Tweedsmuir Parish History

9.  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 Time"- 1680-1688.  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 that commences with the line "It will be a bloody night in Gemshope this" said Walter of Chapelhope (1).....   

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) who was shot dead at the Devil's Beeftub after leaving the farmhouse of Corehead.  There is a Stone marking the site known as The Martyr's Stone - more about this on page 3 Tweedsmuir Standing Stones.  There is also a memorial stone at the viewpoint beside the A701 road overlooking the site of the Martyr's Stone.. 


On left - Headstones in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard with Kirk in background.

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  who fled across the hills to the Fruid valley, and reached the house of the herd at Carterhope.   The herd's wife, with great presence of mind, made no attempt to hide him, but made him site down by the fire.   Later, the dragoons rode up and came to search the cottage, "Get up, ye lazy lout!" said the good-wife, giving Welsh a great clout on the lugs.   "Gang oot and mind the sodger's horses!"   And in the "lazy lout" who stood by their horses' heads none of the troopers thought of finding the Covenanter they sought.(2)   It is probable that the herd was a Welsh relation as it is recorded that there was a Welsh tenant at Carterhope.

In May 1684 a Royal Proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice.   The proclamation terminated with a long roll of fugitives, among whom the following belonging to Peeblesshire.  Most of the Peeblesshire men were from Upper Tweed!(3)

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 on the list - one of which is George Hunter of Corehead.  It is probable that John and George Hunter were kin.  There are also two named Welsh on this list.

James Nicol the last on the above list appears in Ronald Ireland's novel The Bloody Covenant Crown and Kirk in Conflict.(4).   In the novel Nicol and his family attend the Great Conventicle of Oct 1682 at Talla Linns.

 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.  John Welsh 1667-1711 was a son of Black Welsh and who died in Over Menzion in 1711 has the oldest headstones in the Kirkyard .

There are some blanks in the Tweedsmuir Kirk Session minutes & accounts 1644-1696 records but the following entries give a flavour of the times -

December 2nd 1677 "No session kept by reason of all elders being at conventicles". (6)(7)  (Ed. one presumes that these conventicles held in 1677 and 1679 mentioned below were held at Talla Linns?) 

"No public sermon, soldiers being sent to apprehend the minister, but he was receiving notification of their design, went away and retired." (7)

June & July 1679, "no sermon, owing to the rebellion in the west, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges, the rebels being so cruel to them" (6)

23rd November 1679 " Memorandum of those who had their children baptised at Conventicles." (6)

3d Oct 1680, "There was no sermon,  the Min hardlie daring stay sermon for murderers, or robbers, falling upon him,as of other min. in the Presby." (8)

"The collection this day to be given to a man for acting as watch during the time of the sermon." (7)

"No meeting this day, for fear of the enemy." (7)

November 20th 1681 "There was no sermon, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges." (6) (7)

11th December 1681. "No Session all this while the elders all deserting ordinances except Walter Tweedie" (9)

June 1682 "Claverhouse nearly captured at the Crook* by hillmen* returning from their quarterly convention at Talla Linns"(6) (10) 

  * (Ed.1. Although the Crook is mentioned in the Kirk records it was, according to Claverhouse, nearer to the Bield that the incident took place (18)).

    (Ed. 2. hillmen was one of the names applied to the followers of Richard Cameron but were more commonly known as Cameronions.  In this instance they were attending a society quarterly convention ).

September 5th 1688.   Mr Thomson ordained at the Crook, which was the place ordained for preaching the Church not yet having been obtained possession of). (6)


                      Talla Linns 

John Graham of Claverhouse who was Sheriff of Dumfriesshire had expanded his activities eastwards was determined to stamp out the conventicles that were taking place at Talla Linns.   Claverhouse  writing to the Duke of Queensberry(18) relates the circumstances of missing the society convention of June 1682 at Talla despite having a dragoon billeted at the Bield in Tweedsmuir.  He mentions that there were six or seven score Whigues and how a few days later, he heard from the minister (Rev. Francis Scott) that they did not prejudice in his house, further than meatt and drink.  The date of June 1682 for the Society Convention is confirmed by Michael Shields in his Faithful, Contending, Displayed.(19) (Ed. Buchan/Paton(5), in error, has confused the dates of June 1682 - the date of the Unitied Societies third quarterly Convention with Oct 1682 the date of the Great Conventicle.)  It was the June convention at Talla Linns that Sir Walter Scott describes in Heart of Midlothothian where he describes the site as "a wild and well sequestered dell."(11)

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 conventions and 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 four months later on the 11th October 1682. The Great Conventicle lasted three days and was well attended - It would be said later that upwards of 5,000 men, women and bairns were at Talla Linns that day(10).  Many residents of Tweedsmuir, approximately 100 that included wives, servants and children, were cited by the Minister Francis Scott on January 1st 1683 for being at Talla Linns - whether this was in connection with the Great Conventicle or other conventicles is not clear.  The list prepared by the Rev. Francis Scott was titled "The names of disorderly persons within the parish of the new church of Tweedmoor, befor the Laird of Meldrum came into the samine for tryal of the rebells thair in armes att Talla Linne."(12)  Buchan/Paton mentioned that the Rev Francis Scott liked to run with the hare as well as hunt with the hounds(5).  In this case he was with the hounds.  

There are several mentions of Tweedsmuir in the Proceedings of the Scottish Privy Council in 1684.(17) Some of the entries refer to the Tweedsmuir Kirk as the New Tweedsmuir Kirk as if being New it was somehow responsible for the troubles in the area.   The church was not built until 1648 although the initial survey for the new parish was in 1639 - the year after the signing of the National Covenant in 1638.  

One of the entries was a demand from the authorities for a full list of attendees at the New Kirk.   The list that was produced had only twentyone names, none of whom were of any interest to the Privy Council.   The list should have had over one hundred names most of whom would have been Tweedie, Welsh, Hope,Hunter etc.  How they got away with it is a wonder. One suspects that Thomas Tweedie, Laird of Oliver was behind this subterfuge.  However to accomplish this Thomas would have to have the assistance of the Episcopalian Minister - the Rev. Francis Scott - who as mentioned above liked to run with the hare as well as to hunt with the hounds.(5).   In this case the Rev. Scott was with the hare.

Many of those attending the conventicles, including Cameronions, came from Lanarkshire.   Their route would have been via Glenholme, where conventicles were also held, and via Kingledores.   The footpath between the Glenhome valley and Kingledores is still shown on present day maps - it would have originally been part of the Pilgrim's Way through Tweedsmuir Parish.   More about this on Page 11. Pilgrim Ways, Chapels and the expansion of Christianity.

The following are two stories of local Covenanting interest from Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley.(13)   

1. " 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."

However I have come across a very similar story in the book Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders by James Watson (14).    "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 was perhaps more prominent.   However the inter marriage of the Hope/Welsh/ Tweedie families is confirmed by the Parish marriage records following 1644 when the Tweedsmuir Kirk was founded.  These records also confirm that the Welsh and Hope families were well established in the area by this time - the antiquity of the Tweedies is of course well known.  More information on the Welsh family on page 16 - Welsh Family of Tweedsmuir page.   More information on the Hopes can be found on the Hope Families of Tweedsmuir in Volume 2 of this website.

It is of interest that in the Tweedsmuir Kirkyard(15) there are 10 Welsh headstones, 10 Tweedie, 6 Hope and 2 Hunter and that they can all be found in the same quadrant  - the north west quadrant - of the old part of the Kirkyard.    Apart from the John Hunter memorial there  is another headstone that lists a possible Covenanter and that is the main Tweedie stone in the Tweedie lair.   This headstone commemorates Thomas Tweedie of Oliver who died 07-05-1731 aged 75.(15).  Thomas must have been the Laird of Oliver that held the community together during the Killing Time of 1680-1688. Another covenanting headstone is that of John Welsh, mentioned above, who died in Over Menzion in 1711.  This John Welsh was the son of Black Welsh a noted Covenanter.   

There are several echos between the above Lorimer and Watson 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 .  This is probably Wodrow's book of 1721 The History of the Suffering of the Church of Scotland?

There has been timber harvesting and replanting around the Polskene 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 second reference from Andrew Lorimer 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 (20) indicates that the Scottish surname of Shank, Shanks etc had its origin here.  The house that he built in the Fruid Valley could be Blairsheep.

An interesting aspect is that James the Cameronian having returned to the Tweedsmuir area possibly actually died there.   Hence it is possible that James is also buried in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard or in the old burial ground at Fruid mentioned by Armstrong in 1775.   More about this burial ground on page 6. Hawkshaws and page 11 Pilgrims Way marker, Chapels etc. 

A poem about Tweedsmuir Kirkyard by the Rev. John Buchan titled A Martyr's Grave(16) 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 Time" 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, that would have included the shepherds but also 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.



1)  Hogg, James; The Tales of James Hogg The Ettrick Shepherd - The Brownie of Bodsbeck, Thomas D Morison, Glasgow, 1886. Vol 1, p2.

2)  Buchan, J W and Paton, H, Rev; History of Peeblesshire. Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. Vol III p366 (Quoting MS. of Mrs. M Tweedie-Stodart Rose.)

3)  Chambers, William; A History of Peeblesshire, William & Robert Chambers, Edinburgh, 1864. 

4)  Ireland, Ronald; The Bloody Covenant Kirk and Crown in Conflict, History Press,  Stroud, 2010.

5)  Buchan, J. W, and Paton, H, Rev; History of Peeblesshire, Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. Vol III p360.

6)  Gunn, Clement, Bryce, Rev; The Book of Tweedsmuir Kirk, Alan Smyth/ Neidpath Press, Peebles. p135 & p136.

7)  Crocket, W.S. Rev; The Scott Country, A & C Black, London, 1930. Sixth Edition p110.

8)  Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Synod of Lothian & Tweeddale, Presbytery of Peebles, Tweedsmuir Parish. p259.

9)  Tweedie, Michael, Forbes; The History of the Tweedie or Tweedy family, W. P. Griffiths and Sons, London. 1902. p92.

10) Ireland, Ronald; The Bloody Covenant Kirk and Crown in Conflict, History Press, Stroud, 2010. p177-178 and p180 - Footnote.

11) Scott, Walter, Sir; Heart of Midlothian, Waverley Novels,Vol XII, Cadell and Co Edinburgh, 1830. p85 and p91 end-note III.

12) National Records of Scotland; Suplementary Privy Council Papers 1545-1691, NRS Ref PC15.

13) Railton, Margaret, Compiler; Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley,Tuckwell Press, Edinburgh. 2001. p60. 

14) Watson, James; Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders, James Watson, Peebles, 1908. p96.

15) Scott, Sheila, Compiler; Monumental Inscriptions for Peeblesshire, Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh, 1993. pp114-117.

16) Buchan, John (Senior); Tweedside Echoes Moorland Musings, John Maclaren, Edinburgh, 1881. p28.

17) Paton, Henry, Editor; Register of the Scottish Privy Council, General Register House, Edinburgh, 1924. Third Series, Vol 9 p498.

18) Scottish History Society; Miscellany,Claverhouse Letters, Edinburgh, 1990. Vol XI, pp182-183.

19) Shields, Michael; Faithful Contending Displayed, Glasgow, 1780. p21 for Societies Convention at Talla Linns in June 1682 and p42 for the Convention in Edinburgh in Oct 1682.

20) Black, George F; The Surnames of Scotland, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1999. p720.


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