An edited version of the talk given by Pete Stewart at the Peebles Collogue

Pete opened his talk by acknowledging the contribution made by Keith Sanger, to whom those interested in uncovering the true story of the history of Lowland piping owe an immense debt. He then went on to outline a picture of piping in Peebles based on the records Keith had extracted from the Burgh Accounts. Peebles provides what some claim to be the earliest mention of the bagpipe in Scotland though Pete expressed his opinion that the poem more probably dates from the first half of the 16th century.
Here is the passage that inspired the form of the talk:
‘The pyper said now I begin
To tyre for playing to;
But yit I have gottin nathing
For all my pyping to you
thre happenis for half ane day
And that will not undo you:
And gif ye will gif me richt nocht
the meikill devill gang wi you
Quod he,Of Peblis to the Play’

3d a day Scots would add up to appx £4.10s a year– more or less the same rate as William Lang was paid as salary in 1694. Lang was piper from 1686 till 1700. In the 16th century however £1 Scots was equal to 5s sterling; by Lang’s time it was equal to 1s 8d, meaning his annual salary was equivalent to 6s 8d sterling.

The first mention of payments for pipers appears in 1554 and in 1572 a drummer was appointed. The record is revealing for its explanation of the drummer’s role; he was to accompany the Watch when it was set up and to accompany it again at its dispersal in the morning, and for this he was excused his obligation as town citizen to do his stint on the watch.
In 1634 John Lang was the first piper to get a detailed record of his engagement:
‘John Layng, toune piper, that he sail daylie and ilk day, at four houris at morne and aucbt houris at evin, play throughe the tonne with his grit gype till Mertinmes 1635’ Note the use of ‘Great Pipe’, apparently implying the existence of a smaller alternative. Lang was given 29s ’to gang to Dekeith’, ‘quhen guid William Tempill brak his pyppis’.

Going about the Commons
This was a frequent duty for the piper and drummer; each commons seems to have been ‘walked’ separately and 6s 8d was the going rate for each man for each ‘going about’. However, it is not until 1733 that ‘riding’ is mentioned, and in 1742 the term Ryding’ first appears when payment was made to
‘Ja Ritchie piper at Ryding both Cadmuir & Eschiels Common’
This seems to mark the beginning of the ‘Ridings’ in Peebles which now come under the auspices of the ‘Beltane’ celebrations; Beltane in this town is in June.
The Piper’s House
William Lang became town piper in 1686 and is the first piper to be record- ed as having his rent paid : in 1686/7 this was £4 [scots]. The records of repairs to the the houses rented over the next 120 years reveal that they were made of turf, with thatched roofs, as were many in Peebles at the time.
The price of Shoes
The last piper of Peebles, James Ritchie, first appears in the records when his first pair of shoes was paid for in 1741. From then on he had a new pair every two years or so and the cost remained around £1.10sh, later 2sh 6d sterling.
A petition presented to the council by James Ritchie in 1765, ‘Burgh piper these past 25 years,’ mentions that he receives a house from the Burgh but ‘as with other burgh pipers’ he asks for a ‘salary’ as well. However, records show that he had been paid a salary in his early years: ‘1745 6 Jan    To Jas Ritchie his salary from Mar 1744 to Do 1745 £13 6sh 8d’
The last record of a salary being paid before 1771 is in 1754 when he was paid 17sh 7d [sterling]
The piper’s perks
In addition to his annual salary [where paid] the piper received separate pay- ments for various occasions; as well as ‘going about the commons’ there were payments for playing at civic election dinners, royal birthday celebrations, civic visits, ‘at the cross upon the queens birth night ‘.    In 1741 Ritchie was paid ‘for musick £1 4s’- probably at a civic dinner or similar, but later in the century things must have become more difficult since he was by then picking up odd days council work such as clearing stones.
End of an era
Ritchie’s death record, dated June 1807, is remarkable in that it says ’65 years Town Piper’; and with him the tradition that had lasted at least 250 years came to and end.

The records are certain to produce more surprises. Just days before the collogue Keith uncovered a payment voucher for 1736, to ‘Donald MacLean piper’; this must be the Gala piper [see p.15]. Just what he was being paid for is not clear- was he tutoring Ritchie?
[Ed: A fuller discussion of the Peebles records, including the latest find, a petition from Ritchie’s father to the council to help him pay for a ‘pair of pipes’, is planned for our next issue]