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Highland Cow

Famous Bagpipers

In ancient times almost every town, especially in the south of Scotland, had a piper, whose office was often hereditary, and who was generally attached to the burghal establishment of the place. These functionaries, who are supposed to have been the last remains of the minstrels of a more early age, were frequently the depositaries of oral, and particularly of poetical tradition. About spring time, and after harvest, it was the custom of the pipers to make a progress through a particular district Af the country. The music and the tale repaid their lodging, and they were usually rewarded, with a donation of seed corn. They received a livery and small salary from the community to which they belonged; and, in some burghs, they had a small allotment of land, generally called the Piper's Croft.

It was the custom of James Ritchie, the town piper of Peebles, who was among the last of his order, to make his rounds annually on Handsel Monday, or the first Monday of the year, for the purpose of receiving a gratuity from the different householders. His uniform consisted of a pair of red breeches and coat, of an antique fashion, with a looped-up cocked hat, and, till the last, he wore a plaited queue.

Robin Hastie, the last town piper of Jedburgh, and a contemporary of Ritchie, died about the beginning of the present century. His family was supposed to have held the office for about three centuries. Old age had rendered Robin a wretched performer; but he knew several old songs and tunes, which have probably died along with him.

This order of minstrels is alluded to in the comic song of Maggie Louder, who thus addresses the piper; "Live ye upon the Border?" Habbie Simpson, to whom the lady further alludes, was not a piper in a Border town ; he belonged to Kilbarchan, in Renfrewshire, where the author of the song, Robert Sempill, the son of Sir James Sempill, of Beltrees, the ambassador to England in 1599, had an opportunity of being acquainted with his name and character. From the notoriety which Habbie thus acquired, the people of Kilbarchan have had some reason to be proud of having possessed such a personage; and his statue, copied from an original picture, has been affixed to the steeple of the school-house of the town.

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