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Significant Scots
Sir Henry Ballantyne


Sir Henry Ballantne of Minden, Peebles

THE younger politicians of the present day can form little idea of the lively election times we had when open voting was the mode of ascertaining the will of the people, but the excitement was by no means confined to the polling day. The day set apart for the nomination of the candidates for political honours is a very tame affair nowadays, but long ago it was far otherwise. A wooden platform was erected in a prominent part of the principal town of the constituency, and there the candidates were nominated in public and addressed the assembled crowds. The proceedings were presided over by the Sheriff, but even the presence of that august personage did not prevent the multitude (most of whom had not the privilege of voting) from making things very lively for the candidate and his supporters who were not on the popular side. We can recall the last husting at Peebles in 1868, and the scene there enacted is indelibly printed on our memory.

Our age at that particular time certainly did not entitle us to a vote, but the boys and lads of a burgh town can make their influence felt on such occasions, as we did then. Among our section of the community there was a bright youth of, thirteen summers, who was receiving a. superior education at that time at Bonnington Park School, Peebles. He was a born Radical, and doubtless felt the remarkable scene at the Peebles hustings to be his political baptism, even then being struck with the injustice which denied the vote to the working-man. How few of us dreamt that the bright lad referred to would some day be the Provost of the Royal Burgh of Peebles and the President of the Liberal Association, and that his municipal and political labours would be acknowledged by a knighthood 1 But such has been the case, for the lad who entered so heartily into the election excitement of 1868 is now Sir Henry Ballantyne, of Minden, Peebles.

Sir Henry was born in Galashiels at the time when his grandfather, the late Henry Ballantyne, and his numerous sons were busy founding Tweedvale Mills at Walkerbum, near Innerleithen, which well-known tweed factory was the beginning of that movement which changed a shepherd’s cottage into a thriving village of over 1500 inhabitants. As a lengthened sketch of Walkerbum and the founding thereof appeared in the Border Magazine of February, 1905, we need not now give further details.

When about two years old Sir Henry removed with his parents to Walkerbum, where on the slope of Caberston Hills his father built a line house, and gave it the appropriate name of Sunnybrae. He received his first education at Innerleithen in the private establishment of Mrs Morrison, Hillhouse, an estimable lady who was well qualified to impart knowledge to her pupils. From there he went to Walkerbum Public School, which had recently been opened. His first master was the late Mr John Scott, afterwards of Drummelzier, who died a short time ago in Peebles, honoured and revered by all who knew him. Amongst his other teachers at that school was Mr Thomas Weir, who recently retired after many years’ service at Innerleithen.

In 1866 Sir Henry went to Bonnington Park School, Peebles, then a private school owned by Mr James Gibson, with, whom the young pupil stayed' as a weekly boarder foi four years. From there he went t. the Edinburgh Institution *or a year, boarding with the headmaster, Dr R. M. Fergusson.

In 1871 it was found that the Tweedvale Mills, Walkerbum, was rather a limited field for so many energetic business men, and three of the sons left and started the Waverley Mills, Innerleithen. The grandfather having died some years previously, Sir Henry’s father, David, and his uncle John now carried on the business under the original name of Henry Ballantyne Sc Sons. Sir Henry then left school to learn the business of tweed manufacturer, and for the next twelve years he was actively associated with the business at Tweedvale Mills.

Both partners had numerous sons, and as they grew it was once more found that the old establishment offered too little scope, so in 1883 the partnership was dissolved, and Mr John Ballantyne remained as sole proprietor.

Mr David Ballantyne and his sons endeavoured to secure a suitable site at Innerleithen for a new mill, but that little town once more suffered from the difficulties placed in the way of building by the landed proprietors. With some reluctance, which was partly outweighed by the circumstances that there were two railways in Peebles, and that a good site was offered on moderate terms, the new firm went to Peebles and built the now well-known March Street Mills, which were started in 1885 by this new firm of D. Ballantyne St Co. Sir Henry threw himself with great energy into what was at first uphill work, but the new business proved successful. The firm has always had a good reputation for turning out honest work, and this always tells in the long run.

Sir Henry has always held it to be the duty of every employer of labour to do everything possible to improve the relations between capital and labour, and his attention having been drawn to profit-sharing, he studied the subject in all its bearings, with the result that the firm established in 1892 their now well-tried system of profit-sharing. At first the profit-sharing scheme did not apply to the younger hands, but at the request of those who did participate it was soon after extended to embrace every one who has been in the firm’s employment for the whole of the year during which the profit has been earned; and it is interesting to know that for the year ending August last the number of participants was 428. The scheme has undoubtedly done much good, and the firm has never regretted the adoption of it.

Caerlee Mills, Innerleithen, one of the oldest manufactories in the Borderland, founded in the eighteenth century, had passed into the hands of the proprietors of the Waverley Mills, and they—the uncles of Sir Henry—disposed of Caerlee Mills to his firm, who thus employ between 600 and 700 people.

We have already indicated Sir Henry’s political leanings, and we can recall the active part he took in the election of 1880, when the late Sir Charles Tennant., Bart., won the seqt which had so long been held by the Conservative party, and the late Mr W. E. Gladstone visited the district while on his famous Midlothian campaign. At the time of the Home Rule split, Sir Henry was elected chairman of the Liberal Association of Peebles, and he has held that position ever since, working strenuously against difficulties which can only be estimated by those who thoroughly understand the constituency. The Master of Elibank, M.P., owes not a little of his success at the last election to the untiring energy of Sir Henry Ballantyne.

We have long maintained that no man is a true citizen who does not take a deep interest in what might be termed local politics, and Sir Henry has realised our ideal to the full.


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