Denholm Village

Home Denholm News Contact Us About Us



The late 19th century remembered 

Information is taken from  'A History of the Village' by Margaret Sellar,
printed 1989. Unfortunately the book is now out of print.

A good first-hand account of the village life at this time is given by John Ramsay in his article written in 1951 "The story of my boyhood days in Denholm over 50 years ago."  Ramsay, born in 1885, was the son of the last preacher at the Cameronian chapel and was brought up in the house next to it, known at that time as the Old Manse, now called Elm Bank.

By the 1890's there were few stocking makers left, the quarrying had dwindled away and the community was once again mainly agricultural, made up of small holders, rural craftsmen and the village tradesmen and shopkeepers.


Ramsay mentions several farmers. Most of them were no more than smallholders, in the tradition of the 18th century feuars. They worked their garden ground, the Crofts given in 1862, the haughs by the Teviot and common land to the East and South. They kept pigs, poultry, cattle and horses.

He names Farmer Armstrong who had a steading near the bottom of the Loaning and a "Milk House" (Dairy) in the Eastgate where his family sold milk, butter and eggs. 


His customers were also supplied with manure for their gardens and every autumn he gathered up the fallen leaves from the elm trees in the Main Street to used as bedding for his pigs.  

The Tait family who lived in Rillbank and other cottages at the bottom of the Canongate had smallholdings and also ran a quarrying and contractors business.

Ruberslea, in Eastgate, was a farmhouse at that time with a stable and a large hayshed attached. 

So too was Thornbank in the Wynd which had a byre and was worked by the Barry brothers. Several households in the village kept and hired out horses.  


The farms

Denholm Hall Farm House was built by Robert Bulman about 1837 and the map of the village in 1858 indicates that it was known for a time as "New Westgate Hall." It replaced the old farmhouse at Denholm Townfoot which stood next to the Mill Wynd. 

Denholm Hall Farmhouse

  The steadings, including the farm mill (a horse mill in Ramsays time) were on the other side of the Canongate. 

As the number of smallholders dwindled, Denholm Hall Farm gradually took in some of the old common land until it became a sizeable farm with fields by the river, on both sides of the Jedburgh road and up behind the village on the slopes of Denholm Hill.  

In Ramsay's day  Denholm Mill was still a corn mill but in time it too acquired fields from the common land and became a Farm, using the old mill buildings as steadings. The Olivers, Archibald, Bill and finally James, were tenants of the Mill for quite some time.

The sale ring on the small green

From about 1890 Robert Milligan, auctioneer, ran the sale ring on the small green with a livestock market every alternate Wednesday, a relic of the 18th century marts. An extra large sale was held at Christmas and Ramsay recalls the whole green covered with extra pens. Messrs Scott and Rutherford continued to sell cattle and sheep there until 1908 when the ring and pens were moved to the loaning (where Ruberslaw Road is today).  

Trades and craftsmen

There were two blacksmiths, John Robson employing two or three men at Broomieknowe in the Dean Road and Joseph Laing at Rockview on the corner by Minto Road. 

  The Saddler and harness maker, James Scott, had two men and an apprentice in his workshop at Townhead.


The present manse in Leyden's Road was an Engineering shop (Davidson). A master builder lived in Hazeldean at the East end (one of the old Denholm family of builder's, the Little's). He often worked in Hawick or Jedburgh and walked there and back.



Eastgate House
  There was one slater and plumber but two thatchers (Rob Wood and George Scott). Most of the houses were still thatched but few would have had much plumbing! There were three joiners businesses John Millar's, Scott Elliott and the largest owned by Nicholas Furness. He lived in East Gate House and employed several men and apprentices in the workshop behind. 

A wood merchant who lived in Sunnyside worked the sawmill on the road to Minto (where Oliver Brothers yard is today). There were two mole catchers and a hedger.  


Amongst the shopkeepers, only one baker is mentioned (Carruthers, successor to Wully Beattie and Lindsays corner) but numerous other shops and household's sold pies, home-made scones, sweets and lemonade. 

There were two butchers on 'butcher's corner' at Eastgate - Johnston in what became Douglas's shop and Thomas Beattie next door. Behind both shops were slaughterhouses and Ramsay remembers how the village boys used to go there to hold a candle and watch.    

One of the butchers shops also sold groceries, sticks of rock and scones with a slice of potted meat inside.

There were four other grocer's shops in the village and a poultry shop in Sunnyside. The woman who kept it used to travel into Hawick or Jedburgh with any produce she could not sell in Denholm.  

There were three cobblers. Tom Park in 5 Main Street was one of them, Mr Hume in the Poplars was another, and the third was in the Canongate. There were three tailors, John Turnbull's father in Rosebank had several men and apprentices - and three dressmakers, two of them in Elm House.

The Draper's shop in the middle of the Main Street used to have a fine display at Christmas. Next door, part of the house that is now Leyden's View was a crockery shop, kept by an old man with a cork leg. 

  A woman in the Neuk in Eastgate sold baskets and brushes from her house. Between Elm House and Elm Cottage there used to be an old building where coal and turnips were sold and 'tick' was marked up on a slate.  

The Neuk, Eastgate

On the north side of Eastgate there was a public wash house and in Leyden's Road old 'Mrs Parcel' (Mary Percival Scott) took in clothes to be mangled. The post-office, managed at that time by the Miller family, was in the Main Street, where Greenside is now. It had a savings bank, an insurance department and letter and Telegraph services. It also sold groceries and the newspapers.

There was a large public weighing machine on the green, near where the bus shelter is now. Loads of coal, hay, straw etc were weighed on it and it was looked after by the Baker on the corner.

Inns and lodging houses  

By this time only two of the five public houses were left, the Fox and Hounds and the Cross Keys, both had stables behind. The owners of the Fox and Hounds kept a dog cart and wagonette and one or two carriage horses which they used to hire out. Ramsay says the wagonette went to Hassendean every day.  

Fox & Hounds Inn

An earlier landlord of the Fox and Hounds, William Leyden, had been a well known athlete. He is said to have walked to Innerleithen, taken part in the sports there, and walked back to Denholm on the same day. The owners of the Cross Keys at the end of the 19th century were the Andersens.

In addition to accommodation at the two Inns there were several lodging house's which put up tramps, hawkers, tinkers, muggers (mug sellers) and the many migrant Irishmen and casual labourers. These appear to have been mainly summer visitors. 'Magenta Robbie', a well known Tramp, used to stay from time to time. Examples of these lodging houses are Leyden's View, remembered by Mark N. Robson as the old White Swan, several cottages on the south side of the Canongate and the the now demolished two-storey building (previously a stocking mill) behind Sunny Bank Cottage, in Leyden's Road. The owner of this last one rejoiced in the name of Bridget Danny Hoo!

Other services

Somerville Buildings
   The doctor lived on Sunnyside where Somerville buildings are now. His coach and coachman were housed in the coach house up the pend through the arch. The village constable lived in the police station at the bottom of what is now Eastlea Drive. His main duties were to help catch poachers and deal with the drunk and disorderly.
They were sometimes locked up in the old police station or "House of refuge", a building with barred windows at the top end of Kirkside (now Seaton cottage).  

Ramsay mentions a local fire brigade (formed in 1890 with eight men) with a base in the Wynd, and remembers them giving the Leyden's monument an annual wash.

Seaton Cottage

Since 1882 the village was lit by eight lamps - but not on windy or moonlit nights.

Concerts used to be held in aid of the "lighting fund." The lamp lighter, a hard drinker, was pestered and made fun of by the village boys.

By this time there was a proper hearse, kept in the Loaning, but it was not often used as most burials now took place in the new cemetery beyond the Canongate and the coffin was simply carried there by pall bearers. Fewer Denholm people were now being buried at Cavers. The registrar, Mr Moody, lived in Fern Bank. Ramsay remembers him as a very tall stately man who wore a half tile hat. Behind his house was another stable.

The village Bible woman lived in Leyden's Road. She was Jesse Armstrong who, according to her tombstone, was also "sick nurse in Denholm for many years."


There was a subscription library in Barries cottage on the corner of the Wynd, dating back to 1805. It was set up by Andrew Scott, schoolmaster, and four others, including William Barry who became the librarian. The Barry family continued to look after the library until it closed in 1906. A full account of its hundred years can be found in an article entitled 'an Old Denholm book' by William F Cuthbertson, Hawick archaeological Society, transactions, April 1933.  

  The second last building at the West end of the main street housed a reading room where people could sit and read magazines and periodicals. Sir James Murray's father had been a promoter of the Reading room Club back in the middle of the 19th century.

Barries Cottage

The gentry  

Mr James Douglas had died in 1872 without a male heir and had been succeeded as Laird by his niece, Mrs Palmer Douglas. 

The largest house in the village was Craigview (now called Denholm Lodge). It was built by the Scott family, owners of Lyle and Scott, Hawick.

A Mr Andrew Stewart lived in Belleview (now Denholm house) and Ramsay remembers that the family used to bury all their pets in the garden. He remembers 'quite a swell' called Mr Campbell who lived in Main Street and worked in a bank in Hawick.  

Church life

Much of the villagers leisure time and social life was connected with the Church. The Chapel Sunday-school was well-attended and the highlight of the year was the annual picnic at Spital tower or Penielheugh. Farm carts were borrowed for the journey. The Kirk ran the Bible class and the young men's fellowship. The Band of Hope met every week during the winter with a magic lantern show, depicting scenes from "Pilgrim's progress" or the lives of John Knox and George Wishart.

On find some evenings services were sometimes held on the Quoiting Haugh by the Teviot bridge with music from the organ carried down from the chapel. The Kirk ran an annual "soiree", a musical evening to which came violinists and other musicians from Hawick. The children would be treated to a bag of buns. Also provided by the Kirk was a Christmas-tree, a rarity then. The choir used to go for an annual outing on bicycles. There used to be regular sewing meetings when ladies of the congregation made articles for the annual sale of work.

The sports

Parts of the old common arable land were used at this time for sporting activities, organised by the feuars. In Ramsay's boyhood "sports" were held in the field by the Gang on the Jedburgh road. At other times this field was used for football and cricket. Later, between the two world wars, it was rented by Mr Dickman, the Saddler, and used for hen runs. The 'sports'  were then held where the Ashloaning is now, later behind Jedward Terrace and, before the Second World War, in the Croft field between the Canongate and the Jedburgh road.

The Quoiting Haugh

The piece of ground to near the entrance to Dean Burn House had once been used as a wrestling ground.  

Quoiting Haugh
  In the 1870's however the owners enclosed part of it with a hedge and the public playground became instead the riverbank between the Teviot Bridge and the old suspension bridge. The grassy slope behind made a good terrace for onlookers. The men of the village used to play quoits here and it became known as the Quoiting Haugh.   

The game died out after the first world-war but the name is still used.

The Flower Show

The Denholm Horticultural Society was founded in 1848 and the annual flower show was held in the school which served as the village hall. Sir James Murray recalled that as a boy in the 1850's he used to compete for the prize for the best collection of wild flowers. "My only serious rival was Willie Crook (who grew up to be one of the last Denholm stocking makers). He generally beat me in tasteful arrangement while I had the pull in my knowledge of the botanical names and the power to arrange them in scientific order".

Another of his contemporaries, John Scott (1836 -1880), gained all the prizes for hardy annuals and cultivated flowers. This success encouraged him to take up gardening as a living and he became a well known horticulturalist. While at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh he corresponded with Darwin and experimented with hybridisation of plants.

The Big Green

The Big Green was still let for grazing to butchers or smallholders but Ramsay also remembers how it used to be a meeting place on New Year's Day for friends from near and far. Some folks brought melodians and concertinas and football would be played. In the summer large parties would come out from Hawick in brakes, wagonette etc. they refreshed themselves at the Fox and Hounds and then came out on to the green to dance to music from a fiddle and concertina.

The Bough o' Bale was celebrated at this time and as yet there was no association with Guy Fawkes. The elm trees on the green served as public notice boards and were studded with hundreds of nails left after old notices and been taken down.

Soldiers on recruitment marches used to camp on the green. They were given a reception by the chief feuar  (the chairman of the feuars Committee), the minister, the doctor and the schoolmaster. The local band, the old volunteers, would turn out to play.

The Shows

In 1892, Mr Milligan, the auctioneer, was asked to allow 'Shows' on to the small green in order to give some amusement to the youth of the village and in Ramsay's boyhood the Shows would come every year with a shooting galleries, stalls, sideshows and roundabouts. Later, after the first world-war, they were moved to the Croft field where they were run by the Millar's, a couple from Denholm who had eloped from the village to get married.

Ramsay also remembers the circus passing through, and travelling folk who sold horses, donkeys and goats stopped on their way to and from fares in other places. The circus elephants used to stop at a drinking trough on Main Street which was divided by the railings so that it could be used by the cattle on the green and the horses on the main Street the trough would later taken away but it seems that the elephants never forgot it. In the 1930s they still stopped at the same spot and would not move until they had been given their drink of water.


Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved.