THE DEACONS COURT
The Court of the Deacons of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow is a voluntary organisation made up of deacons from town organisations, other duly elected members and all living Past Provosts.
Their prime function is to finance, organise and manage the Riding of the Marches. This is a year round task which annually gets more difficult as Marches Day costs rise to over £40,000. Through annual dances, Burns Suppers, Street Fairs, raffles and donations the necessary money is raised to pay for the many expenses incurred in running the town’s historic events.
Everyone riding the Marches with the Deacons Court, including the Provost, Bailies and officials all generously donate towards the fund raising efforts as costs continue to rise, currently to around £85 per person.
For centuries, the Town Council of the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Linlithgow had organised and run the time-honoured ceremonies associated with the Riding of the Marches. These ancient traditions were threatened when, in 1973, the Local Government (Scotland) Act was passed. The first elections to the new district and regional councils were held on the 7th May 1974, with the newly-elected councillors sitting as "shadow authorities" until the 16th May 1975, when they came into their powers.
These new councils were based in Bathgate and Edinburgh and consequently, the question of who was going to continue the Marches traditions loomed large over the closing days of the Linlithgow Burgh Council. They, and hundreds of townsfolk, were determined that the ancient customs should not die - along with all the community spirit and camaraderie which they engendered. The result was the formation of “The Court of the Deacons of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow.” The name was chosen as it bore reference to the historic selection of ‘diakonos’ or servants of each trade guild. The newly elected deacons of the Court were to serve the town by continuing the Marches traditions - including the unique parades of deacons on the two Saturdays before the Marches Day.
Dr William Wilson, the last Provost of the Town Council, was appointed as the new Chairman of the Court. His vice Chairman was David Cook, a primary school headteacher, whose experience as a Bailie and as Convenor of the Marches Committee on the old Council were invaluable. Deservedly, he went on to become the second Court Chairman in 1979. In imitation of the ‘Old Order’, the Chairperson of the Court was to be titled “Provost” and his three deputies “Bailies”. The Court also had the power to appoint a bell ringer, halberdiers, flag-bearers and a Town Crier - the first being John Shipton. The constitution of the Burgh Council also furnished the still-existing rules of the Court: the Provost and Bailies serve for three years; all organisations participating in the Marches may appoint a Deacon to serve on the Court; all other deacons are elected (these days in November) and stand for re-election every three years.
The first Deacons’ Court–organised Marches Day occurred on Tuesday, June 19th 1975 when, with the permission of the Lord Lyon, the chief officials were allowed to wear the red, ermine-trimmed robes of office once worn by the leading dignitaries of the previous authority.
A huge crowd turned out to cheer the continuation of the ancient customs and to give thanks to those responsible for ensuring that the time-honoured traditions had not passed away into oblivion. Few of those original, far-sighted folk are still with us. Provosts Wilson, Cook, Stobie and Baird have gone. The first Clerk (Jack Lawrie) and the first treasurer (Jim Easton) have long been superseded. Jim Easton was followed by Ken Lindsay in 1980 but, sadly, Ken too passed away in August 2010. Ex-Councillors Jim Clark, Jimmy McGinley and Mel Gray are no longer with us. And yet, the foundations of the modern Marches, as laid down by these, and many other like-minded individuals, are still secure. The Marches Day still continues on the second Tuesday after the first Thursday in June. Long may it do so.
Long Live the Marches.