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.