Saturday, 19 January 2019

Robert Scott, Murderer 1823 -UPDATE

Robert Scott, was the subject of two recent blog posts on his trial and execution for murder in Earlston in 1823. A reader came across an article in “The Scotsman” of 19th  August 1930, which throws further light on the crime, under the heading “ The Earlston Tragedy of 1823”. 

After the Earlston Fair, Robert Scott had an altercation with two men, Robert Simm and James Aitchison as they made  their way home to Greenlaw.  They were violently attacked and left for dead.  Robert Scott was arrested, tried at Jedburgh Circuit Court, defended by 
J. G. Lockhart, son in law and biographer of Sir Walter Scott.   Different accounts were given of the case of the quarrel, but Robert Scott was found guilty and sentenced to death. 

The Scotsman account gives us a description of Robert Scott as:

"Aged 36, six foot in height, thick set and heavily built, with black hair, head and features normal, and nose flat."
 But the reporter  commented sympathetically on the prisoner's  demeanour on his journey in procession from Jedburgh Jail to the scaffold near Fans, Earlston - the scene of his crime, with the words: 

"Immense crowds in Jed. witnessed his departure.  The  streets were thronged with immense crowds as  the impressive procession left the town for Earlston.  Never before was such a spectacle seen in the locality.  It  was a sad and peculiar scene. The Provost and Magistrates of the burgh dressed in deep mourning, delivered the person of the culprit to the sheriff deputy.   The person of the culprit was accompanied  in the carriage by the Rev. James Clark of Jedburgh  and the Governor of  the Castle  Jail. After the irons had been cut off, the prisoner appeared firm and composed.   Officials from Berwickshire took over at the county boundary.

The Procession  moved slowly and silently  through Earlston.  The greatest decorum was shown by the inhabitants.
Thousands of spectators surrounded the scaffold.  The prisoner ascended the scaffold in  a lively manner. Devotional exercises were engaged in, with the prisoner reciting the Lord's Prayer. He prepared to meet his fate with utmost fortitude. He even untied his own necktie, and for a short time remained in silent prayer.  He  gave the signal and was instantly dropped into eternity."


Given the early date of 1823, when communications were limited, it is  amazing how the event in a small Berwickshire village was featured in newspapers across the country.  A search on British Newspapers Online  on the FindMyPast website revealed reports in the:

Aberdeen Press and Journal 
Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh 
Cambridge Chronicle and Journal
Durham County Advertiser
Morning  Advertiser, London
Morning Chronicle, London 
Oxford University and City Herald 
Perthshire Courier 
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, London
Staffordshire Advertiser
Scots Magazine, Edinburgh 
Yorkshire Gazette. York


 Earlier blog posts on Robert Scott can be found at: 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Earlston Gingham Girls: Past and Present

The present meets the past in this account of "The Earlston Gingham Girls".

In June 2018. Janet Macintyre and Gill Cooper from Earlston SWI (Scottish Women's Institute) joined   tens of thousands of women in processions in the four UK capitals, to celebrate women’s rights and commemorate the people who had fought for women to gain  the  vote.


Background to the Event
There had long been a campaign  for the right of women to participate in the political life of the country, but it met with little success. However  under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst,   a much more militant approach was introduced with the formation of  the The Women's Social and Political Union.  Its activities gained notoriety in the press, leading to the term "suffragette" being coined by "The Daily Mail" in 1906.  

Their  first mass rally in 1908 in Hyde Park, drew crowds of over 300,000, many bearing banners specifically  made for the event.  The campaigners were pioneers in using visual aids to publicise their cause  (what we now know as "branding") - carrying banners, proclaiming memorable slogans and adopting the colours of Green, White and Violet, reflecting their message of "Give Women Votes".

But it was the role of women in the First World War, undertaking men's work  that did as much as anything to show their ability and commitment.  So in November 1918 the Representation of the People Act  gave the vote to some women i.e. those over the age of 30,  who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities.   It was to be a further ten years in 1928, before women gained the vote on the same basis as men. 

The 2018 Edinburgh Procession 
Here is Janet and Gill's account of their experience of the procession.

"We were urged to create banners,
reflecting women in our community, and to wear the Suffragette colours.  Living in Earlston, we thought about the remarkable women of the village and immediately coming to mind were the Whale Sisters, the 19th century manufacturers of Earlston Gingham. We wanted to share their story in some kind of way on our banner. 

We bought  some green and violet gingham,  with a white cloth as the background. The term "Earlston's Gingham Girls"  seemed a natural title and  the shape of the thistle emerged in the design, reinforcing our Scottish identity

The Edinburgh march started from the Meadows, over George IV Bridge, down the Mound, along Princes Street, up North Bridge and down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park. 

We were  arranged in long columns and each column was given a piece of loose woven cotton cloth in the suffragette colours.  Participants tied the material around their heads, shoulders  or waist and we became, a piece of street art - a flowing  river of colour.  

We had an amazing day - the atmosphere was friendly with a tangible  air of celebration.  The good weather was a bonus!  Songs were  sung, and stories swapped.  We  told as many people as we could about the significance of our banner and the achievements of the Whale sisters in a time when men dominated the business world.  We returned  to Earlston, happy but exhausted after carrying our banner for 3 miles around central Edinburgh.

Who were the Whale Sisters?
They were two enterprising women who became known  both nationally and internationally for their business success.

A carved inscription on the old mill building, 
with  the names C & M Whale still clearly visible.
Today the site of Austin Coaches. 

Contemporary press cuttings indicate how widespread was the reputation of Earlston Ginghams.
 An advertisement in London's "Morning Post":  23rd September 1844. 
With a reference to "the celebrated Marion Whale's Earlston ginghams."

Christian Whale died  in 1862 aged 77 and "The Southern Reporter"  printed a fulsome obituary, noting that "the firm employed little short of 100 weavers, who in turn required no inconsiderable number of female winders."

"The Berwickshire News" noted that she was a "woman of masculine understanding and highest business capacity......She will be long remembered in these parts as a woman of ability and enterprise and one who deserved well of her native place".    

Marion died two years later.   The mill was sold to the textile firm of Wilson & Sons, and the house property on the High Street  was sold to Mr Smail, agent of the Commercial Bank  for the sum of £700. 

The two Whale sisters were ahead of their time and made an enormous contribution to Earlston life.  They were beacons in  mid Victorian Britain when few women showed such enterprising spirit to head successful businesses.  

 But they did not have the vote and had no say in political life.

 Today a street name sign reminds us of the village's past. 
Two surviving examples of the woven Earlston Gingham 
 in the collection of Auld Earlston.  By chance in the suffragette colours.