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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Culture and Leisure


By John R Burnett

The years after the Reformation and particularly in the 17th century, once presbyterianism was firmly established, brought an end to the celebration of Holy Days or superstitious days which had no biblical authority. Penitential fast days in preparation for communion replaced some of them. But, judging from denunciations of 'impiety and profaneness' from the pulpits, popular tendencies towards idleness and Sabbath breaking persisted, despite the supervision of 'bumbaillies' patrolling the streets. Christmas or Yule was abolished as particularly 'popish'. Nonetheless some remnants of older patterns remained. Episcopalians tended to cling to Christmas, while Presbyterians celebrated New Year. The tradition of giving alms or handsels around the Christmas period continued with the celebration of Handsel Monday on the first Monday after New Year. It was a day of revelry and drunkenness. A Shrove Tuesday football game seemed to have survived into the second half of the 17th century.

For most people there was not a clear dividing line between work and leisure. Work was what was necessary to keep body and soul together, leisure was the time left over. So handloom weavers and other craftsmen often worked for very long hours for four or five days and then had three or four days off or they might take time off during the day. By the middle of the 18th century there was pressure from merchants and employers to bring a more disciplined approach to work and to make a sharper distinction between what was work time and what was leisure time.

There were no formal holidays, but most would try to take at least one day at the Fair held on the Green in early July. Fair Saturday was the popular day when several dozen stalls would sell food and drink, while pipers, fiddlers and singers entertained. By the middle of the 18th century, jugglers and tight-rope walkers jostled with menageries and penny theatres. Weddings and funerals were other occasions which could degenerate into days of merry-making and drinking.

For a long time the aristocracy had both town houses and country houses, but it was the 18th century before people of the middle ranks of society began to take a holiday in the countryside. The drinking of goat's whey, the pungent taste of which was supposed to increase the strength of the consumer, attracted a few to remote places where goats were kept. But by the mid-18th century there was a vogue for mineral waters - inland spas or watering places developed where visitors could drink the often sulphurous water for the good of their health. Moffat became a popular spa with the Glasgow elite. By the 1770s an enthusiasm for sea-bathing was developing and better-off families were beginning their first trips 'doon the watter'.

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