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The Public Life of Christopher Downie


Christopher Downie was a member of the Lodge Old St John Lanark 21 and his obituary notes that he was at some time Secretary. The lodge's website shows that he served as Right Worshipful Master in 1897/8, perhaps as a result of his generosity the previous year:

Brethren of the Lodge were present at the laying of the foundation stone of the (then) new North Bridge, off Princes Street, Edinburgh. Bro. Downie had put a saloon carriage at their disposal.

North Bridge spans Waverley Station in Edinburgh, owned by the 'arch' rival of the Caledonian Railway, the North British Railway whose Caledonian Station was at the other end of Princes Street, a walk of about a mile.

Lanimer Fair and Lord Cornet 1904

Christopher was a keen worker on the Lanark annual Festival organized by the Lanimer Committee. He served as Lord Cornet in the Lanimer Celebrations of 1904. Provost Brown said he had much pleasure in proposing Mr Downie as the standard bearer, seconded by Councillor Graham, and he reminded the Lanark Town Council "it was the very right thing to get men who, should they not be members of the Town Council, were public servants in a way, as they had in this case. Mr. Downie was uniformly courteous to the general public, and was a man who would do honour to the Council in occupying this position." The appointment was unanimous.

The Lord Cornet, or standard bearer, has rather curious proceedings in connection with this office. The term "Cornet" used to be applied to the lowest grade officer of cavalry, but the position was abolished in 1871. Yet Lanark continued to magnify this office and to cast around this person an atmosphere of regal dignity. The Lord Cornet is appointed annually by the Town Council, and for the rest of the year he is the recognised guardian of the burgh standard.

The ceremony of "shifting" the standard from the keeping of the past Lord Cornet to that of the Cornet-elect is carried out by the Provost, Magistrates, and Town Council, who march to the house of the past Cornet, (Andrew Wilson of Hyndford Road in 1903) to receive the standard from his hands and convey it to the residence of the new Cornet, where the Provost entrusts the standard to his keeping with solemn ceremony. The new Lord Cornet then marshals his procession for the final perambulation of the burgh marches. The Cornet, mounted, and carrying the burgh standard, is supported by a cavalcade of horsemen, while the town officials follow in carriage.

It may seem to some that such a custom as the Lanimer Festival serves no useful purpose, nevertheless, it is indispensable to Lanark, serving as it does the part of a "cog-wheel" in the burgh machine.

The Festival has run since 1140 during the reign of King David (r. 1124-1153) who granted Lanark the status of Royal Burgh. Thousands throng to see it, and the Railway Companies have perforce to run special trains to meet the inrush to the Royal and ancient burgh. Downie was busy every year even when he was not the Lord Cornet. That it serves as an interesting link between the generation of to-day and the burgesses of long past decades none will dispute, nor will they be disposed to doubt that the custom affords an entrancing break in the monotony of municipal routine.

As reported in the Lanark and Lanimer Day Souvenir of the Celebrations 1904 (price sixpence):

Seldom has the appointment of a Lord Cornet given more satisfaction to general public than the selection this year of Mr. Christopher Downie for this important and historic office: for Mr. Downie is not only highly esteemed and respected in Lanark for his unfailing courtesy and assiduous attention to duty as local representative of the Caledonian Railway Company but he also enjoys a popularity far beyond the bounds of the County Town as one of the most genial, amiable, and attentive stationmasters in the Company's service. Surely ample proof of the esteem in which he is held is to be found in the fact that on Lanimer Day, when he led the equestrian procession round the marches, he was supported by almost fifty gentlemen on horseback, the largest number which has accompanied the standard-bearer in this outing for several years. Time would fail to tell of all the many good qualities that have endeared Mr. Downie to Lanarkians in particular and summer visitors in general.