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Social life in Hawick and Melrose in 1866: a comparison

The following article was written as an essay for the Open University course DA301: "Studying Family and Community History: 19th and 20th centuries". As such it wasn't written for a general readership, but may be of interest to people with ancestors living in Hawick or Melrose in 1866.

The content was dictated by the question set to the students, which went roughly as follows:

"Compare two different localities (or one locality at two contrasting points in time) for which you have access to relevant sources, in relation to a particular issue discussed in the current section of the course material, paying special attention to the critical evaluation of the sources used."


For this research project I decided to investigate social and cultural activities in Hawick and Melrose in Roxburghshire. My goal was to compare activities in the two towns, considering similarities and differences. The chosen research strategy was questioning-sources, and the chosen source an 1866 directory covering the two towns.

In 1861, Hawick's population according to the official census reports was 8191 compared with Melrose at 1141. Figure 1 shows their geographical positions, together with other major towns in the south of Scotland and far north of England:


Figure 1: Map showing locations of Hawick and Melrose

Evaluation of the source

As with any source there are a number of questions to consider when evaluating the directory's suitability for this historical research: when was the source produced, by whom, for what purpose, how was it compiled, and how relevant is it? The Southern Counties' Register and Directory was published in 1866 by J. & J.H. Rutherfurd of Kelso. Their aim was to "compile a publication which might interest, and be of use to, all classes of the community" (Southern Counties' Register and Directory, p. iii). The directory covered three Scottish Border counties, with the following for each parish: (1) description, census statistics, landowners etc.; (2) lists of local officials, institutions, societies, and doctors, lawyers, postal information etc.; (3) street directory of residents.

One of the most important issues of any source is its relevance to the research. Here the aim is to examine the social and cultural activities in two different localities. How can the directory help to tackle this? Although the first section of each parish provides useful background information, and the third section lists many of the inhabitants, the middle section of each parish's entry is probably the most useful since it includes details of local societies and other organisations. Figure 2 shows an example from Hawick:

Open on Saturdays-Admittance, 2d.
Patron-His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry.
Vice-Presidents-Robert Michie and James Hogg.
Secy.-David Watson. Treas.-John Guthrie, Bridge Street.
Curator of Museum- John Turnbull, Melgund Place.
James Bunyan, Conservator.
Annual Subscription, 2s. 6d.; Life, 1 pound.

Figure 2: Example of society listing in 1866 Rutherfurd's
Southern Counties' Register and Directory (p.316)

Here we have information about Hawick Archaeological Society, including when it was established, the patron and some of its committee members (all men, at least the ones shown). We learn that the society has a museum, is open on Saturdays, and has a curator and conservator. We also learn how much it cost to visit and join the society. Can such society information be used as a measure or indicator of social activities?

In addition to general questions specific sources require additional considerations. With directories a key issue is accuracy of compilation (Drake and Finnegan, 1994, pp. 60-61). The directory's content was only as reliable as the people who provided it, and could be inaccurate, incomplete, or out-of-date. Perhaps confidence can be taken from the special praise in the directory foreword for the "lists" sections of Hawick and Melrose. In addition, material for the directory was gathered after Spring 1864, again according to the foreword. It could be out of date, but hopefully no more so than that.

Relation to other work

Having analysed the directory's contents, the next step was to look at relevant work by other researchers. As part of their research into social life in the Oxfordshire town of Banbury (Golby, 1994, pp. 200-201) Trinder and Stacey compiled lists of societies, under categories like Sports Clubs etc. It occurred to me that categorising the societies of Hawick and Melrose in 1866 might enable a useful comparison of the two towns. Rather than invent new categories I started from Stacey's set which had the advantage of a detailed explanation in the course material of the categories (Golby, 1994, p. 202).

Difficulties were encountered however. Even with the explanations I could not understand the difference between Stacey's "Social Service" and "Charity" categories so merged them. Secondly I was sometimes unsure which category to use for a society; in such cases I tried to act consistently for both towns. Finally Stacey's categories did not seem to cover religious societies or political and social reforming ones, both types found in Hawick and Melrose. To handle these I added two new categories.

Results of comparison

Figure 3 shows the societies recorded in the directory for the two towns, sorted into the nine categories modified from Stacey's original set of eight as explained earlier.

Hawick Melrose
Sport Angling Club
Bowling Club
Cricket Club
Coursing Club
Curling Club
Cricket Club
Curling Club
Hobbies Archaeological Society
West-Teviotdale Agricultural Society
Horticultural Society
Ornithological Society
Agricultural Society
Horticultural and Floral Society
Cultural Reading Room
Library [W]
Eclectic Book Club
Saxhorn Band
Association for conducting Popular Lectures
Public Library
Association for Promotion of Fine Arts in Scotland
2 book clubs [W]
Mutual Improvement Society
Social St James's Lodge of Free Masons
St John's Lodge of Free Masons
St John's Lodge of Free Masons
Social Service / Charity Female Clothing Society [W]
Dorcas Society [W]
Vagrant Relief Society [W]
Mutual Aid Foresters' Annual Benefit Society
Young Women's Yearly Deposit and Sick Society [W]
William Wilson & Sons' Society
No 1 Society
Nixon & M'Kie's Society
W. Elliot's Factory
Wm. Watson & Son's Society
Yearly Friendly Society
Occupational Farmers' Club
Teviotdale Farmers' Club
Farmers' Club
Sabbath School Teachers' Union
Religious National Bible Society
Colporteur Mission
Young Men's Christian Association
Bible Society
Scottish Protestant Association
London City Mission [W]
Colportage Association
London Tract Society
Political and social reform Auxiliary to United Kingdom Alliance and Temperance Association
Total Abstinence Society
Total Abstinence Society

Figure 3: Voluntary associations in Hawick and Melrose (Roxburghshire) recorded in Rutherfurd's Southern Counties' Register and Directory published in 1866 [Note: W = recorded as involving (totally or in part) women participants]

Looking at the table there are many similarities: both towns according to the directory had cricket and curling clubs, agricultural and horticultural societies, libraries, book clubs, farmers' clubs, masonic lodges, bible societies, and abstinence societies. Equally there are differences, for example Hawick had extra sports clubs (angling, coursing and bowling) and other societies Melrose did not have (ornithological society, archaeological society, saxhorn band). By contrast Melrose had societies for popular lectures and fine arts, but Hawick seemingly did not. Perhaps the most striking difference is Hawick's seven mutual aid associations, compared with Melrose's one.

Before comparing the towns further it is worth recalling that we are only seeing through the directory's eyes. As explained earlier the information in the directory could be out-of-date, inaccurate or incomplete. In addition it misses informal bodies, or one-off activities. As Golby commented in his study of Eynsham in Oxfordshire in 1851: "many cultural activities would have been informal ones" (Golby, 1994, p.198). So we are only seeing part of the picture, but can arguably still examine it for clues.

It seems likely that some of the observed differences between the towns would have arisen from Hawick's larger population, with potentially more interests to satisfy. This could explain the extra sporting societies and may also have contributed to the larger number of mutual aid societies in Hawick, though that was probably also influenced by the growing textile industry: Hawick was one of the major textile centres in Scotland (Whatley, 1997, p 28). Given Melrose's smaller population it may seem surprising that its number of societies is not smaller than it is, at least on the evidence of the directory.

Something specifically noted in the table above was the participation of women. The reason was Golby's comment about Eynsham in 1851 that he "found no references to cultural activities in which women were specifically involved" (Golby, 1994, p.198) whereas in Hawick and Melrose I found many references in the directory to female participation, e.g. the librarian at Hawick, women's charity work in both towns, and the mutual aid association for women workers in Hawick. Even if a society's entry did not mention women they could still be involved, although probably not in every case.


In this project a questioning-sources strategy was used with a single main source to compare social activities in two towns, Hawick and Melrose. Local societies in a local directory of 1866 were categorised, using a scheme based on that of another researcher, and the results compared. Similarities and differences were noted, and reasons for some of these suggested. Participation of women was also explored, motivated by differences with the findings of another researcher investigating a different locality in 1851.

One drawback with this mini project was that the single source could have given an incomplete picture of social activities, for reasons outlined earlier. In a longer study other sources such as local newspapers, census returns and published accounts of social life in the two towns could be used with the directory to give a fuller picture.

Published sources consulted

Rutherfurd's Southern Counties' Register and Directory, first published at Kelso in 1866 by J & J.H. Rutherfurd, reprinted in facsimile form in 1990 by Borders Regional Library

Census of Scotland, 1861, Population Tables Vol IV: Parliamentary and royal burghs, towns, and villages of Scotland, 1861, British Parliamentary Papers, 1862, vol. L.


Drake, M. and Finnegan, R. (eds) (1994) Sources and methods for family and community historians: a handbook, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Golby, J. (ed) (1994) Communities and families, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Whatley, C.A. (1997) The Industrial Revolution in Scotland, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (New Studies in Economic and Social History, number 30).

Copyright © Vivienne S Dunstan 1999
Last updated 22nd November 2005

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