Keith Sanger introduces us to some local lowland pipers

As this years Penicuik ‘Hunter and Lass’ both have military Highland piping connections it seemed a suitable occasion to take a look at some aspects of the area’s earlier Lowland piping history. The principle sources of information come from the Clerk of Penicuik muniments currently deposited at the National Records of Scotland. Apart from the Penicuik estate the papers also extend to the Parish of Lasswade so cover a sizable section of Midlothian.
To start though we turn to the minutes of the Presbytery of Dalkeith and what seems to be one of the first references to piping in Midlothian. According to the minutes of the meeting of the Presbytery held at the end of May 1594 it was recorded that; The quhilk day it was provided by the Presbytery in respect of the profanation of the Lord’s day be marriages, in pyping, fidling and dancing. Surprisingly for that period instead of just banning such events outright the Presbytery took a pragmatic view that marriages should be held on a different day.1
A few isolated references confirm the presence of pipers through the 17th century. For example in 1661 while the Laird of Grant was passing through Pathhead on route to London he gave 4 shillings to a piper playing by the roadside.2 It is likely a thorough search of all the Kirk and Presbytery Session records would yield further evidence but, at present the first named piper to appear is one William Job in 1678.
He seems to have already been an established piper residing in Craiglockart but on the 26th of July that year he entered into an agreement with Mr John Clerk of Penicuik concerning a violin. According to the deed which was formerly drawn up and witnessed, ‘ane good and sufficient violin with case and key of the samen’, had been provided by John Clerk at a cost of £48. In return William Job bound and obliged himself to attend Mr John Clerk either at his house of Newbiggin, the Town of Penicuik or at Edinburgh on forty days per year as advised by one of his servants or directly from him to play on the pipe or violin as ordered. He also agreed that he would be penalised Twelve shillings Scots money each time he failed to attend.3
From a piper and violer in Penicuik the next musician comes from Lasswade. The piper’s name was John Robertson and he first appears in a Rental of the Barony of Lasswade, compiled in 1687. This record is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly he is described as John Rotsone menstrell, (although all other rentals describe him as a piper). Secondly the rental is the most detailed of the series and is set out in a series of columns, the first being the money rental, in the pipers case paying £8 yearly for his house; while the other columns are headed bear, wheat, meall, oats, malt, capons, hens and finally carrigs. The latter presumably being the provision of ‘foot carriages’ of some sort.
The piper was listed towards the bottom of the rental among those tenants living in Lasswade itself and like those other tenants was, apart from the money rent, only due to provide two ‘hens’ as rent in kind. Interestingly there were only two other tenants with the surname Robertson in the list, one of whom was described as a ‘notar’ and also in the village and was paying £10 for his house but with no other burdens.4 A further series of rentals which have found their way into the Court of Session papers also starts with the Rental of the Lands and Barony of Lasswade crop 1687, but in this case John Robertson is described as ‘pyper’ and follows right after his namesake the notary.
In these more extensive rentals it includes the names of the properties of the larger tenants and shows the original name and spelling of what is now known as Paradykes, was still in its original form of ‘Paradise’. Modern placename reference works interpret Paradykes to derive from ‘Park Dyke (or wall)’, but it is clear that ‘Paradise ‘meaning ‘Heaven’ or the ‘Garden of Eden’ was the earliest form.5 It was not until after the Barony of Lasswade ceased to retain its own piper that the modern form of Paradykes emerged around 1744,6 (Not of course that I am suggesting any direct connection).
The rentals listing the piper run from Whitsunday to Whitsunday and cover 1687 to 1688; 1688 to 1689; 1689 to 1690; and finally one which does not have a firm date but appears to have been made around January 1692.7 The years 1693 and 1694 are continued by two rentals among the Clerk of Penicuik papers8 along with another from the same collection also dated to 1694 which not only lists the rent but also gives details of the ‘houses’. In the piper John Robertson’s case described as ane cott house wt a bak dore & kale yeard faulty. £8.9 The use of the term ‘faulty’ suggesting the building was a little dilapidated.
For the last of this group of pipers the focus moves back to ‘A list of Fencible Men of the parish of Pennicook, dated 14 October 1715. Of those men listed under the ‘Town’ of Penicuik itself is a John Elphistone Piper.10 The piper is the only person named ‘Elphistone’ (Elphinston), in the whole list and it is therefore possible to suggest that as with many Lowland pipers he performed two roles. According to the Parish Records a John Elphistone and Marion Johnston married in Penicuik on the 7 May 1708. At that time there was no trade given although some of the other marriages in that same record did have trades mentioned.11
It is not until 1713 that the birth records note a child to that couple followed by another seven children, including twins, with the last birth recorded in 1730. Like the Fencible list and the marriage record, all the birth records give the version of the surname ‘Elphinstone’ as ‘Elphistone’ without an ‘n’ and all the birth records note John Elphistone’s trade as a Taylor. He had died by 1742 when his son John (born 1715), acted for his mother in connection with a bill for some tayloring work undertaken for Sir John Clerk of Penicuik.12
This short review of some early Lowland pipers ends by returning to the beginning and Dalkeith and the Poll Tax record compiled on the 10th November 1694. According to one entry James Hardie toun pyper & his wife were due to pay 19 shillings and 4 pence while their son John Hardie was to pay 6 shillings and Janet Paterson their servant was assessed at 10 shillings.13 The piper was certainly still active around the start of the 17th century according to an account book of rents and property expenses where there is a record of receiving £6 from James Hardie Pyper, for a year and a halfs rent of a stable to Whitsunday 1704.14 James Hardie ‘toun piper’ died on the 14th February 1725.15
My thanks to Sir Robert M. Clerk of Penicuik for permission to quote from his family papers deposited as GD18 in the National Records of Scotland.

Keith Sanger

1 National Records of Scotland (NRS). CH2/424/1/323
2 NRS GD248/14/5/8
3 NRS GD18/2285
4 NRS GD50/78. This is among the John MacGregor Collection but it is not clear why or how he acquired it.
5 Paradise/Paradice is the name that appears on the maps of Timothy Pont, (1630 and 1636), and Blaeu (1654 andd 1662).
6 Paradykes first appears on John Elphinstone’s map of 1744.
7 NRS CS96/1/4 numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6
8 NRS GD18/720
9 NRS GD18/1200/10
10 NRS GD18/4141
11 Along with the other OPR records for births they were the only Elphinstones to appear in Penicuik Parish at that time.
12 NRS GD18/2173/2
13 NRS E70/8/8/8
14 NRS CS96/3268 p 51
15 O.P.R Deaths 683/8092 Dalkeith