Borders historians build database of local history

Treasure trove...of historical information has been unearthed by society members at kirkyards, like Lennel, and war memorials in our local communities.
Treasure trove...of historical information has been unearthed by society members at kirkyards, like Lennel, and war memorials in our local communities.

You could not accuse members of Coldstream and District Local History Society of lacking ambition.

For the mainly retired group of dedicated volunteers have a host of projects on the go.

Lest we forget...thanks to society members, the names - and the stories - of the fallen in towns and villages across the Borders will never, ever be forgotten.

Lest we forget...thanks to society members, the names - and the stories - of the fallen in towns and villages across the Borders will never, ever be forgotten.

And their efforts will ensure that generations to come will have a complete and full history of the area.

Since 2007, members have visited 86 war memorials in Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and north Northumberland.

They have gathered the names of the fallen on each and conducted research on the men listed.

Rather than limiting themselves to one conflict, they have researched the names of every soldier who died in the Boer War, First World War, Second World War and other conflicts.

That has involved meticulous research, aided by Scottish Borders Council’s archive service which provided access to old newspapers and photographs.

While the project is still on-going, their work to date cannot fail to impress.

However, the members are modest about their achievements.

Gerald Tait said: “It’s a journey, not a destination.

“We all spend any spare time we have researching the names but it’s sometimes hard to pin down where they are actually buried.

“It’s not uncommon to find the same person on more than one memorial or to discover they are buried elsewhere.

“The public has also been a huge help in providing additional information.

“It’s just a hobby for us which helps get us out from underneath our wives’ feet! But it’s fascinating too.”

The project was the brainchild of local historians William Murray and John Elliot and has been a labour of love for the past ten years.

But they are still keen to hear from anyone who has additional information on any of the fallen listed on their online database.

If you can help, contact William on 01890 882661 or John on 01890 882176 or visit the group’s website at www.coldstreamhistorysociety.co.uk.

In 2011, members also sunk their teeth into another major project – that of recording the headstones in kirkyards in Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and north Northumberland.

Members have so far transcribed every headstone in around 20 kirkyards and uncovered some fascinating stories along the way in a project spearheaded by Trevor Swan and Gerald Tait.

A host of famous names have been laid to rest in local graveyards.

Arguably, though, Lennel Kirkyard – which was the first to be tackled – is home to the most well-known.

Gerald explained: “These kirkyards really help to tell the history of their local communities.

“In Lennel Kirkyard, for example, you’ll find a former prime minister buried there – Alec Douglas-Home.

“Mention is also made of James Lawrence, who played 496 games for Newcastle United.

“His partner, who died in rather tragic circumstances, is buried there.

“She was pregnant and tried to have an abortion but the operation ended up killing her instead.

“In Kirknewton kirkyard, you’ll find the headstone of Josephine Butler who was involved with the sufragettes and campaigned for the right of women to better education, the abolition of child prostitution and an end to human trafficking.

“It’s a fascinating project and we’ve still got a number of kirkyards to record yet – so who knows what else we will find?!”

It’s clear when speaking to Gerald just how much enjoyment members have derived from these projects.

But what they have achieved will also serve their local communities for many years to come.

Gerald added: “It’s been an interesting journey so far – people have been in touch about headstones from as far afield as America, Canada and Australia.

“All of the information is now on our website. It’s really interactive and it encourages people to look for their own family connections.

“So if you type in your surname, you may well find one of your own ancestors.

“It’s exciting bringing all that information together and every week we learn something new.

“We’re more than happy for people to join in and provide any additional information they may have about the people who are buried in our historic kirkyards.”

For more details, visit www.coldstreamhistory society.co.uk.

Society’s own timeline...

Coldstream and District Local History Society extends a warm welcome to all those interested in discussing and researching the history of the south Berwickshire and north Northumberland areas.

The society organises and hosts talks, lectures and presentations throughout the autumn and winter months. Members also visit sites of historical interest in the summer months.

These events provide plenty of opportunities for light-hearted socialising, in addition to the study of local history.

Members have published a book, Second to None: A History of Coldstream, studying the history of the town from its early forts and settlements to the present day.

For the last ten years, they have also been involved in a series of projects designed to preserve parts of our local heritage, including a complete inventory of the Lennel Kirkyard and other local kirkyards, in addition to the war memorial project covering Berwickshire, north Northumberland and Roxburghshire.

The next meeting of the society will take place on Thursday, May 4, at 7.30pm in the Eildon Centre when Isobel Gordon will present a talk on Robert Fortune of Kelloe, Plant Hunter, Adventurer and Spy.

* Through their work at Lennel Kirkyard, society members were instrumental in kickstarting another project. Lennel Kirk, which was built in 1120, was in a sorry state when members first visited to record the headstones. They decided to see if they could get funding to restore the kirkyard and its headstones and, as a result, Coldstream Heritage Ltd was formed. It secured Historic Environment Scotland’s support forthe £145,000 project and work is now on-going at the site.