Work on the project to convert the Old Mission Hall into a YHS Meeting-place/Archive/Heritage Centre is progressing steadily. We have just received news that we have been granted £2,500 from the Garfield Weston Foundation. This brings us closer to our goal of raising £27,300. In addition to this recent grant we have also received £14,340 from the Fallago Environment Fund and £4,000 from the Hugh Fraser Foundation (specifically for creating a new disabled access to the hall). We have also made over £2,000 from sales of our guide to the village - Yetholm Past and Present, A Walking Guide. We are very grateful to these grant-giving organisations. We are now just £4,460 short of our goal, so if anyone has bags of money lying around perhaps they could post them to us.
While the hard work of applying for grants is still on-going we are also working on other aspects of the project. The image above, created by Janet Canning, who also produced the images for Yetholm Past and Present, shows reivers from the Bowmont valley and will be used on one of the interpretive panels inside the Heritage Centre. Perhaps we could raise the remaining money by going on a raid across the border and helping ourselves to some English cattle ...?
This year's Festival Week runs from Saturday 8th June to Sunday 16th and all during that period YHS will be running an exhibition in the old Mission Hall. It's FREE - so you have no excuse for not coming! - and the hall will be open from 10am to 5pm. The title of this year's exhibition is 'Criminal Spirits: Gin and Whisky Smuggling in Yetholm and the Cheviots' and it coincides with the publication of a new booklet (see above) featuring a song about smuggling by Robert Gray (1796-1844), the 'Yetholm Poet'. Copies of the book and other YHS publications will be available in the exhibition.
Yetholm has been a holiday destination since the early nineteenth century – with the result that it has been much photographed and many postcards published showing the two villages and surrounding countryside. YHS has many postcards in its archive, three of which are shown above. Two of them are entitled ‘On the Bowmont near Yetholm’, while the third is ‘Among the Yetholm Hills’. None of them have postmarks, so it’s hard to date them. Our best guess is that the colourised image is from the 1930s, while the one showing a wooden bridge is later – possibly from the 1940s - ?
The cards are puzzling because none of them actually show Yetholm and the view is difficult to place. After pondering the issue – and looking at possible views close to either Town- or Kirk-Yetholm – it turns out the photographs were taken over 2½ miles from Town Yetholm, over the border, on the road from Mindrum (B6352). A recent image of the same scene can be seen below. Why did the photographer choose this place to set up his tripod and take a photograph? Possibly because this is the view many visitors would first see, especially if they came from Mindrum station. While not overly dramatic, the panorama is still striking as you drive over the brow of the hill just after Bowmont Hill Farm and you get a glimpse of the valley ahead. The photographer has travelled a little bit further on, dropped down, and paused for a moment to capture the loop of the river.
Clearly the tree in the centre of the image has now gone – as has the rickety footbridge in the middle photograph. Perhaps both were swept away when the Bowmont Water was in a less tranquil mood, as it often is. The straight line of trees shown on the left of the images runs along a dyke - dug when? - which is there to hold back flooding from the fields on the other side. The bridge presumably linked Bowmont Hill Farm with Shotton, but who built it and why exactly it was needed is not known. Any ideas? Not only has the tree gone, but the general scene as shown in the postcards seems much more wooded – the slope that drops down to the river on the right has mature trees growing on it, rather than the scrubby gorse that grow there today. In fact, it is gorse that dominates the recent photograph of the scene, taken in April 2019 - colourful, but perhaps a sign that the pastures are less carefully maintained today.
The rather undistinguished field shown above, which can be found at the side of the road from Kelso to Yetholm, is known locally as the Drovers Field. The name presumably reflects the fact it was used as a resting place for stock, but whether this was sheep being driven to Yetholm Fair or cattle being driven south into England is unknown.
The practice of droving of sheep in our area survived into twentieth century. YHS has recordings of shepherds who recall driving sheep across the Cheviots and the Storey Diaries, a copy of which has recently been given to the society, which record the day-to-day life at Cocklawfoot from the nineteenth century up to the 1940s, frequently mention sheep being driven from the head of the Bowmont valley over to Rothbury.
Cattle droving, though, which could involve cattle from the highlands being taken to markets in England had its heyday at an earlier period. However, there are hints that cattle drovers too passed through Yetholm. The Yetholm Heritors Records, for example, amongst many charitable payments to vagrant individuals and families, who needed a night’s lodging and a meal, mentions - ‘Paid lodging for a Highland Drover’ – one meal – 3d - December 1st 1849. It sounds like this man may have been returning home rather than driving cattle.
Another, much more detailed account, is given at a meeting of the Heritors on 19th August 1854:
The Case of Archibald Blue residing at Kirk Yetholm – This old man is about 70 years of age – he was born, he solemnly declares, at Farnach in the parish of Kilmichael, Glassary, Argyllshire, and resided in family with his father in the Parish of his birth till he was about 20 years of age – for the last 20 years of his life, he has been a Wanderer, sometimes acting as a drover of Sheep or Cattle, at other times, as a Hawker of Oranges and other small wares, but almost never remaining longer than one night in one place – and till he arrived at Yetholm always able to support himself by his own exertions without being chargeable to any Parish – He came to Yetholm on the 26th of June last to attend Kirk Yetholm Fair and was found by the Inspector, in an outhouse in Kirk Yetholm on the 28th June, in a state of great bodily distress and in absolute destitution – And from that time he has been chargeable to this Parish – The Inspector of Glassary refuses to admit the claim made for Relief on that Parish and now even declines to answer letter addressed to him on the subject …
Here we glimpse, for a moment, the fascinating life of an otherwise forgotten man. The details he gives of his early life can be confirmed from other sources. There are, in fact, two possible baptisms for an ‘Archibald Blue’ in Glassary at around the correct date – one in 1787 and the other in 1791. It seems likely that he is the first individual, in which case his parents are Donald Blue and Anne Morrison, who were married in the area and baptised several other children. St Michael Glassry is very close to the famous archaeological site of Dunadd and at this date would have been a Gaelic speaking area. ‘Farnach’ seems likely to be ‘Fearnoch’ an isolated and remote farm further down Kilmichael Glen.
The Yetholm Heritors were within their rights to claim recompense from Archibald’s home parish, but it is clear the Kilmichael Heritors were unwilling to recognise their responsibility. Fortunately for everyone concerned Archibald Blue was soon back on his feet and 'had now left this part of the country and ceased to be burdensome to the parish'. The Heritors decided it wasn’t worth pursuing their claim. What happened to the elderly drover after this date is unknown.
A few years ago Tom Broad of the Borders Archaeology Society (BAS), supported by Northumberland National Park and SBC, organised a project to conduct an archaeological survey of the Halterburn valley. After a certain amount of work had been carried out the survey had to be put on hold for various reasons. Since then YHS member Jean Hirst has taken over. This project has now been going for a number of years and the first report, covering the area at the head of the valley, should be published shortly. The survey is conducted by members of ACFA (Association of Certified Field Archaeologists - see HERE for more info) led by Dugie MacInnes, many of whose members come from as far afield as Lanarkshire to help, along with folks from BAS and from YHS. The Halterburn Valley turns out to be packed with fascinating, but previously unrecorded, sites - ranging from relatively modern shielings through to a number of Bronze Age hut platforms and a burnt mound.
The group have recently spent three days (27th-29th March) hard at work. The weather was beautifully sunny, if cold - curlews could be heard calling on the hilltops, sadly an increasingly rare phenomenon. The photos above and below show members of the team surveying new features in the large and complex Witchcleuch Burn site. Piers Dixon suggests that this may be the site of 'Colpenhope Grange' - the property used by Kelso Abbey to manage the area, which once belonged to them. It may well also be the site of a secular settlement called 'Elter', which is known to have existed at a later date. Whatever the case, the large site is littered with fascinating lumps and bumps, suggestive of a long and complex history. The last feature we mapped was a beautifully preserved corn-drying kiln. YHS members and other who are interested in joining in with the project will be very welcome - notice of the next survey will be sent out via our Mailchimp email list.
In last month's blog we looked at a fragment of sundial recently found in Town Yetholm. Another instrument for measuring time, which was found at Venchen Cottages, close to the border with England, is shown above - the rusted remains of a pocket watch. What makes this interesting to us at YHS is that the watch was made by Robert Chalmers, Yetholm's very own watchmaker, as can be seen by his neatly engraved signature.
Robert Chalmers, though, was not the only watchmaker in town. He was preceded by John Baird Waddle. This man was the son of Andrew Waddle, a very long lived tailor (he died aged 98 in 1864), who resided in a thatched cottage on the site of the house now called Hilltoun View in Town Yetholm. The extended Waddle clan lived in this cottage and the tiny one-roomed house next door called Wayside Cottage. John Baird Waddle was born in Yetholm in 1830. He began his working life like his father as a tailor, but in the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses he describes himself as a watchmaker - and he is also listed as such in the 1878 Slater's Directory for Yetholm. As far as is known no watches by Waddle are known to survive.
Robert Chalmers, on the other hand, is listed in several works on Scottish clockmakers and his watches occassionally turn up for sale. Robert was born in 1859 in Ancrum, the son of a tradesman, who shortly thereafter moved to Yetholm. He is listed in the 1881 as a census as a watchmaker, as he is in all subsequent censuses. His shop was in the house on the High Street now called Graystones House. He married a local girl Mary White Young in 1896, but the couple had no children. He died in 1926.
Did Robert learn his trade from John Baird Waddle? During the 1880s both men seem to have been working in Yetholm as watchmakers. Or were the two men business rivals? Sometime in the 1890s John Baird Waddle left Yetholm and moved to a terrace house in Monkwearmouth, where he died in 1906. Was he driven out of business by his younger competitor - or did Robert Chalmers amicably take over the older man's trade? What is striking is that a small 'town' like Yetholm could in the nineteenth century support one watchmaker, let alone two.
Chalmers didn't just make watches, but he also assembled clocks. The photograph below shows a grandfather clock made by 'Robert Chalmers - Yetholm' which turned up at the Antiques Roadshow held at Mellerstain in 2000. Unfortunately the YHS collection doesn't include such a grand item - all we own of Chalmer's work is the rusted fragment shown at the head of this blog-post!
Around 60 people attended our meeting on 5th March - a packed house! - when David Jones gave a fascinating talk on the archaeology of Dere Street between Rochester and Whitton Edge. He covered everything from pre-Roman settlements to post WW2 blast shelters. Before the meeting Jan Rae, an eminent quilter and expert on Scottish textiles, and wife of Bill, a founder member of YHS, presented the society with her embroidery, appropriately named 'Dere Street'. It shows a Scottish hiker heading south towards Eboracum (York). Among other fascinating details the ghosts of Roman Soldiers can be seen marching along the road ahead. This is the second work (see here) which Jan has gifted to the society and will help make our meeting place a colourful and welcome area when it is eventually transformed into 'Yetholm Heritage Centre'.
After our last meeting we were approached by the Mission Hall's neighbours who had found the stone fragment shown above in their back garden. It's clearly part of the face of a sundial, with the date nicely complete. The rusted stub of its gnomon is also visible. Where could it have come from? It was found in the garden of a house built in the 1930s - and there was no building on the site before that date. The Mission Hall itself is close to the site of fine old thatched cottage that was demolished in the 1970s, when the modern bungalows in Grafton Road were built. That cottage was said by the RCHMS to have had a date stone (1775) which has disappeared along with the rest of the building - but there is no mention of a sundial. Still, it's possible the sundial was part of the demolished cottage. It could, of course, have been brought from anywhere, but why? And from where? The answer is lost in the mists of time ...
There are, though, other sundials in Yetholm, which most people are probably not aware of. The first one shown below is in the kirk and is currently stored in the upper room of the church with the Romanesque fragments - hopefully all of these stones will be properly displayed in the kirk as part of the YHS Heritage Centre project. It is very worn but, again, the slots of two gnomons are clearly visible. It must have been part of the church building which was demolished in the 1830s. There is no date on it - perhaps 17th or 18th century? The other sundial is more mysterious. It has been placed on the gable of the old Cross Keys in Kirk Yetholm. That can't have been its original site as it unreadable up there - the photo had to be taken using a telephoto lens! It has, though, been in that position for over a hundred years - it is clearly visible in several postcard views taken in the late 19th century. Where could it have come from? And who went to all that effort to put it up there?
A wealth of information about Scottish sundials can be found HERE.
Last year (see HERE) we discovered a medieval mortar in Grafton Bank. 2019 starts off - lo and behold - with another one, this time in a garden of The Crescent in Town Yetholm. The new owners of Balcherry drew our attention to the object shown above. Overgrown with moss and half filled with soil , but the function is unmistakable. Externally the surface is rough, but the bowl is smooth - worn down, presumably, by generations of Yetholm folk pounding oats or peas to make their porridge.
In the background is one of Yetholm's old pumps - a fine example, in good condition. It is probably the one which once stood on the corner of Dairy Wood, near the old policeman's house, further along The Crescent. See the image below, from the YHS archive, which shows the pump in action circa 1900 (note the policeman lurking in the background!)
Christmas holidays in Yetholm? Well, until about 1918 there weren't any, at least as far as the school was concerned. The image above shows the school log-book for December 25th 1872 - 'Lessons given with assistance of Monitor'. Sometimes the Yetholm school log-book laments that children from Shotton - only a few yards over the border in Episcopalian England - failed to turn up on the 25th, but generally life went on as normal on Christmas Day.
Old Year's Eve was, of course, widely celebrated in Yetholm - and the school was closed. But there was also another holiday - before Christmas - namely the Shortest Day. The extract shown below is also from 1872: 'December 23rd. Owing to the stupid custom of barring out the master there was no schooling today. This is always done on the shortest day & the children are encouraged by their parents to do all in their power to keep the school-door shut to claim a Holiday.' Quite how the children managed to bar the school is unclear - in Kelso there is a record of the school key-hole being blocked up by gravel and 'fixing the window'. How old this tradition was - and how much longer it lasted is also unclear - does anyone know? The teacher in Yetholm seems resigned to the fact that there would be an unofficial holiday, a situation which, in fact, was not uncommon. Fox-hunts, farm roups (sales), pigeon shooting and military parades generally seem to have resulted in pupils abandoning the school en masse. In the case of the unofficial 'Shortest Day' holiday life returned to normal on the following day and by the 25th both teacher and pupils were hard at work, oblivious to the festivities over the border in England.