The Corner House – 1 Elm Row

By Miss E Sanderson 


In 1862 a small girl aged six set sail, along with her father from Hayle, a coal seaport in Cornwall, for her long journey to Galashiels, Scotland, on a visit to her father’s relatives there.

She had a pale face and her hair, auburn and quite straight, was parted nearly on her forehead and brushed down on either side behind her ears.

She wore a little black pill box hat and a grey coat with a cape which, with her grey cashmere frock, were very long.  On her feet she wore black boots and white socks.

This sail was a great adventure but it was short as it terminated at Bristol, nevertheless it was an all night trip and a very rough one so it was bound to be memorable in many ways.

In any case there was her stalwart father to comfort the little frightened child and eventually there, on Galashiels platform, was another lithe tall man to greet his brother and small niece and away they went to Bridge Street where the family home was.

Their name was Carruthers and they came originally from the hill country above Hawick having drifted there from Dumfries where the family clan still is.

The eldest of these brothers already mentioned was Henry, tall, dark and handsome and he went south west as far as he could go in England, to Cornwall and eventually in the delectable duchy a dark haired, dark eyed farmers daughter became his bride.

Their daughter Elizabeth or Bessie as she was more often called, came often to Scotland after that memorable journey north at an early age and, eventually, on the sudden death of her father when she was sixteen, she and her mother came to Galashiels again on a visit after selling the farm in Cornwall. They never returned to Cornwall again and in 1884 Elizabeth Carruthers married James Burns, son of an engineer George Burns who came from Lilliesleaf to Galashiels to establish a business there.

After setting up home in High Street they shortly moved to 1 Elm Row.

This was quite a commodious house with a long history but no one living knows quite when it was built but it is evident it had been altered and added to in the course of some 200 years.

It was known as a coaching inn and it was here that the carriers carts called and made a halt in their journey from Edinburgh to the south and vice versa.

It was here that a lost parcel addressed to Margaret Carruthers, Bridge Street from her brother Henry came to light. He had bought her some beautiful cashmere at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and sent it to her by carrier but it never reached her and its non arrival caused much anxiety. 

Enquiries were made and eventually the parcel was found in a cart filled with straw in the stables at the back of the inn. Alas the contents were useless having been eaten by rats.

There is no record of the date that the inn became a dwelling house but it is clear that the corner window was the entrance to the bar, up two steps. I understand that for many years after the doorway was made into a window it was possible on rainy days to read ‘Wines and Spirits’ over it.

At the back of the house where the stables used to be was a very large high kitchen where the ‘guizers’ used to come in and entertain. 

Because of the large outbuildings the garden around was small but large enough to provide many happy hours for the two youngsters who arrived in the 1890’s and they dug and dug and planted and pulled up things as children will.

It was shady corner and because of the shade many plants would not grow but a white lilac pushed up its perfumed plumes skywards and a grand tea rose, Gloire de Dijon, flung out stout thorny shoots to scratch little bare legs. 

Other delightful perfumes arose from the ‘Dusty Millers’ or auriculas which formed borders all around and from more roses and a patch of lilly of the valley.

This cabbage patch had endless possibilities.  In there was a farm with the animals from Noah’s Ark and a few barrow full’s of coals made a coal mine but best of all was a ‘crows nest’ from which much could be seen.  A step half way up the fence made a wonderful vantage point from which juvenile eyes could spy unnoticed on lovers in the lane and conclaves, of plotting schoolboys who unwittingly got a can of water emptied over their heads from the watchers above! The conspirators were soon dispersed. 

It was easy one day to discover that a dastardly plot was hatched to set fire to stout oak doors of the Old Parish Church alongside and although there was much smoke that scare was smartly ended. 

It was more exciting however, to have breathless poachers seeking sanctuary in the dark little garden weighed down with a heavy fish – salmon to the uninitiated, which by the way went no further!! In those days we lived on salmon at 6d per pound.

It was fun to hear the ‘bobbies’ dashing up and down the lane and long steps looking for the culprits but they were safe in our kitchen waiting to get the salmon roe to go fishing again.

The house at 1 Elm Row was to all children who knew it a wonderful and quite romantic place.

Like many old houses it was a glory of steps and stairs, to old legs very trying, but to young one simply grand for chasing up and down.

Also like old houses it had cavernous cupboards and very thrilling cellars where beer barrels had been stored and the very stones were worn at the gratings by the rolling of these down below. 

The floor between the cellars and the old bar was very thin and any one below could hear conversations above which was disconcerting at times but which might have been quite useful in the olden days.

Doubtless this was intentional as folks would chat more over a jug of beer.

Farmers were bound to frequent this place in the old days as up the Lawyers Brae and on past the Mercet Cross to the Hollybush road which was the old road to Selkirk where there were several farms on the way. 

There was one very old and interesting feature in this house and it might be there to this day. It was an old fireplace with high jambs on either side and three bars between, very high high up, making a very tiny fireplace but its ironwork was beautiful and worthy of preservation. 

My parents told me that prior to their occupation of this old house it was lived in by a Mr Walter Sanderson inspector of the poor and for many years after they were there people continued to come to the house asking for assistance. 

Mr Sanderson married a very dainty and charming lady, Miss Mary Armitage who had been governess to the young Baroness Rothschild.  There existed between then a great bond of friendship as long as Mrs Sanderson lived and it was said that the young Baroness settled on Mr Sanderson an annuity for his lifetime after his wife died.

The Baroness often caught the night train for Scotland unknown to her family and spent a night or two with her beloved ex governess.

In view of these frequent visits rooms were set apart for the guest and a bedroom with dressing room off was kept for her exclusive use. 

This dressing room was fitted out with hot and cold water which flowed into a fine white porcelain basin decorated with gold through a gold covered china lions head.

Such elegance and comfort was not so common even in castles some ninety years ago.

I think I have enumerated all the interesting features of this old house and I think because of its sturdiness it should stand up to time and weather for a very long time.

It stands in such a position that it has views for miles in three different directions.

Looking north and north-west over Buckholm Hill we children stood many times at our nursery window watching the ‘Merry Dancers’ on aurora borealis when winter nights were clear and cold.

In early winter mornings looking east towards the Eildon hills and beyond one was often treated to the most wonderful spectacle of tinted skies of blue, green, rose purple and yellow with the three hills standing out a warm purply black.

These lovely sunrises in December were a great joy to me and mine was the only bedroom in a position to view them.  Many a time have I been late for school gazing with absorbed interest at the changing kaleidoscope of colour trying at the same time with the aid of coloured chalks to record it on paper.

From our window fore and aft we would follow any important procession which wound its way through the town.

In winter, in my early school days, there was always a procession by torchlight of the Masons and of the Young Dyers Association and this, to children and no doubt others too, was a great event.

The Town Band always played at these functions and headed to procession and then spaced amongst the followers were the flickering torches.

This gleaming snake wound its way around and up Bank Street and at a distance looked fine.

I think it was the Young Dyers who had a mascot, a white goat which was lead behind the band gaily caparizoned. 

They carried in this procession a banner bearing their motto “We live to die and dye to live”.

I don’t think these events survived the first great world war.

We also had a better than grandstand view of circus processions making their way to the park – Barnum and Baillie and Sanger’s being household words in these days. These and General Booth drew large crowds along the route and the main bulk of spectators stood along the Bow Butts – a grassy waste in those days in which flourished a few fine elm trees.  There was a particularly large one at the head of the long steps but one wild stormy night it was blown down with a loud resounding crash destroying the steps and blocking Albert Place.

It was a long time before the wreckage was cleared and new steps erected and I, being a somewhat impatient child, could not wait for improvements, and when I had a penny to spend it was Mrs Fairbairn’s cocoa nut tablet I wanted and she had her shop at the bottom of the steps on Albert Place. It was a perilous journey to let myself down to the shop by hanging on the trailing branches but the effort was worth it!

The storm did a lot of damage and brought down our high garden wall.

As I mentioned earlier my sturdy birthplace should last a long time yet, possibly another 100 years but I fear that new improvements are taking place at the other end of Elm Row, it may be that the whole street can expect to be rebuilt in time.  This is the progress we can expect.

I should like to have been able to tell you in my tale of the old corner house that there was a ghost but there was not so I assume that it was a happy place through all its long life.