Bondagers in Berwickshire and Roxburghshire

bondager1

One of the fascinating things about looking at old censuses is the glimpse that you get into a world which has entirely disappeared. Return to around 1860 and large numbers of rural women and girls were working as bondagers in a system peculiar to the Eastern Borders and Northumberland. A married ploughman (known as a hind) would require to engage another person willing to work long hours in the fields in order to get a contract of employment with a farmer. This was normally a woman. It could be his wife, daughter or a complete stranger. In the case of a stranger being taken on, the hind was required to provide bed and board for the woman and pay her for work done. This ancient feudal system was deeply unpopular with the hinds who felt they got a raw deal. They often only had one room for the whole family and the bondager to live in and were expected to provide her with food and clean her clothes too.  After much unrest in the middle of the 19th century, matters came to a head in 1866 and finally the system of bondage started to be done away with, with the woman continuing to work hard outdoors, but with a direct contract of employment with the farmer. They were then normally referred to as ‘out workers’.

One notable feature of the bondager was the distinctive costume that they wore with extravagant hats and often colourful skirts and wraps. The costume continued beyond the end of the bondage system and could be seen in Border fields up until the period between the 2 World Wars. More information on The Bondagers website.

If you had ancestors who were agricultural labourers in the arable fields of Berwickshire or Roxburghshire in the 19th century then its quite likely that they will have been involved in this system. The census enumerator doesn’t always use the term ‘bondager’ but when you find a record of a family of agriculural labourers apparently with an unrelated servant girl living with them, then that is very likely to be a bondager household.

[photo shows bondagers and hinds in Lowick, Northumberland from thebondagers.com]

Dr Guthrie’s Schools, Edinburgh

One of the great joys of researching family history on behalf of others is when you encounter archives previously unknown to you in the pursuit of your quest. I’ve discovered via health board records that my client’s grandmother was resident in a Dr Guthrie’s school in the 1930’s. I previously had not encountered this name but have since become familiar with the organisation. Dr.Thomas Guthrie was a Victorian minister and philanthropist who established the Edinburgh Original Ragged Industrial Schools in 1847 to educate some of the destitute children found on the city streets.  Over time the schools evolved, coming into the state education system around 1920 and later becoming ‘approved schools’ for the care of juvenile offenders and children requiring protection.

Although some of the personal records for these schools are closed for 100 years, I’ve obtained permission for my client to access the admission registers herself at the National Records of Scotland which will hopefully give her information about the family that her grandmother came from. The NRS catalogue suggests that these registers record the pupil’s name, age, birthplace, where, when, and by whom ordered to be detained, with what charged, term of detention, when admitted, name/address/occupation of parents, birthplace, parish, state of instruction and disposal. I look forward to accompanying my client to access these records very soon. As there are no other family links available this is the only way that my client can trace her family background so we are very hopeful of a positive result.

Records of Dr Guthrie’s schools covering the period of 1852 to 1985 are kept by the National Records of Scotland under reference GD425. Details of how to get permission to access specific records is included on the NRS Catalogue