YHS are privileged to have been given by Robbie Blacklock of Kirk Yetholm a neatly typed collection of poetry by his ancestor Thomas Davidson. Davidson is a fascinating character. Born to a Scottish Shepherd’s family in 1840 in the remote cottage of Yearning Hall, Alwinton, Nothumberland, he actually spent most of his early life at Cocklawfoot in the Bowmont valley. In the early 1860s the Revd John Coventry came to Yetholm as the Free Church minister and a led an evangelical mission in the valley. Davidson, an athletic young man, who frequently triumped in wrestling competitions all around the Borders, was one of the young shepherds in the area who were profoundly affected by Coventry’s work. He is almost certainly one of the men referred to in the following newspaper article:
YETHOLM. —On Tuesday evening last, meeting was held in the Free Church here, the Rev. John Coventry, minister of the congregation presiding... In spite of the festivities of Fastern's Eve (an English festival, Shrove Tuesday, which has crept across the Border), there was a numerous attendance, chiefly of those interested in the late religious awakening. The work at Yetholm … has stood the test of time well. … The faithful, earnest addresses of the speakers wore listened to with deep attention, and were well calculated to do good. An interesting feature of the meeting was the presence of a band of shepherds from the Cheviots, some of whom used to be the chief competitors and victors at the Yetholm, Kelso, and all the Border games, but who have now been brought under the power the truth. They stayed after the meeting to thank their visitors for their coming so far. Several of the gipsies who had been converted and are walking in newness of life were also present. Daily Review - Monday 23 February 1863.
His father died after the 1861 census and his brother William took over at Cocklawfoot (in the 1881-1901 Censuses brother William is the shepherd at Halterburnhead). Thomas married a girl from Perthshire and by 1871 had moved to Cheshire, where he worked as a shepherd – he spent the rest of his life there, dying in 1915. His obituary appeared in a local paper:
DEATH OF MR. THOMAS DAVIDSON.—We have to record with regret the death of Mr. Thomas Davidson, aged 75, this village, which took place Sunday week after a painful illness extending over six months. Mr. Davidson was a native of Roxburghshire, Scotland, and came to about 50 years ago farm bailiff to the late Mr. Reginald Ratcliffe, of the Oaks, and was closely associated with that gentleman in the great evangelical work conducted by him the district. He greatly interested himself in the welfare of the young men of the neighbourhood, and at that time held night school for boys in the Presbyterian Hall, which was then also used a day school. Mr. Davidson was some 25 years ago correspondent for “The Chronicle,’’ and for many years was also contributor in the Poets’ Corner of this paper. As stated, he was a patient sufferer during the last few months his life. He was held in much esteem by all in the district. The interment took place at on Thursday week. The Rev. A. E. Cooper officiated.
He obviously loved writing poetry, mainly concerned with his spiritual experience. He kept in touch with his Scottish relatives and typed up his poems to present to them partly, no doubt, as a witness to his faith. The copy we have been given belonged to James Newlands (born 1872), shepherd at Yeavering in Northumberland – his mother was a Isabella Davidson (1844), the sister of Thomas Davidson. Davidson is an able versifier and his poem on the death of his daughter (one of two children, who died as a young woman) is particularly moving. We give here his poem on a water crow (dipper) as these birds are so characteristic of the Bowmont valley. Their blackbird-like song in the midst of (often snowy) winter is always a memorable experience. For Davidson the water crow, 'song-glad, all alone' in the middle of bleak winter, is an emblem of the Christian, who can sing joyfully, unthreatened by the darkness of sin