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The Early Peoples of the Lauderdale Area

There is no set date when anyone can say that people first stayed in the area. History has been divided into named periods purely to make reference easier. Ages overlap, and all dates are approximate, and in early times very approximate.

In simple terms:
Stone Age - (mesolithic)from8500to6000 years ago.
Stone Age - (neolithic)from6000to4500 years ago.
Bronze Age -from4500to2500 years ago.
Iron Age -from2500to1900 years ago.
Roman Age -from1900to1400 years ago.
Early Medieval -from1400to700 years ago.
Medieval -from700to500 years ago.

Most environmentalists and conservationists use the expression 'take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints'. Fortunately the early peoples left more than that, otherwise we would have no record of them at all.

Mesolithic peoples were hunter-fisher-gatherers who lived in very small groups and who were basically nomadic. They tended to live near the water and spent most of their time food gathering. They ate the fruits and berries, fished in the rivers and pursued the animals of the forests which clad the area. Trees such as birch, hazel, elm and oak formed the forests through which they roamed. Their success at hunting, initially, was probably little more than scavenging, but as their techniques improved with communal drives and better tools, they could tackle bigger prey. Because they were nomadic they had to carry everything with them so weight was of the essence; their containers were probably of leather and basketry. Their tools were made of stone and flint. These they used not only as barbs on arrows, but also mounted onto shafts for use as sickles and other cutting tools. They also used stone axes for woodworking.

Neolithic peoples are associated with the first attempts at farming, and the need to settle in one place to allow for proper farming. They cleared areas of woodland, built more substantial homes and started to use pottery, because they were not having to move all their chattels every day. Hunting camps on riverbanks, which were used regularly, became more common. The groups became larger and villages began to appear, and, with them, the first village chiefs start to appear. They were becoming a society. The cultivation of cereals and the domestication of animals were necessary because of the pressures of the rising population in any one area. Flaking of flint and the polishing of stone tools made them more efficient. Textiles start to appear alongside the skins previously used for clothing.

Bronze Age people are so called because of their making of tools from bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. Copper tools existed in mainland Europe long before they reached here, but reach here they eventually did. Bronze was far harder than copper, was easier to cast and could be sharpened to a far better edge. Worn or broken tools could be melted down and recast into new ones. This development allowed for the production of 'real' weapons such as axes, swords and knives, as well as ornamental items such as pins and brooches. Access to tin and copper and the fuel for smelting meant that not everywhere was suitable for making bronze, so centres of excellence sprang up, leading to trade. Pottery containers for the storage of crops, in the villages in which they lived, proved more useful than the previous lightweight transportable ones.

As populations grew, the needs of agriculture brought about ploughing and with it the first signs of deforestation and soil erosion as land was in greater demand. The first signs of fortifications and hillforts begin to appear as groups defended themselves, their property and their land against neighbouring groups or tribes.

The tribe living in the Lauderdale area was known as the Gododdin or Guitodin. Renamed by the Romans as The Votadini, the tribe inhabited the banks of the Firth of Forth and much of the present day Lothians. Their tribal capital was probably originally at Traprain Law in Midlothian and later on the Castle Rock at Edinburgh.

The name Traprain is possibly a variant pronunciation of the Celtic "Tre Bryn" which means a "village on the hill", perhaps the same origin as Trabroun, near Lauder.

The ashes of the dead were now commonly placed in pottery urns and buried in cemeteries.

Iron Age people come from that time when iron replaced bronze for tools and weapons. Temperatures needed to melt iron were so high that they never managed to cast iron at all, but found it could be softened, beaten and tempered. Iron ore for smelting was relatively more easily obtained than were the ores of copper and tin. It needed no alloying and produced much better tools and weapons. It was however much more difficult to process, but after manufacture a very keen edge could be put on items. The change in process was such that bronze manufacture was continued for personal decorative items, alongside iron working for more practical items.

Hill forts are now common, and most hilltops in this area bear signs of habitation from about this time. Ploughed 'fields' and animal husbandry are the norm.

Wheeled transport has become available in some areas, so 'roads' are developed, with trackways joining major centres of population. Small kingdoms have now developed.

The Coming of the Romans in AD 79, brought all the advanced technology which had developed in mainland Europe, and as they spread northwards they brought 'modern' techniques into almost all areas of life. This was the start of recorded history. As an invading force they made defence against attack by the local tribes, the Votadini and the Selgovae, a matter of great priority, so we find defended camps, large and small, all over the border area. With Trimontium at Newstead being one of the largest permanent camps in the country, and Dere Street passing through on its way north, there was constant coming and going in the surrounding area. As time went by, and the Romans and the locals learned to live together in some harmony, intermarriage was bound to happen, so some of those long-term locals in our community may have Roman blood in them!

Early Medieval covers the period between the end of the Roman occupation of the area, about 165 AD until about 1000 AD. It includes the so-called Dark Ages when, with the loss of Roman control, tribalism re-emerged, and little cultural progress was made.

With the takeover of the area by King Edwin, Lauderdale became part of the Kingdom of Bernicia which was made up of the land between the Northumberland Tyne and the Forth, and ruled from Yeavering, in Northumberland. When Edwin became Christian in 626 AD, the Kingdom became officially Christian, so the area benefitted from the influence of the development of Christianity, and the fact that religious houses were being built and that communities within them were growing.

St Cuthbert is obviously a name well known to us all. Born about 634 AD, possibly near Channelkirk, he entered the religious community at Old Melrose, which had been founded in about 630 AD, in about 650, where his saintliness was recognised by St Boisil who was prior at the monastery, and by Eata, abbot of Melrose. St Boswells is named after St Boisil.

With the Norman invasion in 1066, many of the Anglo-Saxon noblemen fled from southern England to Scotland. William crossed the Tweed in 1072 to secure his northern boundaries, and placed his own noblemen in positions of power. Lands in the Borders were given for service to the cause, and some Norman names remain.

The Medieval period really begins for this area in about 1113, with the rise to power of the Earl of Cumberland who was to become King David I in 1124. He introduced a new feudal land-owning system, introduced the system of parishes, raised townships to free burgh status and founded new religious houses - the Border Abbeys.

With the development of the Border Abbeys, the area gained one of the most outstanding creations of its day - Soutra Hospital.

The Soutra Aisle, that we can see today, is all that remains of that grand hospital, monastery and church which occupied a position half-way between Edinburgh and the Border Abbeys from its foundation by King Malcolm IV in the 12th century until the 17th century when it went into decline.

It is about this period when the written records of happenings civil, military, religious and legal begin to be available in written form for the area. Although many of the records of the Abbeys were destroyed in the Border Wars and at the Reformation, many still, fortunately, remain for our inspection. It is from these that most of the rest of the story of Lauder and Lauderdale may be gleaned.


The Early Peoples of the Lauderdale Area