One of the most interesting and colourful ceremonies, the Colour-Bussing, takes place on the Thursday evening of the Common Riding Week. This evening has been called "The Nicht Afore the Morn", the last night before the big day. To many people the Common-Riding proper begins at 6 pm on this Thursday evening. It is at this time that the Drum and Fife Band march round the town to the Town Hall for the Colour-Bussing.
The hall is filled with excited Teries, delighted to have been lucky enough to get tickets in the ballot that is held two to three weeks before the Common-Riding. The main part of the balcony, "The Lads Gallery", is crowded with supporters and visiting Principals from other towns whose singing gets everyone in the right mood. The ceremony is relayed to crowds outside the Town Hall by speaker and television screens.
Everyone stands as the Provost and magistrates are led into their places on the stage by the Drum and Fife Band. Then come the Lasses. The Cornet’s Lass is accompanied by the Lasses of the two previous Cornets and the Maids of Honour, who have just finished pinning the ribbons on the Lads before they take their seats in the Gallery. There are twenty-two Maids of Honour, ten chosen by the Cornet's Lass, five each by the Right- and Left-Hand lasses, and two by the Acting Mother. They all look very glamorous in their beautiful summer dresses and hats. The Cornet’s Lass carries the Flag to the front of the hall, leaving it with the Right- and Left-Lasses as she mounts the platform. She "busses" the Flag from the platform by tying ribbons of blue and gold to the head of the staff. This is just as in olden times when women bedecked their men as a sign of affection and good luck before they went off to battle.
The Lass then hands the Flag to the Provost saying:
"I very much appreciate the great honour conferred upon me in being allowed to present this ancient Banner, and I trust you find it well and truly bussed."
The Provost accepts the Flag saying:
"I congratulate you on the dignity and poise with which you Bussed our ancient Banner and do indeed find it well and truly bussed.
"I also present you with your Cornet's Lass's Badge as a memento of this occasion."
The Cornet wears his official uniform for the first time for this ceremony. The Cornet and his Right- and Left-Hand Men, wearing green tail coats, tile hats, chamois gloves, dress trousers, buff waistcoats, white shirts and Cornet's ties, have been guarded by Halberdiers in eighteenth century dress. They all now come forward. The Lass takes the crimson sahs of office from the Right-Hand Man and places it over the Cornet's shoulder to complete his uniform.
The Provost then hands him the Flag for safe keeping and instructs the Cornet to:
'Ride the meiths and marches of the commonty of Hawick according to ancient custom and having done so return the Flag to the Provosts Council Chambers on Saturday unsullied and unstained.'
[meiths: stones which mark a boundary]
The Cornet then replies saying:
'Provost, I have much pleasure in taking charge of this Banner and tomorrow, with the help of my mounted supporters, I will ride the ancient meiths and marches of the commonty of Hawick and on Saturday will return this Banner to you in the Council Chambers unsullied and unstained.'
At the end of this part of the ceremony, when everyone is seated, the Provost reads messages of congratulations and then introduces the Chief Guest speaker for the year to make a speech. This is followed by a programme of song singing, ending of course with "Teribus".
The Colour-Bussing was not always conducted in this way. In the 1860s, for instance there was no public ceremony. The bussing took place in the house of the chief magistrate, also sometimes in local bars. The Flag was displayed from one of the windows. While the celebrations carried on the Burgh Officers, dressed in long coats, knee breeches and Sunday hats, paraded the streets. They carried halberds and marched with the bands. They were announcing the beginning of another Common-Riding. At certain houses they halted. They put down their weapons and were given refreshments from a young lady. She was decorated with flowers and ribbon. Afterwards they had some snuff at the Auld Brig, which was the custom in those days before marching to the Town Hall to wait for the Cornet.
In 1887 the Ceremonial Committee was formed. The Colour-Bussing was moved to the Town Hall. Ten years later the public were allowed to attend and it became the popular and important ceremony it is today. The only exception to the ceremony being held in the Town Hall was in 1933 when it was held outside in the Volunteer Park.
Immediately after the ceremony in the Town Hall, members of the Saxhorn Band play a fanfare on one balcony above the High Street and the Cornet with the Bussed Flag, Right- and Left-Hand Men and Acting Father along with the Halberdier appear on the other balcony. The Halberdier then makes an official proclamation to the people waiting outside:
"These are to give advertisement to all the burgesses within the Burgh and Town of Hawick, and Burgesses outwith the same, that the Provost, Bailies and Council are to ride the marches of the Commonty of Hawick upon Friday, the ......... day of June instant as hath ever been usual. Therefore, warning all the said Burgesses to attend the Provost, Bailies and Council that day in their best apparel to the end aforesaid."
The Cornet waves the Flag as three cheers are given and leaves it on display before leaving the balcony. The Lasses and Maids of Honour come out on to the balcony to wave to the crowd below.
The Cornet’s Walk then begins around the town. He is preceded by the Saxhorn and Drum and Fife Bands and followed by the supporters from the Gallery and members of the public all on foot. They stop at the "Horse", the 1514 Memorial. Here the Cornet climbs a ladder to pay tribute to his centuries old predecessor by "bussing" the bronze flag on the statue. This was introduced in 1923 and is now watched by large crowds. The Cornet calls for three cheers before descending the ladder.
This Memorial, erected by public subscription of £1,440, was part of the 1514 Qater Centenary celebrations of 1914. It is a life-size bronze statue on a stone plinth, the work of Hawick-born William Francis Beattie (1888-1918), an Edinburgh sculptor, who submitted a plaster model of his "horse" to the Memorial Committee in 1913. the design was accepted and the finished work unveiled by Lady Sybil Scott, the second daughter of the Countess of Dalkeith, at 3 pm on Thursday 4 June 1914. The original plaster model is on display in the museum. William F Beattie was called up on the outbreak of war in 1914. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 but was gassed in April 1918. After returning to action in September he was fatally wounded and died on 3 October 1918 at Tincourt in France. The Memorial was moved a short distance in 2003 to improve traffic flows. Great care was taken to avoid any damage. A time capsule from 1914 was discovered underneath the base and another capsule was buried in 2005. The new location has made it more susceptible to vandalism and it is now monitored by a CCTV camera. It is intended to restore the bronze statue to its original condition for the 2014 celebrations.
The Walk continues with the two bands playing alternately as they proceed along North Bridge Street, Princes Street and Wilton Path to the Sandbed, along Buccleuch Street to the Grapes Inn Close, back to the Sandbed, up the Howegate and Loan to the Mote Gates, back down through Drumlanrig Square along Kirk Wynd, Slitrig Bank and Old Manse Lane to the Tower Knowe and back to the Town Hall.
And then on Common Riding day
Wherever exiled Teries stay
Their thochts will often backward stray
Ti Hawick their Border hame.
Though mony years they've wandered forth
They love the toon that gi'en thum birth
The fairest spot on a' the earth
Auld Hawick, oor Border hame.
Ian W Landles