The Braw Lads’ Gathering

With a strong sense of pride in place and highly developed local identity, Galashiels is unique.

Its Braw Lads’ Gathering, similar to other ‘Common Ridings’ across the Scottish Borders, can be traced back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the townspeople would ride their boundaries to protect their common lands and prevent encroachment by neighbouring landlords.

The first Braw Lads’ Gathering – after much deliberation from the founders – took place in June 1930.

As recorded in the chapters of ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’, it was decided that it should not be recognised as a ‘Common Riding’, but ‘should take the form of a Gathering to which former residents of Galashiels, native or otherwise, could return to renew the contacts of their youth or earlier years, at which old friendships could be renewed, and in which the townspeople could fraternise with neighbours in other Border towns and villages.’

It was agreed that the Braw Lads’ Gathering would be governed by the Town Council with the Executive Council of twenty-five members responsible for its organisation and conduct.

Each of the five Galashiels wards was to elect a Lad and a Lass and they would form the pool of five lads and lasses from which the Braw Lad and Braw Lass would be chosen.

The ceremonies associated with the Gathering are based on events of historical significance in Galashiels and were finally decided upon as:

  1. The dispersal of a band of marauding Englishmen at a spot known as ‘Englishmen’s Syke’ near where the Raid Stane is now positioned (1337)

  2. The granting of the lands of Ettrick Forest (then in possession of the Crown) by King James IV as a gift to his bride-to-be Princess Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England, in 1503. Their marriage, which linked the royal houses of Scotland and England, led to the Union of the Crowns one hundred years later, an event symbolised by handing over of earth and stone of the forest (the Act of Sasine) which took place near the tower and manor of Galashiels

  3. The granting of a Charter as Burgh of Barony to the people of Galashiels by Sir James Pringle of Gala in 1599, enabling the holding of an annual Fair and establishing the identity of the town as an independent unit

  4. The Act of Homage at the War Memorial in recognition of the sacrifices of the people of Galashiels in the Great War of 1914-18 and in deepest respect for the fallen

The Act of Homage, which concludes the ceremonial part of the Gathering morning, is one of its most moving and spectacular ceremonies.

Galashiels had suffered huge losses during the First World War and it was always the intention of the Braw Lads’ Executive when planning the Gathering, that the men who had lost their lives during the 1914-18 War would be remembered and commemorated in some way.

The Act of Homage became even more significant after the Second World War. Galashiels had again suffered huge loss and among those were two former Braw Lads, John Dun (1937) and John Lawrie (1939). When the Gathering resumed in 1946, it was a particularly poignant moment for Braw Lad Charles G. Thomson when he dipped the Burgh Flag as he had served in the same Battalion as John Dun.

Following a competitive process across the Burgh wards, the first Braw Lad was chosen as Henry Polson and the first Braw Lass, Hazel Gardiner.

The first official function of the Gathering week in its early days was the ceremonial ride to Torwoodlee to collect a sod and stone from the estate and tower of the Pringle family whose land formed part of Ettrick Forest. The sod and stone were to be used in the Act of Sasine to commemorate the marriage of King James IV and Princess Margaret Tudor at the ceremony at the Old Town Cross on the following Saturday (the ‘Braw Lads’ Gathering Day’).

On the first Braw Lads’ Day of Saturday 30 June 1930, around 10,000 people were said to be around the Burgh Chamber and in Cornmill Square when the Provost entrusted the new Burgh Flag to the Braw Lad.

The Braw Lad and Lass led a mounted cavalcade of 269 riders – the largest equestrian procession ever seen at a Borders Festival at that time – while later in the day, a record crowd of around 16,000 attended the ’sports’.

To celebrate the occasion of the first Gathering, the following message from Provost Hayward was published in a special souvenir brochure of the Border Telegraph:

“Our Braw Lads’ Gathering for the year has come and gone.

“We have welcomed friends and neighbours, and guitterbluids from the end of the earth to join our festivities.

“Our townsfolk were full of enthusiasm, and the children at their happiest. The sun shone on us and we had a great day.

“All of those responsible for the arrangements are to be congratulated on the way in which everyone joined in the spirit of good fellowship, and at the same time to maintain law and order.

“Our ‘Braw Lad’ and ‘Braw Lass’ took all by storm.

“Our Gathering is established. May it continue every year for all time.”

Provost Hayward would have been proud.

Today, the Braw Lads’ Gathering continues to bring the people of Galashiels together in celebration every June, commemorating local legend, history and tradition.

The ceremonies, which commence in April with the popular Declaration Night (commonly referred to as ‘Picking Night’), remain broadly unchanged.

The first official ride-out is Spurs Night in May where the cavalcade meets representatives from Selkirk at Galafoot. The evening concludes with a reception hosted by the Gala Souter’s Associations where the Braw Lad and Selkirk Standard Bearer are presented with their Spurs.

A week later, the Ex Service Pipe Band lead the Lauder Cornet and his followers to the field at Threepwood, where they lead in the Braw Lad, Braw Lass and their followers. Principals then exchange medals at a short ceremony.

A number of additional events take place to extend the festivities across the Gathering week, but notably, the week begins with the Kirking of the Braw Lad, Braw Lass and attendants, followed by the ride-out to Lindean Kirkyard, site of the first parish church of Galashiels, on the Monday.

The Saturday of the Gathering – the Braw Lad’s Day – includes the impressive fording of the Tweet at Abbotsford for a small official party to pay their respects to the Scott family and to recognise and celebrate the friendships that had been made between Sir Walter and the people of Galashiels.

The principals also visit the Laird of Gala at Old Gala House.

As John Scott wrote in his foreword to ‘The History of the Braw Lads’ Gathering’ in 2015 (by John Gray and Gordon Keddie): “Galashiels…has been witness to many changes, but one constant – linking the modest beginnings, through the manufacturing heyday, to today’s post-industrial economic landscape – is Braw Lads’ Day. As well as celebrating our history, the Gathering is a source of unity for the present and sends out to the young generation a message of community and optimism for our future.”

Long may it continue.

Braw Lads Gathering Landscape

5a Bank St, Galashiels, TD1 1EN

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