Burgh of Hawick

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Hawick probably first came into the possession of the Douglases in the 14th century when granted to Sir James Douglas, 'the hero of Roxburgh'  He certainly held Cavers and Liddesdale at that time.


In 1452, the grant of the Barony of Hawick to William Douglas of Drumlanrig was reconfirmed, and sixty years later his successor and descendnat began to develop his inheritance.  Sir William Douglas enacted two legal documents which may be said to be the outset of the town's modern history.  After a dispute with the royal court over the extent of his rights, he made Hawick into a free burgh of barony in 1511.  Two years later, Sir William was dead - killed on the field of Flodden.


The Town Charter of 1537, signed and sealed by Sir James Douglas, the seventh Baron of Hawick (c1498-1578) is the oldest document in Hawick. It is stored in the controlled environment of the Heritage Hub vaults. The fragile document states that this is a re-affirmation of the earlier Charter, probably given by Sir William Douglas, Sir James' father, which has been lost in times past "through hostile invasions of Englishmen and robbers". This Charter was confirmed in 1545 by the two year old Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87) and this document is also carefully preserved with the town's precious papers.

This Charter granted "particates" or small pieces of land to a large number of people who are mentioned by name It also granted the Common Moor of Hawick and the Common Haugh for the benefit and use of the town. There was rough ground for grazing, good land for pasture and peat for fuel.

"'Twas then Drumlanrig, generous donor,
Gave (immortal be his honour)
What might soothe Hawick's dire disaster,
Land for tillage, peats and pasture"

It is thought that Sir William is the "generous donor" mentioned in "Teribus" and Sir James Douglas may have granted his charter of 1537 to honour the memory of his father. He also wanted to relieve the poverty of the people of Hawick by confirming their ownership of the land. A toast to "The Memory of Drumlanrig" is made to this day.

The Charter of 1537 confirmed Hawick as a burgh of barony, and at this time the town appears to have consisted of 110 houses including the manor house, church and mill. To run the burgh were two bailies and thirty-one councillors.

By 1669 the superiority had passed from the Douglas family to the Scotts of Buccleuch.

Until 1747 a burgh of barony was presided over by a feudal superior who had authority from the Crown to administer justice and to hold barony courts dealing with crimes and matters of good neighbourhood and thereafter solely matters of good neighbourhood.

Hawick became a police burgh in 1845 leaving the existing, self-electing baronial town council in place but placed some powers in the hands of a body of thirteen commissioners of police, ten of whom were to be voted in place by the electorate.

In 1861, a new municipal constitution was introduced consisting of a provost, the town's civic head, four bailies an twelve councillors. (In Scotland a bailie was the title of a magistrate who sits in a court). He is elected by the council from among the councillors. To become a councillor one had first to be a burgess, a leading citizen of the town. At the time of the 1537 Charter a burgess was from the merchant and tradesmen classes who paid a fee for admission to graze their cattle and cut peats on the Common.

In January 1901 the police commissioners were replaced by Hawick Town Council.

From 1930 Hawick was classed as a small burgh and remained so until 1975, when the Town Council was abolished. Its powers were assumed by Borders Regional Council and Roxburgh District Council. A Hawick Community Council was set up at the same time to keep an eye on local affairs and make recommendations and observations to the District and Regional Councils. In 1996 they were replaced by Scottish Borders Council. At this time the water and sewerage functions were taken over by the East of Scotland Water Authority and then by Scottish Water in 2002. Hawick Community Council continued as before. (Since 1975 provost, bailies and magistrates are honorary posts).

In the 21st century, the Common is owned by the Common Good. (Common Good is the property owned by a town in Scotland). This is run for the people of Hawick by the Scottish Borders Council which has its Headquarters in Newtown St Boswells. By agreement with this Council the Common Good Fund is used for the good of Hawick and isn't used outside Hawick's boundaries. In 2011, Scottish Borders Council sought to amalgamate all of the eight Common Good Funds under its control into one. The Hawick Fund, which was very healthy at this time, was already linked with the Jedburgh and Kelso Funds, but reaction from the townsfolk of Hawick and its Councillors resulted in the Hawick Fund being retained under the control of the six Hawick Councillors for the benefit of Hawick.

Six elected Councillors today represent Hawick (pop 14,500 in 2011) and the surrounding area in two wards on Scottish Borders Council. This Council has 34 Councillors in total for 11 multi member wards and a population of about 114,000 at the census in 2011.



See also:

•  Drumlanrig's Tower




Sources for this article include:
  • Hawick Callants Club

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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024