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.
Winter is coming ... but no snow yet, just wind and rain. The scene above was probably taken in the late 1940s. Woolly balaclavas seem to have gone out of fashion these days - as have lurcher dogs, once prized in the village for their hunting talent. Collies are still common in Yetholm, but there are few lurchers today (and not that many rabbits at the moment). The photo was sent to us to add to our archives by Sue Wood (Paveley), whose family lived the village between the wars. YHS is actively collecting images so if you have anything that may be of interest then please get in touch - we can scan images and return them to you.
Another image which Sue sent can be seen below. A reminder that Summer days will return one day too! A cricket match is taking place on the playing field in Town Yetholm. Of particular interest is the corrugated iron building at the far side of the pitch. As with the snow-scene, this image was probably taken circa 1947 and the buildings are a reminder of the recently concluded war. Early in the war a search-light was positioned on the playing field and later the area was turned into a small prisoner of war camp for German prisoners, who worked on local farms. This is the only image we have of this building, which must have been dismantled soon afterwards and it illustrates how valuable 'family snaps' shared with us can be in preserving memory of Yetholm's history.
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!