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and vacant grounds, many of them nigh adjoining to the high-streets, replenished with much uncleanness and filth, with pits, cellars, and vaults lying open and uncovered, to the great peril and danger of the inhabitants and other the King's subjects passing by the same; and some houses be very weak and feeble, ready to fall down, and therefore dangerous to pass by, to the great decay and hindrance of the said boroughs and towns. From other statutes of the same king we gather that in nearly a hundred English towns many houses were in ruins, the streets dangerous for traffic, and that in many, the vacant spaces were repositories of filth.9
As continental cities were assuredly not in more comely condition than those of England, it is evident that we must not make too much of the squalor and disrepair of the Scottish burghs in the time of Mary.
Among the more imposing buildings that would attract our attention in our imaginary stroll through any Scottish town, would be the houses of the different religious orders, the chapels dedicated to particular saints, and above all the parish church with its place of burial. We should have no difficulty in making our way into the churchyard, as in all probability the gate would be dismantled, and in any case, the enclosing wall, if there was one, would present a feeble obstacle, as apparently in every town it was in a state of chronic disrepair.30 Both before and after the Reformation the church
yard was a place of multitudinous resort, and little regard was paid to it as hallowed ground. the common “howff” (haunt), of all idle persons about the town—beggars especially making it their favourite quarters. The churches and churchyards, the Earl of Haddington told James VI., had before that king's beneficent reign been more frequented “for malice and mischief than for God's service, " 31 and history fully bears out his testimony. Besides being the haunt of loafers, the churchyard was the common grazing-ground of the community. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and swine picked up their living among the tombs. The community was fully aware of the unseemliness of this desecration, and frequent burghal regulations were made to check it. To lessen the number of grazing creatures and at the same time to put something in the town purse, the churchyard pasture was let to the highest biddera proceeding not unknown in our own day.32 Or, again, a stringent law would be passed empowering the bailies to escheat the offending animal to the common good. But the churchyard was not only the haunt of loungers and the grazing-ground of bestial: it was likewise a convenient place into which superabundant refuse could readily be shot. In 1606, considerably later, therefore, than our period, this singular request was preferred to the magistrates of Aberdeen. One Alexander Davidson, a timber merchant, petitioned that he might be licensed to build a ship in the kirkyard of the Trinity Friars on the ground that it was "the maist meit and convenient place for bigging of the said bark," as it was "filthilie abusit be middingis." “Whairanent,” we further read, “the provost, baillies and counsall advysing, they fund the desire thairof verie reasonable, and grantit and gave license to the said Alex". Davidson to big his schip in the pairt forsaid,” and to give effect to the licence they ordered all such as had middens in the prospective ship-yard to have them removed within the space of eight days.33
The parish church was not only the centre of the religious life of the town : it was in a considerable degree the centre of its social, civic and political life as well. In its steeple (occasionally adorned with a dovecot), the most precious possessions of the community might be stored, and from its commanding elevation watch was nightly kept for the frequent fires that were the terror of the town.
Since the middle of the fifteenth century it was likewise adorned with the town “horologe"or clock, for by that period clocks had found their way into Scotland, though it was at a much later date that native skill was equal to manufacturing or even repairing them. In 1535 the Tolbooth clock of Aberdeen was sent to Flanders to be put in order -the instructions being that if it were beyond mending, another should be made at the expense of the town.34 At a later date (1595) in the same town we find a gunmaker employed in regulating the two public clocks—on the Tolbooth and the parish church,35 and still later (1599) it is recorded that a plumber had actually constructed an “orloge” for the common clerk's chamber. 36
In the Middle Ages, as is well known, the parish church was the common meeting-place for the transaction of business, public and private. There the Corporation met to discuss the affairs of the town, and merchants and traders to arrange and conclude their bargains. In Scotland, however, by the reign of Mary, a Tolbooth, or town-hall, had been erected in most of the more important burghs, and such desecration was no longer necessary. 37 Yet it was long before the custom of the Middle Ages, which had sanctioned the secular use of sacred places, fell into desuetude either in England or Scotland. In England it was Archbishop Laud who first succeeded in preserving the churches from miscellaneous uses. In Scotland, though the churches ceased to be the town-halls, the intrusion of secular business in connection with divine service long persisted in spite of the better sense of the nation. To take but one example: it long continued the custom for public messengers and other officials to announce their commissions at the church doors on Sundays when service was proceeding. The result, as may be imagined, was somewhat discomposing both to the preacher and his congregation. When the officials appeared, every worshipper supposed that he might have a special
interest in the intimation about to be made, and rushed out to hear it. In 1631 the Privy Council awoke to a sense that the custom was reprehensible, and declared that it was “to the great offence of God, scandal of the Kirk, and contempt of all good order.” In spite of this pious denunciation, however, the ordinance issued for the suppression of the bad custom left a fairly wide entrance for the civil magistrate. By the ordinance it was forbidden “to execute civil letters or precepts of whatsomever nature or qualitie upon ane Sabbath day except only warnings for removing and redemption of landlords, inhibition of teinds, warnings to compeir before the Commissioners for the surrenders and teinds and charges of horning which by the warrant thereof are ordained to be executed at the parish kirk. "38
But divine service might be more rudely interrupted than by the untimely appearance of king's messengers and other functionaries. According to the remark of the Earl of Haddington just quoted, churches were more frequented for malice and mischief than for God's service. And, in point of fact, like the “crown of the causeway,” the assembling in the churches created frequent occasions for the picking of quarrels on the part of worshippers who happened to be at feud. The parties might jostle each other in the church doorway; they might be dissatisfied with the precedence assigned to them in the church itself; even the militant cock of a hat (for hats were worn in the sacred building)