Sunday, 13 May 2018

Early News of our Next Exhibition - Earlston in War and Peace 1914-1949

"Earlston in War and Peace 1914-1949" is the theme of the next Auld Earlston Exhibition and Slide Show to be held in the Church Hall on  October 20th and 21st 2018. 

Auld Earlston Chairman,  David Lothian,  said “November 11th 1918 marks the end of the First World War and we thought it appropriate to look at what life was like in Earlston around the time of the two world wars, also in the inter-war years and the  aftermath in the late1940's.  most noted locally for the harsh winter and Berwickshire floods.  

Much of  the material on show we have not displayed before and we anticipate  it will be of interest to our visitors, who have given us  great support to our previous events."

Complementing the Exhibition will be the popular slide shows,   with the key feature this year  a fascinating old cine film, now digitised, of Earlston in the 1930’s and 1940’s".

We would welcome your help!  
Do you have any photographs, postcards, memories and memorabilia  of this period?   

If so, we would be pleased to hear from you, with a view to it being featured in the exhibition.  Items  can be copied and returned to you, or can be  donated to the Auld Earlston Collection.  

For further information contact:

Tel. 01896 848240:  E-mail 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thank You  


Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses from the First World War  outside the  Manse, Earlston.   
Can anyone identify the nurses? 

This colourful patriotic certificate was issued to schoolchildren during the First World War, often at Christmas, or a variation of it on Empire Day   

This was the first time that the whole nation had been mobilised to play a part in the war effort, and here young Mary Denham, mother of David Lothian, was commended for helping  " to send some comforts and happiness  to the Brave Men who are Fighting to  uphold the Freedom of our Glorious Empire". 


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Memories of Earlston People & Places, by Rev. William Crockett. (1866-1945)

William Shillinglaw Crockett was born in Earlston in 1866, the youngest child of William Crockett and Margaret Wood.   On leaving school, he worked as an apprentice chemist in the village, before training in Edinburgh for the Church.  He spent most of his ministry in Tweedsmuir, Peeblesshire and was a prolific writer of  many publications on Borders life and literature. 

William Crockett never forgot his birthplace and in  a series of articles he wrote for local magazines, he gives us a picture of Earlston life, with snippets from his pen  highlighted below. He died in 1945 and was  buried in Earlston Churchyard.  


"My father conducted the postal affairs of the parish and district until his death in 1872.  Dauvit Swanson ran the outgoing mail to Melrose  twice daily, bringing back the incoming mail, my father delivering  the letters around the town.   Dauvit Trotter was the country runner  with whom I (a little lad) was often taken in his crudely built pony-trap  to Morriston and Legerwood. He had been a joiner and had had a bad accident to his left hand, necessitating immediate amputation, performed (without anasthetic) by Dr. Riddell.  
"In 1870 the telegraph was introduced.  An official from Edinburgh taught my father the manipulation of the old Morse instrument. The trial messages  were frequently news of the Franco-Prussian War  then raging.  This was my furthest back recollection". 
 "I went to Earlston School when I was four years old.  Mr Daniel Aitkenhead was the teacher, one of the best of the "old Scottish parochial" who has done, perhaps more than any other tvo mould the Scottish character that has so many admirers over all  the world.  He was a strict disciplinarian and many a good round of the tawse I have had from him" 
I left school when I was fifteen years old and was keen to become a medical missionary. For four years I was apprenticed to a chemist and had the ignominious fate of being plucked more than once for what was chiefly my bad handwriting.  I suppose then I was a "stickit druggist”. At last, I turned my back on the chemist's  life and entered Edinburgh University".

"Earlston must always be proud of its Square - the centre and heart of the little town.  Around its ancestral green, laid down when   the place became a burgh of barony  in the time of James IV, the village saw its row of thatched cottages springing up  until a complete square was formed and fairs were the order  of the day.   Robert Burns  was here in 1787, when he dined at an inn kept by a miller."
"On the Corn Exchange site  stood a two-storied inn, tenanted by James Shiels, who moved into "The Swan"  a few yards from his door and renamed it "The Red Lion"  with a flamboyant representation of the Lion Rampant as his sign."
"If the Pump Well  of 1815 was a bit of an eyesore to the moderns, it had happy memories to the boys and girls who gambolled round its old grey stones, and who jumped the "poles"  which then circled the Green".

The Old  Pump Well in Earlston's Market Square.    
The Well was demolished  in 1920 to make way for the War Memorial.

"Poles" around the Square 

"Aitkenhead's School  was just across the Square,  and out of its unforgettable walls, the Co-operators constructed  their emporium."

"What is now New Street and Arnot Place  was open ground - little more than a broad  green meadow stretching  up from the Leader and known as "Wilson's Lands”. In olden times it went but a short distance to the Leader.

Arnot Place was named after Margaret Arnot,  wife of Thomas Kerr of Craighouse,  who came to reside in Earlston after her husband's death.  She built the house in New Street  known as Kinneswood.  I recollect  her well - a tall masculine  looking woman,  kenspeckle in her always sombre garb of widowhood with  its white streamers waving in the wind. What a deep voice she had!" 

Arnot Place,  on the A68 road, in the 1930's. 
 "The Black Bull Inn was the first house on the present long  street, with the Manse opposite, built in 1814 - restored since.  Thorn House was built by John Spence, a Melrose lawyer. 

New Street/Thorn Street, with Thorn House on the corner
"Kirkgate  (very ancient people called it the Kidgate) was by far the prettiest In part of Earlston with its thatched cottages  and gardens of delicious  blooms"

Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   
All Rights Reserved

"Until the coming of the railway in 1863, there were few comings and goings between  the nearest towns in the neighbourhood  and to the vast majority of inhabitants Edinburgh was a veritable 'terra incognita".
 Earlston Station
"The making of new and better highways  within the Tweed and Leader valleys, as well as the completion,  by way of Mellerstain Estate,  of a more direct route to Kelso were other happy undertakings which opened up the district to commerce and travel.   Such roads that had  existed before were so poorly surfaced, hilly and winding that one wonders that they had ever been conceived of." 

Further snippets of William Crockett' s memories will focus on People, including the Whale Family of Earlston Gingham fame, James Gray, photographer, and Dr. Riddell. 


  • The Rhymer's Town:  Some Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W.S.Crockett. In "The Southern Annual: 1937. 
  • The Rhymer's Town:  More  Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W. S. Crockett.  In "The Southern Annual:1941. 
  • The Rhymer's Town:  Further Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W. S. Crockett. In "The Southern Annual:1942. 
  • The Rev. W. S. Crockett:  Preacher and Litterateur (interview and biographical notes), by John North. In "Border Magazine" July 1905.


Click HERE or on the News & Events Tab at the top of this page
 to see a listing of the blog posts, published so far this year.


Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Holiday, Curling & Bowling make the Earlston Headlines in the 1880's

Reader Richard Smith came across these headlines on Earlston in "The Berwickshire News" of the 1880's.    Old newspapers make fascinating reading for anyone interested in local history, as they  reflect life,  in all its aspect, as it was at the time.   

Read about:
  • News,  given at short notice, of the New Year shopkeepers' holiday, 
  • Activities of the Curling Club.
  • The early days of the Bowling Club and an impressive fund-raising bazaar - among the more unusual items for sale were clerical photographs, a Tom Scott painting, and live poultry.

NEW YEAR HOLIDAY - 20th December 1881.

"The shopkeepers have agreed to hold the New Year Holiday on Saturday December 31st inst., as New Year's Day falls on a Sunday. and Monday is an unsuitable day, being Market Day.  The Volunteers hold their annual ball on the Friday  evening the 30th  and their shooting on the Saturday following"

CURLING  -15th February 1878
"Nearly every day last week the members of the Curling Club enjoyed a game on Mr. Allan's pond at Georgefield. Thursday which was the Fast Day was necessarily an off-day,  and it is possible that the keen curlers begrudged letting it slip,   as the day was very favourable for this pastime.  Besides going to Dunse on Friday and beating the Dunse men, the Club played for the Silver Cup presented by Mrs Coteworth  of Cowdenknowes. The ice from the heat of the sun in the middle of the day was very soft,  and great difficulty was felt by some in getting their stone over the hog score.  The cup was won by Mr George Henderson with a score of 7, Mr J. P Smith and Mr. James Sharp  came next with 5 points each.  The weather was rather fresh and it is not unlikely that curling for the season is nearly over."
*Fast Days  were a tradition of the Presbyterian Churches,  whereby a special day was marked as a public holiday,and set aside for  a time of reflection,  ahead of attendance at the service of Holy Communion.   
More than 100 years later,  and members of Earlston Curling Club play out of doors at Lauder,  December 1995.     

BOWLING CLUB - 20th December 1881.
"This club now numbers over 50 members and they have resolved to the formation of a bowling green on the site of the old curling pond. This work is to be done by Mr. Smith, Hawick whose estimate for the work we understand to be £150.  Some farmers interested in the formation of the bowling green will do the  necessary driving of materials gratuitously.  If this bowling club proves a success, Earlston will be amply provided with means of recreation.
An early photograph of Earlston Bowling Club members
 BOWLING CLUB BAZAAR - 16th July 1889
A lengthy article reported  on a Bazaar in the Corn Exchange, held:
"To liquidate a debt.....The club was formed in 1882 and the formation of the Green, together with a recent enlargement,  cost between £300 and £400  of which £80 remained to be paid....An energetic committee, consisting of Mr Dunn, Mr Murdison, Mr. Steedman, Mr Tait, Mr Aitkenhead,  and Mr Wallace (secretary) was formed  to carry out the arrangements;  the ladies of the town and neighbourhood  readily gave their cooperation and the result of their united exertions was the Fancy Fair opened on Wednesday.
There were six stalls  furnished abundantly with the usual cushions, scrapbooks, dolls, paintings,  clerical photographs,  live poultry,  firescreens,  shawls,macrame work etc. etc...... The paintings were a particularly excellent collection and included work by Tom Scott A.R.S.A. There were also some fine etchings.  The drawings over the two days  rather amounted to over £260.  The stalls were distinguished by the names of flowers....... There was also a refreshment stall and a flower stall  attended to by Mr. Gray,   gardener, Gladswood and Mr. Robertson,gardener, Cowdenknowes."


Have you come across an interesting story or item from the past 
that can be shared with others on our blog?  We would  like to hear from you. 

 Please contact us at: 


Friday, 23 March 2018

Have you an Interesting Story on Earlston - We Would Like to Hear From You

Our  Auld Earlston blog aims to give its readers a variety of short items, photographs on a theme and longer articles on the village's past.  It  features:
  • Life in all its aspects  in Earlston down the centuries, both at work and at leisure.
  • Profiles of Local People who have made their mark at home and abroad.
  • Personal Memories of more recent times.

We would very much like to include  more items from  readers.
Have you come across an interesting story from the past 
that can be shared with others? 
Contact us at: 


82, 895 page-views have been recorded since the blog was first launched in March 2015.  So in case you missed first time round, here are six more popular posts from the past three years. 

Click on the headline to read  the full article with  images from the Auld Earlston collection and the local press. 

Earlston - the First with an Aerodrome. 
In 1931  local papers (plus The Scotsman) reported that Earlston had become the first place in Berwickshire to have an aerodrome  where
"A large number of Earlstonians were entertained to a succession of thrills by the advent of an aeroplane, the property of Messrs W. Rodger  & Sons which gave several aerial exhibitions at a newly constructed aerodrome at Purveshaugh, Earlston".

Dr. Young (1859-1934) - Serving Earlston for over 50 years
Dr. Young was a colourful character, who was widely remembered for his warm, if sometimes irascible personality. His work was his life and he had few hobbies apart from his horses.  His sudden death in September 1934 received wide tributes

Shopping in Earlston in an Earlier Era
A nostalgic look at Shops in Earlston in the early 20th century, Slater's Directory of Berwickshire for 1903 noted that the population of Earlston was 1677 (as per 1901 census), and shops  in the village included:
6 grocers/spirit dealers/ironmongers

5 tailor/drapers/ clothiers
3 butchers 
3 watchmakers/clockmakers/jeweller
3 dressmakers/milliner 
2 bakers
1 confectioner
1 chemist 
1 fish man & earthenware dealer. 


Sharing Memories of the Spittal Trip 
A colourful account  from the 1920's of the annual trip by train to the seaside at Spittal. 

Two trains in Earlston station
Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   

All Rights Reserved

Isabella Wallace - Earlston's Friend and Benefactor
Two plaques in the village,  at the Mill Meadow Gate and in the gardens in the Square,  give testimony to Isabella Wallace, who in her will left money for the benefit of her local community,  


Earlston on the Dance Floor 
Dances were a regular feature of social life in Earlston in the 20th century  and the local press give many accounts of the events  involving the Bachelors' Ball, Earlston Jazz Band, the Earlston Rhythm Band, an Ankle Competition and a "Spectacular Rumba Competition". An entertaining read!
Taking a break from the dance floor 


Press Cuttings Source - Newspaper Archives Online at 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Looking Back on 3 Years of the Auld Earlston Blog

This month marks three years since the Auld Earlston blog was launched in 2015 - so in  the first of two posts, a look back at some of the most popular topics featured. To read more, click on the titles below. 

A look  at the past   - and the future - for the Earlston Reading Room which dates from 1852.   It was a  symbol of  Victorian self-help and the  desire for education.  The rules and regulations make entertaining reading. 

 The Reading room on the left to next to the Corn Exchange with its belfry tower. 
The photograph pre-dates 1921 when the pump tower on the right was demolished to make way for the war memorial.  

A profile of Christian and Marion Whale, who in the first half of the 19th century had a national reputation as producers  of Earlston ginghams, at a time  when few women showed such enterprising spirit to head successful businesses.  
 Two surviving examples of the Earlston Gingham. 
A photographic account of the history of the railway through Earlston  from its low key opening to its equally  low key closure  over a 100 years later.

 The last train through Earlston Station - July 1965.

An account of the air crash of 1943 when a German bomber came down near the village, killing all four members of the crew.  In 2015 the daughter and grandson  of the pilot made a moving visit to  Earlston to commemorate this war time tragedy.   

The unveiling of a memorial to the German crew

The records  provide us with a unique  social commentary on life in the village at the time. as the church provided help to the poor and needy, but censure to those involved in what was regarded as moral turpitude. 

 As late as 14th October 1901,  a woman was brought before the Kirk Session  to be questioned on her "sin of fornication and having a child out of wedlock"

To mark Civic Week 2016,  parades of the past and photographs of Earlston people having fun! 



Thank you to everyone who has contributed 
 information, photographs and memories to Auld Earlston 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Earlston Woollen Manufacturer - John Simpson

A local historian in Hawick   recently came across in the town's Wilton Cemetery these gravestones  to the family of  "John Simpson, Woollen Manufacturer, Earlston".  He contacted the Auld Earlston Group with this information.

Intriguing?   Why was an Earlston businessman remembered in Hawick? 

Simpson Gravestones in Wilton Cemetery, Hawick 

In Loving Memory of John Simpson, woollen manufacturer,Earlston who died 
 at Eildon Grove, Melrose on  June 8th 1919.
And his wife Anna Robertson who died 8th Feby 1944 aged 86 years.

Who was John Simpson?
He  was born in Galashiels in 1856, son of John Simpson, a wool hand-loom weaver.  At the age of 15 in 1871, young John  was working as a warper ** in a wool factory in   Innerleithen,  where five  years later he married Anne Robertson .   

By the time of the 1891 census,  the couple were  at 1 Rosevale Cottage in Wilton Parish, Hawick with their two son and two daughters - John, George, Euphemia and Jessie.    John, then aged 35,  was described as a tweed warehouseman. 

Ten years later in 1901, the family  was living at 2 West Stewart Place, Wilton, Hawick in a road of substantial Victorian houses,  with John's occupation listed as commercial traveller. Clearly he was going up in the world, culminating in the purchase of what became Simpson and Fairbairn Mill at Earlston, which was listed under that name in a 1903 Trade Directory.   

The 1911 census saw the family at Eildon Grove,  Melrose, Roxburghshire with John described as woollen manufacturer, with his wife and youngest daughter 28 year old Jessie, plus one servant.    John died there in 1919. 

His death at the age of 63 was reported  in "The Scotsman" newspaper,  intimating that John's funeral would be held at Wilton Cemetery, Hawick.   

The Scottish National Probate Index online  gave the value of his estate as £69,498.19s.5d. - estimated at over two and a half million pounds in today’s money values (

AAn obituary in the Berwickhire News:  10th June 1919  gives us a profile of John Simpson.
".......He was Chairman and Director of Simpson & Fairbairn Ltd, Rhymer's  Mill, in Earlston.  His early years were spent in Innerleithen where he acquired his knowledge of the tweed trade, and afterwards went to Hawick and became associated with the firm of Blenkhorn Richardson Ltd. of which he was a Director.  Fifteen years ago with Mr Thomas Fairbairn, he took over the business of  Robert Dunn & Co. at Earlston.   Mr Simpson was one of the best known and best liked of personalities in the Scottish tweed trade.
An ardent and successful golfer, he was a well known figure on several popular courses."

 Rhymer's Mill, Earlston,   early 1900's.  (Auld Earlston Collection) 

Rev. Walter Davidson of Earlston Parish Church, having heard the news that Sunday morning,  paid a tribute to John Simpson, at his  service, as reported in the press article,  saying:
........He was very closely associated with the church ......... As head of the firm which is by far the largest employer of labour in the town..... he was known as  an upright, conscientious and thoroughly efficient business man, a just and honourable master. 
Long before he came to Earlston I had heard him spoken of "as a prince among commercial travellers" and after he entered business on his own account here, his wonderful ability in this respect meant greater employment and consequently increased prosperity for Earlston, and for these things we owe him a debt of gratitude.

God endowed him with certain talents and these he developed as a faithful steward for the greater good of the community.  In his life he was greatly respected and widely esteemed. A keen reader, he possessed a library, rich in  beautiful works, as seldom seen.  .....Most of all he endeared himself to his own  by his kindly,  loving disposition"

Earlston Monumental Inscriptions, published by the Borders Family History Society, notes that in 1920 a carved oak Communion Table  was gifted to the church  "To the glory of God and in loving memory of John Simpson, manufacturer,  Earlston."

“The Kelso Chronicle” and “The Berwickshire News” of January 1920 reported on this memorial being dedicated by his son John M.D. Simpson, whose wife donated the embroidered communion cloths in memory of her father-in-law.


It seems that John's eldest son,  John Melville Drummond Simpson,  remained involved in the family business and in Earlston community affairs, as reported in the Berwickshire News.  In the 1920's he was a candidate  in local  elections, sitting on the School Management Committee.    He was also organist at Earlston Parish Church until  1929. In  1931  a report noted that "Delegates of the Scottish woollen industry on a visit to American and Canadian markets included John  M. Simpson of Simpson and Fairbairn, Earlston." 

A newspaper death announcement reported  "At Broomiebrae, Earlston on the 27th August 1931 John M. D. Simpson died, dearly beloved husband of Catherine Robertson".  
John was buried besides his parents in Wilton Cemetery, Hawick.  His death certificate, (on ScotlandsPeople website)  confirmed his distinctive middle names and his occupation as a woollen manufacturer - the informant his son J. Stanley Simpson.  

In 1946 as part of a major refurbishment of Earlston Parish Church, electricity was installed, and  Stanley Simpson,  as a memorial to his father,  gifted the electrification  of the organ blower, which previously had been pumped by hand. 


  • ** "A warper", the occupation of 15 year old John Simpson in 1871, was a textile worker who arranged the individual yarns which created the "warp" of the fabric. 
  • Simpson and Fairbairn
    In  a  1903 Directory  Simpson & Fairbairn  was described as "a tweed manufacturer and dyers at Mid Mills, Earlston"  It appears that the firm later adopted the address of Rhymer's Mill.  The photographs below, are believed to date from the early 1900's, and are in the Auld Earlston Collection. 

  • At the time of John Simpson's (Senior) death in 1919, Border woollen manufacturers were starting to face  e global depression, with tariff barriers, and difficult export markets.   However Simpson and Fairbairn  weathered the storm,  although short time working was often prevalent. 

    During World War Two, the mill was fully employed on service and  utility clothing  and the post war years saw  a boom time for the Borders as world wide stocks of clothes had to be replaced, with the firm employing more than 300 workers,
    making it  the economic mainstay of Earlston. 

  • But by the late 1950's and early '60's, the old problems of cheaper competitors and vulnerability to changing fashions had returned.  The   firm tried  to innovate by making cellular blankets and moving into  ladies' wear.  But the decline could not be stemmed.  The mill finally closed in 1969 when a workforce of almost 100 was made redundant.
Earlston's role in the  Borders textile industry came to an end.  

  • Blenkhorn Richardson, Hawick.
    At the time of his death,  John Simpson, senior was a Director at Blenkhorn Richardson, Eastfield Mills, Hawick.  The business was   founded by two brothers-in -law  and become one of the largest manufacturers in southern Scotland.  The company closed in 1974, with its archives now held at the Heriot Watt University, Galashiels. 

Both Earlston and Hawick had  a major part  in John's  Simpson's life, with his choice of a final resting place - Hawck.  But  he made a key contribution to  Earlston's textile industry, as reflected in  the eulogies on his death. 

With thanks to  David Lothian of Earlston and Gordon Macdonald of Hawick for their help with information on John Simpson, his  life and family.