Grand Procession of Reformers at Abbeygreen
In the early days of reform, newspapers were scarce and dear, and descriptions of demonstration in 1832 in the celebration of reform are therefore exceedingly rare. The following account of the Lesmahagow procession is at once curious, minute, simple and graphic. The procession (but for this diary of Daniel Meikle) only lived till now in recollection of the few still in life who took part in the doings of that memorable August day that stirred the parish to its utmost borders. A few notes regarding the singular old man whose story has, after a period of 52 years, been deemed worthy of publication, will be interesting.
Daniel Meikle was born in the village of Lesmahagow a hundred and one years ago. His parents being poor, he was inured, even in infancy, to a life of trial and hardship. Instead of being sent to school, stern necessity forced his parents to send him out to herd cattle, and do other things to eke out their scanty income. At the age of ten years he was put upon the loom, and for nearly sixty years he remained at this ill-paid employment, bringing up his own family respectability by it, and retiring from it only when old age and dimness of sight obliged him to do so. In personal appearance he was rugged and uncouth. He was short in stature, rough in features, his clothes of the meanest description, consisting generally of a napless hat, ragged coat,vest and trousers, with "bauchles" always on his feet. For a few coppers he would run errands or carry coals, or do anything else for which he was fit. Seldom did he speak to any, kept no company, but quietly and earnestly and independently fought the battle of life. All looked on Daniel with kindly pity, and knew him only as a harmless, plodding, careworn, and poverty-stricken old man, with an inordinate desire for "queer fardins and pennies." It is currently reported that for a farthing of a particular coinage he performed the feat of trundling a wheelbarrow to Sanquhar and back.
About a third of a century ago Daniel was gathered to his fathers in the "auld kirkyaird," and the mysterious "kist" that for years he had kept locked and guarded with a sacred care was opened. Its hidden treasures were revealed, and people gazed upon them with ever deepening interest and wondered -- realizing the fact that a rare genius born, though held down by circumstances, had passed away. His collection of ancient and modern coins was large and valuable to the numismatologist, containing rare specimens. Of coins he had seen but had been unable to acquire there were very many sketches, along with an extraordinary accumulation of drawings of the most varied description. All of them were executed with pen and ink, and many of them coloured. Accompanying these which were partly in loose sheets and partly bound up into volumes were memoranda of personal experiences, local notes, both brief and -- (as in the case of the 1832 demonstration) pretty lengthy -- quotations from Latin authors, poetry, inscriptions, epitaphs, etc. Of his poetry, a competent judge has said: "It is rich and racy, full of fine thoughts, and some of them beautifully expressed." Had Daniel Meikle received a substantial education, or even a measure of education that, thanks to the Education Act, every child in broad Scotland, rich or poor, is entitled to get, it is impossible to conceive how brilliant his future might have become when we consider what he did do in his eager search for knowledge, though held down by the life-long crushing bondage of poverty and the great disadvantage of a meagre education. In concluding these observations it may be remarked that of those mentioned by name by Daniel Meikle in his account of this procession very few probably not over a half a dozen still survive.
"The English, Scotch, and Irish Reform Bills are passed and sanctioned when I begin to write this. I can hardly give an account of what I saw. Great preparations were made for it. Many meetings were held before it came about; flags and bands of music; men going through the parish taking up the names of all who were going to join in the procession. A meeting took place on Black Hill top, near Stonebyres, about a flag for Stonebyres quarter and Dillarburn. Some of our flags were sent to Douglas -- not to Thomas Scott, who refused to paint them -- but to a new painter who came there last Martinmas, who painted Poniel flag and several others.
"Great preparation were made in Abbeygreen. Wonderful arches were erected between George Tudhope's house and the Society, or the "Store" as it is called. There were three arches of iron fixed on four pillars or supports of wood, each pillar double wound about with small hazels. Thereon were wrapped green branches, filled from head to foot with red roses and other flowers. Great baskets of fine flowers were brought the night before from Mr. Wilson's, Kerse, Auchtyfardle, Stonebyres, &c to adorn them. Every arch was three or four times double with iron, crossed backward and forward, to hold roses and other flowers. The middle arch was the highest. A thing was on each arch on the top, like a bird's cage, to hold flowers, flags,thistles, &c. On the two midmost arches were two light-blue flags, narrow ones, having on the middle of each "Reform for Scotland." Between the flags near the tops of the arches was a light-blue cloth with two yellow hands clasped. Below the flags was a light-red cloth having "Union" on it. On the top of each arch were great bunches of thistles, &c.
"I wrote this the day after. They are standing yet, and are said to be left standing till next Sabbath to let our ministers pass through them. (Note- They were taken down the day after St. James Fair, having stood eight or nine days. There are stone arches, or stone pillars and cast metal arches, to be made with John Knox and Earl Grey on them.) The arches were erected by John Millar, wright, and his men. The like, it is said was never seen in Abbeygreen or Lesmahagow. Mr. Greenshields, of Kerse, came up to see them, and he was so well pleased with them that he said they were a great outset to the town, and he would erect stone arches there after the procession was over. Auchtyfardle ladies and he came to see them the night before. The morning of the procession John Millar was at work at them at four in the morning. Edgar Charteris, our neighbour -- Mr. Wilson's servant man -- brought a great backful of thistles the night before on a stick. The whole town -- Newton and Turfholm, Shuttlerow and Milton -- every window and every door were adorned with branches and flowers most beautifully. Jas. Lawrie's doorhead had an arch of red roses, and Alex. M'Kay's the same, Jas. Brown, merchant, the same -- and Wm. Frame, Stuffer, had his window the same arch; also, he carried in the procession the crown of Great Britain of roses, the crown made by himself. The like of such adorning of doors and windows was never seen before in this place on any rejoicing or king's birthday since the remembrance of man. There were no bells rung this day, nor was one glass of whisky drunk on the street.
"The Reformers began to collect on the street about eleven o'clock. One came after another. It is said there were five bands of music, viz.: Old Lanark, New Lanark, Douglas, Dalserf, and Trows bands. Boghead of Blackwood bands were not there. The factor would not let them. There were the prettiest flags I ever saw in my life -- said to be twenty-two of them. Our three societies' flags were, among them, viz.: the weavers', the masons' two flags, and our farmers'. Jas. Gemmel, weaver, in Shuttlerow, was standard-bearer of our weavers', and James Hamilton, town officer, of our masons'. Our Abbeygreen flag, done in the Mason's Lodge by Douglas painters, had on one side of it, in an oval, our old kirk and steeple, below it the words "Founded by King David I., 1141." On the other side, also in an oval in the middle, were the thistle, rose, and shamrock, and around them, "Britons never, never shall be slaves." It was a light red flag with yellow fringes. John Millar, wright, and young William Gibb, tailor, came to me a few days before and got away the plan of Abbeygreen, Old Kirk and Steeple out of my brother William's drawing-book, which I had, and they kept it two days. When he took it away he promised to pay me; I have got nothing yet when I write this. This procession was on Thursday. I was at Old Lanark and New Lanark two days before. At night, before I came home, the two Douglas painters from our Masons' Lodge called with William Brown, wheel wright, with them. The painters, who were wonderfully desirous, left word with my wife (this was on Tuesday night) that if I would come and help them paint tomorrow they would pay me, for they would be in a great strait to get the flags ready. All that my family could say, I would not go. I was to give them an answer when I came home. One of the painters told me he came from Dumfries, and had served his apprenticeship for a painter seven years in Edinburgh. I went to the old carrier's house and told the oldest one I could not come, that I had something to do. He said he would pay me. I said I knew that. The two painters were down that afternoon before I came home at Captain Mosman, Auchtyfardle, and took a plan of Auchtyfardle House to put on a flag for the procession. The captain is a great reformer. The captain gave the painters eighteen shillings for painting the flag. At Craighead, John Thomson told me they only got five shillings. Thomas Thomson told me the truth he gave the painters eleven shillings. His brother John is wrong. Abbeygreen flag belongs to William Gibb, tailor. The pole is dark blue and is eighteen feet long. The old kirk and steeple were not painted as they were in my plan: they made wrong doors and missed some slits in the steeple, also the holy pot which stood on the chimney-head of Stonebyres aisle. They placed the briar bush upon the north side of the steeple, whereas it grew on the south corner of it. The night before the procession I went up to Robert Lang the merchant's. One of the painters, the oldest, was there. He quarrelled me for not going to help them. He said he was the less obliged to me for it. He took me by the coat before the door to go with him and he would give me a bottle of porter, and I was to help him to letter. I would not go. I went a little way and turned and said I could not win. It was said John Millar would get from the committee one guinea for my plan of the kirk and steeple, a half-guinea for the arches plan, and one pound six and sixpence for the arches, and all his wood back to him again.
"I return to the procession. After they were all gathered together and put in order they paraded a little after one o'clock. Auld John Cameron, smith in Yondertown, Lesmahagow, with a sword and Highland dress, was standard-bearer of Scorrieholm's flag. It is said his sword (set in diamonds) and his dress cost twenty guineas. Some said Irvine Dent, farmer in Brakenridge, was there with a sword which had been at Bothwell Bridge. The procession went first down to Captain Mosman's, Auchtyfardle. The flag with Earl Grey on it went foremost. I stood at our house, and could not number them. When they were near Milton, the other end was at Mrs Brown, the widow's. It was a beautiful sight. A very dark, dull day it was, with very little sun, and inclining to be wet. They went down by Mr. Wilson's, by the gardener's house, and down by Mr. Mosman's bridge. An arch of rowan-tree, fixed with stone, was placed in the middle of the bridge. There was a wonderful multitude of spectators, both men and women, a great many carrying branches and flowers of many kinds. Most of the reformers had rose, sweet-williams, &c., and light blue and buff ribbons around the crowns of their hats; also, the same kinds of ribbons in the button-holes of their coats. Grand reform medals hung by light-blue ribbons on the breasts, and they had red sashes and red and white aprons. My brother John and his two sons William and John, and my brother James and his son William, were all in procession.
"After they passed along the bridge the people spread very broad below Auchtyfardle. A great many people were there awaiting the procession. It formed into a large circle around the great green park before the house, the bands all playing. Dr. Frame, James Lawrie, and Captain Stewart all walked together. The processionists all went three men in rank. It was said for certain there was 1324 reformers in the procession. A man marked them as they went along. After the circle was formed, the flag Earl Grey was on went to Captain Mosman's main door, and was there a long time. The rail of the main door was richly adorned with red roses, sweet williams, lilacs, and many other flowers. There were arches of branches, and between them, on orange of buff, "Welcome Reformers." I adorned my hat with flowers. I also carried a rowantree branch in my hand that I broke off a tree near Mr. Mosman's bridge. Every window in Auchtyfardle House was filled with branches and flowers. The house was whitewashed a little before, which made it very beautiful. A little barrel of whisky (some said 13 gallons), pitchers, trays, and glasses, were standing on a little table beside the main door.
"Mr. White of Neuk came before the said door, Captain Mosman received him. Also Mr. Wilson, our minister, went in. In a little his gardener and James Allan in Eastwood carried out a table and chair among the people. Then Captain Mosman came out and stepped on a chair and mounted it. Among the first words he spoke he mentioned his late honourable father. He told them he was an old soldier, and discoursed a little about reform. He thanked them for coming to his house, and said the step they had taken about reform would lead them to glory. The drums beat at every two or three sentences. He ordered the glasses to be given to them. It was said there were as many spectators as reformers. After Captain Mosman had done, Mr. Maxwell mounted the chair and spoke about reform as before. The drums beat, as before, at the sentences. After him, Stonebyres mounted and spoke a long time, explaining the good this would do the country by taking off the taxes. The drums beat, as before, at the sentences. After him, Captain Stewart mounted it and spoke a little. The drums beat, as before, at the sentences. After him spoke another I did not know. At all their sentences above spoken the drums beat and three cheers were given, waving their hats around their heads. A little before this there was a skiff of a shower. I think the procession would be at Auchtyfardle an hour and a half or more: I heard a man say that looked his watch. I got a glass of whisky from the gardener, Robert Greenshields. Geo. Walker in Kirkmuirhill, an old soldier, kept back the spectators and ranked them. The spectators were all well dressed as if going to church.
"The procession then left Auchtyfardle. A beautiful sight it was in the park before the house. They went up by the porch. Mr. Mosman and the other gentlemen who were there gave them cheers, and the procession returned the same to them. They went up by Mount Holy, through by Eastwood and Balgray, and down by Bankhead to Abbeygreen. Great numbers of people were by the wayside. Balgray house and Bankhead house were adorned with branches and flowers. Coming down the new road in the wood, and near the foot of it, some of the reformers cried, "There is an arch." I looked (I had been in the front of them all the way from Auchtyfardle) and saw an arch of red roses on a string high up across the road from one tree to another. They went down Turfholm and up to John Weir's door, Newtown, where they turned. We heard before they were going up to Gavin Hamilton, the road surveyor's, but they did not. They went down the Newtown and paraded through the Alley, round about.
"Then they went to their dinner -- I suppose to every public house in the town. Some said Rob Lang had none (Rob made eight pounds off drink). Some went to Mrs Donaldson, of Netherhouse; twenty gentlemen dined in Milton Inn.
"I observed when the procession came down the wood road none of Mr. M'kardy's house was seen looking to it; they are against it. And Mr. White of Neuk is against them for it. The procession came in ten minutes before five.
"I may now give a short account of the flags and other curiosities in this grand procession.
"Captain Mosman's flag -- John Allan, Eastwood standard-bearer (some said Hugh Thomson's, miller in Craighead, and Charles Young, officer). It had a light blue ground. In the middle the front of Auchtyfardle house, white, in an oval circle. Around it, in yellow chrome letters, "May unanimity, harmony, and liberty ever reign amongst us." On the other side, in an oval circle, a great dark oak tree, and around it in yellow letters, "Hoping better times await us." Yellow tassels and fringes.
"Poniel flag; a white ground. A large Scotch thistle on one side, with a great many lines above and below. On the other side, a hand from a cloud reaching down, balances, Earl Grey, &c., and a great number of lines above and below him. The lines were striped like the American flag.
"Another light blue flag -- all gold leaf. A large star in the middle, and around it, "Hail the Dawn of Liberty." Other side, a Scotch thistle, with the motto, "Long looked for comes at last. Abbeygreen flag. Old kirk and steeple. Below them, "Founded by King David I. 1141." On the other side, the thistle, rose, and shamrock -- both side in ovals -- below is "The people rejoice."
"Stonebyres Quarter and Dillarburn flag -- old James Young, smith, officer. A light blue ground. On one side, a tree, with above it "Liberty unfettered," and below, "Cobbett triumphant." On the other hand holding up a thing like a brander, all yellow gold leaf and red spokes up and down like a chimney. The motto I forget.
"I cannot mind the half of them. One with Britannia sitting, a man on each side of her. The mottoes I forget. A light blue one, all inscriptions on both sides. Drumclog flag -- a lead ground, a white cross at one corner. On it "For Lesmahagow." Another flag bore yellow Scotch thistle in the middle and a star. The mottoes I forget. The flag Earl Grey was on, half up, bareheaded, looking down to a scroll in his hand; flowers around him. Motto, "Earl Grey, the Hero of Reform." This flag belonged to Tenpoundland, and was painted by Johnston, Braidwood. Another flag, with the motto, "Precious Liberty. Another flag, bearing a woman standing in full length holding a dram-glass in her hand. Motto I forget. James Stodhart's colliers had a grand flag, with picks, hammers, shovels, Scotch thistles, and engines on it. The motto I forget.
"One reformer carried a ship. Another, a house and a living kitten beside; motto, "A good cat keeps a clean house." Another, a great bunch of flowers, forked in three or four, as large as a man. Arthur Kirk had the greatest curiosity it was thought. It was a thing as large as a round table. It went by steam. A wheel ran. You saw the reek. A thing like a long white iron jug ran round about it like a mouse. Another carrying a large thing of red colour, very thick; motto: "The rat are fled." Arthur Kirk and Matthew Mitchell made it. These are all I can mind of.
With thanks to the Lesmahagow Parish Historical Association for a copy
of the article