Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Fire at John Wallace, Joiners in 1874.

The Southern Reporter of 17th September 1874 reported the news of a devastating fire in Earlston at the joiner's  workshop of John Wallace. 
"The inhabitants of Earlston were at nine o' clock on Thursday last,  alarmed by the unusual and ominous cry of "Fire".    A cry which turned out to be all too true; the workshop, a wooden erection of Mr. John Wallace, joiner being discovered to be in flames. 
Plenty of willing workers, men, women and even children rushed to the scene, but all saw at a glance that  the shop and  its contents were doomed.......Hardly had some of the men withdrawn when part of the shop fell with a crash thereby endangering the dwelling house of Mr Wallace which forms one of the range of two storey houses known as New Street.   So imminent the danger that at this time most of the dwellers  had removed their household goods and chattels. And that with such a hurry and confusion to cause no  little damage.

During  the dire struggle  to save the house, the fire spread in another direction. and caught hold of a stable in the adjoining property belonging to Mr David Jameson, grocer. All that could be done was done to save it, but the flames gained their mastery, but not before, however, the livestock were got out.
The damage sustained by Mr, Wallace  is estimated as fully £500,  and is not covered by insurance.  The workmen in his employment have also lost all their tools.......
Great sympathy is expressed by the public to Mr. Wallace. and his men.....and a public meeting was held in the Corn Exchange  on Thursday night ......  A subscription was at once opened ....on Monday the sum  amounted to upwards of £140.  
It is but fair to Mr. Wallace  to say that he had  insured the property up to two years ago, but not only the office with which he had been insured,  but another to which he applied, refused to undertake the risk on any terms.   

The stable and property belonging to Mr Jamieson was insured.  
[Note:   £500 in 1874 is equivalent to £41,500 today - website Measuring Worth]

Seven  years on in the 1881 census, John Wallace was back in business, described as master joiner employing 5 men.  


The Wallace family remained very grateful for the generosity of the Earlston people.  John Wallace's daughter Isabella was 20 years old at the time of the fire.  She never married keeping house for her brother George, also a joiner. She  died in 1920 and  In her will, after bequests to her nephews and nieces and to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary,  left the sum of £3240 to Earlston Parish Council "For the purpose of improving the amenities of the Town of Earlston including footpaths, paving and lighting and similar objects."

Council records held at the Heritage Hub, Hawick confirm that the Isabella Wallace Fund was used for the provision of lighting, the upgrading of the square, with railings around the War Memorial. the removal of the air raid shelter and a gateway and railings at the riverside park of Mill Meadow, where she is still remembered today.   


Background to Searching Old Newspapers
The Heritage Hub at Hawick holds microfilm copies of old Border newspapers.  However these are not indexed, and you do need to have a good idea of a date to search for a specific item i.e. month and year.  

Three websites (subscription or pay as you view) feature searchable British Newspapers including Border titles:   



  1. It mentions New Street in the report, any idea where that is?

    1. Hi Jim, New Street is what Thorn Street was called..


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