Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Memories of Earlston People & Places, by Rev. William Crockett. (1866-1945)

William Shillinglaw Crockett was born in Earlston in 1866, the youngest child of William Crockett and Margaret Wood.   On leaving school, he worked as an apprentice chemist in the village, before training in Edinburgh for the Church.  He spent most of his ministry in Tweedsmuir, Peeblesshire and was a prolific writer of  many publications on Borders life and literature. 

William Crockett never forgot his birthplace and in  a series of articles he wrote for local magazines, he gives us a picture of Earlston life, with snippets from his pen  highlighted below. He died in 1945 and was  buried in Earlston Churchyard.  


"My father conducted the postal affairs of the parish and district until his death in 1872.  Dauvit Swanson ran the outgoing mail to Melrose  twice daily, bringing back the incoming mail, my father delivering  the letters around the town.   Dauvit Trotter was the country runner  with whom I (a little lad) was often taken in his crudely built pony-trap  to Morriston and Legerwood. He had been a joiner and had had a bad accident to his left hand, necessitating immediate amputation, performed (without anasthetic) by Dr. Riddell.  
"In 1870 the telegraph was introduced.  An official from Edinburgh taught my father the manipulation of the old Morse instrument. The trial messages  were frequently news of the Franco-Prussian War  then raging.  This was my furthest back recollection". 
 "I went to Earlston School when I was four years old.  Mr Daniel Aitkenhead was the teacher, one of the best of the "old Scottish parochial" who has done, perhaps more than any other tvo mould the Scottish character that has so many admirers over all  the world.  He was a strict disciplinarian and many a good round of the tawse I have had from him" 
I left school when I was fifteen years old and was keen to become a medical missionary. For four years I was apprenticed to a chemist and had the ignominious fate of being plucked more than once for what was chiefly my bad handwriting.  I suppose then I was a "stickit druggist”. At last, I turned my back on the chemist's  life and entered Edinburgh University".

"Earlston must always be proud of its Square - the centre and heart of the little town.  Around its ancestral green, laid down when   the place became a burgh of barony  in the time of James IV, the village saw its row of thatched cottages springing up  until a complete square was formed and fairs were the order  of the day.   Robert Burns  was here in 1787, when he dined at an inn kept by a miller."
"On the Corn Exchange site  stood a two-storied inn, tenanted by James Shiels, who moved into "The Swan"  a few yards from his door and renamed it "The Red Lion"  with a flamboyant representation of the Lion Rampant as his sign."
"If the Pump Well  of 1815 was a bit of an eyesore to the moderns, it had happy memories to the boys and girls who gambolled round its old grey stones, and who jumped the "poles"  which then circled the Green".

The Old  Pump Well in Earlston's Market Square.    
The Well was demolished  in 1920 to make way for the War Memorial.

"Poles" around the Square 

"Aitkenhead's School  was just across the Square,  and out of its unforgettable walls, the Co-operators constructed  their emporium."

"What is now New Street and Arnot Place  was open ground - little more than a broad  green meadow stretching  up from the Leader and known as "Wilson's Lands”. In olden times it went but a short distance to the Leader.

Arnot Place was named after Margaret Arnot,  wife of Thomas Kerr of Craighouse,  who came to reside in Earlston after her husband's death.  She built the house in New Street  known as Kinneswood.  I recollect  her well - a tall masculine  looking woman,  kenspeckle in her always sombre garb of widowhood with  its white streamers waving in the wind. What a deep voice she had!" 

Arnot Place,  on the A68 road, in the 1930's. 
 "The Black Bull Inn was the first house on the present long  street, with the Manse opposite, built in 1814 - restored since.  Thorn House was built by John Spence, a Melrose lawyer. 

New Street/Thorn Street, with Thorn House on the corner
"Kirkgate  (very ancient people called it the Kidgate) was by far the prettiest In part of Earlston with its thatched cottages  and gardens of delicious  blooms"

Copyright © A R Edwards and Son,  Selkirk.    (Cathy Chick Collection).   
All Rights Reserved

"Until the coming of the railway in 1863, there were few comings and goings between  the nearest towns in the neighbourhood  and to the vast majority of inhabitants Edinburgh was a veritable 'terra incognita".
 Earlston Station
"The making of new and better highways  within the Tweed and Leader valleys, as well as the completion,  by way of Mellerstain Estate,  of a more direct route to Kelso were other happy undertakings which opened up the district to commerce and travel.   Such roads that had  existed before were so poorly surfaced, hilly and winding that one wonders that they had ever been conceived of." 

Further snippets of William Crockett' s memories will focus on People, including the Whale Family of Earlston Gingham fame, James Gray, photographer, and Dr. Riddell. 


  • The Rhymer's Town:  Some Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W.S.Crockett. In "The Southern Annual: 1937. 
  • The Rhymer's Town:  More  Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W. S. Crockett.  In "The Southern Annual:1941. 
  • The Rhymer's Town:  Further Notes on Earlston's Past, by Dr. W. S. Crockett. In "The Southern Annual:1942. 
  • The Rev. W. S. Crockett:  Preacher and Litterateur (interview and biographical notes), by John North. In "Border Magazine" July 1905.


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Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Holiday, Curling & Bowling make the Earlston Headlines in the 1880's

Reader Richard Smith came across these headlines on Earlston in "The Berwickshire News" of the 1880's.    Old newspapers make fascinating reading for anyone interested in local history, as they  reflect life,  in all its aspect, as it was at the time.   

Read about:
  • News,  given at short notice, of the New Year shopkeepers' holiday, 
  • Activities of the Curling Club.
  • The early days of the Bowling Club and an impressive fund-raising bazaar - among the more unusual items for sale were clerical photographs, a Tom Scott painting, and live poultry.

NEW YEAR HOLIDAY - 20th December 1881.

"The shopkeepers have agreed to hold the New Year Holiday on Saturday December 31st inst., as New Year's Day falls on a Sunday. and Monday is an unsuitable day, being Market Day.  The Volunteers hold their annual ball on the Friday  evening the 30th  and their shooting on the Saturday following"

CURLING  -15th February 1878
"Nearly every day last week the members of the Curling Club enjoyed a game on Mr. Allan's pond at Georgefield. Thursday which was the Fast Day was necessarily an off-day,  and it is possible that the keen curlers begrudged letting it slip,   as the day was very favourable for this pastime.  Besides going to Dunse on Friday and beating the Dunse men, the Club played for the Silver Cup presented by Mrs Coteworth  of Cowdenknowes. The ice from the heat of the sun in the middle of the day was very soft,  and great difficulty was felt by some in getting their stone over the hog score.  The cup was won by Mr George Henderson with a score of 7, Mr J. P Smith and Mr. James Sharp  came next with 5 points each.  The weather was rather fresh and it is not unlikely that curling for the season is nearly over."
*Fast Days  were a tradition of the Presbyterian Churches,  whereby a special day was marked as a public holiday,and set aside for  a time of reflection,  ahead of attendance at the service of Holy Communion.   
More than 100 years later,  and members of Earlston Curling Club play out of doors at Lauder,  December 1995.     

BOWLING CLUB - 20th December 1881.
"This club now numbers over 50 members and they have resolved to the formation of a bowling green on the site of the old curling pond. This work is to be done by Mr. Smith, Hawick whose estimate for the work we understand to be £150.  Some farmers interested in the formation of the bowling green will do the  necessary driving of materials gratuitously.  If this bowling club proves a success, Earlston will be amply provided with means of recreation.
An early photograph of Earlston Bowling Club members
 BOWLING CLUB BAZAAR - 16th July 1889
A lengthy article reported  on a Bazaar in the Corn Exchange, held:
"To liquidate a debt.....The club was formed in 1882 and the formation of the Green, together with a recent enlargement,  cost between £300 and £400  of which £80 remained to be paid....An energetic committee, consisting of Mr Dunn, Mr Murdison, Mr. Steedman, Mr Tait, Mr Aitkenhead,  and Mr Wallace (secretary) was formed  to carry out the arrangements;  the ladies of the town and neighbourhood  readily gave their cooperation and the result of their united exertions was the Fancy Fair opened on Wednesday.
There were six stalls  furnished abundantly with the usual cushions, scrapbooks, dolls, paintings,  clerical photographs,  live poultry,  firescreens,  shawls,macrame work etc. etc...... The paintings were a particularly excellent collection and included work by Tom Scott A.R.S.A. There were also some fine etchings.  The drawings over the two days  rather amounted to over £260.  The stalls were distinguished by the names of flowers....... There was also a refreshment stall and a flower stall  attended to by Mr. Gray,   gardener, Gladswood and Mr. Robertson,gardener, Cowdenknowes."


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