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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