Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Fisher Row

In print 1791
Tune: Jenny Dang The Weaver 

As I came in by Fisherrow,
Musselburgh was near me
I threw off my mussel pock
And courted wi my deary

Up stairs, doon stairs,
Timmer stairs fears me,
I thought it lang to lie ma lane
When I'm sae near my deary

Oh had her apron bidden doon,
The kirk wad ne'er hae kent it
But since the word's gane through the toon,
My dear I canna mend it

But ye maun mount the cutty stool
And I maun mount the pillar
And that's the way the poor folks dae,
Because they hae nae siller

Words:
Bidden
: stayed
Cutty stool: Stool of Repentance in church
Fears: frightens
Ma lane: by myself
Pillar: Another form of the Stool of Repentance. A pillar in
        church or street regarded as a place of public
        repentance and punishment; a raised platform on which
        wrongdoers appeared publicly
Pock: pouch, small sack
Siller: money
Timmer: wooden

 This song was brought to Sangschule by Christine Kydd. The jaunty tune for this warning tale of lovers called to account by the kirk suggests that the penalty need not be taken too seriously or in any case, was worth it. The song makes clear that if you had enough money you could buy yourself out of this embarrassment.

“Timmer stairs fears me” suggests the lover creeping up (or down) stairs afraid of being revealed by a creaking board. The song glossary for The Scottish Folksinger gives “Timber-stairs” as the pillory but this is not confirmed by the dictionaries in use for this project.

James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, wrote to a friend in 1817 to persuade him that his recent appearance as a penitent was “A thing …of no consequence”, adding “I have myself stood with a red face on the Stool of Repentance where I perhaps got the highest compliment paid to me ever I got in my life as the minister began by saying ‘he was sorry he had that day to rebuke a man who was more fit to be his teacher.’”

The song first appears as we have it in David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs 1776 – 91 P.181, where the title is “Fisherraw.” Our chorus is Herd’s last verse. His glossary explains that the “stool of repentance is a conspicuous seat in the Presbyterian churches, where those persons who have been guilty of incontinence are obliged to appear before the congregation for several successive Sundays, and receive a public rebuke from the minister.”

A later editor, Robert Chambers, in Songs Of Scotland Prior To Burns 1890 p.139 feels that “all that is presentable” of the song is the first verse and chorus – no mention of cutty stools for him. But he adds “There is good reason to believe that the old song and air existed from a time a good way back in the seventeenth century” because in a poetical tract published in London in 1686 Chambers found this verse:

This Janet is a bonny lass, / This Janet is my dearie
What then need I lig (lie)  by myself / And Janet’s bed sae near me?