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The Ba' Game

 

With the days lengthening in times past the inhabitants of the Town would have been looking forward to with anticipation or perhaps with apprehension to what was known as Fastern E’een and particularly perhaps to the Ba’ game which by tradition was always played on that date.

The date of Fastern E’een could always be calculated from the following rhyme;

"First comes Candlemas
Syne the new Mune
The first Tuesday after
Is Fastern’s E’een"

The Ba' Game in progress
The following is an account of the event from R. G. Johnston’s Book “Duns Dings A”;

 

Fastern E’een Ba’ was for centuries prior to 1886 played annually in the streets of the Town. It certainly existed in 1686 as a riot ensued after some alleged ill-treatment of a man called John Bayne on 17th. February - the date of that year’s festival. Bayne apparently was dissatisfied with the disposal of his complaint by both the Bailie and the Sheriff and carried his case to the Privy Council, who dismissed it also.

In 1886 a snowstorm prevented the Ba’ being played on the due date. Probably this opportunity was taken to stop the festival, as apparently it had been falling into some disrepute on account of a certain amount of drunkenness being associated with it.

The procedure connected with the Festival commenced about a week before “the day”. Three young men called the “Ba-men” were chosen by the townsmen to make the preliminary arrangements. They met on the previous Wednesday to hold, along with their supporters, ”the shaping of the ba” when they all paraded the Town accompanied by a drummer and fiddler playing,

Never let the gree gang doon
For the gude o’ oor toon”

Thereafter the ba’ men prepared the balls. Three only were required for play but four were prepared. Of the three balls the first played was the gilt and called the “golden ball”, the second from its colour the “silver ball” and the third was spotted. The fourth was presented to the Superior of the Town who, or a member of his family, or his baron baillie if available, threw the first ball.

The opposing parties were married and single men. The goal for the former was the Parish Church which was left open for the purpose and one of the Mills in the Parish for the single men. Those reaching the mill with a ball were dusted by the miller as proof of their success. The prizes were for the Kirking or Milling of the first ball 1/6d., the second 1/- and the third 6d.

The first ba’ was thrown up at one o’clock. Prior to that hour all shops had their shutters put over their windows and in the absence of shutters temporary boards were affixed to avoid breakage of their windows and other damage as the game was paid with great vigour.

In the evening celebrations were held. These are described in a poem by R. M. Calder, the Polworth poet;

An’ then the ba’ men wi’ thir friens
Adjourn tae some ane o’ the inns
Where lang syne yarns the landlord spins
On what he’s done and seen
And when the noise and din hae ceased
Then pork and dumplings crown the feast
Washed doon wi’ toddy o’ the best

An earlier account of the event written in 1833 (author unknown) records;

It was once customary therefore for a party of their opponents to be stationed before it and many a hard contest ensued. The parties however rarely met on equal terms. The young men spent with previous exertions were no match for those fresh opponents and not infrequently ended in their being plunged in the mill-lade. If however in spite of all opposition the mill-hopper was fairly reached the game was won and then came the honours. The miller entertained them with pork and dumplings and what was of far more importance dusted them especially their hats with flour. Like the laurel wreaths of other regions this marked them out for the gaze of their fellow townsmen. In this way the three balls were played for successively, the person who succeeded in kicking or malling - such were the phrases - the first or golden ball received from the Ba’man 1/6d., for the second 1/- and for the third 6d.

At one time it was played with much greater spirit than now. Whoever did not take part was marked and taken by the people and knocked against the town cross. The evening was spent in dancing and drinking. It was remarked that Fastern E’en was the time for making up quarrels

This was an ancient custom in many parts of Scotland and it was in this County played at Westruther, Foulden, Coldingham and perhaps in other places. The day was Shrove Tuesday the day before the Lent began when people went to the priest and confessed and were shriven. It corresponds to Carnival on the Continent - flesh farewell - At Jedburgh the Ball was played on Candlemas.

That the event often resulted in violence and disorderly behaviour was no doubt very much the reason for its disbandment, confirmed by the following complaint by the Bailie of Duns to the High Court of Justiciary;

1724 - Complaint by Mr. John Gray, baillie bailie of the burgh of barony of Dunse upon William Home shoemaker in Dunse and others as follows; Mr. John Gray having laid down proper expedients to prevent “riots and tumults within the burgh of barronie of Dunse and particularly on the anniversary of Fasting’s Even when all the idle folk in that Burgh were usually convened by touck of drum to play football which did always end and determine in the effusion of blood among the inhabitants and did in following out that just purpose order the drummer to bring the drum of that town to his house on the 18th of February last, being Fasting’s Even, and yet notwithstanding of the said precaution the persons above complained upon and many others did gather themselves together upon pretence of playing at the football on the said day above mentioned and came up to the said John Gray, complainer, his house and insolently demanded of him that he should deliver up the drum to them threatening and swearing revenge and mischief against him in case of his non-compliance; and the said John Gray having in the maintenance of his authority not only refused to deliver up the drum but likeways commanded the said persons to retire to their respective homes in peaceable manner they still persisted in their outrage and went away together in a body to a place called the Cloack Miln where they played at the football.

And when the game was over they did return to the Tolbooth stair and the winners were then to show the ball and proclaim the victory, certain particular persons, losers in the said game opposed them therein and would not suffer the winners to get up the Tolbooth stair to shew the ball unless they brought the drum along with them. Whereupon they fell a fighting and beating and blooding of one and other, but at length went into one common concert to go in a body and seize by force the drum of the said Mr. John Gray, his house.

And accordingly the persons above complained upon with several others, their assistants in combination with them came again to the said complainer’s house who at that time was expecting no harm and whose authority in the burgh was sufficient to have defended him against any insult and they did then of new require that the drum should be delivered to them.

And not having all this time obtained their unlawful desires they did retire for as short space of time and having gathered together a body of not less then 200 or 300 persons, did once more return to the said complainer, his dwellinghouse and did assault his house and endeavoured to break down the doors by throwing many great stones at his doors and finding this impracticable or a difficult work to break down his doors they broke down his windows and threw many stones in at the said windows to the imminent danger of his own life and those of his family, and during this time they used many execrable oaths that they would destroy the complainer and bereave him and those of his family of their lives unless they would deliver up to them the drum which was still refused by him in the just maintenance of his authority, ordering the persons above complained upon and others who had joined with them in body to dismiss and retire to their respective homes. And they at length finding that their malicious attempts would prove unsuccessful they went off for that night cursing and swearing and reproaching the said complainer with many opprobrious names and threatening to destroy him and his family.

Likeas upon Wednesday the 19th. of the said month of February AB (female) one of the said persons above accompanied upon did come again to the complainer’s house and did throw stones at his windows and broke several of the loosens or glasses of his window after the same had been repaired; and the complainer having ordered the said AB to be carried to the Tolbooth by the Town Officers and she being by the Town Officers apprehended as they were carrying her to the said Tolbooth XY and others who were leaders of the mob the night before and eminently guilty of the furious outrages above mentioned did of new attack the officers as they were carrying the said AB to the Tolbooth and did rescue her and set her at liberty in manifest contempt of authority, The trial of these persons is craved before the Lord Justice General or his deputes and a jury.