The Gypsies
The Early History
Gypsies in Scotland
Gypsies in the Borders
The Yetholm Gypsies
Gypsy Families
The Faa Family
Jean Gordon

The Yetholm Gypsies

The Yetholm gypsies were, because they were so close to the Border, in a somewhat more fortunate position than those of other more central areas. If under threat, they could vanish over the Border and wait until everything had calmed down before returning. There was an adequate food supply in the Cheviots from the herds of deer and the other animals which roamed the hills. They could move freely from east to west along the Border to reappear at some other spot. Although they were frequently in the Yetholm area, they do not appear to have set up any permanent homes until late on, and certainly into the eighteenth century.

There was however an inbuilt rivalry between the various groups in the border area, and there are recorded a great many violent incidents between the groups. Serious battles were frequent, with many serious and life-threatening injuries resulting, and the trial records show murders to have been almost commonplace, especially between members of the same tribe. Their gatherings at the various fairs which were held throughout the Borders, and no doubt the amount of drink consumed, seem to have led to continuous ongoing friction. Fights at St James Fair at Kelso, at Earlston Fair and at St Boswells Fair are all recorded in the local press of the time.

Despite all the evil-doing detailed above, many, however, saw service in foreign wars and did themselves and their families proud. One such act of bravery is, according to one tradition, the reason for the gypsies arriving in Yetholm.

During war with the French, at the siege of Namur, in 1695, a gypsy of the name of Young, saved the life of a British Officer, Captain David Bennet, who owned property in the Yetholm area. Accordingly, in gratitude for this deed, the Captain built cottages at Yetholm and leased them to the gypsies. At this time, the feu consisted of a cottage, a garden and about a quarter of an acre in the loaning. In addition, there was the right to cut turf and peat, and grazing for a cow and a horse, all on Yetholm Common. This, indeed, was gratitude.

Murray in his 'The Gypsies of the Border', published in 1875, has a different tale to tell, still, however, involving the Bennet family. According to this story, Sir William Bennet of Marlfield had a particularly valuable horse which was 'borrowed' by a group of Jacobites who were passing south along the valley in 1715. Sir William gave the task of recovering his horse to a Faa, who had been following the Jacobites. The successful recovery of his horse led to him giving the Faas permission to settle in Kirk Yetholm.

From one of these happenings, the Yetholm gypsy tradition is supposed to have sprung.

On Bennet's death, in 1755, Nisbet of Dirleton, Bennet's successor, built additional cottages for the gypsies and was so impressed by them that he named them his bodyguard. When the Marquis of Tweeddale acquired the Grubbet estates, he continued to allow them these same privileges of residence. Wauchope of Niddrie, who owned the adjacent barony of Town Yetholm, however, would not allow them even to walk upon his ground. Later, however, the Wauchopes and the gypsies seem to have made good their differences.

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The Gypsies

Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day