The History of Leith

November 14, 2011

The Bellman

31 March 1681.—The session having considered a petition of Thomas Neilson, hand bellman that he might enjoy the whole benefit he receives of the bell ordain ye sd Thomas to pay ye relict of James Pringle his predecessor in office the third part of all the money he receives for ringing ye said bell to burials.
(Note.—When a parishioner died, the beadle, or hand bellman, went round the town to proclaim the death. The formula was as follows : ” Brothers and ” sisters, I let you to wit that there is a brother ” departed this life at the pleasure of Almighty God. ” They called him . . . ; he lived at … All ” brothers and sisters are expected to attend his ” funeral, which is to take place on . . . ” A funeral was an event of public interest, generally attended with drinking and riotous behaviour. This was due partly to custom and partly to the many gloomy superstitions which lingered amongst the people, and drove them to indulge in excesses. Thus there was a superstition that the spirit of the last person interred watched the churchyard until the next funeral. It may be that the custom, like the ringing of church bells, originated in the superstition, that the sound of bells scared away evil spirits. It may be added that the post of town bellman was abolished about 1880. The last bellman was Willie Flucker, whose intimations the children used to greet with a chorus of amens.)

source-South Leith Records

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