Hawick Cornets :
you're reading about ...

1846 James Smith and the Flood

Records of flooding in the Teviot Catchment go back many years,with a  recent speeding up of runoff through new agricultural drains and lack of buffering by wetlands.  For “new” read 1836, when one local claimed that “a little summer flood which took a fortnight or three weeks to run off previous, now completely runs out in 8 hours”.

There was a particularly significant increase in the amount of drainage following the Land Drainage Act of 1847, but in 1846 Cornet James Smith experienced a noteable flood – possibly something like that of 2005

and from his house at 8 Howegate, the water must have seemed perilously close when the Slitrig burst its banks after midnight and poured down through Silver Street to flood the Sandbed to a depth of 6 feet.. The 2005 flood map shows how the waters lapped at the foot of the Howegate.

He painted the water level on the wall in Towerdykeside, and freshened it up during his life, until he and friends replaced it with the current plaque in 1902 “Flood Mark July 1846” to remind him of the Flood, and the year he carried the colour.

Hawick in 1846 was still a different place – the railway was coming in 1849, but not quite there yet.

The navvies had a hard time of it, crammed  into their sod huts – according to the Scottish Herald of April 1846

If they were made when the earth was dry, they weren’t too bad. You could always whitewash the inside walls, they were often rent-free, and in summer they nodded pleasantly with grass and flowers. But if the sods were cut wet, the huts steamed. One sod cabin, twenty-seven feet by twelve, on the Edinburgh-Hawick railway in 1846, housed twenty people. Another was built on Saturday and occupied on Monday. Its back wall was a bank, sodden with ground water. Water, soaking through the sod walls, trickled into the beds (and the contractor charged a rent).

But in 1846 with no railway, people had to rely on stage coaches to travel, and travel slowly as the “Border Watch” reported

James Smith was a 22 year old cornet, a painter who must have served his apprenticeship with one of the painters businesses in the town – probably William Miller in the Howegate,

James lived at 8 Howegate west side, back house with his father John b 1791 a “whip and thong maker” [a thong being the braided part of the whip joining the flexible part to the handle], mother Elizabeth b1801 and his sisters Christian and Helen, and younger brother Walter b1835.

8 Howegate, now Split Endz hairdressers, with a side entry to the back houses

We have a good picture of the 1846 Common Riding – there is a painting in Hawick Museum dated 1846 by Andrew Kennedy, showing three horsemen crossing the cauld. [not the Coble Pool, Kennedy is painting from the Health Centre side of the river, looking across to the new Sainsbury’s – with Wilton Mills on the far bank. The racing didn’t move copletely up to St Leonard’s until 1854 – see Charles Smith 1840 Cornet]

And the painting is also the first image ever of a Cornet  – James Smith in 1846, coming away from the horse racing on the Haugh with his Right and Left Hand Men, and Colour held proudly aloft. Photographs hadn’t been invented quite yet, so the first photo is Andrew Leyden in 1857  – but James must have looked very similar. In the painting, the principals seem to be wearing light trousers, short jackets and top hats – just like the 1857 group.

Although the 1846 painting no longer hangs where it used to hang in the Museum, so a painting of John Smith can’t be seen there, there is a photograph of him [flagged up by in Douglas Scott’s magnificent Hawick Word Book ] together with his Right Hand man Francis Kyle. This “Group of Old-Time Hawick Cornets” organised by JED Murray in the 1890s has clear [though not alas in my snap!] of James 1846 with Francis Kyle 1845

and in the middle row, the 1845 and 1846 Cornets as old men

. No doubt it rained at the racing, just as it does up the Muir nowadays, but The Flood came after the Common Riding, at the end of July. James, as a painter, was quick to paint the level of flood water, and although his original painted, and annually repainted, mark has been replaced by a bronze plaque, the water levels were incredibly high

The cause of the floods was a gigantic thunderstorm which began on the evening of Wednesday 29th July  and continued all night – the Caledonian Mercury described flooding in Carlisle, Canonbie, Hawick and Newcastleton, Kelso and Berwick

Wednesday evening closed with an unwonted gloom at an early hour. The sky was murky – the air still and heavy. The skies were occasionally lit up by gleams of electric light, and it was soon evident that a fearful storm was about to burst upon us. The expectation was fulfilled. Each successive flash of fire became more vivid, and the distant rumbling of thunder waxed deeper and deeper till brattle followed brattle like the discharge of heavy artillery above the town. The storm was of long duration; commencing soon after seven o’clock , it continued with but short intermissions till near four o’clock on Thursday morning. The storm was evidently moving slowly north east, reaching Hawick a couple of hours later. There, the horizon started to become overcast between 7 and 8pm, the torrential rain started between 8 and 9pm and continued without a break for almost three hours. Shortly after midnight the Slitrig burst its banks, pouring through Silver Street and down into the Sandbed where it was about 5 feet deep. Several bridges were swept away and a 12 foot deep hole scooped out of the road at the Mill Port.

Letter writers passed on the news- here from Newcastleton

The last Wednesday night, 29th July, there was a tremendous thunder, fire and rain, and the water rose to a height unknown ever before this hundred years. I cannot describe the desolation in Liddesdale and downward the country. All the Watergate land is ravaged, while fields, whether corn, or potatoes or grass, whether cut or uncut, are nearly destroyed. The loss in this parish in house, roads and waterbanks is estimated at 5 or 6000 £. The Whitrope Bar house is all gone, and the burn running on the very spot where the house stood. The Leahaugh holm is completely destroyed; dykes and the banks are gone, and a part of the cottage is broken down and a part of the cottage is broken down. Redheugh holm is completely ravaged. Many bridges on the road to Hawick are clean run away, and many [travellers] come down the top of the Rig. Most of our furniture was floating in the water. Mr Black came wading up nearly the middle urging us to flee to his house for shelter, but owing to the crying of the Bairns and other causes it was not practicable. I will set up a stone of remembrance while I live that we had not lost our lives.

And Robert Renwick writing to George Wilson, Portobello from Hawick Mills on August 5th, 1846

Dear George
I suppose it will be quite superfluous for me to speak about “the flood” , I will mention a few particulars.. It swept away Nixon’s Cauld, Nixon’s bridge, our cauld, the Crescent bridge and the entire wall along the Towerdykeside. It being the night before the market, there were eight carts standing at the end of the Coach House .. it carried them all across the market place [ie Tower Knowe] and down the Mill Port and … all we recovered were one pair of wheels and a sideboard. All the timber at Richardson’s door, together with a cart of Fenwick’s were removed. Logs were lying in our court, some in the market place and some at Burnfoot and Trow Mill.
When it was at its height it was nearly up to our barley-mill door, was level with the mid-bar of Walter Scott’s window, and stood 18-20 inches in our house.It dug a hole 6 ft deep at the end of Kedie & Armstrong’s shop. Teviot, though not so high as Slitrig, was also very high .. it carried away the iron railings at the Haugh …….
Your affectionate friend, Robert Renwick

After the excitement, life got back to normal, and James got on with his – within 5 years he was no longer an apprentice but a House Painter; married – to Agnes 20 in 1851, with year old Margaret and baby Elizabeth; and living in 8 Howegate west side [and up the same close lived the Gilligan family [Clothes Merchant, Furniture and General Broker – James had been born in Sicily], the Riddles [John a Shoemaker, Maria a Boot and Shoe binder], Wallaces [father and eldest son both Fleshers, son-in-law a wool sorter] – and still in one of the back houses, his father John Smith [now just – or would this be a step up? – a Thong Maker] and mother, and brother Walter an apprentice shoemaker, and unmarried sister Helen a glover with – oh dear – a six month old granddaughter.

Moving on to 1871, and James, now 48 and still a House Painter, and Agnes have moved to 3 Green Wynd, off Myreslawgreen with their their 7 children – Margaret now 21 and a Woolllen Hosiery Finisher, like Elizabeth, and 17 year old Hannah. The eldest boy John is at 15 a Woollen Factory Worker, but Jemima 7, Ann 4 and Agnes 10 months are too young to work.

John Smith became Cornet ten years later in 1881, when James was his Acting Father – and John has his own 1881 entry here.

By 1881, James had moved up to 4 Loan where he was a “House Painter & Keeper of House of Refuge” This wasn’t the Hawick Poorhouse / Workhouse  [what became the Drumlanrig Hospital ] In Hawick in 1881, both instituitions were there, and very close to each other – as I have scrawled on this map

The Hawick Poorshouse had a Governor who had been in post for over 10 years, and 42 inmates; the House of Refuge our James Smith  “Keeper and House Painter” with 6 inmates. The difference in inmate poulation appears to be that the poorshouse inmates are mainly Hawick people, with a few from Dumfries and Fife – whereas the House of Refuge has three English [one a 14 year old unemployed labourer], two Irish, and one Canadian inmate. The poorshouse would be paid for by the Town, and so only accepted people born in, or maybe having connection to, Hawick parish – shall I call them the “respectable poor”; whereas the House of Refuge was probably a night refuge or night hostel for short term, travelling, homeless people – here unemployed English and Irish labourers, joiners, tailors, iron turners, and woollen spinners. [England developed a casual ward system, think  Dickensian London ]

It may well be that the 1919 Cornet Tom Winning’s father John Winning, who was Chairman of the Parish Council and responsible for administration of Poor Relief might have been involved with the funding of the night refuge – or it might have been that James Smith just turned over a shed [or a stable?] up his close to house homeless people without payment – he was a civic minded character [ex-Cornet, maintainer of the Flid Mark, son a Cornet, Acting Father] and he might well have set up the Hawick House of Refuge as an act of civic pride, or Christian piety, or common humanity. Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dundee all provided Night Asylums or Refuges tor Shelters to those ‘on the road’ because the Scottish Poor Law system made no provision for those dealt with in England through the casual wards.

Edinburgh’s Queensberry House, now incorporated into the Scottish Parliament buildings had two units – a House of Refuge for semi-permanent occupants, and a Night Refuge for those on the move. And there was also a Night Asylum in Fishmarket Close, and a Girls House of Refuge in Dalry Road.

By 1891 James had given up the House of Refuge [maybe on the death of his wife Agnes?] and moved to 1 Silver Street, now a widower but still a Painter at 68, with  his four Factory Worker daughters Jemima, Elizabeth, Agnes and Nellie.

[1881 Cornet John was in a separate house at 1 Silver Street with wife Annie and infant James Dryden Smith – named after James Smith’s grandfather James Dryden “Deacon Dryden” Cornet in 1772]

In 1901, James has moved again – not very far – to 19 Howegate and is now, at 78, a Retired Painter, living with Jemima 37 Woollen Powerloom Weaver, and Helen 27 Wool Hosiery Machinist.

I don’t know when James died but it must have been after 1902 when he replaced his painted Flood Mark with a plaque – it would be fitting if he died in 1903 at the age of 80 after a long and good life , before the sadness of the death of his son Cornet John Smith 1881 in 1904.

So – a West Ender with a long life lived in the Howegate, Myreslawgreen, Loan, Silver Street area.
A house painter for 60 years, and the Keeper of a House of Refuge for less than 10.
A Cornet’s grandson, a Cornet, a Cornet’s father
Strong and lasting memories throughout his life of the summer of 1846 – which began with the pride of being the Cornet crossing the Cauld with his Men, and ending with 6 feet of water pouring out of the Slitrig and down through Silver Street into the Sandbed at the foot of his street.


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.


One thought on “1846 James Smith and the Flood

  1. I have a feeling it was friends of James Smith who arranged for the metal plaque to replace the painted flood mark in 1902. So perhaps that was a memorial?
    It’s odd that the Smith family seem to have so few marriage or birth records! Perhaps they belonged to a non-traditional church, and so baptisms weren’t recorded?

    Posted by Douglas Scott | February 1, 2012, 00:03

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: