Old County of Berwickshire

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1834-45: Berwick

Berwickshire, the most south-easterly county of Scotland. It takes its name from Berwick-upon-Tweed, which anciently belonged to Scotland, and was this county's capital; but it originally bore the name of Merse, and it probably took that name from its situation as a march or border district. Merse, however, or March, or the Merse, seems to have included a considerable portion of the eastern lowlands of Teviotdale; and it gave the name of March, or the castle of the March or Merse, to Roxburgh Castle. The name Berwickshire, when once assumed, became a fixture for all the county, except the portion beneath and around Berwick which, ceded to England, was eventually constituted a separate jurisdiction; but the name Merse, on the other hand, partly became a loose descriptive designation for all the low country lying between the Tweed and the Lammermuirs, and extending up the right bank of the Tweed to the Eildon Hills, and partly sank into the designation of only so much of that region as lies E of the Roxburghshire boundary. Two other names, Lammermuir and Lauderdale, are now and have long been applied to respectively the eastern and the western sections of the other or hilly portion of Berwickshire; but they have always been ill-defined as to the limit-line dividing them from each other, or dividing either or both from the Merse. The three divisions of the county, Merse, Lammermuir, and Lauderdale, are separately noticed.

Berwickshire is bounded N by Haddingtonshire, NE and E by the German Ocean, SE by Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, and Roxburghshire, W by Roxburgh and Edinburgh shires. The northern boundary is a fitful line, partly along the watershed of the Lammermuir Hills, partly far down their declivities, and isolates or includes a detached portion of one of the Haddingtonshire parishes; the south-eastern boundary is partly an artificial line drawn from the coast to the Tweed around the quondam liberties of Berwick, and mainly the Tweed itself up to a point 11/3 mile W of Birgham; the southern boundary, from the point 1¾ mile W of Birgham, onward to the south-eastern extremity of Mertoun parish is an exceedingly tortuous artificial line, and all round the separation of Mertoun parish from Roxburghshire is the river Tweed; and the western boundary is Leader Water for 4½ miles, Cockum Water for 2¼ miles, Crookston Burn for 3¾ miles, and artificial lines over most of the intermediate and further distances. The greatest length of the county is 29¼ miles from E to W; the greatest breadth is 207/8 miles from N to S; and the area is 294,804¾ acres of land, 1557½ acres of water, and 799 acres of foreshore-in all, 464 square miles.

The coast, exclusive of minor sinnosities, measures about 19 miles in length; trends, in general direction, from NW to SE; makes two considerable projections, in the form of promontories, around Fast Castle and St Abb's Head; has two small bays at Coldingham and Eyemouth, but no other landing-places, except two or three accessible only to fishing boats or similar very small craft; and almost entirely consists of bold rocky precipices, ranging in altitude from 117 to 528 feet above the sea. The surface of the southern or Merse division of the interior, amounting to about 100,220 acres, is all low country, and unites with the contiguous Merse section of Roxburghshire to form the largest plain in Scotland. But, though presenting a general- uniformity of level, it is diversified, even in the flattest portions, with many undulations and gentle rising grounds; presents in most parts a series of elevations, in ranges from NW to SE, rising to altitudes of from 200 to 700 feet above sea-level; and, while destitute of any such bold or romantic features as abound in most other districts of Scotland, is far less tame and hardly less ornate than the rich, low, flat counties of the centre and the E of England. The northern division, comprising Lammermuir and Landerdale, is prevailingly upland; consists mainly of a broad range of well-defined, rounded lofty hills, intersected by numerous vales or dells; and, though including arable fields on the skirts or in the hollows, and possessing a large aggregate of green pasture on the acclivities, is principally bleak and moorish. The hills are generally gradual in their ascents, seldom rocky or precipitous on their shoulders, and often tabular on their summits; they mostly rise to altitudes above sea-level of from 500 to 800 feet in the E, and from 900 or 1000 to 1200 or 1300 feet in the W. Eighteen of the highest summits, with their respective altitudes above sea-level, are Tarf Law (1248 feet), Dun Law (1292), Black Hill (1299), Berecleugh Ridge (1335), Lamb Rigg (1339), Wether Law (1379), Hog Hill (1395), South Hart Law (1437), Wedder Law (1460), Ninecairn Edge (1479), Waddels Cairn (1490), Meikle Law(1531), North Hart Law (1578), Wedderlairs (1593), Hunt Law (1625), Willie's Law (1626), Crib Law (1670), and Seenes Law (1683). The chief rivers are the Tweed, running altogether about 21 miles on the boundary, everywhere very beautiful there, receiving either there or elsewhere all the other waters of the county, except small ones in the NE, and leaving the boundary at a point 3½ miles above Berwick; the Eye, draining a considerable portion of the NE and running to the sea at Eyemouth; the Ale, running 6 miles south-eastward to the Eye, at a point 1¼ mile SSE of Eyemouth; the Whitadder, coming in from Haddingtonshire, and running south-eastward across Lammermuir and the Merse to the Tweed, 2 miles above Berwick; the Blackadder, rising in the W centre of Lammermuir, and running circuitously eastward to the Whitadder at Allanbank; the Leet, rising and running entirely in the Merse to the Tweed at Coldstream; the Eden, rising near the foot of western Lammermuir and running southward and eastward to Ednam in Roxburghshire, and passing through that parish to the Tweed; and the Leader, rising near the north-western extremity of Lauderdale, and running south-south-eastward, mainly in the interior, partly on the boundary, to the Tweed at Drygrange bridge. A small lake is in Dunse parish; and a large one, covering about 30 acres, is in Coldingham. Mineral springs are at Dunse and Chirnside- Silurian rocks prevail in Lammermuir and Lauderdale, and Devonian rocks prevail in the Merse; but they are interspersed, in numerous places, with eruptive rocks, and, in a few places, with rocks of the Carboniferous formation. The Silurian rocks in some parts of the coast, particularly around St Abb's Head, exhibit extraordinary contortions, and form an interesting study to geologists, both as regards these contortions themselves, and as regards their juxtaposition with eruptive rocks. The Silurians also, in some parts, are a subject of debate in geology, as to whether they are truly Silurian or Cambrian; whilst elsewhere they are so fissile as to approximate to the character of clay slate. The eruptive rocks include porphyry, amygdaloid, amorphous basalt, and other kinds of trap. Sandstone of compact texture, and of a delicate cream or yellowish-grey colour, extends along the Tweed; underlies the parishes of Eccles, Coldstream, Ladykirk, Swinton, and Whitsome; ramifies also into Edrom, Hutton, and other neighbouring parishes; suits well as a building material, specially for exterior walls and for carvings; and is extensively quarried. Sandstone of a red colour extends from Legerwood, through the centre of the county, to the southern part of the coast; serves as a good building material; and is the stone of which the modern magnificent edifice of Ayton Castle was built. Limestone occurs in some inland parts, but is either too sparse, or too poor, to be economically worked. A ferruginous claystone occurs in Ayton, Mordington, and Cockburnspath, and was attempted to be worked as an ironstone or ore of iron, but also was found too poor to be compensating. Gypsum, of tolerably good quality, is found in Chirnside and Greenlaw parishes. Coal occurs adjacent to the ferruginous claystone in Ayton, Mordington, and Cockburnspath, and has been supposed to exist also in Abbey St Bathans and Longformacus, but it has never given promise of affording a fair output for even local domestic use. Copper ore exists at Ordwell, on the Whitadder, and was at one time worked, but never paid; some pure quicksilver, in small quantity, has been found at Holehill. Some good lapidary stones are found in the Tweed.

The soils are very various, and often intermixed. A fine deep loam, frequently on a gravelly bottom, sometimes on a bottom of stiff tenacious clay, forms an extensive tract along the Tweed, the Whitadder, and the Blackadder; an argillaceous soil, stiff and rather coarse, forms another extensive tract near these rivers, but further back from them than the tract of rich loam. A free dry soil, either sandy or gravelly, denominated turnip soil and usually incumbent on a dry bottom of sand or gravel, forms most of the remainder of the Merse, the vale lands of Lammermuir and Lauderdale, and the lower slopes of most of the hills. But in all parts of the county, often in the same farm, sometimes in the same field, these three soils either graduate into one another, so as to form intermediate varieties, or are intermixed to more or less extent, or in more or less degree, in patches or irregular strips, and also are more or less modified by the character of the sub-soil. The soils or surfaces of the rest of the county are variously meadow, moss, and moor. Mr Home, in his Agricultural Report, computing the land area of the county at 285,440 acres, assigns 25,410 acres to the rich loam, 40,380 acres to the argillaceous soil, 119,780 acres to the turnip soil, and 99,870 acres to meadow land, moss, and moor. Peat-mosses or turf-bogs are found in all parts of the hilly country, and in various patches through the lowlands; and marshes or marshy bogs, overgrown with rushes or other aquatic plants, occur in many situations, even in the most fertile parts of the county. Some of the larger bogs are very deep, and seem to occupy the place of ancient lakes; but other bogs, or places which were once bogs, have admitted of reclamation into either sound firm pasture or good arable land- - The climate of the Merse, as compared with that of some other fine agricultural districts of Scotland, is favourable, insomuch as to permit the annual sowing of wheat after turnips, sometimes as late as April, with the result of a fair crop; and, as compared with the climate of Lammermuir, it is eminently good, insomuch that the agricultural operations of spring and harvest often proceed in it under genial dry weather, while they are either interrupted, retarded, or imperfectly performed, in Lammermuir, under prevalence of low temperature or heavy rain. Cold easterly winds generally prevail for several weeks in spring, and both retard vegetation and produce injurious effects on gardens, and on corn and grass fields. SW winds commonly commence before the end of May, are accompanied with genial heat, and prevail during the summer months. Heavy or prolonged falls of rain seldom occur. Excessive droughts are more common, and are regarded, by experienced agriculturists, as more suited to the soil, and better calculated to produce a good crop, than excessive rains. Winter, as a rule, is mild. Heavy falls of snow are rare; and the snow lies seldom long on the Merse, but often remains for weeks on the Lammermuirs.

Agricultural improvement, dating from about 1730, went forward with vigour under several great directing minds for many years; commended itself eventually to the approbation of the general body of the farmers; and, embracing all the departments of tillage, fertilisation, rotation, and stock-husbandry, as expounded by science and tested by experience, has rendered Berwickshire one of the most skilfully cultivated and highly productive regions in the world, as shown by the comparative tables of our Introduction.

The improvement in the breeds of cattle and sheep, begun about the end of last century, went forward till it displaced the old breeds and substituted for them more productive breeds, better adapted to the soil and climate, more kindly feeders, and sooner fattened for the butcher. A mixed husbandry, in connection with green crop culture, prevails over much of the Merse; and the pasturage of sheep, of the Cheviot and black-faced breeds, is mainly carried on in the uplands. Farms range from 300 to 400 acres, and are generally held on lease of 19 years. In 1881, according to Mr Jas. Hope's Royal Commission Report, of 194, 298 acres under crops, 96,056 acres let at an average rental of £1, 19s., and 73,804 acres of £13, 3s. No county, he adds, has suffered more from the agricultural depression of the last eight years, losses having largely predominated over profits.

The manufactures of Berwickshire are aggregately unimportant- Paper-making alone makes any considerable figure. The manufacture of woollens is confined chiefly to coarse goods for ordinary use; and that of linens, to household fabrics for farmers' and labourers' families. The manufacture of blankets, plaidings, flannels, merinoes, shawls, muslins, shirtings, furniture-stripes, and very stout ginghams, is carried on, to a fair extent, at Earlston, on the river Leader, but practically belongs to Roxburghshire more than to Berwickshire- The sea fisheries possess high value, and will be noticed under Eyemouth. The North British railway passes along the coast, and has stations at Cockburnspath, Grant's House, Reston, Ayton, and Burnmouth. A branch of the North British railway deflects from the main line at Reston, goes south-westward to Dunse, and has stations at Chirnside and Edrom. The former Berwickshire Railway commences at Dunse; goes south-westward to Earlston; has stations at Marchmont, Greenlaw, and Gordon; and is prolonged, southward, into junction with the Hawick line of the North British at St Boswell's in Roxburghshire. The Kelso branch of the North British, deflecting from the Hawick line at St Boswell's, does not touch Berwickshire, yet passes so near its boundary as to be of material service to its parishes of Mertoun and Nenthorn. The Kelso and Berwick branch of the English North-Eastern railway also does not touch Berwickshire, yet keeps constantly so near it on the English side of the Tweed as to be of much value to various parts of its Border districts, particularly around Coldstream, Ladykirk, and Paxton.

The only royal burgh is Lander; the only police burghs are Dunse, Eyemouth, and Coldstream; the only towns with upwards of 2000 inhabitants are Dunes and Eyemouth; the only towns with from 1000 to 2000 inhabitants are Lander, Coldstream, and Earlston; the only harbours are Eyemouth and Burnmouth; the only small town or large village of political note is Greenlaw; and the other small towns and principal villages are Ayton, Chirnside. Coldingham, Gordon, Leitholm, Paxton, Swinton, Gavinton, Auchincraw, Reston, Birgham, Allanton, and Cockburnspath. The chief seats are The Hirsel, Thirlstane Castle, Langton House, Hutton Hall, Nisbet House, Mertoun House, Dryburgh Abbey, Lennel House, Marchmont House, Newton-Don, Renton House, Blackadder House, Paxton House, Kelloe, Ayton Castle, Ladykirk House, Dunse Castle, Milne Graden, Stoneridge House, Broadmeadows, Manderston, Abbey St Bathans House, Stitchel House, Peelwalls House, The Lees, Hope Park, Carolside, Cowdenknowes, Allanbank House, Rowchester, Cumledge, Wedderburn Castle, Broomhouse, Edrom House, Kimmerghame, Cranshaws Castle, Netherbyres, Gunsgreen House, Caldra House, Charterhall, Swinton House, Bemersyde, Gladswood, Nenthorn House, Ninewells, Blanerne House, Bassendean House, Spottiswoode, Edrington Castle, Edrington House, Mordington House, Anton's Hill, Belchester House, Bughtrig House, Eccles House, Kames, Mersington House, Purveshall, Longformacus House, Coldingham Law House, and Fairlaw House. According to Miscellaneous Statistics of the United Kingdom (1879), 292,139 acres, with a total gross estimated rental of £377,211, were divided among 1744 landowners; two together holding 44,861 acres (rental, £34,073), three 43,807 (£30,097), ten 68,648 (£92,813), twenty-two 67,760 (£60,356), fourteen 20,246 (£32,158), forty-one 28,219 (£47,779), fifty-seven 14,398 (£42,162), twenty-three 1661 (£3064), eighty-five 1617 (£4714), one hundred and ninety-seven 619 (£7902), and twelve hundred and ninety 303 (£22,093)

The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a vice-lieutenant, 28 deputy lieutenants, a sheriff, a sheriff-substitute, and a large number of magistrates. The sheriff and commissary courts are held at Greenlaw on the last Thursday of every month, and at Dunse on every Friday during session. Sheriff small debt courts are held at Greenlaw seven times, at Dunse eight times, at Coldstream and Ayton four times, and at Lander thrice a year. Justice of peace small debt courts are held monthly at Dunes, Coldstream, and Ayton; and quarter sessions are held at Greenlaw. The police force, in 1880, comprised 26 men; and the salary of the chief constable was £245. The number of persons tried at the instance of the police, in 1879, was 498; the number of these convicted, 478; the number committed for trial, 22; the number not dealt with, 163. The committals for crime, in the yearly average of 1836-60, were 52; of 1861-65,48; of 1864-68,45; of 1870-74,31; of 1875-79,27. The county prison at Greenlaw was discontinued in February 1880, that of Jedburgh taking its place. The annual value of real property, assessed at £245,379 in 1815, was £252,945 in 1843, £391,169 in 1875, and £355,123 in 1881, including £18,752 for railways. The county, exclusive of Lander, returns one member to parliament (always a Liberal since 1859, except during 1874-80); and, in 1881, had a constituency of 1869. Pop. (1801) 30,206, (1811) 30,893, (1821) 33,385, (1831) 34,048, (1841) 34,438, (1851) 36,297, (1861) 36,613, (1871) 36,486, (1881) 35,383, of whom 18,446 were females. Houses (1881) 6795 inhabited, 523 vacant, 39 building.

The registration county gives off part of Oldhamstocks parish to Haddingtonshire; comprises 32 entire parishes; and had, in 1881, a population of 35,264. Thirty-one parishes are assessed for the poor; and respectively eight and one are included in the Kelso and the East Lothian poor-house combinations. The number of registered poor, during the year ending 14 May 1880, was 842; of dependants on these, 374; of casual poor, 841; of dependants on these, 589. The receipts for the poor in the same year were £10,624,16s.; and the expenditure was £10,200,9s. The number of pauper lunatics was 102; and the expenditure on their account was £2138,6s. The percentage of illegitimate births was 9.3 in 1877,10.9 in 1878, and 9 in 1879.

The civil county is divided politically into 31 quoad civilia parishes and parts of two others, ecclesiastically into 32 quoad sacra parishes and parts of two others; Cockburnspath being in the presbytery of Dunbar and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, the rest in the presbyteries of Dunes, Chirnside, Earlston, and Kelso, in the synod of Merse and Teviotdale. The 32 Established churches had 8434 communicants in 1878; 17 Free churches, in the presbyteries of Haddington, Dunse, Kelso, and Selkirk, had 3142 members in 1880; and 17 U.P. churches, in Berwick, Kelso, and Melrose presbyteries, had 4584 members in 1879. In Sept. 1880 the county had 53 schools (47 of them public), which, with accommodation for 7839 children, had 5782 on the registers, and 4550 in average attendance, whilst there were 70 certificated, 8 articled, and 43 pupil teachers.

The territory now constituting Berwickshire was anciently inhabited by the Caledonian Otalini or Otadeni; became part of the Saxon Bernicia, one of the two original sections of the Saxon Northumbria; and till 1020 continued to be included in Northumbria. Cospatrick, Earl of Northumberland, and afterwards Earl of Dunbar, acquired it in 1020 from Malcolm II., and settled in Scotland to govern it and other possessions. Edgar, the son of Malcolm, resumed it in 1097, and bequeathed it, along with Lothian and part of Northumberland, to his brother David. It rose, in David's time, to much consequence; received many distinguished Norman and Anglo-Saxon families as settlers; and had Berwick for its capital. Berwick then also became practically the capital of all the country from the northern part of Northumberland to the Firth of Forth, and began to figure as a great seaport, as a place of rich churches, monasteries, and hospitals, and as one of the first four royal burghs of Scotland. Tradesmen from the Low Countries and other parts of the Continent settled in it. and furthered its prosperity; and Scandinavian rovers made descents on it, but were successfully repulsed. The English laid claim to it in the time of William the Lyon, stormed it in the time of Alexander II., and involved it in a series of contests and disasters during the dispute for the succession of the Scottish crown. The town thenceforth became an object of continual jealousy, and of repeated blows and negotiations between the Scotch and the English; it was valuable during their many international wars, for at once its wealth, its fortifications, and its extensive command of the Border districts; it often suffered the miseries of siege and capture, so as to be now a Scotch town, and now an English one; and in 1482 it was finally relinquished by the Scotch. Berwickshire, throughout great part of its extent, necessarily partook largely in the vicissitudes and disasters of Berwick; and it contemporaneously suffered much also from the high-handed movements of the Cospatricks, the Homes, the Hepburns, and the Douglases, and from the multitudinous turmoils of the Border reivers. Scarcely is their a mile of it, scarcely a natural fastness in it, scarcely a ruin or a vestige of an old baronial fortalice, but what bears testimony to ancient tumult and bloodshed. So insecure was it, or so destitute of appliances for protection for peaceful husbandry, that most of it, down to the 15th century, was available at best for the feeding of flocks and the rearing of cattle. Yet after the advent of peaceful times, it rose rapidly and brilliantly into a state of general prosperity, and, in more modern times, it has equalled the best central districts of Scotland in at once social, industrial, educational, and religions advancement.

In several places are cairns, supposed to belong to the times of the Otadeni, whose camps or vestiges of camps are at Habchester, Wardlaw Hill, Legerwood Hill, and Birkenside Hill. Otadenian and Roman remains are in Cockburnspath parish, and Roman camps are at Chesters in Fogo, Battleknowes in Whitsome, and on a hill in Channelkirk. Pictish camps are in Channelkirk and Lander parishes. Two military stations, supposed to have been originally a Danish camp, are on a hill near Raecleughhead in Langton parish. An ancient uninscribed standing stone or obelisk is at Crosshall in Eccles. An earthen mound, called Herrit's Dyke, with a ditch on one side of it, is about a mile from Greenlaw; and, not very many years ago, could have been traced in continuation about 14 miles eastward. Three concentric circles of stone, called Edwin's or Woden's Hall, are on the Whitadder, about a mile below Abbey St Bathans. Remains of ancient monastic houses are at Dryburgh, Coldingham, and Abbey St Bathans; and sites of others are at Coldstream, Eccles, and St Abb's Head. Old castles, or ruins or sites of such, are at Lander, Hume, Cockburnspath, Fast, Cranshaw, Dunse, Huntly, Edrington, Ayton, Leitholm, Hutton, Morriston, and Evelan. Aldcambus is famous for Bruce's meeting with the papal envoy, Lander Bridge for the murder of James III. 's minions by the Earl of Angus, and a tabular space on the top of Dunse Law for the encampment on it of Leslie's Covenanting army; while Gordon parish and its village of Huntly were the early residence of the great Gordon family of the north of Scotland, and give name to respectively their dukedom of Gordon and their marquisate of Huntly. A county history is still a desideratum, but Berwickshire folklore has been collected in Popular Rhymes, Sayings, and Proverbs of the County of Berwick, with illustrative notes by George Henderson (1856); the popular speech is learnedly handled in James Murray's -Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland (1873); and a great amount of valuable matter, scientific and antiquarian, is contained in the Proceedings of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, which was instituted in 1831.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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