Gender Fluidity in Scottish History (Podcast) – Random Scottish History
St Rusticus or Rotiri, bishop of Auvergne, 5th century. St Chuniald or Conald, priest and missionary. St Germer or Geremar, abbot, 658. St Gerard, bishop of Chonad, martyr, 1046.
Died. – Pepin, king of France, 768; Michael III., Greek emperor, assassinated, 867; Pope Innocent II., 1143.
THE FEAST OF INGATHERING.
Wherever, throughout the earth, there is such a thing as a formal harvest, there also appears an inclination to mark it with a festive celebration. The wonder, the gratitude, the piety felt towards the great Author of nature, when it is brought before us that, once more, as it has ever been, the ripening of a few varieties of grass has furnished food for earth’s teeming millions, insure that there should every where be some sort of feast of ingathering. In Scotland, where that term is unknown, the festival is hailed under the name of the Kirn. The servant sympathises with the success of his master in the great labours of the year. The employer looks kindly down upon his toiling servants, and feels it but due to them that they should have a banquet furnished out of the abundance which God has given him – one in which he and his family should join them, all conventional distinctions sinking under the overpowering gush of natural, and, it may be added, religious feeling, which so well befits the time.
In the north, there seem to have been some differences in the observance. It was common there for the reapers, on the last day of their business, to have a contention for superiority in quickness of dispatch, groups of three or four taking each a ridge, and striving which should soonest get to its termination. In Scotland, this was called kemping, which simply means a striving. As the reapers went on during the last day, they took care to leave a good handful of the grain uncut, but laid down flat, and covered over; and, when the field was done, the ‘bonniest lass’ was allowed to cut this final handful, which was presently dressed up with various sewings, tyings, and trimmings, like a doll, and hailed as a Corn Baby. It was brought home in triumph, with music of fiddles and bagpipes, was set up conspicuously that night at supper, and was usually preserved in the farmer’s parlour for the remainder of the year. The bonny lass who cut this handful of grain, was deemed the Har’st Queen.
It is very curious to learn, that there used to be a similar practice in so remote a district as the Isle of Skye. A farmer having there got his harvest completed, the last cut handful was sent, under the name of Goabbir Bhacagh (the Cripple Goat), to the next farmer who was still at work upon his crops, it being of course necessary for the bearer to take some care that, on delivery, he should be able instantly to take to his heels, and escape the punishment otherwise sure to befall him.
In Scotland, under the name of the Kirn or Kirn Supper (supposed to be from the churn of cream usually presented on the occasion), harvest-home ends. The description of the feast given by Grahame, in his British Georgics, includes all the characteristic features:
‘The fields are swept, a tranquil silence reigns,
And pause of rural labour, far and near.
Deep is the morning’s hush; from grange to grange
Responsive cock-crows, in the distance heard,
Distinct as if at hand, soothe the pleased ear;
And oft, at intervals, the flail, remote,
Sends faintly through the air is defeated sound.
Bright now the shortening day, and blithe its close,
When to the Kirn the neighbours, old and young,
Come dropping in to share the well-earned feast.
The smith aside his ponderous sledge has thrown,
Raked up his fire, and cooled the hissing brand.
His sluice the miller shuts; and from the barn
The threshers hie, to don their Sunday coats.
Simply adorned, with ribands, blue and pink,
Bound round their braided hair, the lasses trip
To grace the feast, which now is smoking ranged
On tables of all shape, and size, and height,
Joined awkwardly, yet to the crowded guests
A seemly joyous show, all loaded well:
But chief, at the board-head, the haggis round
Attracts all eyes, and even the goodman’s grace
Prunes of its wanted length. With eager knife,
The quivering globe he then prepares to broach;
While for her gown some ancient matron quakes,
Her gown of silken woof, all figured thick
With roses white, far larger than the life,
On azure ground – her grannam’s wedding-garb,
Old as that year when Sheriffmuir was fought.
Old tales are told, and well-known jests abound,
Which laughter meets half-way as ancient friends,
Nor, like the worlding, spurns because threadbare.
When ended the repast, and board and bench
Vanish like thought, by many hands removed,
Up strikes the fiddle; quick upon the floor
The youths lead out the half-reluctant maids,
Bashful at first, and darning through the reels
With timid steps, till, by the music cheered,
With free and airy step, they bound along,
Then deftly wheel, and to their partner’s face,
Turning this side, now that, with varying step.
Sometimes two ancient couples o’er the floor,
Skim through a reel, and think of youthful years.
Meanwhile the frothing bickers,1 soon as filled,
Are drained, and to the gauntrees2 oft return,
Where gossips sit, unmindful of the dance.
Salubrious beverage! Were thy sterling worth
But duly prized, no more the alembic vast
Would, like some dire volcano, vomit forth
Its floods of liquid fire, and far and wide
Lay waste the land; no more the fruitful boon
Of twice ten shrievedoms, into poison turned,
Would taint the very life-blood of the poor,
Shrivelling their heart-strings like a burning scroll.’
Such was formerly the method of conducting the harvest-feast; and in some instances it is still conducted much in the same manner, but there is a growing tendency in the present day, to abolish this method and substitute in its place a general harvest-festival for the whole parish, to which all the farmers are expected to contribute, and which their labourers may freely attend. This festival is usually commenced with a special service in the church, followed by a dinner in a tent, or in some building sufficiently large, and continued with rural sports; and sometimes including a tea-drinking for the women. But this parochial gathering is destitute of one important element in the harvest-supper. It is of too general a character. It provides no particular means for attaching the labourers to their respective masters. If a labourer have any unpleasant feeling towards his master, or is conscious of neglecting his duty, or that his conduct has been offensive towards his master, he will feel ashamed of going to his house to partake of his hospitality, but he will attend without scruple a general feast provided by many contributors, because he will feel under no special obligation to his own master. But if the feast be solely provided by his master, if he receive an invitation from him, if he finds himself welcomed to his house, sits with him at his table, is encouraged to enjoy himself, is allowed to converse freely with him, and treated by him with kindness and cordiality, his prejudices and asperities will be dispelled, and mutual good-will and attachment established. The hospitality of the old-fashioned harvest-supper, and other similar agricultural feasts, was a bond of union between the farmer and his work-people of inestimable value. The only objection alleged against such a feast, is that it often leads to intemperance. So would the harvest-festival, were not regulations adopted to prevent it. If similar regulations were applied to the farmer’s harvest-feast, the objection would be removed. Let the farmer invite the clergyman of his parish, and other sober-minded friends, and with their assistance to carry out good regulations, temperance will easily be preserved.
The modern harvest-festival, as a parochial thanksgiving for the bounties of Providence, is an excellent institution, in addition to 6the old harvest-feast, but it should not be considered as a substitute for it.
2 Wooden frames on which beer casks are set.
On this Day in Other Sources.
In Perth, between 24th September 1584 and August 1585, when [the plague] ceased, it carried off fourteen hundred and twenty-seven persons, young and old, or thereby. (Chron. Perth.) This could not be less than a sixth of the entire population.
– Domestic Annals, pp.81-98.
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL THE LAIRD OF CALDER
HIS PURSMAISTERIS COMPT.
xxiij day of September  being Fryday in Dounnone.
Item your boyis supper upone Fuiresday at even, being four boyis
iij s. iiij d.
– Sketches, Appendix VIII.
Sep. 24 . – ‘Sir James Lawson of Humbie, riding in Balhelvie Sands, where many other gentlemen were passing their time, sank down in a part of the sands and perished. He was found again o the morn, but his horse was never seen.’ – Cal.
– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.
In those days young girls of all classes learned to spin. In every well-ordered house there was a spinning-wheel, and early in the eighteenth century a school to teach the art was established in Glasgow. In 1728 there is a minute of council approving of a contract betwixt the magistrates and Susannah Smith, relict of the minister of Cardross, whereby “the said Susannah Smith is nominate Mistress of the public school erected in this city for teaching girls to spin flax into fine yarn fitt for making threed or cambrick, upon an encouragement of £30 sterling annually granted by the Commissioners and Trustees for improving fisheries and manufactories in Scotland.” And two years afterwards there is a payment of £60 “for spinning wheels and chack-wheels and chack-reels to the girls in the spinning school.”1
– Old Glasgow, pp.276-289.