Friday, 13 October 2017

The Slippery World of Superstition

Superstitions are distorting, fluid things, whose meaning cannot often be grasped in the decades after they may have been recorded.  Unlike the folk tale, the ghost tale, or the historical tradition, which may be dissected and broken down into core elements and motifs, there is no dissecting the simplest of superstitions. Others are of course more complex, readable.  Some may be unique to one particular area, some are local representatives of a widespread belief, but most are intriguing.

   Death naturally has its shadow army of associated beliefs.  Andrew Jervise noted the following superstition in Murroes in his Epitaphs of North-East Scotland (vol. 1, p. 126):

Not long ago, when the body of a suicide was found in the parish, it was buried in the clothes in which it was discovered, and upon the north, or shady side of the kirk, which was long believed to be the peculiar property of his Satanic Majesty!   When the grave of the unfortunate man was opened, his snuff-mull, and the sum of 6s 6d in silver, and a penny in copper, were found in it.  These had been buried along with the body; and as it was conveyed to the kirk-yard in the parish hearse, the feeling was carried to such a height that the hearse was never again used, but allowed to stand in a shed and rot!

   Another superstition associated with death was noted by Andrew Macgregor who pointed out the large numbers of knaps, or mounds, in the coastal parish of Lunan.  It was the habit of bereaved members of a household to carry the chaff and straw from a dead relative’s last bed, on the day after the funeral, to the knap nearest their house and there set it on fire.  This superstition was common in many parts of Scotland.  Warding off evil was the motive behind the actions and this was also behind the more general evil kept at bay by one Angus farmer who always wore a flat oval stone on a red thread around his neck.

Superstitions By the Sea
   In a previous post I ran through some superstitions which were rife in the various fisher communities along the Angus coast Angus Fisher Folk(lore). To summarise, I reported the 18th century belief that the people of Arbirlot considered seagulls ominous and the fear of fishermen in Arbroath and Auchmithie about close contact with pigs or their meat.  Ferryden fishermen in the Victorian era had an unaccountable aversion to the humble pigeon, while it was reported that Angus fishermen would adamantly refuse to go to sea if a hare happened to cross their path while they were on their way to their boats. These strange beliefs, often connected with animals, are widespread in Scotland and indeed Britain as a whole.  D. H. Edwards mentions an anecdote about a defamation case between two women from Usan which came to court.  While the accusation centred around the alleged theft of an item of clothing, one of the women pointed to the fact she was being targeted by seeing a key revolve around a bible three times. 

The Cauld Stane o Carmyllie

   Carmyllie is another place I have mentioned before.  The source of superstition here was described several times, in an unromantic fashion, such as the Rev. George Anderson who told the Committee on Boulders the object of awe was merely a

Granite or gneiss boulder, from 7 to 10 tons.  Differs from rocks near it.  It lies on a height.  Called “The Cold Stone of the Crofts.” Supposed to have come from hills thirty miles to north.

   The Cauld Stane – a large glacial erratic to geologists - allegedly marked the boundary between the parishes of Carmyllie and St Vigeans, though the current border is around 340m east-north-east.  This boulder, as I have elsewhere stated, may be the Grey Stone mentioned in records around 1280.  Its popular name is said to derive from the legend that it turns itself around three times at cock crow to welcome the rising sun.  The stone is said to have been accidentally dropped by a flying witch (or the Devil). 

   So much for the legend.  But did the story come from the name and the name derive from more general usage?  George Hay informs us that the whole of Carmyllie parish was popularly style Cauld Carmyllie because of its relatively elevated position and exposure to the elements. 

  On Carmyllie Hill there was an unattainable crock of gold, sometimes glimpsed but ever grasped and in 1838 a 'fairy hillock' was excavated on the hill.  A huge, two ton boulder was unearthed, along with some metal rings.  The underside of the stone had an imprint on it shaped like a foot mark, which locals took as evidence that fairies inhabited the hill.  Since then, many  'footprints' have been found in quarries north of the hill.  The Rev William Robertson, in the New Statistical Account, noted the number of fossils preserved in the local rocks and said the marks were sometimes called Kelpie’s Foot.  He stated that there were few surviving relics of superstition in his parish, although he acknowledged neighbouring parishes once thought Carmyllie odd and old fashioned:  its inhabitants were disparaged as the ‘Bodies o Carmyllie’.  A few generations before, superstition was indeed very rife in the area.  Church records show that a ‘reputed wizard’ was resorted to in 1743 by locals who used his services to supernaturally locate lost goods.  Carmyllie’s quarries provided high quality roof slates and paving stones, reaching peak production in the 1870s before dwindling away to nothing and closing in 1953.


Daniels, Cora Lyn and Stevens, C. M., Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult Sciences, volume 2 (Detroit, 1903).

Edwards, D. H., Around the Ancient City (Brechin 1904).

First Report by the Committee on Boulders appointed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in April 1871, from the proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vol VII, 1871-72.

Hay, George, Aberbrothock Illustrated (Arbroath, 1886).

Jervise, Andrew,  Epitaphs and Inscriptions From Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in North east Scotland (Edinburgh, 1875).

Macgregor, Andrew, Highland Superstitions(Stirling, 1901).

The New Statistical Account (1845).

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Angus Calendar - Revised List of Fairs & Markets

Most additional information here is derived from List of Fairs and Markets Now and Formerly Held in Scotland (Glasgow,1890).  A note on original sources is at the end of the list.


First Tuesday:  Crosstown of Aberlemno.  Act of Parliament of Scotland in 1705 authorised Sir Alexander Murray of Melgum to hold this fair and fair in September. Weekly market on Wednesday, granted 1707.

Second Tuesday: Brechin (At one time the Trinity Tryst cattle market was held on the third Wednesday.)

First Thursday before Easter:  Coupar Angus.

Last Tuesday:  Carmyllie (Other sources state 1st Tuesday.  The New Statistical Account (1845) states that the annual market, chiefly for cattle, was held towards the end of April.  Alternatively stated as being held on the third Thursday of April, Old Style, but later changed to the day before the Glasterlaw fair, which was held on the last Wednesday.)

Last Friday:  Cullow (Sheep market.  One of two markets at Cullow or Collow Farm in Cortachy noted in the New Statistical Account (1845).  The October market was established first.)

Second Wednesday:  Forfar (Pasch cattle market.)

First Wednesday:  Glamis (Cattle.  King James IV granted a charter in 1491 to John Lord Glamis, erecting Glamis into a burgh of barony, with power to the inhabitants to buy and sell, and have a market cross and a weekly market on Friday.  An annual fair was granted on St Fergus’ Day in winter, which also encompassed four succeeding days.  An Act of the Parliament of Scotland in 1669 set forth that there was no weekly market and only one fair, that of St Fergus, kept on the first Wednesday after Martinmas.  The Earl of Kinghorne was permitted to hold a weekly fair on Wednesday and another fair on the first Tuesday after Whitsunday.  A charter by King Charles II in 1672 confirmed two weekly markets, Wednesday and Friday, and an annual fair on the first Wednesday after Whitsunday, with the continuance of the fair of St Fergus.  The New Statistical Account noted (in 1845) that there were three cattle and sheep markets each year.)

Last Wednesday:  Glasterlaw (Kinnell parish.  Cattle market. At one time fairs were held in April, the forth Wednesday in June, the third Wednesday in August, and the Monday after Falkirk in October. See entries below.)

Last Wednesday:  Kirriemuir (Some sources state first Friday after Good Friday.)

First Friday after Good Friday:  Letham (Some sources state first Thursday, or May, see below.)

Friday after Whitsunday:  Montrose (Noted in New Statistical Account (1845).  Possibly replacing earlier fairs.)


First Tuesday:  Milton of Glenesk (Act of Parliament in 1672 granted David Lindsay of Edzell the right to hold two free annual fairs: on the first Tuesday in May and 13th July.)

Third Tuesday (Old Style):  Coupar Angus (At one time, first Thursday after 26th.)

First Thursday:  Drumscairn (near Arbroath)

Day before Forfar:  Dun’s Muir (Cattle market.  An Act of Parliament in 1669 authorised David Erskine of Dun to have a free yearly fair on the second Wednesday after Whitsunday.  The New Statistical Account (1845) states that two fairs used to be held here:  on the Tuesday before the first Wednesday of May, Old Style, and on the third Wednesday of June, but was removed in 1844 to a piece of ground to the north, in the parish of Logie Pert.  A report to the Convention of Burghs in 1692 noted a nearby, unauthorized fair held at the North Water Bridge. )

First Monday:  Edzell (Sheep and cattle. A report to the Convention of Burghs in 1692 states the Edzell held a weekly market on Wednesdays and a yearly fair, called St Laurence Fair, at the time of the common fairs of Brechin.  The New Statistical Account (1845) advised of three annual fairs:  August (long established, but on the wane), plus newer ones established by Lord Panmure, on the first Monday in May and the other in October.  A further source states five fairs:  third Thursday of February, first Monday of May, the Friday after Old Deer in July, the Wednesday after 26th August, the Friday before Kirriemuir.  Feeing fairs were at one time held on the 26th May and the 22nd November, but if either of those dates fell on a weekend the fairs were held on the following Monday.)

First Wednesday (Old Style):  Forfar (Cattle market.)

First Wednesday and Wednesday after the 26th:  Glamis (See note in April, above.)

First Wednesday after Glamis:  Kirriemuir (In 1670 an Act of Parliament granted James Marquis of Douglas the right to hold three new fairs:  Tuesday before Whitsunday, 1st September, Tuesday before Martinmas, each for four days.)

First Tuesday (Old Style):  Montrose (the Rood Fair).  (A report to the Convention of Burghs in 1692 stated there were two fairs in Montrose, one in May and the other in July.) 

Second Tuesday:  Petterden.

Second Tuesday: Inverkeilor (An Act of Parliament in 1698 granted David the Earl of Northesk the right to hold a weekly market on Thursday and two yearly fairs:  the second Tuesday of May and first Tuesday of August.)

26th May:  Letham (List of Fairs and Markets states if that fell on a Saturday or Sunday it was held on the following Monday. But see April entry above.)  Formerly cattle market, but later became a feeing market.

26th May:  Froickheim.  Held on this date only if a Thursday; if not, on Thursday after.

May or June:  Finavon, Oathlaw parish.  (An Act of Parliament in 1686 granted Sir James Carnegie of Finavon the privilege to have a weekly market and two free fairs on the second Wednesday after Trinity Sunday and on the first Wednesday after Lammas, each lasting three days.  The New Statistical Account (1845) noted that the fairs had ceased to be held.)

26th May:  Arbroath.  Feeing market.

26th May:  Dundee.  Feeing market. (Held if this date was Tuesday or Friday; if not it was held on Tuesday or Friday following.)

Saturday after 26th May:  Forfar.  Feeing market.

Tuesday after Whitsunday:  Newtyle.  Charter by Charles II, 1682, granting Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh the right to hold fairs and markets in the newly created burgh of barony of Newtyle.  The weekly market was on Saturday and the two free fairs could extend for four days.  The second annual fair was on the first Tuesday after Latter Mary Day.  Both fairs extinct in the 19th century.)

First Wednesday after Trinity Sunday:  Arbroath, St Ninian’s Fair.


First Tuesday:  Dundee (Authorised by Act of Parliament, 1696.)

Second Tuesday:  Cortachy (An Act of Parliament in 1681 allowed the Earl of Airlie to hold two yearly fairs:  this one in June and the other in September, each to last four days.  The right further included holding a weekly market at the Kirktown of Cortachy on Thursdays.)

Third Tuesday:  Ruthven (This may represent Symaloug’s Fair (St Molouag, whose feast day was 25th June) which was moved to Alyth in the 18th century.  No fairs or markets here by end of the 19th century.)

Third Wednesday:  St Ninian’s (or Ringan’s) Fair, Arbroath (Some time before the late 18th century it was held on the first Wednesday after Trinity Sunday.  The birth-date of St John the Baptist was 24th June, and Sir James Balfour Paul notes a market in Arbroath at this date in 1599. Also, anciently at Arbroath, St John’s Day in June? ).  Displaced in 19th century by a Whitsunday feeing fair.

Second Wednesday (sheep); second Thursday (cattle); second Friday (horses):  Trinity Market, Brechin.

Second Wednesday:  Baldoukie Muir, Tannadice. 

Third Thursday:  Dun’s Muir (Cattle market. See notes in May and July.)

26th:  Forfar (At one time it was the day after the second Wednesday.)

Last Wednesday:  Glasterlaw (Cattle market. See entry in April above and below. The New Statistical Account (1845) states that four cattle markets were held here every year.)
First Wednesday after Glamis (?):  Kirriemuir (Cattle market.  See note in April, above. The New Statistical Account (1845) states that, in addition to fairs held on the hill of Kirriemuir in July and October, there were smaller fairs held in the same place in June and December. The Lists of Fairs and Markets (1890) gives the following list:  fairs on the first Monday of January, February, March; on the second Friday of March; on the first Monday of April and May; on the Wednesday after Glamis in
June; on 24th July if a Wednesday, or the following Wednesday (and for sheep the day before; on the Wednesday after 18th October, and the day before; the Wednesday after Glamis in November. ‘Some of these fairs,’ it states, ‘are now practically in abeyance, in consequence of the establishment of auction sales in Forfar and other places.’)

Friday after the Third Thursday:  Forfar (19th century.)

26thLundie (The New Statistical Account (1845) states there were two fairs in Lundie, in June and August, for the sale of stock, but were in decline.  Defunct before the end of the century.)

Third Thursday:  Letham.

Second Tuesday after the 11th:  Monifieth (In 1669 the Parliament of Scotland granted to George Earl of Panmure the right of two free yearly fairs, in June and October.)


First Tuesday:  Inverkeilor (An Act of Parliament in 1698 granted David the Earl of Northesk the right to hold a weekly market on Thursday and two yearly fairs:  the second Tuesday of May and first Tuesday in August.)

First Tuesday after Mary Day:  Newtyle (see above.)

First Tuesday:  Forfar (Or Wednesday after the first Tuesday.  At one time St James’ market for sheep was on the first Tuesday; cattle first Wednesday; horses first Thursday.)

First Tuesday (Old Style):  Lundie (The New Statistical Account (1845) states there were two fairs in Lundie, in June and August, for the sale of stock, but were in decline.  Defunct before the end of the century.)

First Wednesday (Old Style):  Kirkton of Glenisla (Mainly sheep and cattle. This is noticed, along with fair in March, by the New Statistical Account (1845).  Both had ceased by the end of the 19th century.

First Wednesday after 12th:  Brechin (Lammas market for cattle, at one point held on the second Thursday.)

15th:  Dundee (A cattle market held in the 19th century on the 26th, if this date was a Saturday or a  Sunday or Monday, and Tuesday afterwards.)

First Wednesday after 26th:  ‘Auld Eagil’s Market’, Edzell (Sheep and cattle.  See note in May.)

Second Wednesday:  Glasterlaw (Some sources state third Wednesday.  Four fairs held here every year, see entries above.  The Eastern Forfarshire Agricultural Association held their Lammas meeting here for the show of cattle, horses, and other animals.)

The day after Glasterlaw:  Letham.

Tuesday before Dundee:  Petterden.

26th:  Mains and Strathmartine  (see note above.  The New Statistical Account (1845) states that fairs were held on 26th August and 15th August.)

August:  Finavon, Oathlaw parish.  (An Act of Parliament in 1686 granted Sir James Carnegie of Finavon the privilege to have a weekly market and two free fairs on the second Wednesday after Trinity Sunday and on the first Wednesday after Lammas, each lasting three days.  The New Statistical Account (1845) noted that the fairs had ceased to be held.)

Wednesday after Lammas, Old Style:  Baldoukie Muir, Tannadice.


First Tuesday:  Coupar Angus (Cattle market.)

Monday before Kirriemuir (or fourth Monday):  Cullow, Cortachy (Sheep market.)

Last Thursday:  Drumscairn.

22ndMains and Strathmartine, near Dundee (An Act of Parliament in 1669 authorised an additional fair on the first Tuesday of October and the first Tuesday of July, each lasting for eight days. In the 19th century a feeing fair, known as Bell’s Fair, held on the first Friday in October. Other sources state first Friday in October. One of four fairs held annually.)

Friday before Kirriemuir:  Edzell (Sheep and cattle.)

29th:  Forfar (St Margaret’s, once held for cattle on second Wednesday.)

12th or Wednesday after:  Glasterlaw (Cattle market.  See notes above. )

19th, or Wednesday after:  Kirriemuir (Cattle and horses, once held on the 18th or the first Wednesday after. In a charter of 1602 James VI granted William Earl of Angus the right to hold annual fairs on 23rd July and 9th October and a weekly market on Saturday.)

Second Tuesday after 11th:  Monifieth (Feast day of St Rule or Regulus was 21st October.  Two fairs, this and one in June, granted by Parliament in 1669 to George Earl of Panmure.  The New Statistical Account (1845) states that a half-yearly market for cattle, horses, etc., used to be held at Monifieth. ‘Within these 30 years it was of considerable importance; but of late it has dwindled to

Third Tuesday:  Petterden.

8th October:  ? Rescobie  (The New Statistical Account (1845) states that the fair here was called St Triduane’s or St Trodlin’s, but had been transferred to Forfar.)

18th October:  Kirriemuir  (An Act of Parliament in 1686 granted to the Marquess of Douglas two weekly fairs; the first to begin 18th October, and to be held weekly every Tuesday till 25th December, to be called Croft Fair, and the second to begin on Fasterns eve, and to be kept weekly every Wednesday till April. In the late 18th century the Old Statistical Account noted two fairs, in July and October.)


Second Tuesday (Old Style):  Arbirlot (At one time second Wednesday.)

First Tuesday after 21st:  Brechin.

First Thursday after 21st:  Coupar Angus.

23rd:  Dundee (St Clement; this fair granted by charter of King James IV  20th October 1491, replacing fair on 13th November.  Charter of James II (1430-60) permitted a fair on 13th November, the Feast of the Assumption.)

First Wednesday: St Ethernan’s,  Forfar.

First Wednesday after 22nd:  Glamis (Feast day of St Fergus was 18th November.  See note in April, above.)

14th November:  Milton of Glenesk (St Devenick. See notes in May and July above.  the New Statistical Account (1845) gives two fairs, in May and this one names after Dennick or St Devenick in November, noting that the latter was of great antiquity.)

Second Tuesday after Martinmas (Old Style):  Kirriemuir (At one time first Wednesday after Glamis.  In 1670 an Act of Parliament granted James Marquis of Douglas the right to hold three new fairs:  Tuesday before Whitsunday, 1st September, Tuesday before Martinmas, each for four days.  In the 19th and 20 centuries there was a feeing market on the Friday after the 28th November.)

First Thursday:  Letham (List of Fairs and Markets states date as 23rd November, but if that fell on a Saturday or Sunday it was held on the following Monday.)

The day after Glamis:  Monikie.

Friday after Martinmas:  Montrose (Noted in New Statistical Account (1845), replacing earlier fairs?)
22nd November: Froickheim (held only if a Thursday; if not, held on the Thursday after.)

22nd November:  Arbroath.  Feeing market.

Saturday after 22ndForfar. Feeing Market.

22nd November:  Dundee. Feeing market. (19th century.  Held on this date if a Tuesday or Friday; if not, on Tuesday or Friday following.)

A Note on Sources

As can be seen in the notes above, particularly in such places as Edzell and Glamis, there was considerable change in the dates of annual fairs and weekly markets, which makes an adequate listing very difficult.  Not all dates on list are concurrent and the list is not comprehensive.  Sources for dates include the following works:  

Dundee Delineated (1822)  

The Dundee Directory for 1818

New Statistical Account, Arbroath, Dun, Dunnichen, Edzell, Glenisla, Kinnell, Kinnettles, Rescobie, Strathmartine, Old Statistical Account, Forfar, St Vigeans

‘The Incidence of Saints’ Names in Relation to Scottish Fairs,’ Sir James Balfour Paul.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Fairs and Markets, Part Two

The last post about fairs and markets Fairs and Markets, Part One covered some information about the fairs in Dundee, Forfar, Glasterlaw, Glen Esk and some others.  This post looks in more detail about the famous Taranty Fair at Brechin, plus the markets of Arbroath – and other information. 

Taranty Fair, Brechin

   Taranty (Trinity) Fair was a very renowned fair and cattle market held on the common at Trinity near the burgh of Brechin.  These days it still exists, but as a palimpsest of its previous existence, being held on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in June.  It was different in the mid 19th century, as recalled in an article which included contributions by James Grant (whose father farmed at Clochtow, Forfar) in the Brechin Advertiser, 25th June 1929:

Then the Market ran for three days on Wednesday for sheep, Thursday for cattle, and Friday for horses.  For a month prior to the market advance parties were in Brechin and district fixing up lodgings and getting accommodation for the large number of animals that were forward for the market, and after the fair was over it was some time before the town was cleared, for the attenders sometimes enjoyed themselves not wisely but too well… At the market the Town Council, being superiors of the fair, attended, and the constabulary, it appears, were then nominated by the trades or guilds of the city.  From contemporary reports their services were not highly thought of, for a writer in the “Brechin Advertiser” in 1854 complains that instead of taking their proper positions throughout the market, they hung about Justice Hall…   But on the whole the great fair seemed to pass off well, and if there were thimblers and pickpockets about the public were usually well warned… Compared with old days the market was now a shadow if what it used to be.  The readier of access which people had to the towns, and development of transport had taken away the usefulness of those gatherings.

   But however much the market had dwindled since its Victorian heyday, it was still a red letter day for agricultural workers in Angus and beyond well into the 20th century as one contributor to Bothy Nichts and Days (p. 44) recalled:

Fowk biket fae a’ ower Angus and the Howe o’ the Mearns tae ging tae it.  Some hardy ploomen wid hae a goe at the boothboxers but it wisna offen they cud beat them, they a’ had nesty tricks, it wisna exactly Marquis o Queensberry rules.  The Toon Cooncil held coort in a hoose aside the muir and onybody gettin oot o hand wis fined on the spotor spend a nicht in the cells.  Ye wid get the eftirnuin aff for the local show, like the Fetterie show, aye held on a Wednesday.

   Despite the centuries long record of fairs and markets associated with Brechin, most recorded change occurred throughout the 19th century, partially to reflect changing patterns in local farming.  (David Black, the historian of Brechin, documented these developments.)  An act of the council, dated 25th March 1801, responded to local livestock dealers and farmers asking for a Trinity Muir spring market to be held on the third Wednesday of April, and this was first held on 15th April of that year.  The council established a new market – or ‘Tryst’ – in 1819, and this new date was appointed to be held on the Tuesday preceding the last Wednesday of September every year.  Again this was at the behest of the local farming community.  By 1833 the August Lammas Muir had ‘dwindled to a petty fair’ and further changes were instituted. 

   By the time David Black was writing the various fairs and markets of Brechin were still thriving, albeit those merchants who traded there were no longer the same.  Tuesday’s market was for grain, though there were cattle markets on that day in autumn and winter, with horse markets in February and March.  The great annual markets deserve to be described in detail as they capture a vanished mode of life:

The first Tuesday after Whitsunday, old style, is a great market day, chiefly for the hiring of country servants; and so is the first Tuesday after Martinmas, old style... Formerly these term markets were attended by chapmen, who formed a society amongst themselves, termed “The Chapmen of Angus”... These chapmen travelled in the country regularly, carrying their goods some in spring-carts, some on horseback... an inferior class, called packmen, travelled always on foot, and some of them carried immense packs on their backs... As the chapman waxed old and wealthy, he settled down as a merchant in some borough town.  The race is now all but wholly extinct. On a piece of ground of nearly 33 acres in extent...called Trinity, or more generally Tarnty Muir, a great fair is annually held for three days, commencing on the second Wednesday of June, to which cattle-dealers and horse-dealers resort from all parts of Scotland and some parts of England... There are other markets held on this ground in April, August, and September, but the June market is par excellence termed “the Trinity Fair”.  The April market, called the Spring Tryst, generally a large market, is held on the third Wednesday of that month...

   The size, dignity and importance of the markets on Trinity Muir was enforced zealously by the city’s officials and seems to have be a customary feature from early times, as again described by Black:

Every one who has witnessed the fairs... has noticed the array of halberds with which the council are guarded to the markets, and by means of which, when necessary, the decisions of the magistrates, given in the markets, are enforced.  The guard is furnished by the incorporations of the town, each sending two men at Trinity fair, and one man at Lammas fair.  The weapons with which the men are armed belong to the respective incorporations...

   Black then records an event in May 1683 when two of the guard staged a mutiny, one of whom was a noted troublemaker named David Duncanson who had come to the attention of the authorities several times before. 

   Records of Brechin’s markets stretch back to the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214) and beyond.  A charter of William’s confirms a grant to the bishop and Culdees of the church of Brechin giving the right to hold a Sunday market. This confirmed a grant made by King David I and is repeated in later charters issued by Robert I and James II.  The charter granted by David II in 1369 notes that the whole merchants inhabiting the City of Brechin had free ingress and egress to the waters of the South Esk and Tay for carrying their merchandise and prohibits the burgesses of Dundee and Montrose from interfering with these rights. The weekly market was moved from Sunday to Tuesday in the time of James III in the late 15th century.  The Trinity Fair is first mentioned in records in the late 16th century. 

St Thomas’ Fair in Arbroath and Auchmithie

      By way of contrast to Brechin’s high days, we can look at the festivities surrounding the fairs and markets on the coast at Arbroath, memorably described in J. S. Neish’s In the By-Ways of Life (p. 57).  One of the features of the celebration of St Thomas’s Day was an exodus of Arbroath folk along the coast to the village of Auchmithie.  Lucky Walkers was the name of a famed hostelry in the fishing village.  Neish describes the annual outing:

By an early hour the lads and lasses streamed out of town by the cliffs or Seaton Road...  At the foot of the brae [in Auchmithie] there stood a huge barn-like building, which was used as a fish-curing house.  On these festive occasions this shed... was extemporised into a ballroom... During the whole day the fishermen made short trips with their cobles round the small bay with freights of screeching half-frightened women, who eagerly invested their spare coppers in a sail.

   The author tells us that Lucky Walker herself and her staff were run off their feet all day, bringing fish and ale to the incomers.  But, like other honoured customs, progress put an end to the trade.  The coming of the railways meant that Arbroathians went further afield on their festive days and Lucky observed that ‘sin thae railways began her hoose was nae worth naething’. 

   By the late 19th century (according to the author of Arbroath, Past and Present), the market of St Thomas had practically ceased to exist.  But in former times this ‘Auld Market’ was held on the 18th July, if a Saturday, or the first Saturday thereafter.  Not just Auchmithie was a destination for holiday makers; locals also went to Lunan, East Haven, even Dundee. 

   The history of the fairs and markets in Arbroath provide an exemplary guide to the changes which also occurred in other locations, for, although markets and fairs were a constant in communities for centuries, local needs frequently dictated changes.  King William the Lion granted the right for Arbroath to hold a weekly market in the late 12th century, on Saturday.  The burgesses in 1528 chose Tuesday as the new market day.  By the time of the charter of James VI in 1599 the market was again being held on a Saturday and there were four annual markets:  St Thomas’s Day, St Vigean’s Day, St John’s Day, and St Ninian’s Day.  Two hundred years later the Old Statistical Account noted that there were three yearly fairs:  20th January (St Vigean’s), first Wednesday after Trinity Sunday (St Ninian’s), and 7th July (St Thomas a Beckett).  The weekly market day was now Thursday (to which day it had been changed around 1742).  By the time of the publication of the New Statistical Account in 1845 the fairs had shrunk to two in number and the weekly market day was once again Saturday.  Late in the 19th century there were hiring markets held on the last Saturday of January, 26th May, 18th July, 22nd November (if these dates fell on Saturdays; if not, the Saturdays following).

Auchmithie, 1890.

Feeing Markets

Feeing Markets for the hiring of farm labour at specific terms were, in a sense, the poor relations of fairs and markets held for the wider community.  Despite this, and because of their necessity, many lingered well into the 20th century, although they were much diminished. Harry Brown recalled travelling with his father on the first Friday after 28th November 1934 to Kirriemuir to attend what he thought was be an agricultural feeing market, only to find that the square was nearly empty and the market a thing of the past in Kirrie.  Other markets remained in Arbroath and Brechin, although agricultural workers from both these areas sometimes preferred to journey to the Forfar market in hope of work because they believed that it was a better place for wages (A Life on the Land, p. 9).  According to the contributors who spoke to David Adams about the feeing process (Bothy Nichts and Days, pp. 46-47) the term times were Whitsunday (28th May) and Martinmas (28th November).  Farm workers participating in this system were freed by current employers at lunchtime on the 28th and had three days to secure a job for the forthcoming term.  Forfar, according to one source, was infamously name the Rogue’s Market, because it was the last recourse of farm workers who could not get a fee elsewhere:  ‘onybody that cudna got a fee gaed there’.  In latter years married farm workers feed once a year, at May term (an exception being at Dundee, where they feed at winter term).  Single men feed every six months and were likely to move farms every few years if there was no promotion for them.  The procedure for announcing your availability for service was sometimes quite specific.  In Friock farm hands would line up in Gardyne Street ‘wi a strae in yere moo if ye hadna gotten a fee’.  The fees given to feed farm workers now seem so miniscule as to suggest that they seem to below to an entirely different age rather than last century.  A loun at a hiring market in 1921 would be likely to receive £20 for his first six month fee.  A fifth horseman in the next decade could demand the princely sum of £38 for a sixmonth.

Selected Sources

Adams, David G., Bothy Nichts and Days, Farm Bothy Life in Angus and the Mearns (Edinburgh, 1992).

Black, David F., The History of Brechin to 1864 (2nd. edn., Edinburgh, 1887).

Brown, Harry, ed. Orr, David G., A Life on the Land, Farming in Angus 1934-1994 (Balgavies, 2003).

Coutts, Walter, Historical Guide, Brechin and Neighbourhood (Brechin, 1889).

McBain, J. M., Arbroath, Past and Present (Arbroath, 1887).

Marwick, Sir James David, List of Fairs and Markets Now and Formerly Held in Scotland (Glasgow, 1890).

Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, Narrated out of the Town Council Register (Edinburgh & Dundee, 1884).

Miller, David, Arbroath and its Abbey, or the Early History of the Town and Abbey of Aberbrothock (Edinburgh, 1860).

Neish, In The By-Ways of Life: A Series of Sketches of Forfarshire Characters (Dundee, 1881).

Perry, David, ‘A New Look at Old Arbroath,’ Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 4 (1998), 260-78.

Stirton, James, Thrums and its Glens, Historical Relics and Recollections (2nd. edn., Kirriemuir, 1896).

Forfar Croft Market.