The Common Riding

The Hawick Common-Riding is the first of the Border Common Ridings and celebrates both the capture of an English Flag in 1514 by the youth of Hawick at a place called Hornshole and the ancient custom of riding the marches or boundaries of the common land.

The Cornet for the year is elected at the beginning of May, well in advance of the Common Riding proper, when the Honorary Provost’s Council, on the recommendation of the two previous Cornets (called the Right and Left-Hand Men) invites a young man to act as Cornet. The Halberdier, accompanied by the Drum and Fife Band, carries an official letter of invitation to the nominated Cornet. Invitation accepted, the Officer is rewarded with a new “shilling” and asked to carry the Cornet’s letter of acceptance back to the waiting Council. Afterwards the Cornet with his two predecessors walk round the older parts of the town before attending a congratulatory Smoker. From then until the Common Riding is over the Cornet is an honoured figure in Hawick. The first recorded Cornet was in 1703 and other than the World Wars there has been an unbroken line to the present day.

In the weeks preceding the actual Common Riding, on each Saturday and Tuesday, the Cornet and his supporters are out on their rideouts in the course of which they visit surrounding villages and farms. The main rideout, however, usually two weeks before the Common Riding weekend, is the twenty-four mile ride to Mosspaul and back.

While returning from the rideout on the Saturday before the Common Riding the principals visit the Hornshole Lest We Forget Memorial to salute the memory of the youth of 1514.

On the Thursday evening of the week preceding the Common Riding, the first of the Cornet’s Chases takes place up a hill called the Nipknowes on the way to St. Leonards Farm where a local caterer is asked to prepare the customary dish of “curds and cream” in readiness as a refreshment during the actual riding of the marches. This marks the end of the preliminary procedure.

The Common Riding proper takes place in June on a Friday and Saturday. It had been the invariable practice to hold the riding of the marches on the last Friday in May, but the adoption by this country of the Gregorian Calendar, which removed eleven days from the year, forced the event into June.

This important week begins on the Sunday with the Kirkin’ o’ the Cornet during a service in the church of which he is a member. This is preceded by the Cornet’s Church Parade in which the principals, together with the followers, walk from the Council Chambers to the church.

In the afternoon the Cornet’s Lass with the Lasses of the two previous Cornets travel to the Hornshole Memorial and lay a wreath.

Following Chases on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings of Common Riding week the second major Chase takes place on the Thursday morning when the Cornet carries the unbussed Flag for the first time. After breakfast the Principals visit the local schools where, after a rapturous welcome, the Cornet requests the Head Teacher to proclaim a holiday for the rest of the day and the next. This is of course granted and the children and assembled parents join with the riders in singing the town’s songs.

During Common Riding Week large numbers of “exiled Teries” return to their home town from all over the world to join in the festivities and renew old friendships. To mark the occasion the Council hold a reception where they are officially welcomed by the Honorary Provost and the Cornet and are entertained.

One of the most impressive and colourful of all the Borders towns’ ceremonies, the Colour Bussing, takes place on the Thursday evening in the Town Hall. The Honorary Provost and Magistrates are played into a packed Hall by the Drum and Fife Band. Then come the Lasses with the Maids of Honour. The Cornet’s Lass carries the Flag to the front of the Hall. She mounts the platform with her attendants and “busses” the Flag by tying ribbons of blue and gold to the head of the staff. This is symbolic of the days when women, as a sign of affection, bedecked their loved ones before going off to battle. The Lass then hands the Flag to the Honorary Provost.

The Cornet with the Right and Left-Hand Men, who have been guarded by halberdiers in 18th century dress, now come forward. The Honorary Provost, after congratulating the Lass, passes the Flag into the Cornet’s keeping, reminding him that it is “the embodiment of all the traditions that are our glorious heritage”. The Cornet is charged to ride the marches of the commonty of Hawick according to ancient custom and return the Flag “unsullied and unstained” at the conclusion of the ceremonies. There follows an oration by the Chief Guest and song-singing.

Immediately following the Colour Bussing the Halberdier appears on the balcony of the Town Hall and reads to the crowds below the Proclamation calling on the burgesses to “ride the meiths and marches of the commonty”.

Then begins the Cornet’s Walk with his supporters, preceded by the Saxhorn and Drum and Fife Bands. The Cornet and supporters, followed by the Lasses and Maids of Honour, proceed to the 1514 memorial also known as the “Horse”, where he busses the flag of the equestrian statue commemorating Hornshole, as a tribute to his centuries old predecessor, in front of dense, enthusiastic crowds. The Lasses and Maids return to the Town Hall whilst the Cornet’s Walk continues around the Burgh, via North Bridge Street to Buccleuch Street via the High Street, back to the Tower Knowe where the Cornet ties the ribbons onto the 2014 commmemorative statue, then concluding the walk at the Town Hall.

At 6.00 a.m., the following morning, Common Riding day proper, the Drum and Fife Band set off to rouse the town. Presently a large crowd assembles at Towerdykeside for a curious ceremony called the Snuffin’, when snuff is dispensed from an old horned mull amid much jostling and pushing. After the melee, packets of snuff are thrown from a window; the crowd soon dispersing to the surrounding hostelries for the traditional refreshment of rum and milk before breakfast.

The Cornet and his supporters, married and unmarried, breakfast together in a local hotel, while the Provost entertains colleagues and guests to breakfast in the Town Hall. Afterwards oak leaves are distributed and this is followed by the singing of the “Old Song” at the door of the Tower Hotel, each of the Principals taking it in turn to sing verses.

Afterwards the Principals, followed by a huge number of followers – sometimes as many as 300, mount their horses and set off in a procession round the town and on to the Nipknowes where the main chase of the Common Riding takes place. Firstly the Acting Father followed by the married supporters gallops up the hill. The Cornet, with the Flag held high, gallops up the hill followed by the unmarried supporters. At its conclusion the Cornet’s Acting Father in his capacity as Acting Senior Magistrate takes the Flag and carries it to St. Leonards to the song and toast session in the Hut – the Curds and Cream Repast.

The Chase could represent the youths of Hawick returning in triumph from the battle of Hornshole proudly following the captured Flag to the cheers of the local people. Alternatively it could symbolise the townspeople chasing off unauthorised users of the Town’s Common.

After leaving the Hut and singing “Teribus” in front of the farmhouse the riders set off via Williestruther Loch and Acreknowe Reservoir for the serious business of riding the marches making their way to the extremity of the Common – the corner of a field where the Cornet dismounts and ceremoniously “Cuts the Sod” to mark the boundary as ancient custom demanded.

They then make their way to the race-course where the Cornet rides the course and then places the Flag on the roof of the committee room before being presented with a riding-crop as a memento of his term of office. After a programme of horse-racing the company remounts and proceeds by way of Crumhaughhill to Myreslawgreen to complete their riding of the boundaries. At Myreslawgreen the riders receive refreshments and wait while the Principals proceed to the Coble Pool in the River Teviot, where they enter the water. The Cornet lowers the staff of the Flag three times into the water to mark the ancient boundary of the Burgh.

On their return to the main party the procession moves to Millpath where a proclamation is made to the effect that the marches have been duly ridden, without interruption or molestation of any kind. This is followed by an enthusiastic rendering of “Teribus” which gives this ceremony its name – the Song Singing. The Drum and Fife Band play the party on foot back to the Town Hall where the Flag is returned temporarily to the Council Chambers, where it is displayed from the balcony.

Later in the evening the Cornet attends the Common Riding Dinner and is presented with his official Cornet’s Medal, commemorative of his year in office, and the spirit of the Riding is renewed in toast, song and story. An honoured place is given to a silent toast “The Memory of Drumlanrig”, the generous donor of the “Common” which every Hawick Callant along with his “rights” will surely “aye defend”. The climax of the Common Riding has been reached.

Then on to the Common Riding Ball. Reels and country dances are prominent and at Midnight the Cornet’s Reel, which is confined to the Cornet, ex-Cornets and the Lasses, is danced with considerable enthusiasm. The dancing continues through the night. As dawn approaches the revellers, headed by the Cornet, walk to Mote Park where the Big Four climb to the summit of the Mote to greet the rising sun with another rendering of “Teribus”. On returning to Tower Knowe the Principals dance a final reel before getting some well earned rest.


The Saturday proceedings bring the festival to a close. The town is again roused by the Drum and Fife Band and by 9.30 a.m. the riders are once more saddled and bridled for another procession. They ride first to Wilton Lodge Park where after standing in their stirrups and singing “Teribus” at the end of the Avenue, the principals lay wreaths of remembrance on the town’s War Memorial. The procession then heads for the Moor where horse races are again held.

On the Cornet’s return, his official duties end when he ceremoniously returns the Flag to the Honorary Provost in the Council Chambers. The Honorary Provost accepts the return of the Flag, congratulates the Cornet on his conduct and thanks him for the satisfactory carrying out of his duties. The Cornet finally displays the Flag on the balcony overlooking the High Street and the Saxhorn Band play a hymn-like tune called the “Invocation”. The mounted supporters stand in their stirrups as if to attention to mark the successful conclusion of another Common Riding.