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Town Yetholm

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2016.

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Yetholm (12th c. Yetham or Jetham, `hamlet at the gate or passage ' between England and Scotland), a Border village and parish of NE Roxburghshire. The village, lying 378 feet above sea-level, consists of two parts - Town-Yetholm, on the left, and Kirk-Yetholm, 3 furlongs to the E, on the right, bank of Bowmont Water, which here is spanned by a stone three-arch bridge, built in 1834. Town-Yetholm is 7 ½ miles SE of Kelso, and Kirk-Yetholm 1 3/8 mile SW of the English Border; and each is a burgh of barony, the former under Wauchope of Niddrie-Marischall, and the latter under the Marquess of Tweeddale. Of Kirk-Yetholm's two sheep-fairs (27 June and 24 Oct.), and Town Yetholm's lamb fair (second Wednesday of July), only the first retains any importance; and a weekly market, formerly held at Town-Yetholm, has long been discontinued. The football match, too, and games on Fastern E'en (Shrove Tuesday) have lost much of their ancient celebrity; and the smuggling of whisky across the Border was almost extinct so long ago as 1835. Once it engaged a fifth of the villagers, and the whisky sold from Yetholm into England had a value of from £10, 000 to £20, 000 a year. There are a post office under Kelso, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a water supply of 1858, a curling club, and a horticultural society. Pop. of entire village (1841) 944, (1861) 902, (1871) 796, (1881) 746. Edward I. spent two days at Yetholm in 1304 on his way back to England; and Douglas is said to have made the kirk his rendezvous before the battle of Otterburn (1388); whilst many of the Scottish nobles who fell at Flodden (1513) are believed to have been brought 6 miles for burial in the kirkyard, as the nearest consecrated ground in Scotland. A later tradition tells how in 1745 a small party of Highlanders, adherents of Bonny Prince Charlie, marched through the parish and village, up Bowmont Water, to Earl in Northumberland. But Kirk-Yetholm's chief interest is that from time immemorial it has been the headquarters of the Scottish Gipsies. The date of their settlement here is as hard to fix as that of the first arrival of Gipsies in Scotland. The earliest certain mention of them within the realm is an entry in the books of the Lord High Treasurer: `Apr. 22, 1505. - Item to the Egyptianis, be the kingis command, vij lib.;' and on 5 July of that same year James IV. gave Anthonius Gagino, Count of Little Egypt, a letter of commendation to the King of Denmark. But the `overliers and masterful beggars,' described in an Act of 1449 as going about the country with `horses, hundes, and uther gudes,' were probably Gipsies; and we find an early tradition of Gipsies or `Saracens' infesting Galloway prior to 1460. (See Kirkcudbright.) In 1540 James V. subscribed a writ in favour of `oure louit Johnne Faw, lord and erle of Litill Egipt;' and the Faws or Faas would seem to have been the first Gipsy settlers here, some longish time before 1669, if the Falls of Dunbar were really a branch of the Faas of Kirk-Yetholm. Jean Gordon, again, the prototype of Scott's `Meg Merrilees,' appears to have been a native of the place; and as she was quite an old woman when, at Carlisle, soon after the year 1746, she was ducked to death in the Eden, there must have been Gipsies in Yetholm earlier than 1695 or 1715 - the dates of their first settlement, according to different authorities. Old Will Faa, the first Gipsy King that we hear of, died at Coldingham in 1783 or 1784; and ` his corpse was escorted to Yetholm by more than 300 asses., He was succeeded by his eldest son, William; he, in 1847, by his sister's son, Charles Blythe; and he, in 1861, by his daughter, Esther Faa Blythe, who, dying at Kelso in July 1883, was buried at Yetholm in presence of a large multitude. A canny old body, but with little of the Romani in face or language, she described KirkYetholm as `sae mingle-mangle that ane micht think it was either built on a dark nicht or sawn on a windy ane - the inhabitants maistly Irish, and nane o' her seed, breed, and generation.' And she was right, for to-day in the `Gipsy toun ' there are no true Gipsies. The parish is bounded NW, for 2 3/8 miles, by Linton; NE and E, for 6 5/8 miles, by Northumberland; SW and W, for 5 7/8 miles, by Morebattle. Its utmost length, from NNW to SSE, is 5 3/8 miles; its utmost breadth, from E to W, is 3 3/8 miles; and its area is 6036.220 acres, of which 76.678 are water and 38.101 roads. Bowmont Water, coming in from Morebattle, flows 3 miles north-north-eastward through Yetholm parish, till, 1 ¾ mile below the bridge, it passes into Northumberland, to fall into the Till at the field of Flodden. Yetholm or Primside Loch (3 1/8 x 1 ½ furl.; 41.786 acres) lies on the Morebattle boundary, 1 mile W of Town-Yetholm, and sends off the ditch-like Stank 1 ¾ mile east-north-eastward to Bowmont Water, another of whose little affluents, Halter or Shotton Burn, rises in the SE extremity of the parish, and runs 4 3/8 miles north-by-westward, for the last ¾ mile along the English Border. The Bowmont is a capital trout-stream, and Yetholm Loch contains pike and plenty of perch. Beside the Bowmont the surface declines to from 400 to 295 feet above sea-level, and thence it rises westward to 760 feet on Yetholm Law and 881 on Venchen Hill, south-eastward and eastward to 1086 on Staerough Hill, 1629 on Steerrig Knowe at the SE extremity of the parish, 1407 on White Law, and 937 on Green Humbleton. New red sandstone is the predominant rock of the lower grounds, felspar-porphyry of the hills; and the latter contains nodules of agate and common jasper. Quartz and compact felspar also occur; and a fine sharp sand, suitable for the purposes of the mason, forms much of the bed of the Bowmont. The soil of the arable lands is generally good, in places of considerable depth, and largely incumbent on gravel. `The parish of Yetholm,' says Dr Baird, `is prettily situated at the foot of the smooth green Cheviots. It comprises part of the hilllocked and lovely vale of the Bowmont, "alike inaccessible from without, and not to be left from within," - a little sunny world of its own. In summer the Bowmont meanders quietly through its channelly bed, at times and in places lost altogether among the gravel; but in the winter season, and in times of flood, it runs with a very rapid stream, and occasionally bursts its barriers and overflows the whole haugh, carrying everything before it. Yetholm in many respects was long neglected. It possesses natural beauties of its own; but little had been done by the proprietors, most of whom were non. resident, to improve the appearance of their estates. The farms were well cultivated; but the hills were bare of wood, and no attempts had been made to diversify the scenery or improve the ground by ornamental plantation. About 1830, however, better taste began to be shown. Mr Wauchope commenced planting trees on the hill-sides on his property; the Marquess of Tweeddale was not altogether wanting on his part; while the gardens and plantations about Cherrytrees showed that that estate had fallen into the hands of a man of good taste and skill in ornamental landscape gardening. A casual visitor to Yetholm at the present day cannot fail to observe that there are few parishes in the S of Scotland superior to it in richness of cultivation and taste in planting, as well as in sweetness of scenery and freshness and invigorating healthfulness of air.' There are remains of three or four ancient hill-forts; but Thirlstane Tower has been many years pulled down. Its `warlock's room ' was probably the laboratory of Dr Scott, a chemist of some celebrity, and physician to Charles II. Cherrytrees, 1 ¼ mile NW of the village, is the seat of John Brack Boyd, Esq. (b. 1818; suc. 1862), the only resident heritor, who holds property in the parish of £900 value per annum. The other proprietors are Wauchope of Niddrie-Marischall (£3200), the Marquess of Tweeddale (£1500), Rea of Halterburnhead (£460), etc. Yetholm is in the presbytery of Kelso and the synod of Merse and Teviotdale; the living is worth £440. The parish church was built in 1836 on the site of its long, low, reed-thatched predecessor. It is a plain structure of dark-coloured stone, with 700 sittings and a square tower. At Town-Yetholm are a U.P. church (450 sittings) and a handsome new Gothic Free church (1882). The public school (1833), with accommodation for 205 children, had in 1884 an average attendance of 163, and a grant of £109, 4s. 6d. Valuation (1864) £8080, 12s. 3d., (1884) £7550, 10s. 11d. Pop. (1801) 1011, (1831) 1289, (1861) 1207, (1871) 1100, (1881) 1045.—Ord. Sur., shs. 26, 18, 1864-63. See Dr W. Baird's Memoir of the late Rev. Jn. Baird, Minister of Yetholm from 1829 to 1861 (Lond. 1862); the Rev. J. Baird's Scottish Gipsies' Advocate (Edinb. 1839); W. Simson's History of the Gipsies (New York, 1865; 2d ed. 1878); R. Murray's Gipsies of the Border (Galashiels, 1875); G. Borrow's Romano Lavo Lil (Lond. 1874); C. G. Leland's English Gipsies and their Language (Lond. 1874); J. Lucas' Yetholm Gipsies (Kelso, 1882); Dr C. Stuart's David Blythe (Kelso, 1883); Ancient and Modern Britons (2 vols., Lond. 1884); and W. Brockie's Gipsies of Yetholm (Kelso, 1884).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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