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Crime and punishment in late 18th-early 19th century Scotland: Prisons

This is the last post in our series on crime and punishment in late 18th-early 19th century Scotland, this time focusing on prisons. In the Statistical Accounts there is a lot of fascinating, detailed information on prisons and bridewells (prisons for petty offenders). In some cases, there was simply a lock-up in a town-house, rather than a purpose-built building. Below, we will look at some specific prisons found throughout Scotland, first looking at the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and then towns. It is particularly interesting when we compare between the Old and New Statistical Accounts and see what changes there have been.

Prisons in Cities


By the 1780s, the population of Glasgow had greatly increased due to the expansion of manufacturing. It became clear that there was a “necessity of a bridewell, or workhouse, for the punishment and correction of lesser offences.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 513) So, in 1789, existing buildings were converted from granaries into a bridewell. “These have been gradually increased to the number of 64, where the prisoners are kept separate from one another, and employed in such labour as they can perform, under the management of a keeper, and under the inspection of a committee of council, who enquire into the keeper’s management, etc.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 514)

Even at this time it was felt very important that the prison was of an adequate standard. Town Councillors inspected the prison and reported their findings, including anything to be rectified or altered. The keeper also kept records of each prisoner, noting down the details of their sentence, the wages they received for their labour, and after expenses were subtracted, the surplus paid to the prisoner when they left the prison. For some, this amounted to L. 5 to L. 7. (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 514)

However, by the time of this parish report written in 1793, it was noted that “the growing manufactures and population of the city requiring more extensive accommodations, than the present bridewell can afford, the Magistrates and Council propose to erect a new one, more properly calculated for the ends proposed, and on such a plan, that additions can be made to 1, from time to time, as the circumstances of the city may require.”(OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 514) Yet again, by the time of the New Statistical Accounts of Scotland, “the gaol at the cross had become deficient in almost every requisite.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 214) At that point, it was serving not just the city, but also occasionally the counties of Lanark, Renfrew, and Dumbarton. On the 13th February 1807, “the magistrates and council resolved to erect a new gaol and public offices in a healthy situation adjoining the river, at the bottom of the public green. This building, which cost L. 34,800, contains, exclusively of the public offices, 122 apartments for prisoners.” To discover more about the prison’s facilities (which may surprise you!) take a look at the parish report for Glasgow. (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 214)

On the 8th May 1798, a new bridewell was opened in Duke Street, Glasgow, which again quickly became ill-equipped for such a fast-expanding city. (Can you see a pattern emerging?!) It was, therefore, extended further and was opened on Christmas Day 1824. “It combines all the advantages of modern improvement, security. seclusion, complete classification, and healthful accommodation.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 215)

In the Statistical Accounts, there are several examples of tables giving the number of prisoners and associated costs. Below is an example for the Glasgow bridewell, covering the commitments in 1834.

Males above 17 years of age, 313
Males below 17 years of age, 222
Females above 17 years of age, 864
Females below 17 years of age, 68
 = 932
Total commitments, 1967
Remained on 2d of August 1833, 356
Prisoners in all, 2323
Liberated during the year, 2030
Remaining on 2d of August 1834, 293
The average number daily in the prison was 320; viz. males, 162; females, 158.
Abstract accounts for the year ended 2d of August 1834.
To repairs on the buildings, L. 156 10 0
Salaries and wages, 835 14 11
L. 992 4 11
By amount of prisoners’ labour, &c. L. 2182 6  2
To victual, bedding, cloaths, washing, medicine, coal, candle, furniture, machinery, utensils, stationery. &c. 1664 6 0
Cash paid prisoners for surplus earnings, 116 5 3
Surplus to be deducted from salaries and wages, 1780  11  3
401 14 11
Balance, being the cost of Bridewell for the year ended 2d August 1834, L. 590 10 0

(NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 216)


All the way back in 1560 the old prison or Tolbooth was founded and stood immediately west of St Giles’ church. However, this was pulled down in 1817, the same year a new prison was opened on Carlton Hill. There is a very detailed description of the Carlton Hill prison in the parish report of Edinburgh, written in 1842:

“It is a very ornamental castellated structure in the Saxon style; and is 194 feet long by 40 feet in width. The interior is divided into six classes of cells; four for males, and two for females; with an airing ground attached to each. There are two stories of cells, one above the other. To each of these divisions of cells on the ground floor there is a day room with a fire-place; and an airing ground common to fill the cells of the division. Each cell is for the reception of one prisoner; and is 8 feet by 6. A wooden bed is fixed into the wall, and there is a grated window and air holes in the wall for full and free ventilation. There are in all fifty-eight cells.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 719)

An image of the new Bridewell, Salisbury Crags, and Arthur's Seat from Calton Hill, Edinburgh by Thomas H. Shepherd, dated 1829

The new Bridewell, Salisbury Crags, and Arthur’s Seat from Calton Hill, Edinburgh, 1829. Thomas H. Shepherd [Public domain].

The original Edinburgh bridewell was established about 1632 “for the reception of the vagrant poor and vicious characters strolling about the streets of the city.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 720) This, like that of Glasgow, became inadequate due to the increasing population, and so a new one was opened in 1796 on the south-side of Carlton Hill. Here again there is a detailed description of its lay-out. It was clearly very different from the later Carlton prison, as it was a 5-story semi-circular building, with 52 day cells and 129 separate bedrooms. This bridewell was later incorporated with the general prison in 1840. “Several suggested improvements carried into effect. Work was supplied to the prisoners and as great of degree of classification and separation of prisoners was made as the nature of the building would permit.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 720)

In the Appendix for Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh, a few key dates have been given. “In 1748-The first correction house for disorderly FEMALES was built, and it cost L. 198: 0: 4 1/2. N. B. This is the only one Edinburgh yet has. In 1791-Manners had been for some years so loose, and crimes so frequent, that the foundation of a large new house of Correction, or Bridewell, was laid on the 30th of November, which, on the lowest calculation, will cost L. 12,000; and this plan is on a reduced scale of what was at first thought absolutely necessary. In 1763-That is from June 1763 to June 1764, the expence of the Correction house amounted to L. 27: 16: 1 1/2. In 1791, and some years previous to it. The expence of the Correction house had risen to near L. 300,-ten times what it had been in the former period; and there is not room for containing the half of those that ought to be confined to hard labour.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 612)

Prisons in Towns

We have looked at the prison situation in the large cities. But, how about the situation in smaller towns? Below, we look at some examples throughout Scotland.


As claimed in the parish report for Kircaldy, its jail is the best in Fife! “Under the New Prison Act, its management has been much improved. The prisoners are constantly employed, and great care is taken that proper attention be paid to their health, their diet, their education, and religious instruction. It is now a place more for the reformation than the punishment of prisoners.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 770)


“The Jail, which forms a part of the town-house, and consists of a very small apartment, is neither properly secured, nor capable of being used without endangering the health of its inmates. For these reasons criminals are generally conveyed to the county town, a mode of procedure which is not only attended with considerable expense, but which, when taken in connection with a glaring deficiency of police, presents serious obstacles to the authorities in arresting the progress of crime and enforcing the authority of the laws. The number of convictions, inclusive of cases, brought not only before the magistrates and justices of peace, but before the Sheriff, and the circuit court at Jedburgh, amounted in 1838 to 58.” (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 417)


“The Court-house is an elegant and commodious structure, wherein the circuit and sheriff-courts, the quarter session and the county meetings are held. Opposite to this stands a heavy-looking building, which was at first intended for a court-house, but is now converted into a Bridewell, the interior of which is arranged on the same plan with that of Edinburgh, but on so small a scale, that it is thought, from the facility with which the prisoners can hold intercourse with one another, to be very ill adapted for a place of confinement. Behind this, in a low damp yard, and surrounded by a high wall, is situated the county Jail, which, along with the Bridewell, was built in 1807. Previously to that period, the jail was in the centre of the town. A vaulted passage under the street, forms a communication between the prison-yard and the court-house. The debtors have the liberty of exercising themselves within the enclosed yard.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 14)

Photograph of Inverness Steeple and Tolbooth

Inverness Steeple and Tolbooth, 2008. [Photo credit: Dave Conner from Inverness, Scotland [CC BY 2.0]].


As noted in the parish report for Aberdeen written in 1835, “the ancient jail of Inverness consisted only of a single damp dingy vault, in one of the arches of the stone bridge, and which (subsequently used as a mad-house) was only closed up about fifteen years ago. It was succeeded by another prison in Bridge Street, which, from the notices of it in the burgh’s records, must also have been a most unhealthy and disagreeable place of confinement. The present jail was erected in 1791, and cost L. 1800, the spire having cost about L.1600 more. ” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 34)  (In fact, the spire is the only part of the building left standing, as can be seen in the picture on the right.)

“Besides prisoners for debt, all those charged with crimes from the northern counties are sent here previous to their trial before the circuit.courts of Jisticiary, which sit at Inverness twice a-year. Although a great improvement at the time of its erection, this prison is now found to be too small and very inconvenient, there being no proper classification of delinquents, while there is no open court or yard for them to walk in, nor can any manual employment be required of them at present.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 34)


In the parish of Porttree, County of Inverness, there was only one prison, where, in 1840, 16 offenders resided – “eleven for riotous conduct, four for housebreaking and theft, and one for forgery.” For some time in the past this prison was insecure, with instances of prisoners actually managing to escape! The bad conditions did not help matters. “Into the jail they are thrown without bed, without bedding, without fire, and with but a small allowance for their subsistence. “By the humanity, however, and charity of some benevolent persons in the neighbourhood, these privations have been partly alleviated, if not removed.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 234)


In the parish report of Cupar, County of Fife, in 1796, the Reverend George Campbell wrote that “the prison of Cupar, which is the public jail, for the very populous and wealthy county of Fife, yields perhaps to none, in point of the meanness, the filth, and wretchedness of its accommodations… Apartments in one end of a town-house acted as a place to secure and punish those who have fallen foul of the law. “The apartment destined for debtors is tolerably decent, and well lighted. Very different is the state of the prison under it, known by the name of “the Iron-house,” in which persons suspected of theft, etc. are confined. This is a dark, damp, vaulted dungeon, composed entirely of stone, without a fire-place, or any the most wretched accommodation. It is impossible, indeed, by language, to exaggerate the horrors which here present themselves” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 142)

In many parishes there was a concern that when a prison was built in a neighbouring or nearby county that it would cause the displacement of criminals into their area. This was certainly the case in Cupar, with the parish report stating that in such a wealthy county as Fife, there should be better prisons. “It is to be hoped, however, that the period is now happily arrived, when the landholders of Scotland, having more humane sentiments and enlarged views, than those who went before them, will attend to the wretched state of the different county jails” and would contribute to the building of more modern prisons. (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 143) “A measure of this kind will appear every day of more pressing necessity, when the Bridewell now building at Edinburgh shall be finished. If Fife takes no step to defend itself against the influx of pickpockets, swindlers, etc. which may naturally be expected, it will become the general receptacle of sturdy beggars and vagrants; and the rising industry of the county must be exposed to the depredations of the desperate and the profligate, from every quarter*.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 144)

In 1844, the number of prisoners committed to Cupar Prison was 37. “Of these, 15 were for debt, and 22 for stealing, assault, and such crimes as commonly occur in a populous country.” However, according to the parish report, the prison needed improvements. “The accommodation that it affords is uniformly condemned as most unworthy of the town and county. The lodging is bad, and reckoned unhealthy,-there is no room for the classification of criminals,-there is no chapel or place of worship attached; and consequently, any attempt to reclaim or improve those that are once committed to it, becomes absolutely hopeless.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 18)


Dundee was another parish which felt the effects of prisons being built elsewhere. “Since Bridewells, or penitentiary houses, have been established in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Dundee has been much more pestered than formerly, with vagrants and persons of doubtful character, and swindling and petty thefts are more frequent. This will probably produce a Bridewell in Dundee. An establishment of this kind is certainly necessary, and the common prisons, and present inflictions of justice, are by no means sufficient to supply its place. With respect to our prisons, though among the best in Scotland, they are destitute of any court or area where the prisoners may enjoy the open air. This, however, is at present, the less necessary, as the laws of the country are supposed inhumanely, to exclude debtors from the privilege of breathing the same air with others; and, it is but very seldom, that felons suffer long confinement, in the prisons of places not visited by the Circuit Courts of Justiciary.” (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 248)

Other Prisons

Here are some of the other prisons you can read about in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland: Linlithgow, County of Linlithgow; Montrose, County of Forfar; Falkirk, County of Stirling; Perth, County of Perth; Dingwall, County of Ross and Cromarty; Irvine, County of Ayrshire; Blairgowrie, County of Perth; Ayr, County of Ayrshire; Inverary, County of Argyle; Wick, County of Caithness; and Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen. This is by no means a definitive list!


The Statistical Accounts of Scotland provides a wealth of knowledge about prisons throughout Scotland, some very detailed and giving actual figures, for example Aberdeen, County of Aberdeen (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 83), Peebles (NSA, Vol. III, 1845, p. 182), Inverary, County of Argyle (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 42) and Wick, County of Caithness (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 175). You can discover when and where prisons and bridewells were built, descriptions of the buildings, living conditions, numbers of prisoners and crimes committed, work carried out by the prisoners and, for some of the larger prisons, even the costs of running them. Many parish ministers also wrote about the issues faced by the parishes and their prisons, especially the poor prison conditions and lack of cells. It may be a surprise to learn that many parish reports state how abominable prison conditions were, calling for more modern, larger prisons to be built to deal with the increased number of offenders.

Although this is the last post in our crime and punishment series, there are many other areas you could research, including crime statistics, policing, law courts and acts of law. This goes to show how comprehensive and enthralling a resource both the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland are!


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Crime and punishment in late 18th-early 19th century Scotland: Types of punishment

In our last two blog posts in our series on crime and punishment we have looked at levels, types, causes and prevention of crime. But, how exactly did parishes in late 18th – early 19th century Scotland, and even earlier, punish offenders? It wasn’t just a matter of throwing people into prison. As we have found out in the last post, some parishes did not even have a bridewell or prison. Also, what was the correlation between the type of crime and type of punishment? We will find out in this post.


It is fascinating to discover some of the crimes and resulting punishments detailed in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Examples include: in Leochel, County of Aberdeen, “breaking and destroying young trees in the churchyard of Lochell, [a fine of] one merk for each tree; letting cattle into mosses and breaking peats, 40S.; beating, bruising, blooding and wounding, L. 50;… putting fire to a neighbour’s door, and calling his wife and mother witches, L. 100… ” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 1125) and in Paisley, County of Renfrew,  “1606, May 18.-Three vagabonds are ordered to be “carted through the street and the cart;” with certification that if they return, they shall be “scourged and burnt,” ie. we presume, branded on the cheek;… 1622, June 13.-Two women accuse one another of mutual scolding and “cuffing;” the one is fined 40s. the other is banished the burgh, under certification of “scouraging,” and “the joggs” if she returned… 1642, 24 January.-“No houses to be let to persons excommunicated and none to entertain them in their houses, under a pain of ten punds… ” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 182)

It was noted in the parish report of Glasgow, County of Lanark, that all the punishments given by the kirk session in Glasgow, whether it was “imprisoning or banishing serious delinquents, or sending them to the pillory, or requiring them to appear several Sabbath days in succession at the church-door in sackcloth, bare-headed and bare-footed, or ducking them in the Clyde,… no rank, however exalted, was spared, and that a special severity was exercised toward ministers and elders and office-bearers in the church when they offended. There was no favouritism.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 932)

Below we look more closely at punishments for particular crimes, many from times before the Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

  • Punishment for adulterers

On the 16th August 1587, a Kirk session in the parish of Glasgow, County of Lanark, “appointed harlots to be carted through the town, ducked in Clyde, and put in the jugs at the cross, on a market day. The punishment for adultery was to appear six Sabbaths on the cockstool at the pillar, bare-footed and, bare-legged, in sackcloth, then to be carted through the town, and ducked in Clyde from a pulley fixed on the bridge.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 110) You can also read here, in the parish report for Glasgow, County of Lanark, what the punishment was for “a man excommunicated for relapse in adultery”, which involved being “bare-footed, and bare-legged, in sackcloth, with a white wand in his hand”!

William Pyne: The Costume of Great Britain (1805) – The Pillory. [Picture via Wikimedia Commons.]

As mentioned in the appendix for Edinburgh, County of Edinburgh, “in 1763-The breach of the seventh commandment was punished by fine and church-censure. Any instance of conjugal infidelity in a woman would have banished her irretrievably from society, and her company would have been rejected even by men who paid any regard to their character. In 1783-Although the law punishing adultery with death was unrepealed, yet church-censure was disused, and separations and divorces were become frequent, and have since increased. Women, who had been rendered infamous by public divorce, had been, by some people of fashion, again received into society, notwithstanding the endeavours of our worthy Queen to check such a violation of morality, decency, the laws of the country, and the rights of the virtuous. This however, has not been recently attempted.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 611)

Punishment for witchcraft

There are several reports on witchcraft trials and punishments in the Statistical Accounts, a chapter of Scottish history which, by the late 18th-early 19th century, was seen as a disgrace. As noted in the parish report of Dalry, County of Ayrshire, “this parish was the scene of one of those revolting acts which disgrace the annals of Scotland, of condemning persons to the flames for the imputed crimes of sorcery and witch-craft. This case, which is allowed to be the most extraordinary on record, occurred in 1576. Elizabeth or Bessie Dunlop, spouse of Andrew Jack in Linn, was arraigned before the High Court of Justiciary, accused of sorcery, witchcraft, &c.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 217)

During the 1590s, “the crime of witchcraft was supposed to be prevalent in Aberdeen as well as in other parts of the kingdom, and many poor old women were sacrificed to appease the terrors which the belief in it was calculated to excite. Few of the individuals who were suspected were allowed to escape from the hands of their persecutors; several died in prison in consequence of the tortures inflicted on them, and, during the years 1596-97, no fewer than 22 were burnt at the Castlehill.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 21)

In Erskine, County of Renfrew, “these unhappy creatures, (who seem by their own confession to have borne no good character,) were brought to trial at Paisley in the year 1697, and after a solemn inquest, they were found guilty of the crime of witchcraft, and sentenced to be burnt alive, which sentence was carried into effect at the Gallow Green of Paisley on Thursday the 10th June 1697, in the following manner: They were first hanged for a few minutes, and then cut down and put into a fire prepared for them, into which a barrel of tar was put, in order to consume them more rapidly.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 507) For more information on the crime of witchcraft read our blog post “Wicked Witches“.

Punishment for other crimes

You can find many more examples of punishments for a number of different crimes in the Statistical Accounts. In Blantyre, County of Lanark, “any worker known to be guilty of irregularities of moral conduct is instantly discharged, and poaching game or salmon meets with the same punishment.” (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 324) In Nairn, County of Nairn, “unfortunately, however, this spring two lads were tried and condemned at Inverness for shop-breaking and theft. One of them was hanged. It is surely much to be wished that his fate may prove a warning to others, to avoid the like crimes. The other young man (brother to the lad who was executed), has been reprieved” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 392)

There are also some particular, infamous crimes reported in the parish accounts, including that of Maggy Dickson in the parish report of Inveresk, County of Edinburgh. “No person has been convicted of a capital felony since the year 1728, when the famous Maggy Dickson was condemned and executed for child-murder in the Grass-market of Edinburgh, and was restored to life in a cart, on her way to Musselburgh to be buried. Her husband had been absent for a year, working in the keels at Newcastle, when Maggy fell with child, and to conceal her shame, was tempted to put it to death. She kept an ale-house in a neighbouing parish for many years after she came to life again, which was much resorted to from curiosity. But Margaret, in spite of her narrow escape, was not reformed, according to the account given by her contemporaries, but lived, and died again, in profligacy.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 34)

Many of the examples of punishments are actually from previous times of the Statistical Accounts, and, as for those for witchcraft, were by the time of the Statistical Accounts seen as barbaric. In the parish report for Campbelton, County of Argyle, it is noted that “five or six centuries seem to have made no change in manners, under the later Kings, or their successors, the Macdonalds; as we find the most barbarous punishments inflicted on criminals and prisoners of war such as putting out their eyes, and depriving them, of some other members.” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 542)

A photograph of Castle Campbell from the north east direction

Castle Campbell – general view form the north east. [Photo credit: Tom Parnell [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons]

A great story illustrating the kind of punishment being imposed in times gone by is that of Castle Campbell, also known as the Castle of Doom, situated in the parish of Dollar, County of Clackmannan. “Tradition, indeed, which wishes to inform us of every thing, reports, that it was so called from the following circumstance: A daughter of one of our Scotch Kings, who then resided at Dunfermline, happening to fall into disgrace for some improper behaviour, was, by way of punishment, sent and confined in this castle; and she, (not relishing her situation, which probably might be in some vault or other) said, that it was a gloomy prison to her. Hence, says tradition, it came to be called the Castle of Gloom.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 167) In fact, “while confined there, she gave names to certain places and streams adjoining the eastie, corresponding to the depressed state of her mind at the time. The place of her confinement she called Castle Gloom. The hill on the east of the castle she called Gloom hill, which name it still retains. to the two streamers which glide by on the east and west sides of the knoll on which the Castle is built, she gave the names of the burns of Care and Sorrow.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 76)

More evidence of such a punishment can be found at Fyvie Castle, County of Aberdeen.”The south wing has in front a tower called the Seton tower, with the arms of that family cut in freestone over the gate. The old iron door still remains, consisting of huge interlacing bars, fastened by immense iron bolts drawn out of the wall on either side; and in the centre of the arch above the door-way, a large aperture called the “murder hole,” speaks plainly of the warm reception which unbidden guests had in former times to expect.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 331)

Instruments of Punishment

As not all parishes, or even counties, had a bridewell or prison, instruments of punishment were being used, especially before the days of the Statistical Accounts. It had the added advantage of acting as a deterrent – making the punishment very public and, therefore, humiliating.


Jougs are “an instrument of punishment or public ignominy consisting of a hinged iron collar attached by a chain to a wall or post and locked round the neck of the offender” as defined by the Scottish National Dictionary (1700-) found on the Dictionary of the Scots Language website. (Incidentally, this is a great resource to use if you come across words you don’t understand in the Statistical Accounts!)

In the parish report of Dunning, County of Perth, “there is no jail, but in lieu of it there is that old-fashioned instrument of punishment called the jougs.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 722) The jougs in Marykirk, County of Kincardine, were to be found “on the outside of the church, strongly fixed to the wall.” Interestingly, “these were never appropriated by the church, as instruments of punishment and disgrace; but were made use of, when the weekly market and annual fair flood, to confine, and punish those who had broken the peace, or used too much freedom with the property of others. The stocks were used for the feet, and the joggs for the neck of the offender, in which he was confined, at least, during the time of the fair.” (OSA, Vol. XVIII, 1796, p. 612)

A photograph of jougs attached to the wall of Duddingston Kirk.

Jougs at Duddingston Kirk. Kim Traynor [CC BY-SA 3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

In Yester, County of Haddington, the jougs were “fastened round neck of the culprit, and attached to an upright post, which still stands in the centre of the village, and is used for weighing goods at the fairs. Here the culprit stood in a sort of pillory, exposed to the taunts and missiles of the villagers.” (NSA, Vol. II, 1845, p. 166)

Similarly, jougs were described in the parish report of Ratho, County of Edinburgh. “This collar was, it is supposed, in feudal times, put upon the necks of criminals, who were thus kept standing in a pillory as a punishment for petty delinquencies. It would not be necessary in such cases, we presume, to attach to the prisoner any label descriptive of his crime. In a small country village the crime and the cause, of punishment would in a very short time be sufficiently public. Possibly, however, for the benefit of the casual passenger, the plan of the Highland laird might be sometimes adopted, who adjudged an individual for stealing turnips to stand at the church-door with a large turnip fixed to his button-hole.* The jougs are now in the possession of James Craig, Esq. Ludgate Lodge, Ratho. * Since writing the above, we find that the jougs were originally attached to the church, and were used in cases of ecclesiastical discipline.” (NSA, Vol. I, 1845, p. 92)

In the parish report for Monzie, County of Perth the jougs belonged “to the old church of Monzie, taken down in 1830” and was described as thus: “It was simply an iron collar, fastened to the outside of the wall, near one of the doors, by a chain. No person alive, it is believed, has seen this pillory put in requisition; nor is it known at what period it was first adopted for the reformation of offenders; but there can be no doubt, that an age which could sanction burning for witchcraft, would see frequent occasion for this milder punishment. It is now regarded as a relic of a barbarous age, and has been affixed to the wall of the present church merely to gratify the curiosity of antiquaries.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 270)

The jougs in Dunkeld, Country of Perth, were not, as per usual, attached to the the church but to the old cross. “The old cross was a round pillar, on which was four round balls, supporting a pyramidal top. It was of stone, and stood about 20 feet high. The pedestal was 12 feet square. On the pillar hung four iron jugs for punishing petty offenders. The cross was removed about forty years ago.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 979)


In the parish report of Langholm, County of Dumfries, you can find a description of branks. “This was an instrument of punishment kept by the chief magistrate, for restraining the tongue. The branks was in the form of a head-piece, that opens and incloses the head of the culprit,–while an iron, sharp as a chisel, enters the mouth and subdues the more dreadful weapon within. Dr Plot, the learned historian of Staffordshire, has given a minute description and figure of this instrument; and adds, that he looks upon it ” as much to be preferred to the ducking-stool, which not only endangers the health of the party, but also gives the tongue liberty ‘twixt every dip, to neither of which this is at all liable.” When husbands unfortunately happened to have scolding wives, they subjected the heads of the offenders to this instrument, and led them through the town exposed to the ridicule of the people”. (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 421)


As can be seen from reading this and the previous posts, the Statistical Accounts of Scotland contains a wealth of information on crime and punishment. Many parish reports describe the crimes and subsequent punishments from olden times, sometimes showing a sense of disgust at their barbarous, unjust nature. In some instances, there are even physical reminders, with there being instruments of punishment still in the parish. This all illustrates how changes are made continually and how, by looking back, you can discover how far we have come.


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SUNCAT updated

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Highland Childhoods in the Old Statistical Accounts – Part 2

Guest blog post

Here is the second part of the guest post by Helen Barton and Neil Bruce, MLitt students at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who have carried out research on gender and family in the Highlands using the Statistical Accounts.


In part one, we considered what the Old Statistical Accounts told us about Highland Childhoods, focusing on Health and Disease, and Family Structures. In part two, we look at the Domestic Economy and Education.

Domestic Economy

Rural and town children were commonly brought up in homes where domestic work, employment and child-rearing were being juggled by female adults across generations. Accounts allude to the precariousness of bringing-in income. In many cases, both parents needed to earn to achieve sufficient income to sustain the family. When an Avoch fishing crew drowned, widows received charitable aid, but social expectation was that even those with young infants would soon return to industrious work (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, pp. 634-5):

The distress of the widows having been thus mitigated, particularly until such of them had been left pregnant were delivered, and had nursed their infants, they have almost all now returned to the proper habits of industry, sufficient to support themselves and their families.

We can discern from the accounts typical levels of family income, and the cost of sustaining life, not just lifestyle. Families were experiencing increases in costs, noted to have doubled over four decades in Tarbat (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, pp. 431-2). In the far North Highlands, it was estimated to be in the region of £14 per year (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p.29).  Children frequently worked for wages or boarded as farm labourers to make ends meet. Married men received a higher wage than single people, and men generally received higher wages.  Income was gender, age and board-dependant. In Dingwall, there were limited wages for male labourers and families were highly dependent on supplementary income. This was usually from women spinning as “(T)here is no room for children to exert industry as there are no manufacturers.  The whole income of the family can therefore not exceed L9:16”’ (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p.13). This example of working mothers is repeated throughout the region. It points to waged work being introduced, and again, the need for two adult incomes to sustain families.

Elsewhere in Scotland, children were widely employed in manufacturing. They were cheap to employ before reaching at 14 years when higher wages were paid (C.A. Whatley, ‘The Experience of Work’, in T. M. Devine & R. Mitchison (eds) People and Society in Scotland, Vol 1, 1760-1830 (Edinburgh, 1999), pp. 239-46). There are frequent references to Highland children’s priorities being to the family; in Rogart, children worked as “servants”, for their parents, (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 566) and on Barra they worked seed-planting and harvesting instead of attending school (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 339). The contribution of children’s wages to the household was especially significant in areas where men were absent as women earned much less (OSA, Vol. I, 1791, p. 288).

However, most parish accounts make little direct reference to employment for children. It may be that in some parishes, children did not ordinarily work. More likely it was simply widely accepted they contributed to the family economy as another pair of hands, whether ‘wage-earning’, as domestic workers, or in farm work.  It certainly seems common from the reports they were assumed to contribute to the overall household economy, though at what age is not always obvious.


Initially there were no questions about schooling requested of parish ministers. A supplementary request to find out about “the state, organisation and size of the parish’s schools, number of scholars, subjects taught and how many went on to university” was made a year later (though sent out as Appendix C with a letter to clergy in 1791, the source quoted here is J. Sinclair, Specimens of Statistical Reports: Exhibiting the progress of political society, from the pastoral state, to that of luxury and refinement (London & Cornhill, 1793), p. XV).

As mentioned above, the economic value children contributed to the family unit meant education came second to work. their availability to attend school was determined by seasonal demands. Sir John himself subsequently assessed that “(T)he common people, in general, have little time for education.” (J. Sinclair, Analysis of the Statistical Account of Scotland: With a General View of the History of that Country, and Discussions on Some Important Branches of Political Economy (Edinburgh, 1831), p. 72). His statement was informed by the reports indicating poor school attendances, but did not note parental income levels, or the ease of access to schools.

While the local heritors (landowners) were legally required to ensure the provision of a school in each parish, in practice, that could depend on their residency or absence, willingness and ability to fund. It also depended on their preparedness for others, such as the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, to establish schools. The Scottish Society’s (SSPCK) Secretary, for example, identified “2 populous districts … where schools might be erected to great advantage”, were the proprietor to part-fund it (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315). Parish and other schools could and did charge for children to be taught; the quarterly fees in Stornoway, for example, included English and writing 2/6d; arithmetic and English 3/-; Latin, writing and arithmetic 4/- (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 243).

The requirement was ‘a’ parish school – in Skye, the Outer Hebrides and Small Isles, a vast area of 2,000 square miles, and many inhabited islands, there were only 15 parishes, and unsurprisingly, the reports revealed the paucity of educational provision.  Rev. John Macleod summed up the challenges of school provision and uptake on Harris: “the people of this country are so detached from each other” and the terrain, distances and paucity of good roads, meant, “there is really no fixing on a station in which any public institution can be of universal benefit” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p. 380).

What Sir John also did not acknowledge were reports of parents in more remote places making their own arrangements to have their children schooled. Equally, the accounts do not detail the age of those who attended school, or for how long; there is no reference to informal educational opportunities. As the reporters were usually the Kirk minister, there is often little information on the schooling of Roman Catholic children. Prunier has noted that Roman Catholics were debarred from teaching (C. Prunier, ‘‘They must have their children educated some way’: the education of Catholics in eighteenth-century Scotland’, Innes Review, Vol. 60, no. 1 (2009), p. 37).

Attendance at school in the west and north Highlands and Islands meant learning in English, not Gaelic, though for most, Gaelic was still their native tongue. This introduced children to another language, and in Barray, “numbers … who attended the school … (spoke) … English tolerably well” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 341). In contrast on the east coast, in Rosemarkie, Avoch, and Wick, for example, few, if anyone spoke Gaelic (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 348; Vol. XV, 1795, p. 632; Vol. X, 1794, p. 32).

The reporting of schooling was non-gendered, with either the subjects, or the number taking them listed. At North Uist’s parish school, “ten in general read Latin; the rest study geography, book-keeping, arithmetic, writing, and reading English” (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315), and at Strath, reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin were taught (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 226). However, the reports do point to gendered-based opportunities for, and expectations on children – Sir John, himself argued, “society cannot be placed on an equal footing, unless the blessings of education are extended to both sexes”, though by that he obviously did not mean they both receive the same opportunities (J. Sinclair, Analysis of the Statistical Account, p. 126).

Sinclair himself penned the Thurso report and promoted the idea of an academy for boys once the Napoleonic Wars were over, lamenting there was no boarding school where girls could learn “needle-work, music and other subjects suited to the sex” (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798 p. 512). Elsewhere, girls were learning how to spin, for example, at SSPCK schools at Rowdill, and two spinning-schools in Barvas, jointly run with Mrs Mackenzie of Seaforth. At the latter, they were “taught gratis, have 10 pence for every spindle they spin, and to encourage them, they have their wheels at low rate; ” (OSA, Vol. X, 1794, p.269; Vol. XIX, 1797, pp.278–279). At Lochs, on Lewis, the minister opined that girls “secluded from the more cultivated part of society” could gain skills, industry and “real happiness” by learning to spin (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, pp. 278-279). In nearby Stornoway, two of the three SSPCK spinning schools were “laid aside for want of the requisite number of scholars”, the minister lamenting that previously “many poor girls have been rescued from habits of idleness and vice, and trained to industry and virtue” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, pp. 243-244).

Stornoway’s parish had a broader, more obviously male-orientated curriculum, geared to future employment opportunities included navigation and book-keeping, and mensuration, the study of measurements (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 243). The reports suggest only a few boys continued their education at university. Duirinish parish had four “students” at university in Aberdeen; North Uist’s parish school sent “one yearly to College”, and two, “who got the rudiments of their education” attended “University last winter” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 133; OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 315).


there is much to be gleaned about what childhood meant for the many growing up in the later eighteenth century from the Far North and Outer Isles parishes accounts. Our examples do point to the limitations of the Accounts as the level of detail is inconsistent, anonymised and general, rather than specific.

We’ve only scratched the surface and there are other fruitful areas, for example:

  • the family economy;
  • inter-generational relationships;
  • what it was like to be one of the elite;
  • the extent of choice children had in their future.

And, perhaps, given that Sir John, set out to ascertain the “state of the country” in 1790, to “reveal the quantum of happiness in a population”, believing “every individual … shall have the means of enjoying as much real happiness as the imperfect condition of human nature will admit”, assessing how happy childhood was for the many (R. Mitchison, Sir John Sinclair, first baronet (1754 – 1835), Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 19th September 2017; J. Sinclair, Specimens of Statistical Reports, p. IX).


We would like to thank Helen and Neil for their fascinating guest blog post. We hope it inspires others to carry out their own research using the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Indeed, if you would like to write a guest post on how you have used the Statistical Accounts in your study or work please let us know by emailing!