The ceremony of Riding the Marches has been held and recorded in Musselburgh approximately every 21 years for almost 350 years, and it was possibly centuries old even then. The first mention of the Riding appears in the Town Council minutes for 1682, when it was held on the day of St Lauritt’s Fair, Tuesday, 16th October 1682. Initially, these events consisted of religious processions, bearing a crucifix and perhaps a shrine containing the relics of a saint, which stopped at the crosses marking the boundaries, where all the people knelt to pray and beg forgiveness for their sins.
With the coming of the Reformation the processions changed in character. Without the support of the Church, which for centuries had prevented any encroachment on the lands and burghs under its protection, the towns people found their common lands were liable to be pillaged and even taken over where the boundary marks were lost or overgrown.
Every opportunist baron or laird who could muster a few armed men sought what advantage he could, and the sole object of the Ridings was now the urgent need to preserve the rights of communal property.
The crucifix and the saintly relics had to go, their places taken by the flashing lance of the Town Champion, in full armour, his visor down, ready to challenge in single combat any who dared to dispute the marking of the boundaries.
Accompanied by his squires, the Turf Cutter and his attendant, and the town officers bearing their spears, he led a cavalcade of magistrates and councillors, burgesses, the seven Incorporated Trades, townsfolk and the town piper round the marches.
At each boundary stone, or the places where the broken crosses had stood, they went through the time-honoured ritual of renewing their claim to their property.
The Turf Cutter cut a turf from the ground and cast it over his shoulder while the company cried the traditional slogan “It’s a’ oor ain.”
This custom has followed almost the same pattern roughly every 21 years ever since. There have been some changes down through the years, but the best of the ancient pageantry has been preserved unaltered.
Proclamation of the Riding of the Marches is made at the Mercat Cross by the Toun Crier where the words;
Oyez Oyez Oyez
“Burgesses, Craftsmen & whole inhabitants of the Burgh of Barony and Regality of Musselburgh are hereby warned & summoned to attend my Provost, Magistrates and Council at the ringing of the Tolbooth Bells on this day of 23rd July at Six o’clock evening for the purpose of Riding the Towns Marches and Liberties according to the use and custom of the Ancient and Honourable Burgh, and that under penalty of Forty Pounds Scots each.
God save the Queen & my provost” are proclaimed.
When the Turf Cutter is invested with his spade and directed to ride out and mark the marches, led and protected by the Town Champion, the colourful cavalcade which sets out to ride or walk round the boundaries will be honouring Musselburgh’s historic past and sharing in its heritage much as our ancestors did three centuries ago.
Turf Cutting Stations (1995):
1. Ravensheugh Bridge (Ravensheugh Road)
2. Edenhall Hospital Gate (Entrance to Edenhall Hospital)
3. Park Lane (?)
4. Crookston Road (Inveresk Village)
5. Inveresk House (Inveresk Village)
6. St Michael’s Inveresk Gate (Entrance to Inveresk Church)
7. Roman Bridge, Mall Avenue (Corner of Mall Ave & Inveresk Road)
8. The Grove (Station Road)
9. Olivebank Road
10. Newhailes Road
11. Brunstane Mill
12. Edinburgh Road (Seashore at Magdalene Cottages)