Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Life as an Earlston Land Girl

Auld Earlston is  currently gathering memories from local residents on their war memories or those passed down by  their parents and grandparents - in preparation for the  forthcoming October Exhibition on the theme of "Earlston at War and Peace".
We are grateful to B. who has given us here  a vivid account of life as a land girl at Georgefield Farm, Earlston in 1944-45.  

Being Called Up  
"I was living in Edinburgh, left school at 14 and was   working in a lawyer's office when I was called up in 1944.  I was given the choice of becoming a FANY - joining the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry or the Land Army.  I chose the Land Army as it was always the one organization that appealed to me.  I was delighted to be given the choice, as my sister was just conscripted into  Munitions with no alternative offered."

Working on a Poultry Farm 
"It was a huge change for me when I was sent to Georgefield  Farm in  Earlston,  looking after the large poultry section - cleaning out the hen houses, feeding the hens who were free range poultry,  and rounding them up at night to shut them  away from prowling foxes. I became strong there and could heave around 100weight sacks of meal.
We started work at 7am and finishing time depended on the time of year.  In winter we shut the hens up around 4pn but in the lighter nights, it could be midnight before we finished. After the grain was harvested,  the hens were sent into the cornfields and it took ages to get them back in the hen houses.   It was amazing what you could see in the moonlight  - we had torches but you were lucky if you could get fresh batteries for them. For those long hours,  I can never remember getting paid more than £2 a week. We had a uniform of khaki breeches, a V-necked pullover and a brimmed hat."
The view looking north from Georgefield Farm - taken in January 2018. 

Wartime Food 
 "Four or five  of us lived in a bothy on the farm and we ate well - all on the rations.  One of us took it in turns to return to the bothy to prepare our midday meal - often macaroni cheese or mince and tatties. I had not done any cooking before,  but I soon learnt on the coal stove.  A great perk was that we were allowed a dozen eggs a week, which I often saved to take back home for my weekends off.  Everyone heartily disliked  the dried eggs which were part of the staple wartime diet,  so fresh eggs were a big treat.  We never ate chicken the whole time I was there. If the chickens were sick or injured,  they were killed and put in the incinerator.  It was only after the war, I thought "Why did we never get it to cook?"

Food shopping (all on the wartime rations) was done in the village - at the grocers' shops - Willie  Park's,  Tom Bell's,  Forrest's, or Taylor's. 

We felt  we were much  luckier than the other land girls  working  on the arable crops at Georgefield.  They were based in a hostel at Bemersyde, so much more isolated than we were; they were brought to the farm in a van and had to prepare ahead their sandwiches for lunch - boringly jam, spam or cheese. "
Leisure Time
We had a good deal of freedom. as we could get easily into the village;  we went to dances, often twice a week in the Corn Exchange, and enjoyed listening  to the Polish Band.   Drink wasn't served at the dance, and it was never a problem in the village.  The evening finished with the playing of the Polish and British national anthems.
 We took the bus into Galashiels (return fare 1/6 - one shilling and sixpence).  We got every second weekend off and I  often went back home to Edinburgh  - 5/6 return (five shillings and sixpence)  on the bus. 
Sometimes on free weekends we took the bus to Carfraemill. Hotel.  5 shillings was the maximum by law that could be charged  for a meal and we would get high tea for 4/6 there - fish and chips, or ham salad, with bread, scone or a toasted  teacake. 
The whole of the war I only had two dresses which I wore alternatively. If you wanted to get a new winter coat, that took almost all your clothes rations for the year.  It helped to have a father or brother who could pass on their unwanted coupons.
"One of the girls in the bothy had a gramophone and introduced me to opera - "La Boheme" and it has remained a great love of mine.  We had no radio to find out what was going on in the world outside,  but one of us took it in turns to walk into Earlston to get a newspaper - usually the Daily Herald or Daily Express." 

A Change 
"In 1945 I was sent to a dairy farm near Chirnside.  I hated it, especially the noise of the milking machines. We had a room in a farm cottage, but there was no privacy.  The only washing facility was in the kitchen which we shared with the family."
V.E. Day
"For me my war had ended. For my family it was not a day  for celebration,  but a time for reflection and remembrance of  my brother who had been killed in action" 

"In Earlston, I met my husband who was home on leave.  We married in 1948 and  Earlston has been my home now for 70 years". 


The Women's Land Army  was a British civilian organisation,  created during the First and Second World Wars,  to recruit  women to  work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the armed forces.  At first volunteers were sought. but  numbers  were increased by conscription.   By 1944 the Women's Land Army  had over 80,000 members across Britain.   It was officially disbanded in 1949.
A World War One Land Girl
On the left - A Land Girl in the Second World War
with an Air Raid Warden on the right.  (Not Earlston) 

Do you have any war memories, or ones passed down to you from your parents or grandparents.  If so, do please get in touch, as we would like to hear from you. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

More Memories of Earlston People and Places

The West End of Earlston,  Haughhead and Craigsford, Thomas Weatherly, stationer & printer, John Gray, photographer, Dr. Robert Riddell and the well known Whale Family - they all feature in this the second of two posts on the memories of the Rev. William Crockett (1866-1945). 

Part One of Rev. Crockett's memories you will find  HERE. 

William Shillinglaw Crockett was born in Earlston in 1866.  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, written between 1937 and 1942 for  local magazines, he gives us a picture of Earlston life, people and places, with snippets from his pen  highlighted below. He died in 1945 and was buried in Earlston Churchyard.   


"This is the most ancient part of Earlston,  for long it remained as a little village of its own - a community in itself.  Its weavers' cottages, its crofts, its gardens of beauty, were just an ideal old fashioned hamlet in days gone by.   Now of course, everything is changed.

Who ever heard today of "The Acre Barn" , that so popular rendezvous  for dances, kirns and penny-weddings, at which a plate w
as passed around to pay expenses with a gift for the bride.

One place I remember well was Mag Forrest's tramps' howff,  scene of many a grim fight or drunken  brawl.

In a house behind the White Swan (once the Beehive) pend, Thomas Bayley, who had lost a leg in the *Peninsular Campaigns,  taught his small "side school", one of many in Earlston then.  And in it Robert Carter  of New York, founder of  of the most famous bookshop in America,  began life as a teacher."

 West End, c. early 1900's

HAUGHHEAD CORNMILL "functioned  as such from a remote period .....for generations it was occupied by the Shields, a notable family in the district of whom came  Alexander (born 1661) and  Michael,  both  valiant heroes of the *Covenant.....Both brothers joined the *Second Darien Expedition  in 1699 and they never again saw Leaderside, perishing amidst the hardships of that ill-fated adventure."  
 The site of Haughhead Mill, June 2018

CRAIGSFORD  was a sort of village in itself in those distant days,with a row of cottages, beginning  with that in which James Blaikie lived. 

"A ravine of the burn hard by - the Clattering Ford,  was used  by the body snatchers,  of Burke and Hare  time, for concealment of newly buried corpses  taken from the kirkyard.  Here it is said that the body of Nance Kerss lay before it came into the hands of the notorious Dr. Knox.  When the alarm was raised, David Walker, the parish  schoolmaster and another  Earlstonian  were sent to  identify  the body at the Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh,  "Eh, Nance, Nance", said the latter, "Ye never thocht ye wad ever be in Edinburgh".

"A printer from Berwick, he migrated to the west of the shire (about 70 years ago) and had his  stationer's and bookseller's shop on the High Street. 
Weatherly's enterprise took him into the publishing and  newspaper field, with an eight page weekly "The Border Beacon",  followed by a second, having the rather high sounding title "The South of Scotland Live Stock Journal".  I fancy that very few, if any copies,  have survived, apart from those I have myself kept  in file those many years.  As Weatherly discovered, Earlston was scarcely the place  for a successful venture into the journalistic sphere

In the 1901 census, John P. Weatherly was described as a 40 years old Postmaster of 73 High Street, living with his wife, mother-in-law and  children Edward, Ellen and Margaret.  The Trade Directory two years later adds to his role that of bookseller, stationer, and printer. 

"A printer and photographer, he was the first to popularise this art in Earlston, especially with his carte de visite  portraits. which had wide vogue at that time."
This photograph came into the Auld Earlston collection and was identified on the reverse as David Swanston, Post Runner, here adverting the business of James Gray, photographer in the Square.  It is one of the oldest photographs in the group's collection, as David died in 1874.  

"Here was  a man skilled in diagnosis, a very capable servant, responsive to every phase of human distress. Even if (because of his slightly humped back),they spoke of him as  "Humpy"  Riddell, it was never with any feeling of disrespect.The doctor was endowed with a big brain;  poor people said he had a heart of gold. He showed his queer habits on occasions   - a street fight fascinated him for instance.  Dr  Riddell believed in prayer and once told the minister "I always pray before I start an operation."   

"Two of Andrew Whale's sons cut notable figures in active manhood - Lancelot, Rector of the Grammar School in Kelso, where Sir Walter Scott was his most eminent pupil;  and Thomas,   originator of an enterprise which gave to his native town, a prime distinction  in the realm of commerce - the gingham industry.
It is safe to say that no article of wearing apparel  was so fashionable  in its time. Over 140 hand looms (mostly in private houses)  in Earlston and the surrounding area wer engaged in the  manufacture of these finely woven and cotton fabrics.   They were worn by all classes and in every quarter.
Much of the prosperity of the trade - and indeed its high watermark - indeed, came after Whale's day, when his two daughters - Marion and Christian succeeded to the business, extending  clientele  throughout many parts of England - and even exporting their wares across the Atlantic.
Rhymer's Lands (some nine and a half acres) was acquired by those two enterprising women, Christian and Marion Whale, of gingham celebrity. by purchase from Dr. Francis  Home of Cowdenknowes. In 1842 they rebuilt the mill on its present site,  the old structure having been destroyed by fire the previous year."


* Peninsular Campaigns 
The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire (as well as the allied powers of the Spanish Empire), the United Kingdom and  Portugal, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.

* Covenanters were people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638 to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

*The Darien Scheme  was Scotland's ambitious attempt to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called "Caledonia" on the isthmus of Panama on the Gulf of Darien  in the late 1690s. Thousands of ordinary Scots  invested money in the expedition, to the tune of approximately £500,000. Five  ships sailed from Leith in July 1698 with 1,200 people on board. 

But  the project was beset by poor planning and provisioning, divided leadership and finally disease. 
Seven months after arriving, 400 Scots were dead.   More ships set sail from Leith in November 1699 loaded with a further 1,300  pioneers,unaware of the fate of the earlier settlers. The colony  was finally abandoned in 1700 after a siege by Spanish forces, 

Only one ship returned out of the total of sixteen that had originally sailed.  With the  loss of the £500,000 investment,  the Scottish economy was almost bankrupted. 

  • 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.

Do you have memories of growing up in Earlston or 
know stories passed down by your parents or grandparents.  
If so, we would like to hear from you.