taken from 'NORTH COUNTRY SPORTS AND PASTIMES' published in 1893

james scott of canonbie


Noo, Jamie Scott o' Cannobie,

He hied to Carel toon ;

And mony a borderer cam to see

The English lads thrawn doon.

(Border Ballad.)

JAMES SCOTT was the lightest man who won the head prize in the Carlisle ring about his own time; and what is much more curious, the only Scotchman who ever accomplished the same feat. Indeed, it seems up to Scott's time, and since, too, that the borderers on the Scotch side did not take as much pleasure in the pastime as those dwelling on the English side. Scott was born and brought up at Oarnlee, in the picturesque parish of Canonbie, in Dumfriesshire, within a few miles distance from the roofless tower of Gilnockie , the ancient stronghold of the noted border free-booter, Johnny Armstrong, of whose tragic fate in the presence of the Scottish king, the old minstrel thus sings :

But then rose up all Edenborough,

They rose up by thousands three ;

A cowardly Scot came John behind,

And run him through the fair bodye.

Said John, "Fight on my merry men all,

I am a little wounded, but not slain ;

I will lay me down to bleed a while,

Then I'll rise, and fight with you again.

James Scott stood about five feet nine inches high, and weighed between eleven and twelve stones. Litt surmises that he was more than thirteen stones; but according to the most reliable authorities, this is much beyond the mark. He was a " tight built, straight, beany mak' iv a fellow, withoot a particle o' lowse flesh aboot him. " In the ring, he became noted as a quick striker, and bore the reputation of being a good scientific wrestler. He never went much from home to contend, and, excepting in the Carlisle ring, is only known to have wrestled at the village gatherings, along the borders. He does not figure among the thirty-two men, who wrestled at the first annual meeting at Carlisle , in 1809. In the following year, when double that number contended, we think it hardly likely that he put in an appearance ; but on this point we cannot speak with any amount of confidence, as there is no list of names known to be in existence.

In 1811, however, he did good service in the Carlisle ring, by throwing Joseph Wilson, John Hall, Joseph Coates, and William Richardson of Caldbeck ; but sustained defeat at the hands of John Earl of Cumwhitton, in the fifth round. For the second prize of the same year, he was cleverly thrown by George Little of Sebergham, (and not again by John Earl, as stated by Litt.) At the Carlisle meeting held on Tuesday, the 2Oth day of September, 1812, the favourite north country pastime attracted an immense gathering of spectators to the Swifts. Although the prizes offered amounted in all to the handsome sum of twenty guineas, there was a noticeable falling off in the attendance of wrestlers. Only forty-eight names were entered for the principal competition the most noteworthy absentees being Tom Nicholson, (who was suffering from an accident at the Greystoke festival,) John Earl of Cumwhitton, Robert Rowantree of Bewcastle, and Harry Graham of Brigham.

Scott, who was then in his twenty-fourth year, turned up on the Swifts "i* grand fettle," and wrestled through the ring with much spirit, tact, and determination. The unexpected fall of William Mackereth of Cockermouth, the first time over, removed at least one formidable rival. John Jordan of Great Salkeld, falling in one of the subsequent rounds, left the coast as good as clear to Scott and Richardson, who ultimately came together in the final fall. Although wanting in the height, weight, and experience possessed by his veteran opponent, the wiry borderer had the advantage of youthful suppleness and activity on his side. A good deal of time was wasted by the combatants ; both tenaciously endeavouring to obtain the better hold. Meanwhile a tall, red-haired, gaunt- looking Scotchman, made himself somewhat officious and troublesome to the umpires, by running to and fro into the ring, "wi' a wee drap whuskey, an' a hantle o' advice," in order to cheer up the spirits of the Canon bie lad. When holds had been obtained, after acting on the defensive for some time with much wariness, Scott managed to catch Richardson 's heel, and by this means succeeded in carrying him off precisely in the same manner as he had done the preceding year. No sooner had the burly figure of the Caldbeck man kissed the greensward, than the air resounded again and again with lusty cheers for the Canonbie hero.

Everybody seemed astonished when " lal Jamie Scott" fought his way through the ring; and probably no one was more astonished than himself. With eight bright guineas in his pocket, he received a hearty welcome on going back again, from all the "weel kent" faces he passed on his "hameward" journey to "Canobie lea." Having gained first honours, Jamie inherited too much of the "canny" and prudent disposition of his countrymen, to risk tarnishing the victory which had thus fallen under somewhat favourable circumstances to his share. The Carlisle ring of 1812 was, we believe, the last one in which he contended for a prize.

Scott was a joiner by trade, and worked for several years at "Kirkcammeck," (Kirkambeck,) in

Stapleton, on the English side of the border. At the local gatherings in after years, he made a point of backing David Potts of Haining a rather tricky customer against John Blair of Solport Mill. Scott recommended Potts to rosin the inside of his pockets well, and rub his hands in them before taking hold of an opponent. "And than, " said he, bestowing a hearty thump on his pupil's back, "no a man i' Cummerland need thraw the', if thou nobbut fews ony thing like !"

His cheerful and jocular disposition led him to be widely known on both sides of the border as "Canobie Jamie." He was specially fond of rural and field sports. In speed of foot he surpassed most of his companions. Many stories are told of the practical jokes and harmless tricks he used to play off on his neighbours and acquaintances; a few examples of which we may perhaps be allowed to relate as illustrative of his character.

"Canobie Jock," a well known voluble neighbour of his, partial to keeping up a breed of terriers and foxhounds of the right sort, had one of the former which he boasted was the fleetest dog of its kind in the parish. For a trifling wager, Jamie offered to run a race with Jock's terrier. The distance chosen was from one end of a good sized field to the other, through part of which a broad deep ditch extended, and had to be crossed. After starting, our hero found there existed every likelihood of his canine competitor leaving him some distance behind. This induced him to hasten towards that part of the field where lay the deep ditch. With a single bound he cleared the distance in capital style. Meanwhile, before the poor terrier had time to swim the water, climb the banks, and shake itself, Jamie had got so far ahead as to be able to win easily which he did, much to the discomfiture of the owner of the dog.

As an additional illustration of his nimbleness of foot, it may be mentioned that on another occasion, in coming " owre the hills frae Hawick," he ran down a cub fox, which he took home with him to Canonbie, and kept there in a tame state, until it became so troublesome and destructive among the hen-roosts of the neighbourhood, that he was obliged to put it down.

Jamie, and a cousin of his, were once invited to a wedding in the neighbourhood of Liddesdale, and, as it chanced, they could only muster a single horse between them. Under these circumstances, Scott thought it might be as well to give the natives of "Copshaw-holme," (Newcastleton,) something to amuse themselves with. Accordingly, he placed his cousin on the front of the horse, in the usual way, while he mounted behind, facing the opposite direction, with a straw rope drawn round the animal's tail for a bridle. In this comical fashion, the two men rode through the large open square of the old border village, amid the laughter and jeers of young and old.

One other story, and we must take leave of Jamie. When crossing a wild part of the country, it so happened that through being benighted, he was in danger of losing his way. Nearing a farmstead, the pleasing sound of a fiddle fell on his ears, which ultimately turned out to proceed from an adjoining barn, where a dancing school was held. On entering, Jamie met with a warm reception from the people assembled, and enjoyed the scene before him with much glee. Getting communicative with those around, he threw out some broadish hints that he thought he could dance a hornpipe or jig better than the dancing-master himself. To such a belief as this the teacher entirely demurred ; and the difference of opinion thus set forth paved the way for a friendly contest. Notwithstanding being a good deal fatigued with travelling, Jamie managed to trip about with so much gracefulness and agility, that he was acknowledged by all present to have quite outrivalled the professor of the calisthenic art.

James Scott died at Oarnlee in the year 1854, aged sixty-six years.