Thursday, 5 May 2016

Earlston's "Gingham Tam" - Thomas Gray

Gingham manufacturer,  renowned antiquarian and a popular Border fiddler - all the accomplishments of Thomas Gray. of Earlston, known  in his day variously as  "Gingham Tam",  "Tam of Earlston",  "Earlstoun Tommy",  and "A Modern  Thomas of Ercildoune".

The photograph above  from  the Auld Earlston collection is captioned:  
"Thomas Gray, (1856-1910), Manufacturer of Gingham - a cotton fabric originally made in India Gray.  He  lived in Earlston and was a well-known Border fiddler"

Often mentioned in connection with gingham production in Earlston are the Whale sisters, Christian and Marion, whilst  Thomas Gray  is a much less well-known figure.

Who was Thomas Gray?   
The dates in the photograph caption  posed an immediate question, as no record could be found on the standard ancestry research websites of a Thomas Gray with those dates, and the conclusion is drawn that they must be incorrect.  

The first record which offered some clue was an entry in the 1881 census which listed a Thomas Gray, a gingham manufacturer born in Earlston, unmarried,  and  living on his own at Kilnknowe Head, Earlston,  aged 85, so born c.1796. 

Given Thomas's  late age, his death was soon traced and newspaper articles gave an indication of  his life and character.

The Berwickshire News of 8th January 1884 announced: 

The death certificate was traced on the ScotlandsPeople website and gave the information that:  Thomas Gray, gingham manufacturer died on 5th January 1884 at Salt Green, Eyemouth, following a fall;   aged 88, son of Thomas Gray weaver and Margaret Runciman;  the informant was his nephew William Brown of Earlston. 

An obituary in "The Kelso Chronicle 1st February 1884 gave the fullest account of his life - in an article that first appeared in  " The Haddingtonshire Courier." 

"With the passing away of his life,  this "ancient man"  and finely curious character, another link past and present  is severed;   and notably figures ceases from the round to long and faithfully trodden........ The family of which he was the last survivor  had some note in their day,  as manufacturers, in a small way, of ginghams;  and Thomas's chosen part was to traverse  the country distributing these wares. His beat at one time was quite an extensive one  embracing customers in the three Lothians as well as the counties on both sides of the Borders....mostly on foot,  he did not disdain a lift by rail.......His well known antique figure with a pack behind and the fiddle slung in front, was a familiar object in our streets....and his appearance never failed to excite interest."  
Further research in the census returns, confirmed Thomas's itinerant lifestyle, as he was a frequent visitor to Haddingtonshire [East Lothian], described in every case  as a manufacturer of Earlston.    In 1851 he was visiting Margaret Nisbet, a 66 year old baker,  in Tranent';   in 1861 a retired farmer and his cousin at Long Yester, Gifford Farm House,   and ten years later in 1871  he was with a young couple Robert and Emily Brotherstone at Gifford.  The Brotherstone name  was well known  as blacksmiths. in Earlston and nearby Redpath. 

Thomas was also listed as a gingham manufacturer in "Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Register  & Directory,published  in 1866, and in Slater's Directory of 1882.
Following Thomas's death, local newspapers threw further light on his interests, with references to the sale of his books and antiquities which took place in February 1884. 

 In July the same year, his property on Kirkgate was sold.  

Fourteen years later, in  "The Border Magazine" of 1898, Robert Anderson of Edinburgh  wrote a tribute to Thomas Gray.

 The author wrote that  Thomas went on
"his regular rounds with his pack and his fiddle to dispose of his ginghams, the quality of which was proverbial........Many a lady of high degree  did not think it beneath her to purchase a dress piece from the old worthy and to get in return a blessing and tune on his fiddle.

With only the early education which the parish school of that day afforded, he managed by diligent application to cultivate his intellect to such an extent that he became known in his own neighbourhood and far remote for his learning and intimate knowledge of  of the leaders in literature. He possessed upwards of 2000 books. .......His capacious pockets used to hold at least two or three favourite volumes,  on which he might be seen poring over  while resting by the way."


An Earlston street name sign reminds us of the village's past, in which
                                Thomas Gray  
          "this remarkable man and grand old Borderer"  
                                 played a part. 


In Case You Missed: Click Below: 

Much of this information was traced using standard reference material of census returns and directories, conducting a Google search and accessing searchable British Newspapers that are available online and feature Border titles:   
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. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your feedback is much appreciated.