THE BUILDING OF WAUCHOPE CAIRN


There is almost two hundred years between the events and circumstances which led Robert Burns to be in Edinburgh in 1786, and the events and circumstances which led to the building of the Wauchope cairn in 1985. When Burns arrived in Edinburgh in 1786, he was a young man with many troubled thoughts in his mind. In the previous two years he had suffered the loss of his much respected father, which led him and his sisters and brothers to obtain as much as they could from their father’s estate, and move from the farm of Lochlea, to the Mossgiel farm at Mauchline. He had, in those two years, met and become estranged with Jean Armour, and was in fear of arrest owing to the persecution of Adam Armour, Jean’s father. These traumatic experiences were further complicated by his renewal of acquaintance with Mary Campbell, his subsequent wooing of her, their exchange of Bibles over the river Fail, and of her promise to accompany him to Jamaica. Tragedy struck at all these plans when Mary died at Greenock shortly before the appointed time of sailing, and her death had a strong emotional effect on the Bard. All this would seem to be enough to strain the energy of any young man of twenty seven years, and yet we find that over these two years Robert Burns had composed and published the “Kilmarnock edition” of his works, and had written many other pieces not published in that edition. With the publication of the “Kilmarnock Edition” and the distribution of the six hundred copies to places far beyond his native Ayrshire, his genius was drawn to the attention of an ever increasing number of appreciative readers. One such reader was the Rev. George Lawrie, who had been ordained Minister of Loudon Parish Church in Ayrshire in 1763. This gentleman was so delighted on reading his copy of the Poet’s works, that he decided to share his joy with his good friend Dr.Thomas Blacklock, who resided at that time in Edinburgh, by sending him a copy of the “Kilmarnock Edition”. Dr. Blacklock was born in Annan and had suffered from smallpox, which resulted in the entire loss of his sight. He was educated in Edinburgh university and was a great lover of poetry, as well as being a writer of poetry himself. A book of his works was published in 1793, with a sketch of his life by Henry MacKenzie. When he heard the poems and songs of Robert Burns, Dr. Blacklock wrote a letter to the Rev. George Lawrie praising the works of the Bard, and stating that it was much to be wished that a second edition of Burns works, more numerous than the former edition, should be printed immediately. When news of this praise from so eminent a person as Dr.Blacklock reached Robert Burns he gave up all thought of going to the West Indies, and a short time later, in November 1786, we find him entering Edinburgh with the intention of publishing the first Edinburgh edition of his works.  Almost immediately after his arrival in the Capital Burns was feted by the aristocracy and literati of Edinburgh, and his friend and patron,   the Earl of Glencairn, Dugald Stewart and Jane, Duchess of Gordon, being just a few of those who welcomed the Bard, applauding both his poems and his conversational abilities. Unknown to Burns at this time, his “Kilmarnock edition” had been read by a certain Mrs. Scott of Wauchope House, which nestles in the Border hills a few miles from Bonchester Bridge, and the nearest point that Burns came to the busy Border town of Hawick. Mrs. Scott was a niece of Mrs. Cockburn, the author of “The Flowers of the Forest”, and was a painter and poet in her own right. Three months after Burns came to Edinburgh, about the end of February or the beginning of March, he received a letter from Mrs. Scott in rhyme, in which she complimented the Bard on his genius as a poet but expressing her doubts that such genius could come from one who had been bred to the plough, and had only the education of a peasant. One verse of her epistle states:-

“My canty, witty, rhyming ploughman,
I hafflins doubt it isn’a true man,
That ye between the stilts were bred,
Wi’ ploughman schooled, wi’ ploughman fed.
I doubt it sair, ye’ve drawn your knowledge,
Either frae Grammar school or College.”

 Burns must have been intrigued by this letter from Mrs. Scott, and must have answered it almost immediately, and we find him reminding her in his reply that she would “Gladly give him a marled plaid to keep him warm on a winter’s night”, as she had said in her letter, and that he would be pleased to receive it. One verse of Burns’s reply says:         

 “For you no bred to barn or byre,
Wha sweetly tune the Scottish lyre,
Thanks to you for your line.
The marled plaid ye kindly spare,
By me should gratefully be ware,
Twad please me to the nine.”

There is no record to say that when the Bard eventually met Mrs Scott, she presented him with a marled plaid. It would be about this time that Burns would be thinking about his tour of the Scottish Borders, and on the 6th of May we find him, accompanied by his friend Robert Ainslie, making his way on horseback over the Lammermuir hills to Berrywell, Robert Ainslie’s father’s home. After visiting various parts of the Borders, he came to Jedburgh on Wednesday 10th of May, and was honoured by the council with “The Freedom of Jedburgh”. Next morning he left Jedburgh to make the journey over the hills to visit Mrs. Scott at Wauchope House. Such were the happenings in the 1780s, which led to these happenings in the 1980s. In 1980 I retired from my employment with Rolls Royce in Glasgow, and in 1981 I moved my home from Glasgow to Kelso in the Borders. I had over many years, been a regular visitor to friends in Selkirk and during these years had made the acquaintance of many people in Selkirk and other Border towns. Among these was Jim Forsyth who hailed from Hawick, a well kent face in the Borders, and an enthusiastic member of Hawick Burns Club. As I was an active member of the Burns Federation it was not long before I was in contact with many of the Border Burns Clubs, and it was a great pleasure for me to be asked to propose “The Immortal Memory” at the Hawick Burns Club dinner in 1982, followed the next year when I recited “Tam O’ Shanter” and “Holy Willie’s Prayer” At this time Alex Martin, who had been Vice-President of Hawick Burns Club over the previous two years, was preparing to take over as President of the Club, and was very conscious of the great responsibility he was assuming, in being President of one of the largest clubs in the world. His thoughts were full of ideas on how to bring the Hawick Burns club to the fore in the activities of the Burns Federation, and one of these ideas was to form a study group for further enlightenment on the life and works of Robert Burns, which idea he discussed with Jim Forsyth and others, and from these discussions there came a proposal that I should lecture to a study group of members, once a month during the winter and spring. I immediately agreed to this proposal and the study group started to meet in September 1984, with only a few members  attending, but as the months passed the numbers grew. During my many visits to Hawick Burns Club I have been privileged to meet and become friends with many of the men of Hawick, men who are not only admirers of Robert Burns, but men who are prepared to give their time, energy and money to aid the Club in its efforts. In one of my early talks to the study group on the Border tour of Robert Burns, I pointed out that when he was visiting Mrs Scott at Wauchope House, he was only a few miles from Hawick as the crow flies, and this piece of information led to a discussion that took up the rest of the evening. Such questions as “where exactly does Wauchope House lie ?  “Who owns the site”?  “Could Hawick Burns Club do something to mark the spot of the place nearest to Hawick that the Bard had come”. It was thus that the idea of the “Wauchope Memorial Cairn” was born, and the following weeks were weeks of activity, with Alex Martin making enquiries as to who owned the site, to whom should we apply for permission to erect the cairn, and all the other necessary preparations so vital to ensure the success of this important venture. I have found throughout my life in the Burns movement, that when some big event is proposed the hidden talents of our members comes to the fore, and make a very significant contribution to the success of that project, and in one case the talent was that of George Gillies, piper to the Hawick Burns Club. George had been a keen piper from about the age of ten, when he joined a piping class under the tuition of Pipe-Major W. Fraser, going on to join The Royal Scots as a boy piper in May, 1937. In December of that year George left the port of Southampton enroute for India, and from there to Hong Kong. The outbreak of war resulted in the battalion being taken prisoner, and the pipe band lost all their equipment, including George’s pipes. The spirit of George Gillies is evident when he tells how one day as he returned from a prisoner of war working party, he picked up a piece of bamboo and shaped it into a kind of chanter, so that he could keep his fingers supple. When George heard that Hawick Burns Club were about to build a Memorial Cairn at Wauchope, he immediately set about composing a pipe tune to commemorate the occasion. Meanwhile Alex Martin was very busy, firstly convincing the executive committee of Hawick Burns Club to sponsor the scheme, which they did without dissent, and having at this time received permission from the “Wauchope Outdoor Centre” to erect the cairn, the question arose as to where we could obtain the necessary stones, how we would transport the cement. sand and tools to the site, and most important, who had the skills to build the cairn. All these questions were quickly answered, the stones would come from the now demolished Wauchope House, which had been dumped in a quarry, sand, cement and tools plus transport would be gifted by Iain Elliot, another club member, and the builder of the cairn would be Henry Brown, a retired Master Mason, and a member of Hawick Burns Club. I have long ceased to be amazed at the large number of Borderers who have served their country in the armed services, and here again I found that the builder of the cairn was one of these men. Henry Brown was born in Hawick in 1922, and left school at fourteen years, and at that age he joined the Kings Own Scottish Borderers Territorials as a drummer and bugler. At 15 years he started to serve his apprenticeship as a builder with Scott and Thomson of Hawick, and at 19 years he married his bonie Jean. In 1939 Henry was called to arms and was in France when the French army capitulated, leaving him and his fellow Scots to make their way as best they could to the French coast, where they were picked up by one of “THE SMALL BOATS”, and landed at St. Ives. When the second front opened he was once again in France, fighting his way through Belgium, Holland and Germany till the war ended while he was in Bremen. Arriving home Henry resumed his life with his wife and children, working on stone and brick buildings in and around Hawick, and helping to build some of the various bridges at the Kielder Dam. Tragedy struck both Henry and his wife when he was sixty one years old, when doctors diagnosed that they both had cancer. In spite of traumatic situation Henry volunteered his services to build “The Wauchope Cairn”. Everything was now ready for the actual building, the necessary ingredients were all in place, and as the progressed Alex Martin was heard to observe that “ It was a privilege and a joy to act as labourer to such a craftsman as Henry Brown, and as I watched the Cairn taking shape, I knew that Hawick Burns Club had made its contribution to the Burns heritage trail”. The final act in completing the Cairn was the placing of some Hawick newspapers, some artifacts of local interest, some of our coinage and paper money, and a letter of explanation into the recess left for this purpose, and sealing the Cairn. A plaque made by a London firm at a cost of £400 was then set in place, covered by a length of tartan, and now all was ready for the official unveiling and dedication. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the 14th of July, 1985, buses and cars left the premises of Hawick Burns Club, to make their way through the rolling hills to the site of the Cairn. The dedication ceremony was put in motion by President Alex Martin, who began his speech by paying tribute to all who had contributed to the idea and the eventful erection of the Wauchope Cairn, and with a great feeling of sadness he informed those present that the builder of the Cairn, Henry Brown, had suffered the loss of his wife Jeanie, in the early hours of that morning. Alex then introduced the President of the Burns Federation, Mr John Inglis, and asked him to perform the unveiling of the Plaque. Before performing this duty, John thanked President Martin for the honour he had bestowed on him by allowing him to unveil this important memorial to the name of Robert Burns. He then went on to give thanks to Hawick Burns club for their continued support of the Burns Federation, and expressing his opinion that the Bard must have derived great joy and been very impressed with the beauty of the Borders, and this joy is evident in the poems and songs which he composed. John then removed the tartan veil from the Cairn, exposing for the first time in public, the Memorial plaque. The Rev. George Watson then conducted the dedication ceremony in a most efficient manner, after which President Alex Martin spoke of the important part that I had played in the formation of the Hawick Burns Club study group, and asked me to address the audience. I gave a resume of the circumstances leading to Burns coming to Wauchope, and recited part of Mrs. Scott’s epistle to Burns, and the whole of the reply he sent to her. I drew the attention of those present to the words inscribed on the plaque:-

 "That I for poor auld Scotland’s sake,
Some usefu’ plan or beuk could make,
Or sing a sang at least”.

 And saying that here Burns was expressing his life long desire to leave behind something to exalt .his beloved Scotland, something that long after he was dead, would live on in the hearts of his countrymen, in verse and song. The Hawick piper, George Gillies, then played his newly composed pipe tune, “The Wauchope Cairn”, which was warmly applauded by those present. President Martin then extended an invitation to all those present to return to the premises of Hawick Burns Club to enjoy and participate in an evening of social pleasure.

 P.S.

 Henry Brown, the architect of the Cairn, who could not attend the opening ceremony because of bereavement, was invited to attend a special meeting where he was presented with a suitably inscribed silver salver, in recognition of his unstinting voluntary work on the Wauchope Cairn.

From Mrs Scott of Wauchope House to Robert Burns

 “My canty, witty, rhyming ploughman,
I hafflins doubt it is na’ true man
That ye between the stilts were bred
Wi’ ploughman school’d, wi’ ploughman fed,
I doubt sair, ye’ve drawn your knowledge
Either frae grammar school or college.
Guid troth, your saul and body baith,
War’ better fed, I’d gie my aith,
Than theirs, who sup sour milk and parritch
And bummil thro’ the single caritch
Whaever heard the ploughman speak,
Could tell if Homer was a Greek?
He’d flee as soon upon a cudgel
As get a single line of Virgil.
An’ then sae slee ye crack your jokes
O’ Willie P—t and Charlie F-x
Our great men a’ sae weel descrive,
An’ how to gar the nation thrive.
Ane maist wad swear ye dwalt amang them,
An’ as ye saw them, sae ye sang them.
But be ye ploughman, be ye peer,
Ye are a funny blade, I swear.
An’ tho’ the cauld I ill can bide,
Yet twenty miles, an’ mair, I’d ride,
O’er moss, an’ muir, an’ never grumble,
Tho’ my auld yad shou’d gae a stumble,
To crack a winter night wi’ thee,
An’ hear thy sangs, an’ sonnets slee.
A guid saut herring, an’ a cake
Wi’ sic a chiel a feast wad make.
I’d rather scour your rumming yill,
Or eat o’ cheese and bread my fill,
Than wi’ dull lairds on Turtle dine,
An’ ferlie at their wit and wine.
O. gif I kend but whare ye baide
I’d send to you a marled plaid,
‘Twad haud your shoulders warm and braw
An’ douse at kirk, or market shaw,
Far south, as weel as north, my lad,
A’ honest Scotsmen lo’e the maud,
Right wae that we’re sae far frae ither,
Yet proud I am to ca’ ye brither.