Thursday, 8 June 2017

My Grandfather's Grandfather was an Earlston Mole-Catcher

Stewart Paterson  (1832-1908) was a mole-catcher all his life  and  
also a bit of a property developer at the east end of Earlston  

We are grateful to Robert Johnston for sharing this story of his grandfather's grandfather.    There is also a family link to an earlier contributed post on Christopher Sanderson of Earlston. 

Stewart Paterson  was born in 1832 in Bendochy, north of Blairgowrie, the son of Emily and James Paterson,  a farm labourer.  Six  other children completed  the family - John, Hugh, Fyfe, Isabel,  Margaret and James. 

When Stewart was in his early teens, the family moved to Legerwood, 2 miles north of Earlston.  Sometime before he was 17, he left home to work at Newtonlees Farm, Ednam  as a mole-catcher for farmer James Ross who employed twenty four people   on his 606 acre farm.

The next we hear of Stewart was the calling of his banns of marriage in 1854  to Helen Mason of Pyatshaw in Earlston parish.    Stewart was back in Legerwood and described as a general labourer - he might not have liked this as he took pride in his status as a mole-catcher.

By the time of the 1861 census, the family was living at Standingstone, Earlston with two young children, Isabel born 1856 (my direct ancestor) and James 1858.  Also in the household were Stewart's older brother Hugh and widowed mother-in-law Isabel Mason. 

Around 1870 Stewart built a home  and a number of adjoining cottages for himself  at the East End, though it was unclear if he himself did the building or got others to do the work.  It would also  be interesting to know how he financed this venture.

 A photograph taken in 2012 - the house now has the address 2 Church Street,
 with the cottages 1, 2, 4, and 5 Church Street.  

By the time of the 1871 census, the family was living at  92 Main Street, with three more children - Alexander, born 1862, Emily 1867, and John 1869.  Also living with them was Stewart's 71 year old widowed father James.  

But family life had been marred by sadness.  Earlston Monumental Inscriptions (published by Border Family History Society)  lists the family gravestone,  recording the death of the first Emily, born in 1858 who survived only  5 months; Alexander who died at 15 years old; and a further  unnamed  son and daughter who died in infancy.  

Stewart's wife Helen died aged 49 in 1884, buried with her children  in Earlston Churchyard.  

 Robert Johnston besides his ancestors' gravestone in Earlston  Churchyard,

Six years later Stewart married in Galashiels  Jane Sanderson, a woollen tweed worker, 20 years his junior whose family had Earlston links. Two children were born to the marriage -  David, in  1892 and Elizabeth (Lizzie)  in 1895,   when their father would have been in his 60's. 

Stewart died 26th January 1908, aged 76, with death announcements in three Border newspapers, which described him as a rabbit-catcher.   He  appeared to be a relatively rich man.  My Uncle Arnold remembers his father  being called to Earlston to collect £300  left to various family members. 

It seems Stewart Paterson left wealth equivalent to £200,00 today - not bad for a young lad who began work as a mole-catcher! 


  • David Paterson, son of Stewart and his second wife Jane, was killed in Flanders in 1916,  buried in the Menin Road South Military Cemetery, Belgium.  He is remembered on Earlston War Memorial. 

  • Lizzie Paterson - I knew her as Aunt Lizzie and recall visiting her in the 1940's and 50's.  She  never married and continued to live in the house built by her father.   In 1932, my parents spent their honeymoon there.  She died in 1978 aged 82 and some older Earlston residents may well remember her. 

  • Jane Sanderson, Stewart's second wife, was the granddaughter of Christopher Sanderson who features in an early post HERE.  He appeared,  at one point in his life,  to be a successful Earlston businessman,  a master grocer who  built  property on the Green, but who later faced several charges of arson.  Jane died in 1923 aged 72.  

To find a fuller account of Robert Johnstone's  Earlston ancestors, see his website HERE 


Auld Earlston would be delighted to feature articles, photographs  and other contributions from readers.  Please contact 


  1. Don't think he did build our house, it's older, I'll check, I have deeds/wills! He may have built the three cottages though.

  2. Thanks, Jakki, it would be good to know if it was Stewart or not. (From Auld Earlston)

  3. Stewart owned two houses in the 1895 valuation roll. He appeared to live in one and rent the other to James. By 1920 both houses were in the care of Stewart's Trustees with the larger house being let to John Aitchison and Jane, the widow, in the smaller. Interesting that the value of the larger house had dropped by £1 and the smaller had increased by £1 in those 15 years.

  4. Interesting, I know 1 and 2 were originally called Easter House and Wester House. I will look out my paperwork.

    1. Robert Johnston12 June 2017 at 13:05

      Hi Jakki
      Great to see these comments from you and from Ritchie. Happy to hear more. Do you live in 2 Church Street?
      Interesting the reference to Easter House and Westerhouse since I have an old photo (taken around 1900 I should think) which seems to show 2 Church Street with 2 doors - the current window to left of door is a door in the photo I'm talking about. Perhaps Easter and Wester is explained by that.


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