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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Robert Tweedie of West Hopes


ONE among many well-known and notable farmers, who frequented Haddington market fifty or sixty years ago, was Mr Robert Tweedie, tenant of Longnewton, and afterwards of West Hopes. Mounted on a thick-set, short-legged cob, fit to carry twenty stones weight or more, a stranger might easily have picked up the fact that Mr Tweedie was a man of no ordinary character, of more than usual girth of body. Short-legged, and stout in all his proportions —like a short, thick, sturdy oak tree standing apart from its fellows in a nobleman’s policy—he was a man of almost herculean strength. Dressed in top-boots, blue coat with yellow buttons, light vest, and broad-rimmed hat, the usual dress of a gentleman at that time, he was a perfect facsimile of the print of a British yeoman which Punch delights in picturing as “John Bull.” Punchy indeed, many years ago, somewhere about 1840, in one of its numbers had a portrait entitled “A Stout Scotch Farmer,” which intimate friends of Mr Tweedie at once recognised as his identical likeness. Punch's artist, believed to be a Mr Firth, had picked him up when walking about Edinburgh.

Portraits of him and his brother John, a W.S. in Edinburgh, also appear in Kay's Portraits, both as like as life.

Robert Tweedie was a perfect gentleman of the highest and strictest honour, without a grain of hypocrisy or sophistry. He spoke as he thought. He could not endure to do a mean or dishonourable action, nor would he allow without a bitter reprimand a breach of good-manners, or hypocritical conduct from any of his friends and acquaintances. Most hospitable and kind to all friends, strangers, and servants, Mr Tweedie lived for over forty years in East Lothian, highly respected and honoured by a numerous circle of friends, among whom were all the elite of the tenant-farmers of East Lothian.

Mr Tweedie came originally from the parish of Tweedsmuir, in Peeblesshire, where his ancestors were long the respected tenants of the farm of Dreva.

He was fond and proud of telling of his ancestors. When in a happy company, and a little excited, he sometimes narrated an old legend ks to the origin of the family name of Tweedie, viz :—“In ancient times, some nymphs, beautiful creatures, were bathing in a pool of the Tweed near Dreva, when Jupiter looking down from the skies espied them, and embraced one of them. A son in due time was born, who was called Tweedie.”

The Tweedys of Dreva were celebrated in Border warfare three hundred years ago. An account of them will be found in Veitch’s Border Antiquities and Archaeological Researches published some years ago.

Mr Tweedie was tenant of the farm of Longnewton for nineteen years. There were many bad and late years both for cereals and stock during the currency of his lease, and he was wont to tell how for many years he lost one pound per day in it. He left Longnewton somewhere about 1822, and was succeeded by the late Mr Adam Skirving. He afterwards entered into a lease of West Hopes, on the Yester estate, which he left about 1836.

Mr Tweedie became tenant of West Hopes somewhere about 1822, and left it about 1835 or '36, so he had summered and wintered it for a good many years, and had ample experience of the winter snows and the summer suns. Some of his friends visiting him on a fine summer day were expatiating on the beauty of the scenery around him. “Yes,” said Mr Tweedie, “it is a beautiful place in summer; but in winter you do not see the sun for three months, and we are often blocked up with snow for a much longer period, and you seldom see the face of a friend. It is a solitary place, entirely out of the world; you cannot get to Haddington for weeks."

A remark made by a farmer, who said of a high, hilly place in Gala Water, that they “ had often nine months of winter and three of cold weather,” may perhaps be well applied to Hopes.

Mr Tweedie was a most hospitable man, and was always glad to see the face of a friend, “forbye” a stranger. He frequently used to look out for travellers coming down the hill-sides, and when he espied one he called to his old faithful housekeeper, Kirsty Kennedy, and said to her, “ Kirsty, I see a person coming down the hill; you’d better put the kettle on and give him some refreshment, for no doubt he will be cold, tired, and hungry.” Mr Tweedie was never slack in entertaining, in his old-fashioned farm-house, both “gentle and semple.” His kindness of heart was well known.

West Hopes being entirely a high, hilly place, Mr Tweedie kept a large stock of black-faced sheep. His three-year-old wedders were of the strongest and best quality, and brought high prices when fed off in the Lowlands ; the superior quality of the mutton was well known in butcher markets.

At clipping and dipping times, when strong wild hill sheep were often obstreperous in gathering, often having been driven to and fro by the “dougs,” they were ill to be placed in the bughts, or shiels, Mr Tweedie used to show his strength of body, by taking the strongest of the flock by the horns, and lifting him bodily into the bughts, or enclosures — feats of which his herds used often to speak.

Mr Tweedie was naturally a man of mild and kind temper, but when he was meddled with, and thought that he was treated uncivilly, or his property injured or interfered with, he was not slack, like other high-minded gentlemen, in asserting his rights and bringing aggressors to their senses. A well-authenticated story is told of him in this respect. An English gentleman, who lived for some years in the county, kept a pack of harriers. He had got Lord Tweeddale’s permission to come on the Hopes and neighbouring hills. He had frequently with his dogs disturbed and scattered Mr Tweedie’s black-faced sheep, after which scattering they would not settle for days. The herds had often complained to Mr Tweedie of the damages the harriers were doing, and also to their owners, without effect. Mr Tweedie gave orders to his herds that when the dogs appeared again, they should let him know directly. One day, onfe of his herds came to apprise Mr T. that the pack was on the hill again. He ordered his stout pony to be instantly saddled, and taking a thick riding-whip with him, rode up the hill, and confronted the trespasser.

The gentleman took the first word of flyting, and told Mr T. that he had Lord Tweeddale’s leave to course on his hills, but that he would pay any damages the dogs did to his sheep. *Damages!” Mr Tweedie indignantly replied, “Damages, you fellow. I will damage your hide first!” and soon laid over his legs and back with his whip so fast and ruthlessly, that he cried out for mercy, and said that he would go away with his dogs.

The gentleman, his companions, and dogs never came back to the Hopes ground, having received a chastisement to be long remembered.

It has long been a common remark in Haddington, that farmers who have the longest and roughest roads to go home, are generally the last to leave their clubs on a Friday night Mr T. was no exception to this general remark, and the practice was a very natural one, considering that he was a very happy man in company, and enjoyed the society and friendship of the best families in Haddington. His stout, steady, and surefooted cob always took him safe home in a dark night, although he had steep “snabs” to climb and go down at Harley Bum and the Knock Hill, and had to cross the Hopes Burn several times. His faithful servant Kirstie was always glad to see him safe home. Mr Tweedie was never married. He used often to say of Kirstie that she was a good, faithful creature, although she was sometimes rather hot in the temper, which temper was indeed in the family blood. She had a brother a sergeant in the 42d regiment, who fought at Waterloo and was wounded ; and after he was wounded and lying on the field of battle, sick and faint, killed three Frenchmen who had attacked him.

Mr Tweedie used to attend the dinners of the East Lothian Agricultural Society at Haddington, in the George or Bell Inn, and was always happy, unless any person angered him. A story is told of him and a neighbouring hill-farmer. His friend, in the course of the evening, got rather elevated, noisy, and rude. Mr Tweedie said to him, “John, you must be quiet; you are disturbing the company, and if you are not quiet you must be put out.” A short time afterwards he again broke out, and Mr Tweedie again spoke to him—“John, I told you a little ago to be quiet; you have not been so; I speak to you a second time for your good.” John got the longer the worse, which made Mr Tweedie address the chairman thus—“Sir, John here is a great disturber of the peace of this respectable company; he has been spoken to now three times and he won’t behave himself—is it your pleasure, or that of the company, to say whether I should put him out at the door or fling him over the window?” It was the pleasure of the company that John was to be allowed to remain, if he would behave himself. Mr Tweedie addressing him, said—"John, it is the will of this decent and respectable company that you are to remain, only if you are quiet” John took the reprimand, and repressing his volubility and rudeness of speech, remained quiet.

Mr Tweedie once addressed Mr Matthew, a well-known writer in Haddington, who was much given to volubility of speaking—“Mr Matthew, you are a devil to speak, you make a great clatter, nobody can get a word in for your speaking; you engross all the speaking and you know very well that too much speaking by one person spoils conversation.”

Mr Tweedie always attended the fairs at Gifford, where he showed and sold his spare stock and wool. At the June fair, which was largely attended at that time, his splendid wedders attracted the notice of strangers, and not less so himself, dressed in top-boots, blue coat, &c., and strutting about with a stout stick in his hand in the spacious village green, attended by his herds. A kind and considerate master, he was always, at the markets where he showed his stock, particularly anxious that his herds and their friends received all civility, due attention, and the best of cheer in the inns. Many men still living will no doubt recollect his gentlemanly acts in this respect His old respected servant, the late James Bald, grazier in Gifford, used often to speak of him as the kindest master and gentleman he ever met with. At the ordinary dinner at Gifford Inn, on the fair day, which was attended by all the leading farmers of the county at that time, Mr Tweedie was seldom absent.

A story about his great strength is yet told and remembered. After dinner on one occasion, a neighbouring farmer, of a large stout frame, had contradicted him several times, and angry words, which often happen betwixt positive people, took place. Mr Tweedie conceived that his neighbour had grossly insulted him, and being so irritated as to raise his fire and ire, he griped him so hard that the garment gave way, and his friend had to cry out for mercy. Another intimate friend, a tall powerful man, coming to the rescue, found himself in a jiffey lying on the floor. Mr Tweedie’s resentment, however, it is said, did not long continue. After explanations and apologies, peace and harmony were restored, and pleasant sociality prevailed in the company.

When Mr Tweedie purchased and resided at Morham Bank, he used to give dinner-parties to his old friends and acquaintances, among whom were Adam Bogue of Linplum, Robert Walker of Whitelaw, Alex. Donaldson, late Town-Clerk of Haddington, Mr Ferme, Mr Henry Davidson, Mr Harvey, and others. It was a difficult matter, sometimes, to get away from Mr Tweedie’s hospitable table at an early hour.

On one occasion a tempestuous storm of wind and rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, set in, which was a very reasonable excuse for Mr Tweedie insisting on his guests remaining until the storm passed away. Some of them had to stay all night, and Kirstie was called into requisition to provide beds and shakedowns for the storm-staid ones, and they had to shift as well as they could, to please Mr Tweedie.

Mr Tweedie’s stoutness of frame and great strength of limbs were noticed. There is almost no person living, in the present day, in this part of the country, of the same short herculean strength.

Mr Tweedie’s legs, encased in top-boots, were as thick as those of a middle-sized elephant. A good story is told about his boots. He used to visit his old friend Mr James Robertson, farmer, at that time at Castleton, opposite the Bass. Riding down one day from Hopes to Castleton, he staid all night. In the morning two of Mr Robertson’s sons, Thomas and James, twins, got hold of his boots, and, taking one each, went into them, and strutting about the house with them, caused much fun in the household.

This little story may perhaps be interesting and refreshing to Mr James Robertson, late of Beil Grange, and long respected in East Lothian, now in the far-distant Islands of New Zealand, and may recall old recollections, when he and his brothers were young actors, peeping out of M Robbie Tweedie’s top-boots. Mr Tweedie left Morham Bank to reside in Edinburgh in 1838. He took up his abode in Huntly Street, Canonmills. His faithful servant, Kirstie, went with him, and continued with her much-loved master until his death.

Walking out every day, with a stout staff in his hand, along the principal streets of the city, he was soon picked up as a man of no ordinary stamp. Although he had thrown aside the Corduroys and Tops, he continued to wear the blue coat, with yellow buttons, white vest, and broad-rimmed hat. His friends and acquaintances were of the most respectable class. He numbered the late Eagle Henderson, Esq., and several eminent Parliament House gentlemen, amongst his friends. Mr Robert Tweedie Macintosh was an intimate friend of his, and they often met and dined together. On Wednesdays he put himself in the way of meeting his old East Lothian friends and relatives, Robert Waugh and James Tweedie, and hearing all the news of the East.

Cooper’s famous Beef-Steak House, in the Flesh-Market Close, was the place at which they dined after the market was over. There he met his East Lothian friends, among whom were, with many others—Robert Walker of Ferrygate; Matthew Buist, Tynningham; William Kerr, Beil; John Slate, Sunnyside; Provost More of Haddington; John R. Dale, Auldhame, and old Edinburgh butchers, such as James Smart and John Plummer, &c.

Excess of enjoyment, happiness, and hilarity was the order of the day at these meetings. Few are now left, however, who can speak of them. Mr Tweedie was fond of inviting East Lothian acquaintances to dine with him at his house in Huntly Street; we recollect of being asked frequently. He used to say—“Won’t you come down with a friend, and take a bit of dinner with me? I will be most happy to see you.” We accepted his invitation more than once, and enjoyed his conversation immensely. On one occasion Kirstie was rather dilatory in getting the dinner on the table; “Kirstie,” he cried out, “I am cut with hunger, and so are the gentlemen; you must be quick with the dinner and not keep us waiting.” Kirstie was often taken unawares, which ruffles the temper of the best of cooks; but Kirstie knew Mr Tweedie’s ways well.

After Mr Tweedie retired from farming, he, with advice of friends, invested his money in an annuity, in an Edinburgh Insurance Office. When he went to the office every quarter to lift his aliment, as he called it, he used to say to the officials in the office, “I see you are looking at me; I suppose you would like me to die soon. My mother lived until she was ninety. I think I will see one hundred, so I will not be a good bargain for you.” He died at the age of eighty-five. Mr Tweedie frequently paid visits to East Lothian to see his old friends, and remained some days in the country. Before the days of railway travelling, he travelled in the inside of the coach to Haddington. Stout and large-sized gentlemen like Mr Tweedie were, and are always, unhandy in the inside of a small-sized coach.

A good story is told of him when he was going to Haddington one day, a year or two before the Disruption of 1843. Mr Tweedie was seated in the corner of the inside of the Haddington “Good Intent” coach, when three gentlemen dressed in black entered, and asked J Mr Tweedie to sit up. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I have taken my seat, and I do not think you have any right to ask me to sit up, or to shift my seat”

By-and-by Mr Tweedie opined from their conversation that they were going to Haddington to attend a public meeting of the Non-Intrusion Party, and he said to them, “Sirs, I suppose you belong to the clergy. There are a great number of fire-brands of clergymen going about the country at present, lecturing to the people, and doing a deal of harm, and causing mischief. There are Candlish, Cunningham, Begg, and others.

I never go to hear them lecture or preach, but I attend a very decent, respectable man, Mr Binnie, of Lady Yester’s, who is an excellent preacher, and I support the Old Church of Scotland.”

The ministers above named were the identical three.

When at Haddington, Mr Tweedie was the guest of Mr John Macdonald, the late respected tenant of the j George Inn, and his kind and worthy lady. He always I dined with his old friends on Fridays, at the Farmers' Club. No man felt happier than he did on these occasions, seated among old friends. The fire and energy of his younger days entered his soul again: “he foughtI his old battles and told his old stories o’er and o’er again.”

Mr Macdonald used to tell a characteristic story of him. One fine summer morning a loud noise was heard in Mr Tweedie’s bedroom. Mr Macdonald went to see what was the matter. He found Mr Tweedie on the floor in a towering passion, and in the attitude of boxing. On being asked what was the matter, he said, “Don’t you see that fellow John Rennie there, he has knocked me down three times, but I will do for him yet?” He had risen out of bed in the middle of a dream, imagining that John Rennie, late of Oxwell Mains, who was a strong, powerful man, had insulted him, and knocked him down. It was some time before Mr Macdonald got him satisfied that he was labouring under a delusion.

Mr Tweedie died in 1856, aged eighty-five, and was buried in the solitary churchyard of Tweedsmuir, among his forbears and kindred, according to his express desire. It is believed that no tombstone marks the resting-place of Robert Tweedie, who was a gentleman in all respects. It is hoped that the foregoing imperfect reminiscences (more might perhaps have been given) will not be uninteresting to East Lothian readers and others.

Robert Tweedie would have been a model character for Sir Walter Scott or Charles Dickens to have portrayed.


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