Haddington Pipers Tales


Haddington had its town piper and drummer since at least the 16th century. The piper is mentioned as far back as 1542. In 1662 John Reid from North Berwick was appointed to be town piper and his uniform consisted of "ane doublet of Lyonis cameis, ane pair of blue breeks and schoone" . ( A camel coat, blue trousers and shoes)

Prior to 1783 James Livinstone was piper and Andrew Simpson drummer. They were said to have been soldiers, and fought in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. They took to the streets of the burgh every morning at 5 0' clock in the summer and at seven in the evening, often accompanied by a silly lad called Harry Barrie, attracted by the music as they skirled through the town. An excellent engraving by R. Mabon a local artist of the day, represents the piper, drummer and fool in full march at their morning vocation.The piper and drummer are dressed in the burghs ancient grey-plaided garb, with short knee breeches, long coats and buckles in their shoes.

The piper plays the bellows blown Lowland pipes while the drummer ' tucks' his 'swasche ' with its rope tensioners, cow hide heads and struck by heavy looking sticks. 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 tounsfolk 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 tae a tee,
But now he’s dead.

There is more than a passing resemblance to 'Elegy on Habbie Simpson. But this form of poetry was used first by Francis Sample of Beltrees, then Alan Ramsay and finally by the great bard Robert Burns. The form was even known as "Standard Habbie Metre".

The piper and drummer were general favourites, and often received gifts from the Town Council and Burgesses. In the late 18th century their salary was £40 scots yearly . The town drummer's office was also of long standing. The first mention is in 1572 when the tresurer was ordered to buy "ane swach for the toun " . In 1598, one William Strauquhan was fee' d as swacher for one year. His duties were to parade the streets beating his swash at four 0' clock in the morning and again at eight at night. (Swach = Swiss drum)

It was also resolved in 1598 that if the drummer failed to perambulate the town in fine weather he was to be fined forty shillings. ‘Should the weather be fowle whereby the swasches may not gang open upon the gate (street)"the drum was to be beaten under cover of a stairhead.’


All gude men-servants where’ er ye be ,
Keep coal and candle for charitie ,
In bakehouse, brewhouse, barn and byres,
It’s for your sakes, keep weel your fires;
Baith in your kitchen and your ha ‘
Keep weel your fires, what e’er befa’
For oftentimes a little spark,
Brings mony hands to meikle wark;

Ye nourices that hae bairns to keep,
Tak’ care, ye fa’ na o’er sound asleep;
For losing of your gude renown,
And banishing of this burrow town;

It’s for your sakes that I do cry,
Take warning by your neighbours by.

Early in the 17th century the drummer was charged with the summoning of the inhabitants when proclamations had to be made, or on muster days or when the Riding of the Marches was announced. In 1613 his pay was 20 merks and out of this he also had to keep the drum in repair. An unusual duty of the town drummer was to proclaim "Coal and Candle.’ This custom dated to at least 1593 if not earlier, and was a warning against fire.

In 1593 Haddington was severly damaged by a fire started by a careless maid-servant. Every night at 8 0' clock except Sunday the drummer commenced in a sing song chant to cry "Coal and Candle’ continuously through the various streets of the town. The rhyme and warning is as follows:

This tradition was kept up until 1850.-

Whenever “Coal and Candle’ was heard it was a signal for the youngsters of the family to go to bed. The last criers were Willie Baird, John Sinclair and William Souness. A perquisite of the job was a pair of shoes, but other odds and ends used to be added. The office of piper in Haddington seems to have died out with old James Livingstone, but was resucitated somewhere about the year 1824 by the appointment of Donald McGregor, a famous piper, but at his death the office became vacant and has never been filled since.

— —-Reminicences of Haddington - James Martine, East Lothian Antiquarian and field Naturalist soc.

The melody for Coal and candle is found in ‘The Autobiography of Samuel Smiles’

1568 - Haddington Town Council Treasurers Accounts

To ane swasher to Lawder to strike the swasche qwhen they (some town deputation) came and gaid to Jedburgh - 5s, To John Kerr and William Burns minstrels for ganging with them to Jedburgh.