Keith Sanger describes the seamier side of piping research

No it is not what you think, but more a case of the 'art of course records'. Last year as part of the preparation for the Society's Collogue, the esteemed editor of Common Stock, asked me if I could help to complete the list of Peebles Burgh Pipers. Much of the information Pete had already gathered had mostly come from published material from the burgh records along with some additional information gleaned from the Scot- landspeople's Birth, Marriage and Deaths web pages. So I gave a qualified yes before taking a look to see how many of the records were still extant, where they were and what I was getting myself into.
In fact the Peebles records are fairly intact and amount to a considerable quantity of material. Despite some of them, including the Burgh minutes and Kirk session records, having been transferred to the Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre at Hawick, a substantial amount remains at the National Archives of Scotland. This included some of the most promising search material, the burgh accounts and other financial documents. So as the date of the collogue was fast approaching I threw myself into the task.
Now there are a number of clues to how often archive documents have been 'used' beyond their original purpose after which they were then filed away for posterity. One is when they still contain traces of the fine sand that was scattered over the vellum or paper to dry the ink. When you notice that your work desk is getting gritty it is a sure sign that you may be among the first, if not actually the first person to read them after the original recipient. Another sign is when the documents do not meet the standards of modern archive treatment. For example, at one point while working on a boxfile of early vellum deeds tagged with a variety of seals I found myself fitting little linen socks over the seals as I repacked them so that the danger of them knocking against each other and being chipped was removed.
Likewise the way and nature of the ties around bundles can also be a giveaway especially when, as was the case of some of these text burgh documents, they were tied with very roughly cut leather thongs so tightly knotted that they had to be cut off and replaced with modern tape. However the biggest tell tale is dirt, and to be sure what were just loosely described in the catalogue as a number of boxes of 'miscellaneous vouchers and receipts' proved to be extremely dirty, in some cases I was convinced they bore traces of soot and certainly among the dirtiest documents I think I have ever handled.
This of course presents a problem when working with them since the dirt is rapidly transferred to your hands and care is required not to touch anything including yourself before a visit to the washroom. Certainly cotton gloves can be supplied by the reading room for those who want them, but I find that they can make it harder to deal with friable documents which are likely to surface from this sort of un-catalogued material. So it is guaranteed that some time well into the search and with hands that are now black, your nose starts to itch and with a nose the size of mine that is some itch.
But then again it is all supposed to be worth the effort and in this case it was, especially from those dirty vouchers which yielded some of the more exciting finds, (although for real 'dirt' someone will need to read through those Kirk Session records at Hawick). A considerable amount of piping relevant material has been found and the search of just the Peebles Burgh Records held at the National Archives still has further to go. One problem was that although with the co-operation of the archive staff a method of temporary marking the position of items for photocopying was successful; afterwards the boxes will have returned to almost the same un-catalogued state they were originally delivered in. However, the longer term aim is to transcribe the photocopies and create some sort of chronological order which can then be added to the society website. In the meantime the rest of this article will attempt to describe some of the most interesting finds.
Between the death after several years of ill health, of the Burgh piper William Lang on the 26 October 17031 and the engagement of James Ritchie in 1740, there seem to have been a number of pipers, some of whom may only have been hired in for the occasion. The first of these who probably due to Lang's health overlaps with him was a William Nicol who first appears receiving a payment in November 1700. Further payments are on record to pyper nicoll for playing before the convention at the cross upon the queens birth night upon the 6 February 1708 and later that same year he was paid for playing about the commons. He was still receiving payments down to 1715 after which he disappears from the records, at least by name although payments to a piper continue to be made.2
This leads to a slight mystery about his replacement who first appears in 1722 when an entry in the accounts for the Town of Peebles on the 25 April records spent when I hayered [hired] the piper Colen to be toun piper. This is complemented by an entry in the birth records for a son born to Coalling Clement Town peper on the 11 November that same year.3 Once again payments to a piper continue but the next one to be named was on the 10 January 1736 when a small paper note in rather poor condition from the provost to the treasurer of Peebles records; Sir give to donald Mcglain pyper two shillings & six pence ster[ling] for playing on ye Kings Birth night and this shall be your warrant per me.4
One further piper whose name was James Smith received a payment in November 1738 before we enter the period of James Ritchie whose first noted appearance came with a less than ringing endorsement from his father in a petition dated 6 April 1739. Unto the Council of Peebles shews your ser[vant] John Ritchie That whereas I have put my son to learn to play on the pipes to your piper he not being fit for other work, and I not being able to buy him a pair of pipes Beseeches your Honours to give me some small thing to the end fore[said]. It has been endorsed with The Council grants Warrant to their treasurer to give the petitioner John Ritchie five Shillings Ster for the use mentioned in the petition.5
Over the next 65 years during which James Ritchie was the burgh piper there are numerous references among the Peebles records including his petitions for a salary rather than just the house which having been granted led to regular payments of that salary along with payment for his shoes. He also received casual payments for other work always carefully signed with a good hand suggesting he had received some schooling. Among these there is one which merits highlighting as it makes the only actual reference to his pipes.
Peebles october the 3 1786
Received from John Hislop toun treasurer tou shillings for attendance at michlmas and tou shillings for rides to the pipes and ten shillings which is the other half of my sellery which is discharged by James Ritchie.6
Clearly on that occasion at least he did not actually make his own pipe reeds, or perhaps it was just the purchase of suitable material for reed making. Many questions still remain.

Keith Sanger
9 March 2014

1. National Archives of Scotland, (NAS) Old Parish Records O.P.R. Deaths 768/00 0040 0386
 2. N.A.S B58/17/16 Bundle 2. 1700-1720.
 3. N.A.S B58/17/23/4/45; OPR Births 768/00 0020 0362. The name especially in that combination is so unusual that he is   probably the Collen Clement who was born on the 24 July 1693 at Kilconquhar in Fife, (OPR Births 438/0000 100235).
 4. N.A.S. B58/17/20/4. Although 'MacLean' seems to have been a strange new name to the area at that point, another member   of the family was to become the Peebles Burgh Treasurer a few years later.
 5. N.A.S. B58/17/23/2/2
 6. N.A.S B58/17/22/3/1. Of all the possible interpretations 'rides' = reeds seems to be the most likely.