What is a Common?
A common is a piece of open land. It is used in common by the people of a town or village for grazing cattle, growing crops, collecting fuel, etc. Sometimes the land was owned by the people. In other areas the common was owned by a neighbouring landowner but the people had the use of it.
What is the Common Riding
This is the ancient custom of riding round the boundaries (or marches) of the common land. This was to make sure no one had encroached on it and also that the people did not forget where these boundaries were. In England this custom is known as "beating the bounds".
What are the origins of Hawick's common?
Very little is known of the ancient people who lived in Teviotdale. They lived by hunting or herding and dressed in skins. They stayed in small settlements protected by a ditch or mound. These people were no match for the Angles when they invaded this country in the fourth century. The Angles founded the kingdom of Bernicia. The original tribes were driven out.
The Angles formed a settlement where the Slitrig and Teviot rivers meet. This was probably because it was an easily defended site. The rivers on two sides and a hillock (or knowe) on the third formed a natural enclosure. Indeed one theory as to the origin of the name "Hawick" is that it comes from the Old English words "haga" which means a place of safety or enclosure and "wic" a dwelling. Over the years Haga-wic became Hawick.
In those days the idea that people should own their own land didn't exist. Instead a group of families would settle on an unoccupied piece of land. Each family was given a plot for a home. All the rest was used in common and consisted usually of a fertile meadow. The woods or waste land around the meadow was also held in common. Those were called the "marks" or boundaries It is from this word that the word "marches" is derived.
Hawick's common is therefore an inheritance from the Angles. Another gift from those far off times is thought to be a war cry. After the Angles had driven out the native tribes they were often at war with the Scots to the west. In AD603 for instance Aidan, the Scots king, with a great army marched against Angles. Approaching by Liddesdale they moved into Teviotdale. The king of the Angles, Aethelfrith, had been warned. He collected a large army on the western border of his kingdom. He marched into Liddesdale and a fierce and bloody battle took place, about eleven miles from Hawick. It resulted in a victory for the Angles. It is possible that the circle of stones on the Nine-Stane Rig was built by the Angles to commemorate their victory. Access to the stone circle is by a path east of the B6399 road about 2km north of Hermitage.
It is believed that the war-cry these warriors used as they rushed into battle was a cry to two of the gods they believed in, Thor and Odin: "Tyr haebbe us, Ye Tyr ye Odin" which meant may Tyr help us, both Tyr and Odin. Today's town slogan—Tyr-ibus ye Tyr ye Odin—is thought by some people to have come from the Anglo-Saxon war cry.
As time passed there were many changes which affected the common lands. The king became the owner of all the land in the kingdom. Large pieces were given to loyal friends or distinguished warriors without bothering with the wishes of the people who lived there. Many villages and towns became subject to powerful lords and many of the "commons" in the country disappeared.
The Scottish rolls of 1347 record Hawick as a settlement owned by the descendants of Richard Lovel (died 1253) of Castlecary and Hawick. it was a burgh of regality by 1357. Later, because the Lovels were closely linked with the King of England, the lands were given instead to the Douglas family. King James I confirmed this in a charter in 1412. This charter was renewed in 1511 making Hawick a burgh of barony. It granted the lands and Barony of Hawick to Sir William Douglas of Drumlanrig for gallant services against the English. The lands included a large part of the Sheriffdom of Roxburgh. This charter contained sections that gave Douglas the right to give parts of the land away if he wished However, only two years later at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September, Douglas, along with many of Hawick's men, was killed.