The Faldonside Fast Day

This entry concerns an item of correspondence in one of Craig’s letter books that reflects contemporary life but which, unusually, was written not by Craig or his clerk but by Nathaniel Paterson (1787-1871). Paterson became the local minister in 1821 and it was he who, in 1833, wrote the entry for Galashiels in the New Statistical Account of Scotland.

Paterson was appointed to the parish of Galashiels with the patronage of John Scott of Gala. George Craig, as Scott’s factor, was involved in arranging Paterson’s presentation to the parish and Paterson remained as parish minister for twelve years before moving to Glasgow. During his time in Galashiels, he seems to have been highly regarded and he was invited back in 1844 to open the new Free Church of Galashiels following the Great Disruption in 1843 when a number of ministers left the Church of Scotland, after objecting to the control of lay patrons over church appointments, and founded the Free Church of Scotland. Paterson went on to become Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church in 1850.[1]

In relation to a range of parish matters, Paterson worked closely with Craig and this is reflected in the letter below which is concerned with the observation of a fast day. Craig was indirectly involved in this this due to his role in keeping order locally baron bailie of Galashiels. Respect for the Sabbath (known as ‘Sabbatarianism’) was strongly inculcated in Scottish Protestantism after the Reformation, enforced by local ministers and kirk session.[2]

Alongside the Sabbath, there were also fast days. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, from time to time, assigned certain days as days of ‘solemn publick prayer fasting and humiliation’. Such days were treated as Sabbath days and public business was not permitted which meant that the courts and other institutions were closed.[3]

Days of fasting were created for a variety of reasons. On 25 February 1794, it was ‘on account of war with France’.[4] This was one of the relatively rare days when a fast took place during the sitting of the Court of Session, but the judges continued to observe such fasts at least until 1832. In that year, with a fast called on 9 February in respect of ‘the pestilential disease’ (cholera) then affecting the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, the pressure of business required at least some judicial activity to continue.[5]

Like the judges, local magistrates and other bodies would ‘interpone their authority’ to such days, ensuring that they were respected. As the magistrates and deacons of the crafts of Edinburgh made clear in June 1741, ‘everyone concerned [was] to keep and observe Monday the twenty ninth instant as a day set apart for fasting humiliation and prayer within this city as they will be answerable’.[6]

In the 1820s, efforts to ensure observation of the Sabbath and holy days are likely to have been widespread. Even in urban settings, there are example of disrespect for the Sabbath drawing the ire of the local authorities, although this may reflect a more lax attitude amongst the populace than might have been tolerated in other circumstances or earlier times. In the Gorbals, in 1832, for example, children playing in the streets on the Sabbath provoked action by the local Police Board outraged at the ‘gross profanation of the Sabbath’.[7] The correspondence below relates to a holy day, rather than the Sabbath, and it is possible that the failure to observe it reflects a lack of knowledge of the significance of the day as a holy day rather than any intended lack of respect.

Paterson’s correspondent was Nicol Milne of Faldonside, an important landowner in the area. Milne was the neighbour of Sir Walter Scott who long coveted his property and thought of purchasing it more than once. Craig wrote to Sir Walter in 1825 on the matter, indicating that Milne was less keen to sell his estate than he previously had been due to the rising value of agricultural produce. Milne’s name appears quite often in Craig’s correspondence. He died in 1837, at the age of 82, and Craig was involved in the executry of his estate.

Rev. Nathaniel Paterson to Nicol Milne, Edinburgh, 14 May 1823

Dear Sir 

I am sorry to inform you that on Thursday the Fast day, previous to the holy sacrament dispensed last Sabbath, your servants at Faldonside, horses, carts, ploughs &c were all at work as on an ordinary week day. The Fast day is held as a sabbath or day of rest from labour in every parish in Scotland & is so held by order of the established Church: & the orders of the Church are uniformly supported by the laws of the land. 

On hearing of the above indecency I sent with the concurrence of Mr Craig & Mr Scott of Gala constables to stop the workers. Their authority was resisted & the work continued. Farther steps must be taken. But it seems to me, as I have no doubt that the affair was altogether unknown to you, that it would be improper to take any steps without first acquainting yourself. I add, privately, what the tho unpleasant I have no doubt you will thank me for vizt. That a report has spread that the above was done by your own order. I think it but fair to give you an opportunity of contradicting the report. 

I will be glad to hear from you by return of post. Please make my best respects to all the family. We are longing very much for your return to the Country. 

I remain &c (signed) N.P.


[1] Hall, History of Galashiels, 223.
[2] It is discussed in detail by M. Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (London, 2002), esp. 28-31.
[3] See ibid., 343.
[4] NRS, Court of Session, Books of Council and Session, CS1/18, fo. 18r.
[5] Ibid., CS1/25, fo. 12.
[6] Edinburgh City Archives, Edinburgh town council minutes, SL1/1/62, fo.78.
[7] S.C. Oliver, ‘The Administration of Urban Society in Scotland 1800-50, with reference
to the Growth of Civic Government in Glasgow and its Suburbs’ (PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 1995), 107.