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A history of Peeblesshire online

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is called the ' Vicar of Peebles,' and is ordinarily the precentor
in the parish church. The sum he levies from each house is
exceedingly small.

As in Scottish towns generally, the ecclesiastical institutions of
Peebles have been multiplied by secession and other causes,
since 1690. Besides the Established Church, there is a Free
Church, and also two churches connected with the United Pres-
byterian body. In the town, there is likewise an Episcopal
chapel, and a Roman Catholic chapel. Peebles is the seat of a
Presbytery of the Established Church, but there is no official
place of meeting.


The burgh sustains two public schools, one at which instruc-
tion is given in classical languages, and other for English and
elementary instruction ; the style of teaching in both being very
different from that which prevailed sixty years since. The
two houses are plain structures fronting the green, which is
used as a playground. The burgh gives the occupancy of a
house to the rector of the Grammar-school, for the purpose of
accommodating boarders. There are some other schools in
the town and neighbourhood, including a boarding-school
for young gentlemen, and a similar establishment for young

On Tuesday, every week, a market is held in Peebles for the
sale of grain. After having gone almost into disuse, the market
was successfully revived in November 1855, in consequence of the
means for carriage presented by the railway. Oats and barley
are the kinds of grain principally sold. The barley of Peebles-
shire is considered to be particularly fine, and readily meets with
purchasers. At these markets, there are usually monthly sales
by auction of cattle and sheep, for the transport of which the
railway has also offered facilities.

A Horticultural Society now established some years, for
promoting improvements in, and a taste for, gardening and
flower-culture throughout the county has met with much
encouragement, and is understood to have had exceedingly
beneficial effects. It conducts a prize exhibition twice in
the year these very interesting popular Flower-shows being
held in a pavilion canvas tent, erected for the purpose on the

Natives of Peebles at a distance, and others who are some way
connected with the place and its neighbourhood, are noted for
the interest they take in all that concerns the old burgh. Several
associations are therefore formed by persons so interested ; the
oldest dating from 1782, being the Edinburgh Social Peeblcan
Society, and another being the Edinburgh Native Peeblean

During keen frosts in winter, when the air is clear and


bracing, and the pools frozen over, curling takes place on a
pond set apart for the purpose near the bridge, on the south side
of the river. Men of all ranks indulge in this exhilarating winter
sport, with all the keenness usual in the south of Scotland.
There is a Curling Club, to which, in 1823, the late Sir John Hay
presented a silver medal. This is played for every year, and
worn by the successful competitor. On December 3, 1830, Sir
John Hay further presented a massive silver buckle, embellished
with characteristic insignia, and a leather belt. This Belt of
Victory is contended for annually by the married men and
bachelors on the curling-pond. It can easily be imagined that
these, independently of other curling matches, in no small degree
enliven the community of Peebles during the severities of winter
more particularly as they are, for the most part, followed by a
festive dinner, at which figures in profusion the indispensable
' curler's fare.'

In summer, the wonted place of resort is a Bowling-green,
situated behind the church. The green is well kept, and open to
all on paying a small fee. There is a choice collection of bowls ;
some of them having been brought hither, and left for public
use, by gentlemen in the town and neighbourhood long since
deceased. The names and dates are inscribed on silver plates
on the sides of the bowls. Among others, we notice one pair
marked, 'John Grieve, 1786 ;' one pair, 'John Marshall, surgeon,
1786 ;' and one pair, * Francis Russell, Esq., 1786.' There are
several pairs with names and dates wholly or partially oblite-

Occasionally, the Royal Archers of Scotland visit Peebles for
a day's practice. Pitching their butts on Tweed Green, or on
Ninian's Haugh, opposite, they compete for a silver arrow ; or,
more correctly, for the right to append a medal to the arrow.
So little appears to be generally known respecting the Peebles
Silver A rrow, that we have taken some interest in investigating
its appearance and history.

The arrow is a stalk of silver, with a flattened and barbed
point, and is about fifteen inches in length. Attached to the


stalk by small silver rings and chains, from the point downwards,
but in no very regular order as to date, are twenty-three silver
medals or other objects, respectively bearing the names and
coats-of-arms of the winners. Neither the burgh records nor the
archives of the Royal Archers present any account of the origin
of the arrow ; but it carries with it conclusive evidence of its
history. By a legible inscription on the flattened point, it
purports to have been ' Presented by James Williamson, provost
of Peebles,' the same who signed the National Covenant and
Confession of Faith in 1638. What length of time Williamson
had been provost before 1638, cannot now be determined with
precision, for the records of the burgh at this period are lost. It
may be averred, however, that his provostship had begun pre-
viously to 1628, for that is the date of the oldest medal appended
to the arrow. It will then be understood that the Peebles
Silver Arrow dates at least from the year 1628, in the reign of
Charles I., but may be a few years older. We are inclined to
think that it is not quite so ancient as the Musselburgh Arrow,
the earliest competition for which, according to the records of
the Royal Archers, was in 1603.

A remarkable circumstance is connected with the history of
the Peebles Arrow. The dates of the twenty-three medals
extend from 1628 to 1835 ; but there occurs a blank from 1664
to 1786 a period of 122 years, during which not a single medal
is appended. Where the arrow had been throughout this long
interval, is not known to the Company of Royal Archers ; for it
appears to have been originally kept at Peebles, and has only
come into the custody of the Archers in comparatively recent
times. Tradition supplies some information on the subject.
According to the account of an aged person in Peebles, the silver
arrow was found concealed in the wall of the building latterly
occupied by the town-council, when some remains of that edifice
(formerly the Chapel of the Virgin) were removed about 1780.
The conclusion to be formed is, that the town-treasurer had
concealed the arrow in the wall of the council-chamber at the
commencement of the religious troubles in Scotland, 1675, and


that its hiding-place being forgotten, it only came accidentally
to light when the building was finally removed, more than a
hundred years afterwards.

The Peebles Silver Arrow is now preserved, with other
muniments of the Royal Company, at Archers' Hall, Edin-
burgh. 1

Peebles has a Kilwinning Lodge of Freemasons, the constitu-
tion of which dates from October 18, 1716. The body after-
wards formed part of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, when that
comprehensive institution was constituted in 1736 ; and in which
it is enrolled No. 24. The building occupied by the Lodge is in
the Northgate, and is partly used as a tavern. Motto carved

1 The following is a list of earlier medals attached to the arrow, taking them in the
order of their respective dates, (i.) 'M. J. D., 1628.' (2.) 'J. S., 1661 ;' on back,
coat of arms. (3. ) ' Alex. Hay, bower [to] his majestic, wan this arrow the monath
of May 1663 ;' on back, coat of arms. (4.) ' Robert Childers, trumpeter and sadler to
the king and the gude tune of Edinburgh. Content I am with all my heart, that he
have for his desert, that gains the same whatever he be, by his skil of archerie.
Robert Childers, trumpeter to his majesty, wan the silver arrow on ye 3d of May at
Peebles 1664.' (5.) 'Thos. Elder, 5 June 1786;' on back, a crest with motto,
Vlrtute Duce. (6.) 'Alex. Wallace, Peebles, 6 June 1787;' on back, crest with
motto, Sperandiim Est. (7.) 'James Reid, 5 June 1788 ;' on back, crest with motto,
Fortitudine et Labors, with 'Peebles' below. (8.) 'Rev. P. Robertson, Eddlestoun ;'
on back, crest with motto, Virtutis Gloria Merces; with ' Peebles, 5 June 1789.' (9.)
'Peebles, Alexander Lord Elibank, u Aug. 1790,' with crest and baron's coronet.
(10.) 'Gained by Charles Hope, Esq., Advocate, II July 1791 ;' on back, coat of
arms with motto, At Spes non Fracta. (n.) 'Alexander Lord Elibank, 9 July 1792 ;'
on back, 'E.' and baron's coronet (12.) 'James Reid, Peebles, 8 July 1793 ;' with
crest and motto, Fortittidine et Lahore. (13.) 'Won by James Hope, Writer to the
Signet, 31 July 1 802 ;' on the back, motto, At Spes non Fracta. (14.) 'The Peebles
Arrow won by John Russell, Clerk to the Signet, 6 Aug. 1803;' with coat of arms and
motto, Agitatione Purgatur. (15.) ' Won by Dr Thomas Charles Hope, Professor of
Chemistry, Edinburgh, 4 Aug. 1804 ;' with arms and motto, At Spes non Fracta.
(i 6.) 'Alexander Lord Elibrmk, 2 Aug. 1806;' with crest and baron's coronet, and
motto, Virtute Fideque. (17.) A Silver Anchor, inscribed with ' Capt. D. Milne,
R.N., iSio.' (18.) ' Gained by Thomas Richardson, Writer to the Signet, 21 Aug.
1813;' with crest and motto, Virtute Acquiritur Honor. (19.) ' The Peebles Arrow
won by John Linning, Accountant of Excise, 7 Sep. 1816 ;' with arms and motto,
Virtute et Lahore. (20.) ' Gained by James Brown, Accountant in Edinburgh, 29 Aug.
and 7 Sep. 1818 ;' with arms and motto, Floreat Majcstas. (21.) 'Peebles Arrow
won by John Maxton, wine-merchant, Leith, 27 Sep. 1828, who also gained this year
the other three arrows ;' crest, a bee, with motto, Providus Esto. (22.) 'The Peebles
Silver Arrow was gained on 26 July 1833, by Henry Geo. Watson, Accountant,
Treasurer to the Royal Company ;' crest with motto, Impirato Floruit. (23.) Same
inscription as last, with date, '8 August 1835.'


over the door : /;/ Deo est Omnia Fides ; date of the building,
1773. In the hall of the Lodge is a picture of the late Sir John
Hay, painted by Mr John Ballantyne, Edinburgh, 1843 J being
ordered by the Lodge as a mark of respect and esteem for the
memory of the late provincial ' Grand-master.

According to the calendar, Peebles has a number of fairs in
the course of the year ; but except for special purposes, these
ancient gatherings have dwindled into comparative insignificance.
The following are the fairs actually in operation : Fastens E'en
Fair, on the first Tuesday of March, for hiring male and female
farm-servants. 1 Beltane Fair, second Wednesday in May, for
hiring farm-servants, and some other purposes. Wool Fair,
Tuesday after the i8th of July. The greater part of the wool in
the county is usually disposed of at this fair; prices being generally
regulated by St Boswell's Fair, which takes place on the i8th.
Hiring Market, for male and female farm-servants, on the second
Tuesday of October. Siller Fair, Tuesday before the I2th of
December. This is a settling-day among farmers and others for
many transactions during the season. Lime, drainage materials,
and other articles connected with farming, are paid for this day,
which is accordingly the busiest day with the banks during the
whole year, and everything is usually most satisfactorily
arranged. As merely festive occasions, the fairs of Peebles have
greatly declined in attractiveness ; nor are they any longer the
resort of tradesmen for the sale of their different wares. Fifty
years ago, when they maintained something like their ancient
character, they were frequented by a miscellaneous class of
dealers, who set up booths in the street. It is interesting, as a
matter of tradition, to recollect that, on these occasions, the
stranger shoe-dealers who attended were not, by civic ordinance,
allowed to uncover their goods till a bell, called the ' Shoemakers'
Bell,' rung at one o'clock ; such being the means adopted to give
the native shoemakers a monopoly until that hour. In the

1 About the beginning of the present century, it was a custom in Peebles to begin
to take tea by daylight on Fasten's E'en fair-day, and to commence the same meal by
candle-light on Eddleston fair-day (Sept. 25).


present day, with enlarged views, this and other antiquated
usages have entirely vanished ; and strangers of every class,
besides being allowed free commercial scope, are received with
every token of hospitality.

The municipal government of Peebles has been described
as consisting of a council of seventeen members, but in virtue of
a recent statute, the number is now reduced to twelve, including a
provost and two bailies, the whole elected by popular franchise.
The proceedings of this civic corporation, as has been shewn,
were conducted for a considerable number of years under the
seal of secrecy ; but even after the oath to that effect was
dispensed with, the business of the council continued to be
performed in that unsatisfactory manner common to the Scottish
burghs generally, which at length, as arising out of an imperfect
system of nomination, led to the well-known measure of reform
in 1833. Unfortunately, the history of the town-council of
Peebles, previous to that reconstruction, cannot but suggest
painful reflections to any one interested in the good name and
welfare of the ancient community. Endowed with possessions
amply sufficient for all the wants of the municipality, how have
these grand old heritages been suffered to disappear, leaving
scarcely traces of the manner of their loss or disposal ! Faint
as these traces are in the imperfect records of the burgh, we
shall attempt to bring them together, and make out a con-
nected, though not very satisfactory, narrative.

By the gifts of several Scottish sovereigns, beginning with
David I., Peebles was invested with a number of extensive
commons, which lay all round the town, some near at hand, and
others at a distance of several miles. Valuable as pasturages for
cattle, and also for supplying turf for fuel, these commons were
assigned to the magistrates and council for the benefit of the
whole community, and properly cared for, might now, under a
system of leasing to tenants, have yielded a large annual revenue.
Long before James IV., however, had given his charter to the
town, the corporation had begun to divest itself of this species of
inheritance. As early as 1472, the magistrates and council, for



some unknown reason, resigned Caidmuir, in favour of individual
burgesses, among whom that common was partitioned in shares
or soums, corresponding in amount to their respective tenements,
to which the privilege of ' souming and rouming ' was in future
to be heritably attached.

In 1655, the burgh acquired additional lands at Caidmuir,
which had been the subject of dispute with Scott of Hundles-
hope, and the purchase-money being raised among the burgesses,
they received an equivalent accession of soums. As far as we
can learn, the whole of the house-proprietors in Peebles were
now heritors of Caidmuir, to the extent of from one to three
soums each ; while the burgh, in its corporate capacity, had
reserved to itself nothing but the trouble and expense of
managing the common property. In a memorial on the subject,
in 1762, the magistrates and council state 'that they have always
been managers of Caidmuir, and have from time to time been in
use to nominate and appoint five persons one out of each
quarter of the town to inspect and visit the said lands at
clipping, souming, and rouming time, and smearing time, that
the same might not be opprest by over soums or otherwise ; '
besides which, ' the town, out of the public revenue, have always
been at the expense of maintaining and keeping up the herds'
houses, and the minister's stipend ; ' and the only ' consideration
the town had thereof was the lamb teind, and the teind of corn-
land, when in tillage.' B. R.

The original and long-entertained illusory notion was, that the
soums were to remain inalienably attached to the tenements of
the persons to whom they had been assigned ; whereas, in course
of time, as might have been anticipated, they lapsed, as distinct
properties, either into the hands of persons who possessed no
tenement whatever, or of heritors who monopolised them as an
investment. Against these unexpected transfers, the town
could take no effectual steps, and at last not only sanctioned the
general sale of soums, but became the purchaser of several that
came into the market. Previous to discovering its error, in
dismembering Caidmuir, and presumedly in the early part of


the seventeenth century, the town-council committed a similar
mistake in resigning the common of Venlaw, which was also
divided into soums, for what equivalent is unknown. In 1765,
a roll of the two classes of soum-holders is inscribed at length in
the town books, 1 from which it appears that the entire number of
soums was 270, whereof sixteen pertained to Venlaw. B. R. At
this time, the ancient practice of 'souming and rouming' had
been abandoned as regards both these commons, which were let
on lease to tenant-farmers, who paid annual rents, that were
divided among the heritors according to their respective propor-
tions. Caidmuir and Venlaw were now practically the property
of two joint-stock land companies, but with the qualification that
the management and feudal superiority remained with the town.

So far, the conduct of the magistrates and council is probably
to be viewed as an error of judgment. On what follows, a less
lenient sentence we fear will be pronounced.

According to the charters, the town had a grant of Kingsmuir,
a tract of land composing the slopes east from Edderston, which
is believed to have, at some early period, included the whole
or part of Whitehaugh Muir, anciently the scene of the yearly
Beltane festival. Whatever were the original dimensions of
King's Muir, it in time consisted only of the lands adjoining
Edderston on the west, and Frank's Croft on the north which
croft was, in all likelihood, at one time a portion of the same
common. Thus circumscribed, King's Muir was still a valuable
inheritance. Left alone, this finely-situated piece of ground
now in course of being covered with villas might have done
credit to the town as a public park, or yielded a considerable
annual rental ; but such was not to be its destiny. It pleased
the council to find a reason for selling the larger portion, extend-
ing to about thirty acres, at a price which one is almost ashamed
to mention. The transaction is best described in the language
of the records.

1 This roll is curious, as shewing not only who were the respectable burgesses, and
the quarter of the town in which they lived, in 1765, but the names of the original
soum-holders in 1462 and 1655. It is a kind of old street-directory of Peebles.


1737, June 20. The council taking into serious consideration that
the muir, called the King's Muir, belonging to the town, near the burgh,
is of little use, and yields small benefit to the inhabitants, and which, if
it were improved into arable land, would tend greatly to the good and
advantage of the inhabitants, resolve to apply to the Convention of
Royal Burghs for an act to set off the muir in acres, and sell and dispone
the same to the inhabitants at a price, and paying a yearly feu for the use
of the burgh. B. R. 1739, March 14. The council appoint Monday
the 2d of April next, to sell the King's Muir at public roup, now
measured off in acres ; no person to be allowed to purchase above two
acres till the whole inhabitants refuse the same. The upset price to be
fifty merks per acre, and each offer half a merk at least ; each acre is to
be chargeable with a feu-duty of half a merk yearly. B. R.

The greater part of King's Muir was accordingly disposed of
in small lots ; the purchasers being members of the town-
council, the provost included, and others. The price obtained
was generally from fifty to sixty merks Scots per acre, but in a
few instances it was as high as a hundred and seventy merks.
Reckoning that the average price was sixty merks (or 3, 6s. &/.
sterling) per acre, the gross sum received would be about .100;
but if the town fulfilled its obligation to surround the land with
fences, it may be doubted if so much as ^50 would be realised.
Of the small annual feu-duties which were to be paid, we do not
see any account. A portion of the Muir was reserved for
planting, and as far as we can judge, a few acres did not readily
find purchasers.

The council had now pursued two methods of impoverishment.
There was a third, which consisted in dividing and subdividing
commons with such proprietors in the neighbourhood as confi-
dently put forward claims for their possession. To save law
expenses, and avert the risk of losing the whole subjects in
dispute, the town was usually glad to accept such a share of
its own property as an arbitrator was indulgently disposed to
assign. As the share so munificently granted, however, was
afterwards liable to renewed claims, which, for the sake of peace
and a desire to conciliate neighbours, were submitted to fresh
arbitration, the morsels of land finally left to the community



were in some cases so insignificant as to elude any notice in the
records of the burgh. Thus, as will be immediately seen, great
commons which figure in the charters of James IV. and James
VI. vanish from the roll of town property, and are no more heard
of except as portions of the estates of the gentry in the neigh-
bourhood. In the numerous transactions of this kind noticed
in the records, it is often difficult to say whether the council
should be blamed or pitied. Assuming that the royal charters
were not delusive fictions, but credible documents in which
the Scottish kings gave up the commons absolutely to the
town, we can only regret that, either from want of proper infeft-
ments, or from inattention, rights were allowed to grow up and be
transferred through a regular progress of titles, adverse to the
interests of the community. It is true the burgh officials, with
a retinue of inhabitants, ' rode the commons ' once a year, in
order to maintain the ancient rights of the town ; but these
holiday excursions were occasionally interrupted by collisions
with neighbouring herdsmen, or by angry protests ; and in any
case, they failed to define whether the right claimed by the
town was a mere servitude, such as the privilege of digging turf,
or of feudal superiority and occupancy, and were consequently
of little value.

In the manner now stated, the proprietor of Cringletie, in the
early part of the seventeenth century, seems to have acquired a
valid claim over Hamildean, or, as it is sometimes called, Hamilton,
Hill, which afterwards was the subject of vexatious litigation.
A petition was presented to the Convention of Royal Burghs,
July 7, 1714, in which the burgh of Peebles mournfully com-
plains ' of the decayed condition and poverty of the said burgh,
and that the property of the lands belonging thereto was invaded
and attackt by several powerful neighbours, particularly the
Laird of Cringletie, who was attempting to take their small
property from them.' Compassionating this state of distress, the
Convention 'appointed the commissioners of the burghs of
Selkirk, Dumbarton, and Annan as a committee to meet with
the Laird of Cringletie and others, at whose instance there is


process depending ; and endeavour to adjust their differences,
and bring them to an amicable accommodation, and report.'
C. R. The differences were not adjusted. Founding on certain
rights alleged to have been established in favour of a predecessor
who was Laird of Cringletie in 1610, the Court of Session, in
1717, decreed that Hamilton Hill belonged to the Cringletie
estate, subject only to a servitude to the town, as regards turf-
cutting and digging for stone and slate. Yet, as this decree
was not hardly pressed, the notion that Hamilton Hill was
altogether town property subsisted in Peebles for nearly a

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersA history of Peeblesshire → online text (page 27 of 49)