A bailie light was a special light customarily installed outside the house of a bailie, who was a senior elected councillor, occupying a post equivalent to that of an alderman in England.
The presence of the bailie light allowed members of the public to know where the bailie could be found.
When the practice began, the bailie light took the form of a special gas lamp of ornate design, with a glass lantern mounted on top of an ornate cast-iron post and base. The lantern glass would carry the coat of arms for the burgh concerned. In later years, following the conversion of street lighting from gas to electricity, these fittings tended to become much simpler and less ornate, although the lantern glass continued to be decorated with the relevant coat of arms.
As the term bailie became less popular, and councillors more numerous, the practice came to an end, and the light was reserved only for the most senior member of the council, the provost, occupying a post equivalent to that of a mayor in England, and the light was then known as a provost light. While the custom could vary between burghs, provost lights were generally fitted in pairs, one on either side of the door to the provost's house, and remained in place while the provost held office. On retiral from the post, one light would be removed, and remain in place while the former provost was still alive.
While there are still a number of provost lights to be found around the country, the custom has died out in all but the largest towns and cities, with the lord provosts of Glasgow and Edinburgh retaining lights, and the provost of Stirling, but there are believed to be few other actively maintained.
The custom has a number of disadvantages in modern time, particularly since the local government reforms which took place during the 1970s and 1990s, when regional and district councils were introduced, the former burghs were disbanded, and many district borders moved, meaning the lights no longer showed the correct coat of arms. Further problems could arise in later years, as a result of changes to how we lived, and it could be that a bailie, or councillor, might live in a block of tenements, or even in a block of multi-storey flats, making it impossible to locate the light at the door of their residence
If you know of any Provost's lights surviving elsewhere we would welcome a note and, if possible a picture.
King Street Dunoon
In Dunoon, rather than merely leaving one light in place when the provost left office, the custom was to remove the two lampposts, and replace them with a single lantern, centrally mounted over an ornate wrought iron archway installed at the entrance to their, as illustrated by the remaining example shown here.
Battery Place Rothesay
A single light remains on the inner part of the footpath at 3 Battery Place, Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Lanark town centre
A particularly ornate example of a provost lamp stands in the town centre of Lanark, next to the old tolbooth building on the south side of High Street, near its junction with Wellgate.
The lamp is believed to have been moved to this location c. 2000, but neither the exact date, nor its former location, are known.
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