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Robin Hood in Perth

We are apt to think that our forefathers led very dull lives, with little to do in their spare time. Examination of old records, however, shows that this was far from being the case. They enjoyed their leisure hours to the full in many different ways. An act of a national council held in Perth, in 1201, decreed that from 12 noon on Saturday till Monday should be a period of rest from labour, and kept holy. But it also came to be regarded as a period of recreation, and we are told that the most popular national games of that time were: Robin Hood, the Abbot of Unreason (the Lord of Misrule in England), football and golf. The Robin Hood game was played in the month of May; from a description of the game as played in Edinburgh, the leader of the game was a member of the Corporation chosen to represent Robin Hood; another member was Little John. On the appointed day the townsfolk assembled in a special field, and there Robin Hood’s exploits were enacted, with a good deal of
horseplay and riotous misbehaviour, it must be said.

The Abbot of Unreason was crowned during the month of May. Then his followers would dress themselves in gaudy green and yellow, hung over with gold rings, scarfs, ribbons and laces, and march through the streets to church,”their pipers piping, their drums thundering, their bells jingling, their handkerchiefs fluttering about their
heads, like madmen. . . and in this manner they go to church, though the minister is still at prayer. “As they went they extracted money from the watching throng,
treated roughly all who refused.” There is perhaps little wonder that the Abbot of Unreason and the game of Robin Hood came under the ban of forces of the law and order. In 1555 it was decreed that henceforth no one should be chosen as Robin Hood or Abbot of Unreason because of the riotous upheavals occasioned by these games.

Our forefathers in Perth, we are told, were “much addicted to football—largely because they possessed in the North and South Inches such excellent playing surfaces.” Games were generally played between the trades. The ball was a bladder dressed in leather—the object of the game being to force it through goals placed 100 yards apart. An old writer tells us “the players kick each others’ shins without the least ceremony, and some of them are overthrown at the hazard of their limbs . .
An even rougher variety of the game was played at Scone, between the bachelors and married men, on Shrove Tuesday. The players lined up at the Cross at 2 p.m., and the game lasted till sunset. The object of the married men was to force the ball three times into a small hole on the moor, and that of the single men, to dip it
into the river three times. The game was pursued with a special ferocity that gave rise to the saying: “A’s fair at the ba’ at Scone.” Golf was played on the Inches from early times with a leather ball stuffed with feathers. The Lord High Treasurer’s accounts for February 3, 1503, contain the following: “Item to the King, to play at the golf with the Earl of Bothwell, 42s.” A certain James Melville writes that when he went to St Andrews at the middle of the 15th century—”For archerie and goff I had bow, arrose, glub and bals.”

Perth Kirk Session records for November 19, 1599, names three boys found “playing at the golf on the North Inch in time of preaching, after noon on the Sabbath.” Archery, “of which the gentlemen of Perth were great masters,”
was practised from the reign of James I, in whose reign, and also in the reigns of James II, James III, and James IV, laws were passed forbidding football and golf, as they interfered with archery practice! At the south end of the South Inch was a southern mark for bowmen, and a northern mark appears to have been in front of Marshall Place, on rising ground called the “Scholars’ Knowe”. The distance between the marks was 500 fathoms. Comments an old writer: “They must have been very strong and
expert archers who could shoot an arrow between these marks.” The good people of Perth were also very fond of processions, and in July the gardeners paraded through the town, displaying all manner of garden produce.

It was the weavers’ turn in August; they marched behind an ancient flag of beautiful needlework, done by the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots. On Crispin’s Day (October 25) King Crispin and his court passed along the streets, and at Michaelmas the brewers held a torchlight procession in the evening. In December it was the turn of
the various masonic lodges. One of the most ancient of these traditional processions took place during the festival of Corpus Christi, on the first Thursday after
Whitsunday. This festival was instituted by Pope Urban IV, and during it a Corpus Christi procession passed through Perth streets. Mass bread in a silver box was carried in front, under a canopy, being followed by priests dressed in showy robes. The populace fell to their knees to adore the contents of the silver box as it passed. In addition, plays were enacted during this festival, based on Scripture stories, such as Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, etc.—”the play scenes being intermixed with grotesque scenes, and often with very witty dialogue.”

For at least 20 years after the Reformation, the lads and lasses of Perth, on the first morning in May, followed an ancient habit of making a procession with pipe and drum to the Dragon’s Hole, near the summit of Kinnoull Hill—a custom probably originating from old Druid worship, or the slaughter of a serpent in times past. In 1581 the brethren of the Kirk Session in Perth seem to have finally put an end to what they called “this heathenish practice”. The good brethren had somewhat more difficulty in suppressing the revelry that accompanied what was known as St. Obert’s procession. This was organised on the night of December 10 by the bakers in honour of their patron saint, St. Aubert. Then they marched through Perth “with torches, pipes, and drums, a figure representing the Devil, and a horse shod with men’s
shoes.” The Kirk authorities put an effective closure to “these superstitious practices” in 1588, when it was decreed that “anyone taking part in the procession (St. Obert’s) should be debarred from the Baker Incorporation and banished from the town forever!” Morrice dancing was a speciality of the glovers of Perth. It is said to have been brought to Scotland by James I after his long captivity in England. On July 8, in the year 1633, 13 Morrice dancers performed before Charles I on the Tay, on “ane flatt stage of timber” floating there, His Majesty’s chair being “set upon the wall, next the
water of Tay.”

When Queen Victoria visited Perth on September 6, 1842, Morrice dancers appeared before her, on a platform in Princes Street. The dress of the Morrice dancers was made of fawn-coloured silk, with trappings of green and red satin. Attached to the dress were 252 small bells that enabled the dancer to produce a pleasing chime
as he moved. There was horse racing on the Inches of Perth from 1613. A historian says: “It is a well authenticated fact that the affair of 1745 was concocted at Perth races !“ Perth can claim to be the cradle of cricket in Scotland. The Perth Cricket Club was formed in 1827, but cricket was first played on the North Inch 15 years earlier by the cavalry stationed in Perth Barracks.
Thus, though our forefathers may not have had the mixed benefits of television and radio, it is obvious from the record that they knew how to enjoy themselves, and were by no means lacking in entertainment.

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