Andrew Blaikie, the writer of this journal, was born at Faughill, Roxburghshire, on August 17th, 1738.
On both sides he came from a race of Border yeomen.
A James Blaikie bore a standard at Flodden, and was one of the “Flowers of the Forest” who fell there.
Andrew Blaikie’s father, another Andrew, was married to a Scott, and came to Faughill from their farm of Longnewton Mill, on Aill Water, in the year 1716.
At the age of twelve, Andrew, the younger, was sent to school at Kelso, and daily rode his fourteen miles there and fourteen back. In those days, he used to tell his children, there was neither hedge or dike by the way.
When he was nineteen years of age, his father took for him, from the Duke of Roxburghe, the farm of Holydean, adjoining Faughill.
Holydean, the original seat of the Kers of Cessford, was, and still is a place of considerable historical interest, and its young farmer made it his business to learn as much about it as he could. A description of it is embodied in the “Account of Bowden Parish” written by him for Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, in 1794.
In it he speaks of the old Deer Park of Holydean, one of the last remnants of Ettrick Forest, of which only a very few old grey trunks now remain. There, tradition tells us, the Earls of Huntingdon used to follow the chase; and legend gives the Keep of Holydene as the birthplace of Isobel, that niece of William the Lion who was the grandmother of Robert the Bruce.
Another Isobel, wife of one of the Kers, and mother of the Sir Robert Ker who was Warden of the Western Marches, and who was in life a terror to Scot and to Englishman, has left a gracious memory behind her at Holydean. On the lintel of the house is a stone on which is carved the words, known as “Dame Esbel Ker’s Three Precepts” :—
“Feir God. Fle from sin. Mak for the life ever lesting to the end. Dem Esbel Ker. 1530”
At Holydean, with its ivy-covered ruins and memories of stirring days of Border warfare, Andrew Blaikie spend sixty-four years of his life. There he died in 1821.
His ride to England, at the age of sixty-four, was undoubtedly the greatest event of a peaceful and prosperous life. Yet, if there were in his private life no happenings worthy of much note, Andrew Blaikie lived in one of the most eventful times of European history. During his lifetime Culloden and Waterloo were fought; Prince Charles won hearts, but not a kingdom; Napoleon Buonaparte rose and fell; Nelson lived and died.
He held a commission in the Yeomanry, and was the oldest yeoman who answered the call to arms, and rode to fight the French on the night when the Border beacons flamed up sky high, and the False Alarm of 1805 showed all Britain of what sort of stuff her sons were made.
He had that day been at market at Kelso, and was spending the evening with his son, Thomas, who then had the farm of Middleton Hill, between Kelso and St Boswells.
But when the light on Hume Castle appeared, and was answered by those of Caverton Edge and the Dunion and Black Andrew, he mounted his horse and galloped the seven miles home to Holydean. While his son, then an ensign in the 2nd Battalion Roxburgh Volunteers – afterwards a lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of the Roxburgh Militia – went off i haste to join his regiment at Kelso, the old man, at Holydean, was provisioning for the campaign. with his sword he cut down from a beam in the kitchen two hams to sling across his saddle-bow, while his wife and daughters tore up old linen for him to take with him, so that the wounds that French swords dealt him and his comrades should not go unbound. Long ere dawn he was with his company, well on his way to the sea.
He was twice married, and had a family of four daughters and six sons.
One of his sons, James, went to Newfoundland, and became a much-respected Judge there. Another, Andrew, an engraver in Paisley, was very musical. A copy of his collection of 300 airs of the Borders, never before set to music, presented by him to Sir Walter Scott, is to be found in the Abbotsford library.
His eldest son, Francis, mentioned in the journal, was a man of strong character and much ability.
His father wished to make him a lawyer, but the lad’s tastes lay in other directions, and he rebelled.
He ran away from home,and after some time was found working as an under-gardener in the gardens of Dalkeith Palace. His father went to fetch him home, but found the lad so happy, and the head gardener so impressed by his taste and ability for horticultural things that he left him there.
Subsequently Frances went to Kew Gardens, as head of a department, and there made the acquaintance of the Earl of Chesterfield. Lord Chesterfield was as much struck by the young Scotchman’s knowledge and powers, and asked him to come and act as his agent at Bradby, his seat in Derbyshire. For many years he remained at Bradby, doing much to improve Lord Chesterfield’s property, and while there frequently corresponded with Mr Coke, the pioneer and patron of Norfolk agriculture. In 1813 Mr Coke paid a visit to Lord Chesterfield, and was greatly impressed by the turnip crops he saw at Bradby, and by the system used for their cultivation. He asked Francis Blaikie to write an account of the mode of culture, and himself read the paper at an annual meeting of Norfolk farmers.
In 1815 the Earl of Chesterfield died, and at once Francis was asked by the Duke of Bedford and by Mr Coke to act as agent for their estates. He accepted the proposal of the latter, and in 1816 went to Holkham, in Norfolk, as factor to Mr Coke, who subsequently became Earl of Leicester.
During the sixteen years he spent at Holkham, Francis Blaikie did much to improve Norfolk agriculture. He wrote much on agricultural topics, and invented many implements, though his rigid conscientiousness would not permit him to accept awards for more than a very few of his inventions.
In 1817, at the Annual Sheep Shearing at Holkham, -the Agricultural Show of the year – a grubber, at work, was exhibited, and was awarded by the judges the first prize. When Francis Blaikie was called upon to receive the award, he declined it. “not considering himself honourably entitled to it.” He then explained that he had only suggested an improvement on the already-existing implement. This, under his direction, had been carried out by Mr Coke’s head blacksmith, at Mr Coke’s expense; and he therefore felt that the grubber could not “be fairly brought into competition with those of other exhibitors who who had manufactured their implements at their own cost, and had brought them a great distance.” For the blacksmith, however, he claimed “some mark of approbation,” as he had displayed his ingenuity in constructing many useful implements.”
A similar incident too place when the London Agricultural Society voted Francis Blaikie a gold medal for a successful experiment carried on at Lord Chesterfield’s expense and by the Society’s request. The medal was declined as he “did not consider himself strictly entitled to the award.”
What tenantry and landlord thought of him may be learned from the inscriptions on gifts he received on retiring in 1832 from the factorship to the little property of St Helens, near Melrose, which he bought, and where he ended his days.
A silver tea service, presented by his tenants, testified that “During the sixteen years he has presided over the Holkham property he has not in any degree compromised but on the contrary, has greatly contributed to strengthen that noble sentiment, which has ever been the motto of its worthy and liberal possessor – a good understanding between landlord and tenant.”
On the Earl of Leicester’s gift was the inscription – “An inconsiderable tribute of sincere regard and gratitude for sixteen year’s service, rendered invaluable by the union of unrivalled ability with incorruptible integrity.”
There are many tales told of Francis Blaikie.
One of these is that of how he met the men of Norwich at the time of the Bread Riots, and quashed their rioting.
The story goes that he was breakfasting with the Earl of Leicester when a breathless and terrified messenger came to announce that a rabble army was marching to Holkham, armed with scythes and staves, and threatening fire and bloodshed.
Francis Blaikie at once got his horse and galloped off to meet them.
They were entering the Park when he came in sight, and he was greeted with shouts and groans from the ringleaders.
“Halt!” he shouted, in the voice that in later days struck terror to the souls of the more timid of his nephews and nieces, holding up his hunting crop.
The amazed rioters did as they were bidden, and in very forcible language, Francis Blaikie asked them what they wanted, and how they dared to invade the Earl’s policies in so disorderly a way.
“They wanted bread!” they said – “Food for their starving wives and children.”
“And why not come and ask for it decently, and like honest men,” queried the factor, “instead of howling like unreasonable children? His lordship will be only too glad to do for you what he can. Follow me – and behave yourselves.”
News soon came to Holkham that the rioters were advancing, with Blaikie at their head.
Arrived there, he halted them, and went in to explain matters to the Earl. All the food available was given to them. Several of the sheep in the Park were slaughtered, and, with carts of provisions, were sent on before them to the town, and the rioters were conducted out of the grounds.
As they reached the public highway, some of the now peaceable and contented mob called for “Three cheers for Mr Blaikie.”
“Not three cheers for Mr Blaikie!” called Francis Blaikie; “Three cheers for the King!”
And, standing in his stirrups, he led the cheers, which were given with the utmost enthusiasm.
A silver-mounted snuff mull,which the Earl used at breakfast that day, was presented by him to Francis Blaikie, as a souvenir of the Bread Riots at Holkham.
A good deal of the energy and strength of character of the Earl of Leicester’s factor seems to have been inherited from his father.
Andrew Blaikie’s horse was shod with steel by the village blacksmith (G. Wilkie) before he started on his journey, and all other details of the expedition seem to have been carefully and successfully planned.
To the time of his death, his walk was firm, his face fresh-coloured, and his figure erect and youthful. One old man, who in youth had known him, found it hard in his own failing years to realise that one of the old gentleman’s grandsons, another Blaikie of Holydean, was not the “Auld Andra” who had died seventy-odd years before.
The story of his ride to England for the purpose of seeing the King, at the age of 64, and with but £31 for the journey, shows better than can the written words of any one of his descendants what manner of man he was.
Jeanie Lang Blaikie Lang.