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Fife Folklore - Childhood

In the days before children were told about pregnancy Fife and East Neuk bairns believed that girl babies came from the Isle of May and boys from the Bass Rock out in the Firth of Forth. It is interesting that in the Middle Ages barren women made pilgrimages to a holy well on the May Island to pray for a cure

Few ceremonies attended the birth of a child. There might be a family christening gown but the christening was commonly carried out at home and often when the father was away at some fishing There was no bairn s piece tradition as in many Scottish towns but people who stopped to see the new baby would rarely leave without handing over a silver coin saying: ”I'll have to give the bairn a luck penny”, or some such phrase.

The baby’s shawl was always hand-knitted and it was quite an honour to be asked to knit the lacy white shawl, almost always in the traditional Shetland pattern

Words connected with babies were:

Babies nappies some were of towelling some of flannel

A long sleeveless flannel coat worn under the dress, and pinned up over the baby’s feet to form a bag.

An outdoor garment, a kind of short cape, usually white and decorated with braid. It went out of fashion soon after the Great War.

Putting an infant into its first short clothes, after the elaborate long white gowns of early infancy. Babies were usually dockit when about three months old.

Put on to solid food.

A high pram. Hurlin’ the coach—Pushing the pram.


Walking. People asked “Is he gaun yet?”

Very active.

Faur forrit
Developing very quickly.

Shy; crying out at the sight of visitors. She’s an awfu’ strange bairn.

To dandle a baby on one’s knees. The word also meant a
rhythmic mouth-music, or to cheat someone.

Of the same age, or born in the same year. He’s eildons wi’ oor Tam.

Babies were soon big enough to wear tackety buits, lacing boots with leather soles covered with metal studs, and to get tautie heels, big round holes in sock-heels.

A halflin’ laudie was just into his early teens, and as often as not he wore haif-mastit breeks, trousers over the knee but not reaching the ankles.

As children grew up, traditional games were played in the streets, in daylight and in dark, each according to its season, before increasing motor traffic made this dangerous and impossible. Sometimes, especially in chasing games, boys and girls played together, but some games were definitely boys’ games, some were for girls only.

Boys’ games.

Spinning tops. The word peerie was less common.

Marbles. There were several games including holey, and in Pittenweem a large stone-ware bool was called a Maggie Larkie.

Barrows made from fish boxes on old pram wheels. Often a loop of rope was used to drag a hurly, or to turn it into a kind of sledge for hurtling down the many wynds in the town.

Girls’ games.

Called Jacks or Fivestones elsewhere. Sometimes small stones were used but in Cellardyke a favourite type of chack was a cluster of old boot-buttons sewn tightly together, like a huge bramble.

Ba beds
A skipping game involving a bouncing ball and numbered beds along a pavement

Peevers called pauldies in Pittenweem and hopscotch elsewhere There were various patterns for the beds, chalked on the pavements, and the peever was flicked into them by the player as she hopped on one foot The sea side was an inexhaustible source of flat stones or sea smoothed glass for peevers and each player had her own preferences.

Jumpin’ ropes
Only in-corners talked about skipping with ropes. Both
individual and communal games involved chants and rhymes of all kinds, and the garret was an inexhaustible source for ropes of every length.

A kind of out-door Tiddly-Winks, using flat buttons that could be picked off the pavement by pressure from a wet thumb.

Dolls’ cloots was an outdoor or indoor activity for girls who gathered with old shoe-boxes of scraps of material and tiny celluloid dolls for a dressmaking session.

Games that might be played by both sexes were:

A statue game.

A chasing game that could range through several streets.

Cattle and Battle
This game, with a home-made wooden bat and a length of wood, pointed at both ends, involved estimating distances and a good deal of arithmetic. Children shouted nae cleish, meaning “No moving allowed!” when a peever, or cattie, or button got into an awkward position, and in very active games, a cry of fairlies won a moment’s respite for the pursued.

Hoops, with a linked iron rod, or a separate cleek, for steering. Wooden girds were propelled by a stick. Mothers told children to tak’yer gird when they wanted them to hurry on an errand, and Ca’ yer gi;d was used
figuratively to adults to make them hurry.

Wooden scooters.

There was very little pocket money, but an extra penny could be earned by gaun the airrants, i.e. doing the shopping. Prices rarely changed from one year’s end to the other and children could easily cope with the day to day shopping. With their own pennies they bought such things as:

Lucky bags
Paper bags with a collection of odds and ends that were
always exciting.

Sherbet dabs
Paper bags with a good spoonful of sherbet which could
be sucked out through the liquorice tube in the top of the bag.

Gob stoppers
Huge, very hard spheres of many layers of sugar. They
were sucked and brought out of the mouth at frequent intervals to see what colour had now been disclosed.

Locust beans
A cattle food enjoyed by children who chewed until only
fibre was left. A ha’penny bought enough to fill the cupped hands.

Sugarelly buttons
Large liquorice sweets properly called Pontefract
Cakes. There were sugarelly straps too. Sugarelly water was made with hard liquorice bought from the chemist. It
was cut up and soaked in a bottle of water. When the bottle was shaken, one’s friends were invited to ha’e a sook of the resultant froth. Although the initial outlay was tuppence, it was good value, for the bottle could be refilled many times before the brew became too weak.

Indoors, children could play at all kinds of games in house and garret, but not on Sundays. It was particularly wrong to use scissors on Sunday, and those who did were threatened:— The de’il ‘II come doon the lum wi’ his cleeks an’ tak’ye awa.

There were very few dialect words connected with school. After all, children went to school to learn to speak English, and were constantly reminded to speak properly. But the following words were in use:

Slate pencil.

The strap, a weapon in every teacher’s desk.

Strokes on the hand with the strap.

Something to eat at leave time, the morning interval. As
often as not it was a piece on jeely, or a piece on seerip or a piece on tre’cle.

Lavatories. This word was considered rather coarse, and some preferred to say watteries.

A tale bearer.

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