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to it in the street, to stay the progress of the enemy, while from the windows they discharged such miscellaneous missiles as came to their hands. In connection with the English invasions in the opening of Mary's reign it is recorded that Jedburgh possessed six of these bastel-houses, while the village of Lessuden or St Boswells had no fewer than sixteen.45
Continuing our walk through the town, we should not fail to mark two prominent objects to be found in every burgh-the town cross and the tron or weighing beam — the one the symbol of the spiritual, the other of the material life of the inhabitants. Coæval with the birth of the community, the cross had originally a significance which had gradually passed away through the increasing urgency of secular interests. Planted in the midst of the nascent town or village, it announced that here was a sanctuary which it would be sacrilege to profanea necessary consecration in a time when every man's hand was against his fellow. Long before the Reformation, however, the town cross had lost its sacrosanct character, and it only retained its importance as being the central spot around which the community had grown up. Its central position made it a favourite lounging-place of idlers, and a desirable site for booths, which in some burghs, as in Edinburgh, were actually permitted by the civic authorities. The town cross had, in fact, come to be appropriated to wholly
The wool merchant and clothmaker made use of it as a convenient framework on which their materials might dry in the sun ; there, as the spot most exposed to the general gaze, the public offender was stuck with his paper crown; there the fugitive criminal was publicly put to the horn, and from its steps were proclaimed the laws of the burgh and of the kingdom.
If the cross and the churchyard were the haunts of the idlers of the town, the weigh-house, containing the tron or great beam, with all the other necessary weights and measures, was the spot where its business was concentrated. The privilege of having a tron went with the privilege of holding a market which the town possessed either by special royal grant or from immemorial usage. The position of the tron was everywhere the same—in the central market-place, under the shadow of the principal church which hence received the name with which we are familiar. To the tron were brought to be weighed and measured not only home commodities, but all merchandise from foreign countries. No cargo arriving in Leith, for example, could be disposed of before it was scrutinised and appraised at the weigh-house of Edinburgh. This public scrutiny and appraisal served a double purpose, it protected the lieges from knavish traders and merchants—a very necessary precaution, if the records of the various burghs are to be trusted. But it was in the other purpose which the
tron served that lay the reason for its existence. The object of weighing and testing all the commodities that entered the town was the exaction of customs which went to the common good and thence to the pocket of the superior-king, or baron or ecclesiastic—from whom the community held its territory and derived its privileges. Considering the importance of this function of the tron, it is curious to find an arrangement which at one time or other appears to have existed in all the Scottish burghs. For a fixed sum the tron customs were let to private persons who took over from the burgh the whole business of levying them. But, as will afterwards be seen, the letting of the various sources of the town revenue was the general practice of the municipal authorities.
As the weigh-house was the centre of the trade and commerce of the town, so the Tolbooth was the centre of its civic business. Tolbooths, as has already been said, were now to be found in all the more important Scottish burghs, and, like the churches which often supplied their place in the Middle Ages, they were put to curiously miscellaneous uses.
Thus, in Peebles, for lack of other accommodation, the Tolbooth served on occasion for the general school-house of the town.46 Everywhere, also, the Tolbooth was at once the common prison and the seat of the various courts of justice. Clackmannan did not possess a Tolbooth in the time of Mary, and the result was that the sheriff had to board the delinquents in his own house and try them in the market-place.“ In connection with the locking-up of prisoners, a custom generally prevailed, as, for example, at Paisley and Stirling, which showed a touching confidence in human nature. The offending person was presented with the key of the Tolbooth and requested to lock the door upon himself.48 Needless to say,
, as the world grew older, this confiding spirit was found to be subject to abuse. Yet as late as 1618 we find this entry in the Records of Stirling : “Abrogates and annuls that old custom which has been used in this burgh anent the warding of freemen and others in their ward within the Tolbooth thereof in open and free ward ; the doors being open upon them.” 49 In Edinburgh an importance belonged to the Tolbooth which it could not have elsewhere. Besides being the common prison and council-house, it was the seat of the Supreme Courts of Justice, and the occasional meeting-place of the Privy Council, of the Parliament, and even of the General Assembly of the Reformed Church. As in the case of all public edifices, there was permanent trouble in maintaining the Tolbooths in such a condition that they could be inhabited with safety. In connection with all the burghs we have the same story; now it is the steeple that is in disrepair, now the clock that adorned it, now the very frame of the whole structure. To meet the expenses of maintaining
their Tolbooths the burghs generally had recourse to the same device. Booths were erected under it and let to the highest bidder, and as the situation was a specially advantageous one for doing a good business, there was no lack of competition on the part of the rival traders.
Up to this point we have kept only to the main street of the town. But supposing it possessed only one main street, there would certainly radiate from it a variety of thoroughfares of varying spaciousness, and all possessing characteristics of their own. If we passed through the wider of these, we should discover that behind the houses in the main street there stood a succession of other houses, mostly with their gable ends towards the pathway, and with the invariable “fore-stair" as a means of access to them. Behind most of these houses, also, was the yard or garden, where were found the universal “cale” or cabbage, occasionally a little corn, beeskeps, and even a solitary tree. All these yards were surrounded with dykes, usually in the last stage of dilapidation, as the records constantly inform usthe head-dyke of the outmost house forming, as we have seen, part of the defences of the town.
Our progress through the wider thoroughfare would be a comparatively simple matter, but it was otherwise with the vennels or closes. From the earliest period in the history of the burghs, the vennels had been the torment of the municipal authorities. One of the queries to be put at the Chamberlain Ayres was