Witch or Warlock
Living locally I heard the name Camp Meg often. I must admit I thought it was an old Roman Military establishment, as the Old Roman Camp. Nothing more. To my surprise Camp Meg had a history of a different kind worthy of note and local interest to the elderly and young about a woman of extraordinary character.
From somewhere in the region of Galloway, Margaret Hawthorn is said to have originated. Belonging to a family well known in social standing and reputation, she showed promise by marrying a landed gentleman and producing a lively son. Unfortunately in a short time her husband died and left the estate vulnerable to entitlement. A challenge by a nearby so called gentleman for a sizable part of the property was raised. He had no real legal weight for the rights to the land. Margaret was incensed by his wrongful attempt to take her due inheritance and flew into a rage. She appropriated a pistol and confronted him and in her infuriated state shot him dead.
Now realising the enormity of the deed she had committed ran for her life, leaving behind her recently born son. Making her way to Newbattle in Midlothian to a small isolated hill used in antiquity by the Roman occupation force. There she found a small hut known in the vicinity as Camp House as it had been used in the Napoleonic alarms as a signal beacon point. On her arrival, the Napoleonic wars had just come to an end in 1815 by the Combined force victory at Waterloo and the factor of Newbattle gave permission to occupy the house which became know as Camp Meg. Meg was happy in that house spending the rest of her days there in the privacy she demanded. It was said she had a way of addressing her superiors of the time in a high style of polite and flowery words, this led the local residents to wonder of her education and upbringing. Dressed as a man to scare away unwanted attention she lived alone in the sheltered woodlands and her past remained obscure. It is possible to imagine a woman in a pair of trousers, vest and coat, wearing a wide brim hat. Her close friend was her large bulldog named Help, no doubt to signal to the creature her need for assistance.
This is as near as we can find in that changed woodland to Meg's Home.
Later by gaining a well earned reputation as a Veterinary expert of considerable skill she shed some of her solitude. On one occasion finding an injured mare considered to be beyond help begged to for its life. The owner allowed this and it was taken back to Meg's house. Some time later she sold the mare for a tidy sum of seven pounds as it had recovered as good as it would ever be.
During local festive horse races in old Dalkeith she showed exceptional talent as a horse expert, winning many a first prize with her stallion Skewball. At that time there was a intriguing practice where one horse could be exchanged for another provided it was grazing in the parkland. This was how she obtained Skewball a magnificent horse of good stock, it may be because it was lame in one leg and no longer of use to the Duke of Buccleuch as a hunter. The Caledonian Hunt took her to their heart and treated her with considerable respect, giving her some money collected from the hunts. Holding some back in case Meg spent it on her favourite drink Whisky. When watching her stallion run to first place in a much contested race she was heard to cry out Talla, talla, tall, ada, daum, dae, adding to the myth of her magical powers and witchery.
Her fame attracted several hundred folk from the nearby locality and further a field. Once, in her charismatic company strangers were indoctrinated in her fondness of religion and faith. She often told stories of confronting the Devil, who according to Meg was tall and wore a red hat brimmed in blue. Despite her religious fervour many had deemed her a witch, it may have been her way of dress or her ability to help animals and her extraordinary horse riding skills. Nevertheless her fame grew and she became know as Camp Meg.
Her son searched far and wide to find his lost mother till one day his travelling lead to her camp house. He stayed with her for three days trying to convince her of a return to Gallowayshire. Her years of concern for him had ended , but wished to spend the rest of her days in the old camp house. Meg bore her lonely life with immense courage not to mention the years of poverty and insult, before her legend grew.
This inward strength was accredited to her good upbringing high breeding and her belief in the words of the Holy Bible which she taught in her own Sunday School class.
Below is the Old Burial place where Meg would have been put to rest.
In the winter of 1827 Meg departed this life away during a night of a powerful storm, that conveyed the passing of a strong willed woman. She was found on her door step covered in snow, where I think, Meg knowing she was near death confronted the storm as she had confronted the devil. It is said that a number of farm workers dragged her coffin held steady by a local blacksmith through the drifting snow. He had a bottle of whisky in one hand and a willing glass in the other, while he cried out hunting halloos, in celebration of her riding skill.
It is not known whether her Will was approved for her body to be used for medical research to a Dr Oliver or a man called Laidlaw.
We believe Camp Meg was buried at the very centre or near the wall of Newbattle old Cemetery.Her fame as a wise and caring woman with enviable religious strengths may have diminished in decades that followed. But the name of her solitary abode is still known as Camp Meg, changed beyond recognition to the people of 1827, still carrying a legend to other generations.
Dressed as a man with the gentle powers of a woman and often called a Witch or a Warlock.
Researched by the twa Eddies. Edward Anderson and Edward McCarthy.