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The Annals of Penicuik
Chapter IX - Witchcraft - Games - Folklore

IT is difficult for us, in the (lays in which we now live, to realise the fact that at one time, not only in our own parish, but throughout Scotland, belief in witchcraft was universal. It is still more difficult to believe that numbers of wretched creatures of both sexes were accused of this imaginary crime and put to death, in many cases with cruel tortures. By an Act passed in the ninth Parliament of Queen Mary, it was declared 'that witches, or consulters with witches,' should be punished with death. For many years afterwards, as a consequence of this enactment, every effort appears to have been made to hunt out and bring to their doom those unfortunates who believed themselves, or were believed by others, to be possessed of supernatural powers through the influence of Satanic agency. In many places the parochial clergymen were the most active instruments in bringing suspected sorcerers to justice, and it is possible that, in the cases I am about to quote, the Rev. Mr. French of Penicuik was the informer, both to the civil power and to his brethren of the Dalkeith Presbytery, of the existence of sundry dangerous characters in his own parish. The preliminary proceedings cannot now he ascertained, but the proof must have been very strong, for a short shrift was given to the poor unfortunates so denounced. A minute of Preslbytery, of 17th September 1629, states that the Court appointed the Revs. James Porteous, John Knox, and Thomas Couplan to be present in Penicuik at the execution of Christian Thomson, Isobel Dryburgh, and Margaret Smail, arraigned for witchcraft.

In this short and abrupt way is a matter involving the death of three of their fellow-creatures thus disposed of by the Fathers and Brethren of those days. Sad to think that such a scene should have been witnessed in our parish, and that men who by their position and education ought to have been the first to disabuse the minds of the people of such absurd delusions, should have been the most active in aiding and abetting such horrid cruelties. Nor does this complete the dismal story, for at another meeting of Presbytery, held on 18th December of the same year, a deputation, who had again visited Penicuik, report that they had personally superintended the burning of Janet Bishop, Janet Pennycuick, and Margaret Endherson, who had been condemned to death for the same crime. Local tradition fixes upon two different sites as the ground upon which these fearful scenes were enacted. It is more than likely, however, that it was in the churchyard that the stakes were erected, and the coals, the heather, and the gunpowder built round them to do their fatal work of reducing to ashes the quivering bodies of these poor victims.

fir. John Clerk, the first laird of Penicuik of that surname, was one of those gentlemen whose services were in frequent request by the Privy Council as one of the Commissioners, or 'understanding gentlemen`, who examined and tried those who were accused of witchcraft in Mid-Lothian. His connection with the parish causes me to introduce here a curious case which he, along with others, had to try in connection with this matter. Seven women in Loanhead had been delated as witches by two of their own sex, who were burnt at Salt Preston for this crime. Several of those seven, had they been permitted, were ready to inform against sundry gentlemen and others of flush ion in our neighbourhood as being practisers of the black art, but these informations the justices refused to receive, thinking them either the product of malice or melancholy, or a deception of the devil. They were, however, permitted to accuse Mr. Gideon Penman, formerly minister of Crichton. I find from Wodrow that this man was one of those who conformed to Prelacy in 1663. He was some time afterwards deprived of his charge for sundry acts of uncleanness and other crimes. Two of the witches persistently affirmed that he was present at their meetings with the devil, and when his Satanic Majesty inquired for him he always said, `Where is Mr. Gideon, my chaplain?' and ordinarily the reverend gentleman was in rear of all their dances, and beat up those who were slow. These accusations undoubtedly originated in malice or some other base motive, and Mr. Penman naturally enough gave a flat denial to all their charges, and was admitted to bail. It would have been interesting to know the result of his trial, but the information I have been unable to obtain.

Readers of Allan Ramsay's Pastoral are familiar with the superstitious credulity exhibited by the clownish Bauldy in accusing the old woman ,pause of being a witch. The poet, in his delineation of this element in the rustic's character, truly portrays what I have already shown was a general belief with his class in our neighbourhood, as elsewhere at that time. In illustration of this, I will now quote a curious case related in the Session records. On 29th December 1661 Christian Purdie, Agnes Elphinston, and Marion Tweedie, complained to the Session of John Lowrie, on the Green Foot, for calling them witches, and on 5th January 1662 this man appears before them with the parties he had accused. On his being posed anent the complaint, John denied that he called their witches, but confessed that about two years ago, when he came home on one occasion shortly after midnight from Edinburgh, and as lie alighted from his horse at his own door, he espied a fire burning in the fields betwixt his house and the Meal-Mill. He further declared that having put his horse into the stable, and after betaking himself to God, he went to see why a fire was kindled there. As he came nigh to the place he saw three women going round and round the fire, each of them having a napkin in her hand, and to his certain knowledge these were the women who complained upon him for calling them witches. John also testified that within a day or two the horse died upon which he rode, and lie himself shivered the whole night after he came from the fire, indeed he got no rest in his bed all that night. The aforesaid parties were cited to appear before the Session next day and answer to what John Lowrie declared. On the following day, accordingly, the women presented themselves, and demanded to be put to trial `by the brines. This was the common method by which it was alleged that witches could be discovered. It consisted of running pins into their bodies on the pretence of finding the devil's mark, which was said to he on a spot insensible to pain. A class of persons indeed found employment who acted as prickers of witches, and these people were frequently allowed to torture the wretched suspects at their pleasure. I know not whether the Rev. William Dalgarno, minister of the parish, acted as pricker upon this occasion, or whether he delegated the duty to some subordinate official. The result, however, Droved the innocency of the accused, and the Session handed over Lowrie to the Dalkeith Presbytery, to be dealt with for his unjust slander. I have not been able to discover a record of the punishment which was Without doubt inflicted upon him by the Court.

A common custom attributed to witches was the disinterment by them of dead bodies, and the using of the joints and other members in the composition of magic draughts and ointments. An accusation against any one of practising in this manner would, accordingly, in those clays be looked upon as a very serious matter.

The Session minutes of September 1678 record a case in which a person named Margaret Dickson, residing at Walltower, had wrongously accused John Henderson of Howgate of working lei. ale with a dead man's skull. This woman ultimately confessed that she had not made the statement seriously, but she had nevertheless to go down on her knees before the Session and humbly confess her fault, promising never to do the like again. John Henderson, the plaintiff upon this occasion, was himself before his ecclesiastical superiors shortly afterwards for the fault of calling the wife of Andrew Burn, Walltower, a witch, and he would no doubt have to satisfy them in it manner similar to that by which his own accuser expiated her transgression.

These charges of witchcraft were indeed resorted to by all classes in Scotland at this time, when one person meant to blacken the character of another. Some of the noblest ladies in the land, notably the Countesses of Athole, Huntly, and Lothian, were in this way openly accused of protecting; witches and dealing in charms. Better days were, however, in store for our country, and this Clark and tragic chapter in her history was soon to be closed. The last execution of a witch took place at Dornoch in 1722, and twenty-three years afterwards the penal statutes against witchcraft were for ever repealed.

Notwithstanding this more enlightened policy on the part of our civil rulers, it is rather curious to notice that the clergy still clung to the old order of thing,. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1743 the Associate Presbytery enumerate amongst other national sins that 'the penal statutes against witches have been repealed, contrary to the express law of God.'


The most popular game, and the one in which our parish has achieved its greatest successes, both in the past and the present, is that of Curling. As generation has succeeded generation the laird and the humblest tenant upon his estate, the employer of labour and his workmen, gentle and simple alike, have met on equal terms on the Penicuik House ponds, each vying with the other in handling the `channel-stane.'

It would be difficult, indeed impossible, now to ascertain the precise date when this game was introduced into the parish. The famous oblong triangular-shaped black whinstone, which Baron Sir John Clerk, one of the commissioners of the Union, played with, is still preserved in Penicuik House. This evidence, along with the allusions to the game contained in the writings of the Baron's friend and neighbour, Dr. Pennycuick of Newhall, proves to a certainty that it was in vogue during the latter part of the seventeenth century. The two curling-stones, with the horn and the star carved upon them, used by Sir James Clerk in the latter part of last century, which are still preserved, indicate also that under the fostering care of the lairds of Penicuik the roaring game has been a continuous as well as a favourite pastime in our parish. Although the game was an old one, no regular club was formed until the year 1815, when the first meeting was held in the inn of Mr. James Dodds, for the purpose of constituting a society. According to the minutes then drawn up, this step was taken with a view to produce that improvement in curling which, when put in competition with their neighbours, was so much needed by them. hitherto the Penicuik curlers had been so deficient that nobody would play with them, but this new departure marked an era in their history, which, before many years had passed, earned for them, from their great opponents, the Merchiston Club, the proud title of 'champions of the icy world.'

The first office-bearers of the Penicuik Curling Club were John Allan, president, and James Jackson, clerk. A committee was also formed—its members being John Aitken, Walston ; William Davidson, Coats; Walter Campbell and James Dodds, both of Penicuik. Worthy of all praise, however, as were the services of its first Committee, the Club might never have attained to its eventual prominence had it not been for the patronage and active participation of the Right honourable Sir George Clerk. He frequently hosted down from London in the coldest wintry weather to take his place as skip of his rink in the various matches, by precept as well as by example leading on his club from victory to victory. On the 1st of March 1832 the members of the Club showed their appreciation of his active interest in their behalf by presenting him with a silver-mounted horn. As a further token of their gratitude a manuscript copy of their transactions, beautifully written by John M`Lean, son of James M`Lean, tenant at Ninemileburn, and bound in morocco, was given by the Club to Sir George. This book is still carefully treasured by his successors in the library in Penicuik House.

It is fitting to record also that from time to time Penicuik and Penicuik curlers have taken a prominent place in the curling annals of Scotland. The first match between North and South of the Forth was played before a large number of spectators on the high pond at Penicuik on 15th January 1847.

What is still more interesting, however, is the fact that the Royal Caledonian Curling Club itself was very much the outcome of the suggestions of prominent members of the Penicuik Club. In proof of this it may be mentioned that the original meeting, held fifty-two years ago, which by resolution formed itself into the Grand Caledonian, appointed Charles Cowan, Dr. John Renton, and William Gilbert, all of Penicuik, members of the important committee of nine, in whose hands the constitution of the Club was left. It is worthy of notice, in connection with this fact, that when, on 25th July 1888, 360 gentlemen met together from all parts of Scotland under the presidency of the Marquis of Breadalbane to celebrate the jubilee of the Club, they resolved to do honour to Mr. Charles Cowan of Loganhouse, the sole surviving original founder. The following telegram was accordingly sent him: '360 members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, met in joyous jubilee, send you heartiest greetings and good wishes—Breadalbane.' A fitting reply was immediately received from Mr. Cowan, then in his eighty-sixth year, indicating his continued and hearty interest in the roaring game. The curling mantle of the father has fallen upon the son and grandsons alike. Mr. Charles W. Cowan of Loganhouse is now president of the club, and the skip of a rink of which his three sons, Alexander, Robert, and Charles, are active and skilful members. The two rink medals won by them this season are an evidence of their prowess, and it is frankly admitted by all Penicuik curlers that the Cowan quartette is hard to beat, even when tackled by the veterans of the club.

In hard winters the Penicuik House ponds are still the scenes of many vigorous contests with our neighbours of Roslin, Peebles, Dalkeith, Merchiston, and other clubs. Penicuik still does credit to her ancient name, and generally manages to hold her own very successfully, not only against other parish clubs, but when pitted against all comers at Carsebreck, I,ochwinnoch, or Cobbinshaw. The well-known curlers of a past generation in our parish have been succeeded by others who are as skilful and enthusiastic as they were Williamson of Penicuik, Granger of Mount Lothian, Tudhope of Lawhead, and several others, are skills who can be relied upon to make victory almost certain. With such players to represent our parish can never be left very far behind in the struggle for pre-eminence.

Another curling club has of late years been formed in the parish. It is chiefly composed of those whose occupation only permits of their including in this pastime on Saturday afternoons. Milkhall pond has been selected as the most central and suitable sheet of water for their play.

In the early years of the present century football was a game very popular in our parish. It was usually played upon the village streets—the hails betwixt the church and the minister's barn being just the proper length. Niven, in his pamphlet written at the time, says that the Penicuik players were reckoned first-class at the game—`no other parish being able to stand against them shoulder to shoulder nor the trip of their heel. This game finally went out of favour, and it is only within the last few years that football clubs have again been formed. It is pleasing to know that the ancient prestige is still kept up, and that Penicuik players are now well known as hard to beat in this particular trial of skill.

Sixty years ago two other types of sport, not so harmless as those already mentioned, were also engaged in by residenters in our parish. These were cock-fighting and horse-racing. The first mentioned was generally conducted in the parish school, and was very popular for a time. Every Fastern's-e'en a battle royal, in which all the picked birds took part, was held, and it usually resulted in a scene of great excitement. This barbarous sport was not, however, approved by the more humane inhabitants, and these sentiments of opposition to the practice gradually prevailing, cock-fighting was finally abandoned, never again, it is to be hoped, to be tolerated in Penicuik parish.

Horse-racing continued in favour for a much longer period. At the annual meet of the Whipman's or Hopemans Society, the races on Harlaw Muir were an event looked forward to with the keenest interest by young and old alike. This celebration was the occasion in those old days of a general holiday, and the gaily dressed horses were of themselves a sight worth looking at, resplendent with mirrors, ribbons, and tassels, and with coats glossy with a nights hard grooming. They could not, indeed, have been easily recognised as the patient steeds that on a previous day might have been seen working at the plough or other agricultural service. The procession, even within the writer's own memory, used to be a most imposing one. First marched the village band, then the president of the society, usually mounted upon a grey horse; after him followed the standard-bearer, who, at some financial cost to himself, occupied this coveted position. With great regularity the others followed in double files, and the whole procession marched along the main roads, visiting; by the way the houses of the principal gentry. Finally they arrived at Harlaw Muir, and there the races were run, often witnessed by thousands. Accidents frequently happened. In the year 1822, for instance, no fewer than three horses were killed by coming into violent contact with each other when engaged in this, to them, unusual exercise. In consequence of these unfortunate occurrences many efforts were made to discontinue the practice. It was not, however, until the year 1864 that it was finally abolished. The last races were conducted in a field upon the Halls farm, but few, if any, of the farmers horses took part. The principal race, if I mistake not, Was icon by a pony belonging to Mr. White of the Railway Inn.

The game of cricket was introduced about forty or fifty years ago into the parish, and carried on for a considerable time with great spirit. It has occasionally waned in popularity, but at the present time there are, in addition to many juvenile clubs, regular first and second parish elevens. The former is rapidly gaining a high reputation, and contains players amongst its members who could take their place both as batsmen and bowlers in almost any first-class city or provincial club. It may interest the players of the present day to see the subjoined record of one of the matches of the original Penicuik Cricket Club so long ago as the year 1853. The first trial of skill took place at Dalkeith, and the return was played in Brown's park,—a space of around now covered by the louses of Hamilton Place and Shottstown.

Penicuik total was thus 134, while Dalkeitlh, with four wickets to go down, made 136. (I regret that I cannot give the individual scores of the Dalkeith Eleven.) The Home Club had their revenge, however, at the return match some four weeks afterwards.

The day was fine, though cloudy, and the field was graced by a large number of spectators, among whom were several of the fair sex. The match was played with only ten men, as one of the Dalkeith players did not put in an appearance, and Penicuik did not wish to obtain any unfair advantage. The following are the scores:—

Total, Dalkeith 64, Penicuik 65, with seven wickets to go down.

A Bowling Club was formed about eight years ago in the village. A green was laid down at considerable cost in the garden at the Bog, belonging to Mr. David Johnston. The writer was elected its first president, Mr. Robert Henderson, merchant, treasurer, and Mr. Archibald Cowe, merchant, secretary. Very much owing to the indefatigable interest shown in the Club by the last-mentioned gentleman, it has continued to be a popular and successful summer evening game. Another club was formed about two years ago at Valleyfield. By the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Cowan, its members are allowed to conduct their play on the tennis lawn in the Valleyfield house gardens.

The somewhat aristocratic game of Lawn 'Tennis is not generally played in the parish, except by a few families who have private courts.

A Bicycle Club has been formed, and has a large membership. It is composed almost entirely of the younger men of the village and parish, but its annual reunion is one of our most popular winter gatherings, and is usually attended by most representative audiences.

Though not connected with any of the before-mentioned matters, another time-honoured custom in Penicuik may as well be mentioned here; that is, the practice still in Vogue of the shopkeepers and other citizens distributing fruits and baked breads to the children on Handsel Monday. Early on the morning of that clay the village echoes to the cries of 'Handsel' from the gathering crowds of young people on its streets, and hundreds of eager faces may be seen upturned to every door or window from which there is the slightest hope of a golden rain of oranges, or a shower of snaps or `parleys.' The custom must have begun early in the century, if not at a time anterior. So far back as the time of Sir James Clerk the children of the village used to visit the mansion-house on that morning. The boys got each a sixpence. The girls also got this shin, but only on condition that they could knit a stocking, evidence of which had to be shown by their taking the stocking on the wires with them, and, if necessary, working a portion of it before Sir James and his lady. It is on record that the late Mr. M'Courty, the venerable minister of the parish, who was inducted 16th January 1772, made a practice of giving each scholar iii the school a Catechism on Handsel Monday morning, and, with the aid of his housekeeper, distributed snaps and `parleys' at the manse to them afterwards. It is probable that the practice would be shared in by the shopkeepers and other prominent citizens of these clays also. Generation succeeding generation have handed on the custom until present times, and the hearts of many generations of young people yet unborn will doubtless be gladdened by these welcome offerings on Handsel Monday morn.


Amongst such a law-abiding population as that of Penicuik parish offences against the revenue laws have not been at all common. In times past, however, illicit distillation was not viewed with the same disfavour as it is now, and was engaged in to some extent in certain parts of the parish.

In the beginning of the present century a small still was in regular operation at Marfield. The farmer there, with the help of a friend at Ninemileburn, managed to carry on a moderately successful business in its products for a considerable time. Its existence was finally suspected, and visits to the neighbourhood by the revenue officers became frequent. So successfully was it hidden, however, that all their efforts for its discovery proved futile. Upon the occasion of one of their last visits the officers were encountered by the farmer and his friend, who both in a bantering way expressed regret that so much faithful searching should have been rewarded with so little success. As a kind of solatiuum they were invited into the farm-house to partake of the guid Wife's hospitality. This offer was thankfully accepted by the wet and weary excisemen. a few tumblers of toddy, brewed from the home-rule spirits, tasted none the worse for its having yielded no revenue to his Majesty. A very jovial afternoon and evening they all spent together, and the officers were guided homewards through the moss in the moonlight by the genial host whose operations they had come to disturb. Almost immediately after the occurrence of this episode Marfield and his friend resolved to stop their venturesome business, and so end the risk of detection and disgrace.

About the same time there lived one John Cairns, at a place called the Steele, not far from Carlops. Assisted by his friend the weaver at Monkshaugh, this worthy had erected a whisky still in the moss near to his house. At that time Carlops was a thriving village, tenanted by weavers doing a large business in the products of their looms. Stage-coaches passed through it daily, and a fair was held on its streets twice in the year. There was consequently a good demand in the immediate neighbourhood for the contraband article which was manufactured by the two worthies. They were kept thus pretty busy, and their output became so considerable that a sough of it could hardly help reaching the ears of the ever-watchful gaugers. One misty morning several of these gentlemen set out in search of the still, a hint of its whereabouts having been conveyed to them. Cairns and the weaver luckily saw them on their way, and hurriedly managed to bundle out all their apparatus and bury it in the moss. While they were thus engaged, Cairns's house was being searched by the officers. A barrel of whisky unfortunately stood with its bunghole open in a small apartment near to the door. This would certainly have led to detection, had not the guidwife, with remarkable presence of mind, and unseen by her visitors, inserted a filler into it, through which she had been pouring butter-milk. The ruse succeeded; what looked Iike a harmless milk-barrel was never disturbed, and the gaugers departed as empty as they came. Mrs. Cairns, however, got such a fright, that she insisted upon the operations with the still being abandoned. Her guidman and his friend with many regrets were compelled to obey, and so one more source of hurt to the revenue was removed from the parish.

Not quite so successful in the way of avoiding detection was a worthy named Rol) Scott, also a residenter near to Carlops. For a long time after the period in which the events already narrated occurred, he carried on a good business on the products of a private whisky-still. By his boldness and ingenuity he managed for years to elude the prying eyes of the revenue officers. At last, whether it was owing to the place of his operations having been betrayed to them, or perhaps by reason of the greater thoroughness of their search, these officials came upon his still. After demolishing the wooden vessels connected with it, they tied the more valuable apparatus connected with the distillation on the back of the covered conveyance in which they had driven out from Edinburgh. On their return journey they halted for refreshments at Ninemileburn inn. Mr. Thomas M'Lean, the landlord, who possibly may have reaped considerable benefit by Rob's operations, saw and heard with sorrow the result of their expedition. On the departure of the revenue officers he remarked within hearing of his servant-maids, `If ony lass wants a new rilbbon, now is leer chance if she cuts that string.' This timely allusion to the hempen cord which bound Rob's apparatus to the carriage was not misunderstood by one of his auditors. Helen Barr, mother of a well-known inhabitant of Carlops still alive, was only too glad to avail herself of the opportunity to serve Rob and secure to herself a coveted possession. Slipping after the conveyance as it rattled over the rough road, she used her knife so deftly, that one after another of the articles fell to the ground. Picked up by willing hands, they were, under darkness of the night, conveyed to their owner, who soon had his still in full working operation again somewhere in the neighbourhood of Stoneypath.

The revenue officers, on their arrival in the metrolpolis, were much disconcerted to find that they had nothing to show for their trouble. They returned by the same road early next morning in the hope of recovering some of the lost articles—but their mission was in vain.

Another illicit still existed in the village of Penicuik early in the century. It was worked in the premises now tenanted by Mr. John Johnston, baker, by a citizen commonly known as Buckram Scott. An old residenter informs me that lie has often heard his mother tell how its presence was finally revealed. The barrel in which the spirit was contained sprung a leak one fine morning, and its contents found their way down the pipe leading to a spout which then existed in the Delve Brae. Some workmen, refreshing themselves with a draft on their way to the paler-mill in the morning, indulged very freely in its unusual contents. Their inebriated condition caused investigation into the circumstances, and the result was the discovery of the still. It is not on record, however, that any punishment was meted out to the offender.

Even the ladies tried their hands in those days at this work. For a long time one .Jenny Stevenson kept a still going on Cuicken Burn, and very cunningly she managed to dispose of her liquid and escape detection. Her operations were finally stopped by it severe accident which befell her in her own house. One night, wearied by her exertions at the burnside, and probably having sampled pretty freely the barley-bree, she fell asleep at the fireside, and falling; forward into the fire, was so severely burnt, that she was rendered thereafter a helpless invalid.

The Rev. Mr. Scott Moncrieff, minister of Penicuik, writing in the year 1839, states that smuggling had been completely abandoned in the parish, very much owing to the residence in the village of excise-officers, whose duties were connected with the collection of the revenue upon the paper made at the various mills in the vicinity. Neither the reverend gentleman nor the excisemen, however, seemed to be aware of the fact that at that very time a man, Whose name I will not mention, had a still going occasionally at the south-east corner of the village. He worked away at it quietly for many years, finding a ready market for its products. It was his boast that, amongst other consignments which he made, he once sent ten gallons to London amongst the baggage of Sir George Clerk—unknown, of course, to the right honourable gentleman, but no doubt with the connivance of those members of his establishment for whose use it was intended. This was in all probability the last case of illicit distillation in the parish. It is not known certainly that there has been any recurrence of the reprehensible practice within the last forty or fifty years.


In parish histories it is usual to include, under this heading, any customs or superstitions which may be attached to wells or springs in their particular neighbourhood. I do not think, however, so far as our parish is concerned, that there is anything to relate in connection with these matters, unless it be the fact that long ago people repaired in considerable numbers to a chalybeate spring in the Newhall woods, on the south side of the Esk, under the impression that by drinking of its waters they would be healed of every manner of trouble. Legends of Wonderful cures still exist, but any belief in its efficacy in serious complaints appears nowadays to be altogether dissipated.

Within living memory considerable interest centred in a spring that rose at the west edge of the plantation which borders the cemetery. It was surrounded by three or four upright slabs, and its waters were pure and sweet. It was known as the Gypsy's Well, and tradition points to its immediate neighbourhood as the site of a permanent gypsy encampment, which existed long ago in our parish. The wild life and predatory habits of these people did not at all times make them very safe or desirable neighbours, as the following story will sufficiently illustrate.

One Sunday morning Sir John Clerk, the first baronet of that name, looking from the windows of his mansion, saw a band of these gypsies approaching it with apparent evil intent. He was alone, all the other members of his family, with the servants, being at church. After hurriedly closing all the doors and windows, he barricaded himself in his own room, and prepared for defence. He was not a man whom it was safe to tackle ; for, according to his son, Baron Clerk, lie was one of the strongest men of his time, finely made, with the shoulders of a Hercules. Shots were soon freely interchanged between him and his assailants. The latter, however, finally effected their entrance. The Old House of Penicuik or Newbigging, as it was then called, was a handsome turreted mansion, and one of the gypsies, while straying; through it in search of plate and other portable articles, began to ascend the narrow stair of one of the turrets. When he had got up some height his foot slipped, and, to save himself from falling, he caught hold of a rope which was hanging near him. It proved to be the hell-rope, and the fellow's weight in falling set the bell a-ringing. This startled those in the neighbourhood, and the news of it speedily reached the church. Very soon a party made their way to the mansion-house, and they not only relieved the laird from his perilous position, but were successful in apprehending several of the gypsies. These men were shortly afterwards executed, and this severe punishment must have served as a warning, to others, for there is no record of any further disturbance being caused by them in Penicuik parish. In process of time, indeed, owing to the increasing power of the law and the improved state of the country, these gypsy bands were greatly reduced in number, whole gangs of them were banished, and the comparatively small residue of them that now exist have taken up their residence principally in the ])order counties.


It is usual also to include under the heading of Folk-Lore any peculiar customs connected with marriages, deaths, and burials. In regard to the first mentioned there is at the present time nothing distinctive in Penicuik parish. The ceremony is rarely conducted in church, lout generally in the house of the bride, and amongst the working-classes usually in the evening. Forty or fifty years ago, however, the practice of running or riding the bruize or braes was of common occurrence at our country weddings, especially in the western portion of the parish. If the future home of the happy couple was within a moderate distance, the young fellows present generally started on foot, at the conclusion of the ceremony, in hot haste to reach it, and secure the bottle of whisky which was placed there handy for the lifting. If at a distance, horses were requisitioned, and many a break-neck gallop at these celebrations has been taken part in and Witnessed by people still living amongst us. The practice of breaking a cake over the head of the bride upon her crossing the threshold of her own door, so common in those clays, is still in vogue, although it is rapidly falling into disuse. The vanishing of many an old-world custom may call forth a natural regret, lout the extinction of the practice of `bedding the newly-married couple, which was once common in the parish, must be looked on as an undeniable advantage to its morals.

Within living memory the practice of creelin`g the newly marred man was common amongst the humbler classes in our parish. The clay after the wedding a party of his friends and neighbours, usually provided with a large basket or creel, Visited his house. By main force the article was fixed upon his back and rapidly filled with stones, a process which was continued until the poor victim's wife came out and kissed him in such manner as satisfied his tormentors. He was then relieved of his load, and an adjournment for refreshments completed the performance.

Burial customs have all along been similar to those in neighhouring parishes. At country funerals the habit of treating the mourners to refreshment, in the shape of cake and wine, is still kept up. A religious service is usually conducted in the house, and sometimes at the churchyard. Formerly the coffin used often to be carried for long distances to the place of interment, but the employment of a hearse for that purpose is now general. White gloves are used at the funerals of unmarried people, but the rigid adherence to the wearing of sombre black habiliments is not so observable now as formerly.

In former tines frequent individual attempts have been made in the direction of reform of funeral customs, but to little purpose. It is on record, for instance, that the first Sir John Clerk, who died in 1722, left strict injunctions to his family and dependants that no mournings were to be worn for him after his death. his funeral was of the simplest kind: a plain hearse, and six coaches for those accompanying it, conveying his remains from Newbigging House to Penicuik Churchyard.

It has not been customary for women to attend funerals in Penicuik, but even this habit is changing. At the recent burials of those who perished in the memorable Mauricewood Colliery disaster, the sad scene was made even more affecting to mourners and onlookers by the presence of the poor widows, each following the remains of her beloved husband to the tomb.

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