Friday, 14 June 2019

Just a  week to go until our Exhibition and Slide Show 
See opening times on the poster below. 

The event's  theme this year is:

"The Changing Face of Earlston - 150 Years of Local  Shops & Businesses
  and features new material not previously on  display with :

  • Three large scale maps of Earlston dating from  1857, 1897 and 1967,  showing the location of shops.

  • An hour-long slide show with lively commentary on "Earlston "Then and Now - with new images. 

  • A visual tour of the village  with photographs of people and places, old advertisements, shop receipts and press cuttings.

Lizzie Burrell who ran the sweet shop on the Green
  • Memories and anecdotes gathered from older residents on shops and shopping in the village.
  • The first public display in the village of the Earlston Gingham Girls' Banner, remembering Earlston's Whale sisters, the mid 19th century  gingham manufacturers.  Created by two members of Earlston SWI, the banner was carried on last year's Edinburgh  march to mark the granting of the vote to women in 1918.

    Valuing the History of our Village for Future Generations

    150 years of local shops & businesses.
    Photographs, Memories and Maps


    Saturday June 22nd:  10.00am-4.00pm
    Sunday June 23rd:12.00noon-4.00pm
    in the Church Hall.

    Slide Shows:
    Saturday:  1100am & 2.00pm
    Sunday: 1.00pm &  2.30pm

    Admission £3, Children Free - incl. Tea/Coffee

    Tel. 01896 848240.  E-Mail: 


Saturday, 25 May 2019

John Spence (1789 -1852) of Thorn House, Earlston

John Spence (or Spense) was born in Channelkirk around 1790. John would qualify as a “writer”, the old Scottish title for a solicitor and he  lived and worked in Earlston as a writer and Clerk to the Sheriffʼs Court.

In 1820 he married Margaret Bell in Melrose. Around that time John had commissioned the building of The Thorn, one of eighteen listed buildings and monuments in Earlston Parish.

The Thorn 

"The Thorn" was completed around 1830 and Historic Environment Scotland considers the building to be of special interest since:
“The house stands on ground formerly known as Thorn Park on account of an ancient thorn which once grew there. The site is thus marked on the Ordnance Survey maps. In 1825 the land was feued to one John Spence, writer in Earlston, who subsequently built the house and other outbuildings."
"Presumably the house was designed so that Spence could conduct his business from offices entered from the W, whilst the private living quarters were entered from the S. For many years the house was owned by local doctors who operated a similar arrangement.” 

Thorn Street with Thorn House on the corner hidden by the  trees, c.1910 

Thorn House Today

Post Master  
In 1836, George Lindsay, Earlstonʼs Post Master died. John, who was related to Lindsay by his wifeʼs family, took on the role of Post Master.

He may have used the side entrance (W) for the post office, but by 1850, John now had premises on Earlstonʼs High Street that was officially designated as the Post Office.
When John died in 1852 his wife, Margaret, took over the role of Post Mistress.  
In 1855, when the Ordnance Survey was compiling a map of the Earlston area it noted that:
"An apartment of a dwelling house is occupied as an office where letters are received and dispatched to and from Melrose daily also to Legerwood, Gordon, Fans and Redpath etc. Mrs Spense Post Mistress."

Solicitorʼs Apprentices

We know from the 1841 Census that the Spenceʼs had a John Lindsay living with them;  the grandson of George Lindsay, the previous Post Master, and the nephew of Margaret Spenceʼs family. When the 1851 Census was conducted in Melrose, John Lindsay was living with his aunt, Helen Crease, Margaret Spenceʼs sister, and his occupation was listed as Solicitors Writing Clerk.

 A James Henderson also  worked for Spence. Henderson would be implicated in a crime that shocked the nation in the 1850s in what was known as “The Bramhall Tragedy”

The Bramhall Tragedy  

The Henderson family originally lived in Galashiels before renting a farm in Gordon. James, the eldest son, was apprenticed to John Spence as a Solicitorʼs Clerk before leaving to work with Messrs. Sanderson and Murray, wool merchants.

The family moved to Hardy Farm on the Bramhall estate in Cheshire. On September 30,1857, James Henderson,   senior was murdered as he lay in his bed, shot at close range by a musket.

James junior was arrested for the murder of his father and committed for trial. He  was described by the police as being "five feet four inches tall, light complexion, hazel eyes and a deeply sunk forehead." We also know that James suffered from some form of deformity of his feet. Those that knew him described as “being a person of quiet habits, and though disposition what is called deep, not all likely person to commit such a dreadful crime as he stands charged with.” 

There was a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence that would appear to support the case against hi.  The mot damning was reported in "The Berkshire Chronicle" on Saturday October 10th 1857.  The correspondent wrote:

“The strongest evidence against the prisoner is the wadding found upon the breast of his father, on the landing, the stairs, and that found under the pear tree, where he shot a sparrow Tuesday morning, the morning before the murder was committed - all of which have been torn from a page of “The Cottage Girl", or "The Marriage Day.” A piece of paper corresponding to the wadding and evidently forming part of the same leaf, was also found in the prisonerʼs chamber service, under his bed.”
Regardless of the strength of evidence presented in court, the jury acquitted James of the charges.

Perhaps the time served as John Spenceʼs apprentice was time well spent!


Spence chose Thorn Park to build his house, The Thorn, which is a lasting reminder of one of the predictions of Thomas the Rhymer, Earlston's 13th century poet and prophet

"This Thorn-Tree, as lang as it stands, Earlstoun sall possess a' her lands."  

"As long as the Thorn Tree stands / Ercildoune shall keep its lands".

Robert Chambers, the  nineteenth century publisher, claimed that the “Thorn Tree” as one that was uprooted in a storm in either 1814 or 1821, that had been growing on the last remaining acre belonging to the town of Earlston. The prophecy was lent additional weight at the time, because as it so happened, the merchants of the town had fallen under bankruptcy by a series of "unfortunate circumstances".

According to one account, "Rhymer's Thorn" was a huge tree growing in the garden of the Black Bull Inn, whose proprietor, named Thin*, had its roots cut all around, leaving it vulnerable to the storm that same year.
[An 1825 trade and business directory identified William Phin as one of Earlstonʼs inn-keepers.]

The prophecy certainly came true for the landlord of the Black Bull inn. The demise of the business is captured in the 1855 Ordnance Survey Name book with the description “A house of entertainment formerly having a licence but having lost the licence. It is used as an Eating House.” 


John Spence died in Melrose on December 19, 1852. His wife, Margaret, died of acute bronchitis on December 29, 1859. She is buried in Earlston churchyard.

The newly formed “Earlston in Bloom” has adopted as its logo the Thorn Flower in recognition of its significance to the village.

With grateful thanks to Jeff Price of the Auld Earlston Group 
for researching and writing this article. 


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Headlines on Earlston

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.  Here are some random snippets on Earlston from the local press.
    Calling at Pathhead, Carfrae Mill, Lauder, Earlston, Leaderfoot.
    To Jedburgh In Five Hours

    Fares to Jedburgh only 5 shillings outside;  6 shillings inside.

    Caledonian Mercury:  29th September 1843

    Southern Reporter: 24th March 1898

    "A motor car passed through the village on Sunday morning.  The two gentlemen who were driving it left Newcastle-on-Tyne the previous day en route for Edinburgh. In this neighbourhood one of the tyres got damaged  and it was resolved to put up at the Red Lion. 

    This was done and the  car when it reached the hotel, being stopped for a little while was quickly surrounded  and examined with no small degree of curiosity, this being the first time  such a machine  has been seen  in operation here. "

    "The Rev. Dr. Mair, Moderate to the Established Assembly, when preaching on the Sabbath Day in Earlston Parish Church, stopped in his discourse and severely rebuked members of the Congregation, who had not being paying attention to the sermon."

The State of the Village was of concern, with reports on  street paving, water supplies, and street lighting.

A NEW SUPPLY OF WATER.  Berwickshire News:  7th January 1879

PAVING OF THE STREETS:  Berwickshire News:  17th  January 1871. 
"A Public Meeting of the inhabitants of Earlston was held in the Reading Room Hall on Wednesday evening to consider the subject of making pathways on each side of the main street. Wm.  Colesworth,   Esq. of Cowdenknowes was called to the chair. As all agreed to the necessity of these pathways and the great comfort and convenience  to have them, he hoped that the efforts to obtain them would be successful. This was carried unanimously.  Thereupon a large committee was appointed with Mr Colesworth and Charles Wilson, manufacturer as joint conveners, and Mr Balfour as Secretary who was charged with canvassing the town for subscriptions. Messrs Rodgers, Wallace, Wood and Murdison  to report on the various modes of making such pathways as would be suitable. "

The change from gas to electric was not welcomed, with the lamps too high, the power too weak and the lamps to far apart.

Looking towards the West End High Street, c.1910

Robert Smith Earlston  Inspector of the Poor sent a letter to the press deploring the "Professional Tramp Nuisance"  in the village.  
Berwickshire News:  22nd February 1906.

- Berwickshire News:  23rd February 1893

GRAND BAZAAR Berwickshire News:  October  1910


Southern Reporter: 6th March 1906

"Kinderspiel" was a German term often used in this period, meaning a play or piece of musical theatre performed by children.
EARLSTON JUNIOR TOWN BAND IN CONCERT  -  Berwickshire News: 14th January 1919 - with the  reporter waxing  eloquently in a colourful account of a school concert where:

"The finale  was the performance of Earlston Junior Clown Band, trained by Miss Gill, one of the teachers, and her pupils did her infinite credit.  This  was thought to be the crowning performance of the evening and caused a great sensation.   Their grotesque garments and equally grotesque musical  performance  made the bandsmen the heroes of the hour, the observed of all observers, the cynosure of every eye.  Their contribution to the evening  was a veritable  triumph  and was rewarded with tremendous applause."
You do wonder what their "grotesque musical performance" sounded like! 


With grateful thanks  to Jeff Price and Richard Smith, members of the Auld Earlston Group,
for their contributions to this post. 

Thursday, 18 April 2019

200 Years of Earlston's Post Office

A look at the changing face of Earlston Post Office across two centuries

In the 1820s George Lindsay was  the Earlston Post Master, listed in the 1825 edition of Pigot & Co Commercial Directory of Scotland as a grocer, spirit dealer and hardware man, in addition to being Post Master. The address of his grocery shop isn’t given, but it is possible that it was the building currently (2019) occupied by “One Stop” on the High Street. That being the case, Lindsay’s next door neighbour would have been John Spense.

John Spense took over the role of Postmaster on LIndsay's death in 1836. Spense was a writer, (an old Scottish term for a solicitor),  justice of the peace,  clerk and agent to the Norfolk Fire Office. We know that Spense lived in a house on the High Street now known as Market House. 

The railway did  not reach Earlston until 1863, so post in earlier times was carried by three coach services: 

  • The Commercial Traveller ran between Coldstream and Edinburgh. It left Earlston every Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving at twelve thirty Coldstream and returned on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at ten in the morning.
  • The Tweedside Coach ran between Kelso and Earlston, leaving Earlston at one o’clock in the afternoon and returning in the morning at ten for Edinburgh.

  • The Royal Eagle served as the link between the Borders and Edinburgh
A foot post arrived from Melrose at ten in the morning and returned at two in the afternoon.

By 1837, the coach service was limited to the Tweedside. The coach left Earlston (from Kelso) to Edinburgh at nine-thirty every morning except Sundays. The return service to Kelso (from Edinburgh) left each afternoon, except Sundays, at half-past one. For the villagers, this meant that letters arrived at half-past two each afternoon and were dispatched at seven each morning.

The Ordnance Survey published “Name Books” which provide information on the names found in various parishes covered by Ordnance Survey maps. Berwickshire OS Name Books, 1856-1858, Volume 16 contains information on place names found in the parish of Earlston.

The description of the Earlston Post Office for 1856-1858 read:

"An apartment of a dwelling house is occupied as an office where letters are received and dispatched to and from Melrose daily also to Legerwood, Gordon, Fans and Redpath etc. Mrs. Spense Post Mistress."

By the late 1850s, the railway on the Waverley Line, had reached Melrose.   As a consequence, a coach from Earlston provided a twice-daily service (Sundays excepted) in connection with the railway. Nonetheless, the service offered by the Post Office had increased. Letters “from all parts” arrived from Melrose every morning at half-past eleven and each evening at eight. Mail was dispatched every morning at seven-twenty and again in the afternoon three-fifty. A Sunday service had now been established with letters arriving at eleven and dispatched at seven-thirty in the morning. Money Orders were also granted and paid. 


 A significant impact on the postal services in Earlston occurred in In late December of 1859, when Margaret Spense died of acute bronchitis at the age of 63. As a  consequence, the Post Master position was vacant.

The Berwickshire MP, David Robertson, 1st Baron Marjoribanks, called for a meeting to be convened on January 19, 1860, in the West UP Church and chaired by Charles Wilson of Wilson and Sons.

The purpose of the meeting was to choose the new Post Master. Four candidates were in the running and, after a secret ballot, Mr. Ralph Dodds, an Earlston merchant, was elected with a majority of 97 votes.

"The Kelso Chronicle" at the time reported:

We cannot doubt, but the decision of this meeting will give general satisfaction. Mr. Dodds is a highly respectable, deserving, and trustworthy person, one who will do his utmost to please and accommodate the public.”
Such praise and optimism were to prove misplaced.

Just two years and two months after accepting the post, Ralph Dodds resigned stating that the salary of £8 per annum was insufficient. To give this salary some context, in 1897 a three bedroom house at 4 Rodger’s Place in Earlston was available for an annual rent of £11.

A meeting was convened on March 27, 1862, in the Reading Room under the chairmanship of Charles Wilson and it was concluded that the government undervalued the Post Master’s position and Mr. Robertson was asked to use his influence in obtaining an increase for Mr. Dodds.
A follow-up meeting was held at the end of April. A salary increase was not forthcoming and, Mr. Thomas Clendinnen, a draper in the village, who had offered his services as postmaster, withdrew his offer. The Post Master role was offered to the Legerwood and Melrose “districts runners”, but both declined. Obviously, Post Master was not seen as a desirable position. The meeting concluded with the action to canvas the villagers for a volunteer. 


In the mid-1850s, William Crockett arrived in Earlston and in 1857 married Margaret Wood. In the 1861 census William  was working as a Power Loom Tuner, but five years later was listed in Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Directory of 1866 as postmaster.


"Mail arrives 10.40am & 7pm and is collected 6.30am, and 6pm with the promise  that letters are delivered immediately after arrival.  Postmaster is  William Crockett  with David Trotter and David Swanston post-runners.
 Ten years on in the 1871 census, William’s occupation was Post Master, and his wife was listed as Post Mistress.

In the same census, was listed on the High Street Ann McWilliam,  a grocer and  the widow of Alexander McWilliam   Around 1858, Alexander McWilliam, his wife Ann and daughter Annie arrived in Earlston from Midlothian and set up a grocery business in what is now Tom Davidson Art Gallery. A second daughter, Mary was born in 1859.

On November 27, 1860, Alexander was making his rounds, selling to customers and picking up produce from farmers when he slipped and fell from his cart. He had sustained a head injury and died at home the following day. He was just thirty-six years old and left two young children and a heavily pregnant wife. His son, Alexander, was born in 1861. 

In 1872, William Crockett died aged 54, and eight years later we know that Margaret Crockett was working as a grocer while Annie McWilliam (Alexander and Ann McWilliam’s eldest daughter) was Post Mistress.

It seems reasonable to assume that following the death of Alexander, Ann McWilliam would have welcomed the opportunity to grow the business by incorporating the post office into her shop. However, she was a single mother with a young family, and the Post Mistress position with the increased services offered by the Post Office may have been too daunting to take on.

We know that the Post Master position was not desirable, but with the right premises, it could offer better employment for William Crockett than that of Power Loom Tuner.
It is possible, therefore, that the two families came together, McWilliams with the shop on the High Street and Crockett with the Post Master position.

It would certainly explain the “Post Office” sign on the stonework still visible today.

Below a photograph of what is now Tom Davidson Gallery.  Note -  just visible  “Post Office” etched into the stone of the right side of the doorway. 

In 1886, David Lochhead, jeweller, took over the premises occupied by the post office.

In 1886, Thomas Weatherly became Post Master, and the post office moved to his stationers, bookshop and bookbinding shop further along the High Street.  (Currently Lucky Finds). 

In 1889, Thomas’ son, John P Weatherly became Post Master. The middle initial “P” was in honour of Thomas’ wife’s maiden name of Patterson.

In addition to the family business of stationer, printer and bookbinder, John appears to have developed a portfolio of property. The 1891-1892 Valuation Roll shows John owning - a House and Back Premises (later described as a Shop); 2 other Houses; a House with Stable; a Weaving Shop and a Smithy.

The “Postie Close”, out of shot but to the right in the photograph below, served as a convenient link connecting the village to the church via the road. 

But take a closer look at that newspaper placard outside the shop, which announces that "Crippen Removed to Hospital" - the date Septembers 2nd 1910. 

Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, was an American doctor  He was hanged  23rd November 1910 in Pentonville Prison, London  for the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen, and was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy. 

John P. Weatherly continued to hold the position of Post Master until his death in 1907 when Margaret Weatherly, his wife took over the role.  Following her death in 1914 at the age of 53, her elder daughter Ellen Sarah Patterson Weatherly (her middle names from her grandmother) became Post Mistress, with younger daughter  Margaret assisting in the shop - her occupation was listed in the Tradeand Commercial Directories as “Book Seller”. Margaret died in 1970 at the age of 79, the same year as her sister Ellen. 

Taking over the business was John P. Weatherly, (1924-2006), known to some of today's Earlstonians.   Born in 1923, he followed the family tradition of having Patterson as his middle name. His parents, Edward and Mary Weatherly, lived in Lauder where Edward worked as a baker. 
John was a popular man, and he involved himself with many of the community’s groups. In 1963, he married Mary Rodger, a teacher  who taught many of today's villagers at Earlston Primary School.John  also earned a reputation as a local historian,   gathering a wealth of material, which forms  the basis of the archive collection of the Auld Earlston Group. 

When John retired, the Post Office was relocated to the Spar Convenience Store now   “One Stop” grocer,  thus going full circle from the 1820s.  The service was later incorporated into the main grocery business  until its sudden closure in March 2017. 

It took nearly a year of campaigning, before the village  benefited again from a post office service, with the introduction of  a “mobile post office,” i.e. a van Wednesday and Friday afternoons only.


With grateful thanks to blog reader Jeff Price for contributing this article. 


SEE ALSO:  "Earlston's Posties of the Past"   HERE 

NOTE: "The  Changing Face of Earlston" is the theme of the next 
Auld Earlston Exhibition & Slide Show,  
when the focus will be on over 200 years of local  shops and businesses.

The Dates:  June 22nd and 23rd 2019 in the Church Hall.  Details to follow.