Saturday, 25 February 2017

Earlston Kirk Session Records - Censure and Charity

EARLSTON KIRK SESSION RECORDS   provide us with a unique  social commentary on life in the village at the time - with the emphasis on chastisement and charity, as the church provided help to the poor and needy, but censure to those involved in what was regarded as moral turpitude.

The Kirk Session, made up of the Minister and the Elders of the parish,  was the local court of the Church of Scotland,  set up after the Reformation  of 1560 and the break with the Catholic Church of Rome.  Its duties were to maintain good order amongst its congregation, administer discipline and supervise the moral and religious condition of the parish. 

The Minute Books recorded:
Detailed accounts of income and expenditure.
Appointments of church officials,
Reports on the parish relating to poor relief, and the parish school.
Proclamations of banns, communion rolls, seat rent books and the hire of the mortcloths which was used to cover the coffin prior to burial.

Below  are some random entries from Earlston Kirk Session Records 1820-1901:

  • 1st January 1843 - the Kirk Session agreed that:

    "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper be dispensed on the second Sunday in February  and that the Thursday preceding shall be observed a day of humiliation but likewise as a day of thanksgiving  for the late abundant harvest".
  • 17th January 1843 - "Paid three pounds, thirteen shillings and sixpence to William Scott, Saddler, for harness, and one pound, four shillings and seven pence for laying the gas pipe from the street to the church."

  • 8th January 1861 -  the Session recorded the early history of the Parish School noting that it had opened the beginning of winter 1825. 
  • 24th November 1856  "Mr Daniel Aitkenhead , who was lately chosen to be schoolmaster of the parish, the Session unanimously appointed to the office of Session Clerk. At the same time they appointed Mr Robert Smith to the office of Treasurer and Mr Adam Shortreed to be precentor."
  • Mr Aitkenhead's signature appears at the end of many of the minutes.   He went on to serve Earlston in varied  roles, dying in 1922 aged 90. A memorial in the churchyard, erected by his pupils and friends noted that he was "a scholar for whom the ancient classics were his delight,  a teacher of rare merit and a man to all the country dear".
  • 1st May 1864 - reflecting concern  for the poor, the young and the aged,   2/- was paid to a destitute family, 6/6 to a family for school fees, and 5/0 to Widow Watson.
  • Bags of coal were regularly distributed to the poor, many of whom were listed as widows.  The local press reported on this gift  to around 50 poor of the parish who each received about 10-15cwt of fuel, supplied by William Gray, coal agent at Earlston Station. It was noted that this Kirk bounty would be very welcome in the severe winter.   Below a list of recipients in 1901.
  • November 1862 saw a surprising entry which reflected the church's concern for a wider mission beyond the village,  with the decision that:
    A collection be made in the church on Sunday, the 23rd instant  in aid of the distressed cotton weavers in Lancashire.
    This was at the time of the American Civil War when a blockade of ports in the Southern states meant that raw cotton supplies were not reaching Lancashire and workers at the mills were unemployed and facing hardship.
  • 4th December 1859 - the Kirk Session discussed  a £200 legacy  from William  Rutherford, spirit merchant of Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh to be used "for the benefit of the poor"£200 in 1859 is equivalent to about £19.000 today, so a huge sum. According to a newspaper report on the bequest, Mr Rutherford was believed to be native of Earlston.

  • Two pages of accounts for 1864 note payments to Robert Shillinglaw  (a church official}, the salary to the precentor increased to £10 per annum, for communion wine, and  the  cleaning of the church yard walls, - and a rather unusual entry for the supply of cod liver oil.
  • Income came from legacies, church collections, fees for proclamation of the banns, from fines,  and from the hiring of the hearse and mortcloth for burials.  It was customary for Kirk Sessions to hire out a mortcloth (funeral pall) to cover the coffin or corpse during the funeral service.  From the point of view of family historians, the Earlston records unfortunately do not name  the deceased person.

  • Many entries abound with the church's concern for what was termed "ante-nuptial fornication". The notable feature of these record is the fact it is the woman who bears the brunt of the  "rebuked".

  • 7th May 1820 - it was confession time for Isabel Dunn - although she had had a child out of wedlock, she now wished to have her church privileges restored. Compassion was duly shown.
  • 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". 
"Having confessed  in sorrow for her sins and resolution to walk through grace in newness of life, the Moderator after solemn admonition did in the name of the Kirk Session absolve her from the scandal of her sin  and restore her to the privileges of the church,"

How attitudes have changed!

Note:  Parochial boards later took over responsibility for matters such as poor relief, with elected parish councils introduced in 1894. 
Scottish Kirk Session Records are not available online,  but many archive centres across the country have them available in a digitised format for their area including the Heritage Hub, at Hawick, which serves  the whole of the Scottish Borders.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Earlston Blacksmiths

Horses are absolutely necessary in this part of the country, for it is by them the farmers labour their farms and drive their corn to market.  They never work with oxen now as they did formerly" - a quote from "The First Statistical Account of Scotland" written 1791-1799.  

Sixty years on,  the 1851 census for Earlston (including Mellerstain and Redpath) lists 9 men working as  blacksmiths, 7 carters/carriers, 3 saddlers, 2  stable boys, an ostler, a farrier, a groom and a coachman - plus of course all those who would be working  with horses on the many farms in the parish.   

The Old Smiddy on the Green 

One of the most prominent families of blacksmiths in the village   were the Brotherstons who worked in Redpath and Earlston down many generations and still man  the  Smiddy  at the East End today.

In the 1851 census for Earlston Parish, 49 year old Andrew Brotherston, blacksmith  was at Redpath with his wife Jessie and five children - Margaret, John, William, Isabella and young Andrew. Ten years on, he was still at Redpath   where in the census,  he was described as a "master blacksmith employing one apprentice".  Andrew senior died in 1867.

John and Andrew followed their father in the family business and by 1881 were working in the East End, Earlston as "smiths and implement  makers".

Slater's Royal National Commercial Directory of 1882 listed three blacksmith businesses in the village:
John Brotherston - also an agricultural implement maker

Robert Lee  - also an agricultural impement maker and engineer
James Wilkie 

By the time of the 1901 census,  John Brotherston    was  at 119 High Street, with his wife Susan and young son James. John was a prominent member of Earlston Horticultural Society,   with his name featuring often in the local press reports as a prize winner at the annual shows.   

The 1903 Directory for the village showed John and  his brother Andrew As blacksmiths.  John died  two years later in December 1905. 

Continuing the family business in their ancestor's smiddy were John's son,   James,   and grandson John.