Objects of Charitie: Beggars’ Badges

Scottish beggars’ badges.

BEGGARS’ BADGES. One of the earliest references to the regulation of begging in Scotland is an Act of the Scottish Parliament, 1424, c. 25, which prohibited from begging disorderly persons fit to work, and granted permission to the poor to continue begging under certain regulations, such poor being identified by the permission of a badge or token. Among other Acts bearing on this question was one passed in 1672, which provided that when the contributions at church proved insufficient to maintain the poor, deserving paupers should be supplied with badges or tickets entitling them to ask alms in their own parishes. An English Act bearing on this subject is Act 5 and 6, Edward VI., c. 2, whereby the poor might be licensed to beg, and such as were licensed were to “weare openly upon him bothe on the breast and the back of his uttermost garment some notable badge or token.”

Badges were usually of lead, but were occasionally of brass, copper, or mixed metal. In modern times they were sometimes of cardboard, having suitable words printed thereon.

They are designated badges, blazons, tickets, testimonials, and such like. In connection with this subject it may be remarked that the ordinary bedesmen had embroidered on the sleeve of their gown the cognisance or badge of their founder.

It is in the eighteenth century that mention is most frequently made of badges, but in the Session record of Stow we find, so early as 1635, that £3 was paid for badges to the poor. In Dumfries the wearers of such tokens were known as “badgers.”

The entries in the minutes of the Kirk Session of Keith may be taken as one of the most illustrative of this subject among northern parishes :—

(1) “1730, June 26. The Session met in pursuance of an act of the J. P.’s of this shire for clearing this county of vagabonds, &c., and for taking care of the poor of the parish, each parish being oblidged to maintain their own poor. The Session resolve that the poor in the parish who are natives get bages, tokens, or testimonials when required. Those not born parishioners, but had been for twenty or thirty years in the parish, the Session refer their case to a fuller meeting. Those lately fallen into the parish the Session refer till it be seen what other parishes do.”

(2) “1741. Paid of coarse copper for badges 4s stg. To making the badges 18s.”

(3) “1742, May 25. The Session met with Alexander Grant of Tochieneil, factor to the Earl of Findlater and Seafield, and Thomas Innes of Muiryfold, factor to Lord Braco, as also several other gentlemen and heads of families, who taking to their serious consideration the state of the poor of the parish, agreeable to what is done in other parishes in this County, and the roll of those who are or pretend to be poor in this parish, being considered there were several who were either Highlanders lately come into the parish, or idlers having youth and strength and supposed to be able to maintain themselves, who were ordered to be cancelled; but those who were inborn poor, and others who had spent their strength and substance in the parish, and also such as were real objects of charity, were ordered to be enrolled, but at the same time it was enacted that all those enrolled poor should dispone their whole goods and gear to the Session for the use of the poor of this parish, or sign the disposition underwritten before they receive badges to beg, which badges, being provided by the Session, were produced by the clerk, being some coarse brass or coper found among the collections melted and formed into little badges with the word KEITH upon them, and a particular number for each, which were seen and approven, and further they ordained that the parish be divided into six parts, and that the begging poor do take a part of the parish to beg in for each day of the week, as follows :” &c.

(4) “1789, February 9th. Paid for 36 blazons for the poor of this parish, 12s.”

(5) ” 1815, August 18. By cash to Mr. Kynoch for a stamp for making badges for the poor, 4s. By cash to Mr. Kynoch for lead and stamping 55 badges, 7s. 6d.”

(6) “1826. Paid for sacramental tokens and badges for the poor —”

(7) “1827, Feb. 16. The moderator stated to the meeting [of Heritors and others concerned in the management of the Poor’s Funds] that in consequence of a great number of vagrants coming to this place and settling in it, it was a great injury to the poor of the parish, and that he would be happy if measures could be concerted to put a stop to such a practice. It was agreed that Badges should be made for the poor of the parish, and that all the Badges should be numbered. April 15. List of persons to whom badges are to be given, 29 in all, of whom 4 are men and 25 women. Mr. Kynoch was appointed to make the badges.”

(8) “1839, November 15. A meeting of the Heritors of this parish [Keith] agreed that badges be given to the deserving poor who are already in the practice of begging.”

A few extracts may be given in reference to other parishes :—

Huntly.—” 1742, May 19. The Session take under consideration the Act of the Justice of Peace in the county of Aberdeen at the Quarter Sessions in December last with respect to the poor, and likewise the regulations agreed upon by the Presbytery of Strathbogie. They take a list of the poor of the parish of Huntly, and divide the same into six divisions, and appoint the poor of these divisions to beg within the bounds thereof, and a constable for each division for taking care that the Acts of the Justice of Peace relative to beggars be duly observed. Blaisons are appointed to be given to all the beggars.” [These were 34 in number, excluding the town’s beggars.]

Huntly.—”1789. Paid for 36 blazons for the poor of this parish.”

The Huntly badge shown in the illustration is a heavy mass of lead, ol oval shape, and upwards of two inches in length.

Rothiemay.—”1660, May 6. Concerning giving of tokens to the poor of the parish to be advysed with the gentlemen, &c., of the parish.”

Rothiemay.—”1839, Nov. 15. The heritors agree that badges be given to the deserving poor who are already in the practice of begging.”

Mortlach.—1815. The Keith Session allow their poor to beg within the parish, and grant them tickets for that purpose.

Grange.—1688. “An Act made by the Session that no beggar without the pariochin be supplied, and that all within the pariochin that ar objects of charitie shall have tokens whereby they may be known, and non others to be served. The travellers among the poor being asked if they were willing to have tokens, refused all unanimously.”

Grange.— 1730. “Paid for 15 medals inscribed GRANGE, 15s. Sc. for the travelling poor.”

Grange.—1742. “Badges appointed by the Heritors and Session to be given to the begging poor. Paid to George Symon for the badges £1 16s.”

Grange.—1840. “Paid for printing badges 2s. od.” These badges are of cardboard. A specimen, in the possession of the present writer, bears the words: “Permit — to beg through the parish of Grange. J. M. Innes, Heritor.”

Bayndie.—1814. The Session give metal badges, with the name of the parish inscribed thereon, to three mendicants, whom they consider proper objects for receiving the charity of their fellow-parishioners.

Rathven.—1730. “The heretors appointed badges of lead, stamped with ‘R — N,’ to be given to the poor to travel through the parish for supply, also ordained that none else get badges but the listed poor.”

Banff.—1742. To serve the burgh’s own poor, and to keep out stranger beggars, it was ordained “that there be a list made of all necessitous and depauperate persons within this burgh, and that badges of lead be made out, and delivered to them by the direction of the magistrates, for allowing them to begg every Saturday throw the town, but at no other time, and that stranger beggars be imprisoned, or punished as the law directs.” Also “that if any burgess serve, or resett, any begging poor, except those above mentioned, and at the time above exprest, they shall pay a penalty of 20s. Sc., the one half payable to the informer, the other half to be applyed for the use of the poor.”

Banff.—1742. “Paid Robert Davidson, smith, £4 Sc., for making badges to the poor,” &c.

Banff.—1775. “The bailies report eight persons to obtain badges. The inhabitants are ordered not to set houses to, or harbour persons who have not any visible way to maintain themselves.”

On referring to the illustration, it will be observed that some of the badges have holes, whereby they could be sewed on to the badger’s “uttermost garment.” Of the badges figured, those of Huntly, Boharm, and Ecclesgreig (St. Cyrus), are from the collection of the present writer, the others, except that of Montrose, are figured from rough sketches of specimens contained in the collection of the late Mr. Rae.


Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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