Hawick Cornets :
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1750-1799

1779 James Ekron and his smokers cough

Always been intrigued by James Ekron – and his nickname “The Blast”

First the very Biblical sounding name – Ekron is a city in Canaan.
In very bible-literate times, it could be that the reference below in 1 Samuel 5:1 would be well known – it certainly would attract the attention of any young lads if used as a text in a sermon

And the Philistines took The Ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. …….. But the hand of The Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods … And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The Ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us …. said, What shall we do with The Ark of the God of Israel?  ……
And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of The Lord was against the city …  and he smote the men of the city and they had emerods in their secret parts. Therefore they sent The Ark of God to Ekron.” ….  the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

There is always a good story in the Bible – though not so much fun if your name was Ekron? Is this where the “Blast” nickname came from – some response to repeated teasing?  or did the poor man really suffer? All highly fanciful, I am afraid.

There have been Ekrons since at least 1700 in Hawick, and although a lot left for South Africa  including a James Ekron who left with the Pringle Party in 1820 [and in 1832 got two years hard labour for murder] – but back to Cornet James Ekron.

James was, probably, a Mason; and a bookseller in Hawick.

Born 23 October 1757, the son of William Ekron and Elizabeth Dobbie,  he married Helen Turnbull on 7 March 1781 , two years after he had been Cornet, and daughter Janet was born in 1782. Don’t know where he lived, but in 1784, Messrs James Ekron, Hawick sold the first books published in Hawick

The first book bearing Caw’s imprint of which I have any record was published in Hawick in 1783, and is entitled ” The True State of the unhappy controversy about the Burgess Oath, being a discourse delivered before the Associate Presbytery of Earlston, at Kelso, the 8th day of October 1782, etc., by John Young. Hawick printed by George Caw. Sold by the Author, and at the printing office. East End of the town. i(,i>cc,Lxxxiii.” 12fflo, pp. iv., 60.
This was followed in 1784 by “A display of genuine Christianity, and Christian love, &c. By the late Reverend James Hervey, A.M. Hawick : Printed and sold by Geo. Caw. Sold also by Messrs James Ekron, Hawick ; C. Elliot, Edinburgh, &c. M,i)cc,Lxxxiy.” 12mo, pp. iv.,156.
A copy of this little volume which lies before me has the following quaint inscription in the autograph of one of the Hawick publishers of the work:
” When this you see, Remember me,
James Ekron.”

The christian / biblical theme again – possibly the “Blast” indicates that he tended to proclaim his faith?? Or some joke about the Burgess Oath??

Back to where he lived or worked: George Caw sold his books from the “printing office East End of the town” – so this end of the High Street, Bourtree Place wasn’t there yet, and just a scattering on Bridge Street – maybe James Ekron was at the West End?? – maybe even the Sandbed, in W & J Kennedy’s shop [firm started in 1829] ?????? Sorry – highly fanciful.

Blast was a very 18th Century Poetical phrase – and there could be a connection with James being a bookseller?

The obvious poet would be Robert Burns Cauld Is The E’enin Blast

1.Cauld is the e’enin blast
O’ Boreas o’er the pool,
An’ dawin, it is dreary,
When birks are bare at Yule.
2.O, cauld blaws the e’enin blast,
When bitter bites the frost,
And in the mirk and dreary drift
The hills and glens are lost!
3.Ne’er sae murky blew the night
That drifted o’er the hill,
But bonie Peg-a-Ramsay
Gat grist to her mill.

so some sort of sly reference to a liaison with a Peg Ramsay ??
…. as featured in traditional song -

Bonny Peggy Ramsay that any man may see;
And bonny was her face with fair freckl’d eye;
Neat is her body made and she hath good skill,
And round are her bonny arms that work well at the mill.

chorus:
With a hey tro-lo-del, hey tro-lo-del,
Hey tro-lo-del, lil;
Bonny Peggy Ramsay that works well at the mill.

Up goes the hopper and in goes the corn
The wheel it goes about and the stones begin to turn.
The meal falls in the meal-trough and quickly does it fill
For Peggy is a bonny lass and works well at the mill.

and further back, in one of those long and very un-funny scenes in Shakespeare’s Twelth Night Act 2 Scene 3

SIR TOBY BELCH

My lady’s a Cataian, we are politicians, Malvolio’s
a Peg-a-Ramsey, and ‘Three merry men be we.
‘Am not I consanguineous? am I not of her blood?
Tillyvally. Lady!

Sings  ‘There dwelt a man in Babylon, lady, lady!’

Clown

Beshrew me, the knight’s in admirable fooling.

Don’t give up the day job Toby!

Coming back to Robbie Burns – he didn’t write Cauld is the E’enin Blast until 1795, so unlikely source of the nickname. James Thomson 1700-1748 is a better bet  – his The Seasons [1726] was well known, and Rule Britannia! [1745] still is.

All together now -kep in tune, and with particular attention to the “loud blast” in verse 3

Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
Britons never will be slaves

and there are Blasts in the poem – [one of Marianne’s inspirations in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility]

FOR, see! where Winter comes, himself, confest,
Striding the gloomy Blast. First Rains obscure

The dark, way-faring, Stranger, breathless, toils,
And climbs against the Blast

NOW, Shepherds, to your helpless Charge be kind;
Baffle the raging Year, and fill their Penns
With Food, at will: lodge them below the Blast,

James Ekron – the Blast. Why the Blast, goodness knows – but I am going for the emerods.

____________________________________________________________________

And the one I had missed – and a much simpler and more obvious , could be

blast (blawst) n., arch. a smoke of tobacco, a
puff on a pipe – ‘Sit inti the fire an’ let’s hae a
blast’ [GW], a loud noise – ‘Gude kens how’twill
end at the last, But sairly I’m dreading a shiney;
I doot it will end in a blast’ For the deil’s i’ the
lasses o Limey’ [JoHa], v., poet. to smoke tobacco,
puff on a pipe – ‘Thus Habby an’ his loving spouse
Concerted matters in the house, While Grizzy at
the fire was blastin’, And Wattie aff his claes was
castin’ ’ [JR]. [Page 139, Hawick Word Book]

This is from the Douglas Scott’s modestly titled Hawick Word Book which is very much more than just a Word Book

Douglas Scott is encyclopaedic in his knowledge – so the simplest explanation and best researched explanation is probably the best – James Ekron was called The Blast, because he was well known for liking a smoke.

Clay Pipe – no cigarettes of course – and loose tobacco, still imported through Glasgow from the colonies in America, which were just about to win the war to become independent.


About Neil Wallace

Born in the Haig Maternity, lived in Dovemount Place, and started school there at Trinity. To Burnfoot Primary then the High School. Moved away from the town to Cardiff, then Edinburgh, and now an exile in Suffolk.

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