How Hornshole sparked Hawick Common Riding

Alistair Moff signs his book at a special signing in Hawick
Alistair Moff signs his book at a special signing in Hawick

Lord Home and the Earl of Huntly had been instrumental at the Battle of Flodden. They led the battalion of the left wing of the Scottish forces and had been first to engage.

Following an initial skirmish with Lord Dacre’s troops, they became detached from the main Scottish force and could only watch as the tide of history turned against the beleaguered Scottish host. They cut their losses and fled the scene, a huge number of borderers followed their lead.

A year later and English raiding parties were common in the border region – here’s what Alistair Moffat has to say about the Battle of Hornshole in 1514, what is most likely the origin of the Common Riding.

This week’s book extract -


Under the patronage of Lord Thomas Dacre, the Cumbrian baron whose cavalry had driven off Home and Huntly the year before, a group of raiders had been encouraged to take advantage of the victory at Flodden. In 1514, Dacre sent a despatch to Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s principal minister saying,

‘There was never so much mischief, robbery, spoiling and vengeance in Scotland as there is now, without hope of remedy, which I pray our Lord God to continue.’

And it did. A party of English horsemen had corralled a pack of stolen beasts at Hornshole, on the banks of the Teviot two miles east of Hawick. The place name probably derives from Heron’s Hole, a favoured fishing place for those elegant birds once memorably described as Presbyterian flamingos. Other possible meanings are Orm’s Hole, after the same Anglian lord who gave his name to Ormiston, or Orm’s Tun.

Less likely is Hornie’s Hole, a deep dwelling place for the Devil – although diabolical doings are an understandable association with the times local people were living in. Perhaps the advancing English raiders planned to assault the village and the farms around that stretch of the Teviot.

A powerful oral tradition recounts that a party of young men from Hawick mustered and, at night, attacked the enemy encampment. Called ‘callants’ (an unusual term, cognate to the Latin verb calere, ‘to warm’, and probably carrying the sense ‘hotheads’), they are said to have scattered the raiding party and captured their flag.

Where documentary history is silent or lost, the imagination of the great Hawick poet, James Hogg, rushed in to fill the vacuum. Here is his description of events at Hornshole followed by the rousing chorus of ‘Teribus’:

All were sunk in deep dejection,

None to flee to for protection;

Till some youths who stayed from Flodden,

Rallied up by Teriodin.

Armed with sword with bow and quiver,

Shouting ‘Vengeance now or never’,

Off they marched in martial order

Down by Teviot’s flowery border.

Nigh where Teviot falls sonorous

Into Hornshole dashing furious,

Lay their foes with spoil encumbered;

All was still, each sentry slumbered.

Hawick destroyed, their slaughtered sires –

Scotia’s wrongs each bosom fires –

On they rush to be victorious,

Or to fall in battle glorious.

Down they threw their bows and arrows,

Drew their swords like veteran heroes,

Charged their foe with native valour,

Routed them and took their colour.

Now with spoil and honours laden,

Well revenged for native Flodden,

Home they marched, this flag displaying –

Teribus before them playing.

Teribus ye Teri Odin,

Sons of heroes slain at Flodden,

Imitating Border bowmen.

Aye defend your rights and Common.

Much has been made of this incident – indeed, some would argue that the complex traditions of Hawick’s Common Riding are built on it. Encouraged by Hogg’s skill, there is a widely held belief that the young callants or hotheads were somehow taking revenge for ‘the sons of Hawick who fell at Flodden’ and that the village and surrounding area had been emptied of older men – those who had died in battle a year before.

Much more likely is that many of the local lairds had been killed – the Douglases of Hawick and Cavers had certainly suffered loss but other notables had as well – and, in military terms, the community lacked leadership. It is important to grasp what this meant. As Baron of Hawick, Sir William Douglas owned the village (it was not yet a town) and much of the land around it. The inhabitants owed him services – almost all of them related to food production of one sort or another. Douglas had absolute power over his tenants and he would not have hesitated to assert it by force.

Equally, he and his household would have protected their assets, the village and the neighbouring farmland, by force. But, in 1514, it is very likely that central authority in Hawick, Cavers and elsewhere had been cut to pieces on Flodden field and whoever was left in Drumlanrig’s Tower was female, very young or too powerless to take any initiative.

In these unusual circumstances, a much more attractive interpretation of the events that led to Hornshole suggests itself. Instead of cowering, waiting for the attack or fleeing into the hills, the callants acted on their own initiative to protect their people and what property they had. Without the need for aristocratic direction, they acted together in the common interest – aye defend your rights and Common!

It was the beginning of a long, proud and immensely impressive tradition of Hawick helping herself.