One of Lanark’s great traditions is the Het Pint which is celebrated on New Year’s Day at the Tolbooth in Lanark. It has not always been at the Tolbooth as it used to be held at the County Buildings in Hope Street before it became a Court building.
It is an important occasion as it is an opportunity for the Chairman of the Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council to make a report to the people of Lanark. But that is not the most important part of proceedings. It is an important social opportunity for people to greet each other and wish each other ‘A Happy New Year’ as well as drinking the Het Pint. These days, the Het Pint is in fact mulled wine but not any old mulled wine. The exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret kept by the Community Council and then handed down to younger members.
The drinking of the Het Pint is not the only important part of the celebration of the Het Pint. Pensioners over 60 line up in an orderly fashion to receive a Bank Of Scotland pound note. Some of these are newish notes provided by the Bank of Scotland, others are recycled notes. I remember my good friend, the late Malcolm Gair, had the responsibility to prepare the notes for distribution. To maintain a degree of crispness, the notes had sometimes to be soaked then ironed. Indeed, this could be described as money laundering, but it is an important part of the proceedings.
Looking into the origins of the Het Pint, I discovered it had nothing to do with “decayed burgesses” (poor and elderly citizens) of the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Lanark. Indeed, the Het Pint tradition was based on a sum of money left to pay for the education fees for five poor scholars plus other sums to the headteacher and a person known as musitioner. The function of the musitioner was to teach music and to take care of the five scholars who had been given a bursary.
The funding for the bursary came from what is known as the Hyndford Mortification. The term Mortification originally meant a penance but in the case of the Het Pint, it appears to be more like a bequest. In 1662, it was recorded in the Burgh Records that James Carmichael had made available “two bonds and a ticket” to the value of 7,800 merks on paper. This sounded a very promising basis for ensuring that the terms of the mortification were carried out. In reality, the council had some difficulty in collecting this money.
It is unclear as to the role of the mulled ale in the grant of money to the five scholars. Maybe they were provided with some ale and bread as part of their sustenance. It was quite common to provide pupils with ale as the water from wells was unfit to drink due to pollution. The ale would be what is known as Small Ale. In other words it was fairly weak and only had 2% alcohol in it. The idea of adding spices may have been done at New Year to add something extra. It was served in large glasses containing a Scots Pint, which at the time was equivalent to three imperial pints!
The idea of giving the money and the ale gradually changed till by the late 18th century, the Het Pint was specially organized for decayed burgesses rather than poor scholars. This was made possible by the terms of the bequest that stated that the money could either be used for the scholars or a suitably pious purpose!
The distribution of the funds of the Mortification rested with Lanark Council till 1929 and then it was transferred to Lanark County Council. The funding now is the responsibility of South Lanarkshire Council as the holders of the Hyndford Mortification.
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Telling the story of Lanark, through a curated collection of articles and media. The Lanark Story is a collaborative project involving Lanark and District Archaelogical Society and the Friends of Lanark Museum.