Book charts town’s rich history

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Borders historian, author and Borders Book Festival director, Alistair Moffat, launched his new book on Wednesday, ahead of Hawick’s celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the battle of Hornshole.

Hawick’s location on the border of Scotland means it has seen its fair share of skirmishes, though nowadays battles are more likely fought on the rugby pitch.

However, it was also a hotbed of productivity in areas such as engineering and, of course, the textile trade.

Five hundred years after the first Common-Riding, Alistair Moffat traces the towns origins back to Roman Times and his new book gives a complete history of this unique town.

Hawick: A History From Earliest Times is published by Birlinn, and is available priced £14.99.

Over the next four weeks we will be publishing extracts from Alistair Moffat’s book.

Here is taste of what is to come.

Hawick by Alistair Moffat

‘Aye defend!’ Startled, I looked up at my mum in terrified astonishment. ‘Aye defend your rights and Common!’ she shouted as the Cornet raised up the banner and the High Street crowd roared its support.

My mum never shouted at home in Kelso – not even when she had cause, usually supplied by me. A gigantic, snorting horse suddenly clattered sideways and I skittered behind her. But she cheered all the more and muffled, from somewhere, I could hear, ‘Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!

Hip, hip, hooray!’ The riders and the flag moved on, the crowd followed and I stopped clutching my mum’s hand so tightly.

When she came home to Hawick for the Common-Riding, my mum became a different person. Although I did not understand it at the time, she came home every summer to be herself again – a Teri, a sister, a cousin, a niece, a girlhood friend and not just a mother.

Born Ellen Irvine at Allars Crescent when it was a bowed row of tenements behind the west end of the High Street, she had seen Cornets raise the banner high only yards away from where she had grown up. The summer colour of the rideouts, the songs, the chase, the Mair and the shows at the Haugh were bright threads woven into her earliest days.

One of seven sisters and a solitary brother, my mum was raised in a tiny flat, in the body warmth of a crowded, noisy and vivid family. Seventy years later, when my dad died, her bewilderment was more than emotional. She told me it would be the first time in her life she had not shared a bed.

At the Common-Ridings, I inherited a powerful sense of the closeness of the Irvines.

My aunties Mary, Jean, Daisy, Isa and Margaret and my uncle David all gathered at the Mair, always spreading out rugs and a vast picnic at what seemed to be exactly the same place. Even the ghost of Auntie Mina, who died before we could know her, seemed to linger there.

In the June sunshine, we celebrated. With all my Hawick cousins, there must have been 30 or 40 eating sandwiches, drinking lemonade or something stronger, watching the races, the rumble of hoof beats, the cheering crowds, my aunties shaking their heads at one or two neighbours who had celebrated too well and appeared to have lost control of their legs.

In those distant summers of the 1950s and early 1960s, Hawick seemed to me a wonderland of generous laughter and music. Exotic, too – the shows at the Haugh smelled of candyfloss, hot dogs and onions, and in the air was the faint, electric whiff of disrepute. I loved it.

It occurred to me that Hawick people had come to their own party. There was a sense of a long celebration punctuated by mysterious rituals everyone understood, gatherings at specific places

There was also a palpable sense of escape. From the deafening rattle and clack of the mills where most of my aunties worked, they were released into the June sunshine for the Common Riding. The mills fell silent then but, for the rest of the year, they meant money and, more significantly, money for women, who were in a large majority on the dozens of weaving and knitting flats. Nimble fingers, a keen eye and an uncomplaining attitude to the endless repetition of textile production had delivered jobs in abundance for women.

When I began to go to Hawick Common-Riding with my mum in the mid-1950s, there was money in Hawick and most of it in purses and handbags rather than wallets and back pockets.

n Read more in next week’s Southern Reporter