The Neighbours: An Introduction to the Cairncross and Hoy Families at Colmeslie and Colmesliehill, by John W. Hoy


(My thanks go to John Hoy for supplying the following piece about the Cairncross and Hoy families.)

The situations of the Cairncross and Hoy families at Colmeslie, Colmesliehill and Gattonside between the 1530's and the 1750's can illustrate circumstances faced by friendly tenants in this region tense with national conflict and uncertainty within social and religious orders. We can assess certain events pertaining to these families during these years, but the fortunes of succeeding generations of particular family groups is still to be pinned down precisely.

Though the family groups appear to have faded from the Borders, their fate was wrapped within each change and evolution, and they have since been able to survive elsewhere. In fact, perhaps because Hoys specifically were a smaller group, it may be easier for an interested party to track movements during their time in 'Melroseland.' However, the record is thin and theirs, like that of other family groups, may depend on modest artefacts. Similarly, Hoy is easily confused with Hog and Hay. In his "A History of the Border Counties (London: Blackwood, 1899)", Sir George Douglas provides this modest observation about another, neighbouring, Border family: 'In the churchyard of Eckford are the graves of a whole race of Halls.' But he also provides this dry footnote, '[t]he long connection of particular families with certain of the Border villages, as shown by their gravestones, is interesting. The Hoggs in Roxburgh are another instance'. (Both quotations 383). For families battling poverty and lack of access to resources, even the expense of markers or burial in familiar churchyards may have been daunting.

The Melrose Regality Records, transcribed and edited by Charles S. Romanes, reprinted by the Scottish History Society in three volumes, offer a catalogue of generally small-claims action in this region during the 'troublous times' of mid-16th century through to the 18th, with some clues about events earlier. 'Proofs were taken as to heritable titles in cases of disputed ownership. Boundaries and marches were investigated, proofs led, and the rights of parties determined.' The Introductions to the Volumes provide an overview of the divisions of the parcels and serve to illuminate legal manoeuvres and circumstance, even for smaller family groups such as the Hoys in this area. One issue in particular impacted on Hoys and Cairncrosses of the Melrose area.

The vassals of the Regality, apart from the town of Melrose, appear to have been thirled to the Milne of Langshaw, but in many cases, obviously to avoid payment of the thirle multures, the feuars seem to have preferred to go elsewhere. A good deal of litigation consequently appears to have arisen before the bailie and the Supreme Courts to compel these recalcitrants to send their grain to be ground at Langshaw and to pay the dues exacted, (both quotations from the Introduction, Melrose Regality Records, Volume I [MRR I]. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1914, l.).

Romanes points to personal motivations: 'Generally it might be said litigants went before the bailie with an action for the smallest trifles, and proceeded with the process in due solemnity...' (MRR I, l). It is not hard for a reader today of the Records to envision the hazards from disease, famine, large-scale climatic changes, political upheaval, rigidity of feudal social structures and castes, religious upheaval, simplistic and unchanging farming methods, poor or non-existent education for women and lower classes, lack of access to hard currency, and flat-out bad luck. As late as 1775, thousands suffered as slaves in Scotland (Cockburn, Henry.Henry Cockburn: Memorials of His Time. Karl F.C. Miller, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago,1974, p 70). The crofter would depend on any resource which might provide relief and better opportunity, including the chance for a neutral judge. At times of threat, even the church buildings were built and rebuilt with an eye to physical protection for parishioners living nearby, requiring cash from the vassals as well as from the laird to support repairs. Access to a large stone structure, such as towers at Colmeslie and nearby, must also have been reassuring. A good source for information on the use of churches for defense is in 'Safe Sanctuaries: Security and Defence in Anglo-Scottish Border Churches 1290-1690', by Christopher Brooke (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2000).

Many of the cottages during war years were intentionally kept simple, easily reconstructed. The framework, roofs and interiors of stone structures, as well as cottages, were vulnerable to fire, whether accidental or resulting from raiding and war. One such fire seemed to destroy many of the records which supported the Cairncross charter for lands near Colmeslie. Subsequent to that fire, Court Records reflect the efforts to recall who was where and when that was, and to re-document the charters: 'William Cairncorse, younger of Calfhill, his evidents wer brunt, of the fragments quhairof thair is onlie two chairtours of confirmation under the great seil of the twa halfis of Ladopmure' (MRR I, 83).

To support military enterprise in a time of war or siege, families would supply such items as feather beds, pikes, guns, shelter, soldiers and food to defensive or occupying armies, or they might hide in the forests with cattle and movables and give the rest over. After a period of perhaps years of disruption, a backlog of legal cases would then proceed to unwind, with resentment and bickering among the parties involved, and impatience and frustration on the part of the officers of the court.

Proximity to the agents of the Crown, the justices and bailies on circuit, could have a significant impact. Given the large number of guilty verdicts based on missing defendants, the ability of an officer to find these farmers and craftspeople, and the capacities of these citizens in turn to reach the sites of the hearings in time, was crucial. In the 18th century, influential moderates such as Henry Home, Lord Kames, were able to bring about greater awareness of the plight of the poor and un-landed. Hoys in the Melrose area seemed to be in some middle ground, losing over time their access to the lands at Colmesliehill, though they seemed to keep hold to six particular acres or so in Gattonside well into the 18th century.

An overview of Colmesliehill tenantry appears in the Introduction to the third volume of the MRR (1917):
These lands known as Cumbesliecnol were granted in feu by the Earl of Bothwell on 1st April 1567 to John Hoy in Combesliehill, who was still in possession in 1607. They appear next to have been in the hands of the Cairncrosses, but on 5th August 1630 there was a Crown grant to Walter Murray of Aikwode and his heirs of the lands of Colmesliehill, which were resigned by Alexander Hay of Colmesliehill with consent of Elizabeth Hunter, his spouse, Willam Hunter sometime of Williamslaw, then in Overwood, Andrew Darling in Appletreeleaves called 'Midandrew,' Alexander Hunter of Wrangham for himself and the heirs of James Hunter, minister at Smailholm, his father, Mariot Aikman, widow of said James, and Thomas M'Dowal in Stodrigg, then her spouse (MRR III, xlii-xliii).

'The first mention of Colmeslie in the Chartulary is when Malcolm IV granted to the monks of Melrose a site in the lower part of Cumbesley to erect a cow-house for one hundred cows and a sheepfold. The name was doubtless derived from St. Colm of Columba, the ruins of a chapel dedicated to him marking a field still called the Chapel Park.

'Prior to the Reformation the lands were in the occupation of the Cairncross family. One of these, Nicol Cairncross, a burgess of Edinburgh and one of the 'Kirkmasters of the confrary and altare of the haly blude,' held grants of various lands. He appears to have had no issue by his wife, Marion Scott. In the charter of the lands of Bakspittaill and Foirspittail in the regality of Broughton and Sheriffdom of Edinburgh, dated 21st April 1536, his brother William is mentioned as next in succession, and in subsequent charters he is designated Cairncross of Comesley. The descendents of William Cairncross held the lands for several generations' (MRR III, xliii-xliv).

In the Selkirk charters, we find a Robert Hoye, apparently of Selkirk, a signer on 10th August, 1534. An instrument of Sasine dated 24th October 1534 includes as witness John Hoy of Colmesliehill (MRR III, 364-5). Melrose Abbey provided early on a magnet for interest in the area, benevolent or otherwise. Hoys gained access to Colmesliehill at some time before the 16th century, then their residency was clarified under direction of Alexander Balfour. Michael Balfour was commendator of Melrose, and he, 'by authority of Royal letters, dated 3rd March 1557, granted in feu farm to Alexander Balfour of Denemylne a large amount of the Abbey lands' (MRR I, xlvi).

In 1557, an action to redeem the lands of Cowmeslie notes a warning given to Marioun Hoppringill and her sone Robert Carnecroce, to report betuix the sone rysing and the sone ganging. One of the witnesses is James Hoy (MRR III, 151).

A notation for 24th February 1582 brings light to some details and personalities within the Cairncross family:
'Precept of Clare Constat, in favour of Elizabeth, Agnes, Barbara, Christina, Margaret and Katherine Carncorse as heirs portioners of the deceased John Carncorse, eldest son of Charles Carncorse in Collmislie, their brother, in the half lands of Laudhomuir with the teinds and half the moss of Ridcorsmos occupied by the said Charles Cairncorse, paying yearly 27 1/2 stones of butter or 6 s. 8 d. for each stone and three fidders of turf or 40 d. for each, extending in money to the sume of 14 merks and 40 d. Dated Edinburgh, 24th February 1582; witnesses Archibald Dundas, Robert Birrall, Edward Meikiljhone and James Prymros, notary' (MRR III, 310-11).

In November, 1606, the Cairncross and Hoy families appear to be addressed specifically, with perhaps the two patriarchs of the time called to account for their lack of 'support' for Langshaw Mill:
'The quhilk day anent the thirle of the mylen of Langschaw acclameit by Sir Jedeane Murray, fewar of the samein, allegeand the tennents of Blainslee, Threipwood, Moshouses, Jhone Hoye, Nicholl Cairncroce, is and are parte thirleit to the said mylne, and that thai pas with thair cornis fra the said mylne contraire to consuetuid and rycht. Compeirit the saids tennents be Francis Wilkensoun thair procurator, and na wayis denyit thair astrictione to the said mylne upon sik conditiones as thai war useit of beffoir, with speciall provisione thai be thankfullie serveit, quhairupon the said Sir Jedeane requireit act' (MRR I, 27).

The references regarding this dispute refer back to 1586, when Johne Hoy of Colmisliehill is named in an action regarding Langshaw Mill (MRR I, 57).

From primarily farming in the 16th century, subsequent Hoys in this Borders area were merchants, smiths, maltmen, carriers and herders. John Hoy was a merchant in Galtonside in 1662, apparently with John Scott, and owed money for the 1662 crop from the Melrose orchyaird of William Edgar (MRR II, 1915, 49). William Hoy was a maltman in Galtonside in 1663 (MRR II, 68). Cairncrosses showed better resiliancy, for whatever reason, but their large family appear to have progressed in a similar way.

One entry makes known what might have been a lively altercation:

'Melrose, 28 February 1663
'Which day decerns Walter Cairncroce, eldest lawful son of William Carnecroce of Allanshaw, to William Edgar, fiscal 100 £ Scots for deforcing Andrew Kennedie, officer, on 23 February inst. when poinding his sword for payment to Ephraim Wilkiesone in the House of the Moor of 20 [Scots pounds] principal and 40 s. expenses in decreet, 25 October last; referred to defender's oath, who deferred to Kennedy's oath, who deponed affirmatively' (MRR II, 55).

The tendency of landowners at this time to consolidate their holdings at the expense of the tenants accelerates in 1668, when John, Earl of Haddington, seeks removal of—though in fact probably to enforce payment of owed money and goods from about 50 households in the Melrose area, so that he may dispone thereupon (MRR II, 207). John, Earl of Haddington subsequently 'departed this life 1 September 1669' (MRR II, 241). Thomas Hoy is still in Coumisliehill 9 December 1671 (MRR II, 287).

18 May 1672 brings onto the scene more action, which 'decerns all and sundry the feuars, farmers, tenants, tacksmen and possessors of Melroisland to pay to Charles, Earl of Haddington, their Whitsunday maill and duties, 1672, and arrears' (MRR II, 300).

14 June 1673 brings action against Andrew Cairncroce of Wester Longlie and sundry others, including John Hoy of Galtonside, to 'flit and remove from the same and teinds, mills, cobles and fishings, to the effect that Charles, Earl of Haddington, and others in his name may enter to possession' (MRR II, 337-8).

19 May 1680 presents another long list of residents (including Hoys, but no Cairncrosses) as defendants in another action by Charles Hamiltoun, Earl of Haddington (MRR III, 92-94).

4 August 1680 action of horning to benefit the minister in Melrose as well as the Earl of Haddington includes assessment of William Cairncroce of Hilslope, for his lands of Calfhill, together with Robert Hilstone, his tenant: 46 merks 6 s. 8 d. At the same time, Andrew Cairncroce of Westerlonglie is assessed 66 merks 10 s. William and Walter Cairncroce for their lands of Allanshaues, along with their tenant George Turner, 60 merks. George Hoy in Galtonside is notified in May, 1681 of his assessment: 134 [Scots pounds] 7 s. 6 d (MRR III, 99-100).

In 1701, horning against multiple vassals provides a list of lairds as well as many other more pedestrian tenants who owed duties to John Haliburtone, tacksman of the lordship of Melrose (MRR III, 119-127).

During the later stages of the seventeenth century, one Hoy family group began working for Walter Laidlaw, to the west, in Yarrow and the Ettrick Forest. This group stayed in that area until late in the eighteenth century, when emigration became more general, as living conditions in the Borders declined and more farms were consolidated. Agricultural methods had become a topic of general discussion, with the aim to make farmland more efficient and profitable. At least one group of Hoys moved to Berwickshire.

Unfortunately, the future was probably clear for those who may have had little, and emigration or wage earning made sense. As a result, these properties of Colmeslie and Colmesliehill gradually found their ways into the hands of outright landowners, who may have pursued farming along new plans, but often managed by a local of proven field authority.

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