YHS had a busy stall at this years' Yetholm Shepherd's Show. Visitors included holidays makers who just happened to be here at the weekend of the show and many local people. One of the latter was Billy Younger (above) who had come with the vintage tractor contingent - an aspect of the show which has grown greatly over the past few years. Chatting with Billy it suddenly dawned that he was the individual who featured in a piece in the Berwickshire News in December 1951, a copy of which we have in the YHS archives (below). Billy's father farmed at the remote Currburn farm until the 1970s - several miles down a track from the road at Primside Mill. Billy attended Yetholm School and clearly benefited from a good mathematical education - and the long walk to school clearly did him good too as he is still hale and hearty! After his father left the farm it was amalgamated with a larger property and Currburn's history as an independent enterprise came to an end.
We are pleased to report that everyone who went on the YHS trip on Saturday 22nd September to see the wild white cattle at Chillingham returned home safe and sound - no one was gored to death by a raging bull (or even chased up a tree). It was a beautiful day and the cattle were grazing peacefully in the early Autumn sunlight - the photo above shows some of this year's calves. Herd numbers are quite bouyant at the moment and the cattle have split into a number of smaller breeding groups. We were expertly guided by Ellie Crossley (below) who is the warden of the Chilligham Wild Cattle Association and who gave us an excellent lecture last season.
What is a 'Burleyman'? No, it's not another name for a fat man. The Scottish National Dictionary defines it as - 'Birlie-, Burley, Birla-, Birlaw-, Barley-, Birley-man, a man who estimates the value of a crop; hence, a petty officer appointed to settle local disputes, a parish arbiter; a member of the birlie-court.' It is sometimes said to be a corruption of the term 'Bye-law-man'. The SND argues the first syllable is from the Norse 'býjarlg', meaning law of a 'by' or township and also district over which the by-laws held good.
In the Middle Ages burleymen were appointed by manorial courts to arbitrate local disputes. In Yetholm burleymen continued to function - if only just - until the 1850s, as can be seen by a report in the Kelso Chronicle of 13th February 1852. In this case the dispute started when some 'cows, sheep and swine' belonging to James Young rampaged through the garden of William Black. Mr Black went to the Yetholm town baillie, Mr Wilson, to ask for compensation. Mr Wilson decided to appoint a panel of burleymen to arbitrate, but there was a problem ...
Mr Young's lawyer then argued that the incident took place two of three years ago and the Mr Black had brought the case 'for no other purpose than to annoy and harrass the defender'. The Sheriff clearly decided to wash his hands of the case:
A 'Judgement of Solomon'! Clearly the folks of Yetholm had a memory of 'burleymen' and their role, but in this case Mr Black seems to have revived the office to pay for a round of whisky for himself and his friends at the expense of James Young, against whom he had a grudge. As far as is known this is the last occassion on the which the venerable panel of burleymen sat in judgement on a dispute between neighbours in Yetholm.
Collecting Christian Aid envelopes in the modern houses of Grafton Bank, Town Yetholm, a YHS member noticed the object shown above. Measuring approximately 18 inches X 18 X 12 inches tall, the corners have been cut away and are slightly rounded at the bottom, a bit like feet. The bowl is about 9 inches deep. There is no decoration on the outside, which is a bit battered, but the bowl itself has been carefully worked and is smooth. Where was it from? What could it be?
It was found, according to the owner, in the fields on the lower slope of of Staerough - in other words not far from the church. It is rather small for a font, but that is what it looks like - might we have found another fragment from the lost medieval church? Help was sought from James King, who has recently surveyed the Romanesque stones that have survived and which have now been returned to the shelter of the church (see blog for March 2018). This is what he had to say:
My first reaction to the photos was that it was a mortar, but I thought that mortars had to have a spout. As a result, I sent the photos to another scholar who informed me that mortars used for dry goods didn't have spouts ... Of course, we cannot be certain, but this does have the appearance of having been a domestic mortar. Mortars are notoriously difficult to date, but I've not seen any like this that are dated to a period before the 13th century and most are 14th or 15th century .... Apparently, it is not unusual to find mortars now preserved inside churches, even though they didn't originate from the church. This is because people think 'font' and therefore 'ecclesiastical' when they come across these elsewhere. As a result, they place them inside the local church for preservation.
So it looks like our stone object is a mortar - for pounding grain or peas to make, perhaps, a kind of porridge. Disappointing in some ways - and yet this gives us a glimpse of domestic life in Yetholm in a period that is otherwise lost to view. Most of the buildings in the village today are no older than the eighteenth century, so this mortar is one of the few fragments that have survived from the Middle Ages.
Coincidentally, the person who discovered the mortar was visitying Dryburgh Abbey a few days later and there in an arcade in the cloister was a collection of three unlabelled objects which he now recognised as domestic mortars - see below. They are much rougher externally than our Yetholm example and presumably were originally from the monastic kitchen. It looks like they must have eaten a lot of porridge in a medieval monastery!
Over the past couple of years we have made great progress in making the Mission Hall a venue for meetings, exhibitions and storing our archives - and we have just received news of an award that will help us make another stride forward. SBC Community Grant Scheme has awarded us £1,800 to enable us to install new panel heaters on the ceiling of the hall. Those of you who attend meetings will know that we have had to rely on two propane gas heaters to warm the hall, which many have found an uncomfortable experience. Hopefully, by the time the new season begins, the panel heaters will be installed and up and running. Many thanks to those who helped put in this successful bid and for the support of all our members. Being able to show a healthy membership is an essential part of being successful in such grant applications. Our next project is more ambitious still - to install a new doorway and to upgrade our archive storage, so that the hall can be opened during the summer months as a permanent exhibition space.
The 2018 exhibition is now over and was very successful, with many visitors during the week it was open. It is always pleasing to find that in the brief period of the exhibtion we get visitors not only from the local area, but from all over the world. This year the visitor's book shows we had guests from California and Mississippi, as well as Wollongong and Melbourne in Australia. Clearly, although we are a fairly remote place, Yetholm is much visited and there is a lot of potential for adapting the hall as a small Heritage Centre.
The YHS annual exhibtion will be held during Festival Week (Saturday 9th to Saturday 16th June), in the Mission Hall from 10am-4pm daily.
The aim is to show some of the changes that have taken place in Yetholm over the last 100 years - some of them good and some of them not! We have tried to use some of the less well known images from our archive, as well as some modern photographs. For example the recently discovered postcard shown above shows the village green in Town Yetholm, presumably very shortly after the Wauchope memorial was erected in 1902. No other copies of this image are known. The photograph below shows the same view today. A greener scene - though the the bicycle leaning against the wall in the first image has been replaced by a rash of parked cars.
We hope to have the exhibition manned for much of the time and in those periods books, DVDs and other Yetholm-related material wil be for sale. Entry is free - everyone welcome.
Sadly Jan Rae, whose husband Bill was one of the founder members of Yetholm History Society, will be leaving Yetholm shortly. Jan, a journalist, is also an expert on the subject of textiles and Scottish crafts and has written extensively on this area. Her last book, Warm Covers; A Scottish Textile Story, was published in 2016 and later this year she will be publishing a history of the textile firm Johnstones of Elgin.
But Jan is not just an academic and she has produced many beautiful quilts, one of which, a wall-hanging, she has given to YHS as a valedictory gift. It is called ‘Yetholm Show’ and is based on a photo taken at the 1998 Yetholm Show. She started work on the wall-hanging at a workshop given by Ruth McDowall at Penrith in 1999 and finished it a year later. We are delighted to be given this striking work, inspired by our Shepherd’s Show and largely created here in Yetholm.
As mentioned in our last blog-post, James King visited Yetholm to examine the various stones that have survived from the twelfth-century church that once stood in the village. James has now written his report and Yetholm's lost church has now been added to the 'Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland' - see HERE.
The photograph above shows the chancel of St Margaret's Chapel in Edinburgh Castle - it seems likely, from James' report, that Yetholm's church would once have looked similar to this.
With the old manse up for sale YHS members have been helping the Kirk Session remove the precious Romanesque sculptured stones from Yetholm's 12th-century church into the safe-keeping of the kirk itself. The stones were discovered when the church was rebuilt in 1837 and placed in the manse garden. Few in number, they nevertheless show that sometime between 1150 and 1200 a relatively substantial building was constructed on the site. Some of the carved stones have been placed in the kirk tower (see below), but three large stone bases have had to be left outside.
On 19th March, just before the 'Beast from the East' snow storm hit Yetholm, James King of the CRSBI (Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture - website HERE) came to examine the surviving material - the photo above shows him looking at the pillar bases (with local acolyte taking notes!). He says the surviving material is probably from a chancel arch and that the bases show the arch would have had a double row of shafts rising to an arch decorated with a chevron design. There may have been an earlier wooden church, but the fragments show that by the second half of the twelfth century someone had invested in the latest state-of-art style of stone building. At that date, of course, Yetholm was relatively close to one of the major town's of early Scotland - Kelso - so perhaps it wasn't in such a remote situation as it is today. Linton, too, clearly had a similar Romanesque church. Neither place would have been able to flourish once the wars with Edward I began and the 12th-century church's subsequent fate is unknown. The engraving showing Yetholm kirk in 1837 shows several medieval windows, but none of them are Romanesque and the grand chancel arch may have disappeared long before. Nevertheless, the surviving stones are witness to the fact that Scotland once had many more stone-built churches in this early period than appears at first sight. James is currently writing up his report on the Yetholm stones and we will let you know when the material is posted online.
The 1715 Jacobite revolt is famous in Northumberland because of the attempt by Roman Catholic landowners there to raise an army in support of the Stuart claimant. Just over the border, here in Yetholm, the reaction was different. Sir William Bennet, the baron of Kirk Yetholm, was from a solidly Presbyterian background. His grandfather was a minister and his father suffered ‘many hardships for conscience sake’. Bennet was an enthusiastic supporter of the 1688 Revolution and of the union of parliaments. In 1715 he clearly turned up in Yetholm and persuaded his tenants to sign a petition pledging to 'stand by and assist one another in defence of our Lawful Sovereign King George' - though whether they were really any more inclined to get involved than the tenantry in Northumberland is any ones guess. Bennet signs first and there then follow over one hundred signatures, probably all of the heads-of-household in both Kirk and Town Yetholm. Most people make a stab at signing - a remarkable testimony to literacy - though as can be seen above the quality of signatures varies from the elaborate signature of'Wm. Simpsone' to the messy scrawl of Cuthbert (??) Burn. The Burn family of the Bowmont Valley provided many reivers in the sixteenth century and there are several Burns in this petition, but by the nineteenth century they seem to have disappeared from local records.
The list of names includes an 'Adam Fiall' (see below) - a person who also turns up in the hearth tax accounts for Town Yetholm in the early 1690s. It's tempting to see this as an early record of a gipsy, but gipsies seem to have been confined to Kirk Yetholm and, in any case, 'Fall' is not an exclusively gipsy name. More on that subject in a later post ...