British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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336                                      LEITH RACES.                                [JULY.
of Edinburgh, it was usual for one of the city officers to walk in procession every morning during the week, from the Council Chamber down to Leith, bearing aloft a silk purse, gaily decorated with ribbons, styled the City Purse, on the end of a pole, accompanied by the town-guard drummer, who, being stationed in the rear of this dignitary, continued beating a tattoo at his heels all the way to the race-ground.
The procession which at the onset consisted only of the officer and the drummer, and sometimes a file or two of the town-guard, gathered strength as it moved along the lino of march, from a constant accession of boys, who were every morning on the look out for this procession, and who pre­ferred, according to their own phrase, " gaun down wi' the purse," to any other way. Such a dense mass of these finally surrounded the officer and his attendant drummer that, long before the procession reached Leith, both had wholly dis­appeared. Nothing of the former remained visible but the purse, and the top of the pole on which it was borne. These, however, projecting above the heads of the crowd, still pointed out the spot where he might be found: of the drummer, no vestige remained; but he was known to exist by the faint and intermittent sounds of his drum. The town-guard also came in for a share of the honours and the business of this festive week. These were marched down to Leith every day in full costume. Having arrived upon the sands, the greater part, along with the drummer, took their station at the starting-point, where the remainder surrounded the heights. The march of these veterans to Leith is thus humorously described by Ferguson :—
" Come, hafe a care (the captain cries), On guns your bagnets thraw : Now mind your manual exercise, And march down row by row. And as they march he'll glour about,
Tent a' ther cuts an' scars ; Mang these full many a gausy snout Has gusht in birth-day wars
Wi> blude that day." Campbell, History of Leith, 1827, \>. 187.
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