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William Schomberg Robert Kerr, 8th Marquis of Lothian who celebrated his majority on 12th August 1853 by instituting the first Jedburgh Border Games  

The first person to moot the idea of having an athletic games event was probably Mr Thomas Oliver, sawyer of Jedburgh. While chatting with ex-provost Miller in the High Street one evening in 1852, he remarked to the effect that there may be an opportunity to have a Games here next year. Both were enthusiastic admirers of athletics and accustomed to conducting such sports during the summer evenings in the town. They both managed to get other kindred spirits interested in the matter, and were not long in putting the idea into a business like form. Contests held almost nightly during the summer evenings, at the Anna and at Abbey Bridge End Green, adjoining Barton's Ropery may be said to have been the immediate precursors of the Border Games. Sums of up to sixpence could be won by youths testing their running prowess in those early days, and the modest prizes collected from a willing crowd of spectators, were as hotly contested then, as the much prized cups and other trophies presented to the most successful competitors nowadays. The first 'Jethart Games' were held on Friday 12th August 1853 to mark the coming of age of the 8th Marquis of Lothian. The original, memorandum quotes, "acting under a desire to give the greatest possible amusement in the least harmful manner, the commitee of Management for the occasion resolved to celebrate the majority of the Marquis of Lothian by Border Games". Early records recall that a procession left the Market Place for the Dunion Games field where Peggy Lockie set up her krame at the Toonheid selling gingerbread horses. The band was made up for the occasion, and consisted of Thomas Main, shopkeeper (bugler), James Hopkirk, painter (cornet), James Turnbull, tailor (trombone) James Balmer, skinner (cornopean), Wm. Aitchison, tailor, and Walter Ferguson, shoemaker (drummers), James Cook, High Street (fiddler).

The various trades with their banners and flags, also turned out and paraded the streets in the morning to the music of the band, and also accompanied the band to the moor. The selling of liquor on the Games field at the Dunion moor was forbidden, but usually at some of the krames, the old wife in charge had a black bottle hidden away in addition to the lemonade she was selling on her stall. Besides the black bottles alluded to, a publican, who was tenant of 'The Burgess Slap,' near the Dunion Toll conveyed liquor there in greybeards and sold gills and glasses all afternoon. This early attempt at prohibition was therefore, quite ineffective. Family parties gathered together for a picnic lunch, which frequently consisted of rabbit pie washed down with 'treacle wheugh' from Mary Dawson's establishment in the town, the rabbits themselves, no doubt having come only several days before, from the self same moor where they were now being eaten. It was estimated that no less than five to six thousand gathered on the Dunion moor for the first Games event held on 12th August 1853. A definitive report of this event and the first preparation of the festivities in the town for the occasion is given on the Founding Story page of the website, in the book entitled 'The Marquis of Lothian's Majority'. Each year, at half past nine in the morning, in pursuance of arrangements, the Trades of the Burgh, and others carrying the banners emblematic of their crafts, assembled upon the rampart and forming into procession marched soon after, accompanied and followed by an immense concourse of excited and enthusiastic people, through the Market Place, up Castlegate, and onward to the moor ground. They were preceeded by the Jedforest Band, and by St John's Fife Band, who alternately rang out merry strains. The ground was reached about 10 o'clock, and when every requisite being was comfortably adjusted, the proceedings commenced. In those early years it is said that you could get gye fu' for ninepence. It's probably just as well that the return journey was down hill all the way at the end of an eventful day.

1859 map of Jedburgh showing the Dunion Games Field at bottom left and the new venue at Lothian Park, closer to the town centre introduced in 1878.
(Click on image to view)

Games were held annually on the Dunion Moor until 1878, with the exception of the year 1870, when owing to the untimely death of the 8th Marquis of Lothian, they were abandoned as a mark of respect. At this period the annual event had not been so successful as the managers wished, and the decline in public interest was attributed to the great distance of the Games ground from the railway station, there being many complaints from competitors regarding the laboriousness of the ascent to the Dunion, while the holding of the event on a Friday was also considered unsuitable. At a public meeting on 8th June 1878, a recommendation by the Managers that the Games, instead of being held on the Dunion Moor, be held in the Lothian Park, which had been given by Lord Lothian, the 9th Marquis, in April of that same year for the use of the local inhabitants, was almost unanimously adopted. It was also decided that the Games be held on a Saturday instead of Friday. The first Border Games in the Lothian Park were accordingly held on Saturday July 13th 1878, set in the shadow of Jedburgh Abbey and bordered by the river Jed, and the meetings were held there annually from that date.

When the Crimean War was raging there was a Jethart Games, and the famous sports meeting was in full swing when our lads marched off to two World Wars. The Games were an old, well tried, and favourite conversation topic in sporting circles all over the country. During both World Wars, Jethart followers of sport in the trenches, in shelters or on the high seas could find an infallible means of making each other homesick by having a blether about the great Dan Wight and the wresting Thomsons and Bob Douglas, Henry Miller (M. Henry), winner of the Powderhall sprint in 1913 or Jim Dodds (R. James), a Games stalwart and the first Scot to win the famous Morpeth sprint. At the conclusion of the Second World War the venue once again changed in 1946, moving to Riverside Park, home of Jedforest Rugby Football Club where it has remained ever since. Generations now will still remember the great American sprinter Barney Ewell who, after winning a silver medal at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, ran at Jethart Games in 1950 winning the 120 yards sprint from scratch in the record time of 11 and 6/16ths seconds setting up a new all-comer British Professional record. The popular E. Sampson of British Honduras competed regularly at Jedburgh and ran 2nd to Barney Ewell in the 1950 sprint final. Sampson received a 10 yards start from Ewell. We mustn't forget, the legendary Albert Spence from Blyth who beat Ewell in the invitation race the same year. Spence received 1½ yards from Ewell. Many will recall John Dawson(J. Franklin), the 1952 summer Powderhall champion, British 880 yards champion Rob Barr, John Steede six times British 400m champion, Rob Hall another British champion, and sprinters Keith Douglas, a prolific champion over all sprint distances, and Tom Finkle, British champion and winner of the Powderhall New Year sprint in 1989, being the first Jethart winner since M. Henry took the title in 1913. Incidentally, Tom was a distant relative by marriage to the legendary Dan Wight, the first Powderhall winner in 1870, who also dead heated from scratch in 1876.

Since the resumption of the Games at Riverside Park after the Second World War, many local athletes have made their mark in the 'Jethart Sprint', including J. Clements in 1947 Addie Elliot (E.Adams) in 1948, Johnny Blaikie (J.Scott) in 1957, John Steede in 1963 and 1972, Rob Bannon in 1966, Nicky Burrell in 1979, Harry Hogg in 1986, Tom Finkle in 1998, Michael Yule in 1999, Scott Elliot in 2000 and 2005, Doug Moffat in 2001, Charlie Cochrane in 2002 and the first woman ever to win the event, Karen Cochrane in 2004.  The Jedburgh Border Games are now very much part of the Jethart Callant's Festival, which started in 1947, festival Friday being the day prior to the Games Day. Always held on the second Saturday in July, celebrations begin with the firing of a cannon in the Market Place at 6am, that annual early morning ceremony, that uniquely identifies Jethart Games from every other gathering of its kind, and heralds the start of the "Blue Riband Event" of Scotland's summer sports circuit.

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