Margaret Chisholm

Margaret, who is in her nineties, has lived in Stow since the age of 12. Her father ran the Springbank Inn, where there were music sessions every Saturday night.


My maiden name is Learmonth. My father ran the Springbank Inn. I was twelve when we came to Stow, so I went to the school here for a couple of years. I'd a grumbling appendix at the time so I couldn't travel very far. I was meant to go to Edinburgh but then the war broke out, so it never happened. The headteacher was Mr Purves. I was scared of him. He lost his head easily. We used to have singsongs in the home. My mother's people were like that. My mother's brother was a violinist and had a small orchestra in Newton Grange.

Geordie Easton was one of the men who came into the pub regularly. He was a married man. He'd a daughter I believe. His wife was a pianist. She played in dance bands which took her away quite a bit and I think this separated them. He just sort of let himself go after that. He'd an artificial leg which he made himself. He was a rabbit trapper and tramping over the hills the legs he was given were forever breaking so he made one out of the stump of a tree. His daughter was married but I never met her. He caught rabbits and during the war they'd quite a good trade. He did mole trapping too. First of all, he lived up Cowbrae Hill, opposite the main road near Middleton. Then latterly, that house is gone now, down past Bowland. He was quite well brought up because his table manners were very good you know. If he was taking a piece of bread he was very careful. I think I'm right in saying his mother had a Temperance hotel. He was quite a character. He played the violin, or I should say he sawed through it, more like it. I remember one night, it was when the festival was on in Edinburgh (my dad told me about it), two gentlemen came in, quite well-dressed men, and Dad always had two violins hanging up for anyone to play, because we had a singsong every Saturday night. They took down the instruments and tuned them up (they needed a lot of tuning) and they started playing. They'd a fabulous night. They were members of one of the big orchestras that were at the festival. Well, next time Geordie was in, he took down the fiddle.....”It's needing tinned,” he said (in other words it's needing tuned) and they'd had it perfect. That was Geordie!

On a Saturday night they had a singsong in one of the rooms. He wasn't always there on a Saturday night. It was a good night because the women from the houses opposite used to sit on the dyke outside and listen. It was very well organized. My father was very strict. He wouldn't have any bad language or anything like that. I found a poem about it which I'll show you. I haven't been able to find out who wrote it, but it was obviously someone who used to come because it's all about the Saturday nights. Killochyett Inn was the original name of it I believe and the people who came before us they changed it to Springbank Inn. But it's not doing anything at all now. They've just let it go. My father ran it for 24 years. He was a grocer before he came to Stow. His grandfather had the shop before him. Where we were there was going to be some slum clearance and that. He just happened to be in the lawyers one day. The lawyer said, “I've got the very thing for you Mr Learmonth.” Apparently, the man that Dad bought it from …... it was the same lawyer. So that was it. It had never even been advertised.

We came to Stow in 1939. We were here during the war. Dad played the organ himself. He had occasionally relieved some of his pals who were playing in the kirk, but he mainly played it at home. I remember some of those you came to the Saturday nights. There was Will Renwick, he was a retired farmer; Charlie Montgomery, he was the dental surgeon; Nick Young, he worked at Middleton at the farm. There were three or four used to come up from Gala too. One of them was engaged and I'm not quite sure if his fiance took ill and died before the wedding or whether they got married and then she died. He was a lovely singer and he always sang, 'I'll Take you Home Again Kathleen.' Kathleen was her name. Every time he sang it there were tears running down his cheeks. Those men came regularly every Saturday night.

Geordie Easton came between the Royal Hotel and our place. Some of the men used to take advantage of him. I remember one time somebody had cut a piece out of some green cardboard and took the money out of his wallet and put that in instead. Another time he came into our place and he had just been paid for his rabbits and a wad fell out of his pocket and he didn't notice it. My dad picked it up and put it in an envelope and sealed it and he said to the men, “Now you know I've got that money for him and I'll give it to him when he's needing it.” We always knew if he asked for a pint of beer he hadn't very much money. He liked to have a whisky and a beer you see.

Another time he was way up at Craigend where there are two cottages. Jimmy Mullins lived there. Him and Geordie had been on the drink. They got half way up and Geordie lay down. Jimmy couldn't get him up, so he left him and went on home. Next morning Jimmy remembered he'd left him on the road. He went down and there was Geordie still asleep with the rain bucketing down. He was a very strong man. He always used to say he spoke Gaelic. My cousin's wife was a fluent gaelic speaker. I was scared to ask her in case it was something rude. Anyway, she said I don't know what it is but it's not Gaelic he's speaking. He was a nice-looking man, but his teeth were horrible.

Stow is not the place it used to be. Of course, there are so many new houses now. At one time I could have started at the top of the Brae and told you who lived in every house. There's lots now who just commute up to Edinburgh and they've not much interest in the village. When Dad retired, we moved into number 9 Cockholm Crescent and Jim lived here, number 15. He was a widower. I moved in here when we were married. We'd too much between us for one house. We decided to throw out all the chipped crockery. We got this big box and there used to be a skip on the quoiting green. We went down, and we had to heave it up because it was quite full. The next night we brought down the rest. We hadn't realized they had come and emptied it. When we threw the stuff in there was a huge crash.

During the war Jim was away in the air force. His father was The Beagle at the church. Another thing they did in those days was when someone had died the grave digger would come around all the houses to tell them that the person had died. There were a lot of those old-fashioned ideas in Stow, but the war finished all that. My husband worked in the mill before he went away to the air force. When he came back, he travelled for household supplies. Eventually he was manager there. And then they were taken over by another firm. Next, he worked in the Co-op as a buyer for furniture and that.

During the war they used to have whist drives and beetle drives and things like that. I think there was a drama group and it was to do with the Women's Rural. I used to enjoy the plays they put on. There were some good singers too. They always used to sing the same songs. There was Eilidh Pringle and her father….. He was a good singer too. Then there was Isobel's uncle, Jock Anderson. Sometimes they sang duets. Hunting Tower and things like this.

There was the Girl's Guildry and Boy's Brigade. Mr Waugh started the Bbs and Mrs Waugh had the Girl's Guildry. I was one of the original ones from the Guildry. The policeman, Mr Millen was one of the originals of the pipe band. If we had a parade or something, we used to get the BBs from Selkirk with their pipes and drums and we had our own pipe band. It was quite fun. Catherine Hunter and I ran the Life Buoys for a long time. I had to give it up when my mother took ill.

At Torsonce House they had The Tattoo. That was fabulous. Really for a small village it was fantastic. My brother in law, Archie Chisholm, did the lighting for it. He was head electrician at Fairgrieves'. They used to come from far and near for it. Agnes Watson, her husband Jack, he had the boys brigade and they did things for it. They used to march from the town hall, the Home Guard, the Fire brigade, the Observer Corps, The Guildry, Life Buoys, BBs. They marched with the pipe band down the A7 and up to Torsonce. The big bit in front of the house, that was where it was held.

The Royal hotel had a hall as well as the town hall. Sometimes, during the war, we couldn't get into the town hall. At one time they had soldiers stationed in the town hall for training in the hills and things, so we couldn't get the town hall then nor when the home guard were in there. If it was nice weather, we did a lot in front of the Manse. It was Wedale house then, not the Manse on the main road. The other church was there then, The United Free church. It was a nice little church.

When we came to Stow the Manor Head was a non-licenced hotel. I think it was women who ran it. Originally it was Dr. Middleton’s house and surgery. They gave that up and then the two Miss Middletons came back, and they were staying there. They were there during the war because they were billeting officers. They'd to find accommodation for evacuees. Although their house was huge they didn't take any themselves although they'd more children than they could find places for. Then people called Baker took the place over. He was Polish, but he took a British name. He was a chef and his wife did the other bit. They hadn't been there very long when one of the waitresses came to my house and asked me to call into the Manor Head. I didn't like to go in by myself, so Dad came in with me. Someone used to help her on a Saturday night and his wife was having a baby. He was going to be off for a bit and she asked would I help her. The first time I went in Mrs Baker wasn't well, so I took over. I was like a bull in a china shop. I'd no idea what I was doing and no idea of prices. I remember my first customer from Mill House was Commander Walker. He said, “What are you doing here?” I stayed with them until they sold up.

Jim Connor that came next, he was a farmer from Lanarkshire. He asked would I help. I said I'd come down the first week and give a hand. He hadn't a clue because he had never done it before. I ended up doing it for quite a long time until I was married. There were quite a few after that, and now it's back into a house again.

When we came to Stow and to the Springbank, the butcher was next door. Opposite, there were steps up and that was the bakers. Another one had a wee Grocer’s. That was up at the end of Lee Place. Then come down Lee Place and there was Smith the draper. Go on down towards the Mill road, that was Portus the Grocer. Then you can go down to the mill of course. Then carry on right down to Stow and there was a big Draper’s at the cross roads that turned into a cafe later. There was the Blacksmith’s on the corner of Townfoot. Then there was the post office followed by Maggie Hegg's sweetie shop. Ovens the grocer, he'd vans on the road. The baker and the butcher both had vans on the road. Then further up Margaret Ovens had a big linen shop. Then going up the Brae, Miss Hope had a Draper shop, and around the corner, Mrs Clark had sweeties and things. Further up there was what they said was a chemist, but they didn't prescribe or anything like that. There were loads of vans but now there's no vans no shops and nothing. A fishwife used to come from Musselburgh every week. She got the train down. It was lovely fish too. A woman used to about mutton dressed as lamb....... She had a suitcase with all homemade tablet. She'd say, “I've got ginger, I've got coconut....” She came down on the train from Edinburgh as well. Then the train went off……… and now we have it back again.

A mother and daughter had a wee part of the town hall where they lived, two rooms or something like that. They looked after the hall...Elsie Blakey and her mother.

Margaret’s memories of the people mentioned in the poem about the Springbank Inn

Davy Darling was retired at that time. He lived in Stow. Wull Renwick was a retired farmer from Bowshank. There used to be at Killochyett where Dr. Simpson used to live and where the butcher’s shop used to be …. in that opening, there was a Joiner’s workshop, but there was a wee house too and he retired into that and lived on his own. He was a bachelor. Wullie Cairns lived up the town Brae. There’s a big building with steps up to one of them and then one underneath. It was one of the ones underneath.

Both Jock Brown and Davie Brown lived at what we called the Muirhouses on the main road between Killochyett and Stow. They weren’t related. Jock Brown before he lived there, he lived up at the top of the town. Davie Brown worked for Fairgrieves as a mechanic.

Nick Young worked at Middletoon Farm at Fountainhall.

Wattie Douglas I think would be from Muirhouse Farm.

Mrs Cheeseley was our barmaid. She was a very good weaver. She worked in the mill. They used to weave shirting material for Edinburgh, Duke of Kent and all that - and she got that job because she was the best. She was very good. She was a very hard-working woman. She worked at the mill starting at seven o’clock in the morning until about five o’clock or whatever – that was from Monday to Friday. On a Saturday she came into us at five o’clock and worked until ten or eleven at night after cleaning up and everything. Then Ewan Weirs, he had the Royal Hotel at the time. He also had Clovenfords. He used to come and collect her on Sunday morning. She worked there all Sunday. She got home at night ready to start work at the mill the next morning. She was a hard- working woman. She had a daughter. She was grown up by the time I knew her. She lived at Town head again. That’s the Earlston Rd right at the very top. It was called the Brae then.

Bob the boss was my dad.