Inns and outs
The lost hostelries of Hawick
In compiling this latest article, I realised that bygone Hawick was rarely in short supply of accommodation.
Since the mid-1700s there have been somewhere in the region of thirty-three licenced hotels and inns dotted throughout the town, although only Mansfield House Hotel and relative newcomer Balcary House Hotel remain open today.
To create a meaningful and manageable list, it is important to note the differences between what we now recognise as a hotel and its predecessor, the inn. I’ll also be leaving aside inns that were solely pubs, and other types of accommodation like lodging houses.
The word ‘inn’ comes from the Old Norse ‘inni’, meaning a place of refuge, first established en masse when the Romans built their network of roads across Europe two millennia ago. These were simple houses with basic rented accommodation for travellers, sometimes also incorporating a tavern for food and drink. The town’s ale-houses were usually lowceilinged affairs with sanded floors, plain oak tables and hard seats.
In Hawick, inns largely served as places of refreshment and sustenance, and as venues for public meetings. There were drovers’ inns and coaching inns – the motorway service stations and motels of their day – for farmers, traders and stagecoaches. Places like the Tower Inn provided stabling and fodder for horses that pulled stagecoaches.
The word ‘hotel’ derives from the French ‘hôtel’ or hostel, which in turn comes from the Latin ‘hospitalis’, to host a guest or stranger. Modern hotels are commercial enterprises for tourists.
VisitScotland has developed a number of designators to help consumers understand the different types of accommodation available throughout the land; they define a hotel as “Formal accommodation with full service. Minimum of six guest bedrooms but more likely in excess of twenty.”
There were a wide variety of Hawick inns during the 18th and 19th centuries (the Tower Inn, Washington Hotel and Central Hotel, all covered in previous issues, are ignored here).
At 9 Sandbed was the Plough Inn, believed to have been one of the oldest in Hawick. In 1850 its owner was William Scoon, who was killed by a kick from a horse. Other proprietors included the Scott family, Tom Cook, Adam Armstrong, James Sharp, and James Kyle. During the latter’s time in charge, the old house was rebuilt. The magistrates withdrew its licence some years later as they felt the Sandbed was “over-licensed”.
The Cross Keys Inn, two doors down at no.11, was started by William Aitchison and his wife Mary Shortreed around 1784. Itwas favoured by James Hogg and his friends.
In the years 1802-04 the Magistrates’ Dinner was held in the Cross Keys. William was still proprietor in 1825 and Nellie Nisbet was another well-known owner.
A seperate Cross Keys Inn existed in Buccleuch Street from 1825-1862, and likely just transferred to more commodious premises. This inn fell foul of the streets residents and its licenced was later rejected. The building became an office of Mactaggart Bros.
The Grapes Inn at 16 Buccleuch Street was the main centre in Hawick for the carrying trade before the coming of the railway. It was erected in 1820 by John Hargreaves, himself a carrier, along with nos. 18 and 20.
John Beck was proprietor in 1825 (during which time it was known as Beck’s Inn), Robert Hobkirk in 1837 and Margaret Best in 1855.
At the rear of the building was a large warehouse and stables. It once had a private well, which others were sometimes allowed to use. Most of the buildings have been greatly altered, but a turreted staircase and workshop survive.
The Royal Oak and the Blue Bell Inn stood on opposite sides of the Round Close at its top end. James Elliot, proprietor of the former, was considered to have provided the finest spread of the local innkeepers at the Reform Bill open air dinner of 1832. James Anderson is recorded as landlord of the latter in 1837.
Royal Oak (thatched roof) in the Round Close.
PICTURE: T.H. LAIDLAW
The Royal Oak name was shared with hundreds of public houses in Britain and refers to the tree in which Charles II hid from Cromwell’s army. After its licence lapsed the building was tenanted by Robert Little as a pie shop.
A little further westward at 13 High Street, was the King’s Head Inn, already wellestablished in the late 1700s. An early landlord was Nellie Dickson, while another was William ‘the King’ Scott. He retired from the inn-keeping trade in 1821 and exchanged the property for another in the Fore Raw. The site of the King’s Head later became the residence of George Wilson, the first Provost of Hawick.
Two auld hostelries were demolished to make way for the Royal Bank building at 12 High Street: the Harrow Inn and the Ordnance Arms (or Cannon Inn).
The Ordnance Arms was tenanted for a long time by James Kennedy, a veteran soldier who had fought under Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. He attained the highest grade in the noncommissioned ranks of Royal Horse Artillery and rented a stable in ‘the Tunnel’, a dark passageway which led from the High Street to Backdamgate. Around 1840 the inn became a grocer’s shop run by William Laidlaw.
The Harrow Inn was once managed by Border poet James Ruickbie, the first local bard to publish a volume of verses. One of his daughters was married to Robert Govenlock, stagecoach driver and landlord of the Mosspaul Inn. The motto on its signboard was ‘Sow in Hope’ and its last landlord was a Mr Ferguson.
The Fleece Inn at 6 High Street, also known as ‘the Golden Fleece’, was reached by a long passageway behind Davies the saddler’s. The attached ballroom was further up the close, with access from an outside staircase.
When George Hunter (a founder of the Relief Church) was landlord, room no.5 was used for the monthly business meetings of Allars Kirk, and was known jokingly as ‘the Manse’. Thomas Easton ran a school in the Fleece for a while and in 1838 it was the location for the meeting that organised the opening of the town’s Chartist Store (i.e. the Co-op).
Its last tenant was town bellman Samuel Lawrence. The licence was reduced from a hotel to a public house in 1875 and lost altogether in the 1880s for a “breach of certificate”, due to an insufficient number of bedrooms. The inn and its ballroom were demolished in 1948.
Another much-loved hostelry was the Half-Moon Hotel at 64 High Street. Starting off as ‘Mrs William Inglis’ public-house’ in 1837 (although it held a hotel licence), it was a favoured place for factory workers to meet on Saturdays to have their pay distributed. The unusual Half-Moon name was adopted by another owner, Anthony Boiston.
Behind the hotel was extensive stabling and a large ballroom, which led to the Half-Moon reputation as one of the town’s top entertainment venues during the 19th century.
It was the Cornet’s headquarters in 1875, and the location for the informal Colour Bussing of 1881; the Half-Moon also regularly hosted weddings and dances, and the Episcopal school and church meetings from about 1847-50. Lodge St. James no. 424 held meetings there during the 1870s.
The hotel closed in 1926 when Andrew Cochrane purchased the premises and transferred his grocer’s business over from 9 High Street.
Although the inn is long gone, the adjacent passageway, off O’Connell Street, is still known as HalfMoon Yard.
One of the most noted individuals to ever hold a hotelier’s licence in Hawick was Robert ‘Lurgie’ Wilson, Cornet in 1799 and author of the History of Hawick (1825) and other works, who owned the Burns Inn at 2 Buccleuch Street.
Above its entrance was a signboard containing a striking portrait of Scotland’s national bard, with the motto “The muse found me, as the prophetic bard Elijah found Elisha, at the plough, and cast her inspiring mantle over me.”
Lurgie (nicknamed after the family’s auld home in Rulewater), like his father before him, was an innkeeper and a shoemaker.
The Burns Inn was a favourite haunt for Whig politicians, and national and local affairs were keenly discussed between its walls. The building is an auld one and survives to this day, with Eden For Men at ground floor level.
On the south side of Buccleuch Street was the Commercial Hotel. It was originally built as the Subscription Rooms in 1821, though by 1837 the proprietors had let the premises as a licensed hotel to Robert Watson. When he died in 1845, his widow continued the business.
Robert Govenlock, mentioned earlier, was its last landlord when the hotel was sold by public auction in 1864 to Mr Murdie, who moved Hawick High School there from Teviot Crescent. And that’s where we’ll leave things for now – we’re going to need a ‘threi perter’!
Hawick Archaeological Society Transactions (1938), James Edgar; Companion to Hawick and District (4th ed.), R.E.Scott (2010); A Hawick Word Book (2017 ed.), Professor Douglas Scot