LITTLE could she have known, when she popped across the road in Lauder for a stamp, the result for Peg Threadgall would be running a shop in the Borders town for almost half a century and an association with the royal burgh which has since passed into local legend and tradition.
Last week, nearly 70 people gathered in the town’s scout hall for a surprise party to mark Peg’s 90th birthday. To celebrate the special anniversary, Peg agreed to recount the story of her life and her family’s connections with Lauder and the Borders to TheSouthern.
Her story began in 1921 in Newcastle where she was born. Peg’s education included training at a local technical college in the north-east city, where she also did voluntary work at a local hospital, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.
“When war broke out, I joined the staff of the hospital and I nursed there all during the war. I remember the convoys of wounded coming in – they used to come into the central station at Newcastle, then were taken up to Newcastle General Hospital,” Peg told us.
“I then left Newcastle in 1946. My mother’s family belonged to Morebattle. My earliest memory is going to visit my older brother. I remember mother taking me to the school yard in Newcastle to bring him home and I remember playing in the playing fields. But other than that, my earliest memories are holidays in Morebattle.
“That place was just sheer heaven. We used go every year for a month of school holidays, and we couldn’t wait for the holidays to come round. That’s what made me want to live in the Borders.
“The river was about half a mile from my granny’s house, which had a huge back garden full of wild flowers, and that was just amazing for a townie from Newcastle like me.
“We would stick a pin on the end of a stick and try and catch fish, or hire a bike for the day for sixpence, or climb hills – we had some great times.”
Peg had met her husband, Sidney, who hailed from Yorkshire, during the war. After serving with the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Sidney – who was Lauder Cornet in 1956 – went on to serve in the West African forces before seeing action as a sergeant-major behind Japanese lines in Burma with the famous Chindits.
“When he came back after the war, Sid decided the country life was for us. I’d been staying with an auntie for a few weeks in Lauder and one day had been writing a letter.
“My aunt told me to go over and get a stamp from the wee shop across the road. I did and got blethering to the woman who ran it. I said we just want somewhere to live, to which she replied by asking if I’d ever thought about buying a shop.
“My husband was working for the forestry at that time and it ended up with us buying this wee place, just for somewhere to live.”
“However, we developed the shop, making it better and better over the years and I ended up running the shop for 48 years.”
Although Peg and her husband separated 45 years ago, she had her three sons, as well as her mother and sister who moved from Newcastle to help her out.
“We sold everything, as corner shops did in those days – groceries, sweeties, tobacco and progressed to having the agency for Calor Gas. Then we got the Sunday papers which was a great boost.
“We enjoyed ourselves. The shop gave us a good living. I had the three boys and we had a good life. This corner was always a great place for people to meet and have a blether.”
The area outside Peg’s home is still known by locals as “Peg’s Corner”. And she added: “The shop was just called Peg’s shop – I don’t think it ever had any name other than that!
“Some folk would come and not buy anything – they just came to see who was there, have a blether and pass the time of day.
“I used to do flowers at one time, wreaths and sprays, and one lady would come down just to watch me doing them.
“The likes of old Mrs Murray and auld Mr McKay – they would just toddle round for a blether.”
The advent of stocking the Sunday papers meant an early start for Peg.
“I’d be up at 4.30am on a Sunday morning to collect the papers. At first I used to go to Galashiels, to collect them from the Davidson brothers. I had a great big car at the time, a big Volvo with a big boot and back seat.
“I used to stuff the papers in, deliver them on the way back. Then back into the shop – it was a lot of work.”
Since she arrived in the royal burgh all those years ago on the back of a motorcycle, Peg has witnessed Lauder double in size with many new houses and a huge increase in traffic thanks to the A68 trunk road.
But she says nothing would entice her to leave her adopted home town.
“Lauder’s a wonderful place to live – I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“The thing that still makes it special is the friendliness – there’s nothing like the Border folk for that. They just accept each other and get on so well. You just need to say you’re from the Borders and you’re on the road.
“Mind you, it takes a good few years to be accepted. I was an incomer and was certainly made to feel like that for the first few years!”
However, it’s pretty certain that Peg – whose favourite past-time has always been to follow the local hunt – is now as Lauder as they come, having six Lauder cornets in the family.
“We’ve always supported the common riding,” she said.
And Peg herself has become something of an integral part of the annual common riding celebrations.
Back in 1972, the year her son, George, was cornet, it was discovered that the saddle cloth he was expected to use had become a mouldy, crumpled, smelly mess after being unceremoniously stuffed into a bag without having been cleaned.
Peg explained what happened next: “I said there was no way a son of mine was using that. So I got another one made up. It was nothing fancy, just an old army blanket which Sid had brought back from the war.
“I put some new yellow ribbon on it, but that’s all. I insist on getting it back right away each year to get it cleaned after the common riding and I think that’s how it’s kept going for 40 years.”
It is now local tradition for each new cornet to visit Peg and request use of the famous saddle cloth.
“I’m just highly honoured that the laddies come to see me. I really enjoy it,” she said.
With seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, it is no surprise that family means everything to Peg. And there will be another large celebration in the Threadgall ranks in September with granddaughter Kim’s wedding.
It will be double joy for Peg as her great-grandson – who is coming with his parents from their New Zealand home for the wedding – will also be christened in the town’s kirk while over here.
“I’ve had a good long life and an interesting one – I’ve no regrets,” said Peg. “I’ve a wonderful family, who look after me and see me regularly. It’s family that has kept me going – it means everything to me. They’ve all done me proud.”