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Significant Scots
Lindsy Hilson

Lindsy Hilson, Public Library, Kelso

IN the evening of Tuesday, 20th March, 1906, there was a large and representative gathering in the Sheriff Court Room, County Buildings, Jedburgh—Provost Hilson presiding—to do honour to Mr J. Lindsay Hilson 011 the occasion of his leaving the town, and publicly to recognise the services he has rendered to his native place. When it was known that Mr Hilson had decided to remove to Kelso, it was resolved that some public recognition should be made of his worth, and accordingly, under the auspices of the Ramblers9 Club and of the Public Library Committee, a subscription list was opened, the result being that there was a very cordial endorsement of the wishes and effort of the joint committees appointed for this purpose—a proof of the great esteem in which Mr Hilson is held in the place of his birth. In addition to the substantial presentation on the evening in question, a handsome illuminated address—the workmanship of Mr Robert Wal-die, Glencairn—was also given him at the same meeting, couched in these terms: —

To James Lindsay Hilson, Esq., Ex-Librarian of Jedburgh Public Library. Sir,—On the occasion of your resigning the lib-rarianship of the Carnegie Institute, here, in order that you may accept a similar appointment at Kelso, we, the undersigned, representing respectively the members of the Public Library Committee and Jedburgh Ramblers’ Club, request your acceptance of this address, as also a purse of sovereigns.

You have acted as librarian for six years, since the new premises, gifted by Dr Andrew Carnegie, were formally opened in May, 1900. During this period you have with unremitting care and attention performed the duties of your office, and have in the most conscientious manner striven to extend the benefits of the institution. As a result of your supervision the library is now left in all its departments in a high state of efficiency and usefulness, as has been cordially attested by the members of Committee. They have also to acknowledge that owing to your initiative the library has become the repository of many valuable relics connected with the local history of the burgh and district, in addition to the portraits which now adorn its walls. These form a unique and interesting collection in themselves, recalling as they do the names and personalities of many who in former days were prominent and distinguished iu the town and county.

The Ramblers’ Club, now over 150 in number, also desires to recognise very gratefully the manner in which you have acted as secretary and treasurer for the last six years. Thanks to your excellent organising, numerous enjoyable excursions have been made to different parts with great pleasure and comfort to the members, who are well awure that the success of the Club has been largely due to your methodical and energetic management of its affairs, and they therefore join very heartily in this public testimonial. It remains to-add that there are many other subscribers, animated in an equal degree by deep appreciation of the services which you have rendered to the community in these and other capacities.

On behalf of the foregoing we desire to express our warmest good wishes for the welfare of yourself, Mrs Hilson, and Miss Bessie Hilson.

Oliver Hilson, J.P., Provost,
Chairman of Jedburgh Public Library Committee.

William Blair, M.D.,
President of Jedburgh Ramblers’ Club.

Mr Lindsay Hilson, whose name is well-known all over the South of Scotland, was born in Jedburgh in the year 1855. He was the son of Mr William Hilson, manufacturer, —latterly of Abbey Grove, Jedburgh,—who for some time was Provost of the town. The house which saw his birth, No. 30 Canongate, is redolent with traditional memories. Here it was that John Rutherford, laird of Lady-field or Ladfield, whose sympathies and arms had been with the Jacobites in the rising of 1715, remained hid for three weeks in a wall-press in order to escape the search for him after the failure of that ill-advised insurrection. This property came into the possession of the Hilsons in the year 1803. Mr Lindsay Hilson is descended from an enterprising family who, towards the end of the eighteenth century, commenced the manufacturing of tweed in the town, thus giving employment to a large number of the inhabitants. For this purpose they had rented to them the Waulk Mill (now Canongate Mill), which they afterwards purchased. The commodious liouNe in Canongate where Mr Lindsay Hilson first saw the light served as the family residence and also as a warehouse, fn 1862 the old firm of James Hilson <fe Sons was dissolved ; Mr Hilson’s father and uncle leaving it and commencing a manufacturing business at Bongate Mill, under the title of Messrs John & William Hilson, while the Canongate firm continued under the altered title of Messrs George Hilson At Son, the chief partner being the grand-uncle of the subject of our sketch. Of the Bongate firm Mr William Hilson was latterly the sole partner, Mr Lindsay Hilson being manager. This continued until 1893, when—his father having retired—Mr Liudsay

Hilson carried on the business with a partner. Hitherto the business had been conducted in the retail trade, but under the new partnership business was transacted on wholesale lines. In a few years, however, the firm had to be dissolved, on acoount of the prevalent depression in the tweed trade.

Mr Hilson received his education first at the Nest Academy, Jedburgh, under Dr Fyfe, and afterwards at a private school in Picardy Place, Edinburgh—one of his class-mates at the latter place of instruction being Lord Sal-vesen. In the early seventies, while yet in his ’teens, Mr Hilson served his apprenticeship as a manufacturer in Selkirk, and afterwards completed his education in this sphere in his father’s mill at Jedburgh. From the period of his return to his native town Mr Hil-son has taken an enthusiastic interest in almost all its various organisations, holding office in not a few of the different Institutions and Associations. Of the Jedburgh Christian Fellowship Union, which celebrated its semijubilee last year, he was an ardent supporter, being one of the original members of committee. From the same year (1880) h& conducted the Band of Hope, which held its meetings first in the Infant School (which, through the great kindness of the late Lord Lothian, they were granted rent, coal, and gas free), and afterwards in the Home Mission Hall—being closely associated in this and other philanthropic work with the late Mr John Telfer, afterwards President of the Edinburgh Borderers’ Union. Of this for several years he was the indefatigable President, sparing himself no pains to provide interesting and varied programmes for the meetings. In all that he undertakes, indeed, Mr Hilson*s principle is:

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it wvth thy might.” For some time, also, he was connected with the Jedburgh Gospel Temperance Union. In the welfare of the Free Church Mr Hilsoai was deeply interested, and whenever possible he promoted the interests of the Jedburgh Abbey United Free Church, of which he was a member. On more than one occasion he has been asked to become an elder of this church, but has not seen his way to consent.

Mr Hilson early recognised the value of literary societies for the improvement of youth, and took a corresponding interest in them. Of the Jedburgh Literary Association, in the days of its greatest vigour, he was a member, and for some time acted as its treasurer. He was also a member of the Mutual Improvement. Association. The Jedburgh Musical Association likewise owes much to him. He early enrolled as a member, and was appointed to the office of secretary. For some time, owing to want of interest in its objects (from which it is also at present suffering), it was allowed to remain dormant; but about ten years ago, chiefly through Mr Hilson’s exertions, it was resuscitated, and under his secretaryship flourished for a time, giving successful performances of the works of the great composers. He resigned office in 1899.

On account of the great interest he took in the town’s affairs, Mr Hilson was elected a member of the Town Council in 1882, and acted as a Councillor for about eleven years, when, to the great regret of the constituency, he saw fit to retire. During his period of office he was Convener of the Finance Committee. On one occasion his name was put forward to fill a vacancy as Bailie, but he found a successful opponent in the late Provost Sword (a sketch of whom Mr Hilson wrote to the Border Magazine four years ago), who was then appointed to that office. Mr Hilson also served as a member of the Parish Council from 1904 to 1906.

In politics Mr Hilson has always taken a keen and active interest; He identified himself with the Jedburgh Liberal Association, and acted as election agent in Jedburgh for Mr Craig-Sellar when he successfully contested the Haddington District of Burghs in 1882. He was chosen by the Jedburgh Liberal Association to represent them at Birmingham on the oocasion of the celebrations held there in connection with Mr Bright’s twenty-five years’ association with the city. Mr Hilson was also a member of the Roxburghshire Liberal Association, of which for some time he acted as secretary. When the split in the parties on the Home Rule question occurred, he espoused the interests of the Liberal Unionist party, to which he has adhered ever since.

Due prominence must be given to Mr Hilson’s part as a man of letters. To the Border Magazine he has contributed articles on “The Late Provost Sword,” “Rev. John Poison, Jedburgh,” “An interesting Border Centenary,” “Hexham Abbey,” and “Burns’ Border Tours”; while among the articles written to “Notes and ‘Queries” by him, “The Great Seal of Scotland,” “The Convention of Royal Burghs,” “The Hazel Pear,” in addition to numerous “notes,” may be mentioned. Readers of the “Scotsman” are familiar with the initials “J. L. H.,” which have appeared under numerous articles; the number of these that the present writer has preserved has showed him, on a glance through them, that to enumerate them would be to overlap the limits assigned to this article. “His literary tastes, his wide knowledge of books,” says the late editor of that paper—Dr C. A. Cooper—writing four years ago, “the energy with which he has sought to further the interests and the usefulness of the Jedburgh Public Library, have compelled my admiration.” To the local prints Mr Hilson is a prolific contributor. The number of contributions to the “Jedburgh Gazette,” for example, is beyond calculation, and would fill volumes. To that newspaper he has contributed the following series of articles: —“Here and There” (16), “The Associations of an Old Coach Road” (6), and “Yesterdays in a Royal Burgh” (10), in addition to articles of one, two, and three instalments too numerous to mention. It is to be regretted, indeed, that Mr Hilson, who has such facility with the pen, and who has so vast an amount of information at his command, has not attempted to publish the substance of his vast local knowledge in book form, but perhaps he may at some future time be persuaded to do so.

On the platform Mr Lindsay Hilson is in a natural element, equally as chairman as when acting as lecturer. In the latter capacity he has frequently appeared, his subjects dealing chiefly with local history. To the Edinburgh Borderers’ Union, of which he is a devoted member, he lectured nearly three years ago on “Here and There in the Border District,” while he has not infrequently appeared before the Jedburgh Literary Association and other societies. At the invitation of the members of committee, he proposed the toast of the evening at the annual supper of the Jedburgh. Burns Club on 25th January last.

It is, however, in connection with the Jedburgh Ramblers’ Club that Mr Hilson has done most work of this nature. When this Club was instituted in 1897 he was appointed vice-president, while three years later he was prevailed upon to accept office as hon. secretary and treasurer. Under his fostering care the Society has flourished, the interesting summer outings and winter meetings being largely due to his energy and forethought. It speaks greatly to his credit that the Club have exerted themselves to prevail upon him to oontinue in office for another year, although he has now removed to the neighbouring town of Kelso. In addition to lecturing to the Ramblers at one of their winter meetings, Mr Hilson has acted as guide and supplied papers for their excursions to Makerstoun and Littledean Tower (1901), Penielheugh (1902), Cavers (1903), Ancrum (1904), and Bemersyde (1905). The well-illustrated “Transactions” of this Club, issued yearly, owe much to Mr Hilson’s care and initiative.

In the management of the Mechanics’ Institute Library, which became defunct ten years ago, Mr Lindsay Hilson was a Director. When this lapsed, owing to the opening of the Public Library, he was given a place on the Committee of the new Library. In 1900, when, the Public Library was removed to the present site in Castlegate, Mr Hilson was appointed librarian, a duty to which, since he found it congenial employment, he has given his whole time and unremitting attention, thus gaining for him the highest approbation from all connected with the institution. His many friends and admirers would have liked to see him in a sphere in which he would find adequate scope for his various faculties and excellent qualities, and he nearly found an opening for so doing when the secretaryship of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution became vacant some three years ago. When the vacancy was being considered Mr Hilson was on the short leet of five out of over 200 applicants, and narrowly missed the appointment. For the Jedburgh Public Library Mr Hilson has done much, and the interesting reports he issues every year give proofs of the progress of the work under his hand, as well as of his literary ability. He instituted a Book Club in connection with the Library, which has been very successful and helpful to the Institute. When referring to Library work on the Borders at the annual social meeting of the Edinburgh Borderers’ Union in December, 1902, Dr Hew Morrison made special allusion to Mr Hilson’s. qualities as a librarian. “In Jedburgh,” he said, “remarkably good work is being done, because there they have Mr Lindsay Hilson, who is enthusiastic in Library work, and who is always keen that the young people of the town should take full advantage of the stores of books available to them.” To the reeidenter, and also to the visitor, the Library at Jedburgh has been rendered especially attractive by Mr Hilson, who has made every endeavour to obtain photographs of all the prominent persons connected in any way with the town. In this he has been eminently successful, and these photographs now adorn the walls of the Reading Room, Lending Library, Reference Room, as well as the staircase. In praise of this unique and interesting feature a visitor to Jedburgh wrote to the “Scotsman” a month ago, showing how much Jedburgh is in advance of even the largest of our Public Libraries in initiative.

It was with much regret that his friends in Jedburgh heard, about ten weeks ago, that Mr Hilson had been preferred to the librarianship of Kelso Public Library, whither he removed in the beginning of April. What is Jedburgh’s loss is Kelso’s gain, and the Library Committee-of the latter place are to be congratulated on their diplomacy in securing the services of Mr Hilson. KoIbo Public Library is a new building—occupying a good site in Bowmont Street, facing Union Street,:—and has been gifted by Dr Andrew Carnegie to the town. On the-ground floor are the oommodious Reading Room, to the front, and the Reference Room and Lending Library to the back—the latter having a book capacity of 14,000 volumes. On the flat above is the librarian’s house. The opening ceremony took plaoe on 16th Mayr 1906, Provost Crichton-Smith presiding. In the unavoidable absence of Dr Carnegie, Dr Hew Morrison declared the Library open and handed it over for the benefit of the public. In the afternoon a luncheon was held in the Cross Keys Hotel, at which the toast of “The Library” was proposed by Sir George Douglas, Bart.

In his married life Mr Hilson has been very happy, and he looks forward to 29th March next, when he anticipates holding his silver wedding. He married Miss Mary Lindsay whence the name “Lindsay”—grand-daughter of John Kennedy, the friend of Burns. Their daughter, Miss Bessie Hilson, is a musician of more than average skill, who for some time was organist of the Abbey United Free Church, Jedburgh-. Their Jedburgh home, Kenmore Bank, is a commodious house, picturesquely situated on the right bank of the “sylvan Jed,” and having a fine view of the venerable Abbey.

Mr Hilson’s many excellent qualities are so well known to readers of the Border Magazine that they need only to be referred to in order to be recognised and acknowledged. He is a gentleman who hae gained the esteem and confidence of all who know him. Thoroughness, promptitude, and initiative are qualities which he has in a high degree, while his generous mind and kind disposition gain for him friends wherever he goes. Of this a striking example is provided in the gratuitous work he does in collecting and distributing literature among the occupants of the various signal-boxes on the line and of the lighthouses on the coast, so as to enable them to spend more cheerfully and more profitably the long, dark winter nights.

During the year 1903—as I notice from the local prints,—Mr Hilson, in addition to those sent to the lighthouses along the neighbouring coast, despatched some two hundred parcels of literature to various railway signal-cabins— especially those in the quieter spots. The collection and despatching of such an amount of magazines and books represents a great deal of work. May he long be spared to carry on this and other beneficent work to which he putk his hands.

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