Parish of Smailholm

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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1791-99: Smalholm
1834-45: Smalholm

Smailholm, a village and a parish of N Roxburghshire. An ancient straggling place, the village is 5 3/8 miles S by E of Gordon station, and 6 WNW of Kelso, under which it has a post office. The parish is bounded SE by Kelso and Makerstoun, and on all other sides by Berwickshire, viz., SW and W by Mertoun, N by Earlston and Nenthorn, and NE by Nenthorn. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 4 miles; its utmost breadth is 2½ miles; and its area is 4202 acres, of which 7¾ are water. Troutful Eden Water winds 3 miles east-by-southward along the eastern part of the northern boundary; and beside it, in the north-eastern corner of the parish, the surface sinks to 298 feet above sea-level, thence rising to 570 feet near Overtown, 658 near New Smailholm, and 680 at Sandyknowe Crags. Trap rock, ` rotten rock,' and limestone are plentiful; and the two first furnish very fair road metal. Some 65 acres are under wood; about one-ninth of the entire area is natural pasture; and all the remainder is in tillage. Sandyknowe, a comfortable and substantial farm, 1½ mile SSW of the village and 6 miles W by N of Kelso, was the frequent home, from his third till his eighth year, of Sir Walter Scott (17711832), whose paternal grandfather, Robert Scott, held a lease of it from his chief and kinsman, Mr Scott of Harden. Behind, on Sandyknowe Crags, ' standing stark and upright as a warder, is the stout old Smailholm Tower, seen and seeing all around. It now is more than a hundred years since that ` ` lonely infant,, was found in a thunderstorm, lying on the soft grass at the foot of the grey old Strength, clapping his hands at each flash, and shouting, " Bonny! bonny!,,, Thus wrote the author of Rab and his Friends; and Scott himself, in the Introduction to Canto Third of Marmion, has sung-

' Those crags, that mountain tower.
which charmed my fancy's wakening hour:
Though no broad river swept along,
To claim, perchance, heroic song;
Though sighed no groves in summer gale,
To prompt of love a softer tale;
Though scarce a puny streamlet's speed
Claimed homage from a shepherd's reed,
Yet was poetic impulse given.
By the green hill and clear blue heaven
it was a barren scene, and wild.
Where naked cliffs were rudely piled;
But ever and anon between
Lay velvet tufts of loveliest green;
and well the lonely infant knew
Recesses where the wall-flower grew,
And honey-suckle loved to crawl
Up the low crag and ruined wall.
I deemed such nooks the sweetest shads
The sun in ail his round surveyed;
and still I thought that shattered tower
The mightiest work of human power;
and marvelled. as the aged hind
with some strange tale bewitched the mind
Of forayers. who. with headlong force.
Down from that strength had spurred their horse
Their southern rapine to renew.
Far in the distant Cheviots blue,
and. home returning. filled the hall
with revel. wassel-rout, and brawl.-
Me thought that still with tramp and clang
The gateway's broken arches rang;
Me thought grim features, seamed with scars.
Glared through the windows' rusty bars.'

In the Eve of St John, too, almost his earliest ballad, the scene is laid at Smaylho'me or Smailholm Tower, which later formed his prototype of ` Avenel Castle.' Built in the early part of the 15th century, it is a plain square gabled tower of the usual Border type, three stories high, with massive walls 9 feet thick, small windows, vaulted stone roofs, and a narrow stone turnpike stair at the SE angle. On three sides are crags, on the fourth or eastern a morass and a deep brown lochlet, the remains of a larger lake that once surrounded the height. A strong outer wall, now very ruinous, enclosed a courtyard, within which stood the domestic chapel. From the top is gained a magnificent view to Berwick, the Cheviots, ` triple Eildon, ' and the Lammermuirs; and at such a distance is the tower visible that in old topographical works it figures as ` a conspicuous landmark to direct vessels to Berwick.' The lands of Smailholm were held by the Pringles from 1408 until the first quarter of the 17th century, when they went to the Scotts of Harden, so that their present owner is Lord Polwarth. The Earl of Haddington is chief proprietor in the eastern half of the parish; and two lesser landowners hold each an annual value of between £100 and £500, and 2 of from £20 to £100. Smailholm is in the presbytery of Earlston and the synod of Merse and Teviotdale; the living is worth £370. The ivy-mantled church, supposed to have been built in 1632, contains 282 sittings. The public school, with accommodation for 122 children, h-ad (1884) an average attendance of 76, and a grant of £57, 13s. Valuation (1864) £5492, 3s. 11d., (1884) £5785, 2s. Pop. (1801) 446, (1831) 628, (1861) 554, (187l) 534, (1881) 446.—Ord. Sur., sh. 25, 1865.

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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