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Sketches of Tranent 

In the Olden Time 



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Sketches of Tranent 

In the Olden Time 



By J. SANDS 

Author cf 
'Out of the World; or. Lift in SL AiVrfe,' ^./tVXT^k 



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PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR 

BY JAMES HOGG, g-a NORTH BANK STREE1 

EDINBURGH 

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The Highland Minstrel; 

OR, 

<£0tts0iati0tt for btixtq ntg oton flubltBlur. 

+—& 

Upon that monstrous mud-heap called The Mound, 
Which helps to join Edina old and new, 

But spoils a very pretty piece of ground, 
And in the lovely vale obstructs the view ; 

And where Fine Art the blunder to increase 

Has placed two buildings in the style of Greece, 

There stood a Gael named Alastair MacCraw, 
Who, by a quarry-shot was rendered blind, 

And he, attention to his case to draw, 
A barrel-organ all day long did grind ; 

And many when they saw his eye-balls dim 

Pitied and gave a coin, — but not to him ! 

For close beside him stood a crafty jade 
Who as his lawful help-mate tried to look, 

And whilst the Gael the weary organ played 
The spurious wife the coppers quietly took; 

And grateful glances on the givers cast ; — 

But this impostor was found out at last. 

How many authors like that Gael we find, 
Who even when the public ear they gain, 

To tricks of trade and worldly cunning blind 
Employ their mental organs all in vain ; 

Who labour hard, but still make little of it, 

For some sharp publisher takes all the profit. 

// is proper to mention that the blind man in question is now 
attended by his genuine wife or daughter. 



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CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER I. 



PAGE 



General view of Tranent — its antiquity and peculiar position 
on a crust — its old customs — how its inhabitants have at 
times asserted their rights, and how they have occasion- 
ally been robbed of them, .... 9 

CHAPTER II. 

The way coal-pits were worked in the olden time, and the 
enslaved condition of the miners — how slavery in Scot- 
land appeared to people at the time, . . .27 



CHAPTER III. 

David Seton, of Tranent, through ignorance, or more pro- 
bably to curry favour with the weak and superstitious 
King, accuses his servant maid of witchcraft, and by 
means of torture gets her to confess that she and thirty 
confederates had been engaged in a plot for the destruc- 
tion of his Majesty and his Danish bride, which confes- 
sion eventually results in 17,000 people in Scotland 
being burned at the stake, and Lord Seton is created 
Earl of Winton — Shakespeare and Burns, as appears 
from their works, were acquainted with the trials 
of the Tranent witches — John Kincaid, the witch 
finder, resides in Tranent — Ministers of the Gospel, 
blind leaders of the blind, were the firmest believers in 
witchcraft, and the most merciless persecutors of the 
poor wretches who were suspected of that impossible 



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CONTENTS. 



crime — the appalling consequences which even the true 
Religion leads poor mortals into, when it is allowed to 
take the bit between its teeth, and to throw Reason 
over its head, . . . . . * 35 

CHAPTER IV. 

The Battle of Prestonpans, showing the extraordinary power 
of ' sentiment ' when of the genuine and not the simu- 
lated kind, . . . . . -55 

CHAPTER V. 

The state of Scotland circa 1797, when Dundas was Dictator 
— the reason why the Scotch, a warlike people, were so 
averse to the Militia Act — Riots in Tranent and massacre, 73 

CHAPTER VI. 

Stiell's Hospital — Dr. Caesar takes the helm, and sets off on 
a voyage which Stiell never dreamt of — the Doctor 
obtains a crew of Trustees, and tries to erase the 
name from the stern and head boards ; but " Charity 
School" shines through the* paint, although put on 
an inch thick, . ... . . .89 



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CHAPTER I. 



GENERAL VIEW. 



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CHAPTER I. 



GENERAL VIEW. 



vp^^l^RANENT is a small town or village in East Lothian, 
-* with a population in the present year (1881) of 
2,233. It is built on a gentle slope, about 300 feet above the 
level of the sea, and about a mile and a quarter from the 
estuary of the Forth. It is described in the Gazetteers as 
being a place of no importance, and * one of the poorest look- 
ing towns in the three Lothians, though in recent times it has 
shown some signs of renovation.' It consists of two streets of 
commonplace houses and two or three squalid lanes. 

Yet in this insignificant theatre, as will be seen in the 
following pages, some extraordinary tragedies were performed 
in the olden time, at which all Scotland gazed with breathless 
and horrified interest. Tranent can boast of a venerable 
antiquity. The name which was formerly spelt Travernent, is 
said by Chalmers * to be a Cambro-British word, a relic of the 

* Chalmers' Caledonia, vol. ii., p. 400. 



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SKETCHES OF TRANENT 



language of the great tribe of the British Ottadini — a Celtic 
tribe that inhabited the district in the second century. An 
urn filled with human ashes, which was lately discovered in 
the vicinity, proves that the place was peopled in Pagan times. 
A few quaint old houses still remain, and carry the mind back 
to a more recent, although still ancient date. It is lamentable 
that the old church was demolished at the end of the last 
century. It is said to have been of great antiquity, as is still 
evident from the portions that exist incorporated into the 
hideous barn, where the present Parish Minister swings his 
sacerdotal flail and thrashes out the straw of the Gospel once a 
week. It was built in the form of a cross with a square tower, 
supported on pillars and arches in the centre. The roof was 
vaulted and covered with stone. The writer of the first statis- 
tical, account of the Parish says : * The windows are few and ill 
constructed, and in a dark and gloomy day serve only to make 
darkness visible. Either the church has originally been sunk 
below the surface of the ground, or the surrounding burying 
ground has been much heightened by the immense number of 
bodies interred in it, for the access to the pulpit is by a descent 
of four steps from the churchyard.' Nothing now remains of 
the ancient church excepting the north wall with two buttresses, 
west gable, and the north end of the transept. The absence 
of mouldings or other ornamention in the pointed west window, 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 13 

which is still visible, although built up, and the rounded arches 
cut in the lintel of the transept window, seem to show that the 
building was of an older date than the reign of David the 1st. 
The masonry is good, and the nicely squared stones with 
which the ancient church was constructed have been utilized 
by the tasteless Goths who erected the new. 

In all probability the most ancient relic in Tranent, and one 
that gives the place a peculiar character is the coal waste. 
Other towns are built upon the solid earth; but Tranent stands 
upon a crust a few feet, say eighteen on an average, below 
the foundation of the houses. There is a vast and gloomy 
cavern called the waste — a seam from which the coal had 
been excavated by Scotch slaves. So thin is the sandstone 
crust that those who possess domiciles where it is twenty-four 
feet in thickness chuckle over the security they enjoy above 
their neighbours. In some of the houses an entrance might 
be had to the waste by lifting up the hearthstone. Cattle 
have been known to drop through the pasture in the neighbour- 
hood into the waste, and the story goes that a man who was 
smoking his pipe at his own door suddenly went down, door- 
step and all, but was fortunately rescued.* The waste extends 

* For this and much other information relating to Tranent, I am in- 
debted to Mr. John Forsyth, baker and postmaster there, who possesses a 
most retentive memory, and takes an intelligent interest in everything past 



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i 4 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

under the churchyard and is used as a burial vault by at least 
one family. There is a tradition that a woman — a coal-bearer — 
was lost in the waste to the west of the town for over fourteen 
days, during which time she had nothing to eat but the candles 
which at that period were used in the pits instead of lamps. 
She had, however, an abundant supply of water, which no 
doubt helped to sustain life. People outside were much 
alarmed at her absence, and drums were beat and bagpipes 
played in the labyrinth in the hope that she might catch 
the sound and find the way out. She was at last found 
sitting on her coal-creel or basket. At a later date a party 
became bewildered in the waste, and only discovered their 
situation when they heard psalm-singing in the church above 
their heads. 

In 1566 Tranent had the honour of a visit from royalty. 

and present connected with his native town. He retains a clear recollec- 
tion, not only of events that have occurred within his own lengthened ex- 
perience, but of those he has heard of from his mother and grandmother. 
He himself is not the least remarkable ' lion ' of Tranent. With abilities, 
that, if he had been a lawyer, would probably have raised him to the 
bench, he has been content to labour at the vocation to which fortune had 
called him, and by it had acquired a competence, when the failure of the 
City of Glasgow Bank — like a lightning bolt from a cloudless sky — sud- 
denly struck and left him bare. But although it shook it failed to shatter 
him. Like some sturdy oak he still stands, as he stood before the disaster, 
in honoured age, with relatives like ivy clinging to the trunk, and troops 
Nof friends sitting underliis branches. — J. S. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 15 

On the 10th of February in that year, Darnley was blown up 
with gunpowder a few minutes after his affectionate wife had 
left his sick room, where she had been playing the part of a 
tender nurse for some eight or ten days. She was obliged 
to leave him in a hurry to attend the wedding of one of her 
maids. She was suspected of being an accomplice in the 
murder ; and it did not escape attention that two weeks after 
her husband's death, whilst in the country and in the city all 
were shocked at the late occurrences, and felt them as a stain 
on their national character, the Court of Seton was occupied 
in gay amusements. Mary and Bothwell would shoot at the 
butts against Huntley and Seton, and on one occasion after 
winning the match, they forced these lords to pay the forfeit 
in the shape of a dinner at Tranent.* 

The town was famous in the olden time not only for its 
coals, but for its butcher meat. 'Send saut to Dysart and 
puddings to Tranent' was a proverb. The wreck of an ancient 
building has been swept away within the memory of man. 
Probably it was originally used for purposes of war, but 
tradition says it was latterly occupied as an inn, and that 
butchers had booths around it. It bore the name of the 
Pudding Tower. Another proverb testifies not only to the 
abundance of animal food in Tranent, but also to the scarcity 

* Ty tier's History of Scotland, 



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1 6 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

of water. ' I can wash tripe with as little water as any woman 
in Tranent/ was the quaint saying of those who wanted an 
excuse for declining to do anything with insufficient means. 
In 1 791 a butcher market was held in Tranent twice a week, 
from which Prestonpans, Ormiston, and the adjacent country 
were principally supplied. About 250 oxen, 70 calves, and 
1350 sheep and lambs were annually slaughtered. 

But at that period, as at present, there was a great want of 
water. There was only one spring, but an affluent one, to 
supply the whole town, the water from which was conducted 
to the head of Tranent in wooden pipes, and thence carried 
in barrels upon carts to the houses of the more fastidious 
inhabitants. The waste water from the wooden pipe ran in 
an open ditch or gutter through the town, and barrels were 
sunk in the ground to catch a supply as it passed; but as 
people were in the habit of tossing their filth into the current, 
it soon became polluted and unfit for use. This system was 
superseded by a service of lead, and subsequently of cast-iron 
pipes, running from the fountain head to the foot of the town, 
the barrels being replaced by substantial stone wells. In 
this way, and until about fifty years ago, Tranent continued 
to be served with a perennial supply of the purest water, but 
in 1830 a pit-shaft was sunk by Messrs. Cadell in the very 
centre of the sandbed, where the spring was situated, and the 



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IN THE OLD AN TIME, 17 

water gradually found its way down the shaft to the pit, and 
thence was discharged by the day-level to the sea, leaving 
Tranent destitute. Crowds of poorly-clad creatures might 
then be seen collected around the wells, eagerly contending 
by day and by night for the precious drops that still came to 
them from the fast-failing spring, whilst women and children 
scoured the country in search of water, which they retailed at 
enormous prices. No wonder that Asiatic cholera, which paid 
Scotland a visit at this period, should have made fearful havoc 
in Tranent. The coal-proprietors and the lessees, who, to 
facilitate their own labours, had drained away the water from 
the town, expressed their sympathy with the inhabitants, but 
did nothing to alleviate the misery they had occasioned. 
But a few of the feuars, under the leadership of Mr. David 
Aitken, stepped forward to vindicate the rights of the com- 
munity. These public-spirited individuals commenced pro- 
ceedings before the Court of Session against Messrs. Cadell, 
the proprietors, to compel them to restore the abstracted water 
to its original channel. They engaged an Agent, took the 
opinion of Counsel, had witnesses precognosced, and the case 
ready for decision, when at the eleventh hour the Coal Com- 
pany offered to ' tub ' or line the faulty pit with iron plates at 
their own expense, which work was done and succeeded. The 

water returned. In 1837 a second shaft was sunk in the 

c 



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1 8 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

'sandbed* with the same result, although in a less degree, 
when the village Hampden and the dauntless feuars again 
stepped to the front, and forced the Coal Company after a 
slight show of resistance to * tub ' the new pit also. For thirty 
years afterwards Tranent seems to have been blessed with 
an abundant supply of water; but about the year 1867 the 
beneficent spring began to exhibit signs of exhaustion, and 
the wells were again besieged by clamorous crowds. But the 
cause of the dearth was not so certain this time, for not only 
was it known that one of the Tranent Company's pits, viz. 
the ' Smithy Pit ' was discharging large quantities of sandbed 
water into the day-level ; but a shaft which had been recently 
sunk on the neighbouring estate of Elphinston was suspected 
of having tapped the sandbed. Besides the old generation of 
feuars had passed away, and a recent decision of the House of 
Lords, which seemed to support the right of the proprietors of 
mineral fields to carry on their operations whether these led 
to the diversions of streams or not, made the Tranent people 
a little doubtful of their right, and accordingly the Police 
Commissioners opened negotiations with the new superior, 
and after many delays, during which the inhabitants suffered 
grievous hardships, a compromise was arrived at. The in- 
habitants were allowed to pump what water they required 
from the * Smithy Pit,' a false bottom having been put into 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 19 

it at a depth of about seventy feet from the top, so as to retain 
the water from the 'sandbeoV But even this plan is not 
considered satisfactory, and a project is at present on foot 
for bringing a supply at an estimated cost of from ^5000 to 
;£6ooo from Crichton, where coal-owners cease from troubling. 

The laws which prohibit companies and individuals, whilst 
engaged in the pursuit of their private interests, from doing 
anything detrimental to the public seem to be partial and 
narrow, and to make superficial distinctions where there are no 
essential differences. To divert a stream which flows on the 
surface, or to pollute its waters so that trout cannot live in 
them is contrary to law, but to deprive a whole community 
of water to the danger of health and of life, or to compel them 
to bring it from a great distance at great expense is perfectly 
legal if the damage be done by subterranean operations. A 
law permitting thieves to pick the pockets of your breeches, 
but not of your waistcoat, would not be more preposterous. 

But although water was scarce in Tranent in the olden 
time whisky was abundant. At the end of last century 
between 3000 and 4000 gallons were on a moderate com- 
putation annually retailed in the parish, besides what was 
commissioned by private families from the stills.* Beer was 
also plentiful, and it is greatly to be regretted that this whole- 
* Old Statistical Account. 



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SKETCHES OF TRANENT 



some and refreshing beverage should have gone comparatively 
out of fashion and given place to tea, which is seldom to be 
had in an unadulterated condition, and at the best, is injurious 
to the nervous system and digestive organs, and ruinous to the 
pockets of poor people. It is to be hoped that the Govern- 
ment will reverse their recent fiscal policy — will remove all 
restrictions from brewing and place a heavy duty on tea. It 
would be well too (only it might savour of tyranny) if well- 
meaning but mistaken gentlemen could be prevented from 
opening tea and coffee shops in our cities, and thereby of 
spreading dyspepsia amongst the working classes. 

Brew-houses on a humble scale were numerous in Tranent 
in the olden time. Some of them belonged to women. In 
the churchyard a mouldering tomb-stone informs us that one 
David Mather, who closed his useful life in 1687, was a 
4 Quaigh-maker,' and that his son John, who died in 1756, 
followed the same trade. The quaigh used in Tranent at 
that period was probably not the little wooden cup which 
now bears that name, and which was used in the Highlands 
for drinking whisky, but the small tub, built with hoops and 
staves, also called a bicker or cogue, out of which beer was and 
still is quaffed in the Lowlands. Tradition says that a leglen 
or milking pail of excellent small beer could be bought in 
Tranent for twopence halfpenny. The small beer drunk at 



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IN TH$ OLDEN TIME. 21 

that period and long afterwards was not the dead, bodyless, 
cask-washings, that now usurp the name ; but a brisk, throat- 
cutting, nose-twisting, and exhilarating liquor, which every 
lover of his country would like to see come into fashion again. 

Cakes and ale, as one can even learn from the tomb-stones, 
were abundant in Tranent in the olden time. The heavy 
wheels of life were moreover occasionally greased with a 
holiday. The third Thursday of June was a festival which 
old and young dreamt of for months before it came. All the 
ploughmen in the district, with their horses well curried and 
gaily decorated, rode through the streets in procession, with a 
lord elected fof the nonce at their head, and a race terminated 
the amusement of the day. Showmen, mountebanks, vendors 
of sweeties and gingerbread, ballad-singers, and fiddlers, etc., 
flocked from all quarters to swell the jovial throng. This 
festival (a shadow of which survives in the Tranent Games) 
was called the * Carters' Play.' 

Cock-fighting was a favourite sport in the dull winter days. 
A main was fought in the school-room every year under the 
patronage of the school-master, who claimed all the run-away 
cocks or ' fugies ' as his perquisite, and who also received half 
a guinea or half a crown from the owner of the victorious cock, 
according to the circumstances of the boy's father. On 
Fastern's e'en and Yule a main was fought, and tradition says 



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22 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

that the notorious Deacon Brodie used to come with his birds 
to enjoy the pastime. Brodie's passion for cock-fighting, and 
his curiosity to learn the result of a main in Edinburgh, and 
how his favourite black cock fought, was the means of his 
being traced to Amsterdam, where he was apprehended, brought 
to Edinburgh, tried for robbing the Excise Office, convicted 
and executed in 1788. He himself died game. 

Tranent, no doubt from the dearth of water and abundance 
of filth, was not a healthy place in the olden time. During 
the latter half of the last century, about one-fourth of the deaths 
were those of infants under one year, great numbers of whom 
were cut off by small pox and hooping cough. The town 
was, as already mentioned, severely scourged by Asiatic cholera 
in 1832. The old sexton (now superannuated) used to speak 
with much unction of the prosperous times when he entered 
the trade, but his successors need not despond. All who 
know the present sanitary condition of the town will agree 
that if cholera again visits Scotland it will not forget Tranent 

Of the original proprietors of Tranent we know nothing, 
but Robert de Quincy acquired the manor from William the 
Lion, who made him justiciary. He was succeeded by Seyer 
de Quincy, the Earl of Winton, who died amidst the Holy 
War in 1 2 19. It then passed to his son Roger de Quincy. 
It was forfeited by the adherence of its owners to Edward the 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 23 

2d, and Robert Bruce conferred it on Alexander de Setoun. 
The Seton family was ennobled by James 1st, and Robert, 
the eighth Lord (one of James the Sixth's favourites), was 
created Earl of Winton in 1600.* Tranent remained in 
possession of the Setons until it was forfeited in 1715. It 
was bought by the York's Building Company, who introduced 
many improvements in mining, and amongst others built a 
harbour at Cockenzie, and in 1722 made a tramway from 
it to the pits, a distance of about two miles. This railway, 
said to be the oldest in the world, was laid with wooden 
rails, which were replaced by Mr. Cadell in 18 16 with iron 
ones. The York's Building Company became bankrupt in 
1779, and Tranent was purchased by the Messrs. Cadell, who 
had been previously taxmen. It now belongs to Mr. Poison. 

Tranent, according to Chalmers, has been inhabited in 
succession by Cambro-Britons (under Roman rule for some 
centuries), and by Saxons, Picts, and Scots. For some years 
a large immigration of Celts from Erin has been going on, 
for nature dislikes a pure race, and in many ways, often 
unnoticed by the historian, introduces a cross. 

A few years ago Tranent had no head — no magistrates — 
no police. Pigs wandered at their own sweet will through 
the muddy streets, or basked in the sun on the pavement. 
* Chalmers' Caledonia, vol. ii., p. 431. 



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24 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

Petty offenders where often tried before Judge Lynch and 
ducked in the pond. From time immemorial a drummer 
had been in the habit of perambulating the streets at four 
o'clock in the morning for the purpose of arousing the 
miners to their work. But this ancient functionary became 
at length intolerable. He was knocked down, and the ends 
of his drum kicked in by some people he had disturbed. 
So will democracy ere long serve every relic of feudalism. 
Tranent is now governed by six Police Commissioners, elected 
by the rate-payers. 

From time immemorial, down to the beginning of this 
century, the inhabitants possessed the right of pasturing their 
cows upon an extensive moor situated at the east of the town. 
At a certain hour every morning, a herd passed through the 
streets blowing a horn, on hearing which the cows issued 
from their respective byres, and in a drove went to the moor. 
Another blast collected them in the evening, every cow re- 
treating into her own house as the drove passed through the 
town until all were at home. This moor, when land had 
become precious in consequence of the French War, and the 
dearth of bread which it had occasioned, somehow became 
the property of Mr. Cadell the superior, who divided it and 
let some of it as arable ground for seven pounds an acre. 
This conveyance was not effected without remonstrance from 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 



*5 



the people of Tranent, but the principal opponents were 
bribed with cheap feus, and the inhabitants in general were 
deprived of their right to the moor. It is expressly stated in 
the feu-charters, granted in the present day, that the feuars 
are to have no right to pasturage on the moor. 



J^SS*-. 



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CHAPTER II 



COLLIERS AND COLLIERIES. 



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<*§r 



CHAPTER II. 

COLLIERS AND COLLIERIES. 

[N all probability coals were worked in Tranent for 
many centuries before any document was written 
to commemorate the fact. Probably it was the excellent fuel 
cropping from the surface that attracted the ancient inhabitants 
to the spot, and very likely the holes they dug in the seam 
formed their habitations. That coals were worked in Tranent 
as early as the year 1200, a charter granted by Seyer de 
Quincy, the lord of the manor of Tranent, to the monks of 
Newbattle remains to prove, and this is the earliest notice, by 
ninety years, of the working of coal in Scotland. Fordun, 
under the year 1322, states familiarly the collieries of Tranent 
when he speaks of the invasion of Edward the 2d, who re- 
mained some time in East Lothian. From the age of Robert 
the Bruce there is a series of charters granting collieries in 
East Lothian.* 

Chalmers' Caledonia — Note at p. 400, vol. ii. 



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30 SKETCHES 01* TRANEN7 

In the middle of the 16th century, 1547, the workings 
seem to have extended to a considerable distance under 
ground, as Patton, the narrator of Protector Somerset's in- 
vasion of Scotland, gives an account of many inhabitants 
of the district taking refuge in the coal pits a few days 
before the disastrous battle of Pinkie. The English, finding 
it impossible to dislodge them, closed up the pits, which gave 
air to the workings, and placing fires at the entrance en- 
deavoured either to drive them out by other apertures, or 
to suffocate the miserable creatures within.* 

Tranent sits upon the edge of a shattered basin of coal, 
or a basin within basins, the bottom of which is under 
Carlaverock farm-house, about a mile to the south of the 
town, where it is about thirty-seven fathoms from the surface. 
The coals were wrought in ancient times, as now, with picks 
and wedges, but 'stoops,' or massive pillars of coal, were 
left to support the roof, which is now done by props, until 
the seam is exhausted, when they are removed. The work- 
ings in the olden time were cleared of water by a process 
called ' damming and laving,' that is by forming banks over 
which the water was ladled into dams above, whence it was 
ladled over the other banks into other dams, and so on 
until it was got out of the pit. Buckets with long handles 
* New Statistical Account, vol. ii. p. 285. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 31 

are sometimes found in the ancient workings that appear to 
be quite sound until exposed to the light of day, when they 
drop into dust These had been used in * laving.' A more 
efficient method of drainage was adopted in course of time, 
although the precise date is unknown. This was by means 
of day-levels, that is mines bored through the rocks, regardless 
of the stratification, to some place on the surface, which is 
lower than the workings, to which the water is carried by 
gravitation. One of these day-levels, the mouth of which is 
near StielPs Charity School, must be a mile and a half hi 
length. The author had an opportunity (thanks to Mr. Stewart, 
the Manager of the Carlaverock Colliery) of seeing that level, 
and also an ancient coal waste in the same pit, which was 
discovered in the course of modern excavations, and the 
existence of which was previously unknown. Miners frequently 
stumble on these ancient works, which extend for miles in 
all directions, and force the mind to the conclusion that coal 
must have been worked in Tranent far back in pre-historic 
times. 

Where the seam was only a few fathoms deep the coals 
were carried on women's backs up crazy spiral stairs to the 
surface. The women were called 'bearers,' and a hundred 
weight and a half was considered a fair burden. The bearers 
generally carried a small cudgel to help them in the ascent. 



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32 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

In deep pits the coals were carried to the bottom of the shaft 
by women, and then raised in wooden tubs by means of a 
gin moved by horses. The coals were almost invariably 
carried to market in creels slung across horses' backs, the 
roads being wretched and unfit for vehicles. 

The condition of the colliers in Scotland, from time imme- 
morial down to a very recent date,. now excites astonishment, 
although it does not seem to have caused any surprise whilst 
it continued. Colliers, until the year 1775, were a11 slaves, and 
were bought and sold along with the pits. They were ex- 
cluded by law from all the rights enjoyed by other subjects. 
In 1775 it was enacted that those who, after the 1st of July 
shall begin to work as colliers and salters, shall be free ; but 
those who were already at work shall only be liberated 
gradually, those under twenty-one in seven years, those 
between twenty-one and thirty-five in ten years, and those 
who were emancipated were allowed the benefit of the act, 
which was passed in 1701, to protect others from wrongous 
imprisonment and undue delays in trials. 

As the reader may feel some curiosity to know what could 
have been said in defence of such an iniquitous institution by 
those living at that time, a few extracts from a letter written 
by some one in Glasgow, and published in the Edinburgh 
Weekly Magazine of March 18, 1772, may not here be out of 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 33 

place. These will show to what an incredible degree self- 
interest can blind a man to all sense of justice. He says — 
'I may readily agree with the promoters of the bill, that at 
first sight it must appear a reproach upon us that a state 
of slavery should exist in a free country ; but if we look around 
us in the same country, in what better situation is a private 
soldier in the army, who never can get clear of his service 
until he is superannuated or unfit for it ? From some other 
cause, it may be alleged that the soldier is only a servant to 
the public, while the collier is a slave to some individual. 
Be that as it . may, it makes no great difference as to the 
personal situation of the one or the other. They are both 
slaves for life. The great difference is, that the soldier is 
provided for in old age, and the collier is not; and if some 
provision were made for the latter, it would be all the freedom 
that ought to be applied for to the legislature for him. The 
great advantage of slavery is, that whilst the wages of labourers 
above ground have risen within fifteen years from sevenpence 
or eightpence a day to one shilling or one shilling and sixpence 
sterling, the wages of colliers have remained the same for 
twenty-five years, and that none can clear more than ten 
shillings a week, which enables the masters to undertake 
works, which if wages were higher, they would be obliged to 
abandon, and consequently coal would rise in price, and 

£ 



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34 SKETCHES OF TRANENT, 

surely this will never serve the public, and the export of the 
commodity would fall off. From all which it is clear and 
evident to me, that it would be extremely dangerous to 
emancipate the Scots Colliers, while labourers are paid so 
high for their work above ' ground, as it would have a direct 
tendency to raise their wages, to raise the price of coals, and 
shut up many coal works.' 

The Act of 1775, says Lord Cockburn, although effective in 
checking new slavery, was made very nearly useless in its 
application to the existing slaves by one of its conditions. 
Instead of becoming free by mere lapse of time, no slave 
obtained his liberty unless he instituted a legal proceeding in 
the Sheriff Court, and incurred all the cost, delay, and trouble 
of a law suit ; his capacity to do which was extinguished by the 
invariable system of masters always having their workmen in 
their debt. The result was that in general the existing slave 
was only liberated by death. 

' But this last link,' continues Lord Cockburn « was broken 
in June 1799, by the 39th George the 3d, chap. 56, which 
enacted that from and after its date "all the colliers in 
Scotland who were bound colliers at the passing of the 15th 
George 3d, chap. 28, shall be free from their servitude." 
This annihilated the relic. ' * 

* Cockburns' Me?norials, p. 76. 



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CHAPTER III. 



WITCHCRAFT, 1591. 



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CHAPTER III. 

WITC HC R AFT, I 5 9 I. 

v ^^^O the north of the churchyard of Tranent, and 
^ separated from it only by a road, stands an old 
dove-cot, now empty; but which had been constructed to 
accommodate 1122 pairs of pigeons. Supposing it had con- 
tained only half that number, what a curse it must have been 
to the neighbourhood about the end of the 16th century, 
when farmers were ignorant of their trade, when land was 
swampy and undrained, when Implements were of the rudest 
description, and when consequently the crops must have been 
scanty arid precious ! One can picture the desperate look 
with which the poor husbandman, with the sickle in his hand 
and the sweat on his brow, regarded the flocks of voracious 
pigeons that fluttered amongst and devoured the oats and 
bere that he had raised with such bitter toil. Above the now 
door] ess doorway of the dovecot a tablet of sandstone is still 
to be seen, which at one time bore a shield, now all but effaced 



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38 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

by time and the weather, and still bears the name of DAVID 
SETOUN, and the date, 1587, distinct and legible.* 

On reading the inscription, one remembers with a shudder 
that this was the name of the deputy bailiff in Tranent under 
Lord Seton, afterwards Earl of Winton, who, in the year 159 1, 
was the prime mover in the crusade against witchcraft, which, 
before it ended, resulted in 17,000 people in Scotland being 
tortured and burned to ashes for an imaginary crime. David 
Seton (who probably resided in a quaint old house commonly 
called the Royal George, which was recently demolished), 
had a servant maid whose name was Gellie Duncan. She 
was young and comely, and distinguished for her readiness 
to attend the sick and infirm, and for her wonderful skill in 
curing diseases. Seton, being himself destitute of the divine 
sentiment of compassion, could not understand why any one 
would take so much trouble to alleviate the sufferings of 
others, or how a person in a humble station could have 
acquired a knowledge of leechcraft. He was astounded on 
hearing the extraordinary cures she had performed, and his 
base mind was filled with the most preposterous suspicions. 
He interrogated Gellie as to how and by what means she had 

* Dovecots became such a pest, that an Act was passed in 16 17 pro- 
hibiting their erection, except the owner had lands within two miles of the 
value of ten chalders of victual annually. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 39 

learned to treat cases of such importance, and her answers 
not being satisfactory, he with the assistance of others en- 
deavoured to wring the truth from her by torture. He 
crushed her fingers in an instrument called the pilliwinkis, 
or thumb-screws, and that failing he bound and wrenched 
her head with a cord or rope, which produced excruciating 
agony. But Gellie remained obdurate and would confess 
nothing.* 

Then her body was examined and the mark of the Devil 
found upon her throat. It was believed that Satan put a 
mark upon all who had enlisted into his service, which mark 
was recognisable by the part being bloodless and insensible to 
pain. It is related that Gellie, on the discovery of the mark, 
made a full and complete confession. She admitted that her 
attention to the sick had been done at the wicked suggestion 
of the Devil, and that her cures were effected by witchcraft. 
She disclosed the names of thirty accomplices, some of them 
the wives of respectable citizens of Edinburgh, whose conduct 
had till then been irreproachable. These were all apprehended 
and lodged in prison. 

On the ist of May 1590, James the 6th arrived at Leith 
after a very stormy passage from Copenhagen, and it had 
been observed that the ship that carried the King and his 

* Pitcairns' Justiciary Records, vol. i. 



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40 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

young Protestant bride was more furiously buffeted by the 
tempest than any other vessel in the fleet. Often when the 
others had fair breezes, she had to contend with contrary 
winds. This singular circumstance was noticed by many, 
but none could explain it until the confessions of Gellie 
Duncan and her accomplices unlocked the mystery. An 
elderly woman called Agnes Sampson, who lived at Keith, in 
the parish of Humbie, was one of those whom Gellie informed 
on. She was arrested and tried before the Court of Justiciary. 
Amongst other crimes, she was accused of having been 
assiduous in her attendance on the sick, and of having repeated 
the creed and the Lord's Prayer in monkish rhyme over them. 
She denied having any dealings with the Devil, or any know- 
ledge of witchcraft; but on being horribly tortured, stripped 
naked, and the Devil's mark discovered on her person, she 
confessed the truth of Gellie Duncans' disclosures. 

She admitted she was a witch, and related that she had 
attended a meeting of witches, numbering upwards of two 
hundred, which was held at the Kirk of North Berwick on 
Hallowe'en. The Devil presided, and a young man called 
Cunningham, alias Dr. Fian, acted as Secretary, and an old 
fellow named Grey Meal, who resided at the Meadow-mill, 
was the Door-keeper. The meeting had been called to devise 
a plan for the destruction of the ship that carried the King 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME 41 

and Queen. On this being arranged, the whole crew of witches 
and wizards set sail in riddles or sieves to meet the Royal 
Squadron. On the voyage they boarded a ship, and, after 
helping themselves to meat and drink, sunk her. When the 
Kings' vessel was sighted the Devil handed a cat to Dr. Fian, 
and ordered him to throw it into the sea and to cry halo! 
The cat had been previously drawn nine times across the fire. 
This being done a tremendous tempest arose, and nothing but 
a miracle could have saved the Royal ship from destruction. 

The Devils' fleet then put about and returned to North 
Berwick. On reaching the shore the witches marched with 
their sieves in their hands in a procession to the Kirk, Gellie 
Duncan tripping in the front and playing a quick-step on the 
trump or jew's-harp. On reaching the Kirk, they marched 
three times around it withershins, that is in the direction 
opposite to the apparent course of the sun, and when they 
tried to enter the sacred edifice they found the door was 
locked; but it sprang open when Dr. Fian blew into the 
keyhole. When the infernal congregation entered the Kirk 
all was darkness ; but the Docter blew in the lights, as other 
people blow them out, and lo ! the Devil was seen standing in 
the pulpit dressed in a black gown. 

His first proceeding was to call the Roll. He then enquired 
whether they had been his faithful servants, and on their 



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4* SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

answering 'Aye, Maister,' he preached a short sermon with 
his usual ability. He enjoined them to do all the evil in 
their power, and promised to take care that they should be 
handsomely rewarded. At the conclusion of his service, he 
put his tail over the pulpit and requested them to kiss it, as a 
token of their allegiance, which they all did. The congre- 
gation then retired to the churchyard, where they feasted on 
the dead, and received joints of human bodies from the Devil, 
to 'make a charm of powerful trouble. ' The convocation 
was concluded with a dance, to which Gellie Duncan played 
a reel on the trump, called : 

* Cummer, go ye before Cummer, go ye. ' 

Such is the essence of the confessions emitted by these poor 
wretches under torture, and some have expressed surprise 
that there should have been such a close agreement between 
them; but as they were probably all prompted by the pro- 
secution, no surprise need be felt. 

Cunningham, commonly known as Dr. Fian, was a school- 
master in Preston, and his superior education would have 
exposed him to suspicion in those dark days. He was one 
of those whom Gellie Duncan informed on. He was accused, 
amongst other things, of having chased a cat in a street in 
Tranent, and of having leaped a wall as lightly as the cat her- 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 43 

self — a wall so lofty that no mortal man, without the help of 
the Devil, could have cleared it. It was believed that he was 
collecting cats for Satan, who required a supply for the purpose 
of raising storms. On being interrogated, Dr. Fian denied 
that he knew anything of sorcery, and to compel him to 
confess his guilt he was subjected to the most grevious 
torments that the mind of man could invent. His legs were 
put into the bootikens, and crushed with wedges until the 
blood and marrow spouted out. But he maintained a stub- 
bom silence. In this crippled condition he managed in some 
way to escape from prison; but unfortunately, returning to 
Prestonpans, he was again arrested and brought back to 
Edinburgh. He was again tortured by the bootikens^ and in 
addition his finger nails were torn off with pincers, and pins 
thrust into the tips of his fingers. But nothing would make 
him confess his guilt; and finally, he, as well as Gellie Duncan, 
and the thirty whose names she had in her agony disclosed, 
were strangled and burned to ashes on the Castlehill of 
Edinburgh. 

Some people, ashamed that such atrocities should have been 
perpetrated in Scotland, when the radiant sun of the Refor- 
mation had arisen in the sky, and the dark night of Popery 
had sunk below the horizon, are willing to believe that 
although these miserable victims of superstition were innocent 



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44 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

of the impossible crimes with which they were charged, yet 
they were guilty of real crimes which merited all the punish- 
ment they received. Fian, it is said, * was a man who had led 
an infamous life, was a compounder of and dealer in poisons, 
and a pretender to magic, and he deserved all the misery he 
endured.' * But there is nothing to support the view excepting 
evidence given under torture, and the ignorant and malignant 
gossip of the times, both of which ought now to be rejected 
with indignation. Fian must be held as an innocent man, 
who suffered the cruelest torments and death at the stake for 
crimes he never committed, and whose character has been 
blackened, without a shadow of reason, to this date. The 
same verdict must be passed on Agnes Sampson, whom the 
very indictment shows to have been a woman of a pious and 
benevolent disposition. 

His Majesty, believing that an attempt had been made on 
his own life by Satan and his servants, felt a deep interest in 
these trials, and attended to see the witnesses examined and 
put to the torture. He sent for Gellie Duncan to Holyrood, 
and made her play the reel she had performed to the Devil 
and the witches at North Berwick. 

' Cummer go ye before, Cummer go ye, 
Gif ye will not go before, Cummer let me. ' 

* Mackays' Popular Delusions > vol. ii., p. 137. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 45 

But her compliance failed to soften the heart of that super- 
stitious and ruthless tyrant. In 1597 he published a treatise 
on Demonology, and in it he says that witches ought to be 
put to death according to the law of God, the civil and 
imperial law, and the municipal law of all Christian nations — 
that witchcraft is a crime so abominable that it may be proved 
by evidence, which would not be received in other cases — 
that the testimony of young children and infamous characters 
ought to be sufficient, but to make snre the Devils' mark 
should be looked for, and the suspected person be put into 
the water to try whether she would sink or swim. If she 
floated it would be a proof that she was guilty — if she sank 
she would be drowned, but her innocence would be apparent 

The trials of the Tranent witches and the extraordinary 
confessions that had been wrung from them, threw all Scotland 
into a state of inconceivable excitement. Superstitious terror 
spread like an epidemic, and James on his accession to the 
throne of England carried the infection with him. During 
the first eighty years of the seventeenth century, it has been 
calculated that 40,000 people were executed for witchcraft 
there, which added to those judicially murdered in Scotland, 
makes the fearful total of 57,000 ! It is curious to reflect that 
it was David Seton of Tranent, whose pigeon house is still 
to be seen on the Dove-cot Brae there, who struck the spark 



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46 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

that caused this appalling explosion of national insanity. 
Prosecutions for witchcraft had not indeed been unknown 
before he got Gellie Duncan brought to the stake ; but they 
had been comparatively few and far between. It was his 
venomous tooth that gave the bite that set the whole pack in 
Scotland, and in England too, into such a state of outrageous 
madness, as had never been paralleled before and has never 
been equalled since, 

In 1 59 1 the dread and abhorrence of sorcery, fostered by 
the King, the Privy Council, and the Clergy, grew into a chronic 
mania which raged without any abatement until the year 1665. 
During this period a number of cruel villains made witch- 
finding a trade. They were called ' common-prickers ' or 
witch-finders. One of these scoundrels resided in Tranent, 
and he must have been a pleasant person for old women to 
meet at a party. His name was John Kincaid. Although 
Tranent was his head-quarters, he, accompanied by his man 
servant, roamed the country in search of employment, and 
from the skill he was believed to possess in discovering the 
Devils' mark, he was held in high repute and carried on a 
prosperous business. His method of testing witches was to 
stick a brad-awl, or a pin three inches long, into various parts 
of their bodies, until he found a spot where no pain was felt 
by the puncture, and no blood came forth, which spot was an 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 47 

infallible sign of guilt. Probably his awl, like the dagger 
blades of modern jugglers, could be retracted into the hilt 
when the operator pleased, so as to deceive the eye of 
spectators. The following certificate * will give the readef an 
idea as to the way in which John conducted business : 

Dalkeith, 17 Junij 1661. The quhilk day Janet Peaston 
being delaitit as is aforesaid the magistrate and 
minister caused John Kincaid in Tranent, the 
common-pricker to prick her, and found two marks 
upon her which he called the Devill his marks, 
which apeared indeed to be so, for she did nather 
find the prein when it was put into any of the said 
marks nor did they blood when they were taken out 
again. And quhan she was asked 'Quhair shoe 
thoght the preins were put in?' Shoe pointed at 
a part of her body distant from the place quhair the 
preins were put in they being preins of thrie inches 
or thairabout in length. Quhilk Johne Kinkaid 
declaris upon his oath and verifies by his subscrip- 
tion to be true. Witnesses thairto Mr. Wm. Calder- 
wood, Minister at Dalkeith and Williame Scott, 
Bailzie; Martin Stevinsone and Thomas Calderwood, 
Pitcairns* Justiciary Rtcords y vol. Hi., p. 602. 



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48 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

Elders; Major Archibald Waddell, Johne Hunter, 
David Douglas. • 

From an account of the expenses of executing a witch 
named Margaret Denholm at Burncastle, near Lauder,* one 
ascertains the fee received by Kincaid. He was paid six 
pounds Scots 'for brodding of her' besides 'meat and drink 
and wyne to him and his man ' which cost four pounds — total 
ten pounds Scots, whilst the hangman of Haddington received 
nine pounds, fourteen shillings Scots, which included charge 
for ' meit and drink and wyne for his intertinge ' and travelling 
expenses — a man with a led horse having been sent for him. 
Two men, who watched the woman for a month, were paid 
forty-five pounds. Probably their duty was to prevent the 
witch from falling asleep, which experience had proved to be 
an unendurable torture, and an excellent method of forcing a 
confession. Iron collars, with spikes turned inwards, which 
could be tightened with a strap, were sometimes used for the 
same purpose. Margaret Denholm possessed enough property 
to defray the expense of her execution, and to leave a balance 
of sixty-five pounds Scots, 

Where John Kincaid was born, and where, when, or in what 
manner he died, I have as yet been unable to discover ; but I 
* Hugo Arnot's Criminal Trials^ appendix. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 49 



have read somewhere that he got into trouble at last by 
wishing to search for the Devils' mark on a lady of quality. 

Ministers of the Gospel, Presbyterian as well as Episcopalian, 
were the firmest believers in witchcraft, and the most pitiless 
and active persecutors of the miserable wretches who were 
suspected of that imaginary crime. The Rev. Allan Logan, 
Minister of Torryburn, Fife, in 1709 often preached a sermon 
against it. He prided himself on his penetration in detecting 
witches, and on one occasion he cried out, ' You witch-wife, 
get up from the Lord's table.' The last execution for witch- 
craft which occurred in Scotland, took place in Sutherlandshire 
in 1722, when an old woman was accused of having trans- 
formed her daughter into a pony, of having got her shod by 
the Devil, and of have ridden upon her back. Her daughter 
was said to have been crippled in her hands and feet in con- 
sequence, an injury that was entailed upon her son. Weakened 
in mind by the misery she had suffered, the poor old woman, 
it is related, sat warming herself, the weather being cold, in 
perfect composure at the fire which had been kindled to con- 
sume her. She was burned at the stake at Dornoch. 

It is worthy of mention that when a bill for the repeal of 
the Act against Witchcraft was introduced into Parliament in 
i735> it was opposed by Lord Grange, whose estate of Preston- 
grange is near Tranent. He was a Judge of the Court of 



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5o SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

Session, and is * damned to everlasting fame* chiefly for having, 
through the instrumentality of Fraser of Lovat, and MacLeod 
of MacLeod, sent his wife to St. Kilda, where she resided in 
what to her must been great misery for the period of seven 
years. She must have been on that lonely island when her 
brutal husband opposed the bill for the repeal of the Act 
referred to. 

It is probable that Shakespere (and it is sad to think that 
all we know of that transcendent genius amounts to little 
more than a probability), was well acquainted with the trials 
of the Tranent witches, and he might have obtained his 
information from an account called 'Newes from Scotland/ 
and * The Life of Dr. Fian,' both published at the time. Some 
of the scenes in Macbeth (which is conjectured to have been 
written after the accession of James to the English throne), 
sound like a poetical echo of the confession^ of Gellie Duncan 
and Agnes Sampson. It is probable that the English poet 
intended to compliment the Scotch King, not only by selecting 
a subject from the History of Scotland for a drama, but by 
introducing allusions to characters and events in which his 
Majesty was personally and deeply interested. It is also 
probable that Burns had these trials in his recollection when 
he wrote 'Tarn o' Shanter.' The witches in that immortal 
poem meet, like those of Tranent, in a kirk and dance on a 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 51 

cromach or burial place. The dead are raised in their coffins, 
not to be eaten, for Burns was a poet and never overstepped 
the line that divides the horrible from the disgusting, but to 
hold candles. The holy table is loaded with fearful materials 
for the manufacture of charms. The Devil is also present as 
he was at North Berwick, but in the character of a piper and 
not of a preacher, and the tunes he performs are of the same 
homely sort as those which Gellie Duncan played upon the 
trump. To complete the resemblance, Burns' heroine, like 
Gellie, is a 

' Winsome wench and waly, 
That nicht enlisted in the corps. ' 

It is difficult for us to imagine the state of superstitious 
terror in which our forefathers lived for more than a century 
and a half after the Reformation. Young women prayed that 
they would not live till they were old, and the aged often 
accused themselves of witchcraft that they might be burned at 
the stake, and so escape the pitiless persecution of their neigh- 
bours. The- whole earth seemed to be abandoned to the 
Devil and his satellites. The laws of nature were suspended, 
and all the ills that flesh is heir to were attributed to sorcery. 
Consumption was caused by an evil eye or * some secret black 
and midnight hag ' having made an image of the sufferer in 
wax and roasted it before a slow fire. Epilepsy or rheumatism 



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52 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

was the result of the venom of toads having been dropped on 
some rag of linen that had been stolen from the patient. 
Everything and everybody were enveloped in doubt. A man's 
wife might not be his wife, but a three-footed stool, or heather- 
besom, which she had made assume her appearance, whilst 
she flew through the air on a pitch-fork to attend a convocation 
of witches. The cat was not a cat, but an imp of Satan who 
could raise storms by scratching the leg of a table, or by being 
drawn nine times across the fire and tossed into the sea. The 
hare you fired at might not be a hare, but an old woman in the 
shape of one. Stories about witches having been shot in that 
disguise are current in all parts of Scotland, and I shall con- 
clude this chapter with one (thrown for the sake of variety 
into rhyme), that used to be told to shivering hearers at the 
firesides of Fife. 




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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 53 



Wxt SSitch attb the SKabBier. 



There was a wabster wormed in Fife 
Wha, whan his wark was done, 

Thocht it the greatest joy in life 
To daunder wi* his gun. 

And on a windy Autumn nicht, 
Whan a* the fields were bare, 

He had the luck to his delicht 
To shoot a bonnie hare. 

He seized the maukin in a crack 

And slung it on his gun, 
And wi* it dangling at his back 

Awa for hame did run. 

And as he nimbly ran, quo he, 
* This beast my wife will cook, 
And it will gie my bairns and me 
A banquet for an 00k. ' 

But ere a hundred ells he went 
He slackened in his pace, 

And stachered on wi body bent 
And sweat upon his face. 



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54 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

* What cantrup trick is this ! ' he said 

W? open een and mou* 
4 The hare I shot has turned to lead, 

Or to a calf or coo. 

He turned his head in eerie awe, 
To try and solve the puzzle, 

When, Lord ! a neighbour's wife he saw 
Sit grinning on the muzzle. 

He shook her aff in wrath and dread, 
And at her cursed and swore, 

And to Sanct Andros toun he gaed 
Whilst she limped on before. 

The people there were weel aware 
She lang had served the deevil, 

And in the shape of cat and hare, 
Had wrocht them muckle evil. 

And now the tale frae ilka lip 
Gaed circling round the spot, 

That she was crippled on the hip 
Whar maukin had been shot. 



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CHAPTER IV. 



THE BATTLE OF PRESTONPANS. 



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CHAPTER IV. 



THE BATTLE OF PRESTONPANS. 



<#T N th€ 



[N the year 1745, news travelled slowly from one district 
Scotland to another. Prince Charles Stewart cast 
anchor in Lochanuagh in Moidart on the 19th of July; but 
his arrival was not known in Edinburgh until the 6th of August, 
and no additional intelligence reached that city until the 2 2d, 
when the skippers of two Glasgow ships, who had touched at 
the West Highlands on their passage from Virginia, confirmed 
the fact, and brought an exaggerated report of the number of 
the Jacobite army. Probably within a week or two afterwards, 
rumours, more or less mingled with fiction, had reached 
Tranent that a body of savage Highlanders with Prince Charlie 
at their head were on their march to Edinburgh; but very 
likely the Tranenters had little notion that the horrors of war 
would so speedily be exhibited at their own doors. Colonel 
Gardiner's Regiment of Dragoons, which had retreated panic- 
stricken before the Highland host from Stirling, from Falkirk, 



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58 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

from Corstorphine, and from Coltbridge, arrived at and en- 
camped in a field near Prestongrange on the 15 th of September ; 
but one of the troopers, having, whilst gathering forage, fallen 
into an old coal pit, raised such a clamour that the whole 
Regiment was again seized with terror, and mounting their 
horses gallopped off to Dunbar, where they joined the army 
of Sir John Cope which had just arrived from Aberdeen. No 
doubt that little incident formed the theme of much lively 
conversation that evening on the streets of Tranent, but the 
inhabitants were soon to witness a spectacle which must have 
furnished them with an exciting subject of discussion for the 
remainder of their lives. 

Cope's army marched from Dunbar towards Edinburgh on 
the 19th, and taking the low road by St. Germains and Seton 
came near Preston next morning, the soldiers being in excel- 
lent spirits and confident of victory, should the Highlanders 
venture to meet them, which they doubted. They had just 
entered the plain between Seton and Preston, when informa- 
tion was received that the Highlanders were in full march 
towards them. The General, thinking the ground very suitable 
for receiving the enemy, called a halt, and drew up his troops 
fronting the west, with the sea on the right, and Tranent on 
the left. 

The Highlanders left Duddingston Park, where they had 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 59 

been encamped, about the same time as the King's army left 
Haddington. 'They marched by the road which passes Easter 
Duddingston and enters the main road near Magdalen Bridge, 
thence by the Market-gate of Fisherrow, across the old bridge 
which crosses the Esk, and by the road which winds to the 
south of the gardens of Pinkie-House, when Lord George 
Murray, who led the van, struck off through the fields to the 
right, and so reached the hill near Falside, the army following. 
It was then ascertained that Cope had remained in his position 
at Preston. The Highlanders commenced a slanting march 
down-hill towards Tranent, and halted when they were about 
half a mile from that town. When the Royal troops first 
observed the Highlanders they gave a loud shout, which was 
echoed by the latter. It was then about noon, and favourable 
weather for fighting; and Charles was eager for an engagement, 
a desire which Cope did not share in. On observing the 
Highlanders on Birslie Brae, the English General shifted his 
front to the south, so as to face them. 

The ground which the Highlanders occupied was very suit- 
able for their mode of attack, which was to rush down hill 
upon the enemy. But unfortunately a long stripe of marshy 
ground lay at the foot of the slope, and separated them from 
Cope's army, which was a mile and a half distant. Prince 
Charlie was informed by the country people, who flocked 



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60 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

around him in great numbers, that the morass was impassable 
except at great hazard, information which was confirmed by 
Colonel Ker, who, mounted on a little white pony, was sent to 
examine the ground, and was whilst so engaged fired at by 
the enemy. A considerable body of Highlanders were then 
detached to Dolphinston to make, or feign, an attack on 
Cope's right, or west flank, and the English General observing 
the movement resumed his first position, with his front to the 
west. The Highlanders then returned to their old position 
near Tranent, the Royal army facing round at the same time. 
The whole afternoon was spent in these evolutions. Dougal 
Graham, who is supposed to have been in the Highland army 
throughout the campaign, and was subsequently bellman of 
Glasgow, wrote a metrical history of the Rebellion, which in 
the form of a chap-book was popular in its day, and is still 
considered a reliable authority, gives some graphic descriptions 
of Charles' position. 

' The Duke of Perth and great Lochiel, 
They choosed for ground that rising fell, 
West from Tranent, up Brislie Brae, 
A view both south and north to hae. 

The fields are plain around Tranent, 
Besouth the town grow whins and bent, 
Where Charles kept his men secure, 
Thinking on battle every hour.' 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 61 

The people of Tranent must have gazed with astonishment 
at the Highland army, which according to Dugald Graham — 

* Numbered one thousand eight hundred men, 
But badly armed as you may ken ; 
With lockless guns and rusty swords, 
Durks and pistols of ancient sorts, 
Old scythes with their rumples even 
Into a tree they had been driven ; 
And some with batons of good oak 
Vowed to kill at every stroke ; 
Some had hatchets on a pole, 
Mischievous weapons antick and droll, 
Was both for cleaving and for clicking, 
And durking too, their way of speaking." 

The Highland dress, too, was curious. Although the 
kilt or philabeg was then in use (as is proved inter alia 
by its being included in the prohibitory Act — called Lord 
Harding's Act, passed in 1747), it was not considered an 
essential part of the Highland dress, which consisted chiefly 
of a long shirt and plaid. The latter was laid aside when 
the wearer went into action, and he fought in his shirt ; and 
probably Prince Charlie's men marched from Edinburgh in 
that airy costume with their plaids slung across their shoulders. 
The breaeon an fheile or belted plaid was kilt and plaid in one. 
In Graham's description of the battle of Falkirk it is mentioned 
that 



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62 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

* Their plaids in heaps were left behind, 
Light to run if need they find.' 

Elsewhere he states : 

4 Their uniform was belted plaids, 
Bonnets of blue upon their heads, 
With white cockade and naked thie, 
Of foot as nimble as may be. ' 

Chalmers, in his History of the Rebellion, is puzzled to 
reconcile two statements that seem to him at variance. One 
account he quotes says, * The Prince called for a dram in the 
first place, of which he seemed in much need, as the rain was 
streaming down from his plaid and he had no trews or phila- 
beg.' Another account says that the Prince got a full Highland 
suit from Kingsburgh. The explanation is that the kilt was 
not in 1745-46 apart of the Highland dress. This is con- 
firmed by a remark made by Doctor Johnston in 1773, to the 
effect that he had only seen one man in the Highland dress, 
although philabegs were common. But to return to the battle 
of Prestonpans. 

Sir John Cope's position was so strongly guarded on three 
sides (some wise heads thought it was too securely fenced and 
not unlike a trap), with a ditch, morass, and stone walls, that 
it was deemed unassailable excepting from the east, and the 
.Highland army, when it had became dark, moved to that side 



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1 



IN THE OLDEN TIME. 63 

of Tranent with the intention of attacking Cope at break of 
day. That General, afraid of a night attack, kept large fires 
burning around his camp, and fired off a few cohorns to show 
the enemy he was on the alert. The Highlanders, wrapped 
in their plaids, slept in a stubble field, and not a light was to 
be seen or a sound heard in their position. 

Guided by a young East Lothian gentleman, named Robert 
Anderson, the Highland army began to move about three 
o'clock on the morning of the 21st of September old style 
(being the 2d of October of our calendar), which was about 
three hours before sunrise. In a column of three men abreast 
they marched down a hollow or valley that winds through the 
farm of Rigganhead. They were at first concealed by the 
darkness, and afterwards by the mist, and not a whisper was 
heard until they neared the morass, when some dragoons on 
the other side called * Who's there ' ? and seeing who they were 
fired their carbines and gallopped off to give the alarm. 

The Highlanders, not without difficulty, crossed the morass 
and the broad ditch that flowed through it on its way to Seton- 
mill, and Charles, in leaping across the dam fell upon his hands 
and knees, which his superstitious soldiers must have con- 
sidered a bad omen. The column marched towards the sea 
until those at the head calculated that all were over the morass, 
when a line was formed upon the firm and level ground. 



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64 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

The great clan Colla, or Macdonalds, formed the right wing, 
the Camerons and Appin Stuarts composed the left, whilst 
the Duke of Perth's Regiment and the Macgregors stood in 
the centre. The Duke of Perth, as oldest Lieutenant-General, 
commanded the right wing, Lord George Murray the left. 

Behind the first line a second was formed at a distance of 
fifty yards, consisting of the Athole men, the Robertsons, the 
Macdonalds of Glencoe, and the MacLauchlans under the 
command of Lord Nairn. Charles took his place between the 
two lines. His army was rather larger than Cope's, numbering 
2400 men ; but as the second line never came into action the 
number engaged was only 1456. 

Day had begun to dawn, although thick masses of mist still 
covered the ground and hid the two armies from each other, 
when the two lines of Highlanders, like waves of the sea, 
rushed rapidly westward to dash upon the enemy. The front 
rank men stooped as they went, shielding their heads and 
bodies with their targets, and the other ranks kept close in the 
rear. 

Sir John Cope, who had slept at Cockenzie, hearing that the 
Highlanders were moving, joined his troops in all haste ; and 
although he seemed to have a difficulty in believing that the 
enemy would attack him so early in the morning, he considered 
it proper to form his lines to front him. The centre consisted 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 65 

of eight companies of Lascelles' Regiment and two of Guises'. 
On the right were five companies of Lees', on the left the 
whole of Sir John Murray's. These infantry were protected 
on the right flank by Whitney's and Gardiner's Dragoons, and 
on the left by Hamilton's. The whole force amounted to 2100. 
Six cannons were placed near to the old railway or tramway, 
that still runs between Tranent and Cockenzie. Cope had 
just time to ride along the front to encourage his men, when 
through the mist the clans, which some at first fancied were a 
hedge, were seen advancing swiftly and silently towards him. 
The Highlanders fired their guns at the English, and then 
tossing them away bounded through the smoke with the broad- 
sword in the right hand and the target and dirk in the left. 
When a thrust was made at them by the bayonet they caught 
the point of that weapon on their target, and raising it up left 
the poor soldier defenceless. A stroke with the claymore 
settled him, and in a moment the furious Highlanders were 
within Cope's lines and slaughtering right and left with sword 
and dirk. One volley of musketry passed along the English 
lines from right to left, and a discharge from the cannons 
arrested for an instant the impetuous rush of the Camerons, 
but all in vain. In four minutes the battle was lost and won. 
A few shots from Charlie's men made Whitney's Dragoons fly, 
and they were quickly followed by Gardiner's. Hamilton's 



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66 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

troop at the other end of the line caught the infection, and 

fled without firing a carbine. The infantry, deserted by the 

cavalry, on whom they had relied for support, gave way, threw 

down their guns and begged for quarter: One small party 

alone had the courage to resist for a time, and Colonel Gardiner, 

deserted by his own troop, placed himself at their head and 

fought until he was cut down by numerous wounds. Cope's 

army was now all panic-stricken and flying from the field. 

The dragoons hurried like a disorderly mob through the vennel 

or narrow road to the south of the enclosures (carrying Cope 

with them), ducking their heads to escape the bullets that were 

sent after them by the Highlanders. About 400, with their 

General at their head, reached Coldstream that night, and next 

morning they arrived at Berwick. The infantry fell back upon 

the park walls of Preston, where, having thrown away their 

muskets that they might run more lightly, they were all huddled 

together without the power of resistance, and slaughtered 

without mercy by the ferocious Highlanders. 

* Had not their Officers and Chiefs 
Sprung in and begged for their relief, 
They had not left one living there, 
For in a desperate rage they were, 
'Cause many clans were hacked and slain, 
Yet of their loss they let not ken 
For by the shot fell not a few, 
And many with bay'nots pierced through.'* 

Dugald Graham, Eighth Edition, p. 23. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 67 

Nearly 400 of the English were slain and 700 were taken 
prisoners. A thorn tree (or more strictly speaking three thorn 
trees), marks the spot where the brave old Gardiner is said 
to have fought and fallen. He was struck and stripped after 
he was mortally wounded and lying on the ground. His man 
servant went to the Meadow-mill (the present village did not 
exist at that time), and disguising himself in a suit of clothes, 
borrowed from the miller, he returned to the field and carried 
his dying master to the manse of Tranent, where he soon 
afterwards died. His body was buried, beside eight of his 
children in the north-west corner of the church, and his wife, 
Lady Frances Erskine, placed a tablet on the wall, over his 
remains ; but this monument was removed or destroyed at the 
time the alterations were made on the church. Surely the 
basest sort of theft and the vilest kind of destruction is that 
of memorials to the dead (although it is too common now a 
days), and the enormity of the offence is beyond all expression 
when the victim is such a hero as Colonel Gardiner, whose 
dust would confer an honour on any town or church. 

Warriors are generally mendacious braggarts, and in their 
attempts to magnify their victories often over-vault themselves 
and fall on the other side. Probably the Highlanders were 
not so poorly armed at Prestonpans as they said, — 1400 or 
1500 of them were provided with fire-locks and broad-swords 



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68 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

before they invaded the Lowlands ; and as the arsenal of the 
trained bands in Edinburgh fell into their possession, the rest 
might have been supplied with muskets had it been considered 
advisable. Probably the scythes with which some of them 
were armed were considered more formidable weapons. One 
young Highland rascal boasted that he had killed fourteen 
Englishmen with his broad-sword, but a few more heroes like 
him would have left the great bulk of his countrymen nothing 
to brag of. 

When the enemy had been routed, Prince Charles stood 
amongst the dead and dying, and refreshed himself with a 
slice of beef and a glass of wine. He was exceedingly merry, 
and twice cried out with a hearty laugh, ' My Highlanders 
have lost their plaids.' When one remembers that the kilt and 
plaid were at that period in one piece, and that his men were 
all in their shirts, one can understand what tickled his fancy. 
The Highlanders did not waste time in pursuing the fugitives, 
but returned to the field to plunder the dead and wounded. 
Colonel Gardiner's house was also pillaged. Sir John Cope's 
baggage was secured by the Prince, as well as tents, cannon, 
and a military chest containing ^4000. When this was done, 
he rode to Pinkie House, where he lodged for the night The 
Highlanders fixed their mess-room in a house in Tranent, and 
numbers went to the neighbouring parks and caught the sheep 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 69 

for food. The Camerons entered Edinburgh in less than three 
hours after the battle, playing their pipes, and exhibiting the 
colours they had taken from Cope's dragoons. The main body 
of the army marched in triumph to Edinburgh the next day 
(Sunday), and paraded the streets to the sound of the bagpipes, 
with colours flying, and with the prisoners and spoil in the 
rear. 

Any further account of the Rebellion would be out of place 
in this book ; but perhaps the following reflections, suggested 
by a general review of the affair, may be excused. Many in 
these latter days are in the habit of sneering at sentiment ; but 
this rising of the '45 shows the extraordinary power of senti- 
ment. Through it, a few thousand Highlanders, undrilled, 
undisciplined, and, as some say, badly armed, took cities, made 
regular troops fly before them in pitched battles, like chaff 
before the wind, penetrated to the very heart of a powerful 
kingdom, and all but knocked the King off his throne. It 
was their devotion to Charles that impelled them to this — mere 
sentiment! True this feeling was mingled with ambition, 
hope of plunder, and other baser qualities; but passionate 
affection for the Prince was the ruling motive. Men gladly gave 
their own lives to preserve his, and women kept the sheets 
that he had slept in for their shrouds. ^30,000 did not tempt 
any one to betray him. This veneration was possibly unmerited ; 



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70 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

but, besides heroic deeds, it inspired some of the finest songs 
and music that Scotland possesses. 

The whole field of Prestonpans is visible from the window 
of the room where this is written, and this is the very month 
and day when the battle was fought 136 years ago. There is 
the sloping ground down which the Highlanders were eager to 
rush upon the enemy, but were prevented by the morass at 
the bottom. The morass was drained a few years since, and a 
ball, no doubt fired from one of Cope's cannon, was found in 
the peat, and is now kept as a witness of the fight. The homs 
of a deer were also unearthed, and speak of a more remote 
period. There is the thorn tree where the hottest part of the 
contest occurred. Five generations of men have passed since 
then, but the thorn tree, or triplet, is still vigorous, although 
having lost a limb or stem lately. The Earl of Wemyss (all 
honour to him!) has caused it to be girded and stayed with 
iron to guard the interesting relic from similar disasters. The 
white walls of Colonel Gardiner's house peep through the 
trees; and there is the church where his bones (robbed of 
their monument) repose. Claymores (two of them at present 
in private hands) have been picked up in the fields. 

The position of Cope's army was, as some allege, with every 
show of reason, parallel with, and close to, the east side of the 
old railway, with the Meadow-mill on the right, and not, as is 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 71 

generally supposed, in a line with the thorn tree. This was 
the opinion of the late Mr. Cadell (expressed in a letter to the 
Rev. Mr. Parlane in 1850), whose grandfather was a boy when 
the battle was fought, and had pointed out the position to him. 
This opinion agrees with the plan published in Dugald 
Graham's chap-book. 




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CHAPTER V, 



THE MASSACRE. 



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*m&$%^dts^ 



CHAPTER V. 

THE MASSACRE. 

-#^7TY ILLIAM PITT » at the head of a Tor y administra- 
^*J tion, backed by a majority composed of pensioners 
and placemen, had, in 1793, plunged the nation into a ruinous 
war, which was intended to crush Republican Institutions in 
France, and to restore the old line of despots. This war was 
at first very unpopular in Britain, and was denounced with 
dauntless courage and transcendent ability by Fox, Sheridan, 
Lauderdale, and other Liberal leaders in Parliament, In 
1 795,* the King was assailed as he passed with the cries of 
* Peace ! Peace ! Give us bread ! no Pitt ! no famine ! no war ! 
Down with George ! ' and the State coach was pelted with 
stones, and the windows smashed in by an infuriated mob. 

At the same period, Henry Dundas, as Secretary of State, 
exercised absolute authority in Scotland. He rewarded his 
flunkies with all manner of places under Government, and, the 
Habeas Corpus Act being suspended, caused those who 



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76 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

ventured to demand Parliamentary Reform, to be arrested and 
confined in filthy prisons, or sent off (after a mock trial by 
prejudiced judges and packed juries), to Botany Bay. There 
was no popular representation in Scotland at that time. Thirty 
members represented the counties ; but the franchise was con- 
fined to about 1500 or 2000 voters of the upper class. There 
were fifteen Burgh members, who were elected by self-elected 
Town Councils. 

The disastrous effects of the war were immediately apparent. 
On the 5th of February 1794, the Chancellor of the Exchequer 
took notice of the stagnation of trade in the previous year — as 
dreadful as it was uncommon. In Scotland commerce was 
crippled, and manufactures which had been in a flourishing 
condition were ruined. Thousands, and tens of thousands of 
artisans, who had been in comfortable circumstances, were 
reduced to extreme misery. When they became desperate, 
and * would not starve in peace,' troops of cavalry were sent for 
to trample them down. Fluxes and fevers, caused by bad and 
insufficient food, spread extensively amongst the poor. As 
the war progressed the destitution became dreadful. It is 
related that some poor wretches in Perth were in such a 
famished condition, that they dragged a cow that had died of 
disease out of a quarry hole, and devoured the carrion like 
vultures. In 1795, bread was so scarce and so dear, that at a 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES, 77 

Court of Common Council, it was moved that the public 
dispense with the use of hair powder, as far as convenient, so 
as to economise flour, and the soldiers were prohibited from 
using that ornament. The sufferings of the poor even touched 
the head of Royalty, and King George gave orders that all the 
bread used in his household should be made of a mixture of 
meal and rye. It was said, however, to have been extremely 
sweet and palatable. 

Whilst the people of Scotland were in this miserable con- 
dition, the Tory Lords of Justiciary mocked them with rose- 
coloured descriptions of the blessings they enjoyed. 'The 
people of this country (said the President at the trial of a 
Government spy for High Treason) were satisfied, and good 
cause they had to be so, with the blessings which they enjoyed 
under a system of laws, and a form of Government, the 
essence of which is liberty. Every man's right; every man's 
franchise ; the fruits of his industry ; the safety of his person ; 
the exercise of his religion ; his liberty ; his fame ; all have 
been secured to the utmost extent of his wish. What fair 
pretence then can any man have to seek for a change ? ' * 

At the commencement of the French war, recruiting was 
carried on with the greatest activity in all quarters, and the 
sweepings of jails were utilised as food for powder. Men were 
* Trial of Watt and Downie. 



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78 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

enlisted under false pretences, and some Highland Regiments 
broke out into general revolt At Perth, desertions became so 
common in the 90th Regiment, although death was the penalty, 
that troops had to be posted at all the roads to keep the men 
from running off, and public dinners were given to keep them 
in good humour. The fleet at the Nore was taken possession 
of by mutineers, and the Thames blockaded. Press-gangs 
lurked in every sea-port town and pounced on the poor sailor, 
who had perhaps just come home from a long voyage, and sent 
him off to cruise in a man-of-war for years. Merchant ships 
were robbed of their best hands and sent in a crippled con- 
dition to sea. Even landsmen, if a Provost or Bailie was not 
satisfied with their conduct or circumstances, could be appre- 
hended and sent off to fight the French. Meanwhile H. J. 
Pye, Esq., the Poet Laureate, wrote such patriotic verses as 
the following : 

* Yet if the stern, vindictive foe, 
Insulting aim the hostile blow, 
Britain in martial terror dight, 
Lifts high the avenging sword and courts the fight ; 
On every side behold her swains 
Crowd eager from her fertile plains,' etc. 

Disgraceful defeats were celebrated as victories, with illumi- 
nations, fireworks, and bacchanalian rejoicings. As the war 
proceeded, taxing nets, with meshes of the smallest size, so that 



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IN THE OLDEN TIMES. 79 

nothing could escape, were drawn, and drawn again, across the 
exhausted nation, and as the haul was insufficient the waters 
were so to speak poisoned. Unconstitutional and immoral 
means of raising money were invented, namely Voluntary 
Subscriptions and Lotteries, and an enormous burden laid 
upon the shoulders of posterity. ,£375,264,941 were added 
in eight years to the National Debt. Within the same period 
^15,106,051 was paid as subsidies to various foreign powers 
for helping us to carry on a war, which some of these merce- 
naries had commenced, and which it was more their interest 
than it was ours, if it was any one's interest, to continue. 

In 1795, petitions from all parts of the country were pre- 
sented to the King, praying that his 'weak and wicked ministry' 
might be dismissed, and the war brought to an end. An Act 
for raising 6000 men in Scotland for the militia, as a trap for the 
regular army, came into operation that year, and was regarded 
with great disfavour, not only by working men, but by many of 
their employers. The endeavour to execute it was the cause of 
much disturbance throughout the whole country, and in some 
parishes of the Highlands the people banded together to 
oppose it. 

The inhabitants of Tranent were bitterly opposed to the 
Act, and on the 28th of August 1797, being the day before 
the Deputy-Lieutenants were to meet there with their Lists 



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80 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

and Ballot-boxes, messages passed from colliery to colliery, 
and from parish to parish, ordering the people to assemble at 
Tranent. In the evening a mob two or three hundred in 
number had collected, and marched about the streets beating 
a drum, and calling out 'No Militia. 1 They then went to the 
house of Robert Paisley, the Schoolmaster, who had made out 
the Lists of persons liable to serve under the Act, and he having 
been threatened flew for safety to the house of the minister. 
The mob, however, demanded the parish books and Lists from 
his wife, all of which she delivered, with the exception of an 
uncorrected copy of the List which had been left where the 
District Meeting was to be held next day. The poor dominie 
was in such a state of terror that he flew at first to St. Germains, 
then to Bankton, then to Prestonpans, and finally to Edin- 
burgh — leaving his wife to take her chance — nor did he venture 
to return home or to open his school for a month afterwards. 

Meanwhile the mob, carrying the Session books in triumph, 
marched to the Meadow-mill, thence to the village of Seton, 
and through Cockenzie and Prestonpans, beating their drum, 
and summoning the people to turn out and oppose the Militia 
Bill, and asking all they met their opinion of that measure. 
Intelligence of the disturbance having reached the ears of 
Mr. Anderson of Sfc Germains, and Mr. Caddel of Tranent, 
two of the Deputy-Lieutenants, they sent for troops to 



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, IN THE OLDEN TIME. 8x 

Haddington, and on the morning of the 29th, Captain Finlay 
arrived at St. Germains with about twenty-two of the Cinque- 
Ports Regiment, and an order from the Marquis of Tweeddale 
to Mr. Anderson to collect his troop of Yeomanry Cavalry, 
and he accordingly gathered together twenty-two of them. 
But the Deputy-Lieutenants, alarmed lest these forty-four 
soldiers might be insufficient to deter the populace from 
breaking up the meeting, wrote to the Commanding Officer at 
Musselburgh for one or two troops of Dragoons, and two 
troops of the Pembrokeshire Cavalry, numbering about eighty, 
were sent. 

About "eleven o'clock the Deputy-Lieutenants, riding in the 
rear of this escort, proceeded from St. Germains to Tranent, 
and on the way saw numbers of women and children in a 
state of great excitement. One woman insulted Mr. Caddel 
by saying, ' Take care of your head, John ! ' On entering 
Tranent, and near the junction of the street with the Post road, 
the party found themselves surrounded by a crowd chiefly 
of women who were extremely clamorous and abusive, and 
addressed the Deputy-Lieutenants by name, and threatened 
them that they would not leave the town alive, and swore they 
would have their heart's blood before an hour was over. At 
the same time the sound of a drum was heard. On alighting 
.at the door of Glen's Inn, Mr. Gray and Mr. Caddel were 

I 



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82 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

rudely jostled and otherwise insulted by the multitude. Con- 
stables were stationed at the door, and the Dragoons were 
drawn up at the end of the village, with orders to advance 
should any attempt be made by the populace to break into the 
Inn; Business then commenced, the Deputy-Lieutenants 
intimating from the window that appeals would be heard from 
the various parishes — that of Salton being the first. This was 
answered by cries of * No Militia ! no Militia ! ' 

One Duncan, a collier, said he had a proposal to make on 
behalf of the people, and on being requested to state it he 
explained that if the gentlemen would agree that there should 
be no Militia, then the people would be agreeable. The 
proposition being rejected, Duncan retired calling 'No Militia! 
no Militia !' Appeals from the parishes of Salton and Ormiston 
having been disposed of, the meeting proceeded to hear appeals 
from Prestonpans, when a potter, called Nicholas Caterside or 
Coutterside, presented a round robin, signed by about thirty 
people, chiefly potters. This document expressed disapproval 
of the Militia Act for Scotland, declared that the subscribers 
would endeavour to resist it, and the meeting would be re- 
sponsible for the consequences ; that if compelled to become 
soldiers no reliance could be placed in them. This paper was 
pronounced to be highly seditious, and Coutterside was said 
to have been guilty of a flagrant breach of the law, which, in 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 83 

consideration of his ignorance, should be overlooked at present, 
but an eye kept upon him. On being dismissed it was observed 
that the women had mostly disappeared, and that the streets 
were crowded with men armed with bludgeons. The mob began 
the attack with a heavy shower of large stones, which smashed 
in the window of the room where the Deputy-Lieutenants were 
sitting, and forced them to seek shelter in corners and passages. 
Mr. Caddel went to the window and tried to read the Riot 
Act ; but a volley of stones compelled him to retreat to his 
corner and read it there. The mob made violent efforts to 
break open the door, and a party of the Pembrokeshire Cavalry 
were drawn up opposite the house; but being pelted with 
stones, were compelled to gallop down the town. A Sergeant 
was knocked off his horse and wounded. Mr. Caddel went 
outside and informed the people that the Riot Act had been 
read, but a shower of stones made him run in again, and the 
attack on the house was resumed with greater violence than 
ever. 

Parties of Dragoons again passed along the streets in front 
of the Inn, firing blank shots with their pistols ; but without 
making any impression on the mob, when Major Wight, looking 
out of the shattered window, repeatedly called out, * There ! 
there ! ' and pointing to the people assembled in the narrow 
lanes opposite. As the Dragoons did not take the hint, he 



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84 SKETCHES QF TRANENT 

cried in a loud voice * Why don't they fire ? ' a question that 
was echoed by the rest of the Deputy-Lieutenants ; when the 
Dragoons with cowardly ferocity fired their pistols and carbines 
at both man and woman. A horrible yell from the crowd told 
that the shots had not been without effect. A party of troopers 
went to the back of the house, where the openness of the 
ground enabled them to act with superior advantage. Some 
of the Cinque-Ports Cavalry were here ordered to dismount, 
and discharge their carbines at people who were on the tops 
of the houses. One man, supposed to be William Hunter, was 
shot, and fell dead to the ground. Thirty-six persons were 
secured and sent prisoners to Haddington. Not content with 
having driven the crowd off the streets of Tranent, the cavalry 
scoured the surrounding country, and without the slightest 
provocation or reason, shot, cut down, wounded, and killed 
people who were engaged at their usual work, and knew 
nothing of the riot. 

A girl named Isobel Roger, aged nineteen, who was beating 
the drum, was chased by a dragoon into the passage of a house 
and shot dead. Three men, viz. : William Smith, William 
Hunter, and George Elder, were killed in the street. Peter 
Ness, a sawyer in Ormiston, and walking to that village, was 
attacked by five or six dragoons in a field on *he south of 
Tranent, and killed and robbed of his watch. William Lawson, 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 85 

carpenter in Ormiston, who was driving his cart loaded with 
wood from that village to Tranent, was fired at and mortally 
wounded by a party of cavalry. Stephen Brotherston, who had 
taken no part in the riot, was walking with his wife and an old 
man named Crichton on the Ormiston Road about a mile from 
Tranent, and, seeing a party of cavalry coming, stepped into a 
field by the wayside. One of the dragoons fired at and mor- 
tally wounded Brotherston; and whilst the poor man was being 
supported by his wife and friend, another dragoon entered the 
field and gave Crichton six strokes with his sword, one of 
which cut his nose to the bone. The dragoon then turned to 
Brotherston and struck him repeatedly, whilst the wife cried, 
' Oh, strike me rather than my poor man, for they have shot 
him already ! ' to which the soldier answered with an oath. A 
boy named Kemp, thirteen years of age, ran into a field beside 
the road to Ormiston, but was pursued by a dragoon, who 
stabbed him in the breast, and with repeated blows cleft his 
head in two. Alexander Moffatt and John Adam were also 
murdered by the dragoons, and the pockets of the latter 
emptied.* Eleven people were killed, and many severely 
wounded, in this disgraceful affair. Attempts were made by 
the relations of the murdered persons to get the offenders pro- 
secuted ; but the Lord Advocate declined to institute prosecu- 



* Miller's Lamp of Midlothian. 



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86 SKETCHES OF TRANENI 

tions, and lodged a complaint instead against the Agent whom 
the relations had employed to procure precognitions, for having 
advised his clients to take such a step, but the complaint was 
dismissed by the Court of Justiciary as incompetent. The 
affair was burked. 

The four Deputy Lieutenants addressed a letter* to the 
Marquis of Tweeddale, Lord Lieutenant of the county, giving 
a full account of the riot, but omitting any allusion to the mas- 
sacre. The letter contains this passage : 

' We cannot conclude this Address without expressing 
our high sense of the temperate, firm, and spirited 
conduct of the officers employed on this occasion. 
We have no hesitation in declaring, that to their 
exertions we owe the preservation of our lives, and 
that by their means only we were enabled to dis- 
charge the duty prescribed to us by the Act of 
Parliament.' 

At this distance of time, one can pronounce an impartial 
judgment on the Tranent massacre, and the Deputy Lieuten- 
ants may be acquitted of all culpability in the matter. But it is 
notable, as a sign of the times, what a high value they put upon 

* See Anti'Jacobin, vol. i. p. 59. 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 87 

their own skins, and how little on those of the ' rabble.' The 
killing of eleven poor people, and the wounding of many more, 
is not worth mentioning. The blood of the slain rests, with 
oceans more, on the Tory ministry, who plunged the nation, in 
spite of ail remonstrance, into an unjust, unnecessary, and 
ruinous war, and in a lesser degree on the cowardly ruffians 
who committed the murders. 




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CHAPTER VL 



STIELL'S CHARITY SCHOOL. 



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CHAPTER VI. 



STIELLS CHARITY SCHOOL. 



,^TTROM the benighted Past, with its monstrous super- 
* stitions and fiendish cruelties, its stupid wars and 
merciless oppressions, it is a relief to turn for a moment to the 
enlightened Present, with its philanthropic schemes for the 
elevation of the poor; and although it be foreign to the subject 
which I have chosen, and to which I ought to confine myself, 
I hope the indulgent reader will allow me, before bidding him 
good-bye, to give a small sketch of StielPs Charity School. 

On the 30th of January 181 2, George Stiell, who was a 
native of Tranent, and a blacksmith in Edinburgh, departed 
this life, leaving a trust deed and settlement, dated 27th 
January 1808, whereby he disponed the residue and remainder 
of his estate, heritable and moveable, for the establishment, 
endowment, and maintenance of a Hospital in the village of 
Tranent, or its immediate neighbourhood, for the aliment, 
clothing, and education of poor children for ever — children 



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92 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

belonging to the parish of Tranent having the preference, and 
failing them, children belonging to the parishes of Prestonpans, 
Gladsmuir, and Pencaitland in succession. 

The Hospital, a plain but spacious edifice, was erected in 
1822 upon a low piece of ground to the north of Tranent, 
which must have been part of the morass that prevented the 
Highlanders from attacking Cope in their favourite way in 
1745. The site may have been selected for other reasons; 
but at all events it is perfectly symbolical of the purpose for 
which the Hospital was built, namely, to act in a humble and 
unostentatious way as a nursing mother to the poor and lowly. 
The building has no neighbours except the poor, and it seems 
to say that it has no interest in any class but that. 

For a time the mortification was conducted agreeably to the 
'pious imagination ' of the founder; but in 1850 the Rev. 
William Caesar was appointed Minister of the parish of Tranent, 
and became sole Governor and Director of the Hospital. No 
sooner had he got hold of the helm then he put about the ship, 
and shaped a course entirely opposite to that which Stiell had 
drawn upon the chart. The founder had clearly stated that 
he intended the funds to be devoted to the education of the 
poor; but the trustee resolved that they should on the contrary 
be spent in educating the well-to-do. The Hospital was built 
so to speak as a nest for little hedge-sparrows; but the minister 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 93 

jumped in like a cuckoo, and laid an egg, which he hoped in 
course of time would be hatched, and produce a bird that 
would grow in bulk and strength until it was able to elbow out 
the legitimate occupants. In plain language, children of well- 
to-do parents of the middle-class were admitted to the Charity 
School at a nominal fee. New branches of instruction were 
started ; but these were only for the benefit of those who could 
afford to pay fees. The number of teachers was increased, 
the expense of whose board and maintenance was paid out of 
the trust-funds. Prior to 1870, the number of children re- 
siding in the Hospital was reduced to eight, and after that 
date these were also pushed out, and the establishment was 
turned into a day school. In 1872-73, of 126 children attend- 
ing the school only sixty-six were free day scholars, the re- 
maining sixty being children of well-to-do parents who had no 
right to be there, and who had kept out the same number of 
children for whom the charity was designed. 

The gross annual income of the trust estate amounted to 
upwards of ^800, and in return only sixty-six children received 
a free education, whereas 400 poor children it was calculated 
ought to have been educated for the sum. The Director then 
issued a circular, calling upon the respectable inhabitants to 
assist him in carrying out his darling plot for the diversion 
of the funds, with which he had been entrusted. Of his intro- 



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94 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

missions he never published any account, but it was con- 
jectured that at least .£5000 had been misapplied. 

In 1874, a number of the parishioners who had an interest 
in the proper management of the charitable bequest, and 
whose children were entitled to the benefit of it, raised an 
Action of Declarator against the Rev. William Caesar and 
others, Governors and Directors of the Hospital, and the 
Court of Session in 1877 decided that 'no part of the funds, 
property, and revenue of the said charity, can be legally 
employed for the education of persons who, being able to pay 
for their education, are not poor children within the meaning 
of the founder's trust disposition and settlement, ' and there 
their Lordships should have stopped ; but unfortunately they 
added a clause which neutralised the one quoted, and which, 
when cleared of its circumlocution and legal fog, means, that 
children who have no right to enter StielPs Charity School 
may do so if they pay large enough fees ; but not to the ex- 
clusion of children who have a right to be there. 

But the persevering Director fell upon a plan for obtaining 
a more radical innovation, and for securing accomplices to 
enable him to keep it when once it was got. By a Provisional 
Order, obtained by petition from the Secretary of State of the 
Beaconsfield Government under the Endowed Institutions 
(Scotland) Act of 1878, it was directed that a sum not less 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 95 

than one-fifth and not more than one-fourth of the free annual 
income of the trust shall be applied in payment of the fees of 
such children in attendance at the elementary classes in George 
StielPs Institution, or in the public schools of the parishes of 
Tranent, Prestonpans, Gladsmuir, and Pencaitland, as are 
orphans, or are the children of parents who, not being on the 
poor's roll, or receiving parochial relief, are yet in such 
necessitous circumstances as to require assistance in providing 
education for their children, it being always provided that a 
sum of not less than J[fio shall be applied in favour of the 
children of such parents as have been resident in the parish 
of Tranent for a period of at least two years.' 

Thus it is ordained by this Provisional Order that only jPfio 
of the annual income (now amounting as already stated to 
upwards of ^800), derived from the funds left by George 
Steill, for the aliment, clothing, and education of the poor 
children in the parish of Tranent, are to be spent in the way 
he directed — that those who have a preferential right to the 
whole income are only to benefit from it to the extent of a 
thirteenth. The School Rates, which amount to ^750, prove 
that there are many poor children in the parish of Tranent 
who have a claim to assistance from the funds left by Stiell, 
and who receive none ; but are robbed of their rights, and the 
cost of their education laid upon the public. 



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96 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

The poor children of Tranent were, according to the will of 
Stiell, to be first helped; but even when their preferential 
claim is set aside, and they are made to share and share alike 
with the children of Prestonpans, Gladsmuir, and Pencaitland, 
the amalgamated children are, by the Provisional Order, only 
to benefit to the extent of one-fifth, or one-fourth (at the dis- 
cretion of the trustees), of the income left for their sole behoof 
by StielL 

Power has been granted to the trustees to award bursaries to 
the poor pupils; but as the number of bursaries is indefinite, and 
as they can be given, withheld, or withdrawn at the discretion 
of the trustees, they cannot be taken into account in calculating 
the benefits to which the poor children are entitled under the 
Provisional Order. 

Power has also been given to award scholarships by com- 
petitive examinations, which are to be open to all pupils who 
have attended the institution or the public schools in the said 
parishes for at least two years, which means that- the well-to- 
do children are to have another chance of scrambling for the 
money that was left by Stiell to the poor alone. To stop a 
man upon the road, to pick his pockets, and offer the contents 
to any of the byestanders who can leap highest, permission 
being granted to the plundered man to join in the competition, 
would not be a more dishonest transaction than it is to award 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 97 

such scholarships out of the funds left by Stiell. 

These bursaries and scholarships help to mistify the subject 
a little) but the fact nevertheless stands out in bold relief that 
the poor children of the parish of Tranent, on whom the whole 
income of the property left by George Stiell should have 
been expended, are only to benefit by it to the extent of a 
thirteenth. 

The egg intruded with such audacity is hatched, and the 
young cuckoo (or paying scholar) has grown large and vigorous, 
and will soon push the poor hedge-sparrows over the nest 
which was intended for them, and them alone. By that 
iniquitous Provisional Order, it is directed that the trustees 
shall have power to admit and receive into the institution such 
number of paying scholars as they may think fit, on payment 
of such fees as they may from time to time fix, it being always 
provided that the fees so fixed shall in no case be less than 
those exacted at the public schools of the said parishes for the 
same branches of instruction. The Provisional Order also 
grants power to the head master, with consent of the trustees, 
to receive children as boarders at such annual rate of payment 
for board and education as may be approved of by the trustees. 

Not only has Stiell's Hospital (or the man at the wheel) 
struggled hard and long to evade the duty which it was intended 
by the founder to perform, namely, the education of poor chil- 



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98 SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

dren, and to spend the funds bequeathed to it for that purpose 
in giving a superior education to children who require no charit- 
able assistance; but it even forgets, and would fain make 
others forget, its humble, though benevolent, origin and pur- 
pose. It does not now call itself a Hospital or a Charity 
School (as it really is or ought to be) but an Endowed 
Institution. Like the frog in the fable who tried to emulate 
the ox, it fancies it will be able to blow itself up to the 
size of a College. It looks down on the Public Schools, 
and sends raw materials to them to be rough-dressed, and 
returned to the Institution to get the finishing touch. It not 
only affronts the public teachers (who even as a matter of 
policy ought to be treated with the utmost respect), but it 
disheartens them by taking away their most promising pupils 
just at the stage of cultivation when they would confer a credit 
on, and gain the Government Grant for, the school. 

It may sometimes be necessary, in a world so subject to 
unlooked for vicissitudes as this, to alter the letter of a will ; 
but reverential obedience should be paid to the spirit where 
the intention of the testator, if it were honestly and wisely 
carried out, would tend to the benefit and not to the injury of 
mankind. If the founder of a school, forgetful that fashions 
change, should direct that all the boys be dressed in blue 
gowns and yellow stockings, it would be preposterous to obey 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME, 99 

that order when the costume had become ridiculous. But the 
intention of the testator, which was that a decent dress be 
provided for the boys, should be remembered and obeyed. 
In like manner it may have been necessary to turn StielFs 
Hospital into a day school (although the trustees by now 
allowing the Rector to advertise for paying boarders, admit 
that a mistake was made when the free boarding system was 
abolished), or to make any other reasonable changes, but the 
intention of the founder (which was that the funds he be- 
queathed should be devoted to the education of the poor 
children of Tranent, and after them of the poor children of 
Prestonpans, Gladsmuir, and Pencaitland) should not be 
forgotten or contravened. Not a child who is able to pay a 
fee is entitled to enter StielFs Charity School, or can do so 
without defrauding the poor. Although the fees charged for 
the admission of pupils who have no right to be there have 
been raised so that the Charity School may not appear to be 
underselling the public school, there can be no fair competition 
between them, for pupils may be sent to the former in the 
belief, right or wrong, that they will enjoy advantages arising 
from the funds which they will not obtain in the latter. The 
fixing of the fees for instruction at StielFs Charity School at 
not less than the fees exacted at the public school is only a 
little dust thrown in the eyes of the public. 



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ioo SKETCHES OF TRANENT 

But perhaps the cleverest stroke played by the parish 
minister was in getting a number of simple gentlemen (with 
himself at their head) appointed trustees by the Provisional 
Order to watch over the scheme to the accomplishment of 
which he had devoted nearly thirty years. He took care to 
keep the reins in his own hands, until he had driven the 
vehicle so far up the road that it was impossible to turn back, 
and then with a crafty appearance of fairness he says he does 
not want to do all the driving. Probably not one of the 
gentlemen he has now got on the box would have been induced 
to take the road the minister did at the start, but now they 
lay the * flattering unction to their souls ' that they will look 
after him, and see that he does not run into ditches and mud- 
holes or against fences. They try to forget that they are on 
the wrong road — a road they cannot pursue without trampling 
on the rights of the poor. 

George StielFs intention, as expressed in his will, was that 
the funds he bequeathed should be spent in educating the 
poor for ever, and it seems right and proper that this laudable 
intention should be carried out to the utmost, and as much 
education got for the money as possible. The Charity School 
ought (for. the sake of economy as well as from the state of 
perversion into which it has sunk) to be abolished, and the 
income accruing from the funds left by George Stiell devoted 



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IN THE OLDEN TIME. 101 

to the payment of the fees of poor children at the public 
schools, who are at present a burden on the ratepayers. If 
well-to-do parents wish to get a better education for their 
children than can be obtained at the public school, they ought 
to start a select school and maintain it at their own expense. 
At present they say to the poor children, 'You are vulgar and 
nasty and my children would be contaminated in your com- 
pany, therefore I will take the money that was left by that 
stupid old blacksmith for your benefit and educate my children 
with it, and send you to the public school, and leave the public 
to pay for you.' 

I have hitherto spoken as if the diversion of the funds left 
by George Stiell from the purpose he intended was a question 
which only concerned the poor ; but in reality it is one which 
is of greater consequence to the rich. If trustees are permitted 
to disobey a Last Will and Settlement, and to spend the funds 
in a way that the testator never contemplated, who would be 
at the trouble to make a will ? Who would v toil and pinch for 
a lifetime to save funds to do some great good to the public 
or to private friends if a trustee had the liberty to say : 'I see 
old Skinflint wishes me to expend ;£iooo of the money he 
left in purchasing a life-boat; but I think a yacht will be a 
better investment — a cruise next summer will do my family 
and me a world of good. He has left ^250 for the support 



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102 SKETCHES OF TRANENT. 

of his daughter; but I had better hand that over to the 
'Clergymen's Grandmothers' Fund' — his daughter can work 
for her living. He wants ^20,000 to be spent in erecting a 
local museum and picture gallery — nonsense ! I can get the 
church restored for that sum and a new manse built — and so 
on. Once allow that a Will can be broken at the pleasure of 
a trustee, or without some urgent reason maturely considered, 
and it will lead to a complete derangement of all human 
affairs. 



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Tombstone in Tranent Churchyard— date about the middle of the 
Seventeenth Century, 



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