Old books spark library discovery

Villagers unveil the plaque marking the library where Morebattle poet Robert Davidson borrowed books

Villagers unveil the plaque marking the library where Morebattle poet Robert Davidson borrowed books

Villagers have unveiled a plaque marking the old library where Morebattle poet and farm labourer Robert Davidson (1778-1855) read.

The discovery came about by chance.

The Robert Davidson Committee, set up to promote the life and work of the poet, knew he read books from a library because he wrote about it in his brief autobiography, explaining, aged 21, he’d worked for a farmer who had a share in a county library and let Davidson borrow books as he wanted.

What they didn’t know was where that Morebattle Subscription Library was.

And it wasn’t until Morebattle electrician Colin Flannigan told committee chairwoman Lesley Dick, “I think my workshop and store could be an old library”, that the wheels of the discovery were set in motion.

Lesley and committee secretary Dave Welsh, a lecturer at Northumbria University, visited, and they found, “in amongst the plugs and screws and chaos”, some old books.

There were about 20, mostly dating back to the 19th century.

The committee gained a £300 grant from Kelso-based Charity Begins at Home and put up the plaque (pictured) to mark the library, which members and supporters, including Councillor Simon Mountford, unveiled at the end of last month. The committee promoting Davidson was established in 2005. The following year, members erected a memorial plaque carved in slate by Natasha Smith (whose work includes the Flodden memorial stone at Coldstream) at the village churchyard where the poet is buried.

And two years later the group republished Davidson’s best-known work, “Leaves from a Peasant’s Cottage Drawer”.

Davidson says in his autobiography at the start of “Leaves” that his “simple muse oft visited me at the plough and made the labour to seem lighter and the day shorter”.

The poet started herding cows aged 10 and in his late teens became a ploughman before being hired by the farmer with access to the library. He later became a day labourer, which he preferred, because he was paid weekly rather than yearly and “in kind”. In old age, he lived with his daughter Christian and son-in-law George Smith, their nine children and two others in the shepherd’s cottage at Upper Chatto, Hownam.

Lesley explained her involvement, saying she is impressed by those with tough starts succeeding: “This man had done well. He was 19 years younger than Robert Burns and he was much poorer. He had been published by (Ettrick Shepherd) James Hogg’s son and been very well recognised in his time and then he had been forgotten about.

“Having lived in Morebattle for 50 years, I felt he should be remembered.”




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