Hundreds of Hawick folk travelled to Hexham on Sunday to mark the 500th anniversary of the capture of the Prior of Hexham’s standard by the young men of the town at Hornshole.
The Hawick contingent included Cornet Ross Gibson, his Lass Michelle Paxton, Right and Left-Hand Men Chris Ritson and Ross Nichol, who were accompanied by Lasses Heather Amos and Gillian Smith, and Acting-Father and Mother Alan and Jane Gray.
Also making the journey were Provost Stuart Marshall and his wife Doreen, as well as this year’s Common-Riding Chief Guest Henry Douglas and his wife Aileen. Several local clubs including the Callants Club, sent representatives to the event.
They visited Hexham in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, in stark contrast to the bloody hostilities which raged between the two communities five centuries ago.
And following the success of Sunday’s service, there is talk of Hexham and Hawick cementing their links in a town twinning agreement in the near future. As lone Hawick piper Robert Scot played outside the main door of the abbey, it was standing room only inside long before the procession of clergy and civic dignitaries to herald the start of the hour-long service, led by Canon Michael Jackson.
The Hexham congregation was swelled by busloads of people from Hawick who had made the journey south to witness the unique ceremony.
And after a warm welcome from the Rt Rev. Frank White, Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, amid a fanfare, the Hexham standard was processed into the abbey by Hawick Cornet Ross Gibson.
The first reading by Provost Stuart Marshall was from the Book of Isaiah, preaching the virtues of peace and of turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
The second reading, by the Deputy Mayor of Hexham, Trevor Cessford, was from Matthew’s Gospel, about the need for forgiveness.
The theme was reinforced in the sermon by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. John Chalmers.
In a touching address he told of his own family’s challenge in coping with the life-threatening injuries his son received on service in Afghanistan three years ago.
He said it was vital to have a willingness to forgive and to realise that waging war was every bit as difficult as suing for peace.
He told the congregation that the fact that the peoples of Hexham and Hawick had enjoyed such a good relationship over so many years demonstrated the futility of the paralysis of conflict.
“We can’t continue to live on planet earth by the rules of violence and conflict,” he said.
“If you stick with the philosophy of an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth, then very soon no one will chew and no one will see.”
After the service, Cornet Gibson planted a tree in the abbey grounds, to mark the special anniversary, and Provost Marshall presented a bench given by the people of Hawick for the new abbey Garden.
And following this, a civic ceception was held at the Beaumont Hotel at which Provost Marshall toasted his hosts and the town: “Can I firstly begin by saying a huge thank you to you all for playing a very important role in bringing the towns of Hexham and Hawick even closer together.
“Of course ladies and gentlemen, five centuries ago the scene was very different and like many other towns and villages both north and south of the Border neighbours were locked in bitter disputes over land, livestock and boundaries.”
And Mr Marshall went on to say that the guests from Hexham who attended Hawick Common-Riding had been very welcome: “Last week during our Common-Riding celebrations we were delighted to extend the hand of friendship to your Deputy Mayor and Canon Dr Michael Jackson along with their respective good ladies. Please be assured that we in Hawick felt very honoured to have had you in our company.”
Commenting on the visit, Cornet Gibson said: This was a great day. It was different and I was really pleased to be involved. I think the folk in Hexham were a bit taken aback at the amount of Hawick folk who made the trip but it was good to be involved and the people I have spoken to had a really good time.”
Local traders joined forces to welcome the influx of Teries to showcase what Hexham has to offer, with subsidised food and drink which was available in venues around the town centre and in the market place a piper and the Hexham Village Ceilidh Band entertained locals and guests.