Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Earlston Men Before the WW1 Military Tribunals

We tend to think that WW1 Military Tribunals dealt primarily with conscientious objectors,   but newspaper reports of the day  show that men sought exemption from service in the armed forces for a variety of reasons - amongst them men from Earlston.

In Britain, conscription in the First World War came into force in March 1916. It  specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service,  unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. The age was quickly extended to married men in May 1916, and was raised  further to 50 in April 1918.  

Ireland was specifically  exempt from conscription in the light of the unrest there, culminating in the Easter Uprising.
Military Army Soldiers Walking Armed Unifo

The Role of Military Tribunals  
These  were set up to hear applications for exemption from conscription. Although the tribunals were best known for their attitude to conscience objectors, most of their work dealt with domestic and business issues.  Men could apply on the basis of doing work of national importance, such as in war industries;  for domestic or business hardship, or for medical unfitness.

Local newspapers reported regularly on tribunals  across  the Scottish Borders, and below are some typical instances from 1916  involving men from Earlston.   Often a temporary reprieve was given, but  this was generally  for a few weeks only.

  • A butcher from Redpath had been trying to sell his business as a growing concern and asked for deferment to allow him to collect outstanding debts.  He was granted a postponement of six weeks, with a stipulation this would not be extended and he must be prepared to serve.
  • Earlston hairdresser & tobacconist, John Rutherford claimed financial hardship, in consideration that he had built up a small business and needed to wind up matters. He was given a temporary reprieve from service.

  • Five claims were made for farm workers at Fans Farm.   Given exemptions were George Simpson, who had three brothers serving, and ploughman/steward Peter Hume;  two were refused -  Ralph Hume and David Adam Borthwick; whilst Joseph Borthwich was given temporary exemption.
  • Master baker of Earlston,  Walter Utterson was given an “absolute exemption." 
  • A  china merchant in Earlston appeared before the tribunal a second time and stated that he supported  his elderly grandparents in their late 70’s,  and he still needed to make arrangements for his business to be carried on.  The tribunal opposed the appeal. 
  • William Holland, aged 34 of Earlston,  claimed he was unable to complete contracts for his work as a slater and chimney sweep, doing all the work around Earlston.  He had six children to support and a lot of farm steadings to repair. His claim was refused.
  • George Blair, partner with a plumbing firm in Earlston,  claimed that to lose one of his men, meant practically abolishing his business. Claim refused.

  • Henry Rutherford of Rutherford's, Agricultural Engineers in Earlston,  claimed that losing men to the armed services would jeopardise the needs of the farms in the area.  Exemption granted on the basis of his work being of national importance.

  • John Mather, hardware merchant of Earlston,  was granted exemption as unlikely to be medically fit for service. 

  • The President of the Earlston Co-operative Society petitioned on behalf three workers:   John Brash, manager was granted a temporary exemption until the end of stock-taking  and that a man was found to take on his duties;  baker John Burrell,  was given an “absolute exemption", with van man Walter Brotherston’s claim  refused.

Records Available
The records of the Military Tribunals were deliberately destroyed after the war, apart from two sets of records   - those for Middlesex, England, held at the National Archives at Kew in London; and those for The Lothians & Peebles in Scotland, held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. 
So local  newspapers remain  the key source of information, available online - on FindmyPast and on the  British Newspaper Archive. 
[Silhouette image courtesy of  Pixabay]

Facts and Figures:
The population of Earlston  in 1911 was  1749.  Ten years later according to the 1921 census it was 1641. 49 Earlston men died in the First World War and  are named on the village war memorial, a number from the same family.  
Earlston War Memorial - November 2017

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

How Earlston greeted the Armistice in 1918.

The end of the First World War came at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – 11th November 1918.

“The Southern Reporter” of  November 14th  shared the good news: 

“The Berwickshire News" gave a much fuller report of the celebrations in Earlston:

“On Monday the news came though that the German delegation had signed the armistice. The first indication of the news was the sounding of the factory buzzer – a sign that something unusual had happened. Then closely followed by the bell of the Parish Church and the Corn Exchange, the raising of the flag at Rhymer’s Mill and the display of flags and bunting throughout. Factory workers were given a half holiday and the whole place was moved and stirred by the welcome news.

Between 12 and 1pm, a thanksgiving service was held in the Parish Church Hall conducted by the Rev. Walter Davidson in a manner highly acceptable to the large gathering of men and women. Groups of people gathered on the streets to discuss the joyful news.

In the evening there was an impromptu concert in the Corn Exchange with money raised going to the Earlston Comforts Fund".



1918 - The Spanish Flu Epidemic:   During the pandemic of 1918/19, over 50 million people died worldwide and a quarter of the British population were affected by this deadly virus, which was first reported from Spain. It hit people who had endured austerity and food shortages due to the war, and it was before the advent of antibiotics and anti-virus medicine.   The death toll was 228,000 in Britain alone.

"The Southern Reporter" of 28th November 1918 reported on the fourth week of closure of the school due to the influenza epidemic, with the church also closed for the previous two Sundays.  

1919- Peace Celebrations: These were held across Berwickshire  on 19th July 1919.  In Earlston  a grand picnic and sports day was held at Cowdenknowes, courtesy of Colonel Hope, followed in the evening by the lighting of a beacon on the Black Hill and a grand display of fireworks which excited the crowd.
                                           Berwickshire News:  15th July 1919

 1920 - Welcome Home Dinner: "Welcome home to the returned soldiers, sailors and women's auxiliary of Earlston parish and district". 

This was the greeting on  the 23rd of April 1920, when Earlston paid tribute to its serving men and women of the First World War, by hosting a dinner in their honour in the  Corn Exchange.  Chairman for the occasion was Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes, and the dinner  was followed by the toasts and a programme of musical entertainment, with cigarettes provided by Mrs Mitchell of Carolside. 


This souvenir programme is in the collection of Auld Earlston.  

This particular card bears the name of H. R.  Aikman, 2nd Lieut. K.O.S.B.  i.e. Henry Aikman who also gave a reply to the toast to "The Boys who Fought and Won", and was on the  Earlston War Memorial Committee. 

Henry had a very close' personal  connection with the occasion.  He, his twin brother William  and older brother James  all served  in  the First World War with the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. William had worked at Rhymer's Mill, served in the Earlston Territorials as bugler, was a renowned shot and  an active member of Earlston Rugby Club, Golf Club and Bowling  Club.   But he  was presumed killed on 12th July 1915 in the Dardanelles Campaign.  He is remembered on  the Helles Memorial in Turkey and on Earlston War Memorial.  

Women were also included in the event, but unfortunately  we know nothing about the women from Earlston who served in the First World War, most likely as nurses.  

1921 -Unveiling of the War Memorial


In the 1911 census,  Earlston's  population stood at 1749,  with 801 male and 948 females. The First World War saw forty-nine men losing their lives in the conflict  - their names recorded  on the War Memorial, unveiled on Sunday 13th  November 1921.   In a service of dedication in the square, it was unveiled by Mrs Hope, wife of Colonel Hope of Cowdenknowes, who was chairman of the War Memorial Committee,  


Earlston War Memorial, November 2017

November 2018 - Earlston's Fall of Poppies
in commemoration of the end of the Great War one hundred years ago.
Created by members of Earlston Parish Church.  

 Primary 6 & 7 pupils gather for a short ceremony at the War Memorial
7th November 2018

Newspaper extracts sourced on Find My Past - British Newspapers

Monday, 29 October 2018

Auld Earlston Show Proved a Popular Draw

Auld Earlston's recent exhibition and slide show at the Church Hall has been voted a great success by organisers of the local heritage group.

The exhibition theme of "Earlston in War and Peace:  1914-1949"   drew a large audience throughout the two days.   Visitors had the chance to browse through information panels  vintage photographs, memories and memorabilia of  life in the first half of the 20th century. Among topics featured were Earlston soldiers, prisoners of war, the German air crash of 1943, Polish troops in the village,  and the sterling efforts of the community to raise money for both national causes and local war comfort charities.  Drawing particular  interest was a table of the weekly rations available for one person in 1942. 

As a contrast, the displays on the inter-war years focused on Earlston at work and leisure, including a look at housing, wages and prices, and  the Ercildoune Pageant  held at Carolside in 1934.  

Throughout the event, four slide shows attracted capacity audiences who enjoyed a tour  around Earlston's people and places, with the history and anecdotal  commentary  sparking lively discussion. The programme ended with a unique short film of Earlston in the 1930's, showing rural life, school sports, a  hunt meeting in the Square and a society wedding at the Parish Church. 

Chairman David Lothian said "We were very delighted by the many positive comments we received and would like to thank everyone involved who contributed material to help our group keep Earlston's past alive for future generations". 

 For further information 
telephone: 01896 848240 or e-mail: 


Monday, 15 October 2018


We are  holding our  two day annual exhibition with slide shows on:
Saturday October 20th (10am-4pm)  
Sunday October 21st (12 noon-4pn)
in the Church Hall, High Street, and Earlston. 
                Entry £3 incl. tea/coffee. Children free.

              The focus of the exhibition this year is:
            "Earlston at War and Peace, 1914-1949"
with displays of vintage photographs, and memorabilia on wartime and life in the inter-war years, with much of the arterial not previously shown. Also  featured will be the recollections  of  older residents who  have  shared their memories on what it was like growing up in the village during the Second World War. 

 Four popular hour long slide shows
will be held over the two days, 
          to include a short film of Earlston in the 1930’s 
                            Saturday at 11am & 2pm

                             Sunday 1pm & 2.30pm.

You also have the chance to share your own memories and chat over tea/coffee with members of the Auld Earlston Group.  

Do come along and find out what your local heritage group is doing to keep Earlston's past alive for future generations. 

For further informaiton
Tel. 01896 848240

 A colourful patriotic certificate from World War One,

Mary Queen of Scots and her retinue, arriving at the Ercildoune Pageant of 1934  which was a celebration of local history and will form a major part of the exhibition on the inter-war years. 


Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Costs of Robert Scott's Execution in 1823.

The previous post on the Auld Earlston blog told the tale of Robert Scott, who, on the night after the Earlston Fair, murdered two men on the road near Fans, and was duly tried and executed on the spot where he committed the crime.

 Section of the handbill giving the news of Robert Scott's execution. ** 

The account book of the Sheriff Officer has survived and  gives us details of  the costs of  the execution and the transporting of the body to Edinburgh for medical dissection.  The report, transcribed below, makes fascinating reading - not least for the amount spent on refreshments and liquor!

In connection with Scott’s confinement in Greenlaw Jail:

  • William Matthewson, Greenlaw, renders the account ­: 29th July 1823 for  removing the irons of Scott sundry times - 3s.  To  one large swell in Scott’s irons - 1s.10d.
  • George Robertson, barber, renders an account for shaving- eleven times at 2d, each  - 1s.10d.  Cutting Scott’s hair - 2d.

The accounts after Scott was handed over to the Sheriff of Berwickshire are rendered to the Right Honourable Barons of Exchequer by Andrew Easton, Sheriff Officer, Berwickshire. Among the items are the following:

  • Paid a joiner affixing chair in cart for conveying Scott from Earlston to the place of execution  - 3s.6d.
  • Paid for conveying police officer and hangman going to the scaffold early in the morning to adjust the rope (sic) etc
  • Paid additional expenses at Earlston ordered by the sheriff to superintend the watch on the scaffold; waiting on the sheriffs and giving instructions relative to the execution   - 16s9d.
  • For refreshments to the extraordinary constables at Greenlaw going to the execution of Scott  - 5s.9d.
  • Paid to Mr Carter, Earlston, for whisky etc. to man watching the scaffold per order of the sheriff, per receipt  -  16s.9d.  and one bottle 2s.
  • Paid Mr Duffy, Fans, for straw
  • To Mr Carter for three bottles of whisky for the men  - 8s.4d.
  • To self for same and horse from Monday 27th to Wednesday 29th ordered to remain by the sheriff  -  £1.6s.6d.
  • For a cheese to the men at the scaffold  - 2d.
  • Paid Walter Dickson, Fans, for a breakfast for seven men  -  7s.0d.
  • Also to same for eleven men for victuals for watching the scaffold -  6s.10d.
(It is said that the watchers amused themselves playing cards using the waiting coffin as a table.) 
  • To Andrew Darling for peats  - 4s.6d.
  • To George Gibson for bread and candles for night when watching -  11s.6d

  • To Mr Carter for bottle of wine and gin ordered to be taken to the scaffold by the sheriff  - 10s.0d.
  • The refreshments at Greenlaw for the extraordinary constables returning from
    the execution  -  5s.6d.
  • To tolls and corn for George Pringle’s horse and cart when going to Earlston to convey Robert Scott’s body to Edinburgh -  1s.2d.
  • Paid the bill at Earlston ordered for two constables to remain at the inn by the sheriff  two days -  13s.9d.
  • For a lanthorn when escorting the corpse to Edinburgh -  3d.
  • Paid bill for man and horse at Shaw’s, Lauder  -  13s.3d.
  • The refreshments at Carfraemill men and horse  -  2s.6d.
  • Also at Pathhead the same -  1s.6d.
  • To a porter in Edinburgh conducting the cart to the place where the corpse was going  -  1s.
  • Paid fee to keeper of cottage getting admission  -  1s,
  • Paid porter searching for a Mr McKenzie, dissector, to take charge of the corpse - 1s 
  • Paid bill at Mr Watson’s, Edinburgh, for men and horse  - £1.19s.0d.
  • George Ingram’s account for men and horse returning from Edinburgh  -  19s.10d.
  • Expenses in returning from Edinburgh to Dunse -  6s.3d.
  • Tolls going and returning from Edinburgh  - 1s.6d.

Total £16.1s.1d 

£16 in 1823 is equivalent to £919  in today's money. 
1s 6d is equivalent to £4.30
Source: National Archives Currency Converter

The total account rendered by the Procurator Fiscal on 15th December 1823 to the Exchequer for the Execution of Robert Scott £243.2s.7d. 

 The Gallows was probably included in the above total. It cost £150. It was afterwards kept in an outhouse at Blandfield Cottage at a rent of £6 yearly. 


**  "Execution".  Edinburgh, 1823. Printed for William Johnston. Price One Penny.
On the National Library of Scotland website at

Until the mid 19th century, broadsides (or handbills) 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.


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 whisky) 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
    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 signed 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.