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Monday, 15 September 2014

Land of the painlookers

THIS strange story of ‘painlookers’ and ‘sackings’ was last told 50 years ago to mark a revamp of the Queen’s Arms at Biggar.

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ANCIENT TERRITORY: This is Biggar Village see from the air in 1970. In more ancient times it was the area administered by the painlookers who met at the Queen’s Arms – the white building on the left surrounded by cars

The Evening Mail of 1961 noted: “The first tenant to obtain a licence was a John Tyson, who bought the farm just before 1854 and got the licence in 1866.

“At that time it became known as The Letters – a general term used for a house selling beer or ale – but not adopting a definite sign.

“The title Queen’s Arms was adopted about 1869.”

These are only recent events in the long history of the buildings.

Looking much further back the article noted: “Occasional references may still be heard to the Mayor and Corporation of Biggar – a humorous phrase referring to a 700-year-old custom.

“At one time officials responsible for the good conduct of the village were drawn from the tenants. They were known as Painlookers.

“The Queen’s was the town hall for them, whose head man was called the Grave.

“The annual Grave’s Meeting was held in a small room at the inn until manorial courts were abolished.

“Another curious custom peculiar to Biggar, was that of ‘sacking’.

“When a young man from outside courted a young woman of the hamlet, the men, armed with a large sack, would waylay him.

“If he failed to provide money for ale he was tied in the sack which was hung from a beam in a barn adjoining the inn.

“The custom was last observed in about 1854 when Jimmy Wilson, a Cartmel shoemaker, was ‘sacked’.

“Proceedings before the Ulverston magistrates followed and put an end to the custom.

“Far more pleasant were the sporting and social occasions at the inn.

“Typical of these was a pigeon shooting contest held in 1870 for a first prize of £10 and followed by a ball in the evening when 80 sat down for tea at midnight and dancing continued to the early hours.

“Dances were popular for years at the Queen’s, often continuing until dawn.”

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