Hawick’s cultural epoch can arguably be traced back to 1514, when the settlement’s young men or ‘Callants’ were called to arms to defeat a marauding band of English invaders. After the Battle of Flodden the previous year, around a third of the Scottish army had been killed (upwards of 10,000 men), making the Borders extremely vulnerable to attack by English forces. Almost all able bodied men from Hawick, aged from sixteen to sixty, had been killed in action. Prior to the Battle of Hornshole, there was another instance of local heroism. In November 1513, a large raiding party led by Lord Dacre was apprehended on the Fodderlee Burn near Bonchester. There was thought to be 4000 horsemen and 400 bowmen set on reiving cattle and supplies. A hardy band of locals chased and harried Lord Dacre’s men through the valley until they retreated.
History rarely records such losses, but Dacre was to return to the area on a speculative raid in May 1514. The raiding party had recently laid waste to towers, villages and houses across the West and Middle Marches, including Caerlanrig, Alemoor Tower and Ashkirk. Warning beacons were lit across region to forewarn of further attacks. Recent research has shown that the party did not intend to attack Hawick directly, but rather camp at Trows (near Hornshole), as that spot was on a well-worn route to England, via Midshiels ford and Cavers.
Prior to their arrival, Hawick Magistrates called a meeting of the town’s inhabitants and proposed that the enemy be resisted at any cost and the town defended to the last – “aye defend your rights and common” still reflects this sentiment today. Around two hundred of Hawick’s youth were armed with swords, dirks, pikes, bows and arrows and set off for Trows. In the early hours of the next morning the English camp was caught by surprise and a massacre ensued. The Callants returned to the town with a captured pennant raised on high, belonging to the Priory of Hexham. These are the colours of today’s Hawick Common-Riding: gold on royal blue.
It is important to note that modern commemorations of this event do not celebrate an act of brutal violence, nor do they revel in spilt English blood. Rather they celebrate an act of youthful bravery against the threat of almost certain death and the avoided destruction of a community. With each passing year, Hawick’s new Cornet embodies these values. In 2014, as part of the 500th anniversary of the event, a stunning £80,000 bronze artwork was unveiled at Tower Knowe. It depicts five figures, including a young Callant raising the captured Abbot of Hexham’s banner. Quincentenary Cornet Ross Gibson unveiled the new statue before a large crowd on Common-Riding Thursday, after a grand re-enactment of the battle which involved over 1,500 local school children.