Elliot’s silver lining

Ex-Cornet Elliot Turnbull and his Lass Jackie with daughters Elis and Jily
Ex-Cornet Elliot Turnbull and his Lass Jackie with daughters Elis and Jily

EVERYONE has knocks on their doors. But not everyone has a knock at their door at a precise time on a precise Wednesday evening in May. A knock that is awaited with great anticipation by a full household.

Elliot Turnbull has had such a knock, and although it occurred 25 years ago, he remembers it well. Indeed, Elliot will never forget it, for at the other side of the door was Halberdier George Milligan with a letter in his hand.

1987 Cornet Elliot Turnbull and Acting Father Ian Armstrong

1987 Cornet Elliot Turnbull and Acting Father Ian Armstrong

A letter of notificiation from the Provost Council inviting Elliot to be the Hawick Cornet of 1987. It was an invitation that was accepted, and recalling the occasion of his Picking Night, Elliot told the Hawick News: “I stayed at Wilton Glebe and the house was full of family and ex-Cornets. Everybody was just waiting for the Halberdier to arrive and the excitement was unbelievable.

“We then heard the sound of the Drums and Fife band and the excitement grew. It grew even more, though, when the Halberdier arrived on the doorstep with the letter, and that was the beginning of a fantastic five weeks.”

Elliot first followed in 1976 when Haig Hinton was Cornet, never thinking that one day he would wear the coveted green jacket himself.

When becoming Cornet, Elliot had David Nuttall and Ian Whillans as his respective Right and Left-Hand Men, and Ian Armstrong was his Acting Father.

Speaking of this, Elliot says: “We were a great team and never had a cross word between us. Everybody just got on great and we had a brilliant time.

“Unfortunately, Ian Armstrong is no longer with us and this is a great pity as he would have loved this silver jubilee year.”

Elliot’s Lass was Jackie Fletcher who was to become his wife in 1989.

Jackie admits, however, that prior to becoming Cornet’s Lass she had not been involved in Common-Riding activities.

She said: “I was not brought up in the Common-Riding, and never in a month of Sundays did I ever think I would be Cornet’s Lass.

“In 1982 and 1986, however, I did have the thrill of being a Maid of Honour. This was great but nothing to the thrill of being Cornet’s Lass.

“It was a wonderful honour and privilege and I feel I’m very fortunate to have done this.”

A hosiery worker in Peter Scott’s at the time, Elliot points out that the build-up and the Common-Riding itself went past in a flash.

“Everything went so quickly,” he says. “The ride-outs just flew in and so did all the smokers and functions before the Comon-Riding.

“Of all the functions I attended the one I remember in particular was the Peter Scott’s dinner. The entire mill seemed to be there and it was brilliant to have a night like this with my fellow workers.

“The following day, though, was a working one and production came to an all-time low as folk were shattered and suffering from hangovers!”

One of Elliot and Jackie’s main highlights of the Common-Riding was the Colour-Bussing. Elliot states he was a very proud man when being sashed by Jackie and that it was a magical moment.

Reflecting on her involvement in this poignant, historical ceremony, Jackie said: “The Bussing of the Colours is something very special and you have rehearsals before the actual Colour-Bussing night.

“I was very nervous and excited as a lot of the focus is on the Cornet’s Lass. Everything went just perfect, though, and it was a great pleasure and thrill to perform these duties.”

Another highlight for Elliot was the Friday of the Common-Riding. “Walking in The Hut on the Friday morning in my green jacket and top hat was really something special. I got an amazing reception and I felt on top of the world.”

Much more was to come for Elliot, however, for on leaving St Leonards he rode the marches with his mounted supporters to cut the sod.

This, for Elliot, was a treasured time. “Riding the marches and cutting the sod gave me a real buzz.

“For me this is what the Common-Riding is all about as it is such a historical custom.

“A then record of 307 horses rode the marches that day and this made it even more exciting. I still get a buzz just thinking back about it.”

Elliot also recalls a great day at the Mair and attending two balls during the evening. The main ball being staged in the town hall and a secondary one at Humphrey’s.

Elliot’s Common-Riding Saturday was hit by atrocious weather, of which he comments: “It was really wet and there was a howling gale, and the top tent was nearly blown away.

“We didn’t let the weather get us down, though, and still had a great time. The only sad thing was the handing back of the Flag to the honorary provost and council at the town hall as I was highly charged with emotion.”

Summing up his time as Cornet, Elliot said: “Jackie and I had the time of our lives as Cornet and Cornet’s Lass and this will always be with us. It was just a fantastic experience for both of us.”

Answering that knock on the door on that certain Wednesday evening in May 25 years ago was certainly worthwhile for Elliot.