As a Society who believe in publishing factual subject matter. We support those who do their research and offer publication based on the evidence at hand. Two of our favourite authors are Brian Dingle and Jon Tait.
Today’s blog is from the former. Brian is an accomplished author whose knowledge and understanding of the Reivers, their background and lifestyle, is of a high quality. The era he covers and the feuds within it have never been forgotten. The reiving lifestyle was one which left our own family no choice but to fight to survive.
In those times, clan/family came before country and the oath to clan reflected the character of the person making it. Although seen as rogues and outlaws by some, the reiver lifestyle was one that was all-inclusive, from the farmhand to the Lord and Laird. Neither status nor rank was seen as an exclusion from reiver activities. Within the circle of family and close friends, honesty, integrity and a willingness to fight for the honour of their name and the protection of their own remained paramount.
Brian’s book ‘The Footsteps of Reivers‘ is based on an area of the British Isles which was a battleground for around 300 years – from 1296, when Edward I invaded Scotland, to the Union of the Crowns by James I/VI in 1603. The lands of the Marches on both sides of the borders remained a wasteland of continued bloodshed and devastation.
Set against this background of war between England and Scotland, the borderers themselves tried to survive by raiding (or reiving) from over the borders and from their own neighbours. As the raiding grew it forged men and women, where might was right and their word was their bond.
The borderers knew they couldn’t rely on either the English or Scottish governments or crowns for support, so they looked after their own. Families banded together, the names prevalent in the borders being Armstrong, Bell, Carruthers, Elliot, Irving, Scott, Home, Kerr, Maxwell, Charlton, and Milburn. The rise and end of the Border Reivers, their lifestyle, fortifications, Abbeys and Priories, the battles and the people and tales that took place during this time, made the Reivers into legends in both the borders and beyond. As a group, they added to the English language and gave some wonderful real-life folk tales which have lasted to this day. It is a history that covers our past, and allows us a solid foundation on which to build the future of our clan and family society.
Brian talked to us about his reasons for writing the reiver project:
“Over the last few years a lot of people have asked me the question “Why the Reivers book?” Well, my interest in history goes back to my childhood and the trips to Bamburgh beach under the magnificent Bamburgh Castle. It ignited a love of history and of the buildings associated with the tales. I still have a child’s history book given to me as a 9-year-old.
“I have visited sites for as long as I can remember and enjoyed every minute. No one else in the family shared the passion, so visits as a youngster were few and far between. One thing that did help was that the local farmhouse was crenellated and looked like a castle, even if it was built much later.
“After writing a couple of technical books, I suppose it was inevitable that I would turn my attention to history, although a book on the subject was furthest from my mind. I spent a lot of time with a camera, on a variety of subjects, until the whole thing came together in late 2011.
“I was sent a parcel in the mid-part of the year from a good friend. It turned out to be a DVD of a folk-rock band based in the Scottish borders. I listened, then rang my friend to thank him. The conversation turned to history, more importantly that of the Anglo-Scottish Borders, a place I knew well. We talked about the reivers, and I was invited to join my friend and his wife at the Hawick Reivers Festival the following March. I couldn’t refuse.
“The night before the festival, there was to be a concert in Hawick, given by the band on the DVD. Needless to say, there was a lot of catching up to be done as I now lived in Cheshire, which we enjoyed over copious amounts of red wine! The music and company were great.
“About three-quarters of the way through the night, I got a dig in the ribs from my friend, followed by: “You could do a book on the reivers!” I replied I couldn’t, so my friend suggested that I could do a picture book. It’s true I had done books a few years before, but they were specific technical books and nothing like either a picture or history book. My friend, however, was insistent. We continued to talk about it the following day during the festival, and in a later trip to Hermitage Castle.
“When I got home, I thought back to my childhood in Northumberland, and the names of the people in the village. There were plenty of reiver names there. There were Taits, Pringles, Rutherfords, Charltons, Robsons, Dixons, Armstrongs and Elliots. If ever there was a time or reason to do the book, then it was now.
“I looked at the pictures I had on the computer and I came up with only two digital images that I could use. This meant more trips home and more time with friends. What did become clear is that I’d have to visit every site I was putting in the book, and that the pictures alone wouldn’t suffice – I would have to write a considerable amount to support them.
“The last bit of thinking was the title. As I would have to visit each site, I would be, in effect, walking in the footsteps of the reivers. And so, the title was born.”
Brian was born in Newcastle, and raised in North Northumberland, close to the Scottish border. He is descended on his paternal grandmother’s side from the Elliots, a notable riding family from the Scottish Middle March now headed by their Chief, Madam Margaret Elliot of Redheugh.
Brian studied electronics at college in Newcastle before embarking on a career in industrial automation. For the last 20 years, he has run his own company that supports the British dairy industry. Brian also works as a semi-professional landscape photographer. Over the last 10 years he has regularly photographed the English-Scottish border. He has been married to Teresa for over 30 years. They have 2 grown-up children and now live near Lanark, in Scotland.