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Mr. Weir, as the owner of the substantial estate of Stonebyers in Lesmahagow, you are one of Lanarkshire's most influential men.
Along with others of your class you were appointed a Justice of the Peace. Part of your
original mandate was to weaken the private jurisdictions of the old
boys' club -- the heritable sheriffs, lords of regalities, barons of baronies and
bailies of Royal Burghs. Even though many of these barons and bailies served with you as
Justices, as a body you did have a broader perspective on local government. It was
important to regulate the supply and price of food to ensure some level of fairness so
that all could eat.
You and the Justices attempted to regulate against "forestallers" who bought
up goods before they reached the official market (or "cryit
fayr") in order to resell them at higher prices. And the "regraters"
were another nasty lot -- they would buy up all the goods at the official market in order
to sell them outside the market at higher prices.
Mr. Weir, what was the background and purpose of your Act of 1709?
The Justices of the Peace for the Shire of Lanark considering the excessive pryces
to which victuall of all sorts hath been in the land
for sometyme bygone, and that it is incumbent on them, by vertue of their office, to
provide as much as in them lyes for the relieff of the poor and to prevent the dearth and
scarcity so much felt, and aprehended [feared] to be increasing, as also that by several
laues and Acts of Parliament it is provided that none hold victuall to a dearth, and that
none hold more than will sustain themselves and their meinzie / family till neu corn, and
that none hold victuall in girnalls, save for their own use... the poor people are brought
to great wants and straits... And because of the grosse abuses committed by meall men,
couppers and cariers of victuall, through lodging of great quantities thereof into their
What did your Act require?
That all owners of wheat, bear, pease and oats must thresh by June 20 and that no
one may keep more than for their own use, either in barns, barn yards, girnals or
magizins. And that they shall sell the surplus grain in small and reasonable quantities
not exceeding a bol to any one person in the week as might best supply the necessities of
the country. And that any meal maker or person who buys up corns before it comes to the
public market at the respective burghs of royalty, regalitys or baronys shall be punished
Was your Act effective in keeping food prices down?
That the forsaid act hath not been observed and many persons have contraveened the
same, and that the constables have not given due obedience to the charge thereby committed
to them, and that the excessive prices of victuall are nothing abated and seem to increase
more and more, and in a great part through the forstaling of victuall and keeping of the
same up to a dearth.(1)
So, Mr. Weir, the Justices reiterated the Act in 1710 and hoped that the constables
would enforce it. Alas, human nature just did not cooperate and the "abuses"
continued -- convictions under the Act were rare.
(1) Scottish History Society, The Minutes of the Justices of the Peace for Lanarkshire,
p. liii, 91-2
From The Scarboro Heights Record