Haddington is rich in documented history of its pipers. Here, Pete Stewart reviews some of the evidence that survives

Those who came to the Town House in Haddington for this year’s Collogue will have noticed, I hope, on their way up the stairs, an ancient-looking wooden chest and may have stopped to wonder about it, as Hamish Moore and I did. What I did not learn until after giving the talk to the gathering about piping in the Burgh is that this was the chest, first made in 1553, in which the Burgh documents were kept prior to their conservation sometime around 1975. Nor, indeed, had it occurred to me that the room in which the meeting was held was the same one that had been used by the Burgh Council from the time of its building in 1743.
Amongst these documents were what are now bound in a single volume, the minutes of meetings of the Burgh council from 1580 to 1640, the earliest of the minute books to survive. Along with them was the Royal Charter presented to the Burgh by Robert the Bruce in 1318 [to replace the one issued in 1130 which had been lost], as well as many other papers from the 15th century  onwards.
In researching the story of piping in the Burgh I have been privileged to have this volume of the minutes in my hand - an extraordinary work of conservation has been done on what were severely mould-damaged sheets: it continues to amaze me that this kind of link with our past is still available. [See pp 28-29]
I would like to say that it was a pleasure not just to handle these documents but to be able to read them. Unfortunately that is not so. The earliest handwriting, although neat and fluid and consistent, is to ordinary mortals quite illegible - the letter forms are such that they withhold their content to all but the most dedicated and experienced of scholars. Fortunately for us, one such scholar was James Robb, who in the 1880’s transcribed the entire collection up to 1730, when the writing becomes intelligible to the likes of me. Without this work of devotion I should not have been able to locate the records I sought, let alone actually read them, for Robb’s transcription reveals that they are written, not only in 16th century Scots but also, in parts, in Latin and sometimes in French.
I should add that the Local History and Archives department also hold an index and extracts made from the Robb transcriptions, so it was a fairly simple task to locate the records there, and thus by persistent searching through the obscurities of the original for the desired dates [which are written in 16th century Latin, with abbreviations] to identify the records I sought.
The end result of plundering this treasure [rescued as it had been from its treasure chest] was a history of the Burgh’s relationships with its pipers and drummers, their appointments, misdemeanours and reponings from the middle of the 16th up to the early years of the 19th century, around 250 years of piping in the town.
The earliest mention of pipers no longer survives except in Robb’s transcription of a document which seems to have been subsequently lost: it reads
“1542: Oct 12: The Counsall ordaine ye Threasurer to gif ye piper viijd nytlie at ye syt of ye ballies”
(The Council instructs the treasurer to give the piper 8 pence nightly at the pleasure of the baillies.)
There are however, earlier references in other sources to payments to musicians such as this one:
“1530: Nov 30th: James Biris  recompenced ‘for his fee  & playing to Willie Dowglace’ [the Abbot of Unreason]”
This would have been for playing at the May Revels, and perhaps at other entertainments which the ‘Abbot of Unreason’ was entitled to arrange.
These events may well have included pipers, but the first reference to  Town Piper is to Patrick Scougall in 1598, according to John McGavin1, though I failed to locate that record.
McGavin also records the names of five pipers (including Scougall) who were listed ‘for possible future prosecution’ [for playing on Sundays and ‘for dances in streets and fields’ ] but points out that the Presbytery were also on the look out to indict another piper Robert Stewart, who, having denied their charge of incestuous adultery, was eventually charged with piping on the Sabbath.
While Patrick Scougall was piper to the town, one Nicol Brown was Town Drummer. However, in 1608 the Minute Book records the following appointment, which, in addition to representing a saving in salary for the Council, is unusual in the annals of Town Pipers:
“1608: Jan 24th : The quhilk day baillies counsall & dekins ressavit ye solemsanit aith of Richard Skowgall sone lauchfull to Patrick Skowgall tailzeour burgess of ye said bur & creat & maid him burges of ye said bur as apperand an is ye said umquhile Patrick his fayer for ye spyce & ye wyne.
(The solemn oath of Richard Scowgill, legitimate son of Patrick Scowgill, tailor, was received, after which he was made a burger for spices and wine. )
“The samin day ye said baillies counsall & deaconis has coduceit and feyti ye said Richerd Skowgall, & aggreit wt him as followis – That is to say – ye said Richerd obleissis him to Stryke upoun ye swasch, throw all ye streits of ye toun – fra port to port everie day at four hors in ye morning, & everie day at aucht hors in ye evein, four and siclyke – baith in ye toun & wt. out ye samin – At all proclamatiouns mustare dayis of ye said burh – rydenis Ye merchis of ye Mure – ye Kingis nyths as ye fyft of August & ye fyft of November, & all yair oyer comoun affairis, as ye comoun swascher – And gif it sall happen be wet wether, he sall play wt ye greit-pype throw all ye parts of ye said burh & at all ye said hors morning and evening
(It was agreed that he would beat his drum through all the streets of the town, at all proclamations, muster days, riding of the marches of the moor, King’s night, august 5th, November 5th and all other festivals etc.
If it happened to be wet weather he was to play the great pipe in the same places and at the same times. Should he fail to do so the Treasurer would retain his fee. He would be expected to maintain the town’s two drums at his own expense.)
According to McGavin, Patrick Scougall was a fairly wealthy tailor; the minute above records the election of his ‘lawful’ son Richard as a merchant burgess. Despite this, and despite his distinguished position as Town Drummer /Piper, Richard was involved, two years later, in the kind of happening that must have caused the Provost and Baillies some major frustration; here is how this extraordinary story is described in the Minute Book:
“1610: 26 September: The samin day ye said Johne Wilkie notar, being accusit for contempt done by him to ye Mag’ris in ye Cort upoun ye xxv of Yis instant gevin yame proude & injurious words & eftir he was dischargit be the provost for conteneuring yr in & wald not be comandit be yame, And yreftir he being wairdit yrfor, he sat up all yt nyt in ye tolbuith wt certane insolent personis, conversit yair be him & to him, drinkand & playand & getting in Richert skowgall yr common pyper & swascher, wt ye swasche and his pipe, As also johne grahame pyper playand all ye nyt in ye tolbuith, & upon ye wall heid yrof wt yr pypers & ye swasche, schouting, crying & makein proclamations upoun ye wllheid of ye tolbuith & using sindrie insolences adb contumelies in contempt of ye Mag’ris quha had wairdit him.”
(The same day the said John Wilkie, Notary, being accused for contempt done by him to the magistrates in the the Court upon the 25th instant, giving them proud and injurious words and after he was discharged by the Provost for continuing therein and would not be commanded by them and thereafter he being imprisoned therefore he sat up all the night in the Tolbooth with certain insolent persons, conversing there to him and by him, drinking and playing and getting in Richard Skowgall their common piper and swasher with the swasche and his pipe. Also Johne Grahame piper playing all the night in the Tolbooth and upon the wall-head thereof with the pipers and the drum, shouting, crying and making proclamations upon the wall-head of the Tolbooth and using sundry insolencies and contumelies in contempt of the Magistrates who had incarcerated him)
McGavin points out in his telling of this story just how furious the magistrates must have been, seeing their Town Drum used in this insulting manner by the man they employed to beat it, ‘Their Common Piper and Drummer’, and in defiance of the curfew that he himself must have earlier proclaimed. Nevertheless, no reprimand was ever documented and Richard continued as the Common Piper and Swascher for  another three years until, as a result of his failure to fulfil his duties, probably due to illness, he was replaced by the previous holder of the post, Nicol Brown, though Scougall Senior, Patrick may have been re-appointed Piper. The Minute Books do not record any further mention of pipers until 1662 when we are told that:
“1662: April last: Conduces John Reid in Northberwike to be ye pyper, And allowed him the same fie And livery that the drumer gets”
On the same day, Robb Lindsey was re-appointed as the Town Drummer. This sporadic recording of appointments continues into the 18th century, although it was recorded that on
“1672 Sep 1: The whilk day the provost, bailies deacons & Gild counsall and deacones of crafts have statute and ordaneit that the pyper and drummer is to have yearlie payit to them at Michaelmas the soume of twenty shillings sterling for buying of yr liverie clothes and stockings.”
There must have been a number of appointments between then and 1728, but at that time the Council ran into difficulties:
“1728: July 1st:  John Oswald piper had quit the town so another was needed. Charles May could play the oboe, base, German flute. But he would not serve for the ordinary fee. He was offered, and he accepted, £5 for a year”
Whether he played one of his other instruments, or whether the Council considered his proficiencies on them sufficient to allow him to play the bagpipes is not recorded. It is also not recorded whether his agreed fee was in pounds Scots or Sterling; four years later the Council restricted the fee to £20 [presumably Scots] but by 1741 the Treasurer’s Accounts show that the piper was being paid £40 and the Drummer £38.
The most frustrating omission in the records, or at least my failure to find it, is the lack of mention of the appointment of James Livingston as piper. The first time his name appears is in 1760, which was a difficult year for Town Officers, it seems;
“26 Feb: Robert Howard, late town Drummer having testified his sorrow for having incurred the displeasure of the magistrates and Council therefore the Councill repone2 him to his office as Town Drummer and ordain him to go through the Town with his drum everyday of the week Sundays always excepted immediately after the ringing of the bell at five in the morning and in the evening at seven.”
And less than nine months later, without any mention of the offence either of them might have committed:
“5th Oct: Thereafter the Council repone James Livingstoun to his office as Towns Piper and ordain him to play through the [sic] every morning at five oclock & every evening at seven & intitle him to the usuall salary of fourty pounds Scots per anum to commence from after Martinmas first”
Exactly how long Livingston did play ‘with the greit-pipe throw all parts of the Burgh’ thus remains uncertain; however, that it was for a significant period is recognised by the Minute Book during 1776:
“ 1776 March 6th: In Respect of the age and faithful service of James Livingston the town piper The Council unanimously agree to give him a new Cloak and authorize the Treasurer to provide the same with all convenient speed.”
Nowhere else have I seen reference to a Scottish Town Piper wearing a cloak; there must have been times, around 4am, when the ageing Livingston appreciated his long-service award.
1776 was a difficult time for the burgh as far as its musicians were concerned since Robert Howard [the son of the earlier Drummer of that name] had enlisted and the Town went without an official drummer for a month until
“1776 April 11: Then the Council unanimously elect and Choose Andrew Simpson Journeyman Shoemaker Son of the deceased Andrew Simpson Shoemaker [who had been elected burges in 1739] to be the town’s Drummer in room of Robert Howard jnr removed with the annual salary to commence from Whitsunday first and also the ordinary perquisites from this date all during the Councils pleasure.”
And so the most famous pair of Burgh Musicians came together and were to remain together for the next eleven years until March 8th 1787, when Andrew Simpson ‘removed’ himself from the Burgh:
“1787 March 22 The which day and hour the Council Elect and choose John Miln shoemaker in Haddington to be Town Drummer.”
We can therefore be certain that the well-known painting of the pair done by local artist Robert Mabon, which appears on the cover, was done sometime between 1776 and 1787. In 1788 the treasurer’s accounts show payment to the Drummer for a year, but only for one quarter for the piper, suggesting that Livingston had either retired or died sometime around March of that year. At the same time William Begbie was appointed Town Drummer and he remained the sole Town musician, walking the morning and evening rounds on his own, till 1798 when, according to the Treasurer’s Accounts, James Ross, piper, joined him; at that time the drummer’s fee was what it had been since 1788, £3 6s 8d in 1788; Ross’ fee, however, was £5; not till 1805 did the drummer’s fee match the piper’s and by that time Begbie had been replaced by William Baird. Ross ceased to be piper in 1804, but Baird continued to be paid as drummer till 1812 at least.
And with James Ross’ departure the office of Town Piper fell vacant. It would be filled once again in the period 1821-1823 by one Donald MacGregor, who, one assumes was a highland piper, who had suggested reviving the post and had proposed himself to fill it. That he remained in the post for only 18 months suggests that with the death of James Ross the Burgh no longer placed any real value in the role of Town Piper.
Baird however remained a  Town employee and a familiar figure each evening crying the old rite of ‘Coal and Can’le’ until 1820, and he was still being paid an annuity in 1830 when John Sinclair was being paid 10s. to do the same job.
Coal and Candle is said to have originated in Haddington after the disastrous fire of 1598 when the town suffered serious destruction.3 In 1764 the following was inserted in the Minute Book:
“Instructions to the Bellman to cry Coal and candle during the winter season viz from Hallowmas to Candlemas betwixt the hours of seven and eight at night Sundays always excepted; to cry coal and candle as usual by the small handbell”
The following is the rhyme to be ‘cried’:
“A' guid men's servants where're ye be,
Keep coal an' can'le for charitie!
Baith in your kitchen an' your ha'.
Keep weel your fires whatever befa,!
In bakehouse. brewhouse, barn. and byre,
I warn ye a' keep weel your fire!
For oftentimes a little spark
Brings mony hands to muckle wark!
Ye nourrices that hae bairns to keep,
See that ye fa' nae o'er sound asleip,
For losing o' your guid renown,
An' banishing o' this barrous toun'
Tis for your sakes that I do cry:
Tak' warning by your neighbours bye!”
The tune, if that is the right word [see below], to which these words were chanted was preserved by Samuel Smiles.

So far this has been the results of a trawl of the Burgh records, including the Treasurer’s Accounts [where they have survived]. However, a number of reminiscences of Haddington give a more general picture of various activities in which pipers participated. Chief among these source is Martine’s Reminiscences.4
 “The public proclaiming of the Provost and Magistrates at the Cross, and at a consecrated stone in the inside of the east end of St Martin's Church in the Nungate, after the yearly election, was a grand affair. Marching in order, with their chains of office, they were preceded by the town-officers and piper in their ancient antique grey dress, with shouldered halberts, and followed by a crowd of town's folk and school-boys.”“The carters' race, a great event in its day, was held yearly on the post road, on the Monday after Haddington Summer Fair-day, 15th July. The starting was from Smail's Pond, and the horses ran to St Laurence House and back, and sometimes round the " Bauk." " My Lord " and his two bailies, preceded by the town's drum and bagpipes, with banners flying, were no small personages on that day. The procession, in its best days, probably numbered twenty to thirty riders, and the horses were decked out with flowers and ribbons. My lord dismounted at the Burgh Schools, and asked the masters to give the scholars the play to see the races. The worthy masters were no ways loath, it being alleged that they were as fond of seeing the races as the Scholars.”“More than a hundred years ago James Livingstone was piper, and Andrew Simpson drummer, or swacher, and they were characters in their day. They were said to have been soldiers, and fought in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. They perambulated the streets of the burgh every morning at five o'clock in the summer, and at seven in the evening. They skirled up their music to awaken and enliven the townsfolk. They were generally accompanied by a silly lad of the name of Harry Barrie. An excellent engraving of the three, now very scarce, by R. Mabon, a local artist of the day, represents the piper and drummer in full march at their morning vocation, with pipes and drum. They were dressed in the burgh's ancient gray-plaided garb, with short knee-breeches, long coats, and buckles in their shoes, followed by Harry Barrie bare-legged. Richard Gall, the Haddington poet, immortalises them in the following verses : —
" When the grey morn began to keek,
And 'boon the toun is seen no reek,
Jamie wad rise, and his pipes cleek,
An’ then wi’ speed,
He'd rouse the tounfolk frae their sleep,
But now he*s dead.
O ! but it was right droll to see
At e'en come east the toun the three,
Then Jamie wad some Scots tune gie,
Fu' queer indeed ;
He'd hit your taste just to a tee.
But now he's dead." 5


1  McGavin, J.J. (2001) Secular music in the burgh of Haddington, 1530-1640. In, Kisby, Fiona (ed.) Music and Musicians in Renaissance Cities. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 45-56.
2 ‘repone - to reinstate to a former position’
3 The town had been burnt at least three times previously, but those were occasions of warfare, against which the townsfolk could take few precautions. The 1598 fire was said to have been caused by a maidservant leaving the washing drying too close to the fire overnight, according to Martine
4 Martine, John, Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington and old East Lothian agriculturists: Edinburgh ; Glasgow : J. Menzies,  1883
5 This elegy is not to be found in the published collection of Gall’s poems. Since Livingstone’s career as town Piper ended in 1788, when Gall was eleven [at which age he was apprenticed to a house-carpenter] it is either a remarkable piece of juvenilia or was written some time after the event, when Gall was living in Edinburgh. In his published works there is a poem entitled ‘The Waits’ which presumably describes the Town music of Edinburgh; it mentions them playing the Broom of Cowden Yowe amongst other tunes.
It is possible that Livingstone was of an age to have fought at Fontenoy, since thirty-one years later he was awarded a cloak for his long-service; it does seems unlikely that Simpson also served there, since he would then have been around 50 years old when he was appointed - but then the Council were struggling to find a drummer…

This print is one of three slightly different engravings that survive; they are all significantly different from the watercolour [see the front cover], particularly in what the drummer is wearing beneath his coat.