County Folk Lore is a collection of stories written by Ewart Simpkins John in 1914, and is released for free on The book explores the different uses of the social sciences, and we have selected the specific chapters that highlights life, old sayings and superstitions from around the Fife area and specifically in Lochgelly.

The following account of old-time marriage customs among the mining folk was taken down in 1903 from the description of Mrs. H., of Auchterderran, aged seventy-five. She had been born, brought up, and had lived all her life, in one hamlet in the parish, and had never been further than ten miles away from it.

When the ” coortin’ ” had been successfully accomplished, the custom was to celebrate ” the Contrack night.” This was the night that ” the cries ” had been given in (i.e. the notification to the minister to proclaim the banns of marriage) and a convivial meeting was held in the house of the bride.

The food was plain (perhaps ” dried fish and tatties “), and there was much innocent merriment ; one outstanding part of the programme being the ” feet-washing,” of the bridegroom. This performance varied in severity from plain water and soap to a mixture of black lead, treacle, etc., and the victim always struggled against the attentions of the operators. In spite of his efforts at self-defence the process was always very thoroughly carried out. As regards the ” cries,” the proper thing was to be ” cried ” three Sundays running, for which the fee was 55. But if you hurried matters up, and were cried twice, you had to pay 75. 6d., while if your haste was more extreme and you were only cried once, you were mulcted in the sum of los. 6d.

The marriage usually took place in church. On the marriage day the bridegroom and bride with best-man and bridesmaids set out in procession for the Kirk, the bride and groom sometimes being ” bowered,” i.e. having an arch of green boughs held over their heads. All the couples went ” traivhn’ linkit ” (walking arm in arm) sometimes to the number of thirty-two couples, while guns and pistols were fired on the inarch, and all sorts of noise and joking kept up. In the parish of Auchterderran it was the rule (owing to damage having been done on one occasion to the sacred edifice), that all this had to cease when the procession came in sight of the kirk at the top of Bowhill Brae, about two hundred yards from the building. Money was dispensed by the bridegroom, which was called the ” ba’ siller.” All this is done away with now, with the exception of the ba’ siller, which is always looked for.

On returning home, the bride had a cake of shortbread broken over her head while crossing the threshold. This is still sometimes done. In the evening a dance would be held and ” the green garters ” (which had been knitted in anticipation by the best maid) were pinned surreptitiously on to the clothing of the elder unmarried brother or sister of the bride. When discovered they were removed and tied round the left arm and worn for the rest of the evening. The green garters are still in evidence. The unmarried women present would be told to rub against the bride ” for luck’ as that would ensure their own early marriage. The proceedings terminated with the ” beddin’ o’ the bride.”

When the bride got into bed her left leg stocking was taken off and she had to throw it over her shoulder, when it was fought for by those in the room, the one who secured it being held as safe to be married next.

  1. The bride had to sit up in bed until the bridegroom came and ” laid her doon.”
  2. Sometimes the roughest of horseplay went on. In one case mentioned by an old resident in the parish, practically ” a’ the company ” got on to the bed, which broke and fell on the ground.

” The Kirkin’ ” took place the following Sunday, when three couples sat in one seat ; viz. the bride and bridegroom, the best maid and best man, and ” anithcr lad and his lass.”

On the first appearance of the newly-married man at his work he had to ” pay aff ” or ” stand his hand,” (stand treat). Failing this he was rubbed all over with dust and grime. This was called ” creel in.”

This ” creelin’ ” is a very attenuated survival of the custom mentioned by Allan Ramsay in his second supplemental canto to ” Christ’s Kirk on the Green,” where the day after the marriage the bridegroom has ” for merriment, a creel or basket bound, full of stones, upon his back ; and, if he has acted a manly part, his young wife with all imaginable speed cuts the cords, and relieves him of his burden.”

County Folk Lore VII

Author: Ewart Simpkins John
Publisher: Sidgwick And Jackson Limited
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