Hawick town - a descriptive account


1868, Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by John Marius Wilson and published by A. Fullarton and Co

"HAWICK, a post-town, a burgh of regality, and an important seat of manufacture and of inland traffic, is situated at the confluence of the Teviot and the Slitrig, 10 miles south-west of Jedburgh, 11 south-east by south of Selkirk, 20 north of New Castleton, 20 south-west of Kelso, 24 north-north-ast of Langholm, 43 south-west of Berwick, and 50 by road, but 53 by railway, south-east by south of Edinburgh. Till the opening of the North British railway, it was one of the most landlocked towns in Scotland, being distant from the sea at its nearest point 43 miles. In 1850, when the railway to Berwick was completed, Hawick was for the first time place placed on a level with the towns previously more favoured in point of intercommunication.

The Teviot approaches the town in a north-easterly direction, makes a beautiful though small bend opposite the upper part of it, and then resumes and pursues its north-easterly course. Just after it has completed the bend, the Slitrig comes down upon it from the south at an angle of about 50 degrees; but, opposite the bend of the Teviot, is not far from being on a parallel line. Either the curving reach of the Teviot, or the crook made by the confluence with it of the Slitrig, seems, in combination with an adjacent house or hamlet, to have suggested the name Hawick, - ha or haw, a mansion or village, and wic or wick, the bend of a stream or the crook or confluence of the rivers. The town adapts its topographical arrangement almost entirely, and even very closely, to the course of the streams, and to the angle of their confluence; and maintains a delightfully picturesque seat upon both, amidst a somewhat limited but magnificent hill-locked landscape. The Slitrig approaches the Teviot with a narrow plain, immediately backed by hills on the further bank, and with an abrupt and considerable acclivity falling off in a fine slope on the hither bank; and the Teviot, coming down in a narrow and sylvan vale, begins, when it touches the town, to fold out its banks into a limited haugh, framed on the exterior with sloping ascents, and somewhat acclivitous but beautifully rounded verdant hills. The town occupies all the narrow vale on the right bank of the Slitrig, and all the summit as well as the slope toward the Teviot of the high ground on its left bank; and, aided by its "common haugh" or public burgh ground, and by its suburb of Wilton, it likewise stretches over all the little haugh of the Teviot, and mounts the softer rising eminences on the back ground. Both up and down the latter stream, also, it sends off environs of no ordinary attraction,- here extensive nursery grounds, there tufts of grove and lines of plantation casting their shade upon luxuriant fields, and yonder a factory busy in industrious pursuits, yet sequestered and tranquil in appearance, and combining - as the rural aspect and the pure air and the bright sky indicate the town itself to do - the athletic and productive toils of factorial industry, with the healthful habits and the peacefulness of almost a pastoral life. Seen from almost any point of view, but especially from the Edinburgh road, where it comes over the brow of the hill beyond the Teviot, Hawick and its environs spread out a picture of loveliness to the eye which the mere imagination would have in vain tried to associate with the seat of a great staple manufacture, or with any other town than one whose site had been selected by taste, and whose arrangements had been made with a view to poetical effect.

Entering the town on the Kelso road from the north-east, a stranger finds himself in the principal street. A short way on, a new and neatly built though short street comes in at an acute angle on his right hand, bringing down the Edinburgh and Carlisle post-road. The main street now runs along parallel to the Teviot, with no other winging on that side than back-tenements and brief alleys, and sending off on the other side two streets, called Melgund Place and Wellgate, till it passes on the same side, first the town hall, and a little farther on, the Tower inn, and is terminated by two houses which disperse it into divergent thoroughfares. A street, at this point, breaks away on the east, up the right bank of the Slitrig, disclosing, in a snug and almost romantic position, a curved and beautifully edificed terrace called the Crescent. A bridge, carried off, at the commencement of this street, leads across the Slitrig, to an eminence surmounted by the old parish church. Another bridge, spacious and of modern structure, spans the Slitrig nearer the Teviot, and carries across the continuation of the Edinburgh and Carlisle post-road. From its farther end, Teviot Square runs westward to communicate by a bridge across the Teviot with the suburb of Wilton; another street, called the Howgate, diverges in the opposite direction, and after ascending the rising ground, splits into three sections, called the Back, the Middle, and the Fore Row, which again unite and form what is called the Loan; and the main thoroughfare, containing the post-road, run right forward, lined with new and elegant houses, and adorned at its extremity with the beautiful new parish church.

The earliest notice of the place which has been discovered is contained in the chartulary of the monastery of Melrose, where the church of Hawick is stated to have ben dedicated by the Bishop of Caithness in 1214, in honour of the Virgin Mary. The learned Chalmers, however, in his Caledonia, assigns it a much higher antiquity. In the earliest record extant, (the Scottish Rolls), the barony of Hawick is stated to have been held by Richard Lovel Domminus de Hawic and his ancestors for time immemorial from the Crown. This was in 1347. Subsequently the barony appears, by a grant of King David II, to have been vested in Maurice de Moravia, Earl of Strathearn. In the reign of James I, as is proved by a charter of that monarch granted at Croydon, while a captive in England, written with his own hand, and now in possession of the Duke of Buccleuch, the barony was confirmed to Douglas of Drumlanrig, the ancestors of the Dukes of Queensberry and Buccleuch. The original deed erecting the town into a burgh has not been discovered. In the oldest charter extant, granted by James Douglas of Drumlanrig in 1537, the ancient records are stated to have been destroyed by the hostile incrusions of the English and thieves; and to supply the defect thus occasioned he re-erects the town into a free burgh-of-barony, stipulating merly that a lamp of oil should be supported by the grantees in the church of Hawick in all time thereafter on holidays, in honour of our Saviour and for the souls of the barons of Hawick. This charter was confirmed in very ample form by the guardians of Queen Mary in 1545, wherein the important services rendered to the Crown by the inhabitants are acknowledged,- alluding, it is supposed, particularly to the battle of Flodden, where the fighting men were nearly exterminated. Under these charters, and a decree of the court of session in 1781, regulating the set of the burgh, the town exists altogether independent of the superior, the burgesses having right to choose their own magistrates and councillors. The corporation consists of 2 bailies chosen annually, 15 councillors chosen for life, and 14 other councillors termed quartermasters, chosen yearly by 7 trades, making in all 31 persons.

From its frontier position Hawick was in early times exposed in a peculiar degree to the constant incursions of the English. Accordingly we find that it was burnt by Sir Robert Umfraville, vice-admiral of England, so early as 1418. Again in 1544 and 1570, it suffered severely; and it is believed to have been burnt down on various other occasions. It has also suffered from inundations; one in August 1767 having carried off 15 dwelling-houses and a mill, and another in July, 1846, created much alarm, although less disastrous. The inhabitants had a high reputation for martial valour; and the great loco-descriptive poet of Teviotdale, Leyden, is believed to have done them no more than justice in these well-known verses:-

"Boast! Hawick, boast! thy structures rear'd in blood,
Shall rise triumphant over flame and flood;
Still doom'd to prosper since on Flodden's field
Thy sons a hardy band, unwont to yield,
Fell with their martial King, and (glorious boast!)
Gain'd proud renown where Scotia's fame was lost."

The general appearance of the town has of late years been greatly impoved. Besides the erection of entirely new streets, uniformly edificed, or pleasingly diversified, with a rivalry of taste in the structure of the houses, many old tenements with their thatched roofs or thick walls, and clumsy donjon-looking exterior, have been substituted by airy and neat buildings, accordant in their aspect with modern taste. Villas also are springing up in the vicinity. In the unrenovated parts the town still presents a rough and clownish exterior; but as a whole, it cannot offend even a fastidious eye. All its edifices are constructed with a hard bluish-coloured stone, which does not admit of polish or minute adorning, yet pleases by its suggestions of chasteness and its indications of durability and strength. But though lighted up at night with gas, and always clean and airy, and in other respects tasteful, the town utterly disappoints stranger by its poverty in suitable public buildings. Excepting the handsome bridge which carries the Edinburgh road across the Teviot, the elegant new parish church, the Catholic chapel, and the recently improved town-house, it contains not one public edifice on which the eye can rest with satisfaction. All the places of worship, too with the exceptions already mentioned, are, in the aggregate, plainer than the average of any equal number in the secluded villages or sequestered valleys of the country. The principal or Tower inn, however, strongly arrests attention, if not for architectural elegance at least for its spaciouness, its imposing appearance, and especially its connexion with antiquity. Part of it was an ancient fortress of a superior order, surrounded with a deep moat drawn from the Slitrig, and originally the residence of the barons of Drumlanrig, the superiors of the town. At a later period, it was the scene of the princely activities of Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth. This building connects modern and ancient Hawick, having been the only edifice which escaped the several fearful devastations to which the town was subjected.

The winnowing-machine or cornfanner, according to the statement of the writer in the Old Statistical Account, first made its appearance in Hawick. "Andrew Rodger," he say, "a farmer on the estate of Cavers, having a mechanical turn, retired from his farm and gave his genius its bent; and probably from a description of a machine of that kind, used in Holland, in the year 1737, constructed the first machine-fan employed in this kingdom". This ingenious person, it seems, pushed a considerable trade in the article of his manufacture, and bequeathed it to his descendants; and when the reporter wrote, they made and disposed of about 60 in the year, and found a market for many of them in England.

Until about a century ago, the town appears to have had little traffic of any importance. In 1752, however, the manufacture of carpets was commenced, and from that time the town dates the commencement of its prosperity and extension. This was followed in 1771 by the introduction of the stocking manufacture, commenced by Bailie John Hardie, and afterwards more extensively carried on by Mr John Mixon. The inkle manufacture was introduced in 1783; and the manufacture of cloth in 1787. At first the woollen yarn used was spun by the hand; but about 1787 machinery was introduced, which has gone on gradually extending ever since; and at the present time all the modern mechanical appliances are in operation. In a rececnt publication (1850) the following statistical table of the trade is given:-

Comparative view of the trade of Hawick, 1771-1850

Since that time two additional mills have been erected, and the trade in general greatly increased, particularly in the article of tweeds, which are manufactured to a very great extent, one individual being the most extensive tweed merchant in Scotland. Steam power has been largely taken advantage of of late years, water-power being no longer obtainable. But, excepting those trades common to all provincial towns, the woollen manufacture may be considered as engrossing the entire industry and capital of Hawick. There are indeed the tanning of leather, the dressing of sheep-skins, and the manufacture of leather thongs; but these are not carried on to any considerable extent.

The old architecture of the town, remarkable chiefly for its houses vaulted below with stone stairs outside projecting into the streets, has now almost entirely disappeared; and much of the town is new and elegant, much is renovated and neat, and all, in a general view, is pleasing. The opening of the railway to Edinburgh, with branch communication to Kelso and Berwick, and then the opening, continuously with this, of the railway to the south, with two forks going respectively to Carlisle and to Newcastle, have greatly accelerated a general improvement which, even for some years before, had been marked and rapid. Hawick possesses few antiquities; but these have some interest. The Mote, primarily the place of sepulture probably of an arch-druid or chieftain long before the introduction of Christianity, and subsequently the forum where justice was dispensed, is situated at the end of the town, on a conspicuous spot of rising ground. It is in a conical form, 30 feet high, 117 feet in circumference at the top, and 312 at the base. It would appear to have ben the place where all the religious ceremonies were performed,- the Beltane fires, among the rest, which occurred yearly in May; and it would thus be a spot commanding the reverential regard of the natives. In the vicinity of the town also passes the CATRAIL: which see. The only other ancient remain was the bridge having a ribbed arch crossing the Slitrig, supposed to have been coeval with the church erected in 1214; but this was removed in 1851 to make way for a more commodious structure.

Hawick has the merit of instituting the first Farmers' club in Scotland. This was in 1770. The first Sabbath school in Scotland is also said to have been established here about 35 years ago. There is an excellent library, established in 1762, now containing 4,000 volumes; and another supported by tradesmen, containing between 1,000 and 2,000 volumes. The town has offices of the British Linen Company's Bank, the Commercial Bank, the Royal Bank, and the National Bank, a number of insurance agencies, a mechanics' institute, a savings' bank, a clothing society, several benefit societies, and some other institutions. Gas light was introduced about 25 years ago. The general police act, 3 & 4 William IV, cap. 46. was first adopted in 1845, and is found, by enabling the commisioners to impose assessments, to be highly beneficial. In virtue of this statute, courts are held daily when required for the trial of petty offences. The other ordinary criminal jurisdiction of the bailies, as well as their civil jurisdiction, is identical with that exercised by the magistrates in royal burghs. The justices of peace, who exercise a cumulative jurisdiction, also try petty offences; and the sheriff sits once in two months for the summary despatch of causes not exceeding 12 pounds in amount.

Markets for cattle and for hiring servants are held on the 17th of May and on the 8th of November; for sheep on the 20th and 21st of September; and for horses and cattle on the third Tuesday of October. A market for hiring hinds and herds is held generally on the first, second, and third Thursdays of April; a wool fair in July, on the first Thursday after St Boswell's Fair; and a sheep fair, at which from 2,000 to 3,000 Cheviots are generally shown on the 20th and 21st of September, or the Tuesday after if the 20th falls on a Saturday. Hawick tryst is held on the third Tuesday of October, where some young horses, and a few Highland cattle from the Falkirk tryst, are shown. A winter cattle market is held on the 8th of November, or on Tuesday after, if the 8th falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. Till 1778 no regular corn market existed in the town; but one was, in that year, established by the Farmers' club. Not only in this matter, but in others of a similar nature, and in most things, bearing on agricultural improvement, the Farmers' club has been a vigilant, active, and highly useful association. The club holds its meetings on the first Thursday of every month. A kindred association of wider range and more powerful influence owes its paternity to the patriotic and enlightened James Douglas, Esq. of Cavers, and was formed in the town in 1835, under the patronage of the Duke of Buccleuch. This association - the Agricultural society for the west of Teviotdale - includes in its sphere of action 13 parishes, and holds an annual general meeting in Hawick on the first Thursday of August. A school of Arts originating in the same judicious and benevolent quarter as the Agricultural society, was established in 1824, and has procured the delivery of several courses of lectures. Two reading and news rooms, which enrich the town, are liberally conducted, and possess appliances equal to the best in almost any town in Scotland.

A plentiful supply of water has, at different periods, been brought into the town, at the expense of the corporation, by whom also the wells are kept in good repair. The middle of the principal street, which has of late been macadamized, and forms a part of the turnpike road, is kept in repair at the expense of the road trustees. A sum is annually granted by the statute labour trustees, from the statute labour fund of the parish of Hawick, towards keeping the paved streets and bye-lanes in repair; but owing to the circumstance of one of the magistrates only being, ex-officio, a trustee upon the public roads, the power of the magistrates, with relation to the repairs of the streets and lanes, is very limited; and in consequence, these are not in good order.- The property of the burgh consists in the common moor and common haugh of Hawick, certain superiorities, the town-house, an adjoining dwelling house, and the water works; and in 1850 it was valued as follows:-

1 Land rents, 384 pounds at 30 years purchase 11,520 pounds 0 0
2 Feu-duties, 63 pounds at 25 years purchase 1,575 pounds 0 0
3 Small rents and cattle stent, 74 pounds at 20 years purchase 1,480 pounds 0 0
4 Water-duty, 32 pounds at 20 years purchase 640 pounds 0 0

    15,215 pounds 0 0

The debt amounted to 940 pounds, and is now 1,850 pounds. The revenue in 1853 was 725 pounds; and the expenditure, including the annual grant towards the police of the burgh of 150 pounds, was 677 pounds, thus exhibiting a surplus of 48 pounds. On the last Friday of May, old style, a procession, consisting of the magistrates on horseback, and a large multitude of the burgesses and inhabitants on foot, and graced with the banner of the town, the copy of an original which is traditionally reported to have been taken from the English soon after the battle of Flodden, moves along the boundaries of the royalty greeted by the hilarious demonstrations of youths and children, and ostensibly describing the limits of their property, and publicly asserting their legal rights; thus very idly and childishly perpetuating the ancient and once necessary practice of "riding the marches".

Several eminent men have adorned the town. Among these may be named Gawyn Douglas, rector of the parish in 1496, and bishop of Dunkeld, the translator of Virgil's Eneid, although doubts have lately been started as to the good Bishop's connection with the place. William Fowler, who held the incumbency in the reign of James VI, and was secretary to his Queen, was a scholar and poet of no mean reputation. General Elliot, created Lord Heathfield, the heroic defender of Gibralter, Admiral John Elliot of Minto, the conqueror of Thurot, and Miss Jane Elliot, his sister, authoress of the Flowers of the Forest, Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, Governor-General of India, and William Elliot of Wells, M.P. for Peterborough, private secretary for Ireland, both eminent statesmen, and Dr John Leyden, one of our best modern poets, were all born in the immediate neighbourhood, as was also General Simpson, the present commander of the British forces in the Crimea, who, with the Elliots just named, are all sprung from the House of Stobs. Dr Thomas Somerville, author of the History of the reign of Queen Anne and other works, was a native of the place; and Samuel Charters, author of admirable sermons and other works, characterized by Dr Chalmers as the most interesting Scottish clergyman of his time, was fifty-two years minister of Wilton, which includes a suburb of the town.

In conclusion, it may be stated that Hawick is now a very thriving place, taking the lead in that cluster of towns on the Border, engaged in the woollen trade, comprising Jedburgh, Kelso, Earlston, Galashiels, Selkirk, Langholm, Innerleithen, and Dumfries; and it is steadily increasing in trade and importance. Further information may be obtained from Annals of Hawick, by James Wilson, published in 1850, and Companion thereto publised in 1854. Population of the town, exclusive of the Wilton suburb, in 1841, 5,718; in 1861, 8,138. Houses, 546. Population of the Wilton suburb in 1841, 52; in 1861, 53. Houses, 6. The population of the whole town at present (1861) is 1,891. Houses, 652."