AN old oak table from a house in the Borders is providing a unique link between Scotland’s parliaments – old and new, writes Andrew Keddie.
It was discovered last October when Cath Petrie and her sister Joan England were clearing the Selkirk home of their late mother Kathleen Robson, the widow of Fred Robson who, for many years, owned and ran Lawrie’s ironmongery – now occupied by Halliwells the butcher – in the town’s Market Place.
Joan had intended making the journey to her native town from her home in Australia in the spring, but unfortunately her mum’s health deteriorated and she passed away, aged 93, in April last year.
“We were just going over some of our mother’s things and reflecting on the past before putting the house on the market and Joan was dusting the table where the television had stood,” recalled Cath this week.
It was then that the historical significance of the table was revealed to the sisters, with a small metal plaque proclaiming: “Made from the floor of the old Parliament House”.
Family friend and local history buff Dr Lindsay Neil was called in and, after checking with the National Museum of Scotland, confirmed that the apparently unremarkable piece of furniture had, indeed, been crafted, probably in Victorian times, from the Scandinavian oak floor of Parliament House which was Scotland’s legislature from 1639 until the Treaty of Union in 1707.
The building, beside St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, was then given over to judicial use and, today, the Court of Session and the Law Libraries stand on the site. It was extensively revamped in 1819 and one of its doors was acquired by Sir Walter Scott and incorporated into Abbotsford House.
After learning of the Selkirk find from Dr Neil, local MSP Jeremy Purvis was given a private viewing by Cath who suggested it would be a good idea if the table could find a home at Scotland’s new parliament.
Mr Purvis told TheSouthern: “It immediately struck me that the table was a tangible connection between the old and new parliaments, representing a gap of more than 300 years.
“I said I would be privileged and delighted to take temporary custody of it.
“It now has pride of place in my office at Holyrood and I’ve even placed a Lindean Glass plate on it to maintain the Selkirk connection.”
Cath is uncertain how the table came into her family’s possession, but suspects it was acquired by her father Fred who was a keen collector and historian.
She told us: “My dad owned all the property at Halliwell’s Close and opened the town’s first museum and tourist information centre which showed how proud he was of Selkirk and its historical attractions.
“I can’t recall him ever mentioning the table being anything special, but clearly it is. The family is delighted to loan the table to Mr Purvis for as long as he is an MSP.”
To express his gratitude for the gesture, Mr Purvis invited Cath and her family to visit the parliament during last week’s recess.
Cath was accompanied by husband Rob, brother Keith Robson, his wife Carol and their seven-year-old grandson Aidan, who live in Hawick. Making the journey from Burntisland in Fife was Cath’s son Mark Robson and his son Ethan, 15.
“We had a wonderful day at Holyrood with Mr Purvis and the table,” said Cath.