With May 2023 seeing the coronation of King Charles III it would be interesting to know what went on in Yetholm seventy years ago when Elizabeth II was crowned. Unfortunately our archives are rather thin when it comes to that event. One record that we do have is of the planting of a 'Coronation Tree' at the cricket ground, by Mr Roberton - see image above. Not exactly an exuberant event, by the look of it!
Another, photograph (below) of the same event shows Peggy Wraith apparently planting the same tree - perhaps everyone in the village had a turn? Mr Roberton was the Farmer at Yetholm Mains. Peggy Wraith was the neice of the landlady of The Plough and very active in village life.
It is unclear what has happened to the tree.
Note, in the background of these photographs, some of the huts which had been used as accommodation for German Prisoners of War and which were still standing at this date.
Yetholm History Society has a number of photographs about which, frustratingly, nothing is known. Neither the donor, nor the identity of subjects, in the photograph shown above, has been recorded. It is clearly a wedding photograph, with a rather serious central couple, and their relatives and friends, dressed in the best clothes, gathered around. The donor must have believed it had a Yetholm connection and the harled building behind looks like it could be in Yetholm.
We have few photographs taken before c.1880 and, judging by the clothes, the wedding probably took place between then and 1900. The figure on the right is clearly the minister who officiated at the wedding - if we could identify him, then dating would be more certain. In that period there were three churches, with three ministers, in the village. The Rev. Adam Davidson was minister of of the established church from 1862 to 1907 - 45 years. We have a photograph of him - with a full beard - and the man in the photograph doesn't look like him. That means it could be the minister of the Free Church on Dow Brae, or of the Border View UP church (now the Wauchope Hall). The Rev. Archibald Torrance was minister of the Border View church from 1883 to 1897 and the Rev. Norman MacPherson minister of the Free Church from 1878 to 1895. We do not have a photograph of either man. However ...
.... a photograph of Norman MacPherson (and his wife) in his old age has been posted on the Ancestry family history website by a descendant. Material posted on this site always needs to be treated with a degree of scepticism, but it also does allow genuine material to be shared which would otherwise be lost in private family archives. Could the man shown in both photographs be the same?
The minister on the left has a fuller face and seems in the prime of life. MacPherson was born in 1848, so arrived in Yetholm when he was 30 and left in his late 40s. He died in 1920 and the photograph on the right was presumably taken in his retirement, shortly before his death, when he was in his 70s. Might this explain the thinner face? Both men have prominent eye-brows and cheek-bones and sport a similar mustache. Let the reader decide!
The Rev. MacPherson seems to have been a very active minister. Soon after his arrival he oversaw the construction of a new church building on Dow Brae. In 1895 he was called to Trinity Free Church in Glasgow - a very large number of members signed the petition to request his services. Interestingly he was not a Borderer, but a Gaelic-speaker from the highlands, being born in Trumisgarry (Trumaisgearraidh), north Uist. One wonders what he made of the Borders when he arrived - and what Borderers made of him - ? After his arrival in Glasgow he occassionally took services in Gaelic and newspaper reports show him sometimes taking Gaelic services in highland churches too.
Our photograph was obviously not taken in or near a church building, but at that date weddings took place either in the manse or in a family home. The married couple might put in a special appearance at church on the Sunday after the wedding, but the ceremony itself took place elsewhere. YHS also has another photograph of a wedding taken at around the same time, shown below. Again details of donor and subjects are missing. Any suggestions?
Mr Little's Yetholm Gypsy
The last two blogs have had a horticultural theme – and this one has too – a trilogy!
If you type ‘Yetholm’ into a search engine one of the results will almost certainly take you to a site about ‘Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy potato’. See, for example - HERE According to this site -
Mr Little’s Yetholm Gypsy is a distinctive and unique heritage potato with a name which summarises its historical connection to its original community. It has a unique colour with an eyecatching and distinctive red, white and blue patterned skin, and has a versatile flesh good for boiling, steaming and roasting. It has significant ties to the Scottish Borders town of Yetholm in terms of cultural heritage. The potato appears to have been kept in production almost by chance.
Interestingly this site suggests that “the DNA of Yetholm Gypsy has been tested by S.A.S.A. (Scottish Agricultural Science Agency) where it is held in their collection, and it has been found to be a variant of the King Edward potato.” This may well be the case, but the site’s discussion of the potato’s origin may not be entirely right in all of its claims:
It comes from the Borders town of Yetholm and was thought to have been introduced to the town in 1899, although it is not known for certain whether this variety was originally bred by gypsies or by a local gardener. It was however, acquired at a horse fair by its namesake ‘Mr Little’ who then apparently grew it in his family’s garden for the next 50 years, keeping the potato in production. The potato variety was ‘discovered’ in 1998 by Alan Romans who got a tuber from the family, encouraged growth of it through his microplants project, and had the potato placed in the National Collection in 1999.
Yetholm History Society has been given a newspaper cutting, unfortunately unsourced and undated (but fairly recent & probably from the Southern Reporter) which features an interview with Alan Romans –
Mr Romans says he was given a sample of the potato by Matthew and William (sic - Geoff) Little at the Borders Organic potato Day in 1998. Mr Romans obviously found the journey down the Bowmont Valley to Kelsocleugh to meet the Little brothers an arduous and unnerving experience! The article provides us with a slightly different origin story:
Matthew Little, a shepherd, explained he’s acquired the potato at the first Yetholm Fair after the Second World War, and called it the Yetholm Gypsy after the crowing of the Gypsy King in Kirk Yetholm in 1899 (sic – 1898)
This sounds plausible, but we have slightly different information from Dr Grant Mooney, who was Yetholm’s doctor in the 1990s. He knew both Matthew and Geoff Little and recalls that when they visited him in the surgery in Yetholm (now sadly gone) in the early 1990s they would often bring him a bucket of the Yetholm Gypsy potatoes. Geoff was the shepherd at Kelsocleugh and Matthew the shepherd at Skirl Naked, over the border in Northumberland. His memory is that Matthew’s father – also called Matthew, who at one time was shepherd at Cocklawfoot, neighbouring Kelsocleugh - may have had a version of the potato and that Matthew later ‘rediscovered’ the potato growing ‘on the other side of a dike’ at Skirl Naked. When he returned to live in Yetholm he brought the potato with him.
It is clear, in any case, that the Little brothers were proud of their tri-coloured potato and that the name, honouring Yetholm, derives from them. Although proud of their potato, it was not however not the Little brothers who added the prefix - ‘Mr Little’s Yetholm Potato’. For that, Dr Mooney was responsible. When Geoff, his patient, was in hospital towards the end of his life Grant wrote to the Henry Doubleday Research Association suggesting that the newly rediscovered variety should be named in honour of the brothers. The letter he got in response, which has been kindly donated to YHS, is shown below.
Geoff was cheered when he then got a letter informing him of the new name. Matt apparently was a bit miffed that he hadn’t received one as well, so a similar acknowledgement was duly sent to him too!
A Blue Plaque for Lyon Cottage?
Lyon Cottage must be one of the oldest surviving cottages in Yetholm, but unfortunately it is one of those tucked-away buildings that somehow tends to be missed out or obscured when photographs were taken. The image above was taken in August 1902 - Lyon Cottage is the building with the steep thatched roof more or less in the centre of the scene. Another view of the cottage can be seen in the postcard shown below - the bit with the cottage has been enlarged and is shown on the right. This second image shows the Wauchope Memorial (unveiled September 1902), so it must have been taken between that date and 1904, when the card was posted.
Yetholm's contribution to civilization has been immense, but why should Lyon Cottage now get a blue plaque? Last month's blog discussed the Sweet family and their nursery garden in Town Yetholm and this month we have a somewhat similar theme - Lyon Cottage deserves a plaque because it was (almost) certainly the home of the world-famous 'Lyon Prizetaker Leek'. To prove the case we need to first take a look at the Lyon family, who gave the name to the cottage, which was their home . . .
The family may have been in Yetholm for longer, but the story can begin with (1) David Lyon, a shoemaker, who married Jean/Jane Adamson at Yetholm 1777. In 1782 David borrowed money from James Robson of Belford to buy the rental rights to the house in Town Yetholm now known as Montrose Cottage. David and Jean had several children, including a son, David, born in 1786.
(2) David Lyon junior was also a shoemaker. He married Agnes/Ann Wightman in Yetholm on 25th May 1806 and the couple had several children, including two sons, Thomas (born 1810) and John (born 1811). These two brothers were to remain in Yetholm for the rest of their lives - Thomas worked as a shoemaker, like his father and grandfather, and John worked as a tailor.
In 1833 (3) Thomas Lyon baptised a son called James in Yetholm kirk. The baptism record is somewhat unusual in that no spouse's name is listed. It is shown below with the adjacent, more typical records, included for comparison:
Kirk session records show that in May and June 1833 Thomas compeared before the session to confess fornication. He was duly rebuked and restored to church privileges. Again, no woman's name is mentioned and it is only when James dies in 1895 that we discover on the death certificate, which acknowledges he was illegitimate, that his mother's name was Ellen Hunter (Domestic Servant). It is extremely unusual for the father of an illegitimate child to take responsibility for its care. More often, if the father was unwilling to marry, the mother was left to cope on her own. It is possible that Ellen died in childbirth but, whatever the case, Thomas duly baptised and cared for the child.
In the 1841 census Thomas is living in Lyon Cottage with his widowed mother, his sister Jane, two apprentice shoemakers - and seven year old James. He was to remain there for the rest of his life. At some point in the 1840s Thomas married Mary Mitchell, but in January 1849 their seven week old son, David, died and Mary herself died in April 1849. Presumably the birth had been traumatic. Thomas then married Elizabeth Winter, daughter of Isaac Winter, forester, Harelaw, on 14th June 1850 and a son - again called David - was born on the 9th Nov 1856. Elizabeth was to die in 1859. David (a journeyman draper) was to die of tuberculosis in Yetholm in 1884 aged 27. Thomas died in 1888, aged 77. At that date his only surviving son was James.
(4) James Lyon, like his father, was a shoemaker. He married Jane Leishman in December 1869 in Morebattle. They had two children – Thomas, born 1872, but who died in 1878, aged just 6 and John, born in 1873. James died on 12th May 1895, of tuberculosis, aged 60. His son (5) John Lyon, also a shoemaker, died in 1897, aged 23 - once again the cause of death was tuberculosis. In the 1901 census Jane Lyon is living alone in Lyon Cottage, described as a 'Boot and Shoe Shop Merchant', although there are no journeymen shoemakers present, so it is not clear where she obtained her stock. She died in 1913. With her death a long tradition of Lyon family shoemakers in Yetholm came to an end.
The Lyon leek seems to have been introduced to this country in the early 1880s by Stuart and Mein, a firm of seedsmen from the Scottish border town of Kelso, which traded from the 1860s until 1900. Victorian nurserymen had a habit of making outrageous claims for their latest introductions; many of these might be most charitably described as over-optimistic, but when Stuart and Mein extolled Lyon's size and quality they were obly telling the truth . . . for many people it is the finest leek of all.
So writes Christopher Stocks in his book Forgotten Fruits: A Guide to Britain's Traditional Fruit and Vegetables, 2008, p. 108. Stuart and Mein were certainly very proud of the Lyon leek - the image above shows a page from their 1903/04 catalogue, advertising a leek competition, which specifically encouraging the use of their seed.
But where did Stuart and Mein get the original Lyon leek seeds from? Village tradition has it that it comes from Yetholm and it does seem very likely that it originated with the Lyon family and was named in their honour. Can folk memory be confirmed?
Firstly, the newspaper record shows that Thomas Lyon, his brother John and Thomas's son James were keen gardeners and often won prizes in the Yetholm Horticultural Society show. Here are some of the prizewinners from the 1857 show, as listed in the Kelso Chronicle, 30th October:
Thomas Lyon gets a second prize for leeks, cabbages (twice) and a first prize for greens, with brother John getting second place. (Incidentally, both men also appear to have been keen bee-keepers). In the next few years their names drop away and are increasing replaced by that of James Lyon. James wins many prizes for both vegetables and flowers. For example the Jedburgh Gazette for 30th October 1875 reports that he won 2nd for drumhead cabbage, 1st for brussel sprouts, 1st for the best basket of vegetables, 1st for the three heaviest leeks (7lb 11oz.). James himself presented a prize for the best two leeks/savoys/greens - clearly the kind of vegetables he was interested in. Also note that Mr Allan, from the firm of Stuart and Meins, presents a prize for the best four leeks (quality) - which, perhaps predictably, was won by James Lyon.
Mr Mein himself often attended the show. He is one of the judges, for example, in the 1857 referenced above. He must have met all of the Lyon family - and, in fact, in 1872 presented James with a cup (apparently for his gladioli - though he also won 1st/2nd prizes for his fushias, geraniums, hollyhocks, German stocks, French marigolds, roses and pansies!):
In this same show James won first prize for a selection of four leeks: 'The leeks were extraordinary specimens, beautifully blanched, and very large'
None of this proves that Stuart and Meins got their leek seeds from the Lyon family - it's possible that he just named his new variety in their honour, but why would he do this for an otherwise unknown family of cobblers from Yetholm? It is far more likely that they provided him with the original plant stock. Whether they got any money for what became the one of the firms most prominent and rewarded seeds is unknown.
Although all of the Lyons were keen gardeners, it seems most likely that it was James, the illegitimate son of Thomas, who developed and gave Mr Meins the seeds. It is his name that features most prominently in newspaper reportsof prize-winning leeks. Not only was a he keen gardener, but he was active member of several Yetholm societies - the angling club and the rifle club, for example, and he was also on the committee of the Fastern E'en games.
There is only one gravestone commemorating the family in Yetholm kirkyard - a finely worked piece, though now sadly obscured by the line of holly bushes that line the path and provide a wind-break for worshippers as they make their way to the kirk door. The naming pattern suggests that he was responsible for its erection - it commemorates his grandfather David and his wife Ann; two of his sisters, Ann and Jane; Mary Mitchell, his father's first wife and their seven week old son David; Elizabeth Winter, his father's second wife, along with his half brother David; finally it commemorates his father Thomas, who died in 1888. The simple naming conceals a fair bit of tragedy - early death through tuberculosis - of which James himself was to die a few years later in 1895. He himself has no memorial - perhaps a blue plaque would be a nice touch?
The ruined building (above), currently used to store water tanks for the allotments on High Street, Yetholm, has its origin when on 19 January, 1709 William Wauchope, younger son of Wauchope of Niddrie Marischall, granted a feu charter in favour of William Sweet in Town Yetholm. At the time Andrew Wauchope, the Laird of Niddrie, offered enterprising farmers land in the village to build a house for a feu lease of 19X19 years. The original title deeds for the property were “borrowed” from Robert Nichol’s father and subsequently lost so this cannot be verified beyond doubt. My great grandfather, who was a great family historian, left notes to the effect that William did build the cottage ‘…and the windows and doors were made of English oak they brought with them.’
His son, George Sweet (1725-1821) had married Ann Lyon (1720-<1809) about 1750. Ann may be from the family who lived at Lyon Cottage on the High Street. They had ten children of whom six lived into adulthood and four possibly died relatively young. George prepared a disposition in 1809 leaving the property to his second daughter, Jean Sweet (1763- bet 1841 and 1851) and who was his fourth child, but I think it was possibly 1821 before he died at which time the property would have passed to Jean Sweet.
Jean had married Archibald Hogarth (1774-1862) of Coldstream in 1807. At the time of their marriage Archibald was a joiner in Edinburgh. On the 1841 census Archibald is described as a Gardener. So I assume that he had taken over the running of the garden and possibly had begun a market garden or orchard. The Ordnance Survey map of 1862 suggests that there may be an orchard at the property.
Jean prepared a disposition on 18 March 1825 which was not presented until 1853. This was in favour of her niece Anne Lyon Sweet (1801-1879) who had married her cousin Robert Sweet (1798-1866) on 19 June, 1835. They lived somewhere in Yetholm; in Pigot’s directory of 1837 Robert is described as a Linen Draper, Shopkeeper and Dealer in Groceries. However, I think he became involved in the market garden as his prominence as a seedsman grew. Jean’s disposition provided a life rent for Archibald Hogarth and following Jean’s death, he lived there with his housekeeper Agnes Bolton until his death in 1862. The reason the disposition was presented in 1853 was because Anne and Robert (by now in their 50s) were preparing to sell their property and emigrate to Australia.
The sale particulars are of interest as they provide a description of Sweet Holm at the time :The Dwelling House, Shop, Six-Stalled Stable and Granary, occupied by Mr Sweet who is leaving for Australia.[Kelso Chronicle 5 August, 1853, below] The Shop has been occupied as a Grocery, Seed, and Meal Shop, for the last sixteen years. The Sweets left Greenock in October 1853. Sweet Holm was sold to the local surgeon, Dr Turner (1795-1876) who was a cousin of Anne’s. He was also a landlord and so presumably was content to allow Archibald to stay in the cottage and run the market garden. On 23 January, 1863, after Archibald’s death, Turner sold the property to Andrew Wauchope of Niddrie.
On the 1871 census it appears that the property had been taken over by John Yule, gardener born in Smailholm, and his wife Ann Turnbull (born in the Cape, South Africa).
By the 1881 census John and Ann had been joined by their son, James Yule, Gardener, their daughter and two grandsons.
Thomas Graham, Gardener, his wife and seven of their children appear to have taken over the property by the time of the 1891 census.
Thomas and his family are living at the White Swan Hotel at the time of the 1901 census and there does not appear to be an entry for Sweet Holm.
By the 1911 census the property was occupied by James Nichol, Jobbing Gardener, his wife and daughter. I met Robert Nichol in 1992 and he told me that James Nichol was the son of a joiner. Certainly at the time of the 1901 census Robert Nichol senior was living at St James’ Manse; his son James Govenlock Nichol was described as a Gardener.
Robert told me that his aunt lived in the property until 1956 when the cottage was in need of a new thatch and some timbers required to be replaced; the whole cost being in the region of £500. Robert Nichol asked the Wauchope estate to pay half but he was refused and so the roof was allowed to decay as did the cottage. The gable end became unsafe and was knocked down. The orchard was used as a market garden by the Nichol family until they gave up the business. The Wauchope estate tried to sell the orchard for building land but the residents around about objected and the land was given over to allotments.
Anne and Robert Sweet made a life for themselves near Strathalbyn, South Australia, where they farmed 172 acres from a property named Sweet’s Cottage. They formed a partnership with Alexander McDonald, a neighbour and soon to be son-in-law who came from Glencoe, and they ran a Blacksmith shop, still in evidence today as a ruin. Robert’s death in 1866 was recorded in the Kelso Chronicle and the Glasgow Daily Herald.
Family connections continued after Anne and Robert’s death. The picture shown below is of my Great Grandfather, Alexander Sweet, outside Sweet Holm or Nichol’s Cottage as it would be then in 1909. He is standing with a Mr Elliot of Clifton Park, I think this will be Thomas Robert Barnewall Elliot. The photo was taken by Alexander’s nephew, Charles Sweet (1864-1945) a professional photographer from Rothesay.
Blog post written by Martin Sweet, 5 times great grandson of William.
For more about the Sweet family - and with lots of references to Yetholm - visit Martin's site: http://www.thesweetfamily.co.uk/
Queer Things at Yetholm
YHS archives contains a copy of the photograph shown above. It was clearly taken at the foot of Dow Brae - the slope of the road as it rises onto the bridge over the Bowmont can be seen in the background. Unfortunately we do not know the photograph's date or the names of men who are its subject. At a guess, it seems likely to have been taken around 1910, but the names of the four gadgies are probably irrecoverable, which is a great pity as the image is evocative of a lost world.
Given the anonymity of the men - and because it is hard to find another place to use this amusing anecdote - we attach a newspaper cutting from the Jedburgh Gazette, 21st March 1908. Despite the title, it is not about 'Gender Identity', but the sometimes-mysterious world of carts in Yetholm. Who knows , maybe the droll Jacob Anderson may be one of the men in the photograph ...
The photograph shown above is one of several enigmatic images in the YHS archive. Where is it? Who does it show? When was it taken?
Someone has cellotaped a label on the cardboard mount which reads (in biro): ‘Duncan Haugh Mill in the 1920s’. The location suggested here is certainly correct – the current building (see photograph below) is similarly four-square, with a porch, and with a single-storey ancillary building lying to the left. The harling has now gone, the windows changed and the porch reconfigured, but the basic structure is the same.
The date suggested on the cellotaped label must, however, be wrong. The style of the clothes of the people in the centre suggests that somewhere between 1880 and 1900 would be a better guess. In that case, it seems like that the individuals who are so carefully posed behind the group of pigs(!) are members of the Gowanlock family.
The 1861 census shows that at that date the tenant at Duncanhaugh was John Gowanlock, 38 - 'Miller & Farmer of 60 acres, employing 3 men and woman'. He was living with his wife Margaret, a couple of years older, and his son James, aged 8. Margaret's maiden-surname was Glass and her uncle, Thomas, was the tenant at Hayhope Farm, just a few hundred yards on the other side of the Bowmont Water. The three Gowanlocks were still there in 1881, but by that date James, aged 28, was married to Janet, 29, and the young couple had three children - Eliza, aged 4, George 2, and John, who was less than a year old. This three generational household was not to last very much longer. Grandmother Margaret died in October 1883 and grandfather John died a couple of months later in December, both were in their early 60s.
Correlating this information with the people shown in the photograph would suggest that it was taken in around 1882, shortly before the deaths of John and Margaret. Our tentative identification is that James is the man holding the horse; the seated family group would then be, from left to right, John, with grandson George standing between his legs (aged about 4), then his wife Margaret, with grandson John on her lap (aged about 2), then daughter Eliza standing (aged about 6), then James's wife Janet. The (teenage?) girl standing on the far right may be a servant or a member of the family who was visiting at the time.
James and Janet went on to have three more children, all daughters - Margaret Glass (b. 1883), Janet (b.1885) and Annie Glass (b. 1888). The fact that none of these girls is in the photograph helps confirm that it must have been taken in circa 1882.
The presence of pigs in the foreground is clearly deliberate - they clearly wanted these animals to be recorded (along with the horse). It looks like some tasty food has been scattered on the ground to get them into position, with the hens joining in! Why would the Gowanlock's want this? Newspapers of the time suggest both father and son were proud farmers and entered a variety of animals in local shows, often winning a prize. James won prizes for his pigs on several occassions. The newspaper cutting shown below is from the Newcastle Courant, 10th August 1883 and shows that he won (or was commended?) at Berwick Show for his Berkshire sow 'Bowmont Lassie'. This is shortly before his parents died and at around the time this photograph was taken. Might 'Bowmont Lassie' be one of the portly pigs in the foreground???
The Gowanlocks - Part Two
John Gowanlock was the son of James Gowanlock (born 1791, Southdean) and his wife Ann Shiel (born 1798, Oxnam). In the 1851 census it is James, his father, who is the tenant at Duncanhaugh Mill Farm. John obviously took over the tenancy at Duncanhaugh after his father left the farm in 1860 (see below).
James and Ann Shiel had several other children. Their eldest son, Robert (born 1817, Hownam), was later to farm Dean Mill/Primside Dyke farms, a mile down the road from Duncanhaugh Mill, in Morebattle parish. Both of these farms have now completely disappeared.
Another son, James (born 1820, Morebattle), married Helen Turnbull and was to become a baker (also grocer & spirit dealer) in Town Yetholm.
There were also another three brothers and three sisters.
The three brothers who remained in the Yetholm area - Robert, James and John - seem to have been ambitious and upwardly mobile. However their lives had a fair share of turmoil and tragedy. In 1851 Robert's stackyard was destroyed by fire:
In 1860 James died in an horrific accident - with grim irony, given the family's later pride in 'Bowmont Lassie' - this was caused, as it were, by a pig:
In the 1861 census James Gowanlock senior (aged 70, a widower) is listed as a grocer and spirit dealer in Town Yetholm. He seems to have stepped in to look after his son's business after this horrible tragedy. It is not clear when James senior died - probably not long after the census - as in 1863 his daughter-in-law Helen Turnbull is declared bankrupt. The property in which the business was housed is put up for auction in 1865/66.
None of the brothers was very long-lived. Robert died in 1869 aged only 52. John, as we have seen, died in 1883 aged 61. The younger generation was equally unfortunate. Less than ten years after the photograph of the family was taken in a sunny Duncanhaugh farmyard, daughter-in-law Janet was to die aged just 39 (in 1891), while her husband James was to die in 1904, aged just 52.
The gravestone for James and Janet Gowanlock, in Yetholm kirkyard, which also memorialises two of the three children who appear with them in the photograph at the head of this blog-post, is shown below:
On a dark November night in 1873, two policemen made their way along the Yetholm to Morebattle road in search of poachers. There had been reports of activity the previous night and the men were hopeful of making an arrest. Police Constable Thomas Chapman was in charge of the Yetholm district and he was supported by PC Elliot Jackson who would later rise to Inspector of Police, Head of the Kelso Division and was the recipient of the King’s Police Medal. About 300 yards west of Primside old tollhouse, they encountered a cart driven by two notorious poachers – William Blyth and John Tait. When challenged, they refused to stop and the policemen were beaten with cudgels. Despite Tait and Blyth making desperate efforts to drive off, the policemen cut the reins and hung onto the bridle and managed to lead the horse into a bank which brought it to a stop. In the ensuing struggle, both policemen were injured and the poachers made off. In the Swan Inn, John Graham was having a quiet drink when he saw Blyth and Tait enter – Blyth said: “The police have had a good thrashing tonight”. About 11 o’clock that night, Chapman caught up with Blyth and Tait accompanied by another man emerging from the Swan Inn and they boasted that they “…have the stuff sold, and are drinking the money”. Blyth and Tait were later charged and sentenced to six months in gaol.
Thomas Chapman was a brave and dutiful policeman who served Yetholm and its surrounds well before transferring to Hawick where he was promoted sergeant but I wonder how many of the villagers knew that he had aspirations as a poet? He regularly sent contributions to local newspapers which were published under the nom de plume ‘Joseph’. His subject matter was largely drawn from Bowmontside along with local friends and acquaintances but he would occasionally indulge in pure flights of fancy. In 1883, he compiled a book of two hundred poems published by J & JH Rutherfurd of Kelso called: “Contentment and other poems”. This gathered ‘mixed’ reviews with the Border Advertiser waspishly remarking that: “Were the literary efforts of this work as good as the part played by the publisher, they would have much to recommend them”. Ouch! It was suggested that a good editor might have been useful but conceded that: “Mr Chapman evidently has the poetic genius”. The Hawick Express suggested that: “There is thought and freshness, as well as considerable facility of expression, in Mr JT Chapman’s unpretending little volume of poems. The inter-dependence of pain and pleasure is brought out in the verses”.
Chapman was born around 1843 (his birth seemingly unregistered) in Carnwath, Lanarkshire. His father was a farm servant and, by 1861, Thomas was a servant in the house of the local Justice of the Peace. By the time of the 1871 census, he had married, had three children, joined the police and was based at Sprouston. In a court statement in July 1871, he states that he had been stationed in Yetholm about two months so we can be confident about when his association with the town began. He stayed in Yetholm for several years but, by the time of the 1881 census, he had moved with his family to Hawick. After retirement, he became a hosiery merchant until his death in November 1914. The Hawick News & Border Chronicle carried a short obituary which states that: “Mr Chapman was best known for the persistency with which, during the greater part of his life, he ‘courted the muse’. Above the nom de plume of ‘Joseph’ his effusions appeared in a number of Border newspapers”.
His poetry reflects the fondness he had for friends and countryside around Yetholm. In That Day I left the Bowmontside he wistfully looks back and compares the Bowmont with the Hawick Slitrig –
That day I left the Bowmontside
My heart beat sad within me;
Each ferny glen and rugged peak
I grieved to leave behind me.
The Slitrig ne’er can glad mine eye;
No, it can never charm me;
Oh, for the Bowmont hills sae high,
The thoughts o’ them still warm me.
Other paeans to the area include: Bowmontside, Green Vale of Bowmont, The Cantie Folk o’ Bowmontside and The Bowmont Hills. Fellow friends in the police force are commemorated including the Crimean veteran Sergeant David Readdie of Jedburgh. Readdie, like Chapman, pitted himself against the poachers and, on one occasion on the Teviot at Sunlaws Mill, had to be carried to the doctors at Kelso with a cleik embedded past the barb in his neck! Another colleague was Sergeant Robert Ainslie of Jedburgh who died in 1881.
Thou servant of great Nature’s law –
Alas! thou’st ta’en my friend awa’;
From sorrow’s fount our tears ye draw,
For a’ folk likit Robert.
Such men as him earth ill can spare,
Without him Jethart looks quite bare;
The echoes o’ the court-room stair
Lang for the feet of Robert.
Up Castlegate the rogues he led –
Of him ill-doers had a dread;
But it again he’ll never tread,
For in the dust lies Robert.
In 1878, a farm labourer named Jacob Tait died in Kirk Yethom aged 76 and we must presume that he was a fine fiddler –
Oh, take it not frae aff the wall,
That fiddle nor the bow;
Hush’d be it now, for cold the hand
Which made the music flow.
No more, my lads, will we e’er dance
To the melodious strains
Which often made our hearts rejoice,
And blood warm in our veins.
Though others wake the giddy reel
Wi’ notes that please the ear,
They cannot make us leap like him
Whom we all loved so dear.
Whene’er his fingers touched the strings,
Our bosoms filled with glee;
Oh! such a chield for mirth as him
Again we’ll never see.
William Martin of Dean Mill had been a rabbit catcher and assistant keeper at Greenhill but died tragically young at the age of 43. Chapman, in the course of his duties, would have been on friendly terms with all the gamekeepers but William’s death seems to have struck a special chord and Chapman eulogised him in a long poem from which I’ll just quote the first two verses -
A mellow harp has been unstrung,
And silent, too, the tuneful tongue
Of him who, like a seraph, sung,
And charmed us a’ by Bowmont.
By that fair stream he often trod,
But o’er him now’s the grassy sod,
And never more with gun and rod
Shall we see him by Bowmont.
There is little doubt that Chapman, in his encounter with Tait and Blyth, was lucky to survive. Blyth had already been imprisoned for assault and both men were obviously determined to escape come what may - such an attitude would have tragic consequences only seven years later. In November of that year, John Taylor, a shepherd at Hethpool farm, discovered John Tait and William Blyth catching rabbits. He informed Thomas Henry Scott, the police officer at Kirknewton, and Scott met the gamekeeper Thomas Allen who happened to be on the road. The two men confronted Tait and Blyth who said that they would die before they gave the rabbits up. In the confrontation, both men hit Scott on the head with stones – Tait “as much as he could hold” and Scott fell into a burn. Not content with this, Tait continued to beat the prostrate policeman with a club and then went for the gamekeeper too. Fortunately, Allen had a gun and threatened to “put a hole through” Tait who then ran off. Scott was badly hurt but alive and Allen took him to Paston and sought medical assistance. Tragically, Scott died some days later of tetanus. Allen, the keeper, said that Tait had only just been released from a twelve month sentence for assaulting him previously. Blyth was taken into custody on the 17th November by PC Robert Thomson, stationed at Yetholm, when he said: “I wish I’d killed him; as weel hang soon as syne”. Tait and Blyth were charged with murder but were found guilty of manslaughter. Tait was given a life sentence and Blyth got ten years. In 1890, Blyth was out of prison on a ‘ticket of leave’ but left Yetholm without informing the police so was returned to prison for a month.
Thank you to Ian Abernethy for contibuting this blog post.
Chapman's Contentment can be read for free on Google books - click HERE.
No photograph of Chapman appears to have survived, The photograph shown in the body of the text is from the Scottish Police Medals website - click HERE. The gentleman in the centre is probably John MacDonald, Chief Constable of Hawick, 1878-1902. Chapman is listed as a policeman in Hawick in the 1881 and 1891 censuses, so he may well be one of the distinguished looking policemen gathered around their commanding officer. He was 46 in 1891, so if the photograph was taken around that date this may help to pin him down ... could he be the splendidly bearded sergeant sitting beside the Chief Constable??? As the newspaper obituary shown above indicates, Thomas Chapman was, after he moved to Hawick from Yetholm, a police sergeant 'for a considerable number of years'. The name of the dog is unrecorded!
The poem from the head of the blog - Ye Glinting Stars - is from the Jedburgh Gazette, 23rd February 1884. It is not included in Contentment, which was published a year earler. It seemed fitting, given its references to the Nativity, to include it in our blog for December 2022, almost 140 years after it was written.
The Old Brewery?
Diane and Geoff Gittus of Kirk Yetholm have shared with us a copy of the picture shown above, which they have recently purchased. It is said to be by the famous Borders' artist Tom Scott. If this is so, then it must date from before 1927, the year of Tom's death. In the bottom left corner is the note 'at Yetholm', but if that is the case then where exactly are the buildings located which it shows?
There is nothing in today's Yetholm which immediately seems to correspond with the buildings in the picture ... or is there?
Rummaging through the YHS image archives there are a couple of pictures which might solve the mystery. The first, a colourised postcard, is shown below. It is a view looking down the loaning which runs up Yetholm Law, showing the buildings at the rear of the Old Brewery.
For those unfamiliar with the Old Brewery the two buildings which are shown - the pantiled building on the left and the lighter-coloured building on the right - seem to be contiguous, but that is not the case. The building on the right is 30ft, or so, in front of the pantiled building. The two buildings form a partial courtyard and it is believed that there was once a now-demolished archway which led into this courtyard.
Is it just coincidence that a cart can be seen tipped up in both images? Probably not, as the buildings were used in the early twentieth century as a farmyard by the Martin family. Their house was at the end of the row of thatched cottages which were later demolished and replaced by modern houses known as Deanfield Bank, but their working buildings were located in the Old Brewery. Doug Turnbull, in his memoirs in Bygone Yetholm describes how it was:
The last house along the row was the home of Jim Martin and his wife Mary. I remember the sons Jim and Tom, and daughters Annie, Nina and Ruth. Annie became the mother of the Tokely family. Across the way were the outhouses and byre where the cows were milked daily. The main buildings which comprised their farm were at the Old Brewery. The stable was there and another byre, with other buildings housing cattle and pigs, and there was also storage for hay and fodder ...
A more detailed comparison of the two buildings (above) shows that, although there are some minor differences, the configuration of an arch, a door and window are the same. The roof in the painting looks, at first sight, as if it may be thatched, but the edge of the roof is scalloped, indicating that pantiles, as shown in the photograph, are actually intended.
A final piece of evidence that strongly suggests that the painting shows the Martin farmyard is provided by the photograph shown below, recently given to YHS by the Tokeley family. It shows James Martin in his cart (the same one shown in the painting?) circa 1910. The horse is decked out in in an array of fine brasses, so presumably it was taken shortly before Yetholm Show. The buildings in the background can be correlated with those shown in the painting - the pantiled roof of the building with the arch is clear, but note also the flat-roofed building with a doorway, on the left, and then, behind it, another pantiled roof. These are the same buildings that are to be seen on the left of the painting.
The Old Brewery is currently unused. At some point the building with the archway shown in the painting was demolished, leaving only the rear wall standing. A lean-to shelter was then constructed, roofed with corrugated iron. The situation today is shown in the photographs below - the green sliding doors on the building on the right were installed when it was used as a garage.
YHS has a copy of another image (below) of the Old Brewery, as it once was. It was given to us by Francis Christie and drawn by 'J Thomson', who was obviously known to Francis. It is a slightly broader image and shows the thatched roofs of the houses that were demolished to makeway for Deanfield Bank, in the end one of which the Martin family lived.
Yetholm's Reading Room
During the nineteenth-century towns and villages throughout Britain clubbed together to create Reading Rooms - lending libraries - for the benefit of the community. Yetholm was no different. In nearby Donaldson's Lodge a small building was purpose built to house the community library. It is still standing, with a neat fireplace in one wall, but abandoned and strewn with rubbish. Yetholm, although a much bigger village, does not seem to have been as ambitious and its 'Reading Rooms' seem to have been peripatetic. At one point the books were housed in the house called Montana, next to Gibson's Garage. In it's latter years it seems to have been housed in the school, where it was managed by the redoubtable Tibbie Herbert. When it closed, and what happened to the books, is a mystery.
The poster shown above dates from 1910 and seems to mark an attempt to inject new life into the project. An account of the 'Conversazione' is given below (from the Southern Reporter, 27th October 1910). Dr Rodgers, who presides, gives some useful background information about the history of the Reading Room, although even he seems a little unsure about its origins.
It is interesting that gentlemen were charged a shilling to attend the ball, which followed the conversazione - while ladies got in free (and no children)!
Dr Rodgers lived in Romany House, which was built for him as a wedding present. Miss Downs, the pianist, was the schoolmistress at Mowhaugh. 'Miss Rebecca Downs' is listed as schoolmistress there in the 1903 Slater's Directory. She lived with her widowed mother. In 1917, in her mid-40s, she married William Tait, a farmer at Middleton Hall, near Wooler. At that time it was expected a married woman would not continue in work. When she duly left Mowhaugh she was presented with a 'handsome silver tea service' by members of the library based in the schoolhouse there. From the report of the event (Jedburgh Gazette 20th April 1917) we can see that she had for many years been secretary and treasurer of that remote Reading Room.
In many ways we are better informed about efforts at self-improvement at Mowhaugh than we are at Yetholm. In the 1870s, for example, the teacher (and poet) there, Mr Henry Telfer, established a 'Mutual Improvement Association'. Below are a couple of newspaper reports about his efforts. The first (Kelso Chronicle, 11th August 1871) gives us some idea of the kind of books which the Mowhaugh library contained, presumably similar to those on offer in Yetholm, while the second (Kelso Chronicle, 10th November 1871) suggests that, as with Yetholm, efforts to improve the intellects of locals did not always meet with total enthusiasm (especially when 'members had a long way to come' - by foot, over rough moorland!).
Hopefully the 'Conversazione' of 1910 was a convivial and successful event. All who have attended the ball have long since passed away, though we do - probably - have a picture of Mary Anne Rebecca Downs (1873-1950). Several photographs of the Mowhaugh School, with pupils and teacher, have survived, from the early decades of the twentieth century. The female teacher is nearly always shown with a pet pony, as in the image below, sometimes with a pupil perched on its back. It looks like Miss Downs, as well as encouraging reading and writing among the children of the Bowmont valley, liked to give her charges some fun as well.