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The Annals of Penicuik
Chapter IV - Social and Political Conditions


GREAT changes appear to have taken place in the habits and social customs of our predecessors in this parish towards the close of last century. These no doubt in a great measure arose from the introduction of a new class of workpeople into the district, consequent upon the development of the cotton-Spinning and paper-making industries; and it is not surprising to learn that the ways of these new-corners were not as the ways of the older inhabitants. The Rev. Thomas M'Courty, minister of the parish, in his Statistical Account, of the year 1793, states that within the twenty years preceding that period the greatest alteration was manifest in the condition of the people. He deplores the fact that a murmuring; and discontented spirit had arisen amongst them, along with a disposition to censure public measures both in Church and State. Their social customs, he says, were also changed for the worse. He complains, for instance, that in articles of clouting the young people had become most ambitious and expensive; while in the matter of food similar extravagance was observable, more flesh-meat being used in a week than had formerly been consumed in a month. A great increase had taken place in the consumpt of what he describes as `that expensive and deleterious article called tea,' and the drinking habits of the people were now more hurtful. When, in former times, a person desired a neighbour to do a favour for him, it was usual to treat him to a glass of ale, probably brewed at Howgate or Sillerburn; now the custom was to give hint a dram, or a succession of drams, of whisky—a potion which he describes as utterly ruinous to health and destructive to morals. The reverend gentleman also gives interesting information as to the prices of certain articles, and the remuneration given for labour. He quotes beef, mutton, lamb, and veal as selling at 3d. to 5d. per pound Dutch weight; hens, 1s. to 1s. 2d. each; chickens, 8d. per pair; eggs from 3d. to 6d. per dozen; and potatoes from 4d. to 9d. per peck. As to wages, carpenters had 1s. 6d., and masons 1s. 8d. per day; tailors, 8d. with victuals, and slaters, 2s. 6d. per day. Mr. Jackson, whose views socially and politically were much in line with those of the parish minister, writing thirty-six years afterwards, corroborates the reverend gentleman's statement, that the ancient state of the population was better than it was in his time. He says that formerly they were most religious, loyal, industrious, peaceful, content, and happy, with a devout reverence for their superiors and instructors. Although, he says, they by no means enjoyed the same degree of comfort as the generality of the people who surrounded him, there was in those former days a spirit of independence which kept them from want, and from receiving public aid, by causing them to live Within their income. The Rev. W. Scott Moncrieff, minister of the parish, writing in 1839, describes the habits of the people as being cleanly, but not in this respect, nor as regards their style of dress and living, anything remarkable. The manufacturing class, he says, were better paid and more comfortably housed than the peasantry. The former lie describes as moral and intellectual, and as possessed of a high standard of civilisation. They read much, and took a pride in the acquisition of knowledge. He complains, however, that political reading and discussion preponderated, accompanied with no little disaffection to the institutions of the country, particularly the rights and privileges of the Established Church. The tenantry he describes as an exceedingly shrewd and industrious class, more moderate in their political sentiments than the artisans and paper-makers. Mr. Scott Moncrieff further, indicates that in the preceding thirty years a great improvement had taken place in the social condition of the people, although he fears that this was not accompanied with an increased diffusion of godliness. He deplores the fact that the high-minded devotion which eminently distinguished the population in former times was now rarely to be met with. Those, lie says, who can recall those primitive days before the effects of war and manufactures were known in this rural district, lament the decay of religious feeling and the disuse of those services at the family altar, from which spring so many social blessings and civil virtues.

The various allusions in the foregoing statements to the peace-fill and virtuous condition of our predecessors, at a time long anterior to that in which the writers lived, encourages research as to their surroundings at the periods referred to; but it is difficult to obtain trustworthy and satisfactory information.

Perhaps Dr. Pennicuick of Newhall, in his description of Tweeddale, published in 1715, gives the best idea of the conditions under which these primitive country folks lived some two hundred years ago. Taken in conjunction with the famous pastoral poem by Allan Ramsay, whose delineations of rustic life and manners were inspired by contact with the people whom lie saw around him during his frequent visits to Penicuik House and Newhall, we may indeed form it pretty correct idea of what our predecessors were in those far-back days. The population was small, and the people were almost all employed in agricultural pursuits. At the period referred to the land of the parish was in the hands of eight proprietors. The two largest estates then, as now, were those of Penicuik and Lobanhouse, owned respectively by Sir John Clerk and Mr. Alexander Gibsone of Drydane. Next in extent came the lands of Spittal, the property of .Mr. Oswald. The remaining five proprietors were Lord Ross, Mr. Scott of Bavelaw, Mr. William Kintore of Mount Lothian, Mr. Alexander Pennicuick of Newhall, and Sir John Nicolson. Only four of these gentlemen were resident upon their estates, and little was done by any of them in the direction of improving their lands, or attending to the material comforts of their tenants and labourers. The damp smoky farmhouses were built of mud and stone, and the walls of these buildings and their offices would have been unable to support their heavy thatch and divot roofs had they not been supported with clumsy buttresses of boulders and unhewn stone. The food of the farmers and their servants was of the plainest kind, and their labours hard, and often oppressive. Notwithstanding the discomfort of their surroundings, they were a careful and industrious people, and the testimony given by the writers whom I have quoted as to their attendance upon ordinances and the strict observance of their religious duties is correct in every particular. The Church, to be sure, was all-powerful in those times, and exercised a paternal and somewhat severe supervision over the lives and works of the people. The following few examples, culled from the Session Minutes, will show what a different order of things existed in this respect in those days from what now prevails.

The first is dated Sept. 17th, 1654, and is to the effect that —This day the Session ordained that the people stay not in the burgh after afternoon sermon, but repair to their homes in due time, otherwise they would proceed against them according as they are found guilty, and intimation thereof to be made next Lord's day.

March 15th, 1655.—The Session this day ordains that whoever wants testimonials in the parioch [parish], and those who harbour them, shall he debarred from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and this to be intimated next day.

January 22d, 1665.—Andrew Robb being called before the Session, compeared and confessed that he carried some loads, but not a burden, on the Sabbath day, therefore the Session, looking upon it as it 'brak ' of the Sabbath, ordered him to stand up before the congregation the next Lord's day and confess his fault unto God, and ask God and his people's pardon whom he had offended. This he did on Sabbath the 29th day of Januarry.

May 9th, 1658.—This day the elders appointed certain of their number to visit the town in time of sermon, and inspect the alehouses.

Sept. 19th, 1658.—This day James Lawrence, and Margaret Law his spouse, are delated for spreading hay and mucking the byre upon the Sabbath day, and are ordained to appear next Sabbath, and answer for their misdeeds.

August 2d, 1674.—The beadle and an elder were this day appointed again to visit all the houses in the parish during sermon time, and see that not more than one remained therein from church.

June 11th, 1676.—Robert Marshall Confessed upon his knees this day before the congregation that he had been guilty of the sin of driving sheep upon the Sabbath day, begging that the Lord would forgive him, and promising never to do the like again in time coming.

July 28th, 1679.—Received from Bavelaw [the Laird] the sum of 28, 8s., penalty for his sins, he having before this for a considerable time defied both Presbytery and Session.

August 8th, 1682.—John Ballantyne was summoned before the Session for making a grave at Mount Lothian Chapel, thus defrauding the bellman of his wages for so doing.

These extracts, and the evidence which the Session Minutes themselves afford that the laws of the Church authorities so laid down were not only tolerated but religiously obeyed, make it not at all a matter of surprise that under a discipline so rigorous the very law of habit thus enlisted on the side of well doing would make of our primitive predecessors a moral and virtuous people. This state of matters continued until nearly the close of the century, but, as already indicated, the increase of population and infusion of new ideas gradually brought about those changes which Mr. M`Courty and the others so much deplored.

It is fitting now to deal with the condition of matters in the parish at times less remote than those of which I have been writing. Mr. Scott Moncriefl's account of it, already quoted, was written over fifty years ago, and as no other equal period of our history as a nation can show such growth and development on all matters relating to the wellbeing and comfort of its people, it was only to he expected that our district would substantially participate, as it has done, in the gains and material advances of the kingdom at large. To begin with the population has greatly increased. .Mr. Scott Moncrieff quotes the number of souls in the village in his time as 687. The Census of 1881 showed that within the bounds of the burgh there were 3005. In the parish at the former period there was a total population of 2255, while in 1881 there were 1130 separate families, 2577 being males, and 2732 females, a total of 5309. This further increase has mainly arisen through the extension of the paper-mills and the development of the mining industry. The agricultural population has if anything diminished, partly owing to the introduction of laboursaving machinery and the absorption of many small holdings into the larger neighbouring farms. The social surrounding's of the people are also much improved. The advantages of a more general and thorough education are being felt, and a large proportion of the dwellings of the artisans and workpeople, both in Kirkhill and Penicuik, are now commodious and comfortable, renting from 5 to 10 per annum. The latter description of house contains three apartments, with outside conveniences in the shape of water-closets and wash-houses.

Wages in the paler-mills run as follows:—Machine-men, 30s. per week; pulp-men, 25s.; plumbers, 28s.; firemen (stokers), rag-women, 8s. to 12s.; paper-women, 10s. Labourers get from 4d. to 6d. per hour. .Joiners are paid 7d., masons 7.d., and slaters 7d. to 8d. per hour. Colliers and ironstone-workers make about an average of 6s. to 6s. 6d. per day of eight hours. The wages of ploughmen average about 45 per annum, with free house; while female servants in farm service get from 14 to 20, with board, for a like period.

The merchants in the town all occupy comfortable houses, and present generally an appearance of prosperity, although their success in business has for the last thirty years been much impaired by the extraordinary development of the Co-operative 'Trading Association, an account of which is given in an earlier chapter. The farmers are almost without exception in occupation of extensive holdings, and are a most industrious and intelligent class. The improvement in their methods of conducting business as compared with former times is marked. Visits to market, which used often to mean a day or two's absence from home, are now overtaken by train, and without any unnecessary delay.

The old type of agriculturist, who used to boast of always having his six and seven tumblers of toddy of an evening, is now almost extinct. Such a one, for instance, as Mr. Purdie, who was farmer of Kingside, could hardly be found. This worthy man was a great convivialist, and many stories are told of his adventures when suffering from the effects of a dram or two too many. Upon one occasion on his way home from Edinburgh market, he turned his pony's head in the wrong direction, and landed upon the seashore at Queensferry. He was there overheard anathematising his poor beast for its refusal to cross the water, expressing at the same time his surprise at the flooded condition of what he thought was Burdiehouse Burn. Upon another occasion, after attending a late meeting of what used to be known as the Rogue-honey Club, in Mrs. Braekenrig's Inn, and while making his way home over the wooden footbridge which then spanned the Esk, he met with an apparition which he supposed was the devil. Valiantly laying hold of it by the horns, he told on arriving home how, after a violent struggle, he had managed to overthrow old Vicky Ben into the water. The following morning an old white goat was found lying quite dead beneath the bride. Stories might be multiplied illustrative of the convivial habits of this worthy and others of his contemporaries, such as Samuel Graham of Ravensneuk. Not only, however, in the ranks of the farmers were these drouthy cronies to be found in those days, but amongst all classes of the community. A story is told illustrative of this fact regarding good Mr. Scott Moncrieff's own Session. David Abernethy, the baker, was long confined to his room through illness. His bed-chamber happened to be on the other side of the wall from the room in the grocer's shop where, before the days of Forbes Mackenzie, many of the village worthies met and discussed matters over their glass of toddy. Mr. Scott Moncrieff was visiting the baker one (lay, and amongst other things asked him if he was not disturbed by the noise in the next house. 'No, sir', he replied, 'I canna say that I am, except upon the nichts when your ain Session meets!' This might, of course, he said partly in joke, still it brings out what was an undoubted fact as to the customs of our ecclesiastical village authorities in the good old days of fifty years ago. The annual consumpt of spirits in the parish at that period was 352 gallons. It must now considerably exceed three times that quantity, but it is impossible to quote accurately, as the Inland Revenue authorities refuse to give information upon the subject. The amount of spirits actually consumed is thus very great, but it must be borne in mind that the respectable people of all classes, though in the larger proportion not total abstainers, now take their refreshments more decorously than of yore, and without offence to their neighbours and fellow-citizens.

The great majority of the adult inhabitants at the present time are connected with one or other of the religious denominations in the parish, and may reasonably bear the character of being on the whole a church-going people.

There are no ecclesiastical rivalries such as were known in former times. Sunday evening services are held successively in the three Presbyterian Churches, Established, Free, and United Presbyterian, and the most friendly intercourse exists between all the clergymen in the parish. An equally satisfactory state of matters is noticeable at the present time amongst those engaged in business in Penicuik. Instead of the rivalry and ill-will so often witnessed in busy centres of trade amongst competing tradesmen, there exists a genuine and neighbourly friendliness, and a remarkable readiness is shown in obliging each other when opportunity offers.

The people of the parish, as a whole, are most intelligent. Public lecturers and others who have occasion to address large gatherings frequently express their delight and satisfaction at the unusual readiness with which their points are taken up by Penicuik audiences. Much credit must be given to the large employers of labour in our district for the good moral tone which has so long existed amongst the working classes. There can be little doubt that the high personal character of these gentlemen, combined with their discriminating selection of worthy people to serve under their, has done much to keep up the high standard of general excellence of tone which is so observable a feature in our parish.

Fifty years ago there were forty people upon the roll receiving parochial relief, four of these being lunatics. At the present time there are sixty-seven on the roll, and of these eight are lunatics. As the population of to-day is two and a half times as large as it was in 1840, this state of matters compares favourably, although the increased allowances now payable make the annual expenditure appear large in proportion to that of a former period.


Penicuik parishioners have always been well to the front in the political movements of the day. So long ago as the end of last century the village was noted as a place of meeting of the Friends of the People, a political organisation which met with the greatest persecution from the Government, and whose principles were considered treasonable. Its distance from Edinburgh made Penicuik a suitable place for their meetings, and an additional reason would no doubt be the fact that their president, Mr. Jackson, was a well-known resident in the village. It required a man of courage and resource in those days to occupy so prominent a position, and Mr. Jackson had apparently been chosen because of his possessing those qualifications in a marked degree. It is told of him that when presiding at a secret meeting of the Society in Edinburgh upon one occasion lie was disagreeably impressed by the eagerness with which one of the delegates recommended extreme measures, and disappointed with the amount of support which he received from those present. Distrusting the man, and believing him to be a spy. Mr. Jackson hurried home through the night, and by candle-light buried all his incriminatory looks and papers in the garden attached to his house. his suspicions had been well founded, for in the early morning officers with search-warrants made a thorough, though of course ineffectual, examination of his premises. Shortly after this time the writing of William Corbett began to exercise a powerful influence upon the minds of Penicuik citizens, and they continued in constant sympathy with the frequent and emphatic demands which were subsequently made for increased electoral privileges.

Not, however, until the Fear 1830, when the French people struck down a tyrannical Government and vindicated their right to be ruled by those of their own choosing, did political feeling in Penicuik become pronounced. Groups of enthusiasts used then to gather at the hotel, awaiting the arrival of the coach bringing the weekly newspapers, and the description by eye-witnesses of the eager faces of the listeners, as one or other of their number read aloud the latest news from Paris and London, indicated their overwhelming interest in the course of events. Petitions in favour of Reform were sent from the parish, and a political union was formed for the purpose of watching events and arranging public meetings. When the Reform Bill was carried in the Commons and thrown out by the House of Lords, the whole country was stirred into a blaze. In Penicuik a large and enthusiastic indignation meeting was held in the open air in front of the Established Church, a platform was erected, and vigorous speeches delivered from it by local politicians. When, in 1832, victory finally crowned the efforts of Earl Grey and his coadjutors, a great procession was organised in the village, which is still spoken of with enthusiasm by the few survivors who took part in it. A banquet was also held in the large salle at Valleyfield Mills, presided over by Mr. Charles Cowan. Among the speakers upon that occasion were Sir James Gibson-Craig, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, Mr. Stewart of Alderston, M.P., and other prominent Whigs. Prior to the passing of the Bill Penicuik parish yielded only five qualifications. By the new order of things those who paid a rental of 40 were included, and that immediately raised the voting strength to eighty,—less than one-ninth of what it is in this year of grace 1890.

The struggle for the representation of the county in 1831, between Sir George Clerk and Sir John Dalrymple, and again in 1836 and 1837, when Mr. W. Gibson-Craig was the Baronet's opponent, was very severe, and feeling ran high in Penicuik. The sympathies of the mass of the people were with the Liberal candidates upon each occasion. Frequent meetings were held in the open air, and at the last of these elections the effigies of Sir George Clerk and his ardent supporters, Mr. James M'Lean of Braid wood, and Mr. Jackson of Planetree Shade (son of the President of the Radical Convention), were publicly burnt in the High Street. Anion- other incidents which occurred at that time, the following will further illustrate how keen were the feelings displayed upon both sides. The polling at a Parliamentary election then lasted for three days. Upon the afternoon of the third day it was discovered that James Scott, tenant of Greybrae, had not voted. A post-chaise was kept at the King's Arms (now the Royal Hotel) by the Conservatives for any case of emergency, and in this vehicle Mr. M'Lean and Mr. Manson, the estate forester, went oft to hunt up the missing man. Some difficulty about a march fence had soured '1r. Scott, and indisposed him to vote for Sir George. The satisfactory assurances given by Mr. Manson that the matter in dispute would be settled in his favour, proved a speedy cure for this indisposition, and in a very few minutes thereafter the trio were speeding, away to Edinburgh as fast as two horses could carry them. On passing the cross roads above Pomathorn Station they found that their political opponents in the village had not been inattentive to their movements, for out of the wood sprang Willie Dodds, and other two bold Radicals, who rushed at the carriage, and, with knives drawn, made determined efforts to cut the traces, and prevent the further progress of the party. James Barrie, the coachman, whipped ill) his forties, however, before they could make good their purposes, and kept up a galloping pace in the direction of the metropolis. His efforts to shake off time attacking party finally proved successful, but not until lie reached Maybank did they relinquish their futile efforts to accomplish their daring Project. The exertions of Mr. M'Lean and Mr. Manson on [behalf of their party]proved, after all, of no avail. They landed safely in Edinburgh, but had the mortification of finding that they were a few seconds too late. '1'lie poll had just been closed, and the new-found political enthusiasm of the tenant of Greybrae obtained no practical outlet upon that occasion. Though the paler-makers and artisans were for the greater part Liberals, the majority of the farmers were Conservatives, and the latter as well as the former were not slow to give evidence of their sympathies in every possible way. When, on 16th March 1837 the medal given by Sir George Clerk to time Curling Club was won on Hurley Cove bond by Mr. Charles Cowan of Valleyfield, from twelve competitors, Mr. Aitken of Walston urged his fellow-curlers in vehement language to withhold it from him, on the ;round that these prizes were never meant for `cursed Whigs.' Long indeed before that time the rnembers of the Club, most of whom were tenants or feuars of Sir George Clerk, had given many indications of their attachment to time side of politics which he supported. In the year 1819 they forwarded a characteristic address to their patron in London, iii which they contrasted the difference between the time rationally spent in the innocent rivalry of manual exertion and mathematical nicety which their national pastime afforded, and that spent in poring over imaginary wrongs, and studying the blasphemous and treasonable publications of the disappointed, time tendency of which was to subvert the national spirit of loyalty, patriotism, and prowess.

An almost continuous calm prevailed in the political life of our parish and time county generally from time time of the contest between Mr. W. Gibson-Craig and Sir George Clerk in 1837, until time election following the passing of the Reform Bill in 1867. In 1841 Mr. Ramsay of Barnton was returned unopposed for the shire. In 1845 Sir John Hope of Craighall succeeded him, and at the elections of 1847 and 1852 this gentleman continued member without any contest. In 1853 Lord Dalkeith took his place, and also sat unopposed until 1868. There were all this time, however, ardent politicians in Penicuik whom the Bill of 1832 did not satisfy, and who were in deep sympathy with the demands of the Chartist party for universal suffrage and equal electoral districts. When, therefore, the Reform Bill of 1867 extended the franchise to many who were formerly without the pale, the Liberals of Penicuik parish were not slow to urge the necessity of a trial of strength with their sitting Tory representative. Largely owing to the influence of Mr. Cowan of Beeslack, Sir John Don Wauchope, Mr. Alexander Mitchell of Dalkeith, and others, this suggestion took practical shape, and Sir Alexander Gibson Maitland Was induced to contest Midlothian at the election of 1868. This gentleman addressed a meeting in the Drill Hail, Penicuik, and created a favourable impression. He was proposed in felicitous terms by Mr. Dent of Ravensneuk as a fit and proper person to represent the county. The result of the poll, which showed a majority in favour county Sir Alexander of 241, proved that the feelings of the constituency had been truly gauged by those who promoted his candidature. The polling station was in Edinburgh, and the excitement locally was not so great as upon subsequent elections, but it was believed that a considerable majority of those who travelled in by morning train to the metropolis voted for Lord Dalkeith's opponent. Prior to the election of 1874 Mr. Cowan of Beeslack was urged by the sitting member, who meditated retirement, and other prominent Liberals, to stand as candidate for the representation of Midlothian at the next election, but he could not be prevailed upon to accede to their wishes. Lord William Hay was in consequence selected to fight the battle against Lord Dalkeith. This gentleman thereafter addressed many meetings throughout the county, and at Penicuik, as elsewhere, received an enthusiastic welcome, lie was not successful at the election, however, as Lord Dalkeith upon that occasion recovered his lost seat by a majority of 135 votes.

In February 1819 local politicians were startled by the news, contained in a letter written by MIr. Gladstone to Mr. Cowan of Beeslack, chairman of the Midlothian Liberal Association, announcing his intention to become a candidate for the counts at next election. This departure had been iii a large measure owing to the influence of Lord Rosebery, and the enthusiasm and excitement created throughout the county by the announcement must have been a source of satisfaction to that eminent nobleman. A meeting of the Liberals of the combined parishes of Glencorse and Penicuik was held in the Town Hall, and eloquent speeches, expressing satisfaction with Mr. Gladstone's candidature, were delivered by the Rev. John M'Kerrow, Mr. John Brown, and others. A Gladstone Club was formed, and premises in High Street rented. These afterwards were taken over by the Liberal Association, and proved a convenient rendezvous and rallying-place for local politicians. Considerable activity was also manifested by the Conservative Association, and they also secured reading-rooms for the use of their party in the district.

On 24th March 1880 Mr. Gladstone visited Penicuik and addressed a crowded meeting in the U.P. Church, presided over by the venerable Charles Cowan of Logan House. The election took place on 5th April 1880, and late in the evening of that day the telegraph conveyed the news to prominent politicians on both sides that Mr. Gladstone had been victorious, winning the seat by a majority of 211. In the Liberal rooms in High Street a scene of the greatest enthusiasm ensued. Mr. Hugh Munro was the first to arrive from the post-office with a telegram, and cheer after cheer arose from those who had been patiently waiting the result. Mr. John Craster, sen., of the `Wellington,' thereafter addressed a large crowd which had assembled in the streets, congratulating them in fitting words upon the triumphant return of the great statesman as their member. At the election of 1880 the total voting strength in Penicuik parish was 173, but the next political contest in the county, which took place in 1885, was fought out upon the extended franchise, when over 700 voters had the privilege of exercising the right of voting by ballot for the candidate they favoured. Upon that occasion Mr. Gladstone was opposed by Sir Charles Dalrymple, Bart., of New Hailes. The result was the return of the Premier by the overwhelming majority of 4631, to which Penicuik contributed a very large number of votes. Both Liberal and Conservative Associations continue to exist in the Parish, and exercise a careful supervision over the registration of voters, and other matters. The former is presided over by Mr. Archibald Cow e, merchant, and the latter by Mr. Thomas M'Dougal of Dalhousie Castle. The best feeling, however, exists between both parties in the parish, the extreme tension so often visible in other places having been ever conspicuous by its absence. The employers of labour do not interfere with their workpeople in voting; according to their conscientious convictions, and no case of harshness has ever stained the political annals of our parish.


It is not my intention to dwell at any length upon the subject of present provision for the educational needs of the parish. The admirable resume of the subject given in the published addresses to the ratepayers by Mr. James Birrell of Uttershill, Chairman of the School Board from 1879 up to the present time, leaves indeed little to be told of matters relating to school-administration in recent years. I shall in the following; pages deal more with events connected with this subject which occurred in remoter times. It is of course impossible now to tell when our predecessors in this parish first enjoyed the privilege of school-instruction. It is known that seminaries of learning; existed so far back as the time of King David I., but it is not at all probable that in a sparsely populated parish like Peuicuik aspirants after knowledge would have any opportunities of satisfying their yearning, unless perhaps time worthy monks who occupied time monastery at Newhall were good enough to come to their aid. It is interesting, however, in these (lays of compulsory education, to know that if the common people in our parish did not in early times obtain even the rudiments of learning, the better classes were compelled to attend to this matter. An Act of the Scottish Parliament, passed in 1494, ordained that all Barons and substantial freeholders mould send their eldest sons to school, to be instructed in classical literature, under a penalty of twenty bounds Scots. We have here the very principle which, under a more extended and expansive form, was introduced by Mr. Forster and Lord Toting in the Education Acts of 1870 and 1872. At the Reformation the first systematic attempt was made to plant schools in country districts, and obtain support for them out of local ecclesiastical revenues. I do not think Penicuik participated in this wise arrangement; at least there are no traces to be found of a regular schoolmaster being then in the parish.

It is more than likely that the minister would at that time, and for a considerable period afterwards, act as the secular as well as the spiritual instructor of the youth of the district. I find indeed that the Rev. Gilbert Tailzour of Penicuik did, in the year 1580, excuse himself to the Presbytery for the neglect of his ministerial duty because of the positive need of ekeing out his miserable stipend by school-teaching. The wise but imperfectly carried out arrangements devised by John Knox were supplemented by the Privy Council in the year 1616, in so far that the bishops of dioceses, in conjunction with heritors, were empowered to establish schools in every parish in the country. This arrangement was confirmed by Parliament in 1633, and five years later the General Assembly took up the matter with zeal, and carried out all the necessary arrangements for the equipment of parochial schools and the suitable provision for the entertainment of men able for the charge of teaching youth. It would probably be at this time that the first regular schoolmaster was placed in Penicuik. He was under the control of the minister and session, and their zeal in superintending his work is to some degree indicated in their minute of 9th April 1654, which contains instructions to John Lowrie, teacher and session-clerk, to cause two of his pupils to say Catechism ever' Lord's day in presence of the people. A minute of November 1656 contains also the information that the minister was asked by the session if all parents in the parish were sending their children regularly- to school. To their credit a good report is given, but the reverend gentleman is instructed to impress upon the people from the pulpit the sacred duty of attending to this matter. The session also looked after the physical comforts as well as the mental advancement of the pupils. A minute of 20th June 1677 records that the roof of the school was leaking and needed 200 threaves of heather to repair it properly. This they demanded and obtained from the heritors and tenants of the parish, each in their clue proportion. John Lowrie's successors in the office of parochial schoolmaster were James Morrison, Alexander Strachan, George Brown, James Fairbairn, Alexander Cunningham, James Rankine, James Shaw, and Thomas Muir. The last mentioned was familiarly known as Dominic Muir. He entered upon his duties about the year 1800, and continued to enjoy the somewhat meagre emoluments of office up to the date of his death, which occurred on 20th April 1849. In the latter years of his life, owing to age and infirmities, he had the services of an assistant. The lest known of those who acted in this capacity was Mr. William Dawson, a man of exceedingly small stature, an excellent teacher and a much esteemed citizen. Mr. Robert Alexander succeeded Mr. Muir, his appointment being confirmed in June 1849. Mr. Alexander was it kind-hearted man, an excellent scholar, and a successful teacher when lie had bright pupils to deal with. The duller spirits, however, did not progress so rapidly under his tuition, although he was never backward in stimulating their efforts by a free application of the tawse. Mr. Alexander was not a certificated teacher, and as Government inspection in such cases was not compulsory in parochial schools prior to the passing of the Education Act, the only public examination during his tenure of office was that made by the Presbytery. Many old scholars will remember, as the writer does, the regular appearance of good Mr. Lochtie and his co-presbyters at the annual examination, to which there always flocked a number of the parents and friends of the scholars. The late Sir George Clerk frequently occupied the chair, and it was thought no little honour to receive from the great man's hands those prizes of which lie was the generous donor. Mr. Alexander died suddenly while teaching a class in the school early in the year 1869, and was succeeded by Mr. Alexander M'Gregor, the present excellent teacher of the Penicuik Public School. In 1870 the first Government inspection took place in it, and in 1872 there passed into law the important Education (Scotland) Act, which altered completely the scholastic arrangements in Penicuik, as elsewhere, so far as the parish schools were concerned.

The heritors, who had so long been the governing body, were set aside, and their place taken by the School Board, a popularly elected body, whose work of school extension and supervision has been very fully set forth in the published addresses of the present chairman. The parish school known to the older inhabitants was conducted in the building now occupied as the Volunteer Armoury. Its previous site is, I believe, unknown, but it must have been very near to the church, for in the year 1770 the heritors agreed, at the request of Sir James Clerk, to give up the schoolmaster's yard to permit of the new parish church being built upon it. In consideration thereof Sir James made a present of a new house and yard to the schoolmaster, the yard being 'that gushet to the north side of the church arcs.' Old residenters remember this portion of ground being laid out as a garden by Dominie Muir. It was ultimately absorbed into the churchyard, although a considerable period pissed before the Rev. Mr. Moncrieff could persuade any of his parishioners to inter their deceased relatives in it, owing to a superstitious belief which existed that the first one buried there would be claimed by the devil for his own. The present Penicuik Public School was erected in 1845, its cost being partly defrayed by subscription. Since its acquisition by the School Board in 1813 a considerable sum has been expended upon its enlargement, the portion of it formerly occupied by the teacher being also turned into class-rooms capable of accommodating from ninety to a hundred scholars. The old parish school was sold by the heritors to the late Sir George Clerk, on 15th May 1851, for the sum of 170. His daughter, Miss Clerk, a lady who was ever deeply interested in the welfare of the parishioners, immediately afterwards opened it as all infant school, first under the care of .Miss Ewart and Miss Murdoch, and finally of Miss Bell. It was continued under charge of the latter energetic busy in the handsome new premises erected within the Penicuik House policies, until the year 1883, when .hiss Bell retired. The school was thereafter transferred to the management of the School Board.

An account of educational work in Penicuik parish would not he complete without some allusion to the other agencies which have been at work during the present century, supplementing the at best imperfect provision by the Heritors and presbytery for the education of the young people in the district. As far hack as time year 1818 there was an infant school kept in Croft Street by a Mrs. Steel, another in Bridge Street by Mr. Keddie, while in the Square, in the premises now so long occupied by Mr. A. G. Wilson, merchant, Mr. Inglis, Mr. .M`Call, Mr. Spalding, and others, carried on adventure schools at different periods with more or less success.

In the year 1839 there were nine schools in the parish. 'These included the admirably e(1ui1)1)ed establishment at Valleyfield, begun in 1830 by the Misses Cowan, and carried on until the present time by Messrs. Cowan's firm; also the school at KirkhiIl, kept up by the Misses Brown, and latterly by the Misses M'Dougal of Eskvale, which was finally absorbed in the Kirkhil Public School. A private school also existed for many years in the old Gardeners' Hall, presided over at different periods by Messrs. Thomas Tait, John Borthwick, William Cameron, James Duncan, William Girdwood, and others, while in Bank Street and High Street adventure schools were carried on by Mr. Sommerville, Mr. Mark, and Mrs. Brass.

For a long period prior to the erection of the handsome new school and schoolhouse at Howgate, the U.P. Church congregation there supplied a felt want by providing a comfortable school and efficient teacher for the young people resident in that remote and sparsely populated portion of the parish. Outside the parish school, that which has proved the most important development of educational work was begun shortly after the Disruption by the Free Church, and carried on under a succession of able and energetic teachers, such as Mr. Noble, Mr. Graham, Mr. M`Farlane, Mr. Thorburn, Mr. Sutherland, and Mr. Munro. After the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act this establishment was handed over to the School Board, who greatly extended it, and it still continues, with Mr. Hugh Munro as head-master, to be a popular and admirable institution for the promotion of a sound primary education.

In the pamphlet already referred to, written by Mr. Birrell, giving an account of the Penicuik Public Schools from 1873 to 1885, there will be found an account of Ninemileburn school, which is under the joint management of the Penicuik and West Linton School Boards, also a notice of the Catholics in the district having started a school for the children of their own persuasion. Since the publication of Mr. Birrell's pamphlet the members of the Episcopalian communion have also erected it large school beside their church, in which the Dowager Lacey Clerk and the Misses Clerk of Penicuik House have all along taken a lively interest. Its pupils at present number over 200.

The only other matter worthy of notice connected with education in the parish is the recent action of the School Board, consequent upon the payment by Government of the Probate Grant towards the relief of school fees. At a meeting of the Board Meld on 6th Sept. 1889, it was unanimously agreed that from and after 1st October the fees in all the Standards be abolished. This important departure Henceforth places within reach of all parents the inestimable privilege of a free primary education for their children, and makes it now imperative that none of the rising generation in our parish,

`However destitute, be left to droop,
By, timely culture unsustained.'


In old days there existed nothing in the shape of a compulsory boor-rate in Penicuik parish, the funds from which relief was dispensed being entirely the freewill-offerings of the people, deposited in the church-plate each Lord's day.

This fund was frugally administered by the elders and session, and the consequence was that the money thus collected sometimes afforded it surplus. This, when it accumulated to a sufficient sum, was usually laid out at interest for the benefit of the poor. For example, the session were able, in January 1679, to lend 300 merks to Mr. Oswald of Spittal. Again, on 5th August 1686, there was borrowed from them by Sir John Clerk the sum of 285 upon his personal bond, which loan lie repaid with interest on 5th January 1692. The Session disbursements also indicate that in old times people of title were not only borrowers from but also recipients of the contents of the poor's box. On July 21st, 1726, an entry shows that there was paid to the Lady Popilhall, who was reduced to poverty, the sum of twenty-four shillings. These payments to this aristocratic pauper, indeed, continued at intervals tip to June 4th, 1730. She had evidently been an incomer to the parish, as there is no record showing that any family of that name belonged to it.

By a proclamation of Privy Council of 11th August 1692, the heritors as well as the kirk-sessions in all parishes were directed to meet once in each year, and there to make a list of all the poor in the parish, and to charge the one-half of their maintenance on the heritors and the other half on the householders.

I find no evidence of this arrangement having been carried out in Penicuik until December 27th, 1782, when at a meeting of heritors and session convened for the purpose of taking into consideration the necessitous condition of the laborious poor in the parish, the following resolution was come to: that 300 bolls of grain should be bought for their relief, to be delivered at the rate of half-a-peck per week for each person, and at such a reduced price as should be afterwards fixed upon by the meeting. This of course did not indicate that any regular assessment had been levied, and nine years afterwards the poor, who numbered twenty-one, were still supported by the interest of a sum of money which remained in the hands of the Session, together with the weekly collections and the proceeds from the hire of hearse and mortcloth, in all amounting to twenty-eight pounds annually.

The day of surpluses was nor, however, nearly over. A large number of people had left the Church of their fathers, and had attached themselves to Dissenting congregations. The successive Lairds of Penicuik, and other heritors, who used to remain all the rear round at home, were now often absent for long periods. The consequence of this was a decrease in the weekly collections, and the positive need for a regular assessment. On August 5th, 1800, there was accordingly held a meeting of heritors, farmers, manufacturers, feuars, and householders, at which the situation of the poor was taken into consideration, and they were of opinion that for the six months from Whitsunday to Martinmas, an assessment of 12s. upon each 100 of valued rents would require to be levied. and the there and then appointed Thomas Muir, schoolmaster, to be their collector, and receive one half from landlords and the other half from tenants, in terms of law.

This arrangement was continued for forty-five years in the parish. The growth of Dissent, however, here as elsewhere in Scotland, and especially the Disruption in 1843, rendered it almost impossible to continue levying voluntary assessments. A Commission of Inquiry was accordingly appointed by Parliament in the year 1843, for the purpose of investigating the subject of the Poor Law of Scotland.

The result of these inquiries was the Massing, on 4th August 1845, of the Act 8 and 9 Victoria, cap. 83, by which the imposition of assessment and the direct regulation of the affairs of the parish were intrusted to Parochial Boards elected from the owners and ratepayers in all parishes. In Penicuik the first meeting of the new authority was held in the Parish Church on Tuesday, 16th September 1845. There were present upon that occasion Richard Mackenzie, W.S., mandatory for William Robertson of Loganhouse; James Manson, mandatory for Sir George Clerk; James Brown, Esk Mills; John Carstairs, Springfield; James Pow, Walltower Rev. W. Scott Moncrieff; James M'Lean, Braidwood; John Wilson, Eastfield; and James Brass, Penicuik. Mr. William Dawson, assistant Parochial teacher, was appointed inspector at a salary of 15 per annum, and for relief of poor it was ordered that an assessment be raised, one half from owners and the other half from tenants. At a second meeting, held on 16th September, a committee was appointed to assist the inspector in working out lists of ratepayers, and the amount at which they were to be rated.

The gentlemen who were selected for this duty were Messrs. John Cowan (now of Beeslack) ; H. H. Brown of Newhall; James Brown, Esk Mills; Thomas Stevenson, Mount Lothian; James M`Lean, Braidwood; James Jackson, Penicuik; and John Carstairs, Springfield. Mr. Brown of Newhall was elected chairman, and he generously acted in this capacity for many years, devoting much time and attention to the work.

The Parochial Board continues to administer the affairs of the parish within its jurisdiction with prudence, and with as much regard to economy as possible. The number of paupers on the roll at 1st August 1890 was sixty-seven. The assessment levied for their support and for casual poor was 1078, 13s. 3d., while the medical relief grant, pauper lunatic grant, repayments from other parishes, and miscellaneous items, amounted to 412, 2s.

In the century that has passed it will be seen that the expenditure has risen by leaps and bounds. One hundred years ago the number of paupers was twenty-one, while the annual outlay for their relief was about twenty-seven shillings each. This year the regular recipients of parochial aid are sixty-seven, maintained at an average individual annual cost of about 16, 11s. 2d. each. The aggregate outlay of course includes payment of the salaries of the permanent officials of the Board.

In terms of Statute authorising the erection of a poor-house in any parish, or combination of parishes, containing more than 5000 inhabitants, the parish of Penicuik, along with Peebles, Eddleston, West Linton, and others, erected a joint poor-house in Peebles, which was opened on 1st December 1859. On 1st August 1890 there were three poor people from our parish residing in it, while in the Midlotlhian District Asylum there were at the same time eight lunatic patients, in a great measure supported out of the funds of the parish. Mr. Charles William Cowan of Loanhouse has for many nears acted as chairman of the Board, and he, alone; with a representative committee selected from owners and rate-payers, continue at this date, assisted by Mr. John Alexander, inspector and collector, to give their time and attention to the administration of the affairss of the poor of Penicuik.


About the end of last century a general movement took place throughout the country districts of Scotland, amongst the working classes, in the way of creating institutions for their own relief when incapacitated for labour in consequence of sickness or old age. These were originally sanctioned by Act of Parliament, on conciliation that their regulations were submitted for revisal to the Justices of the Peace for the county in which the society was situated, and received their approbation at Quarter-Sessions. The rules and by-laws of these societies fixed, the rate of contribution, funeral allowances, and the weekly aliment in case of age or sickness.

Penicuik was not behind its neighbours in giving attention to these matters. Before the end of the century four such societies were formed; only one of these, however, survived until modern times. It was formed in 1797 by a. few lads, chiefly employed in agricultural service, and was called the `Young Society of Tradesmen in and about Penicuik and others.' The sums which members were to receive when sick were as follows: 3s. per week during the first six weeks, 2s. per week for the succeeding twelve weeks, and 1s. per week as long as the sickness lasted. The sum of 4 was to be paid upon the death of a member, and 4 on that of his wife or widow. A uniform payment of 1s. 4d. per quarter and 5s. as entry-money was the condition of membership. The society held its meetings in the Parish Church until the year 1848. In the seven following years it met in the Parish School, and during the remaining years of its existence as an active organisation in the Gardeners' Hall and Town Hall. Its annual gathering, known as the A Whipman's Play, was for long one of the events of the year in our village, and the yearly dinner and reunion of its members became at last so fruitful a source of expenditure as seriously to embarrass the financial position of the society. In the year 1851 some of the more thoughtful members began to entertain serious doubts as to its stability, and the auditors of that year, while certifying to the correctness of the accounts, put on record their belief that the practice of paying the cost of procession, dinner, etc., out of the ordinary funds was illegal and ought not to be persisted in. Finally the affairs of the society were placed in the hands of Mr. James M. Macandrew, C.A., Edinburgh, who drew out an exhaustive report adverse to its solvency but containing valuable suggestions as to its reconstruction upon a sounder basis. These, with some modifications, were finally agreed to, and in September 1854 the new rules received the sanction of the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The membership of the society however gradually began to fall off, and in 1859 only some 350 names remained upon the roll. In 1860 the greater portion of the available capital was invested in the purchase of the site of the old Penicuik farm-house and the erection of a block of houses and a shop, all now the property of the Co-operative Association. In 1811 any addition to the membership of the society had practically ceased and it was unanimously resolved to windup its affairs. The property was sold, and on 24th July 1875 the funds were divided, each of the remaining 179 members receiving; as his share the sum of 12, 1s. 4d. One hundred and sixty pounds was retained and lodged in the hands of the treasurer, Mr. William Sharp, to satisfy any claims which might thereafter arise. Subsequent payments have further reduced the sum to under one hundred pounds, but that is supposed to he ample to meet all further indebtedness.

Various other similar societies have sprung into existence from time to time in our parish. In 1822 a Gardeners' Society was formed, but it was broken tip about the year 1857. In 1869 it was resuscitated as a yearly society, and in 1874, under its old charter, it was finally reorganised as the Thistle Lodge of Free Gardeners. It is now a flourishing concern conducted upon the soundest and most approved principles. Its income for the year 1889 amounted to 269, 2s. 9d. with a surplus accumulated capital of 1233, 13s. 8d., while on 1st January 1890 there were 245 on its roll of membership.

An Ancient Order of Foresters' Society also exists in the village, with a membership as at 31st December 1889 of 445. It is ably conducted, and its funds on 31st December 1888 amounted to 1779, 5s. 9d., with an income for the year of 382, 9s. 5d.

Up to June 1889 another society now called the Ancient Order of Shepherds existed as a kind of affiliated or subordinate society to the Foresters. At that time however it seceded and has become an independent order, registered pursuant to the Friendly Societies Acts 1875 and 1876.

Several other benefit societies are at present carried on by workers at Valleyfield and Esk Mills. They make an annual division of unexpended capital, but otherwise are conducted upon similar principles to those already mentioned.

Various useful and interesting societies of one kind and another exist in Penicuik. First of these may be mentioned the Horticultural Society, formed in 1842, largely Owing to the suggestion and active assistance of the late Mrs. Alexander Philip Thompson. It has ever continued a successful and popular village institution. Its biennial exhibitions have been the means of foster-ins a love for flowers, as well as directing an intelligent attention to improvements in the method of their culture.

In 1888 the society became amalgamated with the Midlothian Rose and Pansy Show, and exhibitions of flowers, plants, and vegetables now take place in July and October of each year.

Two smaller kindred societies have recently been formed, one for Kirkhill district, and another for the southern portion of the parish. The former holds its exhibitions in Kirkhill School, and the latter in the Wellington Farm School.

There is also a prosperous Ornithological Society in Penicuik, which holds an annual competition in the Volunteer Drill Hall. It has a large membership, and is developing a taste for the rearing of high-class poultry in the parish.

An Instrumental Rand was instituted on 18th May 1888. This, however, was not the beginning of the movement. A village band, which dated its formation so far back as 1840, Was carried on with great spirit for many years. It finally broke up, but shortly after the beginning of the Volunteer movement in Penicuik, the officers asked its late leader, Thomas Nivison, so long precentor in Howgate, to invite his former musicians to form a Volunteer Band. This he was successful in doing, and for many years they were identified with all the public appearances of E and F Companies. The bagpipes were, however, ultimately adopted to play the martial music of the Volunteers, and the band was again broken up. A public subscription was some time after started to purchase the instruments, and the present Association was formed. The present Band is now under the control of a Committee of seven gentlemen, three chosen from the Burgh Commissioners, and four from the outside public.


This excellent Society was instituted on 24th December 1838.

The original office-bearers were John Watson, president; John Lawson, vice-president; Adam Cranston, secretary; Robert Veitch, treasurer; Thomas Scott, George Nisbet, William Scott, Thomas Muir, Andrew Warden, Peter Meggat, James M'Kean, acting members of committee.

The first efforts of these gentlemen were directed towards obtaining the influence of the three local clergymen, Messrs. Scott Moncriefl; Girdwood, and Duncan, towards promoting the cause of temperance in their respective congregations. The work was thereafter taken up with great enthusiasm by its promoters, and ere a year had passed a hundred names had been added to the roll of membership.

The Society has ever continued to do excellent service in our district. It has been helped from time to time by substantial financial contributions to its funds by Mr. John Cowan of Beeslack, and by the active influence and careful supervision of Mr. John Brown of Southend Villa, who was elected its president on 21st October 1862.

Various other temperance agencies, such as the Good Templars, and the Eskdale Tent of the Independent Order of Rechabites, exist in Penicuik, while Bands of Hope have been formed in connection with the Rev. John M'Kerrow's congregation, and at the Fieldsend Mission Station, under the charge of the Rev. S. R. Crockett, of the Free Church. The development of the latter organisations, created for the purpose of bringing the young people of the district into early association with the principles of temperance, will no doubt largely tend to swell the ranks of those whose philanthropic labours in connection with the original society have been so energetic and persistent.


Since the beginning of the present century, the inhabitants of Penicuik, owing to the proximity of Glencorse garrison, have been very familiar with the sight and sound of arms. Even before that time, however, many parishioners had loyally responded to the call for enrollment in the Midlothian contingent of the Scottish Volunteer Militia, their hearts being stirred up to give willing service in the defence of their native land against threatened French invasion. After the renewal of hostilities between the two countries in 1803 this corps was embodied, and continued so till the 3d of April 1815.

The next great volunteer military movement which sprang up in the country, and in which Penicuik shared, was in the year 1859. Its occasion was the return of time French Emperor from his victorious Italian campaign, and the general alarm which prevailed lest his next efforts should be directed against Great Britain. These fears were probably groundless, but they l)roitglit forth evidence of the loyalty and bravery of the British people. Within it few weeks 200,000 men were under drill, of whom 40,000 were reported able to take their place in line of battle.

Two Companies were formed in Penicuik, with a third small sub-division in Roslin, all under the command of Captain Sir James Clerk, Bart. No. 1 Company was in charge of the Commandent with Lieut. E. S. M'Dougal and Ensign Tait as subalterns. No. 2 had for senior officer Captain Cowan of Beeslack, Lieut. Charles J. Wallah, and Ensign George Cowan, while the Roslin Company had two commissioned officers in the persons of Hezekiah J. Merricks and William Merricks. No. 1 Company vas largely composed of farmers, village merchants, and tradesmen, many of whom were constitutionally unfit for hard service, but who yet, on 7th August 1860, went through the fatigues of that famous Queen's Review day in Edinburgh with a spirit and determination not surpassed by any of their younger and more agile brothers in arms.

After the transference of the school carried on under the active patronage of the late Miss Clerk to new and more commodious premises, the Volunteers secured the old school-room as an armoury for the store of their weapons. In May 1572 they also erected a large drill-hall at the foot of Kirkhill Road, in which their annual -presentation of prizes has since taken place. It also provides accommodation for the ordinary purposes of drill when the weather is unpropitious for open-air exercise. The shooting range at Blackburn is one of the finest in the kingdom, up to 600 yards distance. Its sheltered position has not, however, been helpful to local marksmen when competing at windswept ranges. For a number of years Penicuik has been the headquarters of the 6th Voltunteer Brigade Royal Scots, formerly known as the Midlotlhian Administrative Battalion Rifle Volunteers. The Penicuik E and F Companies, which form part of the brigade, are at present under the command of Captain Robert G. Craster, who succeeded to that position on the retirement of Major A. ,M`Gregor.

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