Keith Sanger reports on an unusual, if not unique, record in the annals of Scottish piping

The finding of a reference to a piper among the Court of Session papers would normally have fallen under the heading of an almost routine research event. However a recent find in that collection by its rarity and the questions it raises, is far from ‘routine’; indeed a reference to a ‘Lady’ piper anywhere is unique as far as I am aware. It appears in the year 1709 towards the end of a very long paper scroll of the High Court of Justiciary Processes running from 1704 to 1710 (National Records of Scotland JC26/87/321), and would seem from having an associated page reference number to have been copied from another separate and paginated volume.
[Ed. Before discussing the record itself, I asked Keith to say a little more about the actual process of uncovering this remarkable document. Here’s his reply]
Rolled up it just looks like an off– white cylinder about 8 inch long and 6 inch in diameter. On the other hand unrolled it is going to be well over 25 foot long and that is when spread along four readers positions and not fully unrolled even then. It initially came as part of a bundle with it and some normal documents all tied in one bundle. I started on the normal documents first but stopped when I realized that among them were some letters still folded and sealed in the usual 'no envelope' method of that period but which oddly had never been opened. So I discussed it with the archivists and they sent the whole bundle to the conservation department for them to work out how to open them without destroying the seals. When I was informed they were back from conservation and I could re-order them up, what I had before received as one bundle now came up as a box full of the collection broken down into numerous acid-free folders and the scroll was now double wrapped in acid free paper in its own cotton bag.
The entry itself is brief and in a good hand leaving little doubt about its reading and occurs in a section of the scroll listing cases of ‘Fornication’ and other sexual transgressions, or in the case of this entry one of ‘Double Fornication’, so my use of the term ‘lady piper’ is probably more in a sense of ‘one of the feminine gender’ as apposed to the normal use of the term ‘lady’ at that period. Due to the rarity of the entry along with the difficulty of being specific about exactly where in the scroll it appears, with the permission of the National Records of Scotland a scan of the actual entry is included in this article.

The transcription is straight forward and with the ‘long S’ standardised reads;-

Double fforn         William Templeton in pinwhirrie gaulty [guilty]
 ication p: 50        of ffornication twice with Bessie     
                              m cjanet pyper in Knockdolian within  
                              these four years bairns born confested  
                              the same And satisfied the Church

Knockdolian and Pinwhirrie, (modern Pinwherry) are about five miles apart and some seven miles south of Girvan and were then both in the Ayrshire Parish of Colmonell; while the surnames Templeton and McJanet are also very local to that same area. The addition of ‘piper’ to Bessie McJanet’s name has to be taken at face value since if it was a male name involved there would be no doubt that in that context a player of the bagpipe was meant. It would be a useful confirmation if the other record to which the ‘page 50’ refers could be found and it might be a Kirk or Presbytery minute book, but in the mean time it does seem to be a unique reference to a female Lowland Piper.

Jan Steen 1674 [detail]

Keith Sanger