Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 2


266 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. Formerly, the purses gifted to the Blue-Gowns were delivered to them at the Old Tolbooth ; from which circumstance a portion of the building was designated the “ Poor Folk‘s Purses.” In later times the whole ceremony was confined to the Canongate, the parish church of which was built about 1688. Here the Blue-Gowns heard sermon ; then assembling in the aisle, they received from the King‘s Almoner, or his deputies, the usual allowance of bread and beer, their new gowns, and purses. These, as already mentioned, were made of leather, and furnished by the King’s Glover. At no period did the Hue-Gowns muster in greater strength than during the patriarchal reign of George the Third; and although no longer required to “ tell their beads” in procession, as of yore, their assembling in the capital from all parts of the country, to receive their aumma, was a day of momentous interest to the poor old veterans. Fergusson, the laureate of “Auld Reekie,” thus alludes to their feelings on such occasions :- “ Sing, likewise, Muse ! how blue-gown bodies, Like scarecraws new ta’en down frae woodies, Come here to cast their clouted duddies, Than them what magistrate mair proud is, An’ get their pay : On King’s birthday ?” As George the Third lived to the advanced age of eighty-two, there were an unusual number of Blue-Gowns on the roll at the conclusion of his reign. At the present moment it is believed there are about thirty in existence, For the last few years no new badges have been issued ; and the annual bounty is no longer to be continued after the demise of the present recipients. One reason assigned for abolishing this ancient aristocracy of beggars is, that the original object of the privileges granted to them is superseded by the provision of Chelsea Hospital. Until the erection of this institution, no badge or gown was conferred on any one save those who had served in the army, although latterly the King’s Almoner was instructed to use his own discretion in the selection of objects of charity, Mr. C. Campbell, teacher, and formerly precentor in the Canongate Church, for many years officiated, not only at the.desk, but in distributing the alms of his Majesty to the assembled Bedesmen. For these duties he was allowed one guinea per annum,l which was regularly paid until the year 1837, when it was discontinued by Her Majesty’s Remembrancer. The late Rev. John Paton, of Lasswade, was the last Almoner, His salilry was originally two pounds, eighteen shillings, Scots (i.e. four shillings and tenpence, sterling). He was indebted for the augmentation to a son of the late Lord Chief Baron, Dundarr of Arniston, who, then a youth, and happening to be in Edinburgh on the King’s birthday 1814, he was curious to witness the ceremonial connected with the Blue-Gowns. Accompanied by his tutor, the Rev. Mr. M‘Kenzie of Lasswade, he proceeded to the Canongate Church, and with much affability lent a hand in dispensing the charity. On questioning Mr. Campbell a8 to the amount of his salary, he expressed his astonishment at the smallness of the sum, and that year, through his father, the Lord Chief Baron, procured the addition already stated.
Volume 9 Page 354
  Enlarge Enlarge  
Volume 9 Page 355
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures