Tuesday, 21 August 2018

An Earlston Murder & Execution, 1823.


If you think major crime in Earlston in Berwickshire  is rare, things have been relatively quiet for the last two hundred years, apart from two murders and a public hanging. 

Many people know about the 1877 murder, when Euphemia Johnstone, the landlady of the Commercial Inn, was killed by a shotgun blast at six yards range by her husband John. Although he claimed it was accidental, he was found guilty and served fifteen years hard labour in prison.  However few people know about the double murder in 1823 which led to a public execution on a gallows near Fans.

In the 1800s Earlston Fair was an important day. Farm labourers and farmers walked about the Square and negotiated deals for labour for the next year. The deal could involve a farm labourer and a “bondager” who worked with him, and in return accommodation and a “boll of wheat or potatoes” were part of the deal. The farmers struck the meanest bargain they thought would be effective and every cart in the countryside was needed at the next quarter day to move entire families and all their worldly goods from one inadequate farm cottage to another.

Only those who,  stood above these grim economic facts of life.  could concentrate on the other features of the fair – the shows, the minstrels, the cheapjacks, the fortune tellers and the taverns and beer tents. At the fair of 1823, Rob Scott was only there for the beer – his job was secure, and he could afford to devote the day to serious drinking. 

The Scotsman of the following Saturday (July 5th 1823) told the sad tale of how the day resulted. 

“HORRID MURDER  On Monday last, at Earlston Fair, there was a quarrel between Robert Scott, the Earlston carrier, and two other men belonging to that place, and Scott having been worsted, said he would be revenged ere long. He proceeded to follow the unfortunate men on their road home and having got a piece of an old pailing, he struck one of them dead on the spot, and dreadfully mangled the other who is since dead.
Scott then went to a public house and got a dram and told them that he had done for one and thumped the other well, and directed them where to find them. They instantly proceeded to the spot and found the unfortunate men weltering in their blood. Scott was instantly apprehended, and lodged in Greenlaw jail by the Sheriff, and he has since confessed the deed.”
 Other accounts differ in details – Scott is elsewhere described as a gamekeeper, and his victims (James Aitcheson, a cooper, and Robert Sim, a horse dealer) came from Greenlaw, but there is no doubt that Scott quarrelled with the other two and followed them on their road home. There is no doubt about the severity of the injuries either. Aitcheson, who died immediately, had a fractured skull and his nose was slit, and Sim had a fractured leg as well as head injuries and facial  lacerations. 

The trial took place at Jedburgh two months later, and the jury took only eight minutes to find Scott guilty. The judge, Lord Pitmilly, gave sentence:
 “That he should be, on Wednesday the 29th day of October next, delivered over by the Sheriffs of Roxburghshire to the Sheriffs of Berwickshire to be by them taken to the most convenient place for execution, near to the spot where the murders were committed, and there be hanged by the neck till he be dead, and afterwards the body be given to Dr Monro (the Edinburgh Professor of Anatomy) for dissection."
The case received wide coverage in the press across Britain as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness -  as evidenced by the number of entries listed in the British Newspapers Online. 

 A "Scotsman" article of 1st November 1823 gave a detailed account of the execution, describing Robert Scott as "a powerful and muscular man".  On the day of execution, he was taken  from Jedburgh Jail to Earlston with an impressive escort.  

The newspaper concluded "The crowd of spectators , which amounted to many thousands from all parts of the country,  behaved with the utmost propriety, and many of them seemed deeply affected by the awful spectacle".

One such spectator was twelve year old Robert Carter, who later emigrated to New York and became a prominent publisher there.  His daughter in writing his biography included her father's memory of the execution:
"Thousands came to witness the execution. I was in that crowd. At a turn of the road I was within a few feet of him, and such a haggard face I never saw. It haunted me for many a year. When on the scaffold, he , in a loud voice that was heard by thousands,  prayed for mercy - that he might be delivered from blood guilti-ness, — prayed for the widows whom he had made widows, and for the children whom he had made fatherless. I never heard such earnest pleading, and I never forgot it."
 The account book of the Sheriff Officer has survived and records bills for the tolls paid in conveying the body to Edinburgh and breakfasts (and large quantities of wahisky) for the eleven men who watched the scaffold. Legend records that the eleven men spent the night in playing cards on the coffin of the condemned man.  (This will feature as a forthcoming blog article)

It was not quite the last hanging in Berwickshire. After the lapse of the  custom of public execution on the scene of the murder, there was a “private” hanging in Lauder Jail fifty years later.

Robert Scott’s family emigrated to Canada and did well there. But if you want to visit the scene of the last public hanging in the county, there is a wood called “Scott’s Plantation” at the turn of the road about a mile east of Fans farm.

The Auld Earlston Group  thanks  Dr.John Burns 
for contributing this article.
  • British Newspapers Online  at FindMyPast.
  • Broadside "Execution".  Edinburgh, 1823. Printed for William Johnston. Price One Penny. On the National Library of Scotland website at  http://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/14644
    Until the mid 19th century, broadsides were the forerunner of the popular press. Printed on one side of a single sheet of paper, they were designed to be displayed in public places.

  • "Border Advertiser": 14th August 1886:   "The Greenlaw Murder"  from "The Scottish American Journal" by " Native", who later signd himself as A. L. C. Wroxeter, ONtario.
  • “The Southern Reporter : 11th December 1986:    "Turbulent History at EarlstonFans, by J. R. Milner.
  • "An Old Berwickshire Town", by Robert Gibson.

Friday, 10 August 2018

An Earlston Legacy from a Czech Army Officer in 1944.

In 1944, Czech Army Officer, Milos Novak, was billeted with a family in Earlston.  He was a talented artist and he gifted to  the family this charming pen and ink drawing of the Charles Bridge in Prague, and a watercolour painting of the view from his wartime Earlston home, looking onto the Black Hill.

The two families remained in touch  after the war and  it was known that Milos had emigrated with his own family to Montreal in Canada around 1948, but contact was lost  in 1965.

Efforts are now being made to trace any of Milos’ descendants in Canada to make them aware of his art work and the fact that he is still remembered in Earlston.


This lovely wartime story emerged as part of Auld Earlston’s activities in gathering memories from local residents, in preparation for its exhibition on the theme “Earlston at War and Peace:  1914-1949”, to be held in the Church Hall on October 20th and 21st. The accompanying slide show, which is always a popular draw, will include the showing of a short  film on Earlston in the 1930’s.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Land Girls Remembered

B.'s account of her Life as an Earlston Land Girl at Georgefield Farm, 1944-45 evoked a lot of interest when it was published recently on the Auld Earlston blog.

Since then two related photographs have come to light:

Land Girls gathering in Earlston for work on local farms  
during the Second World War. 


 The monument to the Land Army and the Timber Corps 
at the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield, Staffordshire.

The Arboretum is a 150 acre woodland site that stands as a scenic commemoration to British servicemen and women with nearly 300 different memorials.  

During the Second World War The Land Army and the Timber Corps directed women to fill the places in agriculture and forestry to replace the men called up into the armed forces.   At first volunteers were sought. but  then numbers  were increased by conscription.   By 1944 the Women's Land Army  had over 80,000 members across Britain.   It was officially disbanded in 1949. 

Do you have any wartime photographs or memories, or ones passed down to you from your parents or grandparents on life in the village during the war.  

If so, do please get in touch, as we would like to hear from you. Items will be copied and returned to you, and may be featured in our forthcoming exhibition in October. 

Contact:  E-Mail:  auldearlston@aol.com 


Friday, 6 July 2018

Earlston Clown Band On Parade Across the Borders

Photographs of Earlston Clown Band have appeared before on the Auld Earlston blog, but what do we know about their founders,   their distinctive theme and costume,  and where they performed?   

Local newspapers available now online (at www.findmypast.co.uk) give us some answers,  with  numerous reports from the early 20th century highlighting the popularity of the band across the Scottish Borders.  

The earliest report found appeared in "The Berwickshire News" of 28th August 1906 and referred to a village picnic at Cowdenknowes House, near Earlston, where the band was the star performer in  the entertainment.
"The famous Clown Band was unanimously considered, nay acclaimed  as the most striking and most original performance of the day..........  The performer on the big drum would be marked for distinction,  for never before "throbbed the war drum" under such handling as it got from  the wielder of the drum sticks."
This photograph of Cowdenknowes House is not dated, but, judging by the costume, this could well by the picnic event in 1906.  

The Clown Band at Galashiels Cycle Parade, 1916

On 14th January 1919,  "The Berwickshire News"  reporter waxed eloquently in a colourful account of a school concert where:
The finale  was the performance of Earlston Junior Clown Band, trained by Miss Gil, one of the teachers, and her pupils did her infinite credit.  This  was thought to be the crowning performance of the evening and caused a great sensation.   Their grotesque garments and equally grotesque musical  performance  made the bandsmen the heroes of the hour, the observed of all observers, the cynosure of every eye.  Their contribution to the evening  was a veritable  triumph  and was rewarded with tremendous applause."
You do wonder what their "grotesque musical performance" sounded like! 
The Band at Galashiels Peace Parade, 1919 

1923 was a busy summer for the Band, for they appeared  at many events across the Borders, including  a fancy dress parade to aid the funds of Earlston Bowling Club.
"The streets along which the procession passed were crowded  with spectators, with over 100 adults and juveniles taking part. The local Clown Band, attired in fantastic dresses,  brought up the rear.

Earlston Town Band at Melrose Cycle Parade, 1923 

This was a major three-day event to raise funds for Melrose Football Club and included a bazaar, a concert, a cycle parade/fancy dress parade and a dance at which the Clown Band opened the evening with a Clown Waltz.

 In October 1923 the band  opened the celebrations at Mellerstain House following the marriage of Lord and Lady Haddington and returned in 1934 to mark the birth of a daughter, where: 
"With the  bonfire well alight, and the surroundings brightly illuminated, Earlston Clown Band entertained the workers and those who congregated around the blazing bonfire.   Liberal refreshments were served and the night was one of gaity."

Mellerstain House - June 2018

May 1937 saw the  Earlston celebrations to mark the coronation of George VI  in the village, with the  fancy dress pageant
"Headed by the familiar Clown Band,  Mr. J. W, Murdison, attired in clerical garb acting as drum major.  

The last report found  was  in "The Berwickshire News" of 13th July 1937 when the band took part, with great acclaim.   in a fancy dress parade in Lauder.
 "Much of the success of the parade was due to the efforts of the Earlston Clown Band,  which led the procession through the streets of the Burgh .  The antics of the band, who were all in character,  and its leader Mr. John Murdison roused peals of laughter from the many spectators who had gathered to watch the procession.
At the presentation of the prizes, an extra vote of thanks was given to Earlston Clown Band, who had kindly given their services free, and to Mr. J. Murdison and Ian Macdonald who were instrumental in bringing the band to Lauder." 
No further press reports were traced after that date. Did the outbreak of war bring an end to the Clown Band activities,  which had delighted its followers down the decades?  


We have very few clues on how the Clown Band came about.

A brief newspaper item in 1920 refers to a presentation given to founder member Mr L. G. Dempster who was emigrating to Canada, with thanks for the service he had rendered the band "which now occupies a conspicuous place amongst Earlston Institutions".  

A  report  in "The Southern Reporter"  3rd July 1924 noted  the death of Sergeant George S. Dunn, formerly of the Black Watch.  Having left the army, he was for some time manager of the Red Lion in Earlston, but later moved to Galashiels to work in Netherdale Mill.  He was very active  in musical circles - conductor of the Ex-Service Men's Orchestra which gave concerts with the Male Voice Choir, and also  "One of the Originators of Earlston Clown Band".


Does any reader have memories through their parents or grandparents of Earlston Clown Band? If so we would like to hear from you. 
Contact:  auldearlston@aol.com  


Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Life as an Earlston Land Girl

Auld Earlston is  currently gathering memories from local residents on their war memories or those passed down by  their parents and grandparents - in preparation for the  forthcoming October Exhibition on the theme of "Earlston at War and Peace".
We are grateful to B. who has given us here  a vivid account of life as a land girl at Georgefield Farm, Earlston in 1944-45.  

Being Called Up  
"I was living in Edinburgh, left school at 14 and was   working in a lawyer's office when I was called up in 1944.  I was given the choice of becoming a FANY - joining the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry or the Land Army.  I chose the Land Army as it was always the one organization that appealed to me.  I was delighted to be given the choice, as my sister was just conscripted into  Munitions with no alternative offered."

Working on a Poultry Farm 
"It was a huge change for me when I was sent to Georgefield  Farm in  Earlston,  looking after the large poultry section - cleaning out the hen houses, feeding the hens who were free range poultry,  and rounding them up at night to shut them  away from prowling foxes. I became strong there and could heave around 100weight sacks of meal.
We started work at 7am and finishing time depended on the time of year.  In winter we shut the hens up around 4pn but in the lighter nights, it could be midnight before we finished. After the grain was harvested,  the hens were sent into the cornfields and it took ages to get them back in the hen houses.   It was amazing what you could see in the moonlight  - we had torches but you were lucky if you could get fresh batteries for them. For those long hours,  I can never remember getting paid more than £2 a week. We had a uniform of khaki breeches, a V-necked pullover and a brimmed hat."
The view looking north from Georgefield Farm - taken in January 2018. 

Wartime Food 
 "Four or five  of us lived in a bothy on the farm and we ate well - all on the rations.  One of us took it in turns to return to the bothy to prepare our midday meal - often macaroni cheese or mince and tatties. I had not done any cooking before,  but I soon learnt on the coal stove.  A great perk was that we were allowed a dozen eggs a week, which I often saved to take back home for my weekends off.  Everyone heartily disliked  the dried eggs which were part of the staple wartime diet,  so fresh eggs were a big treat.  We never ate chicken the whole time I was there. If the chickens were sick or injured,  they were killed and put in the incinerator.  It was only after the war, I thought "Why did we never get it to cook?"

Food shopping (all on the wartime rations) was done in the village - at the grocers' shops - Willie  Park's,  Tom Bell's,  Forrest's, or Taylor's. 

We felt  we were much  luckier than the other land girls  working  on the arable crops at Georgefield.  They were based in a hostel at Bemersyde, so much more isolated than we were; they were brought to the farm in a van and had to prepare ahead their sandwiches for lunch - boringly jam, spam or cheese. "
Leisure Time
We had a good deal of freedom. as we could get easily into the village;  we went to dances, often twice a week in the Corn Exchange, and enjoyed listening  to the Polish Band.   Drink wasn't served at the dance, and it was never a problem in the village.  The evening finished with the playing of the Polish and British national anthems.
 We took the bus into Galashiels (return fare 1/6 - one shilling and sixpence).  We got every second weekend off and I  often went back home to Edinburgh  - 5/6 return (five shillings and sixpence)  on the bus. 
Sometimes on free weekends we took the bus to Carfraemill. Hotel.  5 shillings was the maximum by law that could be charged  for a meal and we would get high tea for 4/6 there - fish and chips, or ham salad, with bread, scone or a toasted  teacake. 
The whole of the war I only had two dresses which I wore alternatively. If you wanted to get a new winter coat, that took almost all your clothes rations for the year.  It helped to have a father or brother who could pass on their unwanted coupons.
"One of the girls in the bothy had a gramophone and introduced me to opera - "La Boheme" and it has remained a great love of mine.  We had no radio to find out what was going on in the world outside,  but one of us took it in turns to walk into Earlston to get a newspaper - usually the Daily Herald or Daily Express." 

A Change 
"In 1945 I was sent to a dairy farm near Chirnside.  I hated it, especially the noise of the milking machines. We had a room in a farm cottage, but there was no privacy.  The only washing facility was in the kitchen which we shared with the family."
V.E. Day
"For me my war had ended. For my family it was not a day  for celebration,  but a time for reflection and remembrance of  my brother who had been killed in action" 

"In Earlston, I met my husband who was home on leave.  We married in 1948 and  Earlston has been my home now for 70 years". 


The Women's Land Army  was a British civilian organisation,  created during the First and Second World Wars,  to recruit  women to  work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the armed forces.  At first volunteers were sought. but  numbers  were increased by conscription.   By 1944 the Women's Land Army  had over 80,000 members across Britain.   It was officially disbanded in 1949.
A World War One Land Girl
On the left - A Land Girl in the Second World War
with an Air Raid Warden on the right.  (Not Earlston) 

Do you have any war memories, or ones passed down to you from your parents or grandparents.  If so, do please get in touch, as we would like to hear from you. 
E-Mail:  auldearlston@aol.com

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

More Memories of Earlston People and Places

The West End of Earlston,  Haughhead and Craigsford, Thomas Weatherly, stationer & printer, John Gray, photographer, Dr. Robert Riddell and the well known Whale Family - they all feature in this the second of two posts on the memories of the Rev. William Crockett (1866-1945). 

Part One of Rev. Crockett's memories you will find  HERE. 

William Shillinglaw Crockett was born in Earlston in 1866.  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, written between 1937 and 1942 for  local magazines, he gives us a picture of Earlston life, people and places, with snippets from his pen  highlighted below. He died in 1945 and was buried in Earlston Churchyard.   


"This is the most ancient part of Earlston,  for long it remained as a little village of its own - a community in itself.  Its weavers' cottages, its crofts, its gardens of beauty, were just an ideal old fashioned hamlet in days gone by.   Now of course, everything is changed.

Who ever heard today of "The Acre Barn" , that so popular rendezvous  for dances, kirns and penny-weddings, at which a plate w
as passed around to pay expenses with a gift for the bride.

One place I remember well was Mag Forrest's tramps' howff,  scene of many a grim fight or drunken  brawl.

In a house behind the White Swan (once the Beehive) pend, Thomas Bayley, who had lost a leg in the *Peninsular Campaigns,  taught his small "side school", one of many in Earlston then.  And in it Robert Carter  of New York, founder of  of the most famous bookshop in America,  began life as a teacher."

 West End, c. early 1900's

HAUGHHEAD CORNMILL "functioned  as such from a remote period .....for generations it was occupied by the Shields, a notable family in the district of whom came  Alexander (born 1661) and  Michael,  both  valiant heroes of the *Covenant.....Both brothers joined the *Second Darien Expedition  in 1699 and they never again saw Leaderside, perishing amidst the hardships of that ill-fated adventure."  
 The site of Haughhead Mill, June 2018

CRAIGSFORD  was a sort of village in itself in those distant days,with a row of cottages, beginning  with that in which James Blaikie lived. 

"A ravine of the burn hard by - the Clattering Ford,  was used  by the body snatchers,  of Burke and Hare  time, for concealment of newly buried corpses  taken from the kirkyard.  Here it is said that the body of Nance Kerss lay before it came into the hands of the notorious Dr. Knox.  When the alarm was raised, David Walker, the parish  schoolmaster and another  Earlstonian  were sent to  identify  the body at the Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh,  "Eh, Nance, Nance", said the latter, "Ye never thocht ye wad ever be in Edinburgh".

"A printer from Berwick, he migrated to the west of the shire (about 70 years ago) and had his  stationer's and bookseller's shop on the High Street. 
Weatherly's enterprise took him into the publishing and  newspaper field, with an eight page weekly "The Border Beacon",  followed by a second, having the rather high sounding title "The South of Scotland Live Stock Journal".  I fancy that very few, if any copies,  have survived, apart from those I have myself kept  in file those many years.  As Weatherly discovered, Earlston was scarcely the place  for a successful venture into the journalistic sphere

In the 1901 census, John P. Weatherly was described as a 40 years old Postmaster of 73 High Street, living with his wife, mother-in-law and  children Edward, Ellen and Margaret.  The Trade Directory two years later adds to his role that of bookseller, stationer, and printer. 

"A printer and photographer, he was the first to popularise this art in Earlston, especially with his carte de visite  portraits. which had wide vogue at that time."
This photograph came into the Auld Earlston collection and was identified on the reverse as David Swanston, Post Runner, here adverting the business of James Gray, photographer in the Square.  It is one of the oldest photographs in the group's collection, as David died in 1874.  

"Here was  a man skilled in diagnosis, a very capable servant, responsive to every phase of human distress. Even if (because of his slightly humped back),they spoke of him as  "Humpy"  Riddell, it was never with any feeling of disrespect.The doctor was endowed with a big brain;  poor people said he had a heart of gold. He showed his queer habits on occasions   - a street fight fascinated him for instance.  Dr  Riddell believed in prayer and once told the minister "I always pray before I start an operation."   

"Two of Andrew Whale's sons cut notable figures in active manhood - Lancelot, Rector of the Grammar School in Kelso, where Sir Walter Scott was his most eminent pupil;  and Thomas,   originator of an enterprise which gave to his native town, a prime distinction  in the realm of commerce - the gingham industry.
It is safe to say that no article of wearing apparel  was so fashionable  in its time. Over 140 hand looms (mostly in private houses)  in Earlston and the surrounding area wer engaged in the  manufacture of these finely woven and cotton fabrics.   They were worn by all classes and in every quarter.
Much of the prosperity of the trade - and indeed its high watermark - indeed, came after Whale's day, when his two daughters - Marion and Christian succeeded to the business, extending  clientele  throughout many parts of England - and even exporting their wares across the Atlantic.
Rhymer's Lands (some nine and a half acres) was acquired by those two enterprising women, Christian and Marion Whale, of gingham celebrity. by purchase from Dr. Francis  Home of Cowdenknowes. In 1842 they rebuilt the mill on its present site,  the old structure having been destroyed by fire the previous year."


* Peninsular Campaigns 
The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire (as well as the allied powers of the Spanish Empire), the United Kingdom and  Portugal, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

* Covenanters were people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638 to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

*The Darien Scheme  was Scotland's ambitious attempt to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called "Caledonia" on the isthmus of Panama on the Gulf of Darien  in the late 1690s. Thousands of ordinary Scots  invested money in the expedition, to the tune of approximately £500,000. Five  ships sailed from Leith in July 1698 with 1,200 people on board. 

But  the project was beset by poor planning and provisioning, divided leadership and finally disease. 
Seven months after arriving, 400 Scots were dead.   More ships set sail from Leith in November 1699 loaded with a further 1,300  pioneers,unaware of the fate of the earlier settlers. The colony  was finally abandoned in 1700 after a siege by Spanish forces, 

Only one ship returned out of the total of sixteen that had originally sailed.  With the  loss of the £500,000 investment,  the Scottish economy was almost bankrupted. 

  • 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.

Do you have memories of growing up in Earlston or 
know stories passed down by your parents or grandparents.  
If so, we would like to hear from you.  
 E-mail: auldearlston@aol.com