ACROSS Jed, on a high and leafy bank nearly opposite to Lintalee, stands the picturesque old stronghold of Fernihirst. The original castle was erected by Sir Thomas Ker probably about the year 1476, and the present building dates only from 1598. Its predecessor “stode marvelous strongly within a grete woode,” as Dacre and Surrey found to their cost in 1523 ; yet they took it, after ” long skirmyshing and moche difficultie,” as Surrey reported. Brief and stormy was the existence of this original Fernihirst, stirring, and in some instances horrible, the deeds done within and around its walls. In 1548 the English held it, Shrewsbury, when he returned to the south in that year, having left there a garrison of something like eighty or ninety men. At this period Scotland, still dazed and stricken under the stunning blow of Pinkie in 1547, was in a deplorable, and apparently a very helpless, condition. Most of her strongholds were in English hands ; her chief men for the greater part had come in and made submission to Somerset; the poorer sort in most parts of the Border were at the mercy of the hated invader. Here, at Fernihirst, the English garrison was under the command of one whose oppression and cruel lust were devilish, and whose treatment of unprotected country-folk was such as would justify almost any conceivable form of revenge on the part of the men of Jedforest. M. de Beaugué, a French officer who was then in Scotland, and who in his “Histoire de la Guerre d’Ecosse” chronicles the campaigns of 1548, 1549, says that during all the time this savage licentious devil remained near Jedburgh ” he never came across a young girl but he outraged her, never an old woman but he put her to death with cruel torture.” And, as the proverb has it : “Like master, like man”; where their captain forgot his manhood, and disgraced the name of Englishman, how were the men under his command likely to conduct themselves ? The people of the Forest of Jedworth thus had ghastly wrongs to wipe out ; and when their chance came, they seized on it with avidity.
The cruelties inflicted on each other by both nations at this period were detestable and revolting. ” Put men, women, and children to fire and sword without exception, when any resistance shall be made against you,” wrote Henry VIII. to Lord Hertford in 1544, instructions which were most faithfully carried out. Here at Fernihirst our countrymen went, if possible, ” one better,” and their treatment of prisoners was of the most inhuman and savage nature. Yet if their wrongs were such as are depicted by de Beaugué, can one wonder that, like wild beasts, they tore and mangled ?
Early in 1549 there came to Jedburgh a large body of French troops under the Sieur d’Essé, sent to recapture that town, which at the moment was held for the English by a force chiefly composed of Spanish mercenaries. The Spaniards made no great stand, and for the moment the Sieur and his little army were left with time on their hands. To the Sieur went Sir John Ker, then laird of Fernihirst, suggesting that the French general should aid him in recapturing the castle. French and Scots a small body of the latter, the personal following of Sir John Ker accordingly made a combined attack and quickly carried the outwork, the garrison retreating to the keep. Here, whilst a party laboured hard to effect a breach in the wall, French arquebusiers were so planted that no man of the garrison could show his face with impunity, or dared to attempt to interfere with the working party, who already in little over one hour had made a practicable breach, large enough at least to admit a man’s body. About this time the main French force had come up, and the English garrison could not but see that their position was now desperate. Accordingly they showed a flag of truce, and the English commander, on receiving assurance that he would be allowed to return, came out through the hole in the wall and offered to give up the castle, provided that the lives of the garrison were spared. The Sieur d’Essé, however, would listen to no conditions ; the surrender, he said, must be unconditional, and the Englishman therefore returned to his men.
Meantime, news of the attack on Fernihirst had flown abroad over the countryside, and men of Jedforest came hurrying to the scene, breathless with the lust of slaughter, panting with unquenchable thirst for a bloody vengeance. Letting their horses go, and, regardless of everything, rushing in, they burst open and swarmed through the doors of the lower court. And now the bowels of the English leader turned indeed to water, for well he knew what fate would be his were he once to fall into the hands of those frenzied men. Therefore once more hurriedly pressing through the breach, he surrendered himself to two French officers, MM. Dussac and de la Mothe-Rouge. Scarcely, however, had he done so, and even as they led him away, a prisoner, there rushed up a Scot, a dweller in the neighbouring forest of Jed, one who had only too terrible a reason to remember the face of this fiend who had outraged his wife and his young daughter. He said no word, but with a roar as of a wounded beast that charges, he smote with all his strength. And the head of a man went trundling and bumping loosely over the trampled grass, as the knees doubled under a headless trunk that sank almost leisurely to the ground. Then those Scots who most had foul reason to execrate the memory of this treacherous brute, joyfully plunged their hands into his blood as it gushed, and with shouts of exultation seizing his head, they placed it on a long pole and stuck it up by a stone cross that stood by the parting of three ways, that all might see and rejoice over their vengeance.
That was but the beginning of a scene long drawn and terrible in its ferocity. Prisoners were ruthlessly butchered, and when the Scots had murdered all whom they themselves had taken, their lust for blood was so far from slaked that they brought others from the Frenchmenbartering even some of their arms in exchangeand slew these also with extreme barbarity. ” I myself,” writes M. de Beaugué, ” sold them a prisoner for a small horse. They tied his hands and feet and head together, and placed him thus trussed in the middle of an open space, and ran upon him with their lances, armed as they were and on horseback . . . . until he was dead and his body hacked in a thousand pieces, which they divided among them and carried away on the iron points of their spears.” “I cannot,” naïvely adds the chronicler, ” greatly praise the Scots for this practice. But the truth is the English tyrannised over the Borders in a most barbarous manner, and I think it was but fair to repay them, as the saying goes, in their own coin.”
So Sir John Ker got back his strong castle. But it did not long remain undisturbed in the family possession. In 1570 there came into Scotland that English expedition under the Earl of Sussex and Lord Hunsdon which played such havoc in the Border, and once more the Merse and Teviotdale were burned and laid waste. ” Apon Monday last,” writes Lord Hunsdon from Berwick to Sir W. Cecil, under date 23rd April, 1570, “beyng the 17th of thys ynstant, we went owt of thys towne by 6 a cloke at nyght and rode to Warke, where we remayned tyll three or four yn the mornyng ; and then sett forward the hole army that was with us att that present, ynto Tyvydale bernyng on bothe hands at the lest two myle ; levyng neyther cast ell, t owne, nortowerunburnt tyllwe cametoJedworth. Many of the townes beyng Bukklews, and a proper tower of hys, called the Mose Howse, wythe three or four caves, wheryn the cuntrey folk had put such stufe as they had and was very valyantly kept by serten of the cuntrey for two or three owars, but at last taken. . . . The next day we marchyd to Hawyke ; wher by the way we began with Farnhurst and Hunthylle, whose howsys we burnt, and all the howsys about them. We could nott blow up Farnhurst, but have so tome ytt with laborars, as ytt wer as goode ley flatt.” The building must have been of remark-able solidity, for in spite of its being burnt, and left roofless and dismantled, “torne with laborars,” in 1570, there can be little doubt that in less than two years it was again at least tenable, for in 1572 Lord Ruthven, after dispersing at Hawick the forces of Buccleuch and Fernihirst,(who supported the cause of the abdicated Queen,) on his return march to Jedburgh “tuik the housses of Pherniherst, and put men in them,” and the place was held for some time after this by the King’s troops. Possibly it was more thoroughly knocked about in 1593 than it had been at any other period of its existence. Sir Andrew Ker, then head of the house, when summoned to appear before James and his Privy Council at Jedburgh to answer for his part in aiding the schemes of the Earl of Bothwell, and for other acts, had failed to put in an appearance, and had consequently been outlawed and declared a rebel. It was also proposed to render him homeless, for on 16th October of that year Carey reports to Burghley that ” the King has proclaimed to remain at Jedworth fifteen days, and summoned the barons, gentlemen and freeholders to attend him, minding this day or tomorrow to pull down the lairds of Fernihirst and Hunthill’s houses, and all others who have succoured Bothwell.” Probably the threat was carried into execution, to a greater or less extent. In any case, 1598 saw a renovated Fernihirst, much as it stands at the present day, when, according to ” Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland,” it presents “a charming example of a Scottish mansion of the period.” Built into the wall above the main doorway of the mansion, (as may be seen in Mr. Hugh Thomson’s sketch,) are two panels, that to the left showing the armorial bearings of the Kers, and above, on a scroll, the words :
“FORWARD IN YE NAME OF GOD”; at the foot, A.K. 1598. On the panel to the right is the word “FORWARD”; in the centre of the panel the arms of Sir Andrew’s wife, Dame Ann D. SOLI’DEO
Stewart, and beneath, A.S. 1’5’9’8′.
As late as 1767 the house seems to have been occasionally used by the Lord Lothian of that day, but it was even then showing signs of dilapidation. It was, however, occupied by farming tenants down to a recent date, as late, I believe, as 1889. About that year extensive repairs were carried out ;the ivy whichhowever picturesque it may have beenwas slowly throttling the old walls, was removed, the panels were refaced, the roof made wind and weather proof, and the interior to a great extent restored.
At Smailcleuchfoot, a little higher up the river, and nearly opposite to Fernihirst Mill, almost, as one might say, within a stone’s cast of the castle, stood once the house of a man greatly famed in Jedforest,Auld Ringan Oliver. No vestige of the house now remains, but the memory of Ringan and the story of the siege he stood within his cottage here still live in Border lore, and were sung of in James Telfer’s “Border Ballads ” close on a century ago.
” The crystal Jed by Smailcleuchfoot Flows on with murmuring din; It seems to sing a dowie dirge For him that dwelt therein.”
Ringan’s forebears, men of mark all of them in their day, dwelt here at Smailcleuchfoot for many a generation. They were there, no doubt, when the Sieur d’Esse recaptured Fernihirst for Sir John Ker ; there when Dacre stormed it in 1523 ; there perhaps, helping Douglas, when Father Ellis and his Englishmen were caught feasting on the good fare at Lintalee in 1317. With ancestors such as these, whose whole lives were passed in the midst of endless strife, men ever ready, and glorying in their readiness, to turn out against invading Southern bands, or to slip over Carterfell into Redesdale to plunder those same Southrons, how could Ringan fail to be, what he was, a born fighter ! With his enormous frame, immense personal strength, and dauntless courage, there was none in the Border so famed as he. Endless were the tales told of him,how he could take “a ten half-fou boll of barley in the wield of his arm and fling it across a horse’s back with the utmost ease “; how in his youth he raided Newcastle Jail, and rescued two of his friends, who had been, as he thought, unjustly imprisoned therein. The stories of him are endless.
Ringan lived in the stirring times of the Covenant, and with a disposition such as his, dourly religious, it is almost needless to say that he was prominent among the more militant section of the Covenanters of the seventeenth century. He was probably present at Drumclog, and he was certainly present at Bothwell Brig, in 1679, fighting as few fought that bloody day. His home was in caves and among rocks, beneath dripping peat-hags, and in holes in the ground, for many a day after this, but in 168o he joined the outlawed Hall of Haughhead, and was in the tussle when that Champion of the Covenant was taken at Queensferry what time “those two bloody hounds the Curates of Borrowstonness and Carriden smelled out Mr. Cargill and his companion.” Hall was killed, or at least died of his wounds before he could be brought to Edinburgh ; but Ringan Oliver and ” worthy Mr. Cargill ” escaped. the net of the fowler. Then, in 1689, he was with Mackay at Killicrankie ; and the following day, though exhausted with the precipitate flight from the battlefield, he fought at Dunkeld his famous duel with the Highland champion, Rory Dhu Mhor, whom he slew after a most desperate and bloody fight. Bleeding from half a score of wounds, Ringan had been beaten to his knees, and the affair seemed a certain victory for the Highlander. But the latter was over-confident ; he thought he had a beaten man at his mercy, and one instant’s carelessness gave Ringan his chance, Before his adversary could recover, the point of the Borderer’s sword was out between the Highlander’s shoulders, and with a roar of astonishment and wrath he fell dead.
But perhaps it was for the siege he stood at Smailcleuchfoot when he was now an old man, that Ringan is best remembered. After a stormy youth and middle age, he had at length settled down in his ancestral home, where he was leading the quiet life of a farmer. As the story is told, it seems that Ringan’s strict integrity and high sense of honour had gained for him the respect and friendship of his powerful neighbour at Fernihirstprobably either the first or the second Marquess of Lothian. Perhaps, too, there may have been something in the mutual belief and manner of thought of the two men that drew them together. (There was a Ker of about that date, or a little earlier, who was a zealous Covenanter.) In any case, the friendship was of such a nature that when Lord Lothian found himself, towards the close of his life, compelled to undertake what was then the long and trying journey to London, he left Ringan in charge of his private papers, and entrusted him with the key of a locked room in which valuable documents were kept, and into which he desired that no one should be permitted to enter whilst he himself was absent in the south. As it chanced, after Lord Lothian had started on his journey, his heir, considering, as a matter of course perhaps, that the old lord’s prohibition did not apply to him, sent to Ringan demanding the key of the .room, into which he had, or said he had, occasion to go. Ringan naturally, but perhaps not very deferentially or even politely, refused to give it up. Thereupon arose hot words, and bitter enmity on the part at least of the younger man, who, with that rather irrational form of vanity not uncommon in youth, imagined himself to be slighted.
And hence came serious consequences to the old Covenanter. For the Marquess died, and the man whom Ringan had offended succeeded to the title and estates. He had alwaysso the story goesnursed his wrath to keep it warm, and he might be depended on to pay off, with interest, all old scores against him whom he talked of as that “dour old Cameronian devil.” So it happened one day, towards the time of harvest, when corn lay waiting for the sickle in the smiling haughs of Jed, the young lord and his friends, attended by servants in charge of several dogs, came on horseback across the river and began to ride up and down through Ringan’s crop, ostensibly looking for hares. The old man remonstrated in vain ; no heed was paid to him, and at length, goaded to fury as he saw the havoc being played among his good oates and bere, he snatched up an old musket (that perhaps had seen service at Bothwell Brig) and shot one of the dogs dead. That was enough ; the old man had put himself now in the wrong. For the Marquess could plead that, after all, he had only been riding on his own land; and he and his friends could assert that the harm they had done, if any, had been infinitesimal. So the young lord rode off to Jedburgh, and had a summons issued by the Sheriff against Ringan.
It was one thing, however, to issue the summons, quite another to serve it, or afterwards to get Ringan to obey the call. If he persisted in ignoring the summons, there were not many to be found bold enough to go to Smailcleuchfoot for the purpose of haling him before the Court ; old as he now was, Ringan’s reputation for strength and courage, and for reckless daring, was still great enough to keep the wolves of the law at bay. ” But,” said the Sheriff, ” the law cannot thus be flouted ; if he does not come willingly, then he must be made to come.” Which of course was quite the right thing to say, especially if he had at hand the force necessary to carry out his threat. But that was where the difficulty came in. Finally, the Sheriff had to go himself to arrest old Ringan, impressing on his way everybody whom he could find capable of helping, including the Marquess himself.
Ringan was warned of their coming, and advised to fly. ” No ! ” said the old man. ” I’ve dune no wrong. Let them touch me wha daur ! ” But he set about barricading his house, and when the Sheriff and his party came on the scene they found a building with doors fast and windows shuttered, and no one visible. At their knock, Ringan appeared at a small upper window, but entirely declined to be taken, or to open the door. Then commenced a vigorous assault by the Sheriff and his party. They attempted to break in the door and to rush the building. Ringan opened fire on them with his old musket, and drove them back.
And then for a time there occurred nothing more than a fruitless exchange of shots, as one or other of the Sheriff’s men left cover or Ringan showed himself at one of the windows. It appears, however, that there was in the house with the old man a young girl, either his adopted daughter or a domestic who looked after household affairs. This girl had been told to keep out of harm’s way, to shelter in a “press” or cupboard well out of any possible range of bullet ; but in the heat of battle the old man did not notice that curiosity had drawn her from the safety of this hiding place, and had brought her right behind him at the moment that he fired a shot through the window. It was a good shot, for it clipped away a curl from the Sheriff’s wig, and perhaps in his satisfaction at going so near to his mark the old man may have showed himself a little too openly. Anyhow, at that moment two or three muskets replied, the heavy bullets coming with sullen ” phut” into the woodwork of the little window-frame. But one flew straighter than the others ; Ringan heard behind him a sound, half gasp, half sob, and turned just in time to see the lass sink on the floor, blood pouring from her throat. The old man tried to stanch the wound, but it needed hardly more than a glance to tell that it was far beyond his simple skill, and that she was past hope.
Then the lust of battle seized him, blind fury filled his breast, and he thought only of revenge. He forgot his age, forgot that his fighting days should have been long over, forgot everything but the mad desire to clutch the throats of his foes and to choke the life out of them. So, tearing down the barricades of his door, he rushed out on his enemies like a wild bull charging. But alas for Ringan ! part of the discarded barricade caught his foot as he burst over the threshold, and down he came with a crash. Before he could struggle even to his knees, the enemy was on him, and he was down again on his face, half a dozen men swarming over him. Even yet, however, old and hopelessly outnumbered as he was, the fight for a time was not so very unequal, and he might in the end have cast off the crowd that strove to hold and bind him.
An ill day it would have been for some of them had he succeeded. But a treacherous pedlar, who had joined the fray for the sake of hire, watching his chance, came behind, and with a blow from a hammer smashed Ringan’s jaw and brought him to the ground, stunned. The old man was taken then, bound hand and foot, and carted off to Edinburgh. There, in the foul air of the Tolbooth he lay for eight weary years, suffering tortures great part of the time, not only from the broken jaw, but from old wounds which had broken out afresh, and which from the insanitary condition of the prison now refused to heal. It was a broken, frail old man who came out from that long imprisonment. And he never got back to his beloved Jed. Ringan Oliver died in Edinburgh in 1736 ; his huge frame sleeps in Greyfriars Churchyard.
As one travels up Jed by the old coach roadwhose windings do not invariably desert even the abruptest elbow of the streamroad and river finally part company at the bridge below Camptown. Here the latter’s course swings gradually to the right, through leafy banks and under spreading trees, whilst the former, following a straighter route, enters on a long, steady bit of collar-work up the side of a pine-clad brae where, on one hand, lies the old camp from which the adjacent little settlement derives its name, and, on the other, Edgerston, sleeping in its woods. Here once stood Edgerston Castle, which Hertford’s men took ” by pollicie ” in 1544 ;someone sold the Rutherfurd of that day. Castle and lands then belonged to the Rutherfurds, one of the most ancient families in Scotland, and still the lands are theirs.
A little way past Edgerston the road begins its long two mile climb to an elevation of close on 1500 feet near the summit of Catcleuch Shin. There, immediately after passing the Carter Bar, it crosses the Border line, and drops steadily down into Redesdale, past the new Catcleuch Reservoir that supplies Newcastle with water, a work which has wiped out of existence one of the pleasantest bits of fishing in the kingdom, where trout were many and game, and of enviable size. Perhaps the trout are there stillfor those who may take thembut the capture of a dozen fish in still water cannot match the joy experienced in fighting one good Rede trout in the strong rushing stream where he has passed all his days.
Beyond the Catcleuch Reservoir, a road of easy gradients sweeps down the delightful Rede valley, past innumerable old camps, British and Roman ; past Rochester, into whose little school-house, that stands solitary in the angle of two ways, are built numerous stones (carved and otherwise) handily quarried from the adjacent old Roman station of Bremenium ; and high up, on the roof of the building, from the same source are various large round stone balls that may have formed part of the ammunition for a Roman ballista. It was this route that the Roman legions followed over the Cheviots in their north-ward march from the mighty wall they had stretched across England from sea to sea. A few miles east from Catcleuch Shin, their military road bursts suddenly into view of that glorious sweep of country where the triple-peaked Eildons dominate the scene, a landmark that no doubt led them first to the site of their famous Newstead camp.
In early nineteenth century days, when His Majesty’s mail coaches between Newcastle and Edinburgh came jangling over the crest of this bleak, unprotected bit of road at Catcleuch Shin, taking at a gallant trot the long, stiff gradient that faced them whether they were heading to the south or to the north, the trials of outside passengers in winter time must not seldom have been of a nature truly unenviable. Bitter sleet, driving before a westerly gale, lashed their faces and stole chill wet fingers inside their wraps and upturned collars ; drifting, blinding snow, swirling on the wings of a wild north-easter, blurred the guiding line of snow-posts, and even at times hid his leaders from the coachman’s sight, so that his first warning of being off the road and on the moor, was a heavy lurch as the coach buried its side in some blind hollow; frost, and a thermometer in the neighbourhood of zero, nipped from ears and nose and toes every vestige of feeling, and chilled to the very bone those whom duty or business forced to travel. It was truly a large assortment of evils that our ancestors had to choose from, in the winter, on that road over into England by the Carter Bar.
But if winter was bad, surely in the better time of year there were pleasures that atoned for all they had suffered. In the long twilight of a summer’s evening, when moorland scents fill all the air and the crow of grouse echoes from the heathery knolls, what pleasure more satisfying could there be in life than to sit behind a free-going team of bays, listening lazily to the rhythm of the chiming hoofs, to the ring of steel bitts and the merry jingle of the splinter-bars ? And as the coach breasted the summit, and began to make up time on the down gradient, the glorious view that broke on the eye of the north-bound passenger of itself would make amends for half the ills of life. Away to the west, stretched ever more dim in the fading sunset glow, the long -flung line of CheviotsCarterfell, the Carlin’s Tooth (where springs the infant Jed), Peel Fell, Hartshorn Pyke, all blending, far down, into the round green hills of Liddesdale; then, more to the north-westward, set in the wide expanse, the Windburgh Hill and Cauldcleuch Head ; farther off, away over the high land of upper Teviotdale,
” The far grey riot of the Ettrick hills,”
and the dim shapes of the mighty ” Laws” of PeeblesshireBroad Law, Dollar Law, Black Law. Then far below this vantage point on Catcleuch Shin, in middle foreground Edgerston’s darkening woods; beyond, Ruberslaw, Minto Crags,” where falcons hang their giddy nest,”and the Dunion ; then, to the right, Eildon’s cloven peak, and, near-by, the Black Hill at Earlston, with the Lammermuirs in dimmest background ; to the right again, Smailholme Tower, erect and watchful ; east of that, the green Merse, widespread like a map, stretched almost to the sea, and on the extreme right, far off, Cheviot himself, blocking the view. What a truly magnificent sweep of country it is ! A sense of space, and room to breathe, such as one finds seldom in this country.
Three hundred and thirty-eight years ago, however, there were Scots and English assembled on that Catcleuch ridge one summer’s day, who had no eyes for the view ;
” The seventh of July, the suith to say, At the Reidswire the tryst was set ; Our Wardens they affixed the day, And, as they promised, so they met. Alas ! that day I’ll ne’er forget !”
As was customary, the English and Scottish Wardens of the Marches had met for the discussion and settlement of Border claims and disputes, and for the redressing of wrongs. Sir John Carmichael in this instance acted for Scotland, Sir John Forster for England. The former was accompanied by the young Scott of Buccleuch,according to Sir Walter the same who, twenty-one years later, was famous for the rescue of Kinmont Willie from Carlisle Castle,by sundry Armstrongs,
Douglases, Turnbulls of Rule Water, and other wild Borderers.
” Of other clans I cannot tell Because our warning was not wide.”
But it was a turbulent band, one would think, and not easy of control. Forster had at his back Fenwicks” five hundred Fenwicks in a flock,” says the ballad,-Shaftoes, Collingwoods, and other of the great English Border families, the men from Hexham and thereabout, and many of the fiercest fighters of Redesdale and Tynedale, the two latter said to be then the most lawless people of the North of England. Indeed, their reputation was so evil that the merchants of Newcastle passed a by-law in the year 1 564 that no apprentices should be taken ” proceeding from such leude and wicked progenitors.” Thus it may be seen that both nations were strongly represented, and that on both sides there was superabundance of most inflammable material waiting but for a spark to set it ablaze. In most promising and peaceful fashion, however, the proceedings opened:
” Yett was our meeting meek eneugh ; Begun wi’ merriment and mowes.
Some gaed to drink, and some stude still, And some to cards and dice them sped.”
And all went smoothly and well, till the case of one Robson, a notorious Redesdale horse and cattle-thief, came up for discussion. The Scottish warden, following the usual Border custom in such cases, demanded that the culprit, having been guilty of theft on the northern side of the March, should be given into Scottish custody till such time as reparation be made to the parties robbed by the Redesdale man. Sir John Forster demurred, giving as his reason for evading the usual practice in such cases, that Robson had fled and could not be captured. ” Oh ! Play fair ! ” cried Carmichael contemptuously. Where-upon Forster not unnaturally lost his temper, and made a fierce and insulting reply. Hot words leapt from angry lips, and swords, which in those days were never long idle, began to flash in the warm sunshine as they left the scabbards. And then the Tynedale men” Fy, Tyndale, to it !”–eager to take time by the forelock, and determined not to stand out of what fray might be going, loosed off a flight of arrows among the Scots. And all the fat was in the fire. Like fiercest wolves, the two sides flew at each other’s throats, trampling over the heathery ground, cursing, slashing, stabbing.
The Scots at first were getting rather the worst of the affray ; Carmichael was down, and a prisoner ; others were disabled. The English had the slope of the hill slightly in their favour and made the most of their advantage, gradually forcing their foes to fall back in tardy and sullen retreat. Then came to the hot headed Tynedale men the irresistible temptation to plunder. It was customary at those Wardens’ Meetings for pedlars or small tradesmen to erect on the ground selected for the meeting, tents, or, as we say in Scotland, “crames,” sort of temporary shop-counters sheltered by canvas, in or on which they displayed the wares they had for sale. So it had been at this Reidswire Meeting. And as the Scots were forced back past those “crames,” the desire for loot proved too strong for some of the English combatants. By ones and twos, as opportunity offered, they edged away from the fight, and, like marauding wasps to crop of ripe plums, made for this booty that might be had for the taking. Fighting and plunder were equally con-genial to the men of Tynedale.
At that very moment, however, in which a large number had so withdrawn themselves, unfortunately for them reinforcements arrived for the Scots. ” Jethart’s here ! ” rang out over the roar and stress of the fight, and into the “tulzie” plunged the men of Jedburgh, hot off their ten mile march.
” Bauld Rutherfurd, he was fou stout, Wi’ a’ his nine sons him about ; He led the toun o’ Jedburgh out, All bravely fought that day.”
The tables were badly turned on the English; now they in turn began to give way, and to be forced back up the hill down which till now they had been successfully pressing the Scots. Too late the Tynedale men tried to retrieve their error ; the Scots got them on the run and gave no breathing space; speedily the run became a rout. Over the crest into Redesdale fled the discomfited English, dropping here a man, there a man, as they fled. ” Sir George Hearoune of Schipsydehouse,” (Sir George Heron Miles of Chipchase Castle,) fell early in the fight, and four and twenty dead bowmen kept him company. The wounded on both sides were many ; and among the prisoners taken by the Scots were the English Warden, Sir James Ogle, Sir Cuthbert Collingwood, Sir Francis Russell (son of the Earl of Bedford), several Fenwicks, and other leading men from the English side of the Border. Carmichael took his prisoners to Edinburghnot greatly to the comfort of the Scottish Regent, the Earl of Morton ; for England and Scotland were then, for once in a way, at peace, and such an incident as this Raid of the Reidswire was but too likely to result in further war between the nations. Therefore, after a day or two’s detention, or rather, perhaps, after a day or two’s entertainment, Morton, with every expression of regret and of regard, sent all the prisoners back to England, apparently not ill pleased with their treatment. No international complications followed the affair. Carmichael was sent to York to explain matters, and he seems to have been able to show satisfactorily that the Scots were within their rights throughout ; that, in fact, as the ballad says :
” . . . . pride, and breaking out of feuid Garr’d Tindaill lads begin the quarrel.”
Some years ago, a very handsome silver mounted sword, and a fine specimen of a dagger, were unearthed by a man employed in cutting drains on the hillside where the battle was fought that July day of 1575. The sword was a beautiful weapon, of fine temper, and it probably belonged to one of the English leaders. Unfortunately it has been lost. Both it and the dagger have, as I understand, mysteriously disappeared from the house in which they were kept. Somebody too greatly admired them, one may suppose, and followed the example set by the men of Tynedale in the heat of battle that day.
The scene of the fight is that fairly level bit of moorland to the left of the road just after you quit the Carter Bar, going south.
Bridge over Jed Water at old Souden Kirk. The Cheviots behind.
Harking back now for a moment to Jed,–five or six miles above the bridge at Camptown where we quitted the line of river to follow the old coach-road over Carter Fell, we come to Southdean. Here are the ruins of an ancient church, (the foundations, at least, and part of the walls and tower,) which have lately been dug out from the great green mound with its big ash trees atop, which lay these two hundred years and more between hillside and river, down by the little grey bridge. This is the ” churche in a fayre launde called Zedon,” wherein, says Froissart, Douglas and the other Scottish leaders met on the eve of that expedition into England which ended with the glorious fight of Otterburne. ” I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas,” wrote Sir Philip Sidney, ” that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet ; ” and who is there to-day, in spite of lapse of centuries, whose blood does not quicken at the very sound of the word ” Otterburne.”
It used to be said that the “Zedon ” of Froissart was more applicable to Yetholm than to Southdean. Some, indeed, still maintain that, as far at least as sound is concerned, “Zedon” (the “Z “, as was formerly not uncommon, being treated as a ” Y “) bears a much greater resemblance to ” Yetholm ” than to “Southdean.” One may readily admit that as it is spelled, ” South-dean ” is not in the least like ” Zedon.” But it is an entirely different affair when we come to a matter of local pronunciation. In this case the pronunciation is, as near as may be, “Seuden.” If we very slightly soften the sound of the letter ” Z,” and allow for the fact that the ” e ” of Zedon would naturally be used by Froissart with the same value that it bears in his own language, we arrive absolutely at the local pronunciation of the name” Seuden.”
In any case, it seems most unlikely that the point of assembly could have been Yetholm, if only for the reason that when marching from there into England,-presumably by way of the Bowmont valley, and so past Wooler and through Northumberland,Douglas would have exposed himself to be struck in rear and on his left flank from the adjacent vantage points of Roxburgh and Wark, both of which formidable strongholds were then in English hands, and, (seeing that the intention of the Scots to make an invasion had long been known in Northumberland,) probably held in force. And certainly, if the column came by way of Ottercops and Rothely Crags, as it is said to have done, its starting point was not Yetholm. Obviously, too, a Scottish army concentrated at Southdean was in a much better strategical position than any that it could have occupied in the neighbourhood of Yetholm. From Southdean it could strike either way at will, either over the easy, and necessarily well known, pass by Catcleuch Shin, or across the hills by the old Roman way, the Whele Causeway, into Liddesdale, and thence on to Carlisle.
This Scottish plan, to assemble an army here at Southdean, was the outcome of a meeting held some time previously at Aberdeen, a city ” on the frontier of the Wylde Scottes,” and, so far as was possible, the business had been kept secret ; even to the King himself no hint was given of what the Nobles designed, “for,” said they among themselves, “the King is no manne of warre.” But ” the Scottes coude nat do their maters so secretly, but the lords of Englande knewe howe men rose in Scotland, and how they shulde mete agayne at Gedeours.” Spies brought word to Northumberland of what was afoot, and the English took all necessary steps to upset the Scottish plan of campaign. If the Scots decided to come by way of Carlisle, then the English resolved that they, on their part, would burst into Scotland by way of Berwick, or by Dunbar. Thus, said they, ” we shall do them more dommage than they can do us, for their countrey is all open ; we maye go where we lyst, and our countre is strong, and the townes and castelles well closed.”
Now the Scots had gathered at Southdean this August of 1388 so vast an army that “in threscore yere before there was nat assembled toguyder in Scotlande suche a nombre of good men; there were xii hundred speares and xl thousande men besyde with their archers ; but in tyme of nede the Scottes can lytell skyll with their bowes ; they rather beare axes, wherwith they gyve great strokes.” And this army, “whan they were thus mette togyder in the marchesse of Gedours. . . . were mery, and sayd, they wolde never entre againe into their owne houses tyll they had ben in Englande, and done suche dedes there that it shulde be spoken of xx yere after.”
To this gathering at Southdean came an English spy, one who ” knewe right well the marchesse of Scotlande, and specially the forest of Gedeours.” Without arousing suspicion, this man made his way into the church, and overheard the Scottish leaders discuss their plans. And when he had picked up information enough for his purpose, he withdrew quietly from the building and went to get his horse, which he had left in a convenient spot, tied to a tree. But never a trace of horse nor of harness was there now, ” for a Scotte, who be great theves, had stollen hym awaye.” It was a very tight corner for the spy. He durst make no great outcry, lest he betray himself ; so, in default, he started ” forthe afote, boted and spurred,” thinking maybe to slip out of the camp unobserved and make over the Cheviots into Rede valley. In any other place but the Border, perhaps he might have got clear away. But the Borderers have ever been horse lovers, and now the unwonted sight of a man, booted and spurred, footing it, at once drew eyes to him that might have taken little heed had he been rnounted. ” A filthie thing,” says Bishop Leslie, writing of the Borderers in the sixteenth century, ” a filthie thing thay esteime it, and a verie abjecte man thay halde him that gangis upon his fete, ony voyage. Quhairthrough cumis that al are horsmen.” So the spy had not gone many furlongs ere he was stopped by two mounted men.
” Felowe,” said one of the two to the other, ” I have sene a marveyle; beholde yonder a man goeth alone, and as I thynke, he hath lost his horse, for he came by and spake no worde ; I wene he be none of our company ; lette us ryde after hym to prove my saying.” So, says Froissart, they went after him. And “whane he sawe them commynge, he wolde gladly have ben thens.” The spy’s answers to questions not being satisfactory, ” they brought hym againe to the church of Zedon and presented him to the Erie Duglas and to other lordes.” And there “they handled hym in suche wise that he was fayne to shewe all the mater.” Their methods were not gentle in those days; one wonders what they did. Anyhow, “they knew by hym that the lordes of Northumberland had sent hym thyder, to know the estate of their enterprise, and whiche waye they wolde drawe. Hereof the Scottes were right joyous, and wolde nat for a great good but that they had spoken with this squyer.”
Scottish arguments proved too strong for the unhappy English-man : “Sirs,” said he at last, “sithe it behoveth me to saye the truthe, I shall.” So he gave information of the whereabouts of the English army, and disclosed the whole of the English plans, telling how, the force at the disposal of the Northumbrian lords not being strong enough to stand up against the Scottish host, the intention of the English leaders was that if the Scots should “take the waye into Gales [Cumberland] they wyll go by Berwike, and so to Dunbare, to Edinborowe, or els to Alquest [Dalkeith] ; and if ye take nat that waye, then they wyll go by Carlyle, and into the mountayns of the countrey. Whan the lordes herde that, eche of them regarded other.” As indeed they had excellent cause, for this information put into their hands a card that could most effectually trump their adversary’s strongest suit. They were ” ryght joyfull,” says Froissart, and “demannded counsayle what way was best for them to take.”
Accordingly, the main army was despatched over the hills, probably, and most naturally, up Jed and the Raven Burn, and across into Liddesdale by the old Roman road that leaves Carlin Tooth and Wheelrig Head on its left, and follows down Peel Burn to Liddel Water; thence down the Liddel Valley the marching would be easy to Longtown and on to Carlisle ; whilst Douglas, with a flying column consisting of “thre hundred speares of chosen men, and of two thousande other men and archers,” went up the Carter Burn and over the easy pass at Catcleuch Shin into Redesdale, with intent to “drawe towardes Newcastell upon Tyne, and passe the ryver and entre into the bysshoprike of Durham, and burne and exyle the country.”
” Thus these two hoostes departed eche from other, eche of them prayenge other, that if the Englysshmen folowed any of their armyes, nat to fyght with them tyll bothe their armyes were joyned toguyder. Thus in a mornyng they departed fro Gedeours, and toke the feldes.”
Down the Rede valleyall fairly easy going in the dry August weather, even at that day, one may suppose ; Froissart says the weather was “fayre and temperate,”and across Tyne, Douglas pushed rapidly, pausing neither to burn nor to slay, until he came into Durham, “where they founde a good countrey. Than they beganne to make warre, to slee people, and to brinne vyllages, and to do many sore displeasures.” Everyone knows what happened after this ; how at length, having skirmished right up to the walls of Durham, and beyond, Douglas and his men turned again northward and halted two days before New-castle, where lay Percy, and English knights so many that “they wyst not where to lodge”; how, whilst the Scots remained here, Douglas and Percy fought, and Douglas overthrew Percy and took from him a trophy which the latter swore to redeem before it could be carried from Northumberland; and how Percy, coming up with the Scots at Otterburne, strove to regain that which he had lost at Newcastle, and was defeated and made prisoner ; how the fight raged throughout the moon-lit night far into the morning, and the trampled heath lay red with more than the bloom of heather ; and how Earl Douglas was slain. It is all told in the ballad, and how valiantly each fought where cowards had no place.
Froissart says he was told by two English squires who took part in the fight, ” how this batayle was as sore a batayle fought as lyghtly hath been harde of before of such a nombre, and I believe it well. For Englysshmen on the one partye and Scottes on the other party are good men of warre : for whan they mete there is a hard fight without sparynge ; there is no hoo bytwene them as long as speares, swordes, axes, or dagers wyll endure, but lay on eche upon other, and whan they be well beaten, and that the one parte bath optaygned the victory, they than glorifye so in their dedes of armes and are so joyfull, that suche as be taken they shall be raunsomed or they go out of the felde, so that shortly eche of them is so contente with other that at their departynge curtoysly they wyll saye, God thanke you. But in fyghtynge one with another there is no playe nor sparynge ; and this is trewe, and that shall well apere by this sayd rencounter, for it was as-valyauntly foughten as coulde be devysed.”
With hand to hand fighting so close and so fierce as here befell at Otterburne, the slaughter could not fail to be very great. According to Godscroft, the English alone lost one thousand eight hundred and forty killed, and over a thousand wounded. The total Scottish loss in killed, wounded and missing appears to have been less than half that of the enemy in killed alone. The English lost also over a thousand men who were captured by the Scots ; indeed, the latter had so many prisoners that they were greatly put to it to know what to do with them at the moment when the Bishop of Durham with his ten thousand fresh troops came on the scene and seemed likely to renew the battle. Many of the prisoners were men of distinction. Percy himself was taken by the Earl of Montgomery ; his brother, Ralph Percy, by Sir John Maxwell ; Sir Matthew Redman, governor of Berwick, by Sir James Lindsay. And many another Scottish knight or squire held his brother of England to ransom.
Froissart describes more than one picturesque incident of the fight, and none, surely, is more vivid and alive than that in which he tells how Sir Matthew Redman, Governor of Berwick, fled from the field, pursued by Sir James Lindsay. When all was done that man could do, and all was done in vain, Sir Matthew turned to save himself. Lindsay chanced to be near at hand, and saw him gallop out from the stress of battle. ” And this Sir James to wyn honour, followed in chase . . . . and came so nere hym that he myght have stryken him with his speare if he had lyst. Than he said, `Ah, sir knyght, tourne, it is a shame thus to flye : I am James of Lindsay : if ye wyll nat tourne I shall stryke you on the backe with my speare.’ Sir Matthew spake no worde, but strake his horse with the spurrs sorer than he dyde before. In this manner he chased hym more than thre myles, and at laste sir Mathue Redman’s horse foundred and fell under hym. Than he stept forth on the erthe, and drewe oute his swerde, and toke corage to defende hymselfe ; and the Scotte thought to have stryken him on the brest, but sir Mathewe Redman swerved fro the stroke, and the speare poynt entered into the erthe than sir Mathue strake asonder the speare with his swerde. And whan sir James Lynsay sawe howe he had loste his speare, he caste awaye the trounchon and lyghted afote, and toke a lytell batayle axe that he caryed at his backe, and handeled it with his one hande, quickely and delyverly, in the whiche feate Scottes be well experte. And than he sette at sir Mathue, and he defended hymselfe properly. Thus they tourneyed toguyder, one with an axe, and the other with a swerde, a longe season, and no man to Iette them. Fynally, sir James Lynsay gave the knyght suche strokes, and helde hym so shorte, that he was putte out of brethe, in such wyse that he yelded hymselfe, and sayde : `Sir James Lynsay, I yelde me to you.’ ` Well,’ quod he, ` and I receyve you, rescue or no rescue.’ ` I am content,’ quod Redman, ` so ye deale with me lyke a good campanyon.’ ` I shall not fayle that,’ quod Lynsay, and so put up his swerde. ` Well, sir,’quod Redman, ` what wyll you nowe that I shall do ? I am your prisoner, ye have conquered me ; 1 wolde gladly go agayn to Newcastell, and within fyftene dayes I shall come to you into Scotlande, where as ye shall assigne me.’ `I am content,’ quod Lynsay : `ye shall promyse by your faythe to present yourselfe within this iii wekes at Edenborowe, and wheresoever ye go, to repute yourself my prisoner.’ All this sir Mathue sware and promysed to fulfyll. Than eche of them toke their horses and toke leave eche of other.”
They were to meet again, however, in less than the stipulated time. Sir James turned his horse towards Otterburne, intent on rejoining his friends. But a mist came down over the hills and blotted out the moorland ; he could only feel his way in the direction he desired to go. And when at length through the haar and thickness there came to his ears the muffled sound of voices, the ring of bridles and snort of horses, in full assurance that the sounds came from a body of his own men returning from pursuit of the broken English, he rode confidently forward, it was to find himself face to face with five hundred horse under the Bishop of Durham. And said the Bishop to Lindsay : ” ` Ye shall go with me to Newcastell.’ ` I may nat chose,’ quod Lynsay, ` sithe ye wyll have it so ; I have taken, and I am taken, suche is the adventures of armes.’ Whom have ye taken’ : quod the bysshop. ‘ Sir,’ quod he, ` I toke in the chase sir Mathue Redman.’ `And where is he ?’ quod the bysshop. `By my faythe, sir, he is returned to Newcastell ; he desyred me to trust hym on his faythe for thre wekes, and so have I done.’ ` Well,’ quod the bysshop, ` lette us go to Newcastell, and there ye shall speke wyth hym.’ Thus they rode to Newcastell toguyder, and sir James Lynsay was prisoner to the Bysshop of Durham.” So the twain met again, and ” ` By my faythe, sir Mathewe,’ said Lindsay, `I beleve ye shall nat néde to come to Edenborowe to me to make your fynaunce : I thynke rather we shall make an exchaunge one for another, if the bysshoppe be so contente.’ ” Whereupon, Redmanas has ever been the wont of Englishmenproposed that they should mark the occasion by a dinner; and, says Froissart, ” thus these two knyghts dyned toguyder in Newcastell.”
He was not a valiant person, apparently, this Bishop of Durham. Had he been a very militant Prince of the Church, it had surely gone hard now with the Scots, for, outnumbered as they had been throughout the fight, they were sore spent ere ever the Bishop hove in sight with his ten thousand fresh troops, and it could scarcely have taken very much to drive them from the field in headlong rout. But the English leader was not a very intrepid man ; and when he found the Scots drawn together in a position so defended by swamp and morass that entry could be forced only by the one way, the Bishop hesitated. Then the Scottish leaders ordered their “mynstrels to blowe up all at ones, and make the greatest revell of the worlde “; for, as Froissart says, ” whan they blowe all at ones, they make suche a noyse that it may be herde nighe iiii myles of ; thus they do to abasshe their enemyes, and to rejoyse themselfes.”
The instruments used were horns, we are told. Had they been bagpipes, one might perhaps have understood the consternation of the English. Says Froissart ” Whan the bysshoppe of Durham, with his baner, and XNI men with hym, were aproched within a leage, than the Scottes ‘blew their hornes in suche wise that it seemed that all the devyls in hell had been amonge them, so that such as herde them, and knewe nat of their usage, were sore abasshed.” Nevertheless, the Bishop, with his host in order of battle, advanced to within about two bow-shot of the Scots, and there came to a halt in order to reconnoitre their position. The more he looked at it, the less he liked it ; losses were certain to be heavy, victory by no means assured. So the English drew off ; and the Scots, we are told, ” wente to their lodgynges and made mery.”
Then, the next day, having burned their camp, they marched unmolested back up the Rede valley into Scotland; and with them they bore the honoured bodies of Douglas and of others who had fallen in the fight. Percy went with them, a captive, and many another distinguished Englishman against his will sadly followed the victors. But those prisoners who were too badly hurt to endure the march into Scotland were sent under parole back to Newcastle, among them Sir Ralph Percy, who was returned in a horse litter. Huge sums are mentioned as having been paid in ransom by the English prisoners, the estimate of some writers reaching the extravagant figure of JJ600,000, a sum that in those days would have enriched the entire Scottish nation beyond the dreams of avarice. Even that number of pounds Scots (equal to £50,000) seems beyond reason. Froissart’s 200,000 francs (18,000 in our money) is probably about what was paidin that day a most handsome sum.
A cheerful little village is the Otterburne of the present day, even though there are not wanting evidences that some part of it, down by the inn, for example, has planted itself in too close proximity to a river and a burn which still, as in those early eighteenth century days of ” Mad” Jack Hall; are capable of sudden and vindictive flood. As regards the battlefield, however, there is not a great deal to see. The so-called Percy’s Cross, which stands in a thin clump of trees to the east of the road three-quarters of a mile on the Scottish side of the village, is a comparatively modern erection. The true site of the original ” Battle Stone,” according to maps of date 1769, was about a couple of hundred yards more to the east, and there it stood, or rather, lay, till 1777, when the then proprietor of the land, a Mr. Ellison, put up the cross now standing, within view of the new turnpike road which was then being made up the valley of the Rede. Mr. Ellison used the ancient socket of the original cross, but the rough pedestal on which the socket stands has nothing to do with the old memorial. Nor has the present shaft, which, says Mr. Robert White in his ” History of the Battle of Otterburne” (1857), was nothing but “an old architrave which had been removed from the kitchen fireplace at
Otterburne Hall. This stone, the cross-section of which is fifteen and a half by eight inches, still shows a bevelled corner throughout its length ; besides, two small pieces of iron project from one of its sides, which, in its former period of usefulness, were probably connected with some culinary apparatus. On its top is another stone, tapering to a point, which completes the erection. The entire length of the shaft above the base is nine and a half feet. The socket is a worn, weather-beaten sandstone, about two feet square, without any tool-marks upon it, and appears to have been in use much longer than any of the stones connected with it.”
A still more modern memorial of the battle is a large semi-circular seat cut in freestone, bearing on darker coloured panels various inscriptions, which stands by the roadside a little farther to the north. This was erected in 1888 by Mr. W. H. James, then M.P. for Gateshead. It may be noted that one of the panels gives the date of the battle as tenth August, 1388, which is almost certainly a mistake.
Douglas, of course, had satisfactory reasons for camping that night where he did,reasons not unconnected probably with the question of shelter from English arrows. A wood protected him, it is said. Had he gone four or five miles farther on up the valley, he might have occupied the old Roman camp of Bremenium, a strong position, not sheltered from arrow-flight by trees, it is true, but protected on two sides by what in old days must have been swamps, and surrounded by a heavy wall which, even in its present condition, would be, to a defending force, a considerable protection in hand to hand fighting. Five hundred years ago, before the day of agricultural improvement and the custom of using ancient monuments as a quarry, such a defence must have made the camp a place of very considerable strength. Portions only now remain of the formidable wall which originally protected Bremenium, but enough stands to show what its strength must have been in the days when the Roman Legions manned it. The face is composed of great blocks of hewn freestone, accurately fitted in height it must have been about fourteen feet, in thickness something like seventeen,the inner portion, of course, being rubble work ; outside there were two or more fosses. One of the gateways is still intact to a very considerable height, but the camp as a whole has to a most pitiable extent been used as a quarry, perhaps for hundreds of years. Even yet, one doubts if it is held quite sacred from vandal raids. As late as 1881, when members of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club visited the camp they found masons deliberately quarrying stones from one corner of the wall, in order to build a hideous modern cottage, and I daresay some of the houses in the immediate neighbour-hood may be composed entirely of stones taken from the old walls. The writer has not seen the Roman tombs which exist about half a mile to the east of the camp. The largest of these is said to have still two courses of stones standing, besides the flat stones of the foundation. This tomb has in front a small carving, regarding which Dr. Collingwood Bruce, in ” The Roman Wall,” suggests that it may have been intended to re-present “the head of a boarthe emblem of the twentieth legion.” The writer is given to understand that the carving bears no resemblance whatever to the head of a boar. A coin of the Emperor Alexander Severus was found in this tomb, together with a jar containing calcined bones, and a coin of the Emperor Trajan was found in the camp.
How many of Douglas’s wounded, one wonders, were carried from the field of battle over to Southdean, and, succumbing there to their wounds, were buried at the church ? Two or three years ago, when the ash-trees were cut down and the grassy mound carted away that had so long concealed the ruins of the old building, quantities of human bones were dug up within and about the walls, some of the skulls showing unmistakably that the owners had died no peaceful death. No doubt the main body of the Scottish army would follow the dead Douglas to his tomb in Melrose Abbey, and would therefore never come so far west as Southdean, but the severely wounded would naturally be left wherever they could be attended to. It is certain that the Southdean district was in old days much less sparsely populated than is now the case ; two important yearly fairs, for instance, used formerly to be held at Lethem, (three miles nearer the Border than Southdean,)where also, on a knoll still called the Chapel Knowe, was a chapel, subsidiary to the church of Southdean. These fairs were for the sale of “horse, nolt, sheep, fish, flesh, malt, meal,” and all sorts of merchandise, and in the permit to hold the Fairs Lethem is described as being ” by reason of its situation, lying near the Border, a very convenient and fit place for traffic and trade.” The church of Southdean, therefore, as its ruins indicate, was probably of considerable importance, surrounded by a settlement of some size, where wounded men might well be left to. take their chance of recovery. Whether the Scots returned from Soudan Kirk.
Otterburne up Rede valley and over the pass by way of Catcleuch Shin, or (as is more probable) followed the Roman Road which passes Bremenium Camp and runs over the Cheviots some miles to the east of Carter-fell, and thence crossing Kale, Oxnam, Jed, and Teviot, goes in more or less direct line towards Newstead and Melrose, it would be easy and natural for them to detach a party with the wounded, and perhaps with the bodies of some of the more notable dead, to Southdean. And those of them who died there would of course be buried in or close to the church.
During the excavations, it is of interest to note that numbers of skulls were found all together at one spot, pointing to the probability of many bodies having been, from some common cause, buried in a common grave. The inference seems not illegitimate that this cause was the fight at Otterburne. The English appear to have carried away from the field many of their dead, as well as their wounded :
” Then on the morne they mayde them beerys Of birch and haysell graye ; Many a wydowe with wepynge teyrs Ther makes they fette awaye.”
It is not unlikely that the Scots also brought away some, at least, of their dead, and, as Southdean was the nearest spot in their own country where they could find consecrated ground, the probability is that these bodies, as well as those of the wounded who died later, would find rest there.
In his “History and Poetry of the Scottish Border,” Professor Veitch mentions that ” a recent discovery made at Elsdon Church, about three miles from the scene of conflict, may be regarded as throwing some light on the slaughter. There skulls to the amount of a thousand have been disinterred, all lying together. They are of lads in their teens, and of middle-aged men ; but there are no skulls of old men, or of women. Not improbably these are the dead of Otterburne.”
The length of the old building at Southdean, including tower and chancel, was ninety-seven feet, and the nave was about twenty-three feet in width. Many notable things were un-earthed during the work of excavation, those of most interest possibly being a massive octagonal font, cut from one block of stone, and a small stone super-altar incised with the usual five crosses.
At Southdean, as elsewhere, the old church has for generations been used as a quarry. The retaining wall of the adjacent Newcastle road is full of dressed stones taken from the building, and others, some of them carved, have been built into the walls of an adjoining barn. Certainly our ancestors in this instance had more excuse than usual to offer for their depredations, for the building was a hopeless ruin. The roof of the church fell in one Sunday in the year 1689, and the wallsnot unhelped by human handsspeedily followed suit. Stones from the principal doorway seem to have been used in 1690 in the building of a new church at Chesters. That too is now in ruins.