Research doubts truth of Burns’ town insult

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FOLLOWING the news that a grandson of the poet Robert Burns, William Thomson, was born in Berwick, enquiries have unearthed the fact that well-known author Raymond Lamont Brown, who formerly lived in Tweedmouth, regards an alleged poem by the Bard as merely ‘apocryphal’.

Ian Buick of Berwick, who revealed the story of the grandson, has discovered that the Presbyterian Church where William Thomson was baptised on March 23, 1869 was the first relief chapel, founded in 1756 in Shaw Lane, later to become Chapel Street.

It was situated on the site of the old buildings which were until recently occupied by City Electrics.

William Thomson married Julia Leonard and they had two sons: James, born on January 9, 1836 and William, on July 15, 1833.

He later married Maria Brett. They had two daughters, Jane was born on May 2, 1842, and died aged 47 days. Maria was born on December 24, 1845.

Mr Buick has also checked out the book ‘Robert Burns in England’, written by Chris J Rollie, published in 2009 and he, like several local enthusiasts, can find no record of Burns writing any poem about Berwick.

For generations, people have quoted the Bard as writing: “Berwick is a dirty place, has a church without a steeple, a middenstead at every door and a damned deceitful people.”

The lines were said to have been etched on a pane of glass in his Berwick lodgings.

Mr Rollie consulted Lamont Brown, who also found no record. It was stressed that while Scotland’s national poet walked the walls and saw the parish church - without a steeple - Burns did not lodge in the town.

He did, however dine at the house of John Clunie, a former mayor.

In spite of a lack of any firm evidence, numerous speakers still refer to the verse.

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