Monday, 11 March 2019

Earlston’s Changing Face - Exhibition and Slide Show

A Date for Your Diary  - “The Changing Face of Earlstonis the theme of the next Exhibition and Slide Show to be presented by the Auld Earlston  Group,  this year on Saturday and Sunday June 22nd and 23rd.   

The event will focus on village shops and businesses spanning 160 years.  Key features will be the display of large scale maps of the village in 1857, 1897 and 1967, together with photographs, advertisements, press reports,  and memories gathered from older residents. 

Complementing the exhibition over the two days will be four popular Slide Shows,  looking at the village “Then and Now”.

Auld Earlston  Chairman David Lothian said "We have been delighted at the positive responses to our four  previous exhibition weekends.    We were encouraged by the length of time many people took to look around, and exchange reminiscence.  Do come along to this two day event, with much of the material not shown before, and find out what our group is doing to keep Earlston's past alive for future generations". 

He added "Our  group  would welcome  contributions of photographs, old receipts, letterheads, plus memories of the many shops that once served the village.  These can be handed to committee members, or e-mailed to" 

For further information telephone: 01896 848240 or email 

c.1910 -  Weatherly's newsagent, printer and bookseller, 
After being empty for some time, the shop has recently opened
selling antique & recycled furniture  and gifts for the home

1953  - Guides  and brownies waiting outside Willie Alchin's baker's shop 
(now Tom Davidson Gallery) for a glimpse of the Queen passing through the village.


Thursday, 21 February 2019

Earlston Nonagenarians

Browsing through old newspapers makes fascinating reading with snippets of information on life in the past.  Here are three  entries on long—living Earlston residents, at a time when in 1901 the average life expectancy was only 45 years for men and 50 for women.

Southern Reporter:  22nd March 1888

So Janet Brown, nee Gray was born c.1798   She was 11 years old when King George III marked his jubilee in 1809,  at  a time when Britain was still fighting the Napoleonic Wars.

In June 1887  Janet was driven by Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes  in a pony and trap to the summit of the Black Hill  to light the bonfire which blazed that night, like many around the Borders, to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign. 

Her brother Thomas Gray, besides being a bibliophile and antiquarian was the last gingham manufacturer in Earlston.  He kept two looms in operation constantly  and travelled across Southern Scotland to sell the "far famed Earlston ginghams".  He died aged 88 on 15th January 1884 at Salt Green, Eyemouth, following a fall near the harbour.   

Thomas Gray. of Earlston, (c.1796-1888) was known  in his day variously as  "Gingham Tam",  "Tam of Earlston",  "Earlstoun Tommy",  and "A Modern  Thomas of Ercildoune".

 "An Earlston Nonagenarian" was the headline  in "The Southern Reporter":  29th October 1931 which reported on Janet Brown's niece Mary Thompson, nee Brown who was equally long living,  with the newspaper  giving a detailed obituary on her life and Border connections.  

Mary was born 12th March 1836,  (a year before Queen Victoria ascended the throne), and lived through the reign of four monarchs. Her father and grandfather, both called James Brown, were handloom gingham weavers when "those beautiful fabrics remained for over a century in fashion, displaced  by cheaper  print fabrics."

Mary's  husband had worked as a groom for Mr. Morkle  who laid the Berwickshire Railway to Earlston in 1862 and was for many years employed at Brownlie's timber merchants. The family lived in the  cottage near the railway crossing on the road to Georgefield.  

                                                 Gates at the former level crossing cottage.

 "An Instance being Fruitful and Multiplying" was the intriguing headline in The Berwickshire News and General Advertiser: 17th May 1881 which reported:

"There died the other day at East Morriston a man named John Middlemass, at the very advanced age of 93. He was the father of 11 children. He had 70 grandchildren, 138 great-grandchildren, and 4 great, great  grandchildren , making in all 223 descendants."

So John Middlemass must have been born c.1788, just before the time of the French Revolution, and 75 years before the railway reached Earlston in 1863. 


DEATH OF LANCELOT WATSON11th April 1918 - Hawick Advertiser.

But  who was Lancelot Watson, with Earlston, Hawick and American connections?  
More research called for here! 
British Newspapers 1710-1963 at  

Have you come across snippets of Earlston News in old newspapers? 
If so do let us know by e-mailing: 


Sunday, 3 February 2019

Earlston Hiring Fairs in the 1930's


Earlston Hiring Fairs, held in the Market Square,  were important events where men and women  farm  workers, (ag.labs (agricultural labourers), hinds*,  ploughmen,  shepherds, dairy maids.  domestic servants etc.)  would gather to bargain with prospective farmers for work, and hopefully secure a position for the following 6-12 months.  

*The Scottish National  Dictionary defines a "hind" in  Southern Scotland and Northumberland as  "a married skilled farm worker who occupies a cottage on the farm and is granted certain perquisites in addition to wages. 

Special trains were laid on by L.N.E.R. offering cheap days excursions to Earlston for the event.
 Southern Reporter:  20th February 1936

Hiring Fairs were also social occasions with a rare opportunity for friends and family to meet and enjoy side shows and stalls, with often all-day dancing in the Corn Exchange, and a chance to take teas in the Masonic Hall or a dram in one of the public houses.
 Earlston Hiring Fair 1934 

Issue of Wage Rates
But in the 1930's, the depressed state of agricultural wages was a live issue.  A rise after the First World War had seen a fall during the 1920's and a further decrease in the early 1930's.  "The Scotsman" of 24th February 1931 reported on Earlston Hiring Fair,  noting that: 
"As this is one of the first Border hirings in the year, considerable interest was evinced in agricultural circles regarding the question of wages.  There was a large attendance, but hiring was very small, owing presumably to the reluctance of farm servants to accept a reduction in wages.  These showed a decrease of 2s-3s per week compared with last year.  Ploughmen are likely to receive 30s.-33s. per week, with harvest allowance and the usual emoluments;  women workers from 18s-21s; boys according to ability 15s to 20s."
[The 2 shilling per week decrease represented  £4.68 in today's money; 30 shillings per week  -  £68, and  18 shillings  - £24.]  
Source:  National Archives Currency Converter

How Much Did Food Cost?
The Office of National Statistics reported that prices for everyday items such as bread, sugar, tea, cheese, margarine, eggs, potatoes and  flour all increased in price after the First World War, peaking around 1920.  They then fell slightly, but remained above the 1918 level through the 1920s and 1930s.

The local press reported  that in 1935 the price of bread increased from 71/2d to  8d per 4lb loafThe two Galashiels advertisements below from  "The Southern Reporter": 10th December 1936, give an indication of prices at the time, though  no doubt they were promoting many items well above an agricultural worker's pocket.

 An advertisement for James Galbraith, Galashiels

Thomas Rae on Bank Street was advertising gifts

A series of meetings of farm workers  were held across the Borders including St. Boswells  to discuss the issue of pay Then in 1937 an Agricultural Board was established, representing the interests of employers and employees  to  set minimum wages, holiday entitlement, and working conditions for agricultural workers.  A separate body for Scotland was set up in 1949 with representatives from from the  National Farms Union of Scotland and the Scottish Landowners Federation.

Seeking Farm Vacancies  
Times were changing, and increasingly during the 1930s farm vacancies were being advertised in the local press.  Workers were also showing a reluctance to move, especially if they were already living near a town or on a bus route and their farm cottages were being improved.

A typical listing of jobs advertised in "The Southern Reporter" of 10th March 1936.  Note no pay rates are stated, and many vacancies stipulated  along with the man, a wife to look after cows and poultry, and strong boy(s) to assist on farm. 

In the same year, an item in "The Berwickshire News" noted:
"There is reason to believe that in the not too distant future, farm hirings will fall into abeyance."
A report on Kelso Hiring Fair in "The Southern Reporter" 10 January 1938  was typical of the concern.

With  the onset of war in 1939,  hiring fairs died out.  but  in Earlston, "the Shows" remained a tangible link with the past, and continued to come into the Square well into the 1960's. 


Press Cuttings and Press Comments sourced on
"British Newspapers Online 1710 -1963" at Find My Past

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Robert Scott, Murderer 1823 -UPDATE

Robert Scott, was the subject of two recent blog posts on his trial and execution for murder in Earlston in 1823. A reader came across an article in “The Scotsman” of 19th  August 1930, which throws further light on the crime, under the heading “ The Earlston Tragedy of 1823”. 

After the Earlston Fair, Robert Scott had an altercation with two men, Robert Simm and James Aitchison as they made  their way home to Greenlaw.  They were violently attacked and left for dead.  Robert Scott was arrested, tried at Jedburgh Circuit Court, defended by 
J. G. Lockhart, son in law and biographer of Sir Walter Scott.   Different accounts were given of the case of the quarrel, but Robert Scott was found guilty and sentenced to death. 

The Scotsman account gives us a description of Robert Scott as:

"Aged 36, six foot in height, thick set and heavily built, with black hair, head and features normal, and nose flat."
 But the reporter  commented sympathetically on the prisoner's  demeanour on his journey in procession from Jedburgh Jail to the scaffold near Fans, Earlston - the scene of his crime, with the words: 

"Immense crowds in Jed. witnessed his departure.  The  streets were thronged with immense crowds as  the impressive procession left the town for Earlston.  Never before was such a spectacle seen in the locality.  It  was a sad and peculiar scene. The Provost and Magistrates of the burgh dressed in deep mourning, delivered the person of the culprit to the sheriff deputy.   The person of the culprit was accompanied  in the carriage by the Rev. James Clark of Jedburgh  and the Governor of  the Castle  Jail. After the irons had been cut off, the prisoner appeared firm and composed.   Officials from Berwickshire took over at the county boundary.

The Procession  moved slowly and silently  through Earlston.  The greatest decorum was shown by the inhabitants.
Thousands of spectators surrounded the scaffold.  The prisoner ascended the scaffold in  a lively manner. Devotional exercises were engaged in, with the prisoner reciting the Lord's Prayer. He prepared to meet his fate with utmost fortitude. He even untied his own necktie, and for a short time remained in silent prayer.  He  gave the signal and was instantly dropped into eternity."


Given the early date of 1823, when communications were limited, it is  amazing how the event in a small Berwickshire village was featured in newspapers across the country.  A search on British Newspapers Online  on the FindMyPast website revealed reports in the:

Aberdeen Press and Journal 
Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh 
Cambridge Chronicle and Journal
Durham County Advertiser
Morning  Advertiser, London
Morning Chronicle, London 
Oxford University and City Herald 
Perthshire Courier 
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, London
Staffordshire Advertiser
Scots Magazine, Edinburgh 
Yorkshire Gazette. York


 Earlier blog posts on Robert Scott can be found at: 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Earlston Gingham Girls: Past and Present

The present meets the past in this account of "The Earlston Gingham Girls".

In June 2018. Janet Macintyre and Gill Cooper from Earlston SWI (Scottish Women's Institute) joined   tens of thousands of women in processions in the four UK capitals, to celebrate women’s rights and commemorate the people who had fought for women to gain  the  vote.


Background to the Event
There had long been a campaign  for the right of women to participate in the political life of the country, but it met with little success. However  under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst,   a much more militant approach was introduced with the formation of  the The Women's Social and Political Union.  Its activities gained notoriety in the press, leading to the term "suffragette" being coined by "The Daily Mail" in 1906.  

Their  first mass rally in 1908 in Hyde Park, drew crowds of over 300,000, many bearing banners specifically  made for the event.  The campaigners were pioneers in using visual aids to publicise their cause  (what we now know as "branding") - carrying banners, proclaiming memorable slogans and adopting the colours of Green, White and Violet, reflecting their message of "Give Women Votes".

But it was the role of women in the First World War, undertaking men's work  that did as much as anything to show their ability and commitment.  So in November 1918 the Representation of the People Act  gave the vote to some women i.e. those over the age of 30,  who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities.   It was to be a further ten years in 1928, before women gained the vote on the same basis as men. 

The 2018 Edinburgh Procession 
Here is Janet and Gill's account of their experience of the procession.

"We were urged to create banners,
reflecting women in our community, and to wear the Suffragette colours.  Living in Earlston, we thought about the remarkable women of the village and immediately coming to mind were the Whale Sisters, the 19th century manufacturers of Earlston Gingham. We wanted to share their story in some kind of way on our banner. 

We bought  some green and violet gingham,  with a white cloth as the background. The term "Earlston's Gingham Girls"  seemed a natural title and  the shape of the thistle emerged in the design, reinforcing our Scottish identity

The Edinburgh march started from the Meadows, over George IV Bridge, down the Mound, along Princes Street, up North Bridge and down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park. 

We were  arranged in long columns and each column was given a piece of loose woven cotton cloth in the suffragette colours.  Participants tied the material around their heads, shoulders  or waist and we became, a piece of street art - a flowing  river of colour.  

We had an amazing day - the atmosphere was friendly with a tangible  air of celebration.  The good weather was a bonus!  Songs were  sung, and stories swapped.  We  told as many people as we could about the significance of our banner and the achievements of the Whale sisters in a time when men dominated the business world.  We returned  to Earlston, happy but exhausted after carrying our banner for 3 miles around central Edinburgh.

Who were the Whale Sisters?
They were two enterprising women who became known  both nationally and internationally for their business success.

A carved inscription on the old mill building, 
with  the names C & M Whale still clearly visible.
Today the site of Austin Coaches. 

Contemporary press cuttings indicate how widespread was the reputation of Earlston Ginghams.
 An advertisement in London's "Morning Post":  23rd September 1844. 
With a reference to "the celebrated Marion Whale's Earlston ginghams."

Christian Whale died  in 1862 aged 77 and "The Southern Reporter"  printed a fulsome obituary, noting that "the firm employed little short of 100 weavers, who in turn required no inconsiderable number of female winders."

"The Berwickshire News" noted that she was a "woman of masculine understanding and highest business capacity......She will be long remembered in these parts as a woman of ability and enterprise and one who deserved well of her native place".    

Marion died two years later.   The mill was sold to the textile firm of Wilson & Sons, and the house property on the High Street  was sold to Mr Smail, agent of the Commercial Bank  for the sum of £700. 

The two Whale sisters were ahead of their time and made an enormous contribution to Earlston life.  They were beacons in  mid Victorian Britain when few women showed such enterprising spirit to head successful businesses.  

 But they did not have the vote and had no say in political life.

 Today a street name sign reminds us of the village's past. 
Two surviving examples of the woven Earlston Gingham 
 in the collection of Auld Earlston.  By chance in the suffragette colours.  


Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Christmas Greetings from Earlston

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 
To All Our Blog Readers  

A charming Christmas card 
from  the collection of  local historian - the late John Weatherly 

Photographs of Earlston Christmas Lights

 Christmas Cards from the time of the First World War 

Nativity Scene in Earlston


Thursday, 29 November 2018

Earlston's Generous Community Spirit in World War Two

During World War Two, Earlston’s community spirit shone through, whether it was in supporting national causes such as  War Weapons Week and Wings for Victory week, or fund raising for the local War Comforts Fund. At the heart of this activity was the Earlston War Works Party. 

As in  other communities, there were women in Earlston who were experienced in charity work, organising events and raising money for worthwhile causes. On the outbreak of war in 1939, they were galvanized into action to form the Earlston War Works Party, working closely with the local branches of the Red Cross and Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS).

Compiled and updated Address Books of names of Earlston lads serving, with details of their whereabouts, status, rank, next of kin, plus personal details e.g. non-smoker.

Organised the issue of ration books.

Organised a weekly house to house “penny” collection to provide comforts to serving forces.

Organised billets for evacuees and troops stationed here.   

Distributed comfort parcels to 400 Polish soldiers on their arrival in the village.                                       
                                            Polish soldiers in the Market Square

Did darning for troops. 

Distributed khaki wool supplied by the Scottish Woollen Comforts Council.

Sent Comfort Parcels thrice yearly to Earlston men and women serving in the forces.

Sent Comfort Parcels to Earlston Prisoners of War - to include a knitted blanket, a pullover, two pairs of socks, plus cigarettes and a friendly word from home.  

  Prisoners of War in  Stalag XVIIID, Germany,
with Earlston men on the back row - Jim Reid (far left) and Ed Reid  (far right)     

Sent knitted garments (socks, mittens, scarves, pullovers, balaclavas) to the Comforts Funds of the Army, RAF, Royal Navy, Merchant Seamen, and K.O.S.B.

The Red Cross Work Party made swabs, bandages, pyjamas, vests, shirts, tropical underwear, limb pads, kit bags, dressing gowns, surgeons’ overalls, and sleeping bags for bombed areas. 

Set up a clothing depot for emergency use.

Organised the collection of herbs and sphagnum moss used in the treatment of wounds.   

Organised the collection of brass and aluminium

Made available A Red Cross Library of 1000 books.

The WVS organised a canteen in the church hall for troops  which became a popular social venue. . 

Looking forward to happier times, a Welcome Home Fund was set for servicemen returning home as the war ended.
Gave £6 to each re-patriated Prisoner of War - equivalent to £213 in today’s money.  (National Archives Currency Converter


All kinds of events were held, with young and old contributing  with whist dances and whist drives, concerts, regular house to house collections, and  donations from shops,  businesses and organisations,  pipe band and dancing displays, baby shows, pin up boy and girl competitions, football and bowling tournaments, and a garden fete at Cowdenknowes. Some typical reports in the local newspapers were:  

Southern Reporter:  12th July 1945 

 Berwickshire News:  17th April 1945

Participants in the Pin Up Competition 
Margaret McAulay; Sybil Jackson; Bunty Thomson (Mason) and Dorothy Hartley (Hall)
During the war Bunty worked at Simpson and Fairbairn Mill
and Dorothy was in the Land Army in Earlston. 

Bunty being presented with her first prize by Mrs. Scott Aiton.

 Advert from Southern Reporter: 31 May 1945.

Southern Reporter:  27th September 1945.


Names that appear regularly in the press reports and minute book:

Miss Henderson, Miss Hope, Miss Hogarth, Mrs Hood, Mrs Barlow, Miss Sharpe, Mrs Wylie, Mrs Young and Mrs Rodger.


From regular reports in the local press and from the Minute Books of the Earlston War Work Party, which are now held in the archives at the Heritage Hub,  Hawick.


In 1945 a joint meeting of the Earlston War Work Party,  Earlston branch of the Red Cross and WVS met to look back on their activities.

Since the start of the war,  £3723 was raised for the Comforts Fund, the Red Cross Fund and the Welcome Home Fund - equivalent to £132,356 in  today's money terms.

A wonderful example of community spirit and one which did much to raise morale on the home front, as people felt they were contributing to the war effort.  



Southern Reporter: 23rd August 1945