Lanark is a town steeped in tradition. The Lanimer Celebration, a week long festival held in June, has origins earlier than its first written record of 1570 and is based on the annual inspection of the "Marches" or boundary stones. The ceremony of the "Het Pint" at the very start of the year and the curiously named "Whuppity Scoorie" also make colourful additions to Lanark's calendar.
Lanark's ceremony of inspecting the march stones of the burgh is an ancient one and has its origins in the establishment of the burgh. Royal Burghs were established by the Crown and were granted the power of self government, a tract of land surrounding their community and certain rights and privileges in trade. In return the Crown legally required such burghs to forward a percentage of their income from their trading privileges and to inspect their bounds or "marches" on an annual basis and to report to the Crown on their findings. Lanark's "Marches" therefore have nothing to do with border raids or with the religious festival of Corpus Christi and should more properly be regarded as a "business practice". The checking of such bounds was taken seriously by the Crown (the nearby town of Rutherglen was in trouble about 1581 for not carrying out this required duty). It can be surmised, without stretching credulity, that Lanark's tradition of riding the marches dates back to its foundation in the 12th century.
The earliest recorded mention of the equivalent of today's Lanimer Day occurs in the records of the burgh for 19th August 1570 viz.- "Item, to Thome Gray for the instruments of the riding of the landemuris". A later entry for the 28th May 1588 refers to "Ryding of the Merches" being "ancient and yearly". The earliest mention of a Standard Bearer is of John Aitkein in 1670.
The Perambulation of the Marches first occurred in the middle of the 17th century when it became difficult, due to an increase in the cropping of fields along the route, for the horsemen to pass without damaging the crops. At different periods during the history of the Lanimers there have been different methods of observance, but the main object has always been the same. At some point the perambulation of the marches moved from late May to the Thursday on, or the first Thursday after, the 6th of June. It remained fixed in this manner until sometime after the mid 1800s when the first part of the inspection was moved from the Thursday to the Monday of the same week. The procession and riding of the remaining boundaries continued to be observed on the 'traditional' day. However, even the Monday night was not fixed. 'The Marches' have taken place on Tuesdays within living memory.
The reason for the transportation of branches of birch ("birk") around the Lanimer Procession lies in a series disputes with the Laird of Jerviswood which originally flared up between 1696 and 1702. This dispute centred around the terms of a new charter granted to George Baillie of Jerviswood by the Burgh. The Burgh after long negotiations retained their rights to traverse the lands and to dig for stone and clay.
A second dispute took place at the end of the 18th century and again the Burgh won its case again in connection with rights to the land.
The third and most serious fracas arose from damage caused by about 300
participants in the perambulation of the marches through the southern part
of the Jerviswood estate in 1840. The crowd were accused of damaging upwards
of 300 young birch trees in a plantation. The following year, a week before
Lanimer day, two of the accused were found guilty by Sheriff Daniel Vere.
This verdict did not cause the crowd, about 400 strong, to be any better
behaved. Again damage occurred and nearly all were seen to be carrying pieces
of birch. Over the ensuing seven years the dispute continued and in 1848
it appeared that the Council were on the verge of admitting defeat. John
Marr pressed for the investigation of the council records and the Register
of Sasines in Edinburgh. To the delight of all Lanarkians it was discovered
that Baillie of Jerviswood had never been sold the land. The Council thereafter
maintained the annual tradition of walking round the march stones. If they
had not made the final effort and checked the official records there may
well not have been a Lanimer day as we now know it
In 1892 some major innovations took place. The Burgh Council noted that "there had been no meeting of rate payers to appoint a (Lanimer) committee since 1885." It was later decided that all the members of the Council be appointed to the Lanimer Committee and to advertise a public meeting. At this meeting the old Lanimer committee resigned en bloc. This was not an expected outcome as Provost Brown said that the Burgh Council merely wished to strengthen the committee with the inclusion of some new members.
A sub-committee was formed to approach the Masters of the local schools with a view to involving children. They were also to approach the managers of the mills at New Lanark and Kirkfieldbank to request the presence of workers. The extra effort and preparations resulted in "The best Lanimer Day that has been kept for at least the last 32 years." About 700 children turned out for the procession, the first time large numbers had participated, which was planned and marshalled by Mr W.D. Steel and Mr Shirley.
The following year the committee continued to build on the previous years success. Mr W.D. Steel and Mr James Paton being joint Hon. Secretaries. It was Mr W.D. Steel who was largely responsible for the introduction of the Lanimer Queen and court and for the planning involved in the expanded procession. The idea was undoubtedly a sound one, no matter where the inspiration stemmed from and plans were in hand which included a turnout of over 1000 children and the participation of apprentice tradesmen with banners and emblems of their trade. The procession was marshalled by Mr W.D. Steel and Sergt.-Major Excell and that Grace Adams was "a daughter of the late Mr Adams, joiner and belongs to an old Lanark family." (She was later to marry Mr W.D. Steel's son, Robert.)
Since then the proceedings have followed the same framework and have been altered from time to time to fit in with the changing times and to allow "improvements" to the presentation.
One such improvement was the change in the location of the "shifting of the standard". In 1936 this was carried out at the Cross for the first time. Prior to then this ceremony had taken place at the County Buildings in Hope Street, frequently inside with a small audience. The move to the Cross allowed a much larger number to witness the handing over of the Standard.
Recent years have seen some improvements, including the moving of the Lanimer afternoon entertainments from the Racecourse to Castlebank Park, a more convenient location closer to the centre of the town.
The Lord Cornet's Procession has been extended to include a longer rideout through the surrounding countryside. Hopefully this will act as an incentive for visiting horse riders to attend and stay within the town for the whole day.
The six o'clock declaration and beating of the retreat has been extended into a longer military entertainment.
Those wishing to study Lanimer history will find ample reference information at Lanark Library.
The Het Pint
The Het Pint ceremony, held on the first of January, is an old custom peculiar to Lanark. Hardy citizens of the town meet at the Tolbooth at ten in the morning and receive a glass of hot spiced ale, nowadays courtesy of the Community Council. A pound coin is also given to any older person attending who cares to claim one.
The ceremony is well known to all Lanarkians and is regarded with pleasure and affection. Few are aware that it was made possible by a Mortification (bequest) for purely educational purposes.
The Hyndford Mortification was mainly designed to give five poor boys bursaries at Lanark Grammar School. In March 1662, Robert Birnie, the Lanark minister, presented "on behalf of James Lord Carmichael (later Lord Hyndford) 'two bonds and a ticket' in favour of the schoolmaster and five poor scholars at the school of Lanerk and uther pious uses and of the musitioner (assistant teacher of music) of the said burgh".
The other pious uses came to mean the Het Pint at some unknown date; it is never mentioned in the Burgh Records. The pint was a Scots pint equal to three English or Imperial pints and would have cost about 12d. They probably bought one pint of good ale from one of the Lanark brewers, warmed it, added spices, and gave half a dozen burgesses who had come down in the world a glass each together with a few shillings for extra comforts.
The total bequest amounted to 7,800 merks, but it consisted of three promises due on debts or loans. There was a possibility that all three were simply bad debts. For the next seven years the Council tried to collect the money and in 1669 Robert Hodge, one of the debtors, could not pay and absconded. Neither could the others so the guarantors became liable. The Council had to settle for a good deal less than 3,000 merks.
Credit for the institution of the Het Pint has always been given to Lord Carmichael but there is no proof that he was responsible. It is just as likely that the Council invented it. The Mortification was named after the donor but it is doubtful if he could ever have recovered the money he had given out on loan so in a sense he lost nothing. The man who actually handed over the capital sum for the endowment was probably Gavin Hamilton of Raploch.
Lockhart of Baronald, wrote in the 1790's, that the Council spent £30 scots or £2 10/- on the Het Pint. The Het Pint had gained in prestige. There was happiness, at no personal cost, in dispensing good cheer on a happy occasion, specific charity with a good-natured background.
The exact origins and age of this most oddly named of Lanark's customs is unfortunately never likely to be conclusively proven. Held on the 1st March each year the modern version of the custom comprises of a large group of young children gathering at the foot of the Town Steeple, Lanark Cross at 6pm.
Each child is equipped with a ball of paper on the end of a length of string. On the first stroke of the small bell, which has lain silent since the end of the previous autumn, the children run three times (clockwise) around the church swinging the balls of paper over their heads. After the completion of the run there is a scramble for small change held in Hyndford Place.
Whuppity Scoorie is organised these days by The Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council who took over the role from the Town Council in 1975, but in the distant past it does not appear to have been an "official" event as there is no mention of it in the Town Council Minutes. The only written records concerning the event are to be found in the pages of the Hamilton Advertiser.
Various theories have been put forward both for the origin of the ceremony and for the unusual name. The name Whuppity Scoorie appears for the first time in association with this ceremony in 1890 when the Hamilton Advertiser reported on "Ringing the Six o' Clock Bell" stating that as the bell was rung the local youths cheering then indulged in "the lively variation of Whuppit Scoorie" in which the boys having a bonnet tied to a string whirl them about their heads and if they see one of their number off his guard he gets a quick awakening. The ceremony was not reported under the headline Whuppity Scoorie until 1893.
For many years there was a connection with the Wee Bell ceremony and New Lanark, although the earliest reports make no mention of this. The exact source of this is unknown but it was reported in 1894 that although the custom was believed to be centuries old, for the last 120 years the boys had marched to meet the workers coming home from New Lanark and employed their bonnets as at the Cross, but sometimes other weapons were used.
There is even less evidence to suggest that the origins of the custom are to be found in the whipping and scouring of miscreants in the burgh in bygone ages or in the punishment of witches. The burgh and kirk session records record no such punishments.
Perhaps like Lanark's other festivities Whuppity Scoorie or "The Wee Bell Ceremony" has a more prosaic source. The ringing of the bell which had been silent throughout the winter darkness heralded the advent of spring and lighter evenings after the days work was done. Possibly the custom grew as a spontaneous celebration on the part of the apprentices and other youth of the town to mark the onset of leisure time which could be appreciated in daylight.