Music of a Market Town

A market town, as Dalkeith was from the Middle Ages, was an opportunity for any musician. Fairs and markets provided an audience in search of entertainment with spare cash in their pockets, and inns for passing traders allowed for regular, if less profitable work. With rich patrons all within an easy walk - the Scotts of Buccleuch, the Ramsays of Dalhousie, the Kerrs of Newbattle, the Dundases of Arniston and Melville Castle, the Hays of Drum, the Mortons of Pittendreich - there was always some occasion that needed a fiddler or piper. From the eighteenth century onwards, the middle classes provided work for teachers of instruments and singing, and a steady market for sheet music and hymnals. Large and numerous churches meant music for the weddings and funerals of all classes. Broadsides of topical songs sold to all the literate population. And from its proximity to Edinburgh, there was always a supply of musicians and music from outside, as up-to-the-minute as anyone could wish, and many of the musicians could write to order. These files contain most of the known music they produced for Dalkeith.

In mediaeval Scotland, the occasions that saw the most music were the festivities for saints' days. Except for a few tunes from the very end of the Middle Ages associated with guild patron saints, none of this music survives; we know what sort of musicians played it - they were from all over Europe - but not what they played. And only one piece here pre-dates the Reformation. The near-abolition of religious music after the Reformation meant that secular music had to make its own way in a commercial setting. Which meant that the sounds of the streets of Dalkeith were those of a capitalist economy; as in every town in Scotland, there had to be musical signals for work to start and stop each day, given by the town piper or fife player, and announcements were given out by the street crier. In most towns, the street crier was a man with a handbell; for the period we have records of in Dalkeith, it was a woman, the Bell Wife. The first one we know of, Beetty Dick (1693-1773) depicted by Kay, didn't ring a bell but beat a wooden dish with a spoon instead. The main problem with the job, and perhaps the reason why men didn't do it, was that payment was not by a salary from the town, but by a fixed fee of one penny per announcement, payable by the person requesting it, and it eventually got so hard to persuade businesses to pay for the service that the Bell Wives gave up. So the town employed a drummer to do the job for important messages: the rate shot up to 1/6d per announcement.

Besides the announcements made by the Bell Wives, every street trader had their own cries, as in the rest of Britain. Most of these would have been the same as those heard in Edinburgh, as traders in such items as fish came to both from the same fishing ports. Edinburgh musicians put these cries into several pieces of music, and they are remembered with affection in poems and memoirs of old Edinburgh. But a writer in the Dalkeith Advertiser in 1872 was not so impressed:

Dalkeith, unfortunately, is situated within easy access of the coast, and, probably more than any other town, suffers from the invasion of those engaged in the 'fish trade'. Were women alone to enliven us by their oral accomplishments, it might be bearable; but the procession of men and boys with carts and wheel-barrows, howling and yelling their everlasting 'Haddies, haddies, caller haddies!' sometimes three and four at a time, is quite distressing. We have one cry of 'Caller mussels!' the lugubrious tones of which would surpass in effect the combined croak of a thousand ravens. We have another repeated cry of 'Haddies, haddies!' by a male voice repulsively coarse to the musical ear. But, on the other hand, we have several fish cries distinguished alike by strength and clearness of articulation. We have not for some time heard the cry, in Mario tones, of 'China to mend, crystal to mend!' nor the baritone 'Rags and bones, gather them up!' but these, it is to be feared, may perhaps return now that the small-pox epidemic has happily left us.

After the street cries and the Bell Wife's trencher, the most familiar musical sound in the streets of old Dalkeith was the pipes, heard at 5am to wake people up, 8pm to mark the end of the working day, and at many ceremonial occasions. All the towns of the Lothians and Borders had their piper; usually the job passed from father to son. All of them played the bellows-blown 'Lowland' or 'Border' pipes; these were not as standardized as the modern Highland pipe and the scale of their chanters was often different. Some players (like George Syme of Dalkeith late in the 18th century, according to Alexander Campbell in his Notes of My Third Journey to the Border) could get an extra note above the nine notes common to other unkeyed bagpipes; until the mid-19th century this was sometimes done by Highland pipers too, though always in dance music, not in the classical piobaireachd.

These pipers had an uneasy relationship with the Kirk in the decades after the Reformation; the Kirk made no attempt to suppress secular music, but pipers all over lowland Scotland went out of their way to stir up trouble by acts of civil disobedience like playing their pipes in the churchyard on the Sabbath during services. One Dalkeith piper took this too far: Andrew McCulloch and his wife Marion Anderson were charged with witchcraft on 26 May 1630. And another was involved in a bizarre Jacobite demonstration in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1688: on Sunday 14th October, 1688, the piper accompanied the Rev. Thomas Heriot, who danced around a bonfire on the High Street of Dalkeith. Heriot's excuse at his subsequent ecclesiastical trial was that he was doing it in order to purge and purify his congregation as ordained in the scriptures ('I will make my ministers a flame of fire', Hebrews 1:7). In fact his dance was the culmination of a series of public statements on behalf of James VII that were so tactless he was lucky not to be executed for them, let alone sacked:

upon the Sabbath immediately preceding the day that the Oath of Abjuration was tendered, Mr. Alexander Heriot did threaten all with pain of death that should refuse it. Mr. Heriot pressed his Parishioners to swear several Oaths, whereof one was Sinful and Illegal as the Oath that they should not lift Arms against the King nor any Commissionate by him, upon any pretext whatsomever. [...]

Seven or Eight Witnesses agree in this, that from the Pulpit in the year Eighty three Mr Alexander Heriot Railed against Monmouth, Argyle, and Melvil, calling one of them a Bloody Absalon, another Hereditary Traitor, another Rebel and Disturbers of our Israel and other stuff to this purpose. [...]

Three Witnesses being examined concurred in this that Mr Alexander Heriot, at the News of the Defeat of the Kings Forces at Gilliecrankie, shewed signal evidences of his Joy and Satisfaction, and caused give the Reporter thereof a Drink.

The last few pipers of Dalkeith are well-documented, though their repertoire isn't. They combined the jobs of town piper with that of piper to the Buccleuchs. George (Geordie) Sime (1700-1790) was described by several visitors to the town, and is pictured in Kay's Portraits. His successor until 1810 was Jamie Reid, who is said to have welcomed the Duchess of Buccleuch on her return to Dalkeith House by standing on a high point about a mile out of town and playing Dalkeith has got a rare thing, a tune which has not survived under that name, though Hugh Cheape (in The Book of the Bagpipe) believes it to be the same as the Border tune Dunse dings a'; I've included two versions of that tune, one from Kerr's collection of the 1880s and one from a book by Robin Williamson from the 1970s.

However, there is another candidate for the old Dalkeith town anthem. It may be the oldest surviving notation for any Scottish pipe tune. It is called The Baggpipe Tune in a manuscript of around 1675 from the Dalhousie Castle collection. Other tunes in it relate specifically to the Scotts of Buccleuch, the lairds of Dalkeith, and there are no references to other Scottish noble families or locations, so it seems most likely that it was compiled by someone connected with the Scott family. At that point the heads of the family were Anne, Duchess in her own right, and her consort James, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch. They were more often in London then, and there would have been little call for family ceremonial music at Dalkeith; so the MS may have been written in England and taken to Dalkeith Palace later in Anne's life after her husband's execution. The title suggests there was something unique about this tune within their milieu; since the transcriber must have known other bagpipe tunes, but chose to call this one the bagpipe tune, I'm guessing it was their bagpipe tune, the family and town rallying call, paralleling the familiar anthems of the other towns of the Lothians and Borders.

The manuscript is for the fiddle, and at first sight looks insane: the notation implicitly assumes that the lowest string of the fiddle is to be retuned from G to A ('scordatura') Scordatura notation became common in Scotland in the 18th century. This is by far the earliest Scottish example of it, just as this may be the earliest surviving Scottish manuscript to contain traditional music specifically for the fiddle. In later times it was usual to notate the tuning at the start. The retuning here is by far the commonest, still used extensively in Shetland and Cape Breton music. The point of it in this piece is mainly to reinforce the low D's with a drone-like effect by playing them on two strings in unison. Reading it that way, it becomes a normal 3/2 hornpipe, a kind of tune popular in Scotland and northern England late in the 17th century. This guess is supported by what Kay says was played when the Duchess left: Go to Berwick Johnnie, another 3/2 hornpipe, a tune which I've included as it occurs in Nathaniel Gow's Fourth Repository of the early 19th century. It goes beyond the range of the pipe chanter; I know of no 18th century version playable on the pipes as written.

Jamie Reid is said to have once punished his son Tom by fixing his head in a vice and blowing the bagpipes into his ear. When asked why he didn't beat him with a stick:

ye may break a' the hazels in the Duke's wood owre him, and he'll no be ae bit better. Na, na, I have tried a' that but ye see this mak's the callant as quiet as a poussie an' besides dinging the music into his heid, I hae great hopes that he will ae day mak' a grand piper, for by this way he had almost learned a' the tunes already

The last pipers were Robert Lorimer from 1810 to 1829 and his son George until 1845. George must have seen the trend of the times when he was fined in 1818 for beating a drum in the street; at the end of his career he was paid simply for being present in uniform at ceremonial occasions without playing.

The least explicable tune in this collection is Dalkeith Maiden Bridge, named for the mediaeval bridge that crosses the South Esk in what is now the town golf course. Published by James Aird of Glasgow in the 1780s for the flute or violin, it was later used by Burns for his song Sad and heavy must I part. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many tunes were written to mark the inauguration of new bridges; most of the bridges of Edinburgh have tunes named after them, as do notable bridges further afield like Craigellachie Bridge in Aberdeenshire or the High Level Bridge in Newcastle. But the Maiden Bridge was anything but new: the traditional story is that it was named after the bride of James IV, who came through Dalkeith on her way from England in 1503, but it was probably built by the monks of Newbattle Abbey more than 200 years before that and may have been named after the Virgin Mary. Perhaps the tune was written, with the story of James and Margaret in mind, to commemorate the arrival of the young Duchess of Buccleuch and her husband after their marriage in 1767; at this time the cottage industry of dedicating tunes to bridges had just got under way, with tunes for the North Bridge of Edinburgh and Teviot Brig already in the repertoire. If so, it was most likely a wedding march, and Burns's lugubrious poetic interpretation was a result of exaggerating what Aird meant by "Slow".

Unusually, there is no tune for Dalkeith's Montague Bridge, designed by Robert Adam at the end of the 18th century. It was in the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the leading patrons of music in Scotland at the time, and was intended as more a work of art than a transport link; exactly the sort of structure you might expect to be inaugurated with a musical festivity. Adam's sudden death in 1792 prevented this; the Duke of Buccleuch himself acted as a pallbearer at the funeral.

Dalkeith Fair is not much more explicable. The version here is from a flute anthology published by Nathaniel Gow around 1812; he published another version of the tune at around the same time, for the fiddle, as Cadgers of the Cannongate. It was forcibly shoehorned into a Highland pipe arrangement by David Glen at the end of the century (in G, a strange key for the pipes). It isn't easy to play on the flute, and in Gow's version it looks like a fiddle tune. But the main street instrument of Dalkeith, the one that would have been heard most often at the Dalkeith Fair, was the Lowland pipes; the first two parts are playable on them, so if it is a tune from the fair, perhaps the four-part version is a fiddler's elaboration of a pipe tune.

Dalkeith had at least two published songwriters associated with it in the same period. The earlier was John Learmont, who published his Poems Pastoral, Satirical, Tragic and Comic (dedicated to Charles, Earl of Dalkeith) in Dalkeith in 1791. He was a gardener to the Duke of Buccleuch at Langholm while his relative John Learmont was gardener at Dalkeith Palace. The poet was expecting the Palace job when the elder retired in 1806; instead he was sacked, apparently because he had "studied poetry more than raising garden-stuff". He spent the rest of his life in Colinton, to the west of Edinburgh. The Woman is from the 1791 book; it was well enough thought of to be anthologized, in an edited version as My Goddess Woman, in Johnson and Burns's Scots Musical Museum. I've included both versions; the original starts better but goes on too long. (The great Russian poet Lermontov was descended from Scottish ancestors named Learmont or Learmonth, but whether he was any relation to John Learmont I have no idea).

Peter Forbes was a Dalkeith shopkeeper who saw himself as a successor of Burns and published a small book of p[ieces in Burns's manner in his Poems chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1812). His best piece has no tune suggested: My Shop Bill, a rhyming catalogue which gives a striking picture of life in Dalkeith at the time through the commodities its people bought. It was first printed in a broadside in the National Library of Scotland; Forbes must have leafletted Midlothian with it. The version here is a revised one from his book which uses more Scots words and adds two extra verses, but I've kept the old-fashioned capitalization of the original version. (Wha Saw the Forty-Second is one tune that might work for it). Forbes was also the town's librarian, which explains his unique attempt in The Librarian's Song to make the job sound sexy, to the tune of Green Grow the Rashes O! He used the same tune for a rewrite of the basic idea of The Woman in what he simply titles Song. Forbes's main contribution to Scottish culture was that he seems to have invented Burns Night, holding one in 1811 five years before they caught on anywhere else.

Next chapter: Dalkeith At War
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Music of Dalkeith
Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin