The History of Hawick
Located at the meeting of the rivers Teviot and Slitrig, in fertile valley land, it is probable that the spot where Hawick now stands was inhabited in prehistory, and nearby there are indeed a standing stone and a probable burial mound which date from at least the Bronze Age. But the town is thought to have its origins in the 11th century, its name suggesting an Anglo- Saxon foundation – the name denoting a settlement near hawthorn.
The Lovel family, Norman nobility, were its overlords after the Conquest , their power base at first a motte (still to be seen) surrounded by a ditch and topped with a wooden tower, replaced with a stone fortification in the 12th century. The settlement was of local and regional significance, guarding a bridge crossing the Slitrig, but also on the ancient road between Carlisle and Edinburgh , and another leading to Berwick .
St Mary’s Church was built in Hawick in 1214, its most (in)famous moment coming in 1342 when Sir Alexander Ramsay was captured by a jealous rival, Sir William Douglas, who resented the honours heaped on Ramsay for defeating the English and recapturing Douglas’s castle at Roxburgh. Ramsay was imprisoned and starved to death in Hermitage Castle , his end delayed by the doomed man eating tiny quantities of grain that fell through the floor of the granary above his dungeon.
Sitting in the Borders Hawick inevitably has a history littered with clashes with the English, the most celebrated of these being the Battle of Hornshole Bridge in 1514, when men from the town intercepted a party of English raiders. The Hawick men triumphed, and captured the English flag, an event commemorated in the annual Common Riding , a symbolic event now famed as a massive party. Another such incursion in 1570 by the Earl of Sussex saw several buildings burned down in Hawick.
Hawick’s status, overshadowed by then larger towns in the area, changed when in 1537 Sir James Douglas granted it a charter confirming certain rights including holding a market, the documents which had earlier established similar rights having seemingly been destroyed in an English raid. Mary Queen of Scots eight years later confirmed his action.
The 18th century in Hawick was a more peaceful and prosperous era. St Mary’s was rebuilt in 1763, largely funded by the Duke of Buccleuch; and in 1771 the hosiery industry which was soon booming in the town was launched with the arrival of the stocking frame. From that beginning the knitwear business that still flourishes in the area developed, its most famous name – Pringle – founded in 1815.
The arrival of the railway in 1849, linking Hawick with Edinburgh, and another line to Carlisle 13 years later, further helped the town’s economic growth. Sadly Beeching’s axe fell on the town’s rail links in 1969.
In the sporting world Hawick is synonymous with Borders’ rugby, the seeds for its rugby club sown perhaps incongruously by members of its Cricket Club in December 1873 when they began playing the winter game; Hawick Rugby Football Club was actually established in 1885, and since that date has produced more than 50 Scottish internationals, among them greats like Tony Stanger, Colin Deans, and Jim Renwick, though perhaps the club’s most famous son was a player whose career was hampered by illness, but who though he never represented his country went on to become one of the game’s immortals, namely commentator Bill McLaren – who also coached all three of those Hawick and Scotland legends listed above.