The exact origins and age of this most oddly named of Lanark's customs is unfortunately never likely to be conclusively proven. Held on the 1st March each year the modern version of the custom comprises of a large group of young children gathering at the foot of the Town Steeple, Lanark Cross at 6pm.
Each child is equipped with a ball of paper on the end of a length of string. On the first stroke of the small bell, which has lain silent since the end of the previous autumn, the children run three times (clockwise) around the church swinging the balls of paper over their heads. After the completion of the run there is a scramble for small change held in Hyndford Place.
Whuppity Scoorie is organised these days by The Royal Burgh of Lanark Community Council who took over the role from the Town Council in 1975, but in the distant past it does not appear to have been an "official" event as there is no mention of it in the Town Council Minutes. The only written records concerning the event are to be found in the pages of the Hamilton Advertiser.
Various theories have been put forward both for the origin of the ceremony and for the unusual name. The name Whuppity Scoorie appears for the first time in association with this ceremony in 1890 when the Hamilton Advertiser reported on "Ringing the Six o' Clock Bell" stating that as the bell was rung the local youths cheering then indulged in "the lively variation of Whuppit Scoorie" in which the boys having a bonnet tied to a string whirl them about their heads and if they see one of their number off his guard he gets a quick awakening. The ceremony was not reported under the headline Whuppity Scoorie until 1893.
For many years there was a connection with the Wee Bell ceremony and New Lanark, although the earliest reports make no mention of this. The exact source of this is unknown but it was reported in 1894 that although the custom was believed to be centuries old, for the last 120 years the boys had marched to meet the workers coming home from New Lanark and employed their bonnets as at the Cross, but sometimes other weapons were used.
There is even less evidence to suggest that the origins of the custom are to be found in the whipping and scouring of miscreants in the burgh in bygone ages or in the punishment of witches. The burgh and kirk session records record no such punishments.
Perhaps like Lanark's other festivities Whuppity Scoorie or "The Wee Bell Ceremony" has a more prosaic source. The ringing of the bell which had been silent throughout the winter darkness heralded the advent of spring and lighter evenings after the days work was done. Possibly the custom grew as a spontaneous celebration on the part of the apprentices and other youth of the town to mark the onset of leisure time which could be appreciated in daylight.
Information and Image credit: Lanark Museum Trust
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