Monday, 8 May 2017

Earlston's Village Blacksmiths

We recently featured an article on Earlston Blacksmiths, focusing on the Brotherston family, who still work the Smiddy at the west end of the village today.

The Brotherston Smiddy at the east end of Earlston 

Dr. Donald Straughan contacted  Auld Earlston, with further information following his research into his great great grandfather Alexander Scott, blacksmith on Main Street.   He also looked at  other blacksmith families by the names of  Aitken,  Dickson,  Sudden, Lee,  Waldie and Wilkie.   This article is based on his work,  with his full contributions added to the Auld Earlston Archive Collection.  

Blacksmiths were a vital part of the community in the nineteenth century, as in earlier times. Depending on the local demand, they would still be doing traditional metal -smithing for domestic use or agricultural and light industrial use. Additionally as the  horse still prevailed for local transport and haulage, they were very likely to be farriers.  

Directories, census returns and valuation rolls shed light on the blacksmiths of Earlston in this period.

Piggot's Directory of 1837 was a good starting point and  listed three blacksmiths in the village - Alexander Scott (1787-1860) who was my great great grandfather, Thomas Suddon, and Andrew Lee.  

The 1841 Census showed Alexander Scott living at an unspecified address in Earlston village in a large household of ten people - his wife Janet, five children under 9 years of age (Margaret, Robert, Ann, William, and George), two apprentice blacksmiths Andrew Mann and Thomas Wood, and a farm servant Mary Hall. 

Ten years later in the 1851 Census,  54 year old Alexander Scott  was described as a smith and ironmonger, with two new daughters in the family, Mary and Jessie, a journeyman blacksmith Thomas Henderson, apprentice blacksmith  Robert Wilkie and a 15 year old servant girl  Margaret Wright. 

The next  entry on the page showed George Wallace Innkeeper,  - thought to be the Commercial Inn.  This helped identify the Scott premises as being,  what later became,  the old Post Office in Earlston.  A smiddy is clearly identified at this location on an 1855 map of Earlston, and  the Valuation Roll for 1855 confirmed Alexander Scott as being proprietor and occupier of house and smithy.  

The white building on the right was once the Commercial Inn, with the old Post Office next door, thought to be the site of the Scott family business of smith and ironmongery 

Alexander Scott died intestate  in 1860  and the inventory of his personal estate was valued at £216.5s.5d (£18.320 in today's money) of which cash, furniture and stock in trade comprised £117.14s5d. (£9,972 equivalent today),  while the difference is accounted for by debts owed to the deceased.  These debts detailed  by individual name  throw light on the range  of Alexander Scott's business activities - money was due from Mellerstain House, Cowdenknowes,  mill owners, the minister and the doctor, through  to farmers, joiners, builders, shops, and  the gas works.

The 1861 census indicated that  Alexander's eldest daughter  Margaret, aged 29, took over the ironmongery business as she was described as Head of Household and her occupation given "of the firm of A. Scott."  Also living there was 19 year old apprentice blacksmith James CarrieMargaret was a woman of substance, according to  the Valuation Roll of 1865,  as  she was  recorded as  owning five properties. 

Alexander had two surviving sons  - William (my great grandfather) was an ironmonger initially and moved to north east England, whilst George qualified as a vet in Edinburgh and returned to Earlston to practice.  In 1901 he was living in a cottage at Mellerstain and opened up a blacksmith's business there.   Daughter May married Earlston schoolmaster Morrison Scott Berrie.
Being a blacksmith was in the family's genes.  Alexander had married Janet Dickson in 1824 - her father William Dickson (1763-1845) was blacksmith at Mellerstain as was her brother - also William (1800-1872) This Dickson family may prove to have a long pedigree as smiths, as William Dicksone, father and son, were so listed in the  Hearth Roll Assessments for Earlston in 1684.  


The Lee Family.  In the 1841 census Andrew Lee was assisted by his two sons apprentice blacksmiths Robert Lee (1825-1906) and Alexander Lee .  By 1861 Robert was at no. 3 Main Street (close to the Black Bull),  with one blacksmith journeyman John Redpath and apprentice William Clark.  By 1871 there were two new assistants - Robert Jerden and John Cochrane, with Robert now living at 18 Main Street, next door to Andrew Leslie, a prominent draper in the village. Ten years on Robert's son Alexander Lee  had joined the family  business as apprentice blacksmith. The 1905 Valuation Roll showed that Robert, by now 80 years old,  still owned s smithy and yard.

Thomas Sudden   The 1871 Census for 116 Main Street, Earlston, showed Thomas Sudden, blacksmith age 69 born Earlston,  living with  son John Sudden  age 21, a journeyman blacksmith. John died a few years later at the age of 24. In the 1855 Valuation Roll, Thomas Sudden was  listed  as the tenant occupier of a small house and land in Earlston,  but  there was no mention of a smiddy  . so where did he work?  He has not been found as yet in the 1861 Census, or in the 1865 Valuation Roll. Thomas Sudden, blacksmith died in 1876 and was buried in the local  churchyard.

Robert Waldie (1836-1909)  was living at 27 Main Street, Earlston in the 1861 census, with the Valuation Roll of 1865 showing that Margaret Scott (see above) owned the property, By 1871, Robert, aged 35 was living at the former house and smithy of Alexander Scott, but with no resident apprentices or blacksmith for assistance,  Ten years on Robert was a widower, following the death of his wife Jessie Brown.  His only son died in 1878 at the young age of 17.  The 1891 census revealed that Robert had an apprentice Alexander Scott, most likely the grandson of  his namesake, and at some point as journeyman handyman  Alexander  Aitken. 

William and James Wilkie   - again father and son  were part of a  family business of blacksmiths, joined also by other son, Andrew Loch Wilkie. By 1881, James  Wilkie, aged 50 was at the Smiddy on the Green,  employing two men, including his son John.   In May 1902 a local newspaper advertised the sale by public roup (auction)  of the whole stock in trade  of James Wilkie, with the business acquired by  Alexander Aitken (1860-1935) who had worked previously  for Robert Waldie.

 Berwickshire News:  20th May 1902

The Old Smiddy on The Green - early 1900's
 The Old Smiddy Building Today  - 2017 

Brotherstone Family  - in the 1851 census for Earlston Parish, 49 year old Andrew Brotherston (1797-1967), blacksmith  was at Redpath with his wife Jessie and five children - Margaret, John, William, Isabella and young Andrew. Ten years on, he was still at Redpath   where in the census,  he was described as a "master blacksmith employing one apprentice".  Andrew senior died in 1867. His sons John and Andrew Brotherston followed their father's trade and by 1881 were working in the East End, Earlston as "smiths and implement  makers".  An earlier blog post on the family can be found HERE .


Blacksmiths clearly made  a significant contribution to the Earlston economy and formed a close knit community, many  of them moving from one employer to another.   

But key questions remain as  to the precise  location of the 19th century smithys on the Main Street/High Street.  A smithy would need space for forge, bellows, anvil and bench, plus space for storage.  

 Southern Reporter:  16th June 1879

Are there any traces visible today of past smithy activity, apart  from  the current Brotherston business at the East End, and the shell of the Old Smiddy on the Green ?   

House numbering in Earlston was confusing.  It appears from the 1861 census that numbers ran west to east on the north side of Main Street/High Street, but east to west on the south side.  At some point renumbering took place to complicate matters further.

I would be  very interested in finding out more.    Dr. Donald Straughan, March 2017

If you have any further information on blacksmiths in the village, we would be pleased to hear from you and will pass information on to Dr. Straughan.  
Please E-mail:

A "journeyman" is a skilled worker who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification in a  trade or craft. He is considered competent and authorized to work in that field as a fully qualified employee, no longer bound by indentures.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

More Earlston Entertains

Since we published  the previous post "Earlston Entertains,  some more photographs have come to light. 

Here are two more happy pictures of the cast of "Simple Simon" staged with orchestra  by Earlston Girls' Club in February 1939 in the Corn Exchange, Earlston, and also performed  in Lauder and Melrose.   The large chorus took the part of villagers, sailors and native girls.    A  local newspaper noted that "all the players acquitted themselves in a very creditable manner, fully deserving the warm appreciation of the audience."


in the late 19th century and early 1900's, "Kinderspiel"  (a piece of musical theatre performed by children)) were regularly staged  in Earlston and across the Borders.  They were were widely reported in the local papers, with glowing reviews and long cast lists.  

It has not been possible to identify which production this was 
from the performances  below.

In Earlston in 1906 the chosen play was  "Bonnie Prince Charlie" with "The Southern Reporter"noting that    "Mr R. W. Smith has for the past five  months been conducting a class of sixty boys and girls  for the practice of choral singing. . ..The auditorium was  occupied by a crowd of people, many of whom had to be content with standing  and not a few had to go away  unable to gain admission.....Rarely had the Corn Exchange been filled with such a crowd..... All the girls had something of tartan about their appearance.   The English soldiers were  rather like modern volunteer.  The playing of Mr. Fisher's Earlston Orchestra deserves special praise".  

 Southern Reporter  - 22nd March 1906

"Dan the Newsboy" was the theme of the 1909 Kinderspiel, produced by Mr. Archibald A. Burt, headmaster  of the Public School and  involving 70 boys and girls. Over £40 was raised to provide summer excursions for children. 

Two years later it was "Rosa  Lee" again produced  by Mr. A. A. Burt, ably assisted by the Earlston Orchestral Party   under the leadership of Mr Samuel Fisher.  This was repeated in 1923  with a different cast, when tribute was paid to members of the earlier production who had died in the First World War.

"The Princess of Poppyland" was the 1912 production  staged by members of Earlston Continuation Class, with the newspaper review waxing lyrically on "a delightful and signally successful performance, ....  the brilliancy of the production - with fine spectacular effects, tuneful singing, clever dancing,  amusing comedy and the charming appearance of the girls.!

1914 saw "Fickle Fortune", with proceeds going to Earlston Boy Scouts.


And finally -  Earlston's Dutch Dancers - can anyone date this photograph? 


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Earlston Entertains!

Take a nostalgic look back over the years 
at the acting and musical talents on show in Earlston

In March 1985 the Young Wives'  Group at the church presented "The Good Old Days".

 The Young Mothers'  Group in a show in the 1960's 


The Scouts and Guides in concert - but when?  Can you put a date to this photograph?


Earlston Amateur Dramatic Club regularly presented plays, 
before bowing out in 1991.  



Earlston Girls' Club, founded by Mrs Ferguson of Carolside,  was active in the village 1920's to 1950's, raising money for charity through  dances, Burns' Suppers, garden fetes keep fit nights, and musical and dramatic concerts.  It most notably presented in 1934  an open air pageant depicting scenes from Borders  history.  
Here is the chorus  of "Native Girls" from the play  "Simple Simon"  staged in the Corn Exchange in  February 1939 and also performed in Lauder and Melrose.

 Drama performed by the Women's Guild


 The Auld Earlston Collection  includes a number of photographs of the Clown Band, and there are local press reports of them appearing in the Peace Parade in Galashiels in 1919, at Lauder Masquerade in 1920 and in 1923 at  St. Boswells, Coldstream,  and at the wedding celebrations of Lord Haddington at Mellerstain.  One report refers to it as "this unique organisation". But we know little about the background to the band and its distinctive  clown theme. 

Here at a Cycle Event in Melrose in 1923. 


And Finally - one of the oldest photographs in our collection
Earlston Orchestra performing in  the Corn Exchange, c. 1898  


In case you missed - take a look at two earlier posts on the Entertainment theme

Auld Earlston will be pleased to hear from people with programmes, photographs and other memorabilia on Earlston events over the years.

If you wish, we will make a copy  and return them to you.
Contact: Tel. 01896 848240 E-Mail: