At the heart of so many Scottish towns and cities stands a mercat cross. First recorded in the late twelfth century, mercat crosses signaled a Royal Burgh’s unique trading privileges and its direct relationship with the crown. These crosses also became focal points for legal and political practises: sites for enacting justice; platforms for promulgating official proclamations; meeting spaces for burgh magistrates in lieu of a tolbooth or town house. Over time, the head towns of each shire and ‘burghs of barony’ also erected similar structures to display their status and identity. Throughout the early modern period, the mercat cross formed a gathering place for local celebrations,like the swearing in of new burgesses, and kingdom-wide commemoration of important events like the Gowrie Conspiracy on 5 August 1600, or ‘Restoration Day’ on 29 May 1660. In the twentieth century, many Scots chose to repair, embellish, or replicate mercat crosses as they erected memorials to friends and neighbours killed abroad in the world wars.1 Far more than strictly commercial markers, then, Scotland’s mercat crosses evoke the idea of local, national, and even global Scottish communities; a centre stage for the everyday life of Scots across the centuries.
We’ve taken Mercat Crossings as the name of our blog to capture this idea of people coming, going, and interacting across time and space within the Scottish past. The Economic & Social History Society of Scotland has been at the centre of research into Scotland’s history since 1983 and now, in a changing world, we wanted to ensure an online space for everyone to share their research. We will share a new post each month, and we are keen to cover a wide range of topics, periods, places, and approaches to Scottish History. We aim to create a place for everyone involved and interested with the Scottish past, be they established academics, early career researchers, educators, museum volunteers, or heritage professionals.
We hope you’ll enjoy participating in our online community by reading and sharing all the great content we have lined up for you in coming months, and if you’d like to write a post outlining your own research, teaching, or heritage project, then do get in touch by emailing our Convenor, Laura Doak.
At the cross we shall meet again!
1 G. T. Bell, ‘Monuments to the Fallen: Scottish War Memorials of the Great War’ (PhD Thesis: University of Strathclyde, 1993), pp. 230-233.
Ideas for Further Reading
- Bell, G. T., ‘Monuments to the Fallen: Scottish War Memorials of the Great War’ (PhD: University of Strathclyde, 1993). Available online.
- Black, W. G., The Scots Mercat ‘Cross’: An Inquiry as to its History and Meaning (Glasgow: William Hodge & Co. Ltd., 1930).
- Fraser, G. M., ‘The market cross of Aberdeen’, Scottish Historical Review, 5 (1908), pp.177-180.
- Mair, C., Mercat Cross and Tolbooth: Understanding Scotland’s Old Burghs (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1988).
- Munro, A. M., The History of the Aberdeen Market Cross (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Philosophical Society, 1910).
- Small, J. W., Scottish Market Crosses (Stirling: Eneas Mackay, 1900).
- Thomson, L. J., ‘Scottish market crosses: the development of a risk assessment model’ (PhD: Robert Gordon University, 2000). Available online.