Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Headlines on Earlston

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.  Here are some random snippets on Earlston from the local press.
    Calling at Pathhead, Carfrae Mill, Lauder, Earlston, Leaderfoot.
    To Jedburgh In Five Hours

    Fares to Jedburgh only 5 shillings outside;  6 shillings inside.

    Caledonian Mercury:  29th September 1843

    Southern Reporter: 24th March 1898

    "A motor car passed through the village on Sunday morning.  The two gentlemen who were driving it left Newcastle-on-Tyne the previous day en route for Edinburgh. In this neighbourhood one of the tyres got damaged  and it was resolved to put up at the Red Lion. 

    This was done and the  car when it reached the hotel, being stopped for a little while was quickly surrounded  and examined with no small degree of curiosity, this being the first time  such a machine  has been seen  in operation here. "

    "The Rev. Dr. Mair, Moderate to the Established Assembly, when preaching on the Sabbath Day in Earlston Parish Church, stopped in his discourse and severely rebuked members of the Congregation, who had not being paying attention to the sermon."

The State of the Village was of concern, with reports on  street paving, water supplies, and street lighting.

A NEW SUPPLY OF WATER.  Berwickshire News:  7th January 1879

PAVING OF THE STREETS:  Berwickshire News:  17th  January 1871. 
"A Public Meeting of the inhabitants of Earlston was held in the Reading Room Hall on Wednesday evening to consider the subject of making pathways on each side of the main street. Wm.  Colesworth,   Esq. of Cowdenknowes was called to the chair. As all agreed to the necessity of these pathways and the great comfort and convenience  to have them, he hoped that the efforts to obtain them would be successful. This was carried unanimously.  Thereupon a large committee was appointed with Mr Colesworth and Charles Wilson, manufacturer as joint conveners, and Mr Balfour as Secretary who was charged with canvassing the town for subscriptions. Messrs Rodgers, Wallace, Wood and Murdison  to report on the various modes of making such pathways as would be suitable. "

The change from gas to electric was not welcomed, with the lamps too high, the power too weak and the lamps to far apart.

Looking towards the West End High Street, c.1910

Robert Smith Earlston  Inspector of the Poor sent a letter to the press deploring the "Professional Tramp Nuisance"  in the village.  
Berwickshire News:  22nd February 1906.

- Berwickshire News:  23rd February 1893

GRAND BAZAAR Berwickshire News:  October  1910


Southern Reporter: 6th March 1906

"Kinderspiel" was a German term often used in this period, meaning a play or piece of musical theatre performed by children.
EARLSTON JUNIOR TOWN BAND IN CONCERT  -  Berwickshire News: 14th January 1919 - with the  reporter waxing  eloquently in a colourful account of a school concert where:

"The finale  was the performance of Earlston Junior Clown Band, trained by Miss Gill, 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! 


With grateful thanks  to Jeff Price and Richard Smith, members of the Auld Earlston Group,
for their contributions to this post. 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

200 Years of Earlston's Post Office

A look at the changing face of Earlston Post Office across two centuries

In the 1820s George Lindsay was  the Earlston Post Master, listed in the 1825 edition of Pigot & Co Commercial Directory of Scotland as a grocer, spirit dealer and hardware man, in addition to being Post Master. The address of his grocery shop isn’t given, but it is possible that it was the building currently (2019) occupied by “One Stop” on the High Street. That being the case, Lindsay’s next door neighbour would have been John Spense.

John Spense took over the role of Postmaster on LIndsay's death in 1836. Spense was a writer, (an old Scottish term for a solicitor),  justice of the peace,  clerk and agent to the Norfolk Fire Office. We know that Spense lived in a house on the High Street now known as Market House. 

The railway did  not reach Earlston until 1863, so post in earlier times was carried by three coach services: 

  • The Commercial Traveller ran between Coldstream and Edinburgh. It left Earlston every Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving at twelve thirty Coldstream and returned on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at ten in the morning.
  • The Tweedside Coach ran between Kelso and Earlston, leaving Earlston at one o’clock in the afternoon and returning in the morning at ten for Edinburgh.

  • The Royal Eagle served as the link between the Borders and Edinburgh
A foot post arrived from Melrose at ten in the morning and returned at two in the afternoon.

By 1837, the coach service was limited to the Tweedside. The coach left Earlston (from Kelso) to Edinburgh at nine-thirty every morning except Sundays. The return service to Kelso (from Edinburgh) left each afternoon, except Sundays, at half-past one. For the villagers, this meant that letters arrived at half-past two each afternoon and were dispatched at seven each morning.

The Ordnance Survey published “Name Books” which provide information on the names found in various parishes covered by Ordnance Survey maps. Berwickshire OS Name Books, 1856-1858, Volume 16 contains information on place names found in the parish of Earlston.

The description of the Earlston Post Office for 1856-1858 read:

"An apartment of a dwelling house is occupied as an office where letters are received and dispatched to and from Melrose daily also to Legerwood, Gordon, Fans and Redpath etc. Mrs. Spense Post Mistress."

By the late 1850s, the railway on the Waverley Line, had reached Melrose.   As a consequence, a coach from Earlston provided a twice-daily service (Sundays excepted) in connection with the railway. Nonetheless, the service offered by the Post Office had increased. Letters “from all parts” arrived from Melrose every morning at half-past eleven and each evening at eight. Mail was dispatched every morning at seven-twenty and again in the afternoon three-fifty. A Sunday service had now been established with letters arriving at eleven and dispatched at seven-thirty in the morning. Money Orders were also granted and paid. 


 A significant impact on the postal services in Earlston occurred in In late December of 1859, when Margaret Spense died of acute bronchitis at the age of 63. As a  consequence, the Post Master position was vacant.

The Berwickshire MP, David Robertson, 1st Baron Marjoribanks, called for a meeting to be convened on January 19, 1860, in the West UP Church and chaired by Charles Wilson of Wilson and Sons.

The purpose of the meeting was to choose the new Post Master. Four candidates were in the running and, after a secret ballot, Mr. Ralph Dodds, an Earlston merchant, was elected with a majority of 97 votes.

"The Kelso Chronicle" at the time reported:

We cannot doubt, but the decision of this meeting will give general satisfaction. Mr. Dodds is a highly respectable, deserving, and trustworthy person, one who will do his utmost to please and accommodate the public.”
Such praise and optimism were to prove misplaced.

Just two years and two months after accepting the post, Ralph Dodds resigned stating that the salary of £8 per annum was insufficient. To give this salary some context, in 1897 a three bedroom house at 4 Rodger’s Place in Earlston was available for an annual rent of £11.

A meeting was convened on March 27, 1862, in the Reading Room under the chairmanship of Charles Wilson and it was concluded that the government undervalued the Post Master’s position and Mr. Robertson was asked to use his influence in obtaining an increase for Mr. Dodds.
A follow-up meeting was held at the end of April. A salary increase was not forthcoming and, Mr. Thomas Clendinnen, a draper in the village, who had offered his services as postmaster, withdrew his offer. The Post Master role was offered to the Legerwood and Melrose “districts runners”, but both declined. Obviously, Post Master was not seen as a desirable position. The meeting concluded with the action to canvas the villagers for a volunteer. 


In the mid-1850s, William Crockett arrived in Earlston and in 1857 married Margaret Wood. In the 1861 census William  was working as a Power Loom Tuner, but five years later was listed in Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Directory of 1866 as postmaster.


"Mail arrives 10.40am & 7pm and is collected 6.30am, and 6pm with the promise  that letters are delivered immediately after arrival.  Postmaster is  William Crockett  with David Trotter and David Swanston post-runners.
 Ten years on in the 1871 census, William’s occupation was Post Master, and his wife was listed as Post Mistress.

In the same census, was listed on the High Street Ann McWilliam,  a grocer and  the widow of Alexander McWilliam   Around 1858, Alexander McWilliam, his wife Ann and daughter Annie arrived in Earlston from Midlothian and set up a grocery business in what is now Tom Davidson Art Gallery. A second daughter, Mary was born in 1859.

On November 27, 1860, Alexander was making his rounds, selling to customers and picking up produce from farmers when he slipped and fell from his cart. He had sustained a head injury and died at home the following day. He was just thirty-six years old and left two young children and a heavily pregnant wife. His son, Alexander, was born in 1861. 

In 1872, William Crockett died aged 54, and eight years later we know that Margaret Crockett was working as a grocer while Annie McWilliam (Alexander and Ann McWilliam’s eldest daughter) was Post Mistress.

It seems reasonable to assume that following the death of Alexander, Ann McWilliam would have welcomed the opportunity to grow the business by incorporating the post office into her shop. However, she was a single mother with a young family, and the Post Mistress position with the increased services offered by the Post Office may have been too daunting to take on.

We know that the Post Master position was not desirable, but with the right premises, it could offer better employment for William Crockett than that of Power Loom Tuner.
It is possible, therefore, that the two families came together, McWilliams with the shop on the High Street and Crockett with the Post Master position.

It would certainly explain the “Post Office” sign on the stonework still visible today.

Below a photograph of what is now Tom Davidson Gallery.  Note -  just visible  “Post Office” etched into the stone of the right side of the doorway. 

In 1886, David Lochhead, jeweller, took over the premises occupied by the post office.

In 1886, Thomas Weatherly became Post Master, and the post office moved to his stationers, bookshop and bookbinding shop further along the High Street.  (Currently Lucky Finds). 

In 1889, Thomas’ son, John P Weatherly became Post Master. The middle initial “P” was in honour of Thomas’ wife’s maiden name of Patterson.

In addition to the family business of stationer, printer and bookbinder, John appears to have developed a portfolio of property. The 1891-1892 Valuation Roll shows John owning - a House and Back Premises (later described as a Shop); 2 other Houses; a House with Stable; a Weaving Shop and a Smithy.

The “Postie Close”, out of shot but to the right in the photograph below, served as a convenient link connecting the village to the church via the road. 

But take a closer look at that newspaper placard outside the shop, which announces that "Crippen Removed to Hospital" - the date Septembers 2nd 1910. 

Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, was an American doctor  He was hanged  23rd November 1910 in Pentonville Prison, London  for the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen, and was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy. 

John P. Weatherly continued to hold the position of Post Master until his death in 1907 when Margaret Weatherly, his wife took over the role.  Following her death in 1914 at the age of 53, her elder daughter Ellen Sarah Patterson Weatherly (her middle names from her grandmother) became Post Mistress, with younger daughter  Margaret assisting in the shop - her occupation was listed in the Tradeand Commercial Directories as “Book Seller”. Margaret died in 1970 at the age of 79, the same year as her sister Ellen. 

Taking over the business was John P. Weatherly, (1924-2006), known to some of today's Earlstonians.   Born in 1923, he followed the family tradition of having Patterson as his middle name. His parents, Edward and Mary Weatherly, lived in Lauder where Edward worked as a baker. 
John was a popular man, and he involved himself with many of the community’s groups. In 1963, he married Mary Rodger, a teacher  who taught many of today's villagers at Earlston Primary School.John  also earned a reputation as a local historian,   gathering a wealth of material, which forms  the basis of the archive collection of the Auld Earlston Group. 

When John retired, the Post Office was relocated to the Spar Convenience Store now   “One Stop” grocer,  thus going full circle from the 1820s.  The service was later incorporated into the main grocery business  until its sudden closure in March 2017. 

It took nearly a year of campaigning, before the village  benefited again from a post office service, with the introduction of  a “mobile post office,” i.e. a van Wednesday and Friday afternoons only.


With grateful thanks to blog reader Jeff Price for contributing this article. 


SEE ALSO:  "Earlston's Posties of the Past"   HERE 

NOTE: "The  Changing Face of Earlston" is the theme of the next 
Auld Earlston Exhibition & Slide Show,  
when the focus will be on over 200 years of local  shops and businesses.

The Dates:  June 22nd and 23rd 2019 in the Church Hall.  Details to follow.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Four Years of the Auld Earlston Blog

This month marks four years since the Auld Earlston blog was launched in 2015;  the aim to present articles, press cuttings,  and photographs on many aspects of Earlston's past ranging from work and leisure, institutions, transport, wartime, and individual Earlston worthies who made  their mark at home or abroad. A list of the topics featured  is given on the right of  the screen. 

So take a look  back here  at some of the most popular articles featured over the past four years.

Looking Back at the Past Year

In Previous Years

A charming tinted image of the Parish Church in early 20th century

  • Travel around Earlston in Times Past - An Earlston travel timeline looking at development from the building of Craigsford Bridge c.1737 to the new bridge over the Tweed at Leaderfoot in 1974.
  • Earlston's Village Blacksmiths:  The Brotherston family of blacksmiths continue in business in Earlston today, but in times past  there were many other blacksmiths in the village by the names of  Aitken,  Dickson,  Scott, Sudden, Lee,  Waldie and Wilkie

 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".
  • Earlston Reading Room - 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, next to the Corn Exchange.  The photograph pre-dates 1921 when the pump tower on the right was demolished to make way for the war memorial. 

  • Wartime Air Crash over Earlston  - 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. 


Auld Earlston welcomes contributions from readers to feature on the blog.
Please contact:

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