A Passing Post-Chaise.


(The Reverend R. Balgarnie looks back fifty years from 1895)
 
Few passengers on the early morning Post-Chaise could have imagined the village of Newbattle some fifty years ago.

Travelling from the Sun Hotel where the horses were changed and passengers refreshed by local ale, to fortify them for the long journey to London. Then, galloping past the houses of Newbattle the mail guard would sound his bugle to break the quiet of the mornings. Those mornings when dew sparkled on the rooftops and the irresistible sounds of singing birds brightened my senses.

Old Sun Hotel at the village of Newbattle, East Lothian
Old Sun Hotel

At such a time I would stroll in the auld Kirk yards peaceful landscape, pondering the changes the clock had demanded.

I pass where Mr Thomson, minister of the parish lies drowsing in the scented grass. A man I respected and loved as one of the old school, often clad in ruffled shirt and broad cloth. Momentarily I see him stopping to talk to his parish members in that compassionate and cheerful manner. Troubles seemed to constantly befall him as he lost three of his children to fever and elder son drowned at sea, peace to his good memory.

Mr Gillvrae lived a long life of respectability and admired as a capable head gardener by the village and far beyond.

Mr Goodall famed for his culture and dahlias. Old Harry a terror to the boys and poachers for many a mile. MrJohnstone, a reader of books and possessor of a worthy library. John Taylor, church bellman and grave digger, who found the bones of the local character Camp Meg in his patch.

The church watch tower where every man took turns to scare away the resurrectionists. Sitting by a kindling fire with old muskets pointing out the loop holes under a drifting moon in the cool night.

The Parish Church dates back to the reformation and has as its contemporary Minster Reverend J.C. Carrick, the author of the Parish Book of Newbattle. His services are bright and warm  appreciated by young and old and consequently well attended every Sunday. Frequently you would find picturesque wedding processions set in train from the manor and carry on through the village. Each conducted by an dexterous fiddler. It is woe to the bride groom or best man who did not throw babees to the village children, who would scramble for them vigorously. Fifty years ago there was no enthusiastic choir and the services were endlessly dull. The Kirk was cold and the suffering congregation waited longingly for it to end. Whilst the minister mumbled on, I could hear sighs of a yearning for a dram of fine whisky.
 
The park gates in the middle of the village are about the finest in Scotland, where Queen Victoria, as a visitor passed through. She, and many from all parts come to admire the avenue of great trees. That have stood in the grounds for hundreds of years.

Malcolm Grainer like boys of that age when climbing was an  addiction scaled the boreal heights. The Marquis on an afternoon stroll caught him in the act and called out “What are you doing there, sir”. “Will you no strike us,” replied a shaken Malcolm. “Come down, I tell you, and I wont harm you,” said the Marquis. Malcolm replied, “ Then I will come down”. He scrambled down unscathed delighted in the compromise.
To the right of the park gates is the mill dam, where once stood a grand bake house and two grocers’ shops, a public house and a thatched cottage. The farmers brought his grist and the cottager his pickle corn to the mill, where the water turned the wooden cogged wheels. Miller Rob as he was called used a perforated spoon to test the snuff of the mull, and he was known to be fond of a dram of whisky. Once a client offered him a minute glass of whisky and Rob handed it back saying, “have ye a bit of string tied to it, I’m feared it may slip out my hand.” The mill was old and a  bit dilapidated, but the current from the river was strong enough to drive the stone and the thrashing mill.

In our house the fireside was family alter from where we gathered strength for life’s battles. My father toiled, as my mother spun for us daily in the years that soon passed us by.

Once when a snow storm visited us, my brother and I amused ourselves in throwing snowballs at those passing the mill gate. A happy couple came along wrapped in plaid, offering a tempting target. When the first of our snowballs reached the target, the plaid was thrown aside to reveal the Marquis and the Marchioness. “Where is you father?” the Marquis asked. At this remark I scurried off and hid till the storm passed. Despite the plea of the Marquis not to punish me, it was too great a crime for my household.
In the thatched cottage lived Auld Will Aitchison who was treated by the old Marquis and his son as a friend. He brought up a large family on ten shillings a week. Women workers on the estate were paid nine pence a day. During harvest time they were paid double and provided with porridge and milk for breakfast with beef and bread for dinner. In the harvest fields of gold crop under a blue shell sky the young men and women competed to reap the last handful of corn. To the swish of the reaper and the song of the sickle, we cracked on till it was time to go homeward. We formed a procession and to the sound of music marched off to supper, after which we would dance on the barn floor.

Now these sounds have gone and passed on to the sound of clicking machines, that do the work of shearer and bandster as one.

Our village of Newbattle was well known for its fruit gardens. With five acres of strawberry field accruing a bountiful crop. Twice daily Thomas Briggs would drive to Edinburgh to sell our delicious fruits. While visitors from the city came by rail to Dalhousie to picnic on Torrance’s field.

Further up from the Girls school were cottages owned by very old ladies that seemed to belonging to another time.  Near was the home of a local man who became a porter at Windsor Palace. Later I visited the Palace as a student and signed my address as “Newbattle“.  The Porter after seeing this said, “bless me, I come frae there masel”.

Across the river Esk on the other side of the burn was a group of large tenements housing scores of families of hard working colliers. A grand house owned by Miss Wilson and another by farmer W. Thompson ranged over the grounds.

The village and surrounding areas were full of people I knew and loved, now gone in those fifty hurried years.

I can still hear the choir singing in the dusk and in the morning a Post-Chaise passing through the rich ambient memories of Newbattle.
 
An appreciation of an article from a local newspaper dated 1895.

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