Sunday, 18 September 2016

Early Days of Earlston's Railway


 As we mark the first anniversary of the return of the Borders Railway, look back at the early days of the original railway which passed through Earlston 1863-1965, linking the east coast Edinburgh to London route with the historic Waverley line through the central Borders.   

Some of the issues reported by local newspapers of the past sound familiar!  

  • "The Southern Reporter" of 12th January 1861 reported that the  plans were in the hands of parochial teacher Mr. Aitkenhead and available for inspection. The route for the railway was outlined as:
  "entering the parish by a bridge across the Leader, then across the fields belonging to Misses Whales (gingham manufacturers), passing the foot of the West U.P. Manse garden, and crossing the road from Earlston to Redpath......
  • For farmers, their main concern was for a grain market  and a public meeting was held in the Reading Room to progress the matter with banker Mr.  Smail appointed honorary secretary. (The Southern Reporter: 12th January  1861)
  • Travelling and postal arrangements were also under scrutiny, as noted in "The Southern Reporter" 5th August 1863.  Take note of the powerful prayerful  language used in their argument  to the Railway Directors
 "The community of Earlston were impressed  with the courteous manner in which Mr George Wallace of the Commercial Inn and proprietor of the present conveyance to  and from Melrose had served the public - to often with slight advantage to himself.  It was  considered it necessary to forward a petition to the Directors praying for him to continue  as their postmaster. The petition ash been signed by merchants, traders and other influential parties. Should the Directors deem it fitting to grant the prayer of the petition, their so doing would satisfy the public and confirm a boon on an obliging and  industrious public servant." 

Thar the opening was imminent, was reported in "The Southern Reporter" of 29th October 1863. The Government Inspector had passed along the line; the construction company had dismissed a considerable number of their men and the horse stock was authorised for sale.

The actual opening in Earlston was reported in "The Kelso Chronicle" of 20th November 1863  with an  article which made the occasion seem rather prosaic and low key, and contrasted with   bands and bunting that marked the earlier opening in Duns.  But like its modern successor  "the number of passengers has far exceeded expectations"

But just one day after the opening of Earlston Railway Station, "The Kelso Chronicle" of 20th November 1863 headline read   "A  Serious Accident on the Berwickshire Railway" near Dunse. 

"This line which opened with much promise on Monday, was the scene of a rather serious mishap on Tuesday. ....A train on its way to Earlston with a few coal trucks, two carriages and two passengers was  startled by the axle of the one of the trucks giving way and tearing the rails....both carriages and trucks were dragged off the line, but fortunately none were precipitated over the embankment.........A large force of navvies were on the line and were exerting themselves to get the line in order again.  They intended to work all night and have it finished for the next day's was necessary to delay trains, much to the annoyance of a great number of passengers attending Dunse Fair.

The major engineering feat on the line was the crossing of the River Tweed and the building of the Leaderfoot Viaduct, which involved  a nineteen arch structure  907 feet long and 126 feet above the level of the river bed.   Interestingly it is referred to in a newspaper article of December 1864 as the Drygrange Viaduct.

 One of the last trains over Leaderfoot in 1965 
Copyright ©  Bruce McCartney All  Rights Reserved.   

 The item in "The Southern Reporter" of 24th October 1867 may strike a chord. 

 "The  railway arrangements of the North British appeared to be of the most annoying and expensive our mortification and the chagrin and disgust of between forty and fifty farmers and business men whose time is worth money, we were kept two and a half hours waiting on the train.......The Berwickshire Company may  find their small dividend will be reduced to nothing and the public will lose all confidence in the line."   

But the Berwickshire Railway survived.   Devastating floods across the  county in August 1948 meant that passenger services were suspended,  due to parts of the track bed being washed away.  Repairs were never fully carried out and only freight services continued on part of the line, which  was eventually closed without ceremony  on 16th July 1965 -  marking the end of the 102 year old line of the Berwickshire Railway through Earlston. 

In 1969 amidst the notorious Beeching Cuts,  the Scottish Borders lost all its rail services, making it the only region in mainland Scotland without a  train station.  But that  all  changed in September 2015 when part of the Waverly Line re-opened for 35 miles south of Edinburgh into the central Borders at Tweedbank.   

Steam train arriving at Tweedbank
Copyright © N. F. Donaldson, 2015.     All  Rights Reserved,  

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Whale Sisters - Earlston's Renowned Gingham Manufacturers

The names of the Whale sisters, Christian and Marion,  were once synonymous 
with textile production in Earlston.

In the 18th century, Rhymer's  Mill  was  a corn mill before being transformed by the Whale family into a textile mill where  the  manufacture of gingham was introduced by Thomas Whale.    

A carved inscription on the old mill building, 
with  the names C & M Whale clearly visible today. 

The 1891 publication "Two Centuries Of Border Church Life V2   - with Biographies Of Leading Men And Sketches Of The Social Condition Of The People On The Eastern Border",  by James Tait, includes a paragraph  on the Whale Family. 

"Thomas Whale died on the 11th March 1814, aged 74 years; and his widow died two years afterward; but the business was carried on with great skill and success by their daughters, Christian was the elder, and was a very clever woman, but she modestly gave the first place to her younger sister Marion and the designation of the firm was "Marion Whale Co," The gingham was manufactured of cotton and the weaving was done in private houses; in some of which there was a factory containing twenty or thirty looms. The colours were woven into the cloth, not printed as is now generally done; and everything was of the best material One of the sisters travelled to Edinburgh, along the Northumberland coast and even to London, which was very inaccessible in those days."

Two surviving examples of the Earlston Gingham  in the collection of Auld Earlston.

Contemporary press cuttings indicate how widespread was the reputation of Earlston Ginghams.    In the 1840's "The Morning Post" in London carried regular advertisements for the cloth.  The Scotch Tartan Warehouse in Regent Street promised:  

"The Paris Fashions for the Present Season .........[with] Marion Whale's real Earlston  Ginghams".  (23rd October 1843).  

Queen Victoria's tour of Scotland led to a demand for all things Scottish,  as the advertisement of 23rd September 1844 below highlights, with a reference to:

"Her Majesty's Tour of Scotland  and approval of the different manufacturers. especially of Plaids, has caused them to be the  fashionable article of dress for the approaching season".........Stock includes "the celebrated Marion Whale's Earlston Ginghams (this establishment being exclusive for the sale of  that article). "

 Rutherfurd’s 1866 Directory of the Southern Counties, published in Kelso,   commented
 Earlston produces quantities of the Earlston ginghams. There is no other place in the country where the same class of gingham is made”.

Back in Earlston, the 1851 Census identified Christian  Whale as a 64 year old "manufacturer of gingham and cotton, employing 60 workers, mainly weavers and winders of cotton". Also in the business was her sister Marion aged 56.   

Ten years on in 1861 Christian, age given as 74  and Marion 66, were both described as Gingham Manufacturers, living at 125 Main Street, Earlston (a ten room property) with their older brother Andrew, a former clerk in a drapery warehouse, two domestic servants and a stable boy. 

But nine months later,  Christian Whale died 22nd  January 1862. aged 75.    

"The Kelso Chronicle" of 24th January 1862 noted that "Miss Whale, well known throughout the  greater part of this country, departed this life after a tedious illness........Miss Whale was a person of most active habits and of a shrewd and vigorous understanding;  qualities which account in great measure for her extraordinary success in life".

 "The Southern Reporter" of 30th January  giving a fulsome obituary,  referred to her:
 "stern but invariably kind disposition ....her business habits, her untiring perseverance, her successful career..... At one time the firm employed little short of 100 weavers, who in turn required no inconsiderable number of female winders. ......Miss Whale attending herself to the most minute particulars as well as transactions   of greater magnitude;   she allowed no object, however trifling,  to pass without her inspection and approval;  her presence was everywhere, now superintending the warping, now the finishing, now giving direction for the packing bales of goods for the London and American markets;  behind the counter supplying a single dress to a customer;  all her multitudinous duties being done with characteristic energy and promptitude.  The funeral took place on Monday and a very large attendance of townspeople and a number from  the surrounding district turned out  to testify their respect for her memory."
Southern Reporter 30th January 1862

 "The Berwickshire News" later commented on " Miss Christian Whale (Kirsty in the vernacular)  was a woman of masculine understanding and highest business capacity...  and had a  life of great activity and usefulness.....she will be long remembered in these parts as a woman of ability and enterprise and one who deserved well of her native place".    

Two years later almost to the day,  sister Marion died 24th January 1864 aged 71.  The business was dissolved, and in February 1864, local newspapers carried front page advertisements on "Valuable Property in Earlston for Sale...Belonging to  the late Misses Christian and Marion Whale".  The mill was sold to the textile firm of Wilson & Sons, and the house property was sold to Mr Smail, agent of the Commercial Bank  for the sum of £700. 

   On the middle right - the former home of the Whale Sisters,  
sold to the Commercial Bank.  
The two Whale sisters were ahead of their time and made an enormous contribution to Earlston life.  They were beacons in  mid Victorian Britain when few women showed such enterprising spirit to head successful businesses.  

 Today a street name sign reminds us of the village's past.