, and he walks forward, as he fancies straight up to the eggs, and strikes at them. Another succeeds him until they thus blind-folded break them all. Hence the term Blinchamp,


Burly Whush is the name given to a game played with the hall. The hall is thrown up on a house or wall by one of the players, who cries out the instant it is thrown to another to catch it before it falls to the ground. Then they all run off, excepting the one individual called, to a little distance, and if he fails to catch it, he calls out burly whush. Then the others are arrested in their flight, and must run no farther. He then singles out one of them, and throws the ball at him. He in his turn throws the ball, and so on. Should a house be near at hand, as is generally the case, and any of the party take refuge behind it, they must still show one of their hands past the corner to the burly whush man, who sometimes hits it with such force as to make it tingle for hours afterwards.


This used to be a favourite game with the Galloway youths. Two of the swiftest of them are placed between two doons or places of safety, situated about two hundred paces distant from each other. The other boys stand in one of these doons. Then two fleet youths come forward and address them with this rhyme—

“King and .Queen o’ Cantelon
How many miles to Babylon,
Six or seven or a long eight
Try to win there wi’ candle light.”

Then out they all ran in hopes to get to Babylon or the other doon without being caught. Those captured ere they reach Babylon are not allowed to run again until all the others are taken, when a fresh game commences. This is a game of great antiquity, and is believed to be a mimic representation of scenes and characters in the lime of the Crusades. The King and Queen of Cantelon are supposed to be King and Queen of Caledon, then the name Babylon, introduced into the rhyme, the long way they had to wander and the chance there was of their being caught by the infidels, all point to the origin of the game.


Marriage ceremonies are not nearly of so much importance nor so well attended as formerly. Old women have been heard to say that the spirit o’ waddings has left the country. Waddin bawes,—money tossed amongst the people at marriages. Waddin brail's,—dresses for marriage. The buying of' these braws was deemed a very serious affair, as it was the first time the young people appeared in public. Waddin sarks—the bride previous to marriage, in proof of her skill as a needlewoman, made the bridegroom a shirt,—hence the above term. A peasant once remarked to a friend, “that he really never intended to take Maggie (his wife), but the cutty saw this, flew to his neck, and measured him fur the sark, and so he was obliged to have her.”

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