Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as Anarchists

religion and the Kirk

While the people of Edinburgh have usually taken religion seriously, there were always reminders in case you might forget. C.K. Sharpe remarks in his introduction to Kirkton's Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Year 1678:

It is astonishing to consider how anxious the female zealots at that time were to make their husbands - nay, their favourite preachers, obtain the martyr's crown through the medium of a halter. Guthrie is said to have been absolutely diverted from his purpose of yielding obedience to government by the ladies who visited him while in prison. In the year 1680, when Skene, Potter, and Stuart were hanged, Potter on the scaffold seemed to hesitate, and it was thought would have accepted the pardon offered if he would say "God save the King"; but his wife seizing his arm, almost pushed him off the ladder, and said, "Go die for the good old cause, my dear; see Mr Skene (who was already executed) will sup this night with Christ Jesus."

Not that many had the choice: on one often-repeated estimate, 18,000 people died from religious persecution in Scotland under Charles II and his Scottish administrator Lauderdale, which is far more than both sides in all the Jacobite uprisings put together. Two women were hanged in the Grassmarket in 1680 merely for listening to a sermon by the Covenanter Donald Cargill. And this was simply the bloodiest peak of the long struggle over democratic control of religious institutions in Scotland: the ideological centre of most of the country's conflicts for nearly 500 years, a struggle which has marked every aspect of the urban culture of Edinburgh, from the civil engineering of Leith Walk in the seventeenth century to the football chants of the 1990s.

In the religious history of Scotland, the abbey of Inchcolm in the Forth was at times close in importance to those of Whithorn, Iona, and Lindisfarne. It was founded by Alexander I in 1123 in gratitude after he was washed ashore there during a storm. Trip to Inchcomb is from one of Aird's collections of the late 18th century, by which time Inchcolm was only a romantically ruined tourist attraction.

The Reformation produced countless satires, so vindictive and obscene that subsequent anthologists could not bring themselves to do more than note that they existed; the ones which have survived in full are the least interesting, devoted to tepid comments on doctrinal obscurities. Knox would not have been pleased. One of the few tunes with his name on it is John Knox, from a publication of Nathaniel Gow's; he said it was Irish. Knox and his contemporaries were neutral about music, reserving their objections to elaborate church ceremony; the Kirk's disapproving attitude to secular music only came much later, peaking in the 19th century. I don't know if this tune was in fact named after the Reformer, and he wouldn't have cared either way. It had been published (in a far richer form) a few years earlier in John Hamilton's Collection of Twenty-Four Scots Songs, to a text titled Frenet Ha' lamenting a dead lover, attributed to one Bauldy Scrimezour, and perhaps this is where Gow got it.

Scottish folklore says that Jenny Geddes, a street cabbage seller, attended the first service at the High Kirk of St Giles based on the new prayer book introduced by King Charles I in 1637, threw her stool at Bishop Lindsay and, along with the other women present, started a riot; and the riot started a civil war. Scottish folklore is probably wrong. The riot undoubtedly happened, but there is no record from the time of any such person as Jenny Geddes having existed, and it has been suggested that the leaders of the riot were not women at all, but young apprentices in women's clothing.

Put the Gown upon the Bishop was a satirical song of the Covenenanting erea; only a fragment of it survives, here given as it appears in the Scots Musical Museum. I've given two forms of the tune, a simple one from Lady John Scott's manuscripts and a version for the flute from Dan Wright's Aria di Camera, a collection of folk tune arrangements from around the British Isles published in 1726. Jenny Geddes is a variant of it made into a reel, from Kerr's Merry Melodies of the late 19th century.

The horrifying violence of the subsequent Covenanting Wars of the seventeenth century and the repression of the Restoration era went unmarked by much commentary in song. One of the few musical echoes of that time still sung today is Dainty Davie, about David Williamson, the minister of St Cuthbert's. He was deprived of his living for not conforming to Episcopacy in 1662, condemned as a Covenanter in 1675, and had to flee for his life. He hid from the Stuarts' soldiery with Lady Cherrytrees, who put him in her daughter's bed; and got the daughter pregnant before getting the all-clear. The first account of the story was in the Episcopalian Gilbert Crokatt's snide The Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Display'd:

A party of King Charles the Second's guards being sent to apprehend Mr David Williamson, one of the most eloquent of their ministers now in Edinburgh, for the frequent rebellion and treason he preached then at field meetings; and the party having surrounded the house where he was, a zealous lady, mistress of the house, being very solicitous to conceal him, rose in all haste from her bed, where she left her daughter, of about eighteen years of age; and having dressed up the holy man's head with some of her own night-cloaths, she wittily advised him to take her place in the warm bed with her girl; to which he modestly and readily consented; and knowing well how to employ his time, especially upon such an extraordinary call, to propagate the image of the party, while the mother, to divert the troopers enquiry, was treating them with strong drink in the parlour, he to express his gratitude, applies himself, with extraordinary kindness, to the daughter; who finding him like to prove a very useful man in his generation, told her mother she would have him for a husband: to which the mother, though otherwise unwilling, yet, for concealing the scandal, out of love to the cause, consented, when the mystery of the iniquity was wholly disclosed to her.

Crockatt quoted Williamson's excuse:

Verily I do not, said he, deny, but that, with St Paul, I have a law in my members, warring against the law in my mind, and bringing me into captivity with the law of sin, which is in my members.

He was restored to his fomer parish by the General Assembly in 1690. He married eight times and the contemporary opinion was that he wore the first seven wives out, being reputed to have three testicles, as in this epitaph on his sixth wife reported by Robert Mylne around 1700:

yet like a gallant woman she would try
in which of all the 3 his strength did lye,
The 3 considerables in his breech
He handles frequently when he doth preach.
The worst, she knew, was to succumb or yield
or fall at last with pleasure on the field.
She yeelds, the Champion turns her o're and o're,
She quits the field and leavs him Conqueror.

Williamson was also the first minister to possess a watch, which may explain some of his popularity in an era when the typical sermon was of bladder-straining length.

The original tune for Dainty Davie appears in Playford's Dancing Master of 1698 and without a title in Margaret Sinkler's manuscript of 1709; the song is an older one adapted to fit Williamson, but when and by who is impossible to work out in a chaos of claims and counter-claims. The words here are taken from Burns's Merry Muses of Caledonia; no earlier version is as bawdy and much of it seems to be Burns's own work. The tune Burns used is different: in his time it was known as The Gardeners' March. It's very similar to the Central European tune quoted in Bartók's Second Rhapsody for violin and orchestra and which after crossing the Atlantic to be used for the American hymn tune Simple Gifts, is best known there as quoted by Aaron Copland in Appalachian Spring.

Old Pentland, a march by A.W. Gunn from David Glen's pipe tune collection of the late 19th century, commemorates the Covenanting times. The village of Old Pentland, at the foot of the hills above the city, is about as old as Edinburgh, but little of it survives except for an ancient graveyard with a colossal Masonic family mausoleum built in 1845 and the usual watchtower to put off bodysnatchers. It was the scene of the signing of a "children's Covenant" and contains a memorial to the innocent men executed for the killing of Archbishop Sharp in 1679. This memorial was restored in 1877, and the tune must mark that occasion.

I found the astonishingly obscene A New Godly Song in a 19th century reprint; it is said to come from the "Fountainhall Collection of Broadsides in the Advocates' Library", which I have not identified. It must date from the reign of Charles II, "the Duke" being the Duke of Monmouth. The tune is named as "John Paterson's Fole goes foremost"; this is known from sources near the time as John Paterson's Mare or The Black and the Grey, but all the sets of it I've seen are unsingable pipe versions, so I've given a greatly simplified single-strain version of my own. The song goes on for several verses past the point where the author has run out of ideas.

The Wives of the Bow is probably the tune for a lost satirical song of the late seventeenth century. Robert Chambers, in Traditions of Edinburgh, says "in the latter part of the seventeenth century, the inhabitants of the West Bow enjoyed a peculiar fame for their piety and zeal in the Covenanting cause" - they used to patrol the streets and confiscate any objects used in Sabbath-breaking. The tune comes from a manuscript of music for the alto recorder compiled in 1722, and was earlier known as Honie wilt thou take it in James Thomson's recorder manuscript of 1702; it has only been printed once before, as a "New Scotch Tune" in a London ballad opera by Colley Cibber in 1733. It also occurs as Wifes of the Bow in the Gairdyn Manuscript, in a truncated and garbled form.

One of the darkest episodes in the Covenanting wars was the aftermath of the battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679. The army that crushed them was led by Charles II's illegitimate son James the Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch. Unusually for the time, he didn't order a wholesale massacre of the prisoners afterwards. Instead 1200 of them - many of them poor country folk rounded up from West Lothian, who had taken no part in the battle - were marched to Edinburgh, where Greyfriars Churchyard was turned into a makeshift concentration camp for them. They were kept there in the open through the winter; many died. 257 stood trial and were sentenced to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. Their ship was wrecked in the Orkneys. The captain refused to open the hatches, and only 48 survived. Ye're welcome Whigs frae Bothwell Brigs, also known as Whurry Whigs awa', was a sadistically gloating song on the Covenanters' defeat, written soon after the Jacobites themselves had been defeated with the overthrow of James VII in 1688; James Hogg characterized it as an exercise in spite. I have given two forms of the tune: the one from Hogg's Jacobite Relics and a setting from a 19th century pipe tune manuscript.

Witch trials occurred in Edinburgh from 1542 to around 1700; the first convicted witch was sent to St Andrews for execution, but later on Edinburgh tried and executed witches from all over Scotland. Most were strangled and then burnt. The last victim to die in the city was Marion Purdie, who died of cold and hunger in prison in 1684. There are occasional mentions of music associated with witchcraft in the records of Edinburgh trials, but with one exception, they seem not to have any special ritual texts. The exception is the Witches Song, whose first two lines come from the trial of the witches of North Berwick, accused of raising a storm in an attempt to drown King James VI in 1591. The couplet was quoted in a credulous pamphlet of the time, Newes from Scotland, as being the text of a "reel" sung by the witches to the accompaniment of a Jew's harp. There are additional lines quoted in a book of 1949 by Thomas Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread, as if they had the same origin, which have since been sung as if they were authentic, but as far as I can tell he made them up. The tune is my attempt at making sense of an incoherent manuscript of Lady John Scott's from the mid-19th century; she had it prepared by a copyist who seems to have left off the end of the tune. She only gives music for the two older lines. John Leyden, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, said the tune was Fut before gossep, now untraceable. North Berwick is of course not in Edinburgh, but the alleged conspiracy involved people in the city as well as in Fife.

Kilt Thy Coat Maggie is from the Skene Manuscript: a trial report says that John Douglas and the witches of Tranent danced to it on 3 May 1659, along with another tune, Hulie the bed will fa' or Come this way with me, which survived until recent times as a nursery rhyme:

Hoolie, the bed'll fa!
Wha'll fa wi't?
Twa een, twa hands,
And twa bonnie feet.

Hoolie, the bed'll no fa!
Wha'll no fa wi't?
Wee Robin Redbreist
Soond asleep.

A more explicit version was sung by the Scots emigrant Robert Gordon at the Tuesday Club, Annapolis, Maryland in 1745; "jog hooly" means "thrust gently". Most likely the first two lines were a chorus and there are two verses here. No tune was recorded for this one either.

Jog hooly good man, or the bed'll fa,
Jog hooly good man, or the bed'll fa,
The bed is made of rotten timmer.
And if it fa's it'l smoor our good mither
And she'll cry out and shame us a'.
The bed, its tied at head and feet,
With simmer won hay and that's right sweet,
And in comes the crummie cow she eats it a,
Jog hooly good man or the bed'll fa.

George Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Discovered (1685) reports the testimony of Margaret Hamilton, strangled and burned thirty years before:

She was asked, if ever she had any pleasure in [the Devil's] company? "Never much, says she, but one night going to a dancing upon Pentland-hills, he went before in the likeness of a rough tanny dog, playing on a pair of pipes; the spring he played, says she, was, 'The silly bit chicken gar cast it a pickle, and it will grow meikle.' And coming down the hill when we had done, which was the best sport, he carried the candle in his bottom, under his tail, which played ay wig-wag, wig-wag."

The silly bit chicken was found in modern times as a nursery rhyme: perhaps it was once an egg-laying charm for hens, or even a fertility charm for women. Or perhaps it had no magical significance at all and Hamilton simply said it did to placate her torturers. The tune is from the Blaikie Manuscript of 1692.

The Deal gae with hir his Tayle flies up is a dance tune from Henry Atkinson's manuscript of the 1690s; there is no text for it, but the words of the title fit the opening. The manuscript is slightly confused and I've had to make some guesses about the rhythm. Descriptions of witchcraft from elsewhere say a man with a whip might follow the coven as they went to their celebrations; this might underlie the title. Playford called it I cannot win at her for her big belly and James Oswald printed it in his Caledonian Pocket Companion of the 1740s as Hit her upon the Bum, bizarrely censored later by the Gows as Hit Her on the Thumb. A common 19th century title was We're No' Very Fu' But We're Geyly Yet and it is now most often known from an uncharacteristically respectable set of words as Bide Ye Yet. I've given a pipe setting with that title from David Glen's collection. It's still sung with a macabre text, the children's rhyme The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out. A different tune of the period (also a jig) acquired similar titles: Hit her between the leggs in William Dixon of Northumberland's 1733 manuscript of bagpipe tunes and Whip her and gird her in Walsh's Caledonian Country Dances of the same era; it lost its significance as it made its way northwards in the 1780s, becoming Hoop her and gird her in the Gows' fourth collection and appearing with no title in Patrick MacDonald's Collection of Highland Vocal Airs of 1784.

After the explosive conflicts of 1737 over the Porteous Riots, the next political struggle of the Kirk in Edinburgh began in 1762. The Council wanted to exercise a privilege granted to Scottish councils in 1712 ("Presentation") which let them impose their own choice of minister on an unwilling congregation. Riots against this privilege took place all over Scotland during the 18th century. The minister in this case was John Drysdale of Kirkliston and the parish was that of Lady Yester's Church in the Canongate. The issue immediately turned into class warfare: the supporters of the council were lawyers, gentry, and most of the merchants, while most of the tradesmen and their guild associations backed the parishioners and the Kirk. Lord Provost George Drummond was seen as the prime mover behind the Council's action. Another democratic cause of the time became mixed up with it: the call for an "alteration of the set". The "set" was the way deacons of the trade incorporations were chosen; each trade had to give the council a short list of six candidates, and the council could veto three of them. One of Drummond's supporters found himself near the Tron on the night of George III's Coronation. He reported in a pamphlet, The Voice of the Mob, on his sample of public opinion when he met with a crowd gathered round a bonfire and a barrel of beer:

In a very civil manner I accosted a shoemaker-boy (who was the first person I met) desiring him to tell me what was the matter, upon which half a dozen of greasy little rogues, with leather-aprons and woollen-caps, got round me, and addressed me in their turns, as if I had put the question to them all. Kiss my a-se, says one; another giving him a slap on the shoulder says, Out you brute! to his neighbour; and then turning his back on me, let fly in my face a quantity of foul air, making a good deal of noise as it issued out of the vent within his breeches...

Between the bonfire and the people nearest it, there was left a pretty wide open space, in which was placed a good sizable barrel, which was filled (as the people told me who had tasted its contents) with indifferent good Two-penny. On each side of the barrel was placed a person of distinction. On the one side was posted the man who dealt out the liquor to those who had the longest and the strongest arm: on the other side stood one B---IE, the Gentleman (as his noisy friends called him) who named the toasts to the Company, and began the Huzzas. Behind these two Capital Persons and the Barrel, the Crowd was ranged in many a circle, armed with sticks, as is usual in such solemnities. These were things that first struck me, after that I got time to look about me I next began to remark the manner in which the Company diverted themselves. Some were drinking, some were cursing their neighbours for kicking their shins, others were damning those behind them, who, out of envy, had made their heads to nod as they were drinking, and made them spill their liquor; others were singing, and all of them huzzaing now and then. Yet in all this, I observed nothing but the height of good humour and mirth. But no sooner had the Toast-Master finished the Loyal Toasts of the Day, and proposed to his friends, "No Presentation - an Alteration of the Set", and several other such malicious things, than pleasure forsook every countenance, and instead of God Save the King, hollowed from the rough throats of a dozen or so of merry Fellows, the whole crew set up a roar, as loud as that of a thousand devils, bidding h-ll, f-re, and d-mn-t-n take D-M-D, W-D, and all their d-mn-d Party.

There were topical songs about this from both sides, but most are packed with forgotten names, often made even harder to identify in the broadsides because their middle letters are replaced with pseudo-censorship dashes. The Tradesmen's Toast is the most comprehensible; its tune is A cobler there was or King John and the Abbot of Canterbury, given here with Andrew Duncan's Address to Golfers. I've filled in the dashes. The fate it wishes on Lord Provost Drummond, creator of the New Town, is that of King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible: to go mad and wander the countryside eating grass. No other place in the world could have taken a religious controversy as the basis for a drinking song about class alliances in local government and thrown in a dig at the Masons with it.

Hymn tunes were brought to Scotland from England in the middle of the 18th century. The pre-Reformation Church had very few of them, and Calvin condemned any singing of non-Biblical texts in church, so only psalms were used in the first 200 years of the Reformation in Scotland; this restriction survives in parts of Scotland to the present day. But the new hymns of Isaac Watts and his co-workers were widely accepted in Scotland by the early 19th century, and soon hymns began to be written locally. At first, it seems there was an element of national pride in this effort: the local origin of these hymns is clearly stated in early 19th century hymnbooks, even though none resemble traditional Scottish melodies. Later in the century there were fewer local hymns being written, and hymnbooks relegated the origins of the tunes to the endnotes and indexes. And by then they could not have been perceived as musically distinctive: when hundreds of very different American hymns arrived with Sankey and Moody's campaigns of the 1870s and the popular tunes of the Salvation Army shortly after, the older Scottish hymns along with their German and English models would all have been lumped together as being in the old style. Sankey and Moody provided Edinburgh with one of its earliest exposures to black American music: they brought the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University in Tennessee, who sang gospel songs to huge audiences. The "world music" of its day.

The selection of hymn tunes beginning with St George's, Edinburgh were compiled by Andrew Thomson (1778-1831), minister at that church in Charlotte Square from 1814 and an influential campaigner against slavery in the West Indies. St George's was built in 1811 and converted into the present West Register House in 1964. The first tune is sometimes called St George's West, Edinburgh, which makes no sense since that church, in Shandwick Place, was not built until 1869. Thomson's other hymn tunes include Redemption and Departure, both often reprinted. The other tunes here are from the Sacred Harmony he compiled for St George's. He named them after locations in his parish, though I can't imagine how some of the places at the east end of the New Town came to be in it (like Hart Street, subsequently famous as the site of one of the Kosmo Klub brothels raided in 1933 and still the location of an "executive sauna"). Jamaica Street is gone; it was built as the one and only street of artisan housing in the heart of the New Town, and was demolished in 1960 to be replaced with mews flats in 1981. The Tory ballad of 1831, The Bill and the Franchise So Low, alludes to its class composition, and the Rymour Club recorded an old rhyme about it:

Up and down Jamaica Street
Riding on an eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel.

Stockbridge was the other working-class district to have one of these tunes named after it; it sounds as if the chorus of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow got glued onto the end of it. The observatory on Calton Hill might seem a strange thing to name a hymn tune after, but it was one of the most visible buildings in the city, and a source of pride that the city had finally got it right. The first one had been begun in 1776, was only finished in 1792 after a series of financial crises, and never worked well. Playfair's second observatory was built in 1818, and did as well as any city site could be expected to - it was above most of the domestic smoke, but the colossal chimney of the Canongate gasworks was nearly level with the hilltop and its fumes must often have blocked the stars. Craig is probably named after James Craig, the architect of the New Town. University seems to be an adaptation of one of the tunes for the ballad Two Brothers, perhaps chosen for its opening line "there were two brothers a-going to school". St Cuthbert's, formerly the West Church, was one of the oldest churches in the city and well outside Thomson's parish.

Some of these tunes are old ones renamed, Thomson wrote some himself, others were written by his parishioners, others he borrowed from distant sources; a mixed assortment which shows him willing to absorb any European music of his time. Because of its large scale, I have omitted the most complex and dramatic of all his compositions. Its subject shows his liberal sympathies: Blessed is he that considereth the poor, from Psalm 41. In 1823 the composer R.A. Smith (1780-1829) joined St George's as choirmaster; he was to become the most influential church musician of 19th century Scotland, as well as having a lot to do with the way Scottish songs later came to be arranged and performed. I've given part of Smith's very complicated arrangement of St George's, Edinburgh to show his harmonic style.

Brighton Street is from a different source, a hymnbook of 1828 by James Palmer for the Relief Church in that street, now a cul-de-sac backing onto the National Museum. This area of the city became a centre for Dissenting sects in the early 19th century; many are still based there, with the city mosque and the Chinese "True Jesus Church" not far away.

And of course Leith needed its own set of appropriately named hymns. They were provided in A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes in Four Parts Sung in South Leith Church by David Black, Teacher of Music, 138 Kirkgate, Leith. I've included three of them. Black's book must have circulated beyond Leith, since Duke Street was adopted widely under his title; it had been written long before, by John Hatton, who died in 1793. It's still used for the hymn Fight the good fight with all thy might. I've included an adaptation for the children's Temperance hymn Come happy children, let us sing from Frederick Bridge's Band of Hope Tune Book, published in London. Like most of the hymns in the book, it praises pure water for completely batty reasons. I've included Bridge's three-part harmonization. The Duke Street here is the present-day one in Leith. The Duke Street in the St George's collection was in the New Town, and renamed when Edinburgh and Leith amalgamated; it's now the top end of Dublin Street.

The last hymns here are from the 1850 edition of Adam Ramage's Sacred Harmony of St. Andrew's Church Edinburgh, the church in George Street now known as St Andrew and St George. This is probably the church I've spent most time in over the last decade, for its huge Christian Aid second-hand book fairs. These are all in four-part harmonizations with the melody in the top voice, unlike the older Scottish style that had it in the tenor.

I haven't attempted to trace where all these tunes come from.

The Annuity Tax was an almost-forgotten Edinburgh institution whose dramatic end in the 19th century prefigured the rise and fall of the Poll Tax in the 1980s. The tax was levied on property by its nominal rental value, and was intended to pay the salaries of 18 ministers of the established Church of Scotland. The only other town that ever levied it was Montrose. The first attempt to raise the tax was in 1634. So few people paid it that the tax-collector barely took enough to cover his 4 per cent commission, and it was abandoned in 1639. The next try, in 1661 with the forces of Charles II behind it, stuck. Because it was levied on members of all religious sects but only went to the established church, the minority denominations opposed it, as did many members of the Church of Scotland itself. Like many political episodes in Edinburgh's history, it attracted pseudo-Biblical parody, as in The Epistle of that most learned Rabbi, Ben Tarib, to the Chief Priests of the City of Edinburgh (1833):

And in my dream I beheld all the birds of the air in the grove, and lo, they were busily employed.

And some gathered grain, and some builded their nests among the branches, and some tended their young, and none were idle;

But a number of black ravens, which set upon the loftiest trees, they alone were idle, and did no work.

And I marvelled how those black ravens, who sat upon the loftiest trees, did live; for they gathered no grain, no insects, nor any thing by which they could live;

But did nothing but croak.

Now, when I looked upon these things, I beheld that all the birds of the air, from time to time, brought these ravens of their grain and of their insects, and they did eat.

And these black ravens were fat, and glossy in their plumage, and the noise of these ravens grew louder and louder. ...

It was enforced by poinding (confiscation) of defaulters' goods and roup (auction) of them. A spoof manual of 1775 for would-be poinders by James Wilson ("Claudero"), The Messengers High Road to Destruction, cited recent precedents for each of its tips:

When you go to poind; if the man's wife hits your fancy, take her into custody, split her Tackles, cornufy her husband; Roup the house, regardless of the cries of the Whore's Birds, put the money in your pocket, and apply the same to your own purposes; notwithstanding any law to the contrary ...

Let your apprisers be the scum of the earth, void of all humanity or conscience and genuine Knights of the Post. - It does not signify whether you take witnesses along with you: Staff and Dog are good ones. ...

By 1833, when all-out confrontation started, the tax had become a money-spinner for the council, raising four times as much money as was paid out to the ministers. But poinding had failed by then; it provoked such frequent and determined riots that the authorities had to resort to the Calton Jail instead, a reprisal that had never before been used even for defaulters on Government taxes. Non-payers released from jail were greeted by huge demonstrations, like one on the 13th of August 1833 for the release of the razor strop manufacturer Johnston, with about 8000 people, banners and a band. As "Ben Tarib" saw it, with stylistic help from Psalm 150 and the Book of Revelation:

And, lo, as I stood thus musing, there was a tumult, and a shouting, and the sound of musical instruments, and behold, a multitude, which no man might number, stood before the door of the prison house.

And upon the hill, and upon the rocks, and every where around, there were people standing.

And the noise was exceeding great, and the tumult increased, and the shouting was as the roaring of the waves of the sea, in a great storm.

And the musicians played before the people upon the sackbut, and psaltry, and the dulcimer, and the lute, and the timbrel, and the trumpet, and the drum, and the bagpipe. ...

846 people were prosecuted for nonpayment in 1833, with 5 imprisoned. "The Lorry", or Police Wagon No. 14, became Scotland's most-famed vehicle; it was used to take poinded goods to the Cross for sale. Some determined responses were made to the poindings. At one, the auctioneer's wagon was set on fire, and at another, when a protester's piano was due to be seized, he removed the insides:

In due course the auctioneer arrived, and gave notice that Mr Adair's piano was to be put up for auction. Then, "just to let you see, gentlemen, what a grand article you are bidding for," the official sat down to play a tune. "What tune will I play?" he asked jocosely, adding, "perhaps Robin Adair would be appropriate"; and with a chuckle at his joke he thumped at the dumb case, to the intense delight of the spectators.

The conflict raged on for years; in 1836 a councillor, Thomas Russell, was imprisoned, with a meeting of 3000 people held to support him. The crisis year was 1848, when Chartist agitation reached the point of riot. The figure who drew the most publicity was one of the city magistrates, Joseph Stott. On 14 June 1848, the authorities tried to auction the assets of both Mr Darlington, an upholsterer in Frederick Street, and Mr Sword, a furniture auctioneer of Hanover Street. The crowd broke up both auctions and drove the law officers away. The poinders tried again on July 3, with the help of 100 troops from the Castle and a troop of cavalry from Piershill Barracks:

Why march in firm and stern array
Adown the Castle's rocky way,
That field of bayonets bright?
Is there a rising in the North?
Are Frenchmen in the Frith of Forth?
Where is the foe to fight? ...

But SWORD, that man with martial name,
Swore, as he hoped for future fame,
The Tax he would not pay;
The up went Catch-'em-by-the-muff,
That messenger-at-arms so bluff,
Upon a certain day.

He had a paper in his hand,
And with assistant at command,
Each bedstead noted down;
As if to amplify his wrongs,
He spared not fender, poker, tongs,
Or window-curtains brown.

The china shared the common lot,
Each kettle, jelly-pan and pot
All found a noting here;
Nay e'en the pillows from the bed,
Whereon had rested oft the head
Of that poor Auctioneer.

But the mob drove the army off then too. Sheriff Gordon prosecuted one of the crowd for obstructing the police. Despite his well-known opposition to the tax, the magistrate assigned to hear the case was Bailie Stott, who dismissed the action. In revenge, Gordon got Stott jailed for nonpayment a few days later. Like the other tax resisters, Stott used his time in jail effectively, writing dramatic open letters to his opponents:

How are you able to mount the pulpit on Sabbath? - how are you to face even your own people? Some of them are my true friends. What will be their silent thoughts while they listen to you, it may be, giving out the following verse of the 79th Psalm:-

    Oh, let the pris'ner's sighs ascend
    Before Thy throne on high, &c.

and a few days later:

Do you when expounding Daniel, hold up to your congregation Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as anarchists? - for you know they resisted the law of the land. Or are you prepared to hold up God as the abettor of their anarchical conduct? - for sure I am He declared His approval of them by controlling the furnace and shutting the lions' mouths.

A subscription was raised to pay his tax and release him; the receipts had a woodcut of a church leaning at 45 degrees propped up by soldiers with bayonets. The Reverend Joseph Brown of the United Presbyterian Church in Dalkeith said the same in plain words:

Many people were of the opinion that the military procession at the opening of the General Assembly of the Established Church was for mere pomp or parade, but the people who were so simple as to believe this had now learned the lesson that the soldiery, with their swords and their bayonets, were the only strength and support of the Establishment.

The tax was abolished in stages by muddled, partial Acts of 1860 and 1869, and a decisive one of 1870. It left Edinburgh with a folklore reputation for bizarre repressiveness across all of Scotland. A tax with similar effect stayed in force a few years longer in the fishing village of Eyemouth, 40 miles eastwards on the Forth; it was imposed on fish catches. The chaos the Kirk imposed on the town's finances in its last-ditch efforts to extract the money against intransigent, dead-fish-throwing opposition from a community that largely belonged to nonconformist sects like the Brethren was one of the reasons Eyemouth was so poorly prepared for the great storm that almost wiped out a generation of fishermen in 1881.

The Horning Doctor uses the tune of the old Lowland love song Will ye go to the Ewe-Bughts, Marion? which I have taken from the Edinburgh Musical Miscellany of the 1780s. Most other versions in print are much more complicated, with the operatic twiddles from Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius which nobody but a show-off drawing-room singer could ever have sung. "Putting to the horn", or "horning" for short, meant a court summons for debt. The tune needs a bit of rhythmic alteration to fit the words here. If sung with the structure of the original, the second two lines of each verse are repeated.

Bailie Stott was written by a supporter of the tax; it was still being sung by children fifty years later. The snide comments about cobblers are for Stott's fellow-protester Georgeson; he was a bootmaker in Leith Street, and was taken to jail in a cab rather than on foot. The version here was reconstructed from memory many years later, published in William Norrie's The Annuity Tax: a chapter in the ecclesiastical history of Edinburgh (1912). Norrie's informant commented "the person who wrote that should be shot shot shot". The tune was not given, but it has the same structure as Baking Bessie Bell, printed here in the section on children's games, so like that game it would go to the first strain of The Rose Tree, with a number of doubled notes to fit the extra syllables. An even closer parallel is a riddle collected without a tune by Ewan MacColl from the Stewarts of Blair a hundred years later:

Come a riddle, come a riddle, come a rot tot tot,
A wee wee man in a red red coat:
A staff in his hand and a stane in his throat,
Come a riddle, come a riddle, come a rot tot tot
The answer is "a cherry". Bully Stott, another pro-tax parody, seems to have sunk without trace after its original broadside publication. It's based on the old song Donald Caird, best known in a version by Walter Scott but predating him by over 100 years in a version for the Lowland pipes from Aberdeenshire. I've taken it from Gall and Inglis's 19th century Select Songs of Scotland.

I've taken most of this story from Norrie's book, which despite its forbidding title, is a brilliantly entertaining yarn. He was a reporter for the Caledonian Mercury and a good one; the story of Thatcher's Poll Tax has not yet been told as well. The broadsides come from Alexander Adie's collection in the National Library of Scotland and from a scrapbook in Edinburgh University Library.

For some, opposition to the tax was part of a wider anti-clericalism, as expressed in Advice to the Priest-Ridden, from the West of Scotland and probably by Sandy Rodger, to the tune of The Black Jock. This went on to detail specific abuses of the Kirk all over Scotland.

Ye poor, silly Priest-ridden bodies, attend
To ane that would caution you now as a friend
Against black coats and gravats so white;
For greater impostors need hardly exist,
Than some wha are dubbed wi' the title of PRIEST,
For their plan is the poor human mind to mislead,
While hundreds, ay thousands a year is their creed,
Wi' a black coat and a gravat so white.

The Black Jock was originally a bawdy Irish song popularized in England in 1730. "Joke", 'joak', or "jock" meant female pubic hair:

No mortal sure can blame the man,
Who prompted by Nature will act as he can
With a black joke, & belly so white:
For he ye Platonist must gain say,
that will not Human Nature obey,
in working a joke, as will lather like soap,
& the hair of her joke, will draw more than a rope,
with a black joke, & belly so white.

The lyrics inspired countless bawdy variants and the tune became one of the commonest used for satires, including several in this book. There are two versions in The Merry Muses of Caledonia, neither at all like Burns despite being published in his name. The melody is also known as The Sprig of Shillelah. It's likely that all the writers who used this tune knew some version of the bawdy words to it and expected their readers to get the reference, even though it was never printed in a widely available edition. It seems to have been more a gentlemen's song than a widely popular one, and was more often used for right-wing satires; its adoption in Advice to the Priest-Ridden seems meant to have been read as deliberate poaching on the enemy's music.

Tammy Chalmers is a song from the north-east of Scotland, taken down from a minister and printed in the Greig-Duncan collection, about the aftermath of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843, when the dissenting fraction that became the Free Church abandoned the mainstream Church of Scotland and its accumulated wealth rather than submit to control by the state and local landowners. The event was marked by a children's rhyme:

The Wee Kirk, the Free Kirk,
The Kirk withoot the steeple;
The auld Kirk, the cauld Kirk,
The Kirk withoot the people.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a brilliant preacher and intellectual whose early career had included a pioneering attempt to reconcile Christianity with Hutton and Lyell's new geological timescale, was the leader of the movement that created the Free Church and of that church itself after the split The final break, ten years in the making, took place at St Andrew's Church in George Street, now St Andrew's and St George's. The uncomfortable idealism characterized in the song led Chalmers, in the final years of his life after the Disruption, into running a mission to the West Port, then the poorest area of Edinburgh, seen by the wealthier classes of the city as a terrifying urban jungle whose occupants were typified by Burke and Hare; the stress probably killed him. The tune was not written down by the collector, but the words are a parody of Robert Gilfillan's Why Left I My Hame, which I have taken from Mozart Allan's Paramount Songbook. Its tune is part of a large family that may all derive from William Marshall's Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey. The fifth line, in square brackets, is mine; Greig's singer couldn't remember what went here.

Popular anti-Catholic prejudice in Edinburgh has persisted since the reign of James II, but has only gone beyond private grumbling on a few occasions: the riots of 1779, the protests against Catholic Emancipation in O'Connell's time, and most systematically in the 1930s, when John MacCormack was elected to the Council on an anti-Catholic platform at the head of a frequently violent party, Protestant Action. Its short-lived hard core, Kormack's Kaledonian Klan, was consciously modelled on the American KKK, cross burnings included, with a song to the tune of The Old Rugged Cross:

Over dear old Scotia,
The Fiery Cross we display,
The Emblem of Klansmen's domain.
We will for ever be true,
To the Red, White and Blue,
and British will always remain.

Cormack's men attacked Catholic meetings in 1935 and 1936, and his movement was still able to pose a threat until the early 1960s, but by the time of the Pope's visit in 1982 they were forgotten. The visit went ahead to the lukewarm indifference of Protestants and Catholics alike.

Ma wee man's a miner is a children's rhyme; the tune is presumably the 1950s skiffle hit My Old Man's a Dustman. As far as I know there have never been mines in Abbeyhill. (Most ministers around Edinburgh nowadays would count themselves lucky to get buttons in the collection). The same song is known from Glasgow.

Back to Contents List

Embro, Embro
Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin