Thursday, 25 January 2018

Childhood Escapades in Earlston

 John Moffat  (1919-2016) spent his early childhood in Earlston in the 1920's  where his father Peter, opened the village’s first garage.    John was an adventurous little boy, always getting into scrapes, which he recalled in his biography “How I Sank the Bismarck”.  In the Second World War, he  became a lieutenant commander pilot in the  Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and was involved in the attack on the German battleship. 

Business  in Earlston
"My father's garage  was located next to the [West End}  church  and  on the other side of the road was the local bakers and next to that the public house {Black Bull}.  The bakers was an attractive place for a young boy,  with its iced buns and doughnuts in the window.  I was allowed to go down to the cellar where the dough was mixed  in large tubs, then cut up into portions  to be baked into rolls and bread.
 Looking west from the Square

There was almost no motor traffic
in Earlston, and the roads were covered in layers of stone chip spread over hot tar. The Council road workers came every year to renew the surface.  Piles of grit and barrels of tar were left by the side of the road, ready to be used.  Somehow I managed to get into one of these barrels and cried for help.  My father rescued me and  and dragged  me into the garage where he cleaned me up with paraffin.

My father's business prospered .  The garage was usually busy, as cars and  buses were starting to replace horse drawn vehicles. I enjoyed loitering in the area and became fascinated by engines and anything mechanical.   My father bought a chassis from Albion, lorry manufacturer in Glasgow,  and had the local  joiner  build a charabanc body on it. It was the first  bus to operate in Earlston  and was often hired out to  local clubs and church groups for excursions or picnics.  The wheels still had wooden spokes and rims, like the horse drawn carts,   On very hot days, the wood would dry out and shrink, so the driver had to carry a bucket of water  to keep the wood wet and prevent the wheels collapsing."

Fairs in the Square
 "Earlston like many Scottish towns was built around a large open square. Here each year they had the Hirings in which farm workers from the surrounding area  would come,  hoping to find employment for the next 12 months.  It was a giant annual labour exchange  and it could be a desperate time for people.  Rural areas saw a great deal of poverty. 
A Hiring Fair in the 1930's

"The Square was also the site of a yearly  summer fair  and then it would be filled with all kinds of sideshows and entertainers - fire eaters, jugglers and boxing booths. The arrival of the fair always brought great excitement. Steam driven tractors would haul wagons into the Square and would be set up to drive roundabouts and steam organs."

A Wedding Custom
"Entertainment was by and large a communal affair.  I loved to watch weddings.  The groom would have purchased a rugby ball from the local  saddler.  After the marriage ceremony, the groom would kick the ball  as hard and as high as he could.  This was a sign for the men to rush  after it, and try to grab it.  The struggle could go on to  dusk, it was taken very seriously. There was no prize for this -  gaining the ball was the end in itself."

A Walk to Cowdenknowes
"I wandered far and wide with Wiggy, my pet terrier My favourite walk was to the large house of Cowdenknowes.  I was always welcome at the gardener's cottage on the estate  where there was always something fresh to eat  - a piece of cake from the oven or an apple from the orchard." 

The Appeal of the Railway
"I also used to wander off to the railway station.  The porter there was also called Moffat, though I was not aware of any family connection.  The train drivers and firemen on the local route soon got to know me.   I found the steam trains enthralling - belching steam and smoke, shrieking and clanking as they pulled to a halt, then heaving away, gathering speed.  The crews were willing to  let me ride on the footplate and it was a regular occurrence for me to ride the four miles south to Newtown St. Boswells and back. It was enormously exciting , with the heat from the firebox, the  gleaming brass levers and dials , the smell of hot oil and smoke  - and me in the  company of the overalled men in charge of this monster." 

 Two trains in Earlston Station
Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   All Rights Reserved

A Spell  in the Cells
"One day |  got into my head to visit a good friend of my grandfather , a man called Mr Deans, pub  landlord of the Black Bull in Lauder.   I hopped on a local bus and hid beneath a seat.  But someone must have seen me  and told my parents.  My father clearly thought this was the  last straw and telephoned the local constable in Lauder, and this fine fellow was waiting for me.  I can still see him with  his  blue cape, his helmet and a fierce  waxed moustache. Towering over me, he grabbed me by the ear and none too gently marched  me off to the police station, up the iron steps  to the front door.  There I was led to the cells.   I am sure my distress took the edge off my father's anger when he came to take me home."
Crashing the  Doctor's  Car  
"About 1925, my father sold Dr. Young a new car a Model T. Ford,   It  had been fitted with what was then a very modern invention  - an electric  starter button as an alternative to cranking the engine  over by hand with a starting handle.   Motor cars were still a novelty in those days, and I was fascinated by the concept of the electric  starter button.

One day the doctor's pristine black Ford was parked outside the big grocer's shop in the Square.  I took the opportunity to clamber up into it and pressed firmly on the starter button. To my utter surprise,  the car  leapt forward and smashed into the plate glass windows of the grocer's shop.  There was utter chaos.   The shop assistants were screaming, people all around rushed to see what had happened - all this accompanied by my shock and tears  at the realisation of the trouble I was in. Then the doctor and my father added to the tumult. My father treated me very sternly.  I was forbidden treats and was told I must stay indoors. "


Soon after.  John Moffat's family left Earlston and moved  near Gateshead,  returning after a few years to Kelso.

Auld Earlston is very grateful to Mr Scott Aiton  and especially to Pat Stirling, John Moffat's  daughter who gave permission to quote from her father's book, for which she holds the copyright. 

Photographs are from the Auld Earlston Collection 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Travel around Earlston in Times Past.


c, 1737  - Craigsford Bridge was built over the Leader Water, carrying what was then  the main route north  and south.

1765 - The Turnpike Act authorised the planning and building of a new road from Lauder to Kelso  via Purveshaugh, near Earlston. 

1768 - A Turnpike Act provided a new road between Lauder and the Tweed at Leaderfoot, the route going by Blainslie and Craisgford to the west of Earlston. with considerable improvement to the existing route between Newtown and Jedburgh and onto Carter Bar. 

1778 - A bridge was built over the River Tweed at Leaderfoot, replacing the ferry crossing. Its narrow structure, more suited  to horses and carts, remained in use for 200 years, until  a new road bridge spanned the river in 1974.  

1795 - The first regular coach service introduced between Kelso and Edinburgh, via Smailholm and Lauder,  with a later stop  at Earlston for changing horses.  The journey initially  took 10 hours!

1830's - The "Tweedside" coach between Kelso and Edinburgh offered a daily service, leaving Edinburgh 8am. Lauder 12.30pm, Earlston 1.30pm and arriving at Kelso 2pm - a six hour journey. 

1834 - Road built between Earlston and Greenlaw.  

1849 - The Waverley Rail Line opened between Edinburgh and Hawick, extended to Carlisle in  1862. 

1850 - A new road was built following the line of the Leader Water, between Lauder and Newtown, via Earlston  (the current Thorn Street).  

1852 -  As the railways took over as a mode of travel,   the last  coach service  was withdrawn from the Borders. On country roads, the only vehicles were private carriages and farm carts. 

1863 - The Berwickshire Railway reached Earlston.  


1865 - The opening of Leaderfoot Viaduct and the completion of the Berwickshire Railway line from Reston to Newtown. 

1890's - The introduction of the "safety bicycle" brought in the first hey days of  leisure cycling. 

1890's - The Arrol-Johnston, built by George Johnston in Glasgow, was one  of the first cars ever built in the world. 

1903 - Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered flight. 

1931 - Earlston Aerodrome opened at Purveshaugh, with a William Rodger's plane offering  air displays and passenger flights. 
1948 - Major floods in Berwickshire restricted train traffic  through Earlston to goods only.

1965 - The Berwickshire Railway closed, as part of the Beeching cuts.  

1974  - A new concrete bridge was built over the River Tweed at Leaderfoot to take modern day A68 traffic.   


  • Borders Highway by  John J. Mackay
  • Local Newspapers