June 9th 1609
Deacon bowingThe old Town Councils of Perth consisted of twenty six members of whom fourteen were appointed by the merchants. Having a majority of members, they inevitably chose the Lord Provost and Dean of Guild. The other twelve seats were composed of the Deacons of the various trades within the town.
There was always tremendous competition for the position of Deacon and the canvassing before the election was both continuous and expensive. Candidates and their backers went round the members cajoling, flattering, pleading and dispensing very large amounts of liquor, This excessive canvassing called booing or bowing was officially frowned upon. The Glovers, June 9th 1609 - “Freemen seen bowing about the election time, and asking votes, should lose their freedom.”
The enactment seemed to have little effect. Seventy years later they were still trying to eliminate the practice. “Members bowing about election time, either in a direct or private manner, to be punished.” There followed a series of suggested monetary fines and even imprisonment but all through the 18th Century the practice continued unabated. Many candidates opened ‘free tables’ for the refreshment of their supporters. It was said “that individuals in affluent circumstances often brought themselves to poverty, besides acquiring dissipated habits and destroying their own health and family comfort.”
The morning of the first Wednesday after Michaelmas was the day on which the elections took place. Canvassing and chicanery continued right till the end. Opposition voters were plied with drink the night before until they sank into a drunken stupor. They were then watched over carefully until the election was finished. Some were sent off on false errands to the country or even locked in their homes.
At about six in the morning the various trades congregated in their respective halls. Liquor was again provided by the two contestants and a day of celebration or mortification was enjoyed by all. In earlier times it was the custom for the new Deacon to present his trade with a musket which was no doubt a handy weapon to have around. But as living became rather more peaceful the custom was dropped and a contribution of £5 Scots substituted.
Sometime after 1830 the method of choosing the Town Council changed. The Trades Incorporations no longer had the automatic right of putting forward deacons and the practice of bowing was at last discontinued.