Elgin Pipers Tales

Like all the old burgh towns in the Lowlands , Elgin had from early times its piper and drummer. The Kirk Session or Elgin was also vigorous in its repression of all forms of jolity and amusement connected with heathen customs. In 1592 the piper James Roy was brought to heel "being accusit for ganging through the toun playing of his gryit pyipe in the nycht season and lykewayes for playing this last Sonday upoun his gryit pyipe at efternone in tyme of preaching. ...thairfor the Kirk Session appoint him to stand in the haircloth on Sonday nixt and mak his repentanoe publiclie and that he remain in the steeple till he find caution to do the same". A sobering experience.

In 1593 a person with the odd name of Tiberius Winchester "was compeirit for gysing through the toun"on December 27th accompanied by a piper.”

Five days before Christmas 1599 the Kirk Session of Elgin issued the edict that "all profain pastime is inhibited to be used by any persons within the burgh or college, and specially futballing through the toun, snaw balling, singing of carrellis or uther profane sangis, gysing, pyping, violing and dancing… all women and lasses forbidden to haunt or resort there under the paines of public repentance, at the leist during the tyme quhilk is superstitiouslie keepit fra the 25th day of December to the last day of Januar nixt thereafter, quhilk ordinance the minister sill intimat furth out of the pulpit".

Shockingly repressive, this order was aimed at repressing the old Scandinavian pagan festival of Yule, which had no connection with the Christian celebration, although many of its customs were incorporated in Christmas, including "Yule Logs" feasting, giving presents etc. This festival formerly lasted from the 25th December to the last day of January and was a time for general mirth and frivolity . The Session's efforts seemed to meet some resistance for in 1610 “The lasses had committed and offense in dancing with ane piper in Johne Hamiltounes house" and the elders "were requirit to see that the acts were observed against dancing and auld rite at the festual dayis callit Yooll"

24th June 1601 “Marry the girl in the morning.”

The punishment for profane piping could be severe. In 1601 Alexander Thome was not only cautioned for piping on the night of 24th June to the dancing of Agnes Fyerie , but he was ordered by the Kirk Session to marry the girl in the morning.

A most interesting entry in the Burgh Records of EIgin occurs in October 1693. In other towns the piper and drummer were often at fault in failing their duties, but in Elgin it seems that the town was at fault in one instance.

Unto the Right Honourable the Provost , Baillies and Council of the Burgh of Elgin, the Petition of George Hay , Drummer in the said Burgh; “Humblie Sheweth, That whereas your Honor’s petitioner is stressed and daily threatened to prison by certain, his creditors, for severall debts restand be me to them, such as housemealls (rents) and duties etc; and nottour it is to your Honor s that there is certain fees resting to me be your Honors , as serving the toune of Elgin in the station of a drummer for thir severall terms bypast, and that your petitioner has noe otherway of living nor defraying of debts but with the said fees.

Therefore may it pleas your Honors to take some method for ordering of my payment of a pairt of the said fees, for defraying of the said housemealls , that Your Honors petitioner may escape the danger of imprisonment and incarceration, wherewith I am daily threatened; that your Honors petitioner may be the more encouraged to doe you service in tymes coming; as also, to order payment for reparation( repair) of the drumheads , broken on fryday’s night, by the rable of the said burgh of Elgin,as is manifestly known to your Honors.And your Honors petitioner Shall ever pray for the weelfare and happines of your Honors in all tym heirafter.

"30th October 1693-The Counsel appoynts the supplicant to compt with the theserer, before Baillie Russell, and to make report, the next counsell day."

“ 2nd December 1693 -Baillie Russell reported, that after compting with the supplicant, there is found resting to him, preceding Martinmas last, 1693, the soum of fourtie-two pounds, eight shilling, four pennies, which the theserer is appoynted to pay to him, and, in tym coming, Is appoynted to Pay to him eight poundis at each quarteris end". "Robert Anderson" Clerk at Comand of the Counsell”

Sometimes it pays to grovel:

A fitting epitaph to the above story is provided by an inscription on a wall of Elgin Cathedral;

The world is a city full of streets,

And death the mercat that all men meets;

If lyfe were a thing money could buy ,

The poor would not live, and the rich would not die.


AUGUST 4TH 1605 Elgin , Guising

If any man or woman be convict in the lyke monstrous behaviour in time coming. to vit, ather men dansing in wemennis apparell, or wemen in mennis apparell, or yitt gif wemen be fund dansing publictlie throw the strettis masked and disagysit in sic wantoon and unchaste forme, in cumpanie with men, that the doaris sall pay a pecuniall penaltie to the puir, according to the modification or the session, as also mak thair publict repentance on the stuill, for the first fault, and for the second fault, sall mak thair publict repentance in sack cloth.