On the Ba'

IN the nip and tuck of excitement over recent hand ba' days at Jethart, Denholm and Hobkirk, it should not be forgotten that Hawick - up until 1939 - had a well established Ba' too.

IN the nip and tuck of excitement over recent hand ba' days at Jethart, Denholm and Hobkirk, it should not be forgotten that Hawick - up until 1939 - had a well established Ba' too.

Although now more or less forgotten, Hawick's Ba' was equally as important to the local community.

While Jethart's Fastern's E'en Ba' dates back through the mists of time and Hobkirk and Denholm's were established years before, Hawick staged its first Ba' in 1842.

Like the Jethart version it, over the years, was slammed as dangerous by the Town Council, the police, and even the church, who tried to stop it, the annual event took place either at the end of February or at the beginning of March for almost one hundred years.

The beginning of the Second World War brought the ancient game to a halt in 1939 and, following the turmoil of Hitler, it was never revived.

Unlike Jethart Ba' where each year shopkeepers board up their windows to avoid accidents caused by over enthused ba' players in the main streets, the Hawick game was played away from the town centre in and around Commercial Road and the waters of the River Teviot.

The battle for glory and prestige was between the West Enders and the East Enders and rivalry was always fierce.

Originally the West Enders had to hail a ba' over the roof of what was the Toll Bar at the Common Haugh end of Commercial Road, while the Easter Enders hailed theirs opposite Dickson and Laing's mill where the old town boundary crossed the river.

In the early 1850s, however, due to development in the area, the goals were changed with the hailing points being the Cobble Cauld for the West Enders and under the arches of the Railway Bridge for the East Enders.

Sixty three years may have gone since Hawick had its final ba' day but for some townsfolk its memory still lingers on.

None more so that in the mind of 85-year-old Arthur Slorance, 24 Oliver Park, who was the last man to hail a Hawick ba'.

Reflecting back on this long gone day, Arthur says: "I stayed in Allars Crescent at the time and was in the West End side and we did really well that day in hailing the four balls which were put up.

"I worked at Houston the Bakers and went straight to the ba' after finishing a shift along with my friend George Harrow who also worked beside me.

"I remember it was raining and the river was quite high but this didn't stop people going into the water, even George and myself who still had our working clothes on.

"George hailed the first ba', Wull Berridge got the second and I managed to get the last two.

"I had played the game for a few years and had never hailed a ba' before. I remember being really thrilled to have hailed two."

As in the Ba' events that have survived, Hawick ba's were sponsored by local businesses and one of the main prizes to be sought was the Kings Cinema ba' as the hailer received a free pass for the "pictures" for a year.

On that last day, however, the "Hawick News" put up the first two ba's at five shillings each. The Commercial Road Workers sponsored the third at seven and sixpence, while the fourth and top prize was eight parcels of butcher meat from Dod Ormiston the Butcher.

Speaking of the prizes he lifted, Arthur comments: "I treated my pals to a few drinks in the Douglas Arms with my seven and sixpence on the night that the ba' finished. I then went to Dod Ormiston's shop in Commercial Road for the parcels of butcher meat and this was a great prize as I came from a big family.

"The parcels had everything in them and I could only carry half of them. When I went back for the rest though, they had gone. Someone else had gone in and lifted them and I've never found out to this day who that someone was."

Although physical, the ba' game was not all rough and tumble and Arthur recalls: "In that game in 1939 the West Enders were pretty organised. A lot of the action took place in the Haugh, and we had players stationed at various points and there were some good passing movements.

"It was through a move like this that we hailed the last ba'. I first got the ba' at the Albert Bridge and it was then transferred up the river bank. The ba' then landed in the river at the side of the Cots Pool and although the water was quite deep I jumped in and managed to throw it over the Cauld. Little did I know then that I would be the last man to do this."

Times have changed a great deal since that last ba' was thrown over the cauld into the sweeping waters of the Teviot.

Hawick Ba' may be long gone but the game is still very much part of the history of this grey auld toon of ours, and in its own way will always be with us.