The History of Leith

July 29, 2004

Riding the Stang

Despite all the improvements in Policing and Court Procedures etc crime does seem to be on the increase. So how did our forebears deal with rogues in yesteryear? There was one method very common in Leith and Restalrig which in many histories is missed out for one reason or another.

This was called “Riding the Stang” the obnoxious person was forcibly placed astride of a rough sapling and this being elevated on the shoulders of a couple of large individuals the popularly convicted was mercilessly jolted over a prescribed distance and any attempt to get of was prevented by the crowd This was usually inflicted for the mistreatment of wives by their husbands.

To take an example in the 18th century there lived a good natured gardener called Joseph Scott who lived with his wife in a small cottage on the road between Leith and Restalrig. When sober he would boast about his wife and say how wonderful she was etc, etc. However as soon as he was drunk his character completely changed and on many occasions attacked his wife. Until it got so bad that while attacking his wife another woman tried to stop it and was struck. That was the last straw and a meeting was called by the villagers of Restalrig and it was decided that he should “Ride the Strang”. The following morning the decision was put into effect and Gardiner Scott was seized on the way to work and forced onto the rough branch of a tree and jolted around the village and graveyard. It was at this point things took a serious turn, the point being that Scott was hardly sober, and it was realised that Scott was an expert swimmer and it was suggested that he could be thrown into Lochend Loch which they did and to everyone’s surprise he sank to the bottom and was drowned. It had been a complete accident and nothing further happened. However in future a ducking in the Loch never took place again as mothers told daughters for many years after that they should keep to only the “Stang” if they wished to preserve their right to this Scottish specimen of Lynch Law.

There is a strange document reproduced below which is held in the Scottish Archives and dates from 1734.

“Unto the much honoured the Bailie of the Regality of Huntly the humble complaint and Representation of the under subscribers upon Mr John Fraser Husband to Anne Johnston in Huntly.

Humbly Shewing

That upon the eleventh of January instant the said Mr John Fraser did under the cloud of night most inhimanly and barbarously beat and bruise Anne Johnston his said spouse to the effusion of her blood and great hazard and peril of her life. And not only but it is common practice as can be attested by several of the neighbourhood who have divers and sundry times risen from their bed at midnight and has resecued her out of his merciless hands or she would have been miserably butchered by him. And seeing your petitioners are informed that the said Fraser has given in ane information to your Lordship against some of our good neighbours who upon Saturday last being the twelth instant went to his house alleading they would cause him to ride the “Strang” (use and wont in such cases) but to our certain knowledge with no other design than to frighten and deter him from his villainous and cruel usage of his said spouse in all time coming.

May it please your Lordships to take this our more than most lamentable case into your most serious consideration by granting a toleration to the the Strang which has not only ever been practicable in this place but in most parts of this Kingdom being we know of no act of Parliament to the contrary. Or else if your Lordships can fall on a more prudent method we most humbly beg your opinion for preventing more fatal consequences. Otherwise upon the least disobligment given we must expect to fall victims to our husbands displeasure from which Libera nos Domine.”

This is followed by list of ladies signatures however two only put their initials as they must have had a fear of their “husbands displeasure”.

Like many old traditions this gradually died out and even in the early years of the 19th century was no longer practiced.

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