The Braehead Basin, Edinburgh and the LothiansFolk customs are not the sole preserve of what might be described as the common herd. One ancient and noble tradition that has been observed in relatively modern times, and will doubtless be performed again in the future, concerns the Howison family of Braehead near Cramond.
The origins of the custom are decidedly romantic. James V was wont, like Haroun al Rashid in the Arabian Nights, to venture forth in disguise – though as on this particular occasion he was visiting a peasant girl in Cramond his expeditions apparently were not always to gather information.
As James was crossing the little bridge over the River Almond he was attacked by footpads. The disguised monarch fought for his life, but was wounded and on the point of defeat when a labourer from a nearby field ran to his aid and with just a flail routed the thieves.
The farm-worker was James Howison, who while attending to the cuts of the wounded man with water and cloth told him that his dream was to be master of Braehead, the royal estate on which he worked. James told him to come to Holyrood and seek the goodman of Ballengeich. He did so, and was met by the stranger, still disguised, and led to the court where he had been told only the king could wear a bonnet – and of course this proved to be the stranger, who granted his saviour’s wish.
Since that time the Howison family crest has featured a basin and napkin, and whenever the sovereign is at Holyrood or visits Cramond the family has to be ready to present him or her with a basin, ewer and towel for hand washing. This occurred in 1822 when George IV visited; and the then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret observed the custom in the first half of the 20th century – Queen Elizabeth at her coronation also enjoyed this most hygienic of customs.
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