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Peasemeal Battles

The Universities of Scotland had a holiday called Meal Monday to permit Students to return to their farms and collect more oats for food.  During the 17th century, Scottish University Students lived in very basic accommodation and were required to bring their own fuel, faggots or peat to maintain a fire.  Their diet was meagre too, largely consisting of oatmeal, which they would make into porridge.  This lifestyle would remain typical until the late 19th Century, Rev. James Sharp noted that as a student at the University of Edinburgh, the liberal Arts, Sciences and Theology were cultivated on oatmeal, with an occasional glass of beer on a Saturday night."

As the students' country homes or farms were some distance from the City Universities, an occasional long weekend was scheduled to permit them to replenish their supplies.  Originally, and until as recently as 1885, these Meal Mondays would occur regularly; the University of Edinburgh had one on the 1st Monday of every month. However, by 1896 Edinburgh established just 1 Official Holiday, on the 2nd Monday in February. Meal Monday remained widely observed in Scotland during the late 19th and 20th century, with Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities also having the Academic Holiday.  In 2006, Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith reported that "it was still celebrated some 30 years ago, when I was a student, although nobody used it to fetch oatmeal."  By the beginning of the 21st century, however, the Universities no longer afforded their students an official Meal Monday holiday, though the University of St Andrews still maintains Meal Monday as a statutory holiday for "manual staff."

Pease Brose, was a bit like porridge but made with ‘peasemeal’. It was more or less the same dish as the southern pease porridge/pottage. Nowadays it seems usually to be made from split peas or even crushed garden peas, although in the latter case it would be more of a pea soup.

Aftermath of a Peasemeal Battle c.1900  It Is merely a scene photographed during the Annual Rectorial Election Battle In the Quadrangle of the Marlschal College, Aberdeen Unlversity, The Peasemeal Battle between say the Unionists and the Labourites among the Students results in just such a messy scrap as is seen in the picture.  Pouches of dispensed Peasemeal litter the floor and the Students are suitably bespattered with it.

The tradition dates back to 1860 and involves a Battle between the student supporters of each Rectorial Candidate who throw eggs and flour at each other in the Marischal College Quadrangle The Battle begins with each team positioning a Flag at opposite ends of the Quad. Each side then tries to claim the other’s Flag. The Sacrist at Marischal College acted as Referee for the contest.  The team that succeeds 1st wins the Battle and their Victory is traditionally seen as a good omen for the Rectorial Election.

The noisy Nomination Fight in the Quadrangle of Marischal College which takes place between the supporters of the rival candidates is nothing but a survival of the16th century custom of setting upon the newly elected Rector, tearing his clothes off his back, and then requiring him to redeem the fragments at an exorbitant rate.  The Statute of 1552 which was passed to restrain "the too horrid and petulant mirth" of these occasions, does not venture to abolish the time-honoured "vestium laceratio."

There was quite a bit of rivalry there and we had a Rectorial Election in our 1st year and Sir Reginald Barclay was standing as a Liberal and my mother made me a huge Liberal rosette and it was rather like a cabbage, it was an enormous one and Sir Reginald took it as his mascot and put it on the bonnet of his car.  They had a peasemeal battle. I went down to the Quad to see the Peasemeal Battle.  Although the word Battle is used, they were friendly, yet boisterous, but I think a lot of it probably was students letting off steam, really more than political differences.

The Nomination Fight, or it may possibly have to go the way of the Peasemeal Battle which used to be a great feature at the delivery of the Rectorial Address. The Fight is a remnant of the old Bolognese system of destructive rowdyism at the Rectorial Election. The best description of such a Battle at Aberdeen is that which was written by Dr. W. Cardiff Hossack, though it appeared anonymously in the pages of the Students' Magazine.



It is all the more interesting in that it applies to the struggle of 1890 to revive the old, and the only sound, ideal of insisting on the Rector's being a Working Official and therefore a Local man.

The Antagonists were the 11th Marquis of Huntly, the only Rector of modern times who has been elected for 3 consecutive terms, and the Rt. Hon. James Bryce, M.P. for South Aberdeen.

The ridiculousness of introducing Parliamentary politics into the contest was brought out by the Liberals (and, therefore, presumably the National Home Rulers) supporting Mr. Bryce, who could not possibly have been a University Home Ruler owing to his duties in London.

The Peasemeal Battle - At 9.45am, the Followers of Bryce, under the leadership of Patrick William Diack, marched out from their meeting place in Golden Square, with their Banner at the head in the hands of 'Mackintosh  the Mighty' [a medical student who afterwards enlisted in the Life Guards] 15 minutes later, the Partisans of Huntly formed up in Bon-Accord Square, and set out in 3 divisions; 1st, the general body of the Defenders with the 'Football Men' in front, next, the Left attacking party, and lastly, the Right attacking party, the pick of the Company. Three pipers and a drummer led the Vanguard.  The march down was without special incident, at least, to the Processionists.  Doubtless the happy occupants of shop-doors, balconies, or buses, and the still more happy possessors of tall hats might have something else to say on this point.  Any one having any doubt on this point can consult the Billsticker on whom such liberal attentions were showered in Broad Street, or the old Gentleman who was going to a Funeral but somehow didn't. 

Entering the Quadrangle amid the cheers of its opponents, the Huntly Force took up position on the Pathological Lecture Room steps, and was soon arranged round the Standard in a dense compact body flanked by the 2 attack parties. The Football Men were placed immediately round the Flag. The disposition of the other Party on the Natural History steps was the same, but looser and less organised.  The respective Nominations having then been made by Dr. William Findlay and Dr. A. H. Bennett, the word was given, and "what a yell was there, as if men fought upon the earth and fiends in upper air." When the 1st smoke of Battle had cleared away, and the floating clouds subsided a little, it was seen that on both sides the attack - though furious - had been unsuccessful.  However, the men were fresh, so for some time the combat raged with unabated fury, neither party being able to pierce the Front, for though some Strong Giant would now and then penetrate as far as the steps, he was only to be cast out a minute later. In about 15 Minutes it became evident that while Huntly was firm and unbroken as ever, the loser and less compact front of the Brycites was commencing to succumb to furious assaults it had to sustain.  Reinforcements accordingly were sent, and in a short time, despite the splendid efforts of the mighty standard bearer and his men, the standard was gradually dislodged. They now became furious, but purposeless, for the standard once down, its capture was but a matter of time. Fragments of bunting now began to deck the Huntly Banner, and before long, a tremendous cheer announced that the body of the Standard was in the hands of the enemy, and that thus the toughest fight for many a day was virtually at an end.  But how narrow is the line that separates the sublime from the ridiculous

Oh Alfred, (Alfred Bennett), thy very name shouldst have kept thee from so unromantic a denouement, from dishonouring that poor tattered remnant by a hiding-place so ignoble that tongue cannot speak, pen write of it without shame. Of this more hereafter. . . .

All this time a good deal of desultory fighting had been going on around the Huntly Stronghold.  Here a small Brycite would rush, head down, into a looser part of the defence, and by assiduous twisting and boring work his way unnoticed pretty well into the mass, to be eventually thrown out with a force that sent him half across the Quadrangle. There some towering Hercules would, for a moment, carry all before, clearing men off right and left like ninepins, to meet in the end the same fate.

Now even this ceased, and one had leisure to look round and see  the traces of the struggle on the combatants.  This man with a cut lip, that with a bleeding nose, one with a jersey split from top to bottom, another with the tattered remnants of what had once been a jacket turned inside out; scattered some battered hats, some trampled caps among the assemblage, soak every man in perspiration and peasemeal, and a more disreputable, ferocious looking lot I defy you to produce. Little recked they of this, so the Huntly Banner was now unrolled, and led the jubilant procession of Victors up Union Street, with cheers and songs, to Bon-Accord Square once more, when, after hearty self-congratulation on this good omen of success in the election, they parted.  The Vanquished, instead of quietly dispersing, brought out the tattered fragments of their Banner from the shop to which it had been in so diplomatic and unromantic a manner conveyed, and had their procession too, eventually breaking up opposite the Infirmary. 

Peasemeal Battle 

No mercy given or required - in Glasgow students' Annual Rectorial "soot & peasemeal" battle - but eggs were barred this year!" Large group of Students run away from the camera towards a large building. Puffs of what looks like flour. Things are being thrown around in the air. Scenes of the students throwing small pouches of peasemeal at each other. Various shots of the Peasemeal Battle. Some of the students fight on the ground.


<Left - Peasemeal Battle Accounts 1894 & 1902



Students Rag Day 1931
A group of students in various fancy dress costumes dance with much abandon in front of a barrel organ.  Views of a parade of students in fancy dress through streets of Aberdeen. Many of them are carrying small white boxes, presumably collecting tins for charity donations.  Intertitle reads: "The Lord Provost was kidnapped and ransomed for a high sum to be paid on the spot!"  The student standing on back of lorry, talking and waving a stick as if taking bids.  Pan to Lord Provost who appears to be being held captive by 2 girls. The student appears to be auctioning the Lord Provost's freedom. The fee is paid and counted as the students cheer.  Drinks are handed out from the back of a decorated lorry and lots of people drinking in the streets.

The Students Rag 'Week' was a fund raising activity for local Charities and built up over the 6 days activity to a Grand Street Parade from the College around the town using many faculty decorated floats with collection cans abounding the surrounds.  Slogans like 'PitatannerIn' 'Gie'is A Bob' 'YoolBeGotAt' decorated the streets and collection boxes which were much shaken in your face till you yielded up an adequate contribution.  The students dressed up in outrageous and revealing carnival garb with many African students opting to be 'Witchdoctors' thus scaring the life out of infants at school who were also visited in their class rooms as a ready source of funds.  Mony a wee quinie cowered and screamed in abject terror as these rattling bogles suddenly burst in to the quiet classroom shaking their noisy coin filled collection boxes. The grand parade would end up as a drunken orgy as the weeks effort took its toll on the exhausted but enterprising collectors.

Aberdeen Torcher Parade
The annual torch lit procession through Aberdeen Town Centre continues the route and history of the Students Charities Campaign. 
Each year, on the last Saturday in April, Aberdeen University Students hold a Ragnight Torch Parade from Marischal College (leaving at 18.30pm) through Union Street and up to Queen's Cross. They then light their torches at this halfway point before making the journey back down Union Street then back to Marischal College.

2013 Aberdeen Torcher Parade
The 2013 Aberdeen Torcher Parade took place on Saturday 27th April from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The route was Marischal College, Schoolhill, Skene Street, Queen's Cross (where torches are lit), Albyn Place, Union Street and King Street.  There has been up to 50 torchbearers.  Aberdeen rag night is so named because in long past days University students would collect old rags and clothes during a rag week for paper making and to give to the poor people of the parish.  It has been held since 1889.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013