Have you ever thought of the many changes which have taken place in our way of life since the beginning of the twentieth century?
Have you ever wondered what life was like in a Border village at that time?
Those thoughts passed through my mind as I wandered through the old village of Newstead, near Melrose, where I spent a large part of my childhood. What was life like at the turn of the century, before the installation of baths, flush toilets, running water, gas, electricity - not to mention cars, colour television, washing machines, spin driers and electric appliances of all kinds? How was it possible to exist without all those things which have become such an essential part of our everyday life?
Well, as I recall, life was very pleasant at that period. Can I just recount some of the daily chores and pleasures which were part and parcel of our lives at that time?
Our dwelling was a stone built, four room building, with an outhouse and a garden. The annual rent was £10 and rates amounted to about £3 per annum. I remember Mr James Curle W.S., the archaeologist, who directed the excavations at the Roman Fort of Trimontium and who carried out research into the different phases of Roman occupation, telling my mother that our house was built from stone quarried at nearby Oakendean quarry. No trace of this quarry now exists. This was a red stone which was extremely soft and easily worked when quarried, but which became exceptionally hard when exposed to the weather.
In common with a number of other houses in Newstead, a sundial was built into the wall above the front door, the date on it read 1752.
The chimney head was extensively carved and the mason who built it was probably the first owner.
A large number of the masons who built Melrose Abbey resided at Newstead, which has continued to be the home of masons throughout the ages.
When I lived at Newstead, there were still a number of old masons' families living in the village. I can recall Bunyons, Hearts, Redpaths and Pringles. Newstead also has the distinction of having one of the first, if not the first, Masonic Lodge in existence.
The fireplaces in our house were all fitted with sweys for hanging cooking pots on. We had no running water, gas or electricity and no inside toilet; the toilet was a dry outside type. Baths were an unheard of luxury for the working classes and only four baths existed in Newstead at that time.
It is a historical fact that the Roman Legions, under the leadership of Julius Agricola, enjoyed the luxury of hot baths and central heating in their buildings at newstead (Trimontium) nearly two thousand years ago. So much for progress!
Oil lamps and candles were the only means of lighting and a gallon pf paraffin cost ten pence in "old money" (about 4p).
All the water for domestic use had to be carried from one of the six "wells" situated at various parts of the village. This chore was one that was usually allocated to us youngsters and on washing day it could be rather exacting.
The water for the washing was boiled in a big iron pot which hung on a swey over a fire of dry sticks. A washing tub, a posting stick and a scrubbing board made up the equipment required for washing day.
The beds were known as "box beds" and two beds were built along one wall of each bedroom. Each bed had curtains draped along the front, which could be drawn to conceal the bed when required.
The beds had a base of wooden planks on which rested two palliasses which were filled with straw. On top of these rested a "tyke" filled with "café" which was the husks of the oats. The tyke was refilled with fresh "café" every year when the thrashing came round.
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