A Look at Posties of the Past
In Rutherford's Directory of the Southern Counties, published in 1866, there is an entry for David Swanston, post runner. We get an account of David's work in an item published in "The Berwickshire News & General Advertiser", 21st June 1902. It looked looked back at "Melrose Postmen of Olden Days", reprinting an article from "The Kelso Chronicle".
|Berwickshire News & General Advertiser: 17th June 1902|
"David Swanson was the runner for Earlston, driving a pony (called Ben) and a cart. David's turnout was a regular institution for foot passengers on the route, and on certain days they were packed in the vehicle like herring in a barrel.
On overtaking a passenger on the road, David would announce "If there's no' room the now, we will soon mak' room" and accordingly the passengers had to obey orders and creep closer together. If on certain occasions, if he was a little jimp [?] for time in the morning, he would meet the scowl of the postmistress by saying that "Ben had a bad nail in his foot this mornin'". If he should be late in Melrose no wonder, when we recall he had to be in there in time to dispatch the letters from Earlston for the first train in the morning. This was a time when the railway was in a primitive state, the terminus of the North British being at Hawick. David stabled at The Ship Inn [in Melrose] and some days would say to his colleagues, "If anyone asks for me, just say I maun board ship for a minute or two, for mercy it was cauld coming over this morning". In the summer, the excuse for boarding the ship was "the heat is fair meltin' the day" ."
Clearly David was a well known "character" locally. Census Returns showed him listed in the Earlston Census Returns as "post runner between Earlston and Melrose", living with his wife Charlotte and their six children. He was still working as a post runner in 1871, living at 30 Main Street, but died three years later aged 58 and was buried in Earlston Churchyard. Charlotte, his wife died in 1877. A plaque in the church wall sadly records the young deaths of three of their children - Agnes aged 18 months in 1867, son James aged 28 in 1871, and youngest son William died in 1875 aged just 7 years old.
- Earlston lies 5 miles from Melrose,
- The North British Railway between Edinburgh and Hawick, via Melrose, opened in 1849, and was not extended to Carlisle until 1862. So David's memories must precede the completion of the Waverley Line.
In the 1881 census, James McQuillin was living with his wife Agnes, and three children, and was described as a letter carrier. Twenty years later in the 1901 census he was listed as a postman and librarian, living at 60 High Street. He died in 1909 aged 56.
|At the Thorn Corner post box, c.1903|
A press cutting from "The Southern Reporter" (unfortunately undated) features a spotlight on "Postie Mary making the rounds for nigh on 20 years".
"Hail, rain or shine, Mary and her bike have trundled over hill and dale with letters and parcels. ......until 10 years ago her part-time duties meant a 10 mile daily stint in the countryside.....she recalled the times she carried messages to farms and the free feed and shelter she received in return.
But in winter, the conditions were against the intrepid postie. Her bike was no use and she had to plough through drifting snow and howling blizzards. "During the infamous 1963 winter, I had to walk for 8 miles," said Mary, "Conditions were terrible, with telephone lines cut off and roads impassable."
She used to make for Cowdieknowes Estate, then Cowdieknowes Cottage. Next stop was Park Farm and Cottages, and onto the Bungalow at Redpath and Redpath itself. She retraced her steps, crossed the swing bridge, came up through Sorrowless Field onto the Melrose Road and into Earlston.
Now her round is mainly in Earlston and the uniformed cyclist is easily recognisable. She still stops for a blether and enjoys the exercise. She is up at 4. 45 each morning getting the house shipshape and and preparing for work at 6.30am".
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