A Guide to Lanimer Day and the Lanimer Celebrations
by Ex-Lord Cornet Paul Archibald & Ex-Lord Cornet T. Henry Shanks
Although the Lanimer Celebrations consist of nearly a week long series of events Lanimer Day itself falls on the Thursday between the 6th and 12th June each year. The only exceptions to this rule being when the powers that be call some sort of election that clashes with the traditional date. In such cases the events are organised for the following week.
In the past these celebrations have been referred to under several names – Landemuir day, landemuris, Landmarches, Ryding of the Merches, etc. All are versions or corruptions of Land Marches. When the Crown established Royal Burghs, as part of the contract, the burgesses of the town had to examine the march stones every year and report that all was well or ill according to what they found. The checking of Lanark’s March Stones is the source of today’s much expanded celebrations.
Lanark is one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland, its Charter being granted by King David I (1124-1153). Lanark may be unique in being the only Burgh that has checked its boundaries each year since it was established c.1140. In 1588 the Burgh records describe the Lanimers as being 'ancient and yearly'. The checking of such bounds was taken seriously by the Crown. Rutherglen was in trouble about 1581 for not carrying out this required duty. A report on Lanark’s boundaries is still sent to the Crown.
Today there are 15 march stones situated at various points around the burgh lands a few of which are relatively new being replacements for those “lost” over the years. Most of the replacements were installed to mark the Millennium.
What started as a simple duty soon turned into an annual festival, "The Lanimers”. Originally all the events were packed into Lanimer Day but gradually during the late 19th and early 20th Century the celebrations began to expand to fill the whole week. What started as a “business practice” carried out by paid officials of the Town Council, had by the 17th century evolved into a more enjoyable affair with the burgesses vying with each other for the honour of carrying the Burgh Standard on Lanimer Day. The person appointed for the year became known at first as the Standard Bearer, then as the Cornet and is nowadays most often referred to as the Lord Cornet.
The office of Lord Cornet is of ancient origin its holder having important duties to carry out in relation to the maintenance of the burgh boundaries. The first named Standard Bearer appears in print in 1670 - one John Aitkein. These days he is also charged with representing the town at similar festivals throughout the Borders and the West of Scotland.
Until 1834 the Town Council and Deacons of Crafts took it in turns to make the appointment. From 1834 - 1974 the Provost & Magistrates made the decision and since 1974 a Committee has chosen the Lord Cornet, that group comprising the Chairman of the Lanimer Committee, the Dean of the Guildry, the two local authority Councillors for Lanark, the Chairman of the Community Council and a representative from the Lord Cornets' Club.
Whilst the duty of inspecting the land march stones would originally have been a simple matter, as years went by the process was elaborated upon and became more festive in nature with more people becoming involved. Processions, with decorated vehicles started in the 19th Century as part of the Lord Cornet’s Procession and over time gradually developed into the colourful affair that we have today.
In 1892 the first of two major innovations took place. A recently re-organised Lanimer Committee decided to seek the involvement of more people in the celebrations. A sub-committee was formed to approach the Masters of the local schools with a view to involving children. They were also to approach the managers of the weaving mills at New Lanark and Kirkfieldbank to request the presence of workers. The extra effort and preparations resulted in about 700 children being turned out for the procession, the first time large numbers had participated.
The following year saw the introduction of a Lanimer Queen and her court complete with costumes and a crowning ceremony closely based on that of Queen Victoria’s. This innovation proved to be a huge success and over 1,000 children took part on Lanimer Day along with numerous apprentice tradesmen with banners and emblems of their trade.
The first Lanimer Queen was Grace Adams a daughter of a local joiner. The Lanimer Queen is still elected annually by her peers, in rotation from six schools, Lanark Grammar School, Robert Owen Memorial Primary School, Lanark Primary School, St Mary's Primary School, New Lanark Primary School and Kirkfieldbank Primary School.
not ‘new’ this aspect of Lanimer Week is of relatively
recent origin dating to 1951 when the Lord Cornets’ Club
initiated this ceremony. It consists of participants
assembling in Lanark Memorial Hall at 11.40 a.m. and then
marching in procession to St. Nicholas Parish Church for a
service commencing at noon. After the service the procession
re-assembles and proceeds to Hope Street where some short
speeches are made before the assembled group disbands. There
are various functions in the town thereafter but none of
these are official events albeit that some are hosted by
those involved in some official capacity during the year.
Regarded by many Lanarkians as
their favourite day of the week, the Perambulation of the
Marches dates back to 1752, until then riders did the whole
circuit on horseback during the one day. Due to an increase
in the cropping of fields along the route it became
difficult for the horsemen to pass without damaging the
crops therefore the Perambulation was carried out at the
start of the day. This continued until sometime after the
mid 1800's when the first part of the inspection was moved
from the Thursday to the Monday of the same week. Nowadays
starting in Hope Street at 6 p. m. and led by the Lord
Cornet and Ex-Lord Cornets’ what can appear to be the whole
town traverse the countryside to the north of the town
checking along the way those march stones in this part of
the Burgh. The actual numbers of those taking part can vary
but in an average year there are around 2,500 participants
walking a distance of about 8Km (over 3½ miles).
Having returned to the Cross the ceremony of
the Shifting of the Standard takes place at 8.15 p. m. This
consists of the returning of the Burgh Standard by the
previous year’s Lord Cornet, after a speech in which he
outlines the highlights of his year in office, to the
Chairman of the Lanimer Committee. The Standard is in turn
passed to the incoming Lord Cornet who is instructed to
return it one year hence “unsullied and unstained”.
Following the presentation to the Lord Cornet of his sash of
office and his Cornets’ Club Badge. The party form a
procession and marches to Castlebank Park where footraces
for all ages are held. The evening concludes with the Lord
Cornet’s Reception at which he plays host to those who have
supported the Perambulation of the Marches and visitors.
In previous years the Lanimer Ball was held on the evening of Lanimer Day in the County Buildings in Hope Street. Due to the pressure of events on Lanimer Day it was moved to the Tuesday evening before Lanimer Day. Although a formal occasion it is not exclusive and anyone may attend – provided they can obtain a ticket. The ball is a special evening for the Lanimer Queen elect as she is escorted to the event by the Lord Cornet. It is organised and run by the Lord Cornets’ Club.
Evening Ride Out by the Lord Cornet, Ex-Lord Cornets and friends to examine the March stones on the west, east and south sides of the town. As part of the evenings proceedings horse races are held for participants of the ride out. A range of races takes place from those on ponies to one for Ex-Lord Cornets and for one of the oldest horse races anywhere – The Burgh Spurs. After covering further countryside the group stops at nearby New Lanark for rest and refreshments. Prizes for the winners of the races are distributed and the Lanimer Queen is presented with a Loving Cup by New Lanark Community Council. The group then reforms and returns cross country to Lanark.
The main day of the celebrations packed with activity and is also the longest of the week. The official day starts with the uplifting of the Lord Cornet from his house by members of the Lord Cornets’ Club led by Strathclyde Police Mounted Branch. This cavalcade then proceeds to the Memorial Hall where the Lord Cornet and his entourage greet the many visiting Principals and other guests. This is followed by the “Safe Oot, Safe In” toast given by the Provost of South Lanarkshire. The Lord Cornet and his party then form a procession and proceed to Hope Street and Bloomgate where they are met by massed bands and make their way via the Cross to St. Leonard Street where the rest of the participants in the Morning Procession have assembled.
The Procession - At 10.00 a.m. the processions starts on its route. In 2005 over 1,450 people took part in the Lanimer Day Morning Procession. This figure included over 700 children, 18 Lanimer entries, 12 bands and others.
The Crowning of the Lanimer Queen – After the Procession has travelled down the High Street for the second time. The children and other participants congregate on stands at The Cross to await the arrival of the Lanimer Queen. Once the Lanimer Queen and her Court are in position on top of the dais the Crowning Ceremony takes place. The ceremony and accompanying pageantry have remained largely unchanged since the crowning of the first Lanimer Queen in 1893.
Following the Crowning a variety of entertainment is available to all who wish to attend at Castlebank Park. Music, games, displays, stalls and sideshows are all laid on.
Whilst this is taking place the Lord Cornet and his party assemble for the Afternoon Ride Out. During this the Lord Cornet completes the checking of the March Stones in preparation for his Declaration at Lanark Cross at 5.30p.m. The Declaration takes the form of an official report on the March Stones he has inspected throughout the week and whether they were in their correct places or not.
Following the Declaration an “Evening Spectacular” takes place, this modern introduction in the form of a miniature military tattoo culminating in the Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire taking the salute as the bands march off.
The day is rounded off with the Lanimer Queen’s Reception in Lanark Memorial Hall between 7.30 and 10.00 p. m. During the reception many of the children who took part on the Morning Procession perform by singing and (or) dancing. The Queen and her court also perform a series of “court dances” throughout the evening.
In other places these would be called ‘floats’ but Lanark is different and has always referred to entries in the Lanimer Procession as ‘lorries’. Originally simple horse drawn affairs these due to the competitive nature of the event were soon to become more and more elaborate and with the advent of motorised vehicles of a much larger size. Most of the lorries taking part in are designed and built by local people who have usually been working throughout the previous year raising funds and planning for the ‘big day’. Participants are not allowed to use commercial funding nor is commercial advertising allowed on any of the lorries.
Officially known as Lanimer Medals these items of Lanimer paraphernalia date to the introduction of the Lanimer Queen in 1893. Originally all the children taking part in the procession on Lanimer morning were presented with a penny coin minted in that year.
In most of the following years either a coin or a specially struck medal of bronze or aluminium was presented. The medal had on one side the crest of the Royal Burgh of Lanark and on the reverse the year of issue with the names of the principal characters such as the Lord Cornet and Lanimer Queen. In 2005 2,300 Lanimer medals were struck.
Visitors often ask why there are people in the Lanimer Procession whose sole job seems to be to carry branches of birch trees around the route. The reason for their inclusion in the Lanimer Procession lies in a series of disputes with the Laird of Jerviswood, which originally flared up between 1696 and 1702. This dispute centred on the terms of a new charter granted to George Baillie of Jerviswood by the Burgh. The Burgh after long negotiations retained their rights to traverse the lands.
A second dispute took place at the end of the 18th century and again the Burgh won its case again in connection with rights to the land.
The third and most serious fracas arose from damage caused by about 300 participants in the Perambulation of the Marches through the southern part of the Jerviswood estate in 1840. The crowd was accused of damaging upwards of 300 young birch trees in a plantation and the Laird maintained that the people of Lanark should not trespass on his land. Over the ensuing seven years the dispute continued and in 1848 it appeared that the Council was on the verge of admitting defeat. John Marr pressed for the investigation of the official records. To the delight of all Lanarkians it was discovered that Laird of Jerviswood had never been sold the land. The Council thereafter maintained the annual tradition of walking round the march stones and birks were carried to illustrate that they had exercised their rights to traverse the lands of Jerviswood.
The tradition of a cake being baked for the Lanimer Queen dates back to the late 1890’s when the Lawson Family first started producing the cake and even going so far as to have it placed on a lorry and transported around the Lanimer Procession route on Lanimer Day. This tradition is still upheld but the cake is no longer part of the Procession.
Queen’s Champion; First Lord; Second Lord; 4 Outriders; 2 Yeomen of the Guard; 2 Heralds; Crown Bearer; Sceptre Bearer; Sword Bearer; Proclamation Bearer; 2 Page Boys; 12 Ladies in Waiting and 2 Chief Maids.
The Lord Cornet is supported throughout his term of office by his Left and Right Hand Men. They are the former Lord Cornets of the preceding two years. They wear their identifying red and blue rosettes whilst the Lord Cornet's is white.
Up until 1892 the Lanimer Committee was formed by election from Ratepayers within the Burgh. From then the Town Council took a more active role with initially all the members of the Town Council being on the Committee. The Council remained the main driving force until 1975 when due to Local Government re-organisation a solely voluntary Committee took up the duties. The Lanimer Committee is the main organising committee for the whole of Lanimer Week. Headed by a Chairman (3 year term) and an Executive Committee there are currently 17 Sub-Committees drawn up from the 136 individual members.
Each Lord Cornet automatically becomes a member of the Lord Cornets' Club which was established by former Lord Cornets of the town in 1949. The principal objectives of the Club are to support the Lord Cornet in his year of office and to maintain the equestrian traditions associated with the Lanimers. To this end the Club keeps in contact with other border towns, supporting their festivals and inviting their representatives to Lanark.
Honorary members of the Club appointed each year are the Chairman of the Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council, the Chairman of the Lanimer Committee and the Club Chaplain.
The Cornets’ Club is responsible for the organisation of all the equestrian aspects of Lanimer Week, the Kirkin’ of the Lord Cornet Elect and also for the Lanimer Ball. It raises funds throughout the year which help to defray the costs of Lanimer Week.
Sponsors are those groups or individuals who take part in the Morning Procession by entering a lorry or some other form of entry. They spend most of the year planning and organising the various aspects required to form an entry starting with ideas for a suitable topic and working through such problems as drawing up plans, raising funds, designing and making costumes, obtaining material, obtaining a suitable construction site, borrowing or buying a suitable vehicle to base the lorry on, find volunteers to help build the lorry, organise helpers to make artificial flowers for the lorry, organise practices for the children’s ‘turn’ at the Lanimer Queen’s Reception, build the lorry, organise a dress rehearsal and finally turn up on the day at the right time and in the right place! Since 1995 Sponsors have been able to get help through a group set up by the Lanimer Committee that gives advice to all those interested in taking part as Sponsors.
Lanark during Lanimer Week is charged with an air of expectancy, excitement and enthusiasm. Each year brings something new – a new Lord Cornet, a new Lanimer Queen and a new procession, frequently with some old faces, and pageants and displays involving more and more people. Lanimer Day is, for many, the highlight of the week and the culmination of up to a years inspiration, application and perspiration. The Schools are closed, grown ups are off work and everyone is up early. The Procession is huge, the children in turn exited and tired, the adults tired and emotional. The festivities continue all day and well into the night – Lanarkians love Lanimers. Lanimer Week and Lanimer Day are not just for Lanarkians anyone is more than welcome to come and join in the fun. After all the best way to form your own impressions of one of Scotland’s Oldest Festivals is to take part in it!