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Earlston

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.

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Earlston, a small town and a parish of Lauderdale, SW Berwickshire. The town stands, 345 feet above sea-level, near the left bank of Leader Water, at the western confines of the parish, by road being 4 miles NNE of Melrose, 7¼ SSE of Lauder, and 31 SE of Edinburgh; whilst its station on the Berwickshire section of the North British is 4½ miles N by W of St Boswells Junction, and 17½ WSW of Dunse. Its ancient church, in connection with which the town in all probability arose and grew into any importance, was granted about the middle of the 12th century by Walter de Lindsay to the monks of Kelso, and by them was transferred in 1171, in exchange for Gordon, to their brethren of Coldingham, who continued to watch over it and the spiritual interests at stake in the district on to the time of the Reformation. Situated, as it is, not far from Dryburgh and Melrose Abbeys, it appears to have been in early times a place of some importance-ecclesiastical probably, to judge from the reported occasional visits of David I. of pious memory. From the family of Lindsay the manor passed into the hands of the Earls of Dunbar, and hence the older name of Ercildoune came to be changed to Earlstoun or Earlston. Under its present superior, the Earl of Haddington, the town is governed by a baron bailie; and courts are still held in it, consisting of two ' bourlawmen, ' a survival this of the ancient border ' Birley Courts. ' Its chief historical interest, however, centres in the memorials and traditions which connect it with Thomas the Rhymer, a stone embedded in the wall of the parish church bearing inscription, ' Auld Rhymer's race lies in this place.' ' Thomas Rimor de Ercildun ' appears as witness to a charter of Petrus de Haga to Dryburgh Abbey, which charter Mr John Russell, in his Haigs of Bemersyde (1881), assigns to somewhere between 1260 and 1270; and a fragment of the ' Rhymer's Tower ' still stands between the town and Leader Water. He seems to have been dead by 1299; and a MS. of the early part of the 14th century, supposed by Prof. Veitch to be earlier than 1320, contains what was said to be one of his predictions, many of which are scattered through this work under Ale, Bass, Cowdenknowes, Criffel, etc. He has been styled the ' Father of Scottish poetry, ' and his claim to the title would rest on secure foundation, if only one could positively ascribe to him the authorship of Sir Tristrem, and of the three-fytte Prophecy, best known in its ballad versions. These tell how, as he lay on Huntly Bank, the Fairy Queen rode by on a milkwhite palfrey, and how, having kissed her under the Eildon tree, he was taken by her to Elfland, where through the bite of an apple he gained a perilous guerdon, the tongue that could never lie. Seven years he tarried in Elfland, and then was permitted to revisit earth only on the condition that he should, when summoned, return to his mistress the queen. And so, as he sat one evening carousing in his tower with some boon companions, a messenger rushed in, in breathless haste, to beg him to come forth and break the spell of a portent which troubled the village. Straightway the Rhymer obeyed the summons, and hurrying out saw a hart and a hind from the neighbouring forest pacing slow and stately up and down the street. The animals at sight of him quietly made off for the forest; and, with a last farewell to Ercildoune, True Thomas followed them, thenceforth to ' dree his weird ' in Fairyland. Nor, though the voice of tradition predicts his return to earth, has he ever again been seen in the haunts of living men. (See Eildon Hills.) His spirit, however, appears to have lingered in the tower he left, for his mantle was reputed to have descended on the shoulders of ' one Murray, a kind of herbalist, who, by dint of some knowledge of simples, the possession of a musical clock, an electrical machine, and a stuffed alligator, added to a supposed communication with Thomas, lived for many years in very good credit as a wizard. ' So Sir Walter in his Scottish Minstrelsy; but Mr Robert Chambers, in Popular Rhymes of Scotland, shows that this hearsay account refers to Mr Patrick Murray, an enlightened and respectable medical practitioner, of good family connections, talents, and education, who, in 1747, possessed, with other property, the Rhymer's Tower, and there pursued various studies of a philosophical kind, not very common in Scotland during the 18th century.

The town extends eastward at right angles to Leader Water, and consists of plain business premises and dwelling-houses, many of the latter only one story high. It is lighted with gas, well drained, supplied with good water, and beautifully situated in a pleasant valley engirt by hills of moderate elevation. The inhabitants are dependent partly on agriculture, partly on dyeing and on the manufacture of woollen and other textures, such as tweeds, shirtings, and ' Earlston ginghams.' The town has a post office under Melrose, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, a branch (1862) of the Commercial Bank, 8 insurance agencies, 2 hotels, a spacious corn exchange, a reading-room and library (1856), horticultural and friendly societies, billiard and curling clubs, and a volunteer corps. A weekly grain market on Monday was instituted at the opening of the Berwickshire railway in 1863, a fortnightly stock sale in 1864; and cattle and horse fairs are held on 29 June and the third Thursday of October, besides hiring fairs on the last Monday of February, the first Monday of April, and the Monday before the third Thursday of October. The parish church of 1756, as renewed and enlarged in 1834, contains 600 sittings. There are also two U.P. churches- the East (400 sittings) and the West (330 sittings). Pop. (1861) 980, (1871) 1168, (1881) 1010. The parish, containing also the hamlet of Redpath, is bounded N by Legerwood and Gordon, E by Hume and Nenthorn, S by Smailholm in Roxburghshire and by Merton, and W by Melrose in Roxburghshire. Its length, from E to W, varies between 13/8 and 7 miles; its utmost breadth, from N to S, is 33/8 miles; and its area is 10,009½ acres, of which 41 are water. Leader Water winds 47/8 miles southward, for the first 5 furlongs cutting off a small north-western wing of Earlston, but elsewhere tracing its boundary with Melrose; and Eden Water runs 31/8 miles south-by-westward along all the Nenthorn border. Between these troutful streams the surface rises-in places steeply from the Leader-to 825 feet on Huntshaw Hill, 708 near Crossrigs, 1031 on conical Black Hill of Earlston, 885 near Craig House, and 806 near Darlingfield. Black Hill is porphyritic, overlying red sandstone; and at the E end of Earlston the pelvis and other bones of the Cervus elaphus have been found, 12 feet from the surface, in a vegetable deposit, above which were marly and reddish clays. The soil is in some parts clayey, in others a light dry loam; while elsewhere it is strong and very fertile. There is a good deal of marshy ground in the E, and in the N are several hundred acres of moss. About two-thirds of the entire area are in tillage, woodlands cover nearly one-ninth, and the rest is either pastoral or waste. On the summit of Black Hill are the remains of a camp, commonly said to be Roman, but probably of native origin. Mansions are Mellerstain, Cowdenknowes, Carolside, and Kirklands; and the Earl of Haddington is chief proprietor, 2 others holding each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 8 of from £100 to £500, 11 of from £50 to £100, and 29 of from £20 to £50. Earlston is the seat of a presbytery n the synod of Merse and Teviotdale, which was, till recently, for an interval of a century, designated the presbytery of Lauder; the living is worth £298. A new public school, erected at the town in 1876 at a cost of £2470, with accommodation for 323 pupils, had (1880) an average attendance of 215, and a grant of £204, 14s. 6d. Valuation (1864) £11,119, (1882) £14,022, 10s. Pop. (1801) 1478, (1831) 1710, (1861) 1825, (1871) 1977, (1881) 1767.—Ord. Sur., sh. 25, 1865.

The presbytery of Earlston comprises the parishes of Channelkirk, Earlston, Gordon, Lauder, Legerwood, Mertoun, Smailholm, Stow, and Westruther. Pop. (1871) 10,212, (1881) 9503, of whom 2972 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.

See an article by G. Tait in Procs. Berwickshire Naturalists' Club (1867); Dr J. A. H. Murray's Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Ercildoune (Early Eng. Text Soc. 1875); and chap. viii. of Prof. John Veitch's History and Poetry of the Scottish Border (1878).

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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