Shortly after the publication of “The Kilmarnock Edition” of the works of Robert Burns, his name and fame became widely known, not only in his native Ayrshire, but in ever-widening circles throughout Scotland and beyond. It is well documented that the Bard was the depute Master of Lodge St. James, Tarbolton, and respected as a Mason, a poet and a songwriter among his many influential and respected friends within the Masonic order. It is also documented that when he was seeking to publish his Edinburgh edition, it was his fellow Mason, the Earl of Glencairn, who introduced him to Edinburgh society, and that his publisher, William Creech was also a member of the Craft. During his stay in Edinburgh the Bard attended the Masonic lodge of St. Andrew’s on the 12th of January 1787, when the Grand Lodge of Scotland was making its annual visit. Burns was astounded when the Most Worshipful Grand Master Charteris proposed the toast, “Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns”. In a letter to John Ballantine, a banker in Ayr, which Burns wrote the following day, he stated that “As I had no idea such a thing would happen, I was downright thunderstruck”. In his journal written during his tour of the borders, we find him writing that on Friday the 18th of May 1787, “ ride to Berwick an idle town, but rudely picturesque meet Lord Errol in walking round the walls his Lordship’s flattering notice of me dine with Mr.Clunie,Merchant, nothing in particular in company or conversation come up a bold shore and over a wild country to Eyemouth sup and sleep at Mr. Grieve’s ”The route to Berwick would take Burns through Manderston, Chirnside, Foulden, Edrington, Mordington and Halidon Hill”. Among the papers of John Renton of Lamerton at Mordington House, there was found an answer to an invitation for the Bard to visit Renton, and it read as follows
“Your billet, sir, I grant receipt;
Wi’ you I’ll canter ony gate,
Though ‘twere a trip to yon blue warl’,
Where birkies march on burning marl:
Then Sir, God willing, I’ll attend ye,
And to his goodness I commend ye”.
Berwick was one of the first four Royal burghs of Scotland, and from 1173-1460 changed hands between the Scots and English fourteen times. According to the author of “The Denham Tracts”, J. Hardy, many people believed that Burns wrote a piece of doggerel to immortalise his dislike of Berwick
“Berwick is a dirty place,
Has a church without a steeple,
A middenstead at every door
And a damned deceitful people”
Hardy notes two other pieces which the Bard was supposed to have written but as none of these pieces appear in any of the Bard’s works or correspondence, I believe that they can be relegated to “Auld wives tales".
This version appeared in 1802,
“Berwick is an ancient town
A church without a steeple,
A pretty girl at every door,
And very generous people”.
In 1820 this version appeared
Berwick is a dirty town
A church without a steeple
There’s a midden at every door,
God curse all the people”.
The Mr. Clunie who dined with the Bard was John Clunie, Freeman and Magistrate 1781, Mayor of Berwick 1783-84. He was a partner in “Clunie and Home”, timber and Iron Merchants, Bridge Street, Berwick. Burns speaks of his meeting with Lord Errol when he was walking round the walls of Berwick. This was George, the 16th Earl of Errol (1767-98); representative Peer 1796. He served as Lt.-Col. 1st Guards at Walcheren, Netherlands. Having inadvertently disclosed a secret entrusted to him by William Pitt, Errol committed suicide. His mother was Isabella, daughter of Sir William Carr, Bt. of Etal. Mr. Grieve, with whom the Poet stayed during his sojourn in Eyemouth was William Grieve, a corn Merchant in Eyemouth, who resided at “Beach Villa”.
Returning once more to the Bard’s journal under the date Saturday 19th May, we find the following “Spend the day with Mr. Grieves Made a Royal Arch Mason of St. Ebbe’s Lodge Mr. William Grieve, the eldest brother, a Joyous, warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellow takes a hearty glass and sings a good song. Robert Grieve, his brother and partner in trade, a good fellow but says little Mr. James Carmichael, schoolmaster of the party, an agreeable fellow take a sail after dinner fishing of all kinds pays tithes at Eyemouth”.
When I first visited Eyemouth I saw the plaque that is on the wall of the premises of Lodge St, Ebbe, in the main Street of the town. This Plaque informed me that on the 25th of January 1934, Brother, the Earl of Cassilis, accompanied by brother Sir John Watson, K.C., and other distinguished Brethren had unveiled this plaque which had been provided jointly by Lodge St. Ebbe and the Royal Arch Chapter, to commemorate the fact that within the precincts thereof, Robert Burns had been exalted to the degree of Royal Arch Mason. I began making enquiries regarding the Royal Arch Chapter of 1787, and was intrigued to find that no such Chapter was in existence in Eyemouth at that date. After making many attempts to ascertain the facts concerning the Bards initiation to Royal Arch Masonary, I was fortunate to be introduced to Mr. A. William Tait of Paxton, Berwickshire. Bill Tait served the “Land of Cakes” Royal Arch Chapter as scribe (Secretary) for many years, and from my notes taken during my talks with him, the following story evolves. At the time of the Bards visit to Eyemouth there was no Royal Arch Chapter in operation in the district. Shortly before Burns arrived in Eyemouth a regiment of Irish Dragoon Guards left Edinburgh Castle to make a visit to Eyemouth and other border towns. As was usual in these days an “Encampment” Charter was carried by the senior Masons of the regiment, and it was with the authority of this “Travelling” or “Encampment” Charter that a meeting was convened in the Masonic Temple in Eyemouth, and as it was known that Robert Burns was visiting the town, both he and Robert Ainslie were invited to become Royal Arch Masons. It is regretful that the original minute book has been removed by some un-authorised person, but it has recently been traced to America, and the Chapter are hopeful of its recovery.A copy of the minute was presented to the Chapter by Companion A.F. Mennie, P.Z. of Royal Arch Chapter “Shamrock Thistle” No. 87, Glasgow, and it reads as follows----
Eyemouth, 19th of May, 1787
“At a general encampment held this day, the following brethren were made Royal Arch Masons, viz: Robert Burns from the Lodge of St. James Tarbolton, Ayrshire, and Robert Ainslie from the Lodge of St. Lukes, Edinburgh, by James Carmichael, William Grieve, Daniel Dow, Robert Grieve, etc,etc.
It is believed that it was Robert Burns who suggested the name “Land of Cakes” for the new Chapter, but be that as it may, the Companions of Eyemouth’s “Land of Cakes” Royal Arch Chapter are proud of their close bond with Caledonias Bard, Brother Burns, so much so, that on th 19th of May 1987, the Chapters by- centenary year, and at a special meeting, one Robert Burn, (with no S ) and one T. Ainslie were exalted in number 15, in celebration of that day, two hundred years earlier, when the Bard was exalted and became a Royal Arch Mason. The Lodge retains a set of bottles, cups and so on, said to have been used in the Bards repast.
Samuel Robinson, a brewer at Ednam, was in Eyemouth on May 20th 1787 when Burns was visiting that town, and he accompanied the Bard on his visit to Dunbar.