In St Giles Cathedral on 23rd July, 1637, Jenny Geddes, known to us for nothing else, struck the first blow for The Covenant* when she hurled her stool at the pulpit.  There, Dean Hannay was reading for the first time from the Book of Common Prayer, introduced to the Church in Scotland by Charles I. This was an opportunity to reject the Bishops who had been imposed on the Church in Scotland thirty years earlier by James VI - a nest of hornets had been disturbed.

 The National Covenant was a document which attacked the innovations being introduced to the Protestant Church in Scotland.  First signed by its adherents in February 1638, it was circulated throughout Scotland gathering support and signatures as it did.

This was not Charles' only error of judgement and the English turned to a discontented Scotland to help bring Charles I to heel.  In the "Solemn League and Covenant", the Scots bound themselves to help the English Parliamentary forces in the overthrow of the Royalists.  In return, their creed would become standard throughout the Kingdom.

Oliver Cromwell came to power and Charles I was executed.  The Scots regretted their role in this but, as so often in history, they had led with their hearts and not their heads.  Their part of the bargain had been kept, but it was not expedient for the English to keep theirs.  The Scots then declared Charles II as King and, after he had accepted the Covenant, crowned him at Scone.  That was on New Year's Day 1651.   

By September of that year, however, Cromwell had overthrown the Scottish forces and Charles II fled to the Continent.

After Cromwell's death, the Monarchy was restored in 1660, but Charles II was not one to allow his word to bind him.  His acceptance of the Covenant had been a political convenience and the Presbyterian model was not "a religion for gentlemen".  So the struggle of the Covenanters continued.

In the years which followed, the notorious Graham of Claverhouse, later Viscount Dundee, was one of many who played a role in the ruthless persecution of the Covenanters; the lines of the ballad "...his not to reason why, his not to make reply ..." are today echoed in the plea, "I was only following orders."

This episode in our history, which had started in the 1630's, ended in 1689 when William of Orange ousted James VII (James II of England).  Then another episode started - this was the time of the Jacobites.   


© 1996 Douglas Gregor


Tweedsmuir and The Covenanters

Although the Covenanting movement of the seventeenth century was mainly centred in the South-West of Scotland it did spill eastwards and to counteract this John Graham of Claverhouse, Sheriff of Dumfriesshire, moved his HQ from Dumfries to Selkirk in 1685.  This date being during "The Killing Times".  The doings of Claverhouse around Traquair and Chapelhope in Yarrow Parish are described vividly by James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd, in his tale of The Brownie of Bodsbeck published in 1817 that commences with the line "It will be a bloody night in Gemshope this" said Walter of Chapelhope.....   

The Tweedsmuir area and the Upper Tweed valley in Peeblesshire were also at this time a hot bed of Covenanting activity.  One Peeblesshire Covenanter is remembered particularly because of his burial place in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.  This  is John Hunter (1660-1685).  

OCovenanters01.jpgn left - Headstones in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.

For the inscription on the headstones click Here

What the inscription does not tell us is that Hunter had a companion when he was set upon by Douglas and his dragoons.   This was one Welsh the farmer of Tweedhopefoot who escaped and made his way on foot to his Aunt's farmhouse at Carterhope in the Fruid valley.   The story goes that when he reached the farmhouse of Carterhope he fell asleep from pure exhaustion in front of the fire.   The mounted dragoons reached the house, not realizing that their quarry was already there, and his Aunt, to divert suspicion, hit Welsh between the shoulder-blades, and ordered him not to be so lazy but to go about his work.   The soldiers let him go without realizing who he was.

In May 1684 a Royal Proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice  and included a list of persons from the whole of Peeblesshire who must give themselves up. The list which follows sounds more like a muster for Upper Tweed!

  • William Forbes, servant to Thomas Weir.
  • Thomas Weir, merchant traveller.
  • James Mitchell, cooper in Linton.
  • Adam Hunter, in Fingland.
  • James Ramage in Skirlin.
  • James Richardson, tailor in Logan.
  • William Porteus, in Earlshaugh.
  • James Welsh, in Fingland.
  • George Hunter, in Corehead.
  • John Welsh. in Menzion.
  • James Nicol, vagabond in the said shire.
  • John Hunter,  who was killed the following year does not appear on the list.   However two other Hunters appear on the list as well as two Welshs.

The Welsh name features frequently in the Tweedsmuir records with reference to the Covenanting period.   One family in particular headed by one nicknamed Black Welsh is prominent and more information on this family can be found on the Welsh Family of Tweedsmuir page.

Number six on the above list is of interest as this indicates that there was a tailor at The Logan in 1684.  This is where Linkcumdoddie the abode of Willie Wastle the weaver in Burns' poem was located in 1792.  Was the Logan known as being a hamlet of cloth working artisans?   

John Graham of Claverhouse who was Sheriff of Dumfriesshire had expanded his activities eastwards was determined to stamp out the conventicles (outdoor meetings) that were taking place regularly at Talla and Fruid.   He had a dragoon billeted at the Bield in Tweedsmuir to gather information to no avail.   The conventicles continued.

There are some blanks in the Tweedsmuir Kirk records at this time but the following are of interest:

December 2nd 1677 "No session kept by reason of all elders being at conventicles"

"No public sermon, soldiers being sent to apprehend the minister, but he was receiving notification of their design, went away and retired."

"23rd November 1679 " Memorandum of those who had their children baptised at Conventicles."

"The collection this day to be given to a man for acting as watch during the time of the sermon."

"No meeting this day, for fear of the enemy."

November 20th 1681 "There was no sermon, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges."

11th December 1681. "No Session all this while the elders all deserting ordinances except Walter Tweedie"

June 1682 "Claverhouse nearly captured at the Crook by hillmen* returning from their quarterly convention at Talla Linns" *(hillmen was one of the names applied to the followers of Richard Cameron but were more commonly known as Cameronions - Ed.)


Talla Linns

Although the Kirk records intimate that Claverhouse was nearly captured at the Crook other records indicate that it was nearer to the Bield Inn.   From Jane Lane's novel - He was very nearly prevented from holding that Court or any other; for a band of assassins, numbering one hundred and twenty Covenanting ruffians, laid an ambush for him near the Billie Inn on the the Upper Tweed, and it was only by some accident that he was detained two days in Edinburgh and so missed the appointment with death.

There is unfortunately and shamefully no memorial stone at the Talla Linns, the waterfall on the Talla Water as it cascades down to the East end of the Talla Reservoir.  However it was here that the quarterly conventicles took place.   The United Societies third convention took place here on 15th June 1682 - this was when Claverhouse was nearly captured as mentioned above.  The Great Conventicle was on the 8th October 1682.   This conventicle lasted three days and is immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Heart of Midlothian. Sir Walter probably heard about the Great Conventicle from chat at the Crook Inn where Sir Walter was a frequent visitor.  Exactly how many people were in attendance at the conventicle is unclear - the organisers say many thousands - Claverhouse of course refutes this.  The fact that Claverhouse went into print about The Conventicle indicates that it had some significance.

The following are two articles of local Covenanting interest.

1)   The following is a snippet from the book Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley.     "About a mile up Badlieu Burn a tributary called Polskene is known by old herding families as Powskene, the burn of the bushes.   I remember a stell (shelter) there with sheep buchts (folds) and a small stone-built kebhouse (used for ewes and abandoned lambs) which at one time must have been an inhabited dwelling.  Around the ruins were signs of enclosures made with sods.    It was here that a group of fugitives from the battle of Rullion Green 1666 made a fire to cook a stirk (bullock) lifted or bought from Hawkshaw.   At first light all had vanished towards their distant Galloway homes.   Forestry ploughs and smothering pine trees  have now permanently hidden whatever may have remained of the dwelling."

I enquired from the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association if anyone could verify this story of the Covenanting fugitives fleeing from Rullion Green.  This was published as a "Query" in issue No 79 - June 2002 of their Newsletter.   So far there has neen no response to this query.

However in October 2014 - 12 years later - I have come across a very similar story in the book Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders by James Watson published in 1908.   "All these farms and Hawkshaw, were nearly for two hundred years tenanted by Hopes.   John Hope of Badlieu, who lived in the last half of the seventeeth century, is the earliest known member of the family.   They were all ardent Covenanters, as was to be expected, from their living beside the high mountains, with their precipitous rocks, concealed caves, and water-cleft ravines, which gave shelter to many of the fugitives who had fled from the battle of Bothwell Bridge.   The Hopes, Hunters of Polmood, Tweedies of Hearthstanes and Kingledores, and the Welshes of Corehead and Mossfennan seem to have intermarried frequently; but few of their male descendants are left to witness their former prevalence here."

Although Mr. Watson does mention the Hope family the records of the time indicate that the Welsh family headed by Black Welsh were much more prominent.   More information on the Welsh family on the Welsh Family of Tweedsmuir page.

It is of interest that in the Tweedsmuir Kirkyard there are 10 Welsh headstones, 10 Tweedie, 6 Hope and 2 Hunter and that they can all be found in the same quadrant of the old part of the Kirkyard.

There are several echos between the above two stories.  Hawkshaw and Badlieu are mentioned in both.  There was no need for the fugitives - fugitives mentioned in both stories - to have lifted or bought a stirk from Hawkshaws as Hawkshaws was inhabited by an ardent Covenanter.  Different battles are mentioned - Rullion Green is more likely - but both could be correct.   The similarity between the two stories suggest that they originate from a common source - but where is this elusive source?

There has been timber harvesting and replanting around the site and the woodmen have refrained from driving the timber harvesters and associated follower vehicles through the actual site hence preserving what little remains.   There is very little to see - from the amateur vewpoint - and a lot of imagination is required in order to visulise what could have been there.   The site is in the Badlieu Forest (NT 043186).   The site is recognised by Historic Scotland as a Unscheduled Site of Mediaeval or Later Rural Settlement - MOLRS.                         

2)  The following is an article that I wrote for the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association and appeared in their Newsletter, Issue No 91 - September 2006.

"In the year 1995 Andrew Lorimer a long time resident of Upper Tweed and respected shepherd was laid to rest, aged 90, in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.   He would have been pleased with his chosen spot as he was lying only a short distance from the Martyr's grave site of John Hunter who was killed in 1685.

Andrew's notes and diaries compiled during his lifetime were edited into a book titled Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley by Margaret Railton and published in 1998.

In this book are several anecdotes about the Covenanters in Upper Tweed including a couple pf references to John Hunter.   The first of these was at Tweedsmuir Primary School that Andrew attended where the local Minister - The Rev. W. S. Crocket - when he came to the school made the pupils recite from memory the words from the headstone of Hunter's grave.   Andrew only remembered the first two lines as the remainder made him too unhappy.

The second reference was regarding an earthworks in the hills near Polmood known as Hunter's Holes.   Andrew's notes intimated that Hunter's Holes were named such because John Hunter the Martyr was John Hunter of Polmood and that he hid there to avoid capture.   The pedigree of the Hunters of Polmood is fairly well documented and although there was a John Hunter of Polmood about that time he died in 1672.   However this John Hunter had a son named James Hunter of Polmood and the records say this of him.   "He was a Cameronian and attended field meetings, that during the persecution he had to leave Tweedsmuir, that he then lived in a place called Shank, and afterwards returned to Tweedsmuir, where he built himself a house between Carterhope and Fruid and died there in 1721"  Research indicates that the location of Shank is probably on Hunter lands near Gorebridge in Midlothian.   Black in his Surnames of Scotland indicates that the Scottish surname of Shank, Shanks etc had its origin here.

In May 1684 a royal proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice and in cluded a list of persons from Peeblesshire.   This list included two by the name of Hunter one George and one Adam.   John the Martyr who was killed the following year and James the Cameronian were not on the wanted list.

An interesting aspect is that James the Cameronian having returned to Tweedsmuir possibly actually died there.   Hence it is possible that James is also buried in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.   However there is no monumental inscription to verify this but further research may unearth something.

A poem about Tweedsmuir Kirkyard by the Rev. John Buchan appeared in Issue no 77 - September 2001, of the S.C.M.A. Newsletter. "

The reference to Hunter's Holes above is consistent with the topography of the Upper Valley valley being suitable for providing cover and shelter for fugitives mentioned in the excerpt from the book by James Watson mentioned earlier.  The fact that it would appear that there was only the one victim of the "Killing Times" attributed to Tweedsmuir residents says it all.   Having many hiding places is great but the fugitives still had to be provisioned and wounds/injuries attended to indicating that there must have been a network of helpers, mainly women and children carrying out these tasks.  The fact that Claverhouse and his dragoons were unsuccesful in apprehending fugitives and also unable to prevent conventicles taking place in the area says much for the stalwart residents of the valley.



Further information regarding James Hunter's - The Cameronian - possible residence in the Fruid Valley can be found on the site page Lost Farm Names of Tweedsmuir - Paragraph 7.2 on Blairsheep Farm.


Tony Hope