A Wartime Christmas Mystery

World War One Christmas CardWhen searching our collections for ‘Christmassy’ materials I was delighted to stumble upon a World War One Christmas card. The cover features five kilted soldiers gathered round a fire. A tartan bow adds a little festive flair to the austerity of the black and white image. But what really drew me to the card were the signatures inside it. While normally cards are signed by families and sent to friends but, this card was signed by soldiers and sent to a commanding officer. War altered the normality of life, taking over every part of it, even Christmas. I immediately wanted to know more about these men. I began a mission to find them.cc-interior-4

The card provided a wealth of information on the men. I had not only their names, but their ranks, the abbreviations of which had been included under their names. The inside of the card read “from Sergeants of ‘D’ coy”, so I knew they were in D company. The outside of the card proudly declares ‘Dandy Ninth’, which was the nickname of the Ninth Battalion of the Royal Scots. They were called ‘dandy’ as they were the only kilted lowland regiment, being based in Edinburgh. The inclusion of a tartan ribbon and the image of kilted soldiers display their pride in this fact. With all these facts I thought it would be easy to find them.

A key obstacle to finding these men was their hand writing. Some had a good clear hand such as G.C. Vallance, whose name can be clearly read. Others were more difficult to make out. I had particular difficulty reading this name:

Close up of signature

 Jasluluoueul? James Monueul? It was passed around the office and guesses were made, Google searches were attempted, Scottishhandwritting.com was consulted, and we could not find the answer. At last it was decided to crowdsource a translation. We took to Twitter and within the hour we had an answer!

Can you guess it….

 

 

James M. Moncur, whose loopy M’s look like ‘lu’. He was harder to find as he did not remain a Lance Sergeant in the 9th Battalion but obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 8th Battalion. But thanks to the kind folks on Twitter, it was possible to find his name and military record. Unfortunately, his story had a sad ending; he was killed in action in 17th April 1917 at age 24. He was not the only one of the ten to not make it home from the war.

William Goodfellow died in action 4 days later on 23rd April 1917, both are buried at Arras, about 10 kilometres apart. G C Vallance died the year previously on 23rd July 1916 and J F Wilson died the year after on the 7th August 1918.

The remaining six sergeants have been harder to find. My main source from searching for these men was the commonwealth war graves commission; this made it easier to find men who were killed in action. I hope my difficultly finding the remaining six means they survived the war and made it home.

If anyone knows the fate of any of these men they will share it with us in comment or @sallycarchives on Twitter. Their names are listed below:

Christmas Card Signatures

Christmas Card Signatures

D S Anderson, Sergeant

R Dalgleish, Sergeant

J Donald, Sergeant

A J Macdonald, Sergeant

J Ward, Sergeant

W Forsyth, Sergeant

Fala and the Roosevelts: a mysterious connection

Having just started as the archives trainee for Midlothian Council Archives, I am lucky enough to have spent most of the first few weeks of my traineeship exploring the archives varied holdings. I have found a myriad of amazing things but none as surprising as a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt!

fala-letter-small

The letter was hidden amongst other correspondence in a file in our Fala and Soutra Collection. This collection was donated to us by Jean Blades (née Waterston), a keen local historian and the Fala, Soutra and District History and Heritage Society, an organisation Mrs Blades helped to establish. I was intrigued by how a letter from the first lady ended up in a local history collection about a small parish in Midlothian Scotland.

The letter was sent to Revered Daniel Blades, husband of Jean and minister for Fala and Soutra Parish by a G.C. Hunter. Hunter and Blades were corresponding about local families and the history of the Fala parish. Mr Hunter writes, “you probably read in the newspapers regarding Fala, the dog which for many years was the companion of the late president Roosevelt. I wrote to Mrs Roosevelt asking why her late husband called his dog Fala and I enclose her original reply date 22nd April.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala

I had never heard of Fala, the faithful canine companion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Fala was a favourite of the press and the public. He was called the most photographed dog in the world and stories about him and his antics often made it into the press. It was even alleged during the 1944 Presidential campaign that President Roosevelt once left Fala behind on a presidential trip and sent by a Navy ship to collect him, at the expense of the American tax payers. President Roosevelt responded to these accusations in humorous speech:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Eleanor and Fala

Fala outlived his beloved owner, passing away on April 7th 1952 only a few weeks before Eleanor penned her response to Hunter. It is likely that Fala’s death prompted Hunters curiosity about why the President seemed to have named his dog of after a small Midlothian town. Mrs Roosevelt’s reply is short but friendly. She explains that Fala’s full name was Murray of Fala Hill and he was named for an ancestor of her husband.

Hunter voices surprise that President Roosevelt had Scottish ancestors, but the President must have been proud of his Scottish connection to use the name for his beloved dog. Roosevelt’s great- great- great-grandfather on his mother’s side was James Murray, a Scot from Selkirkshire who moved to America in 1735; other sources claim Fala was named for an ancestor who was an outlaw. This could be John Murray of Fala Hill, from the Borders ballad ‘The Outlaw Murray’. Fala Hill sits just outside Midlothian in the Scottish borders, not that far from the parish of Fala and Soutra but also not far from Selkirkshire.  It is possible that James Murray was an ancestor of John Murray the Outlaw as they were from a similar part of Scotland, though Murray is a common Scottish surname. Perhaps President Roosevelt’s imagination was captured by the ballad of Outlaw Murrays daring deeds.

Roosevelt seems to have shared Revered Blades’ and G.C. Hunter’s interest in family history. Their shared passion resulted in this strange connection between a small local history collection and the President of the United States of America.

An ‘Enlightened’ Archaeology Fortnight!!

Well that’s it folks, another year, another two weeks of East Lothian Archaeology & Local History Fortnight over, and what a glorious two weeks it has been!

We finished up almost on a similar theme to how we started, thinking about East Lothian during that creative period of Scottish history, The Age of Enlightenment. We heard about the role that East Lothian played during the 18th century, its battles of rebellion, grand house-building, and the cutting edge of agricultural improvement, and then actually went out ‘into the field’ and saw how these changes played out in terms of East Lothian’s landscape and its architecture.

Discovering Saltoun Hall Designed Landscape

Discovering Saltoun Hall Designed Landscape

Beautiful Balgone Estate

Exploring the beautiful Balgone Estate

Across the fortnight, there has been a huge range of other walks, talks, exhibitions and events, showcasing the many fascinating, but often little-known aspects of East Lothian’s rich and varied heritage. From the turbulent and important medieval past of the now sleepy hamlet of Morham, to the history of the seven bridges of Musselburgh, through to the excavations at Dirleton Paddock dig, we’ve been entertained, engaged, and most certainly ‘enlightened’ throughout the last two weeks! What has also been apparent, is how well the combination of talking and thinking about some of these subjects marries with the getting out and about, walking around and seeing things for yourself-and even better if both activities can be combined with tea, coffee and some good old homemade cake!

Delving into early medieval evidence at Morham Church

Delving into early medieval evidence at Morham Church

Contemplating some later prehistoric 'grand-designs' - North Berwick Law hillfort...!

Contemplating some later prehistoric ‘grand-designs’ – North Berwick Law hillfort!

From all of us here at the Archaeology Service, we’d like to say, once again, a big thank you to all the individuals, societies and local groups who contributed to this year’s fortnight. We are hugely grateful for all your hard work and continuing support, and we are looking forward to next September already! Bring it on!

If you are beginning to pine for the joy of sharing all things archaeology and history-related, fear not! Our annual Edinburgh, Lothians & Borders Archaeology Conference is just around the corner waiting to say hello in November, so do come along to what promises to be another ‘enlightening’ day packed full of great talks-just click on the link here for further information! www.eastlothian.gov.uk/archaeologyconf2016

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Memories of Haddington’s Nungate & Afternoon Tea

This year Haddington History Society has been working on a project recording memories of people who were brought up or lived in Haddington’s Nungate, and copies of the interviews have been deposited here at the John Gray Centre.   Perhaps the most striking thing that comes across is the strong sense of community associated with the Nungate.   People have happy memories of growing up– it was a tough place to grow up, but it was also a great place.

The Nungate was and still is a close-knit community with a strong sense of identity, set apart from Haddington. Indeed Nungate and Giffordgate was a separate barony and until recent times it was the custom for a Nungate Baillie to be elected to the Town Council to represent the interests of the people.

 

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The village was separated from Haddington by the picturesque Nungate Bridge, thought to be one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. For centuries the bridge was the only means by which wheeled traffic could cross the Tyne at Haddington, unless by the Ford at the Sands. Carrying one of the main routes into Scotland, it was at the mercy of invading armies and was severely damaged during the siege of Haddington in 1548.

John Martine in his Reminiscences of The Royal Burgh of Haddington, first published in the 1880s writes: “The Nungate Bridge has been the scene of many a ‘bicker’ between the Haddington and Nungate boys, especially during the time of a snow-storm”. The rivalry between the ‘Nungate boys’ and the ‘Haddington boys’ was still evident in the 1930s and 1940s (and much later) when many of those interviewed for the project were growing up – “there were often wee bits of scraps”.  The boys from the Nungate were identifiable by their tackety boots while the ‘townies’ wore shoes.  The Nungate boys often felt that they were looked down on by the Haddington boys on the other side of the river.  One interviewee clearly remembers walking up to his granny’s house in Haddington when boys playing football stopped their game: “lift the ball, lift the ball, here’s somebody from the Nungate”.

 

Perhaps these attitudes stemmed from the fact that many of the original inhabitants of the Nungate appeared to come from hawkers and travelling people who settled there. The hawkers sold goods which they made themselves but many people were wary of them.  There were also lodging houses which provided homes for labourers, many from Ireland, and although these men were hardworking people, even the Nungate boys were scared of them:“We used to come back from school and we came over the old Nungate Bridge and once we got near the lodging house we used to run like the clappers and get away past them”.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

 

But it was this itinerant community which gave the Nungate something else which made it such a close-knit community, it’s own kind of language known as ‘the Cant’. The Cant is the jargon of the Scottish travelling people and it spread easily into the Nungate.  Some of the words are still in use today, here are just a few examples.  A gourie or gadgie was a man and “If you were a fine chappie you were a bari gadgie”.  A manishie was a  girl or woman; guddies were sweeties; the word for pollce was stardie and yerrackan was an Irishman.

The children from the Nungate crossed the bridge to go to school in Haddington but otherwise the village was quite self sufficient with it’s own pub – The Golf Tavern or the Long Bar, and several shops. One shop keeper everyone remembers was Lizzie Barrie.  Quite a character Lizzie would use  a hooked stick to bring down the items her customers requested from the higher shelves, she never missed.

 

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

To find out more about the Nungate Memories project why not come along to our Family History Day here at the John Gray Centre, Haddington on Saturday 10th September.  We have a full programme of events including children’s activities .  Between 2pm and 3.30pm we are holding an Afternoon Tea where there will be a chance to view our Nungate Memoryscape  – a short film made up of Nungate memories and photographs from our collections.  East Lothian Shorts – film footage of East Lothian from our collections – will also be screened.  Tickets for Afternoon Tea are £2 (all proceeds go to the Sick Kids Hospital) and should be bought in advance from the John Gray Centre, or contact the Archive and Local History team on 01620 820695 or history@eastlothian.gov.uk  to reserve your tickets.

A big thank you to Haddington History Society and all the people who have been interviewed for the project. The History Society is keen to interview more people about their memories of the Nungate, especially women.  If you can help please contact the Archive and Local History Centre.

 

 

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Memories of Haddington’s Nungate & Afternoon Tea

This year Haddington History Society has been working on a project recording memories of people who were brought up or lived in Haddington’s Nungate, and copies of the interviews have been deposited here at the John Gray Centre.   Perhaps the most striking thing that comes across is the strong sense of community associated with the Nungate.   People have happy memories of growing up– it was a tough place to grow up, but it was also a great place.

The Nungate was and still is a close-knit community with a strong sense of identity, set apart from Haddington. Indeed Nungate and Giffordgate was a separate barony and until recent times it was the custom for a Nungate Baillie to be elected to the Town Council to represent the interests of the people.

 

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The village was separated from Haddington by the picturesque Nungate Bridge, thought to be one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. For centuries the bridge was the only means by which wheeled traffic could cross the Tyne at Haddington, unless by the Ford at the Sands. Carrying one of the main routes into Scotland, it was at the mercy of invading armies and was severely damaged during the siege of Haddington in 1548.

John Martine in his Reminiscences of The Royal Burgh of Haddington, first published in the 1880s writes: “The Nungate Bridge has been the scene of many a ‘bicker’ between the Haddington and Nungate boys, especially during the time of a snow-storm”. The rivalry between the ‘Nungate boys’ and the ‘Haddington boys’ was still evident in the 1930s and 1940s (and much later) when many of those interviewed for the project were growing up – “there were often wee bits of scraps”.  The boys from the Nungate were identifiable by their tackety boots while the ‘townies’ wore shoes.  The Nungate boys often felt that they were looked down on by the Haddington boys on the other side of the river.  One interviewee clearly remembers walking up to his granny’s house in Haddington when boys playing football stopped their game: “lift the ball, lift the ball, here’s somebody from the Nungate”.

 

Perhaps these attitudes stemmed from the fact that many of the original inhabitants of the Nungate appeared to come from hawkers and travelling people who settled there. The hawkers sold goods which they made themselves but many people were wary of them.  There were also lodging houses which provided homes for labourers, many from Ireland, and although these men were hardworking people, even the Nungate boys were scared of them:“We used to come back from school and we came over the old Nungate Bridge and once we got near the lodging house we used to run like the clappers and get away past them”.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

 

But it was this itinerant community which gave the Nungate something else which made it such a close-knit community, it’s own kind of language known as ‘the Cant’. The Cant is the jargon of the Scottish travelling people and it spread easily into the Nungate.  Some of the words are still in use today, here are just a few examples.  A gourie or gadgie was a man and “If you were a fine chappie you were a bari gadgie”.  A manishie was a  girl or woman; guddies were sweeties; the word for pollce was stardie and yerrackan was an Irishman.

The children from the Nungate crossed the bridge to go to school in Haddington but otherwise the village was quite self sufficient with it’s own pub – The Golf Tavern or the Long Bar, and several shops. One shop keeper everyone remembers was Lizzie Barrie.  Quite a character Lizzie would use  a hooked stick to bring down the items her customers requested from the higher shelves, she never missed.

 

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

To find out more about the Nungate Memories project why not come along to our Family History Day here at the John Gray Centre, Haddington on Saturday 10th September.  We have a full programme of events including children’s activities .  Between 2pm and 3.30pm we are holding an Afternoon Tea where there will be a chance to view our Nungate Memoryscape  – a short film made up of Nungate memories and photographs from our collections.  East Lothian Shorts – film footage of East Lothian from our collections – will also be screened.  Tickets for Afternoon Tea are £2 (all proceeds go to the Sick Kids Hospital) and should be bought in advance from the John Gray Centre, or contact the Archive and Local History team on 01620 820695 or history@eastlothian.gov.uk  to reserve your tickets.

A big thank you to Haddington History Society and all the people who have been interviewed for the project. The History Society is keen to interview more people about their memories of the Nungate, especially women.  If you can help please contact the Archive and Local History Centre.

 

 

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Memories of Haddington’s Nungate & Afternoon Tea

This year Haddington History Society has been working on a project recording memories of people who were brought up or lived in Haddington’s Nungate, and copies of the interviews have been deposited here at the John Gray Centre.   Perhaps the most striking thing that comes across is the strong sense of community associated with the Nungate.   People have happy memories of growing up– it was a tough place to grow up, but it was also a great place.

The Nungate was and still is a close-knit community with a strong sense of identity, set apart from Haddington. Indeed Nungate and Giffordgate was a separate barony and until recent times it was the custom for a Nungate Baillie to be elected to the Town Council to represent the interests of the people.

 

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The Nungate Bridge, c1900s

The village was separated from Haddington by the picturesque Nungate Bridge, thought to be one of the oldest bridges in Scotland. For centuries the bridge was the only means by which wheeled traffic could cross the Tyne at Haddington, unless by the Ford at the Sands. Carrying one of the main routes into Scotland, it was at the mercy of invading armies and was severely damaged during the siege of Haddington in 1548.

John Martine in his Reminiscences of The Royal Burgh of Haddington, first published in the 1880s writes: “The Nungate Bridge has been the scene of many a ‘bicker’ between the Haddington and Nungate boys, especially during the time of a snow-storm”. The rivalry between the ‘Nungate boys’ and the ‘Haddington boys’ was still evident in the 1930s and 1940s (and much later) when many of those interviewed for the project were growing up – “there were often wee bits of scraps”.  The boys from the Nungate were identifiable by their tackety boots while the ‘townies’ wore shoes.  The Nungate boys often felt that they were looked down on by the Haddington boys on the other side of the river.  One interviewee clearly remembers walking up to his granny’s house in Haddington when boys playing football stopped their game: “lift the ball, lift the ball, here’s somebody from the Nungate”.

 

Perhaps these attitudes stemmed from the fact that many of the original inhabitants of the Nungate appeared to come from hawkers and travelling people who settled there. The hawkers sold goods which they made themselves but many people were wary of them.  There were also lodging houses which provided homes for labourers, many from Ireland, and although these men were hardworking people, even the Nungate boys were scared of them:“We used to come back from school and we came over the old Nungate Bridge and once we got near the lodging house we used to run like the clappers and get away past them”.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

Painting by Thomas Todrick looking East from Nungate Bridge. The tall roof marks one of the lodging houses.

 

But it was this itinerant community which gave the Nungate something else which made it such a close-knit community, it’s own kind of language known as ‘the Cant’. The Cant is the jargon of the Scottish travelling people and it spread easily into the Nungate.  Some of the words are still in use today, here are just a few examples.  A gourie or gadgie was a man and “If you were a fine chappie you were a bari gadgie”.  A manishie was a  girl or woman; guddies were sweeties; the word for pollce was stardie and yerrackan was an Irishman.

The children from the Nungate crossed the bridge to go to school in Haddington but otherwise the village was quite self sufficient with it’s own pub – The Golf Tavern or the Long Bar, and several shops. One shop keeper everyone remembers was Lizzie Barrie.  Quite a character Lizzie would use  a hooked stick to bring down the items her customers requested from the higher shelves, she never missed.

 

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

Lizzie Barrie outside her shop

To find out more about the Nungate Memories project why not come along to our Family History Day here at the John Gray Centre, Haddington on Saturday 10th September.  We have a full programme of events including children’s activities .  Between 2pm and 3.30pm we are holding an Afternoon Tea where there will be a chance to view our Nungate Memoryscape  – a short film made up of Nungate memories and photographs from our collections.  East Lothian Shorts – film footage of East Lothian from our collections – will also be screened.  Tickets for Afternoon Tea are £2 (all proceeds go to the Sick Kids Hospital) and should be bought in advance from the John Gray Centre, or contact the Archive and Local History team on 01620 820695 or history@eastlothian.gov.uk  to reserve your tickets.

A big thank you to Haddington History Society and all the people who have been interviewed for the project. The History Society is keen to interview more people about their memories of the Nungate, especially women.  If you can help please contact the Archive and Local History Centre.

 

 

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Olympics Fever!

This year, the 2016 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between 5 and 21 August – the first summer games ever to be held in South America. These international games, organised by the International Olympic Committee, occur every four years and were first held in Athens in 1896.  Out of the 18 countries that have hosted the Summer Olympics over the years, Great Britain has hosted the Games three times, the most recent being in London in 2012.

Origins of the Musselburgh Arrow, written in 1726

Origins of the Musselburgh Arrow, written in 1726

East Lothian itself has a long history of sporting tradition, most notably in terms of golf and

Royal Company of Archers, 30 July 1964

Royal Company of Archers, 30 July 1964

archery, which have been established for centuries. Others sports include bowling, curling, boxing and horse racing, to name but a few.  The county is home to the oldest sporting competition in the world, The Silver Musselburgh Arrow, the first arrow having being shot in 1603.  Every year since 1713, members of The Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard in Scotland, have shot for the Musselburgh Silver Arrow.  The existing trophy is a replacement for the Musselburgh Small Arrow and the sport of archery is still followed in the county.

 

East Lothian also claims what is thought to be the oldest golf club in the world and the oldest on which play has been continuous, Musselburgh Links. It is reputed that Mary, Queen of Scots herself played here in 1567.  Although St. Andrews is commonly thought to be the home of golf, East Lothian and, in particular, Musselburgh, certainly give St. Andrews a run for its money!  For instance, the rules of the Honourable Company of Golfers were drawn up in 1744, a good 10 years before any golf club at St. Andrews was established.  In 1829, a hole-cutter was acquired for Musselburgh Links Golf course which set the standard for the size of the putting hole used today.  Interestingly, there are also reports that the Musselburgh Fishwives played golf as early as 1791, long before it was a fashionable pastime for women.  Indeed, the world’s first recorded women’s tournament took place in Musselburgh in 1811.

Start of a race at Musselburgh Racecourse, c. 1985

Start of a race at Musselburgh Racecourse, c. 1985

Musselburgh, of course, is also well-known for its horse-racing and Musselburgh Racecourse is one of the town’s most famous attractions. Horse-racing has a long history in the town with The Royal Caledonian Hunt’s first races taking place in 1777.  The Racecourse forms part of Musselburgh Links which includes and was built around the golf course in 1816. Horse-racing has taken place at the Racecourse for 200 years and today boasts over 20 races a year, over both flat and jumps.

Members of Haddington Bowling Club, c. 1920

Members of Haddington Bowling Club, c. 1920

Another claim to fame comes in the form of Haddington Bowling Club, the oldest of its kind in Scotland. Haddington had its green in the 1660s, subsequently moving in 1749 to a site on the west bank of the River Tyne, near the Nungate Bridge.  The foundation of the Haddington Club in 1709 was considered by some to mark the beginnings of the modern sport.  The East Lothian Bowling Association was founded in 1883 when 11 clubs joined together to become founder members.  Lawn bowling has continued to remain a popular pastime and, over the years, a number of East Lothian bowlers have competed at various levels, most notably perhaps, Willie Wood.  Amongst his achievements are two Commonwealth Games gold medals, two World Bowls Championship runner-up medals, as well as a 2007 induction into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

East Lothian has produced more than its fair share of champion sportspersons, including golfers, footballers, rugby players and numerous other athletes. Catriona Matthews, who learned to play golf on the Children’s Course and North Berwick West Links, is due to compete in the forthcoming games in Rio.  Let the countdown to Rio 2016 commence and good luck to all the competitors!

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It’s A’ Oor Ain Riding of the Marches!

The first documentation of Musselburgh’s ancient ceremony can be found in the Town Council Minutes on the 16th of October 1682. Earlier written records of the event held by the council were destroyed in a fire at the Town House in 1544.

Council Minutes Oct 1682 Riding of the Marches

1682 Council Minutes

It is thought that the ceremony could date further back to the granting of Musselburgh’s first charter in 1124 from David I. The marches or common ridings are believed to have started as a religious pilgrimage following a route of crosses. The reformation and continuous conflicts between the Scottish and English borders changed the nature of the religious processions to civic ceremonies. The church which could no longer offer its protection to the townsfolk, common land and property led to opportunist barons and lords posing a threat to the boundaries with their small but intimidating armies. Thieving neighbouring landowners also took advantage of lost and overgrown markers by adjusting boundaries.

1893 Riding of the Marches

1893 Riding of the Marches

In response every twenty one years the local lord would appoint a townsperson to ride out to reinforce the rights of the townsfolk and inspect the boundaries or ‘Marches’. The appointed Turf Cutter protected by the town champion would be followed by an entourage of squires, town officers, magistrates, councillors, burgesses, seven trades, townsfolk and piper. Marking out the boundary stones by announcing their claim the Turf Cutter would ride out and cut a piece of turf from the ground. This action was an important ritual of the ancient ceremony of Sassine. At twelve locations along the route the turf was cast over his shoulder and at each marker he cried out “It’s A ‘Oor Ain!”. This custom has barely changed since 1682.

Early records describe the procession of 1732 in which a dispute took place between the weavers and tailors over the order of precedence in the parade. The weavers won the argument but were subsequently beaten by the butchers who took sides with the tailors.

1893 Riding of the marches

1893 Riding of the Marches

The First World War saw a break in tradition with the 1914 event being cancelled. In 1919 a ‘Peace Riding’ celebrated the victorious end of the war and remembrance of the fallen. From 1919 the procession became its current weeklong event. In 1935 the celebration took place alongside the Silver Jubilee of George V. The ceremony was said to be the “greatest Riding of the Marches ever”. The success of the 1935 riding saw the creation of The Honest Toun’s Association.

Riding of the Marches decorations on shop front 1935

Decorations on shop front 1935 Riding of the Marches

 
In 1956 a special ceremony took place in which the Queen Mother presented the Turf Cutter with a ceremonial spade and witnessed the digging of the turf. The local government re-organisation threatened the future of the event when the Musselburgh Town council was replaced by East Lothian District council in 1975. This was not to be as the importance of the event was clear to all principles and burgh Councillors who has witnessed previous events and experienced the benefits to the community and its historical importance. From this welcome decision this wonderful display of Musselburgh’s ancient heritage remains today.

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Let’s Celebrate West Barns!

JGC Friends&Volunteers

JGC Friends&Volunteers

Launched on 4th October 2015, the Story of West Barns is on display at the John Gray Centre until October 2016. The mini-exhibition was created by a group of volunteers and coordinated by Ola Wojtkiewicz, John Gray Centre Development Officer. Some fascinating history of West Barns and links to photographs and oral history recording are available on the John Gray Centre website.[ http://www.johngraycentre.org/learning/projects/past-projects/the-story-of-west-barns/ and http://www.johngraycentre.org/2015/08/25/story-west-barns/]

On the day of the launch, almost 50 participants enjoyed a presentation on some of the highlights of the history of West Barns. Explanation was given on the objects chosen for display and more information was provided on the oral history project. Of special note was a commemorative silver key which was presented to Mrs St. Clair Cunningham, in 1901, at the opening of West Barns Village Hall, originally a purpose built Reading Room.

There was an impressive turn out of West Barns residents in the audience and attendees were invited to contribute further stories on memories of the village to the John Gray Centre Facebook page. Specially commissioned poems were read by Lesley-May Miller and Ruth Gilchrist of The Dunbar Writers. Music was provided by Karen Dietz and Richard Klein.[ http://www.johngraycentre.org/learning/projects/past-projects/the-story-of-west-barns/poems-west-barns/]

Archives Photographs from West Barns

Archives Photographs from West Barns

 

LesleyMay Miller and Ruth Gillchrist reading poems inspiered by West Barns' past

LesleyMay Miller and Ruth Gillchrist reading poems inspiered by West Barns’ past

 

Music by Karen Dietz and Richard Klein

Music by Karen Dietz and Richard Klein

As part of a varied events programme associated with the exhibition, Ola Wojtkiewicz has given a talk on West Barns’ past to The Sunshine Club for older people in Dunbar and surrounding villages. She has also visited West Barns Primary School to discuss the role of the village hall in the community and the importance of learning about local heritage with the children.

The new year will see a number of further events connected to the Story of West Barns including a creative writing workshop on 26th January inspired by local history and led by writer, Helen Boden (£7 or £5concession). On the same day, there will also be a book making activity with artist, Lindsey Hamilton (£7 or £5 concession). Free tours of the exhibition can be provided if booked in advance. On 5th February, there will be a talk and reminiscence session at West Barns Village Hall (free of charge). To book for events e-mail owojkiewicz@eastlothian.gov.uk or telephone 01620 820617.

JGC Personal Viewing Case with West Barns display

JGC Personal Viewing Case with West Barns display

The Story of West Barns

The Story of West Barns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Davies (volunteer)

 

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