Hawick has a “powerful weapon” in its battle against adversity – “the soaring spirit of its people”.
So said ex-Langholm Cornet Billy Young when replying to the toast to the Chief Guest at the Callants Club annual dinner in the Mansfield Park clubrooms last Friday night when 122 members and guests, including 20 past-presidents, attended.
Wearing his heart on his sleeve throughout his address, the speaker said that the last 20 or 30 years had seen a sad decline in the staple industries of Hawick and the Borders as ever-increasing levels of automation meant dwindling workforces, and where the competition was too great from cheap foreign imports, it resulted in redundancies and mill closures.
He told diners: “Too many of your town’s grand old Victorian mills are now derelict or razed to the ground. With them has gone a wealth of industrial and social history, for these great powerhouses put Hawick on the map, sending the very best in hosiery, tweeds, and later, knitwear, to every corner of the globe, making Pringle, Lyle & Scott, Pesco’s and Barries, household names througout the world.
“But you have a powerful weapon in your arsenal that few other places possess: the soaring spirit of the people, for Hawick folk are fighters, both on and off the rugby pitch. Over the centuries this town has been pushed to its knees many times, battered and bleeding, only to rise triumphant again.”
Perhaps the answer was diversification, and the speaker was delighted to read in this newspaper about plans for whisky distillery in Hawick. He also highlighted the campaign to reinstate the Waverley Line to Carlisle, and the proposal for a luxury lodge and caravan site in Wilton Lodge Park.
Mr Young went on: “It would be very naive to think that these projects could ever replace totally the thousands of jobs that have been lost over the years. But they could at least complement and support existing businesses by tapping into the town’s rich past, for Hawick has so much to offer the visitor.”
As a memento of the occasion, the speaker was presented with a tie pin in the form of the club badge.
Proposing a thought-provoking toast to Oor Ain Auld Toon, ex-Acting Father Terry Scott said the structure of Hawick was continually changing, and in his lifetime he had seen the closure of the railway and the auction mart. But while it was a fact of life that old buildings became derelict and needed to be replaced, anyone returning to the town after a ten-year absence and travelling down Commercial Road was in for a big shock. He continued: “There is a reason this toast is not entitled a ‘Toast to Hawick’, because it’s not just a place name on a map, it’s a place with centuries of its own customs and traditions.
“Stuck in a kind of no man’s land while Scotland and England raged against each other, the town developed a certain independent feeling which persists today. It has its ups and downs, but the character of the people shines through and many have gone on to make an impression in the shaping of the world.”
Mr Scott concluded: “It is some place, it’s oor place, it’s oor toon, it’s oor auld toon, it’s oor ain auld toon.”
Provost Stuart Marshall’s reply to Mr Scott’s toast, which is featured on page two of this week’s edition, also saw the town’s civic head announce that David Scott, of Duns, a well-known figure in Hawick through his many appearances as an after-dinner speaker at club functions, is chief guest at this year’s Common-Riding.
Local firefighter Roddy McIntyre delivered a well-researched toast to Our Common-Riding and Our Cornets, in which he shared some interesting similarities between a statue he had seen in America and Hawick’s 1514 monument.
The speaker explained: “In 2005, I visited my sister in Boston, and while being shown around the city I spotted a statue that had the size and scale of our own 1514 monument. I discovered it was dedicated to Paul Revere, the famous American patriot, who warned the Colonials of the impending arrival of the British army. It was sculpted by a young man named Cyrus Edwin Dallin, while our own sculptor, William Beattie, was also in his early twenties when he received the commission to create his 1514 masterpiece. Also, both statues are of heroic young men on horseback, both of whom carried out valiant deeds. Another similarity is how the American Patriots defied the tyranny of British oppression, and the Hawick Callants’ slaying of the English oppressors at Hornshole.”
Mr McInytre went on to explore how the Common-Riding had evolved over the years, and mentioned the change of main festival date from May to June in 1715, the first town piper who awoke the town from its slumber on Common-Riding morning in 1674, and the inclusion of women riders in 1997. But it was the “soundtrack of the Common-Riding” which engaged the speaker most. The sound of the Drums and Fifes from afar, the uplifting refrain of the Colour-Bussing, the raucous chorus of The Hut, and the melancholic melody of the Invocation.
He said: “Without this backdrop of sound, the Common-Riding would be diminished. It’s better by far to be carried along on the crest of these wondrous tunes and lyrics.”
Other toasts were: Our Guest, president Bernie Armstrong; Border Art and Literature, ex-Acting Father Kenny McCartney; reply to Our Common-Riding and Our Cornets, Cornet Gregor Hepburn; The Chairman, David Chapman, vice-president. Grace was said by the club’s honorary chaplain, the Rev. Charles Finnie.
Those who entertained with song and recitation were Iain H. Scott, Bert Armstrong, ex-Acting Fathers Malcolm Grant and Henry Douglas BEM, Graeme Tinlin, Doug Telfer, Drew Johnstone, ex-Cornet Ian Nichol, Billy Young, Craig Neilson, official Common-Riding song-singer Michael Aitken, Ian Landles BEM, and Alan Brydon. The pianist was Ian Landles. Proceedings were conducted under the affable chairmanship of president Armstrong who welcomed new members – David Blair, Brian Casson, Dave Finnie, Ian Graham, Ian Lowes, William Robson, and Cornet Hepburn – to their first dinner. The meal was expertly prepared and served by Deborah Brown Catering, while Lindsey Girvan’s bar staff kept the company refreshed. Superb speeches, fine fare and a wonderful choice of Hawick’s songs and poems ensured a memorable evening, which concluded with Ex-Cornet Philip Murray leading a spirited Teribus with 17 “Cornets Up”.