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The first in a series of articles on the Old Toun Pipers


Peebles seems to have had several colourful pipers over the years. The first notice of a regular town piper occurs in 1633 where the treasurers accounts reveal a payment of 40s to the "pypar and drummar for thrie days going about the comounis" (riding the marches). In 1639, Charles Cleg took up the position of town drummer "for £17 money and ane pair new schoone", and undertook not to absent himself "unless he be visite by seikness or death" and to keep "the drum free from skaith". The duties of the piper were similar to those of the drummer: He too had to play through the streets each morning and evening. The treasurer's accounts of 1634 show a payment of £10 to the piper, which was to be his annual wage and also "20s for ane pair schoone", and 20s for playing round the commons. At that time there must have been more than one piper employed by the town, for another is mentioned who had the misfortune to "brak his pypps" and received 29s to go to Dalkeith to get them repaired. In 1646 the piper was "taken with the gout and unable to walk", consequently a horse was hired at a cost of 6s so that he could play at the common riding. He must have presented a rather amusing spectacle.

Later, in 1674, Alexander Laidlaw, a piper, is accused of stealing "bear" (barley) and confessed to a theft of 25 sheaves. He had to stand at the Cross for an hour "with ane sheif of bear besyd  him", thereafter he was banished with his family "never to returne under paine of deid",

The last town piper of Peebles was Piper Ritchie who was somewhat eccentric and died a very old  man in 1897. On March 18, 1771 he petitioned the town council for a salary. He said that "he had been the town servant for 30 years without having any allowance but a house and garden. He has ten children, five of them still in family with him, and cannot do for themselves. It has been with great difficulty he has brought them up; which necessitates him to apply for a small salary to be settled upon him." The council granted this "prayer of petition" saying that "in consideration of his numerous family and that he does duty regularly the council allow him five shillings sterling, quarterly".

In making this allowance, the council doubtless kept in view that the piper enjoyed fees for playing at weddings and other festivities; and that according to usage, he would receive many friendly gifts at Hogmanay. In addition to the above "handsome" salary of a pound per annum, the town kept him in a suit of clothes, red and of antique cut, with a cocked hat, and a pair of shoes yearly.

James Ritchie seems to have been quite a wit, for on being told by his wife that the flood of the Tweed had carried away their family cow, the fruit of years of piping, he replied, "Weel, weel, De'il may care after aa. It cam' wi' the win', let it gang wi' the water." (--History of Peebles, J.V.Buchan 1925.)