Memories of Borgue

Article by Stephen Norris in the Galloway News/Daily Record 17 July 2020

Memories of Borgue through the years is the latest in our Galloway People series

Borgue Primary School secretary Janette Watson looks back at life in the village over the decades

Janette Watson (Image: Jim McEwan)

“Oot o’the world and intae Borgue”, the old Kirkcudbrightshire saying goes.

Yet behind the aphorism lies a vibrant little community proud of its heritage.

And for Borgue Primary School Secretary Janette Watson, the village has been a constant throughout her life.

Born at nearby Barlocco in 1949, where her father Frank Sneddon had the tenancy, Janette grew up in a thriving agricultural community.

From a young age, she helped mum Mary with farm chores and enjoyed some special times with friends.

“As teenagers, we would swim at Kirkandrews in a little bay in front of Roberton House,” recalled Janette. “The young folk from all the farms round about would gather there in the summer. There would be around 20 of us because there were a lot of families on the land then. Sometimes we went to a beautiful bathing hut at Knockbrex which had cubicles. It belonged to the big house so we were not supposed to be there. But if we could see nobody around we would just go in.”

Janette’s father Frank Sneddon reaping at Barlocco

“Some time later, there was a fire and it burned down. Today, only the stone external walls are left.”

Much older Kirkandrews stories have echoed down the centuries.

“There’s a tale about the monks who lived there before the Reformation,” said Janette. “For a penance, two were sent to the church yard to sift stones from the soil. The task lasted years and to this day there’s hardly a stone in the kirk yard. Whether it’s a true story no-one knows.”

Winters were harder when Janette was a girl but life and work went on nonetheless. “In 1962-3 the snow was so bad we could not get to the cattle,” Janette recounted. “My dad got a big table from the dairy, turned it upside down, put chains on the legs and put his horse to it. Then off he set in this makeshift sledge with feed for the cows.”

Cold winters had one benefit – Borgue Curling Club could play outside. “There used to be a curling pond in the field above the village,” said Janette, a member for over 30 years.

The Coo Palace. (Image: Jim McEwan)

“Sometimes, my dad would go away curling trips even if there was snow on the ground. In the boot there would be a shovel, a pair of wellies and a hundredweight bag of coo cake to weigh down the back wheels. He would be up feeding cattle early, set the men their jobs for the day and be on the road at 7am. The curlers would not come back until the early hours of the next day with the most sober driving the rest of them. Once on the way to Ayr they found a butcher’s van in the ditch. The big Borgue men got out in the snow and just set the van back on the road.”

Borgue were runners-up in the Stewartry Cup last year and just missed out on a measure. “The club are going strong and can still field six full rinks,” Janette said. “We still enjoy the social side. But we come back on the same day if we go away!”

As with all Galloway communities the Great War took a grievous toll on Borgue. Janette’s uncle James Sneddon came back safely – although a journey to a new job didn’t quite go according to plan. “James was heading to Manchester to join the police force there,” said Janette. “But he fell asleep in the train and got off at Liverpool. He just stayed there and decided to join the Liverpool police instead!”

The 1914-18 carnage left many men mentally scarred and a few trailed round Galloway in search of solace.

Borgue old folk’s outings in the 1940s were often to mystery locations

“When I was a girl we had a tramp came every year to Barlocco,“ Janette recalled. “My dad would make him up a bag filled with chaff as a mattress and he would sleep in the straw shed. He would take his porridge in the morning then off he went. He would come at the same time every year and would only ever stay one night. If someone can remember who he was I would love to know.”

Local variety shows were popular in the 1960s and were the X-Factor of the times. “All the youth clubs took part in the “Ace of Clubs” competition,” recalled Janette. “It was held in Castle Douglas Town Hall and you would sing and act for the judges. Borgue Youth Club was led by George Haugh and one year did the Wizard of Oz. Sometimes we won and were in the paper. We would go round the rurals entertaining and performed a lot in village halls and stages. Borgue was famous on the local entertainment circuit!”

The village once had a football team which played on fields at Carlton and Borgue House. A bowling club and a badminton club are also no more but other activities remain.

The village hall (Image: Jim McEwan)

“Borgue barbecue started in the 1960s in front of Rogerson’s garage,” said Janette. “It fell into abeyance then Borgue Primary School parent council reinstated it on a lower scale. It’s more like a village fair with no dancing and is held at the primary school.”

“Borgue Flower Show is also a big event but both have been cancelled so August is going to be a pretty quiet month. We do have the alternative show with over 50 tubs of flowers and vegetables displayed in and around the village.”

Once Borgue boasted a village hall, church hall and bowling hall for dances. “Three different bands would be playing in them,” said Janette. “The bowling hall floor was amazing to dance on because it had so much spring.”

Dancing was also part of the Borgue kirn – a old tradition celebrating the safe gathering in of the harvest. “It died out decades ago,” Janette said. “There would be singing and dancing in the village hall in October time after the last oats were cut.”

Meanwhile, a love of horses has remained with Janette since her youth when Clydesdales were on the farm. “I would get sent with the Clydesdales to Chapelton smiddy where John Halliday shod the horses,” Janette recounted. “I was only in my teens and would sit on one horse and walk the other. John would take the old shoe off, trim the hoof, shape it, fit the shoe then nail it on. It was a skilled but back breaking job. His son Doug has a farm engineering business there now.”

Janette added: “Even with tractors my dad kept a working pair of Clydesdales. It must have been in his blood.”

Janette’s uncle Jimmy Sneddon forks corn sheafs on to the stacks to await the threshing mill.

“To this day there are still a number of riding horses in the parish. I keep a Welsh cob and a Gypsy cob and our farrier comes from Creetown. “Sadly, there are no working horses left.”

Arguably the most famous farm building is the Coo Palace, now converted into luxury holiday accommodation. Built as a dairy in 1914 by eccentric Manchester millionaire James Brown, the building was designed to look like a castle. The unit once housed 12 prize Belted Galloway “coos” and had a water tower with mock turrets. “I can remember it being a working dairy with a byre and the cows in the stalls,” said Janette. “I used to play in the tower with other children who lived round about.”

Borgue Primary School is another building with a long history and has records dating to the late 1800s. “We have admission registers of all pupils, their names, parents’ names and addresses,” Janette said. “Americans and Australians tracing their ancestors come in and it’s great when they find a record that belongs to them. The registers are a valuable piece of Borgue history. They really should be in a museum so they can be properly preserved and viewed. The primary school roll is 29 which is still pretty healthy for a wee community.”

Janette and husband Robert have been in the village since 2000 when they moved from High Borgue farm. With four children and four grandchildren Janette takes pride in her Borgue roots. “I’m fortunate to have been raised and brought up by my family in a living, working community so close to the sea,” she said. “We could not have wished for a better place for our children to grow up in. There’s a tremendous community spirit that has really shone through this year. The Borgue Hotel opened up a community shop to help keep people supplied. You couldn’t get things like flour, sugar and toilet rolls in the supermarkets but you could get them in Borgue.”

Borgue lost one of its popular figures when Adam Gray unexpectedly passed away earlier this year.

“Sadly, Ingleston Farm is now up for sale after Adam died,” said Janette. “Adam was very much a community person and the whole family did a lot for Borgue.”