Page images
PDF
EPUB

customs and privileges, with the addition of Nith fishings, excepting only such portion as had been granted by predecessors out of Divine charity to the Minorite Brethren. A formal but apparently uncompleted precept for a new charter by King James VI., in 1621, purports to confer upon the Magistrates and Council authority “to have and use within the burgh upon ilk Monday and Friday, ane publick mercat day, togidder with twa fairis in the year, the ane thereoif to begin upon the [blank] day of Apryle, and the aither upon the fourtene day of September yearlie, and aither of them to continue for the space of aucht days theireafter." Influenced, apparently, by the festival day of the burgh's patron, St. Michael the Archangel (Sept. 29), the autumn or Rood Fair was fixed at a stated period between this date and the other Church festival known as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross or Rood, “ Exaltatio Sanctæ Crucis.” St. Michael himself composedly trampling the dragon under foot, may still be seen, as graven by a cunning hand, in front of the midsteeple buildings, the Town's Chamber for many years before removal to Buccleuch Street. About this St. Michael much amusing literature, diverting at any time, but especially suitable at fair time, has been written by grave clergymen. In the “New Statistical Account” one reverend gentleman, ignorant apparently of the traditions gathering round the name of him who in Heaven made war against the Woman, describes St. Michael as “a Popish saint of extreme sanctity," while another identifies his “Kirkmichael" with the burial-place of the archangel. In early days, and in accordance with what was known as “The Laws of the Four Burghs,” after the peace of the fair was proclaimed, it was not lawful to capture or attack any wrong-doer within the burgh, unless he had broken the peace of the fair, or was a traitor to the King, or had been guilty of some misdeed for which Holy Church itself could not give "gyrth” or sanctuary. None have as yet been able to trace the “Pied Poudre" Court in Scotland, but from the readiness with which appeals could be made to “the bailies of the fair” in the case of articles lost or stolen, it may be inferred that such magistrates formed a ready court of reference in all disputes between the burgesses and the "dustyfoot” or travelling merchant. As a salutary warning to evil-doers, market or fair days were generally fixed upon for carrying out extreme sentences of the law. It is mentioned in M‘Dowall's excellent “History of Dumfries” that in April, 1659, nine unfortunate women, condemned as witches, were inhumanly strangled and burnt at the usual place of execution, on a Wednesday afternoon. The local clergy, on this occasion, being unable to overtake the task of spiritual consolation, was assisted on the day of execution by brethren from Galloway. In the face of all the changes in trade caused by railways, the Rood Fair gathering in the south has, from generation to generation, been considered the event of the year. Young and old have been alike interested in the return of the welcome season; and to it in troops they flock from every point of the compass—from the green holms of Annandale to the solitary Glenkens—from breezy Kyle to Solway shore-all direct their journey to “Maggie, by the banks of Nith."

Then they are of all classes. In the space between Church Place and Assembly Street, there may be seen the laird and the factor, the farmer and the cottar, wives and daughters, man-servant and maid-servant. Elderly fair-goers have a habit of contrasting the splendour of the fair nowadays with what it was in past times, when the seven incorporated trades turned out with their gaudy trappings on the Thursday, or town's holiday, and a glimpse might even have been obtained of King James' famous gift, “the Siller Gun," as it was borne in triumph to their own hall. In “the shows,” especially, the falling off is described as a local calamity. And certainly with Jerry Wombwell on the White Sands, and old Ord on the Green, a poor substitute is presented by a gaudy show of shooting ranges and a ricketty caravan or two, even though they do happen to contain Peruvian Pangythans. David Street, too, has been shorn of its crockery display, and all the china or Staffordshire ware to be seen there might be packed within the space of a common crate. Burwell's Bazaar, a very Cave of Aladdin, with its sanded floor and gay contents, not to speak of the desperate excitement of the lottery, was first removed from its time-honoured stance in Buccleuch Street, and now seems to be altogether

improved out of existence.

These are, no doubt, drawbacks of a kind, but the real spectacle happens to be the people themselves—the lads and lasses, and here they have been in abundance, exuberant yet orderly, gay as holiday attire can make them, but richer still in stores of health and strength won in the harvest field. They gather to see each other, and care for little else. Mere town sights are of little moment. Not an extra score of people find their way to any of them. Burns, as he at one time wrote to Grose was likely, might as well be lying in the quiet solitude of Alloway. The Observatory, made of easier access from the Dumfries side, by the new and elegant suspension bridge across the Nith at the Dock, may attract a few specially curious, but they are mostly townsfolk or visiting friends of townsfolk. The hostelries adjacent to High Street supply the bulk of the entertainment wanted, and their resources are taxed to the utmost. Royal Oaks and Crowns, Globes and Georges (the hack “Supple Sam,” in “Guy Mannering," belonged to the George) have all been too little for the demands made on them by our lively south-country Jocks and Jennies.

[blocks in formation]

In issuing a new series of selections from the Judicial Records of Renfrewshire, Mr. Hector added a useful and entertaining volume to the historian's library, and presented a series of details regarding the administration of law in the county, as well as of the manners and condition of the people, interesting far beyond the bounds to which the different papers specially refer. In drawing from those Renfrewshire records, of which as Sheriff-Clerk he was official custodier, Mr. Hector was in reality illustrating the history of Scotland in general, and that on points whose preceding writers of far higher pretensions were neither very full nor very accurate. A list of rents, prices, and valuations may present a dry, forbidding appearance to readers caring only for amusement or passing the time; but they form the material out of which history must be constructed, if we really desire to know how our ancestors lived at home or were controlled by civil authority. In Mr. Hector's hands the various documents submitted become something more than mere material for history. It is history itself, the Muse unrolling the historic scroll in her own way. In addition to the “libel” as presented to the Court for discussion and settlement, Mr. Hector has always a few introductory remarks to offer in the way of explanation, sometimes by way of contrast or comparison with things judicial in our own time. These remarks as a rule are not only made with brevity and intelligence, but are full of suggestive matter likely to occur only to a mind familiar with the details of legal practice and trained in the strict application of general legal principles. Nor are such details by any means as a rule of a dry statistical character; in like manner to the first volume there is in the second something for the merely curious to beguile a half-hour, and something also for those who have earnestly laboured in modern times to bring about some improve ment in the local judicial business of the country. In this respect the attractive qualities of Mr. Hector's book gives ground for hope that similar collections may soon be issued illustrating the history of other counties in Scotland. Renfrewshire is not richer than others in ancient judicial records; nor does Mr. Hector say so. Rather otherwise. In all Scottish counties such records have been accumulating rapidly since 1748, when the earlier records of hereditary officials and Bailies of Barony were abolished by the Heritable Jurisdiction Act, and their records transferred to the new Sheriffs. From the absence of sufficient accommodation, as Mr. Hector justly observes, or through want of due appreciation of their value, the earlier as well as the more recent records were improperly buried and injured in obscure corners where such portions as can be preserved still await the attention of Government for publication, so far at least as the documents might be judged historically important. So late as 1873, the judicial records of Renfrewshire were for the most part huddled on the damp stone floor of the record room at Paisley—no inventories, covered with dust, many missing, and all going to decay. So serious did matters look in this department, that when Mr. Hector was appointed Sheriff-Clerk in that year he found it necessary to decline taking possession of the records, or to be held responsible in any way regarding them, so long as they were permitted to remain in their then condition. Through the active exertions of Sheriff Fraser and others funds were at length procured for putting the record room in order, and steps taken to arrange and inventory such documents as remained. In carrying out this congenial duty the Sheriff-Clerk naturally came across many papers relating to the old hereditary courts and illustrative of the social condition of the people. . Believing that some of them might still interest the public, he selected, annotated, and published portions in the press weekly during the last three years. The result was the first volume of records issued from the tasteful press of the Messrs. Cook, Paisley, early in 1876. The second, with which we are now dealing, has just been submitted to subscribers by the same careful publishers. This series would appear, for the present at least, to close the publication. Mr. Hector explains that his chief object has been to prompt other custodiers of county records to follow his example, believing it to be a duty which they should not shrink from; and to press at the same time the duty laid upon those in authority to provide sufficient accommodation for the safe and careful preservation of official documents. The new volume is divided into eight convenient sections:-1, County Representation, Freeholders, &c.; 2, Old County Families and Estates; 3, County Courts; 4, Social Condition and Manners; 5, Prisons and Prisoners; 6, the Burgh of Paisley (with a Plan, of date about 1545, and View of the Old Abbey “Yett House "); 7, Miscellaneous; 8, Rents, Prices, &c., 1730-50. In addition to the illustrations just mentioned, a number of well-executed facsimilies are presented of certain of the more important documents described and inserted in the text. The volume formally bears to be dedicated by permission to Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, Bart.—“Eminent

« PreviousContinue »