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Friday, 21 October 2016

A Lug tae the Groond

We started a creative writing group in November 2015 to write fiction to fill in the gaps about incidents and historical characters in Berwick’s, Tweedmouth’s and Spittal’s history, using research produced by the Berwick 900 Our Families Project and that writers do, themselves.

An excerpt from this story was read at the  Berwick Literary Festival talk 'Hidden Treasures and Inspiration' on 21 October 2016.

The archives in the town of Berwick upon Tweed hold the ancient accounts of the Corporation. These fragile old books, with their flaking pages and hand-written entries, make reference to many of the characters who lived in the town and how they earned a living. Edward Collins, mole catcher, was one such character.

The account books show that he was working for the Corporation in the 1740s and 1750s and that he was paid a penny a mole for his labours. The work was highly seasonal; the accounts for 1755-6 list weekly payments from March to July. There is no record of how he made a living for the rest of the year.

Edward’s birth and death are recorded in the parish registers of Ford in Northumberland.
He was born on April 12th 1726 and died on January 2nd 1802.
The burial record states: Edward Collins, Branxton, late gamekeeper at Ford Castle (d2nd*) aged 77 years. 
 *d2nd is thought to mean died 2nd.

Edward Collins lived in Berwick during a turbulent period in Britain’s history. The events of the period are well documented, but the details of the daily life of Berwick’s mole catcher do not appear anywhere in the historical record. To discover more about Edward, his family and his neighbours it is necessary to employ a little imagination.

An Account of the Receipts and Disbursments of the Revenue of the Town of Berwick from Michaelmas 1746 to Ditto 1747.

3rd March 1747: To Edward Collins for 145 moles: 12s1d  

Ah was up checkin’ mah traps at High Cocklaw last night. Ah was just aboot tae pack in, when ah heard a voice ahint me. Ah turned tae look and there was an owld man standin’ there. He was no much above four feet tall and he had a grey beard doon tae his waist. His face was as wrinkled as a mole that’s bin hingin’ in the sun ower much; a scarlet hat rested atop his heid and he had a right evil gleam in his eye. He was a Redcap. It’s weel kent they’ll suck every last drop o’ blood oot o’ ye if they git the chance. The owld de’il started tae come at me, so ah kibbled him wi’ mah spud. He was away in a flash. Ah’ll no be lookin’ ower them traps so late in the day the next time. 

11th March 1747: To Edward Collins for 98 moles: 8s2d
Ah can hear things other folk canna. It’s on account of the thoosands o’ moles that hev passed through mah hands ower the years. Last night ah was checkin’ mah traps along Ratten Raw when ah heard some Scots voices. They was toastin’ the “little gentlemen in black velvet waistcoats.” Ah knaw what they was meanin’. Ah reported it tae the Sergeant. He likes tae be told aboot what’s goin’ on in the toon. He knaws ah’ve always got mah lug tae the groond. Sees me right he does. Ah canna feed the bayrens on a penny a mole. Folk divvent notice me, y ‘see. Think ah’m sackless they do.

21st  March 1747: To Edward Collins for 74 moles: 6s2d
Ye’ve got tae admire the wee creatures. No bigger than the palm o’ y’hand, and ah swear they can dig a tunnel twenty yards long in a single day. There’s no a collier at Scremerston can dig that fast. Ah cuddint spend aw day undergroond like those poor de’ils. The only time ah’m goin’ doon there is in a wooden box when ah pass. And even then ah want a rope in mah hand, with a bell on the end, so’s ah can call for help if the little gentlemen in black velvet come efter me, tae avenge their deid brothers.

29th March 1747: To Edward Collins for 109 moles: 9s1d
Ah was settin’ mah traps along Marygate this morning, just by the Toon Guard. The wee de’ils git everywhere. Thomas Scott makes mah traps for me. Guid ‘n strong- made o’ ash. No like the pot yins mah father used. Ah progged around wi’ mah spud tae find a tunnel and dug into it ready for the trap tae go in. Ah always gie the trap a guid rub doon wi’ a fresh skin afore ah drop it in. Ah swear them clever creatures can smell me a mile off.  Ah strung the trap and dropped it in the hole, put the earth back and stamped it in. Ye’ve got to gan canny. The tunnel can easily cave in. Ah was just peggin’ the stick, when Mr Mayor pulled up beside me on his horse. He looks doon at me and says, “What in God’s name are ye doing man? Ye’re blockin’ the way.” “Beggin’ ya pardon, ya honour,” ah says, “But the little de’ils is doon there and they’ve bin known tae kill a king. Ah divvent think they’ll show any more respect to the Mayor o’ Berwick upon Tweed.” Ha! That telt Mr Fenwick Stowe esq.

7th April 1747: To Edward Collins for 78 moles: 6s6d
The sergeant came tae see me this efternoon. Asked me if ah’d heard or seen anythin’ of a deed bayren on mah travels. Ah telt him ah’d seen yin up at the De’il’s Causeway. It was lyin’ in a dyke, on a bed of rowan and witchwood. Ah was feard tae touch it. It had the look of a changelin’. Ah telt him that it’d be gone b’now, and if it wasn’t he’d best leave it be. He says, ‘Ye’ve tae come wi’ me Collins and show me the exact spot.’ Ah wasn’t s’ keen, but he says he’d hev David Forster gie me a night in the toon gaol if ah didn’t. The bayren was still there. Ah was surprised the craas hadn’t had it’s eyes, but it hadn’t been touched. If it wasn’t s’ deathly white ye’d hev thought it was sleeping peaceable. Ah left the sergeant tae it. He called me a feardy cush, but ah didn’t care; ah didn’t want that Redcap efter me agen.

12th April 1747: To Edward Collins for 116 moles: 9s8d
St George’s dragoons arrived in the toon the day. They was a bonny sight in their orange waistcoats and breeches. Isable Sheriff and her clecken was there tae welcome them. They was shootin’ and squealin’ and liftin’ their skirts. It was a shameful sight. It took the sergeants and aw the constables and beadles tae whip them oot. Ye should’ve heard them bawlin’. They was kicked oot through the Scotch Gate, but ah saw them aw back inside the walls again afore the hour was done. It’s as well we hev the new barracks. Ah’ve never seen it s’ full. Aye, it’s no like it was a few years ago when we had them billeted aw ower the toon. Mind yee, the publicans divvent sell as much ale as they used tae.

16th April 1747: To Edward Collins for 53 moles: 4s5d
The beadles lit a bonfire the night tae mind the Battle o’ Culloden. They set torches tae the tar barrels and they went up right bonny.  The bells were ringin’ and the waits was jiggin’.  Ah’m no so sure aboot aw this jaisterin’.There’s plenty of folk in the toon who divvent go wi’ what’s been happenin’ this past year.

22nd April 1747: To Edward Collins for 129  moles:10s9d
Ah went tae the Tolbooth  for mah dues this efternoon. Mr Todd doesn’t like me goin’ in there. Ah divvint think he likes the smell of mah waistcoat. It takes more than a hundred moles tae make a waistcoat as canny as this. There’s many a gent in London who’d pay highly for yin like it. Mr Todd looks at me frae under his poodered wig and says, “That’s a lot of moles ye’ve been catching Collins. I sent David Forster up tae count them and he said there were only 120 on the line.” Ah looked him straight in the eye and says, “Had away man, there’s craas and buzzards up there. And what’s more,” ah says, “Ah wuddint put it past the wee men in velvet tae come up efter dark tae gie some of their deid brothers a decent Christian burial.”  He looked at me ower the top o’ his spectacles. “That’s blasphemy Edward Collins,” he says. Ah got paid mah full dues though.

27th April 1747: To Edward Collins for 27  moles:2s3d
There was another bonfire last night. For the Duke o’ Cumberland’s birthday this time. Mr Mayor was there in aw his finery. Raised a glass tae the prince and tae the king. The ale hooses in the toon was busy and the dragoons was out in force keepin’ an eye on the goin’s on. The sergeant has asked me tae keep mah lug tae the groond in case there’s any trouble brewin’.

4th May 1747: To Edward Collins for 63  moles:5s3d
There was a muckle commotion alang Ratten Raw this morning. A company of the St George’s Dragoons was searching aw the cottages. They didn’t wait tae be invited in. They was yellin’ and bawlin’ and knockin’ doon doors. They took some of the Scots lads away. They didn’t go peaceable. David Forster’s got them in the gaol. He says they’re thought of bein’ in wi’ the rebellion. Ah wuddint like tae be a Scot in Berwick at the present time.

11th May 1747: To Edward Collins for 33 moles:2s9d
The waits were in good voice last night. Ah opened mah window and shooted doon, “haud ya wheesht,” but that just made them blow their horns and bang their drums aw the looder. There’s a heavy mood in the toon. Even with the gates barred and guarded, it’s still good tae hear that aw’s well. Ah lit mah pipe and went doon for some crack with mah friends. John Oswald’s a bletherskite! It’s wonder he has the puff left tae scrape his fiddle. He telt me there’s a woman in the gaol accused o’ witchcraft. The deid bayren that ah foond in the hedge belanged to her, and the sergeant thinks she offered it tae Owld Nick. Ah said like as no it’s a changelin’ and that she was sendin’ it back tae it’s rightful kin in Elfhame. They canna hing her for being a witch, but she’ll be swinging on Gallows Knowe for killing her bayren. At least she’ll hev a bonny view of the Tweed afore she draws her last breath on God’s Earth.

23rd May 1747: To Edward Collins for 101 moles:8s5d
Ah’ve telt our Eleanor tae keep away frae the barracks. She’s been hingin’ aroond there ever since St George’s Dragoons arrived. There’s tee many lasses in this toon has fallen for a bonny lad in uniform only t’be cast aside when they march off tae some other place. Ah’ve telt her tae mind what happens tae loose and idle women. There’s plenty honest, hard-working lads belangs Berwick for her tae take her pick of. Ah’ll ask the minister tae hev a word wi’ her efter the meetin’ on Sunday. He’ll put the fear of God intae her. We’ll see if that helps.

30th May 1747: To Edward Collins for 33 moles:2s9d
High and mighty Mr Todd refused tae pay me mah full dues the day. He said he’d heard ah’d only killed 33 moles, and that was aw the Corporation was willin’ t’pay me for. Ah telt him if he wanted molehills aw ower the toon and the boonds so be it, but ah wasn’t  goin’ tae catch the little de’ils if ah wasn’t paid mah full dues. Ah git little enough as it is for mah labours, and there’s no an honester man in the toon than Edward Collins- anybody’ll tell ye that. It’s aw right for Mr James Todd, sittin’ up there in his high chair, with his black fingers and dusty books. “Anyway, Collins,” he says tae me, “Mr Mayor doesn’t think the toon will require ya services for much longer.”  Ah says, “Oh, his honour has a soft spot for the little men in black velvet does he?” “Watch ya tongue Collins,” he says, “There are men rottin’ in the town gaol for using language like that.” He stared doon at me ower the top o’ his spectacles. “The toon is going tae be paved, man. No mole on God’s Earth can tunnel through solid sandstone.” It’s no just. Ah’ll no be treated like that. Ah’ll take it tae the Guild. They’ll see me right.

10th June 1747: To Edward Collins for 90 moles:7s6d
John Oswald gev me some poor news the day. He says he saw our Eleanor walkin’ arm-in-arm with yin o’ them dragoons frae the barracks. As bold as brass he says she was. If father was still alive he’d hev clipped her wings. Ah’ll no be standin’ for it either. She’ll no be steppin’ out wi’ anybody efter ah’ve finished wi’ her.

14th June 1747: To Edward Collins for 37 moles:3s1d
Ah  lost two of mah traps the day. Ah went tae Marygate tae check them and the road was blocked wi’ carts. They were laden wi’ muckle big slabs o’ stone. Ah tried tae git through tae mah traps but they’d already put a slab on top o’ them. They must’ve been able tae see they was there. Cost me dear those traps. Solid ash.

27th June 1747: To Edward Collins for 119 moles:9s11d
The Guild says that David Forster’s tae check mah work and pay me mah dues. He’s a gudyin. Ah’m sure he’ll treat me honest. It was Fairday yesterday and ah decided tae hev a day oot. In truth, ah took a few tee many draughts of ale and was fair puggled b’ noon. The Scots lads must hev been let oot of the Gaol, ‘cause they was hinging aroond the toon. They approached me and yin of them called me a claip and gev me a fair dunch. Then the others joined in. Ah ended up wi’ a right keeker. Ah’ll mention it tae the sergeant, but ah’m sure that’ll be the end of it.

4th July 1747: To Edward Collins for 27 moles:2s3d
Our Eleanor ran off last night. Ah searched the toon, but there was no sign of her anywhere. Ah asked efter her at the barracks, but the guards just laughed in mah face. Our mother’s nivvor stopped greetin’.

 12th July 1747: To Edward Collins for 62 moles:5s2d
We’ve sent Eleanor away t’Ford t’stay wi’ mah brother’s family. She’s no safe in this toon in the present times. Mah brother says they’re lookin’ for a game keeper up at the castle. He says the pay’s no much, but there’s a cottage and a patch o’ land. Ah’m sore tempted by it. Ah’ve bided in this toon since ah was a bayren, but it’s no the best o’ times for a mole catcher in Berwick just noo.

© Sean Fleet October 2016

I am indebted to Fred Kennington for his booklet ‘As Spoken in Berwick’ and for the improvements he suggested to an earlier draft of this work.

Other Creative Writing Group stories

Peculiar Customs in the Village of Ford, Northumberland - A Fair Beatin’

We started a creative writing group in November 2015 to write fiction to fill in the gaps about incidents and historical characters in Berwick’s, Tweedmouth’s and Spittal’s history, using research produced by the Berwick 900 Our Families Project and that writers do, themselves.

An excerpt from this story was read at the  Berwick Literary Festival talk 'Hidden Treasures and Inspiration' on 21 October 2016.

The records of the Ford and Etal Estate in North Northumberland were deposited in the Berwick Record Office many years ago. Slipped in amongst the invoices, receipts and other official documents was a folded sheet of parchment covered in spidery handwriting, its black ink faded but still legible. Entitled ‘Peculiar Customs Still Practiced in the Village of Ford’, the document is undated, but is believed to be late 18th century.

This fragment of social history inspired the following story.

A Fair Beatin’

A ring of schoolboys formed a makeshift arena in the small yard outside the schoolroom in Ford Village.  Two boys  entered the arena, each gripping a black cockerel. The schoolmaster held out his hand and each boy placed a coin in his cupped palm. The two boys turned to face each other.
“This time, to the death,” declared the schoolmaster and raucous cheering broke out all around. Joseph Hutton and Will Fenton stared unblinking into each other's eyes and awaited the signal for the fight to commence.
The cockerels in the boys hands were thrust towards each other, once, twice, then dropped to the ground. They landed on the frozen earth and sprang together in a flurry of feathers. Joseph and Will watched the fighting birds in silence, as the other boys yelled their support for their favoured combatant. Feathers flew in all directions; beaks and spurs pierced flesh. It was impossible to tell which bird was on top, until one of them lay motionless on the ground in a pool of deep red blood, with the other circling around it. Will Fenton rushed forward.
“No!” he cried, as he knelt down by the dying bird. The schoolmaster stepped in and pulled him away, then lifted the bird up by it’s neck and gave a sharp twist. He thrust the limp, lifeless creature towards Will.
“Here, run home with it. Your mother will want to get it in the pot before Lententide.”

John Hutton sat at the head of the table, in the centre of the tiny cottage. He opened the large bible and placed his right hand on the page. He bowed his head and began to recite:
“If  a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen fae an ox, and four sheep fae a sheep.”
Joseph Hutton listened to his father’s voice in silence, with eyes cast down at the oak table.
“……….. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed fae him; fae he should make full restitution; if he hev nothin’, then he shall be sold fae his theft. Exodus, Chapter twenty-two, verses yin to three.”
The man closed the holy book and looked across the table towards his son.
“Look at me, laddie.”
Joseph raised his head and glanced at his mother. She gave a weak smile, then stood and began to clear away the pots from the evening meal. Joseph turned to face his father. The man eased the bible to one side and picked up a small earthenware jar. He upended it and Joseph watched its contents spill out onto the table. His father began to count the coins, arranging them in neat piles as he did so. He placed the last coin on its pile and stared down at the small collection.
“Sixteen coins. Yin penny less than was there the last time ah looked. What hev ye tae say laddie?”
Joseph kept his eyes focussed on his father’s, but remained silent. The man banged the table with his hand and the piles of coins were scattered, some clattering onto the stone-flagged floor. A tear ran down Joseph’s cheek as he answered:
“Ah’m sorry father.”
The man rose from the table and unbuckled the leather belt from around his waist. He folded one end to obtain a better grip. Joseph stood up and removed his shirt. He walked around the chair and gripped the sides with both hands. The first strike of the belt’s buckle felt cold on Joseph’s  back. He bit into the wooden chair back as the lashes continued.
Joseph’s mother grasped her husband’s arm.
“Enough, John, stop now.”
The man turned to face his wife.
“Ah’ll no hev a son o’ mine branded as a thief. Jed Taylor wes sent to the colonies for tekin’ a rabbit from Delaval’s land. Is that what  ye want for ye bairn?”
He turned back to face  his son and raised the belt.
“He’ll take twelve lashes.”

The bell rang out in the tiny schoolroom in Ford Village and the schoolmaster rose from his desk.
“School is finished for the day. You may leave in an orderly manner. Joseph Hutton and Will Fenton are to remain behind.”
The two boys pushed their chairs under their desks and stood behind them,hands clasped behind their backs and eyes cast to the ground.
“Come forward, come forward.”
They crossed the schoolroom and stood in front of the schoolmaster.
“That’s a fearsome bird you have, Hutton, did you raise it yourself?”
“Yes sir.”
“You were a worthy Victor.”
“Thank you sir.”
“So, are you looking forward to the Chase on Palm Saturday boys?”
The boys answered in unison.
“Yes sir.”
“And you, Fenton. You will be Victor’s Man.”
There was a short pause before Will replied.
“Yes sir.”
The schoolmaster slapped each boy on the back in turn. Joseph winced and his face turned white.
“Are you unwell, boy?”
“No, sir.”
“Off home with the pair of you then. Be sure to run all the way. You’ll be needing to prepare for the big day.”
The moment he got outside Joseph raced off through the gate. Will set off in pursuit and was soon on the other boy’s shoulder.
“Ye’ll  hev tae run faster than that in the Chase, laddie, or ye’ll get a fair beatin’.”
Joseph did not reply, but tried to increase his speed. Will matched his pace.
“And ye needn’t be thinking ah’ll be tekin’ some o’ ye blows for ye.”
Once more Joseph tried to increase his pace. Will caught up with ease and whacked Joseph on the back.
“Bye, bye tortoise,” he cried as he raced away.

“There’ll be no Easter celebrations in this hoose. D’ye ken what ah’m sayin’, Margaret?”
John Hutton pushed his plate to one side and leaned across the table towards his wife.
“It’s a pagan festival; if them folk in the church up on the hill wants tae mark it, then so be it, but ah’ll hev none o’ it in this family.”
“Hush John, ye’ll waken the bairns.”
“If the bairns wake to witness the word of the Lord, then ah’ll no be sorry.”
Margaret crossed the room to check on the four children sleeping in the box bed, then returned to her chair by the fire.
“Ye’ve to gan canny, John. Ah’m feard o’ what’ll happen if we gets on the wrong side of folk. The flittin’s not long away and they could hire a younger hind.”
John spat into the fire.
“Ah’ll no be  worshipin’ false idols to suit any man.”
“Naebody’s askin’ ye tae worship false idols, John. It’s just a bit o’ harmless mischief. And Joseph’s been up at the crack o’ dawn all through Lent gettin’ ready fae it.”
“Haud yer wheest, woman.”
“Nae  John, ye’re a guid man, but ah’ll no stay silent and see my bairns homeless and starvin. Ye’ve tae let Joseph run the Chase  in the morn; I’ll hev time tae get him and the other bairns over tae Etal for the meetin’.”
John Hutton stood up and marched across the room. He grabbed his jacket from its hook, opened the door and lurched through it. The door slammed behind him.

The early morning sunshine had melted the frost and the worn stones felt damp beneath Joseph’s  feet. He leaned against the cottage door and gulped in the cool air. Smoke was rising from the chimney now and the oats would be simmering in the pot. Joseph looked up the hill towards the church. Its tall spire towered over the two rows of tiny one-room cottages, occupied by the estate workers and their families. Joseph lifted the sneck, pushed open the door and entered the cottage. Its occupants were already  seated around the table and the boy joined them without speaking. John Hutton did not raise his eyes from the open bible that rested on the table in front of him.
“We’ve been waitin’ fae ye, laddie.”
“Sorry, father.”
The man began to  read from the  holy book.
“Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do……”

A babble of schoolboys surrounded the church of St Michael and All Angels, each shouldering a large palm frond. The schoolmaster emerged from the porch with Joseph Hutton and Will Fenton by his side. He addressed the excited crowd.
“The Victor and Victor’s  Man will run from the church down to the river, and back over Ford Hill. In the time-honoured manner, you boys will run thrice around the church before you give chase.”
He turned to Joseph and Will.
“Are you ready boys?”
The two boys nodded. The schoolmaster slapped each of them on the back.
Joseph sped past the ancient gravestones and away down the hill towards the village. The sound of the mob racing around the decaying church faded into the distance. Will followed close on Joseph’s heels.
“Ha! The tortoise  has turned … a hare……has he.”
Joseph registered the surprise in his companion’s voice and smiled, but did not reply. He looked ahead towards the village. A crowd had gathered outside the rows of cottages. As they got closer, Joseph could hear the shouts from the farm labourers, their wives and daughters, enjoying a rare respite from their daily toils. The encouragement spurred him on, and Joseph increased his speed.
“Howay Joseph, lad!”
Joseph recognised  his mother’s voice, as he raced past a blur of faces.

It did not take the two boys long to reach the wide, sweeping meander of the River Till, close to where it is joined by the Bradford Burn. They turned to follow the smaller stream. Joseph had pulled ahead of Will, but could still hear his Man’s heavy panting close behind him. The pursuing mob could now be heard descending the boggy field down to the Till. The Canon Burn came into sight, signalling the beginning of the climb up Ford Hill, back to the church. Joseph's pace slowed as the gradient steepened. Will was now at his shoulder.
“Ah’m in awe, man…….. ye’ve earned ye spurs.”
Joseph’s lungs were burning, but he managed a gasped reply.
He glanced over his shoulder; the pack had reached the foot of the hill and was beginning the climb. Ahead, the church spire was just coming into view. Joseph put his head down and was just about to start the final sprint when he felt a heavy blow to his back. He lost his balance and his momentum carried him forward. Before he realised what was happening, Will was on top of him, pinning him to ground. Joseph rolled over, but was unable to free himself from the other boy’s grip.
“This is for killin’ mah champion cock.”
Will spat in Joseph's face, then leapt up and ran off in the direction of  the church. Before Joseph could get to his feet, the pack had surrounded him. Blow after stinging blow rained down on him until he heard a  barked command:
The pack ran off whooping and hollering.  Joseph looked up. The schoolmaster stood over him. A grinning Will Fenton stood by his side.

Joseph winced as his mother bathed the cuts on his face and neck.
“We mustn’t be long, your father’s expectin’ us at the chapel. He's preachin’ this morn and he’ll no be best pleased if we arrive late.”
The woman rose, gathered her other children and ushered them through the door. Joseph took his jacket from the hook, slid it on and followed. The younger children skipped off along the cobbles, as the group set off on the two mile walk to the neighbouring village of Etal.
“Best no tae mention this morn’s events tae yer father,  eh Joseph?”
The boy looked at his mother and smiled.
“He wants the best fae ye,  ye know that.”
Joseph mopped his brow and smarted, as the sweat worked its way into the cuts on his face.
“Aye, mother,” he replied, “ah know.”

© Sean Fleet - October 2016

Other Creative Writing Group stories

Two Pounds Reward

We started a creative writing group in November 2015 to write fiction to fill in the gaps about incidents and historical characters in Berwick’s, Tweedmouth’s and Spittal’s history, using research produced by the Berwick 900 Our Families Project and that writers do, themselves. 

An excerpt from this story was read at the  Berwick Literary Festival talk 'Hidden Treasures and Inspiration' on 21 October 2016.

The wooden cart, laden with belongings, bounced and swayed up the steep track as it wound its way to the summit of the hill. Mary glanced back towards Ayton village and the sandstone castle, standing proudly on the brae, basking in the May sunshine.Tears welled up in her eyes as she gazed down at the long row of matching cottages where she had lived with her widowed father for the last five years, working the land alongside him, until the baby had been born just 8 weeks ago. The bairn stirred in her arms and her thoughts were jolted back to the present. Her father had been hired as the new shepherd at Ford Castle now that she could no longer work in the fields. Flitting day had come round quickly and Ford was a long way from where Mary was planning to start a new life with her baby's father, a young soldier from Berwick.

The furniture wobbled precariously as the cart began its descent towards the Duns Road. The sea sparkled in the distance, breaking on the curving golden sands that reached out to a small island. Wrapping her tiny son in a thick Paisley shawl, Mary picked up the basket which contained all she needed for the next few days. Her father steadied the horse and turned round to bid his daughter and grandchild a gruff farewell.

“Take good care of my grandson and look out for yourself in the town."
Mary hugged her father and then, with tears running down her cheeks, she climbed down from the cart, tied the baby round her waist, and began her long walk into Berwick.

Heading over the rise she soon saw the town ahead of her with its proud and elegant railway bridge spanning the wide mouth of the River Tweed. Her heart lifted at the thought of what lay ahead. The baby was contented, enjoying the warm spring air. As large houses came into view, she followed the cobbled road down into the town. It soon joined the Great North Road by a toll house and the railway station. Mary had never been on a train and she watched in fear and admiration as the giant engine with its pistons pumping billowed smoke into the sky.

Crossing Castle Bridge, thoughts of her own journey returned and she cuddled the baby as he started to cry, startled by the noise of the town.  The road was busy with carts and people as she passed through the Scot Gate and entered Marygate. This was the very centre of the town with its long line of buildings snaking down the hill. She thought of it as her street. It was the place she had first met with Robert, when she came to the market over a year ago. How smart he had looked that day in the tartan uniform of the King’s Own Borderers regiment. She kept to the pavement as more carts and a flock of sheep filled the road. Her eyes were drawn to the elegant spire of the Guild Hall with its black faced clock and it reminded her of the need for a quicker pace if she was to avoid being late. She passed the stall holders and squeezed through the narrow passageway into Church Street. Walking quickly, Mary sang to the baby as she looked for the narrow alley where her new home was to be.

The cobbles were very uneven as the alley opened out into a court yard, with a row of small narrow houses filling each side. These were the married quarters for the regiment’s soldiers. It was peaceful after the bustle of the town. No one was in sight apart from a maid hanging out washing in the garden of a large house at the end, the officers’ accommodation, no doubt. She lowered herself onto the old bench where Robert had arranged to meet her. In the shade of a tree covered in blossom she decided to feed the baby, who was getting restless and overheated in all his layers of clothing. Her eyes continuously scanned the entrance to the courtyard, hoping she wouldn't have to wait too long before Robert arrived. She knew no one in the town, but felt she would soon get to know the neighbours living so closely together. She started to wonder who might live in each house and imagined Robert introducing her as his wife. Time passed as she built up a picture of how different her new life would be in this bustling town. She had heard about the balls in the Corn Exchange with the women in fine gowns and carriages lining Hide Hill.

With her son now sleeping peacefully, Mary felt the cooler air on her face and noticed the shadows starting to lengthen across the yard. She glanced down the passageway looking for Robert. Where was he?  She began to pace up and down.  A young soldier appeared in the uniform of the KOB and her heart leapt, but he was quickly followed by a woman and they entered the house opposite. Her legs and arms felt stiff and she realised that it was long past the hour of their meeting. A young couple came out of the building and Mary decided to pluck up courage and ask them about Robert. She approached them nervously but they walked quickly out of the courtyard and headed up the street towards the Barracks. Mary snatched up the basket and the baby and followed them, praying that they would be able to help her find Robert.

Mary hadn't walked far when the narrow street suddenly widened and she saw the parade ground was in front of her. Soldiers were being drilled by a sergeant who barked instructions continuously. She stared at the soldier’s faces but they all looked similar, dressed in their tartan uniforms. The couple she had been following disappeared in the crowd. Mary spun around and noticed a soldier leaning on the church gates. His relaxed stance gave her confidence and she approached him.
“Excuse me,” she stuttered.
The soldier looked at Mary and smiled.
“I’m looking for Robert Cameron,” she continued, “He’s a private in your regiment.”
 The soldier gave her a blank look.
“I don’t know anyone by that name, lass.”
Mary's heart raced. She grabbed the soldier’s arm and repeated her question.The man glanced at the baby in Mary’s arms.
“Sorry lass, I can’t help you.”
The baby began to cry and Mary released her grip on the soldier’s arm and turned away from him. The parading soldiers were marching back into the barracks. Mary raced after them, but as she reached the entrance gates one of the sentries stepped across her path.
“Oh no, lassie, you can’t go in there.”
Mary tried to push past him and was grabbed by the arms and shoved aside. She stumbled, but managed to stay on her feet and keep hold of the baby, who was now screaming loudly. The sentry stepped forward.
“I should get off home afore the lamps are lit, lassie.”

Mary decided to heed the soldier’s warning. She couldn't risk a night in Berwick alone with the bairn. She would return in the morning to look for Robert. She started to walk back towards the station. Mary felt the coins in her purse. She hoped she would have enough to pay for a train ticket to Reston. She hurried along the street, soon passing the alley where Robert should have been waiting for her. The courtyard was empty and tears welled up in Mary's eyes.

 The baby now heavy in her arms, Mary saw the station ahead and, with a feeling of relief, she entered the turreted building. Feeling again the coins in her purse, she approached the ticket office. Her Northumbrian dialect was always stronger when she was nervous and the man in uniform behind the desk asked her several times to repeat her request. Mary began to weep when she was informed that the last train that day had already departed.
“Where can I go? What can I do?” she implored.
“I’m shutting up the station now lass, you’ll have to go.”

Leaving the station and heading out of town, Mary had no clear plan in her mind. She walked blindly, noticing no one. She thought she recalled a barn on the Duns road where they could shelter for the night and decided to make her way to it. The lamps were being lit as Mary made her way up Castle Terrace and the light was starting to fail as she left the town. She had been walking for some time before she realised that she was lost and was following the wrong road away from the town. Peering anxiously ahead, she was able to make out a cart at the side of the road. She jumped when a young lad appeared.

“Aye, aye, missus, what are you doing out so late?”
Mary explained that she was lost and asked the lad for help. He tried to give her directions back to the Duns road but she was tired and hungry and struggled to understand what he was saying.  He showed her the turn to the nearest farm, Lethamshank and Mary began to walk towards it.

Dusk was falling as Mary warily approached the farmhouse. Candles lit the lower windows and she could see the shadows of people moving about the room. A series of barns and outbuildings flanked one side of the house. Creeping silently along the wall she pushed open a barn door and stepped inside. It was very dark but the floor was dry and a low bench was positioned right by the door. Mary sat down and quickly started to feed her hungry baby wrapping him in a plaid shawl to keep out the chilly night air. She felt dizzy and weak from lack of food and an overwhelming fear about the day's events. What had happened to Robert? Why hadn’t he come? These thoughts went round and round in her head as she nursed her precious son. Moonlight poured through the door and she heard voices across the yard. Thoughts of the soldier’s warning about the dark returned. Carefully she placed her sleeping child in the basket which she gently placed in the corner behind a small pile of coal and logs. Peering through a crack in the door she saw the shadow of someone move across the yard. Her heart began to beat faster and her mouth felt dry.  Cold air crept in under the door and she started to shiver. There was something about the shadowy silhouette that seemed familiar. Leaving the baby warm and safely hidden from view, Mary eased the door open a crack. A shaft of moonlight illuminated the end of the barn wall and she caught sight of the retreating figure of a soldier in uniform. She called out:
There was no answer and it seemed as if the darkness had swallowed her words. She called again:
"Robert, is that you ? It’s me, Mary."
There was no reply. Mary crept out into the yard. She had to find Robert.

Early next morning the maid was sent to the barn to fetch the coal and sticks to light the kitchen fire. As she reached for the handle on the old wooden door she was startled to hear the whimpering cries of a young baby. Entering the barn she realised that the sound was coming from behind the coal pile. She  tiptoed round the logs and was startled to see a small baby, wrapped in a plaid shawl, lying in an old wicker basket. Its face was red and covered in tears. The maid bent down and gently lifted the baby from the basket. She cradled it in her arms.
“Where’s your mammy, little one?”

© Christine Fleetwood - October 2016

Other Creative Writing Group stories

Fractured Screams

We started a creative writing group in November 2015 to write fiction to fill in the gaps about incidents and historical characters in Berwick’s, Tweedmouth’s and Spittal’s history, using research produced by the Berwick 900 Our Families Project and that writers do, themselves. 

An excerpt from this story was read at the  Berwick Literary Festival talk 'Hidden Treasures and Inspiration' on 21 October 2016.

It all happened so quickly that afterwards nobody could say who the women were or why no-one had stopped them. It’s aye noisy in Berwick’s Woolmarket. The good warm weather over the previous few days with only the lightest of breezes had brought crowds into Marygate and Woolmarket, so it was especially busy on that darkening Tuesday afternoon in late November, 1863. The marching, up and down, of the soldiers from the barracks, the shouts of their sergeant, the crash of muskets on the ground, the shop-keepers crying their wares, children, playing and screaming. It was pandemonium. It was here that two elegantly dressed women, both wearing crinolines, brushed past a small girl with a baby on her back and knocked her down.  John Cowe noticed the attractive young women wearing crinolines walking up the street, talking excitedly. Mary Burgon saw the girl fall but such was the crowd that she thought it would be difficult to push through to help, so she told a policeman nearby.

It’s odd how the young girls scream the loudest and everyone’s used to that but the fallen girl’s screaming was different. She was a wee lass, alternately crying and screaming. There was a thin leg poking out from under her body. “Stand aside, there !” the butcher, Thomas Simpson, yelled. “Give me room !” He knelt down and saw the girl’s face contorted with pain. “What ails you, lass ?” “The pain, the terrible pain, in my leg” she sobbed.
He started to lift her up; her screams trebled in volume, and startled he lowered her back onto the ground, just as the leg that was under her moved out of the way.
Astonished, he realised that there had been a baby under her. The butcher lifted the smaller child in his brawny arms, holding her against his bloody apron. “Hold, lassie, you’re safe now.” His wife lifted her from him, and her crying gradually eased off.

Meanwhile, the policeman, having got there, assessed the situation and spoke to a boy of about 10, “Tommy, do you ken where Dr MacLagan bides in Ravensdowne ?” “Aye, sir, I do.” “Run and tell him there’s a young lass in mortal pain in the market, as fast as you can. Tell him he’ll need his tools and a stretcher.” As Tommy sped off, the policeman called for help to the army sergeant and with his squad’s help cleared the area around the butcher’s shop, of onlookers, and then the soldiers marched up to Ravensdowne to clear the way.

The poor girl had stopped screaming now. The policeman knelt down and decided that she was still breathing but possibly in too much pain to be questioned. The occasional whimper came out. “Lass, what’s your name ?” There was no answer. The butcher’s wife called over “I think I know her, her mother occasionally buys scrag end when she’s got money. Her man’s a sailor.” “Where does she live ?” “I’ve no idea.” The sudden quiet in the market as people asked each other what was happening enabled the policeman to hear a faint shout. “Please sir, I know her, she lives in this street”. “Come over here” ordered the policeman. A teenage boy pushed himself through the throng. “Who are you ?” “Ted Clark, sir.”  “Where does she live and what‘s her name ?”
“I don’t know her name, but her brother, Eddie, is a railway clerk; I think their dad is a sailor.” “Thanks son, I ken the family now.”

Just then, the doctor arrived, brown leather bag in hand and saw the girl lying on the ground. “Is this her ?” The policeman nodded and told him that the butcher’s wife was looking after a baby girl. Dr MacLagan knelt down, held the girl’s wrist. He gently moved her limbs, one by one, and was rewarded by a light scream and pain contorting her face when he moved her left leg. “Kath ?” he called. “I’m here, Pa; the stretcher’s on the cart, just coming down Ravensdowne.” Dr MacLagan rose, told the policeman that he wanted the stretcher cart beside him and two soldiers to help. He rummaged in his bag, drew out a bottle and a cloth.
“I can’t give her much as she’s so young, but I have to give her something so that the shock of being lifted onto the stretcher doesn’t kill her.” The girl was placed on the stretcher and slowly lifted onto the cart, the soldiers bearing the weight and the doctor and his teenage daughter keeping it steady. The cart turned round, they walked the cart slowly along Woolmarket, into Ravensdowne and up to the hospital. The policeman talked to the butcher and his wife and some of the other bystanders to ask what they knew, asked the butcher’s wife to take the baby up to Dr MacLagan’s, then went to Mary Walker to break the news.

Mrs Walker lived in a downstairs room of a cottage with her 5 children. He was about to knock on the door when he heard swearing “Where’s Molly got to, blast her ? It couldn’t be simpler. Lizzie, you’ll have to go and see.” “Yes, Ma.” He knocked loudly. A teenage girl answered. “Yes ?” she asked. “Get your mother, please.” It was meant to be an order but he whispered it so as not to alarm her. Mrs Walker came to the door. “Have you got a wee daughter and a baby, out?” “Aye” she said “they’ve gone to get tatties.” “Advancing, he took her hands. “They’ve been knocked down.” “Oh, my God, are they hurt ?” “They’re up at Dr MacLagan’s. Get your coat, I’ll take you up. ” “Mercy me, how will we afford it, with John away ? Lizzie, run up to the station and tell Eddie, see if they’ll let him come down to the doctor’s.” Lizzie put on a shawl and her clogs and left for the station. Mrs Walker put shoes on to a small girl, added a thick shawl and said “I’m ready now. I’ll just leave Caroline and Meg next door.”

Dr MacLagan’s hospital is an elegant Georgian townhouse in Ravensdowne, a residential road running from the barracks down towards the shore. It was a familiar sight to both of them though Mary Walker had never been inside; until now, she had never needed to suffer the expense of a doctor – the midwife being sufficient for the birth of her children. Her fear of her children’s accident, her apprehension of going to the doctor showed in her face but PC Gordon did his best to calm her as they walked up to the house. A wee girl, not much older than Lizzie, answered the door and showed them into the waiting room where they found Mrs Simpson, the butcher’s wife sitting, and soon after, Katherine MacLagan came to talk to them. “The doctor is examining 2 girls, are they your children ?” Before she could answer, PC Gordon said “She’ll need to see them, she was at home at the time.” “Of course,” Miss MacLagan said, “I’ll just go and see if my father has finished yet”.

She returned a few minutes later carrying a small boy, a beaming smile on her face as she sucked a sweet. “Christopher ….” cried Mary Walker as she held out her hands to take the boy. “Is he all right ? What about my other child ?” “Christopher is fine, some minor bruising, he’ll be as good as new in a few days time. Your daughter is resting on a bed. I’ll take you in but her condition is fragile so you mustn’t touch her until she’s a bit better, d’ye understand ?” Miss MacLagan took PC Gordon aside, whispered to him about restraining the mother if she should rush towards her daughter. PC Gordon nodded and the three of them went into the surgery. As anticipated, the moment Mary Walker saw her daughter lying unconscious on a bed, she tried to rush forward only to be restrained by PC Gordon.

“Is that your daughter ?” asked Dr MacLagan. “Yes, that’s my Molly. Is she…” She took a breath. “Is she going to be all right ?” Dr MacLagan turned to his daughter and said “Would you arrange for a pot of tea for all of us, please ?” and he went out. He suggested that they should all sit down while he discussed Molly’s treatment. “There’s no cause for alarm, at the moment. She’s had a bad accident, knocked over by a lady in a crinoline, and the suddenness and her young age caused to be very frightened – that’s why she’s unconscious. I think she’ll come round when the pain and fright has eased, if the situation changes, I’ll send for you. Molly has a closed fracture of her left thigh. I think I’ll be able to bind the bones together so that they knit together and she’ll be able to walk. Her bones are still growing so there’s a chance she’ll be lame. She’ll have to remain here for a week or two; she won’t be able to walk for a couple of weeks and she needs to be kept still.”

In the pause that followed his announcement, Mary Walker opened her mouth, closed it, started to relax, then said “My poor Molly, thank you doctor, I don’t know if we can afford to pay, is it going to cost a lot ?” “I can’t say yet. I’ll need to take some details.” Mary gave him her address, told him that her husband was a sailor who would be back in week or two, about her 6 children including Meg and her 17 year old son, who worked in the office at the station. “Do you know the women in the crinolines ?” asked Dr MacLagan. “No, sir, but I expect they’ll come forward and I expect they’ll pay for her treatment. If they don’t, Mrs Walker can apply to the Inspector of the Poor.” “We don’t want to go to the workhouse, they say conditions are terrible. Oh, the shame of it.” Dr MacLagan took Mary’s rough hand in his. “Now, don’t worry. The workhouse won’t take you in without Molly and she’s biding here.
You can come and visit her in a few days time, I’ll send someone to tell you. I’m sure something will be worked out.”

* * * * *

“Danny. No need to greet so. A bit of blood, a few scratches, but no bones broken, thank God. Not like the time when my thigh was broken – do you mind the story ?”
“Aye, Ma. What was it like in the hospital ?”
“It was strange in the hospital – a bed all to myself but no-one to talk to, save Kate and the Doctor and he didn’t come in much. I don’t mind all the details, though. The food was wonderful, meat or chicken broth every day, a piece of butcher-meat at dinner-time, sometimes beef, chicken, pork, venison or lamb, a fish to eat on Friday; a piece of fruit, three times a day; bread, a small sweetmeat at tea and a sweet cordial to drink in the morning and at night. I missed Caroline and Chris and Meg. Your Aunt Lizzie was working then and stopped by after work, went home to look after the others, so that Granny could come and see me. After a about a week, I was able to walk a bit, I was so weak, it was difficult at first but I gradually improved. I put on a bit of weight there.

“Did they find those women that knocked you over ?”
“Granny said the vicar (we were going to Holy Trinity then) preached a long sermon about the dangers of wearing crinolines, he said there were articles in the paper about crinolines about women whose crinolines had caught fire from a stove, a burning coal or a candle and they died and other women whose skirts had got caught in machinery or carriage wheels. He talked about my accident and asked the women who might have knocked me over to come and see him. The minister at Wallace Green also preached a sermon about the iniquities of crinolines; he hoped that women would stop wearing them, and he talked about my plight.”  Molly chuckled. “The minister’s wife, wasn’t happy about the sermon, she had been hoping that he would buy her a crinoline. The appeal worked; the two women that knocked me over went to the minister. They had been hurrying to the station to meet their uncle, a soldier in India, but they were late and he met them in Castlegate. That’s why your uncle Edward never saw them at the station. They were ever so sorry. They came to see me in the hospital and gave me a wee pendant, a shiny new quarter rupee from India on a silver chain.”

Molly paused, took the chain from around her neck and showed him the coin. “Isn’t it pretty ?   Those ladies took Granny a basket of fruit and some flowers, I mind Granny exclaiming ‘Flowers, bought flowers in my house !’ They paid the doctor’s bill, too. It was 3 guineas ! Granny and Pappa could never have afforded that. I reckon Dr MacLagan saved my life, I could have been left a cripple but I was good as new again. That man deserves a statue. Now, you’ve stopped bleeding and you’re nice and clean, so go out and play. Be careful, mind !”

© Peter Munro - September 2016

Other Creative Writing Group stories

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Hidden Treasures and Inspiration - a Talk on Friday, 21st October

Last summer, as part of the Berwick 900 Our Families family history research project, we set up a small creative writing group to write fictional family stories about incidents and historical characters in Berwick’s, Tweedmouth’s and Spittal’s history, using research produced by the volunteers.

There's lots of scope for imagining what led up to incidents, what impact it had on people, what happened afterwards and creating a family story. One story, a poem written by Sandra Whitnell, is about a woman murdered at Middle Ord, Northumberland, in December 1876.

This year, Linda Bankier, the Berwick Archivist will give a talk at Berwick Literary Festival about the variety of records available in Berwick Record Office, and the audience will hear excerpts from three stories based on research into the Berwick Town Council account books, a newspaper cutting from November 1863 about a crinoline that caused an accident and a poster.

The talk is this Friday, 21st October at 12 noon at the Holy Trinity Parish Centre, Berwick; cost £5. 

Friday, 14 October 2016

Robert Alexander Young (1854-1915) of the Greenses in Berwick-upon-Tweed

Margaret Dougherty has sent me a link to an interesting article on her blog about Robert Alexander Young. It mentions his father, Peter Cowe Young and Elizabeth Diana Pattison or Patterson or Paterson, the North British Railway, the Greenses, High Greens and Low Greens.

Mapping the Greenses in Berwick-upon-Tweed

One of the Berwick 900 Our Families family history research project’s legacies is a huge collection of information about Berwick-upon-Tweed’s Greenses fishing community in the roads of Low Greens and High Greens, which included the workhouse and in the much wealthier residential road of Ravensdowne which runs from the junction of Silver Street and Ness Street up the hill to Berwick Barracks.

Linda Bankier, the Berwick Archivist, has led several guided tours around these areas. The research team has amassed a wealth of information about the inhabitants of properties in the streets between approximately 1881 to about 1950, extracting the data from the census, electoral rolls, and newspapers.

Start at the Main page listing

High Greens, Low Greens and

Ravensdowne or go directly to the roads using the links and then to each house number.

The page for each road also contains links to large scale map PDF documents which can be downloaded.

The beauty of this innovative project is that it can be expanded, either to include more resources from which the information is extracted or to build a collection for another street.

Another advantage is that the collection can be directly searched in Google, for example, a search for Pringle using the search parameters

currently yields 3 results; 48, 66 & 68, and 78 Ravensdowne.

If you had, or think you may have had people in your family tree that lived in one of these roads in Berwick, this is a really useful resource.

If you have any information relating to properties in these roads (before 1950) that’s not on there, drop the team a line at