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 ...
Yetholm History Society has now collected several hundred images of Yetholm thanks to the generosity of the many people who allowed us to scan their personal photographs or their postcard collections. It is remarkable how many postcards were produced showing Yetholm - and new ones are still regularly appearing. If you have any images that may be of interest to us, then we would be very grateful if you would get in touch. Thanks to modern technology postcards and photographs can be quickly scanned and the originals returned to you. Compared with the cumbersome process of taking, developing and storing images that was the norm throughout most of the twentieth century we are fortunate to have access to modern digital technology. However, it would be wrong to assume that photographs from the past are entirely honest - image manipulation took place from the beginning. The image above is from a colourised postcard dated 1906. It shows the road that leaves Town Yetholm for Morebattle. Sadly many of the trees that are shown had to be cut down after Dutch Elm Disease killed them off. Another version of the same postcard (undated) can be seen below. In this case the picture has been slightly cropped, removing the haystack (or 'pike' as it would have been called) and the individual who is shown standing in front of the gate has been carefully removed. Examination of the higher quality version of this edited image in our collection shows his ghostly presence is still just about visible, but why did anyone take the trouble to edit him out?
Every year, during Yetholm Festival week in June, the Stobs Stanes Rideout takes place - one of the most dramatic such rides in the Borders. Yetholm is perhaps the smallest community in the Borders to host such an event and it is often overshadowed by the grander affairs in Hawick or Selkirk. Nevertheless Yetholm's ride has a long pedigree. Records for the ride at Hawick go back to 1703, but other rides are much more recent, dating only from the twentieth century - Kelso (1937) and Jethart (1947). Yetholm's ride can traced back to at least 1847. The newspaper cutting shown above - from the London Standard, 5th November 1847 - describes the coronation of Charles Blyth as Gipsy King. The jocular tone of the article shows that even at this date Yetholm's coronation had become something of a pantomine. What is interesting, though, is that the coronation had been incorporated into the 'the day appointed for traversing the boundary of Yetholm Common'. Interesting, too, that the coronation took place at Stob Stanes - where 'his Majesty's head was anointed with whisky', as the account goes on to relate - where today's ride also pauses for a rather more sober ceremony. Yetholm Common, on the other side of Halterburn, had originally been in England and is shown as disputed ground on Roy's famous map of c.1750. It is clear that the folks of Kirk Yetholm were keen to assert their right to graze animals there and it may well be that a perambulation of its boundaries dated back well before 1847, very likely into the eighteenth century.
There is a puzzle, though, about this newspaper account. The coronation is described as the taking place on 'the day appointed for traversing the boundary of Yetholm Common'. and later there is a reference to the 'common riding'. However, Charles Blyth's coronation took place on the 25th October, which is rather late in the season for such festive occasions as a Common Riding. Recently a YHS member researching the records of Yetholm's Secession Church came upon a reference which may clarify the situation. In the Session minutes for 11th January 1848 two neighbours from Kirk Yetholm, John Hall and Thomas Mitchel, brought a disagreement before the session for arbitration. It appears that both men, while participating in 'what is called the Common Riding in the month of July last', fell out over a pile of lime that Hall was supposed to have taken from Mitchel without permission. Fortunately the Session was able to resolve the issue amicably, though their concluding remarks make it clear that they didn't think much of their members participating in the Common Riding: '[They] regretted very much that any of the parties, should in any way have engaged in the foolish affair in which the difference originated.'
It seems unlikely that there would have been two Common Ridings in 1847, one in July and the other in October. It seems probable, therefore, that the coronation was an entirely separate event, but that it utilized the familiar Common Riding route up to the Stob Stanes. Charles' predecessor William Faa II had died on the 29th September and it would appear the elevation of his succesor took place as soon as possible afterwards.
Whatever the case, these two records show that Yetholm's Common Riding can be dated back to at least 1847 - 170 years ago - and that the event took place in the summer months, as it does today.
YHS has a growing collection of audio recordings of people from Yetholm and the surrounding area. We have recently digitized a recording of Wull Eliot, born 1908, who was a shepherd from the age of twenty, at Hindhope, for over 50 years. The recording was made in Romany House, during the period in which it was an old folks home.
In 1956 Calum Iain Maclean visited Yetholm and recorded several hours of conversation with Charlie Douglas. Charlie and his brother Skaffy, of gipsy heritage, were well-known characters in Kirk Yetholm. Charlie was born in 1893 and could just remember the last gipsy coronation. The recordings are accesible on the Tobar an Dualchais website - HERE - enter 'Yetholm' into the search bar and all of the recordings with Charlie will be listed. A typical conversation can he found HERE - in this case Charlie describes how whisky was smuggled over the border using pig's bladders. Charlie was a truely dreadful singer - as you will discover if you listen to his rendering of The Scottish Emigrants Farewell - HERE.
Andrew Thompson was born in Yetholm in 1773, the son of a weaver. He spent the first sixteen years of his life in our village, but in 1791 was transported to Australia for stealing some cloth. He was pardoned in 1798 and became a leading emancipist, a highly respected land owner and prosperous businessman, operating a store in the new village Green Hills (now Windsor) from 1799. In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Thompson magistrate for the Hawkesbury district, the first freed convict to hold this office. Many people emigrated from Yetholm in the nineteenth century, but it is Andrew Thompson, a transported convict, who became one of the most successful emigrants and who features in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography as a prominent figure in Australia's early colonial history.
This is not the place to go into details about Thompson’s life – hopefully he will feature prominently in a future YHS exhibition on Yetholm’s diaspora. The reason for this post is that Thompson Square in Green Hills, named after Andrew and where he both lived and operated his store (the dot in the picture from 1803 shows Thompson’s house/store), is under threat of demolition in order to construct a new bridge and three-lane highway. YHS has been approached by the group which is campaigning against this. They would be grateful if members would sign their online petition, which can be found HERE. If you want to know more about their campaign and about Thompson himself then please visit their website – HERE. Please take some time to protest against this wanton act of destruction of one of the oldest public squares in Australia and which is notable for the large number of Colonial Georgian buildings which surround it.
This Year's Border Shepherds Show was blessed with sunny weather and large crowds. Many folks visited the History Society stall and over 80 people bought a copy of Yetholm Past & Present; A Walking Guide, which was launched on that day. If you are interested in buying a copy, they can be found at both the Village Shop and Valley Meats in Town Yetholm - or email the society directly via our contact page. At only £5 the book is a bargain - and makes an ideal Christmas gift!
The photo shows members Margaret Rustad and Dorothy Sharpe busily at work on the stall.
Yetholm History Society will have a stall at this year's Border Shepherd's Show, which will take place on the Venchen Haugh, Town Yetholm, on Saturday 7th October. We will be launching our latest book Yetholm Past and Present - A Walking Guide at the event. Also on sale will be prints and postcards of Janet Canning's wonderful illustrations, which are used throughout the book. For more details ofYetholm Past and Present see the Publications section of the website. We will also be selling copies of the DVD Yetholm - the Finest Place and Graeme Watson's book The Last of the Wandering Minstrels, a selection of poetry by Robert Grey, the nineteenth century vagabond poet, who hailed from yetholm and always referred to himself as 'the Yetholm Poet'. If you are coming to the show, make sure you check out our stall.