RENTON — variously named in Old Charters, Regminton, Regmintun, Regnintun, Raynton — may be taken, in these days, to comprise the whole western district of the parish of Coldingham.
The ancient village, whose site was well-defined less than one hundred years ago, stood near the farm house of Renton-barns, while the scanty ruins of Renton Tower lie behind the present mansion-house, on the left bank of the River Eye. In the reign of David I., the village of Renton was the property of the Priory of Coldingham, and was held ad fir mam in feu do et hereditate by Swain, priest of Fishwick, and afterwards by his two sons, Patrick and Itustace. In those early times, the whole district was "a land of shaggy wood," and formed a happy hunting-ground attached to the Priory. There are still many laggards in the forest, and the great highway which runs from Berwick-on-Tweed to the northern metropolis is gaily adorned with stately trees, while here and there the laughing waters of the limpid Eye refresh the traveller as he passes along the lovely route. It is in the line, too, of the North British Railway which, as it spans the stream, throws upon the landscape a few viaducts, at once graceful and picturesque. The woods belonging to the Priory were — Greenwood, Reston, Brockholewood, Akeside, Kirchesdenewood, Harewood, Swinewood, and Houndwood.
As early as the time of William the Lyon, there resided at Houndwood, four miles from Coldingham, the Prior's Forester, who carefully preserved game, wild-cattle, red deer, boars, and perhaps wolves — either for the Convent larder, or the sportive pleasure of the clergy. The emoluments of the chief forester are thus stated : — " Meat and drink to himself and his man, and Horse-meat when he shall come to the house of the Lord Prior at Christmas, yearly, with the keeping of the Wrack and Waif within the Lordship of Coldingham, and all bounds of the same, and receiving from the said Wrack and Waiff twelve pennies of the pound, and for every ship or boat plying within the Lordship, carrying or loaded with Grass or Straw, Salt, Coals, or sicklike, if any from thence be sold, One Boll before the Mast and One Boll behind the Mast ; and for the anchorage of every Ship or large Vessel twelve pennies, with a Thrieve [24 sheaves] of Oats from every husband-land [26 ac] of the farms of the said Lordship of Coldingham (excepting the husband-lands of the village of Coldingham), for every Waggon of Wood four pennies, for every horse-draught one pennie, for every Log of Oak drawn with Oxen four pennies, and Wood Hens due according to custom." In a Decreet of Transference, dated 24th Feb. 1632, it is stated that " all the above, the said Alexander Home of Renton's predecessors have enjoyed past memory of man," and the bounds of " fostership " have specific reference to Houndwood, Lichtwood, Lemineanewood, Haliawocd, and Hillendwood.
As sometimes happens, the name of the place became the name of the family, and Ricardus Forestarins appears as Ricardus de Reningtona, while before 1250 Richard de Renton "possessed land with houses at Eyemouth." In the fifteenth century, the heiress of Renton married the Baron of Ellemford, whose lineal descendant, Janet, daughter of David Ellem of Renton, was married to Patrick, second son of Alexander Home of Manderston, son of the third son of Sir David Home of Wedderburn, who fell at Flodden in 1513. At the time of the Reformation, lands and cottages were held in Renton by David Ellem, Alexander Home of Manderstone, Renton of Billy, Laird Bowmaker, Home of Wedderburn, and Home of Fast Castle. It is, therefore, probable that the Homes owned property in Renton before the marriage of Patrick Home, who seems, from 1580 to 1601, to have occupied sixteen husband-lands of Law, six of Halydown, and six of Heland. As a matter of fact, in 1441, three husband-lands in Renton (Houndwood) were exchanged by David Home for certain lands at Auldcambus. This apart, it is only from the middle of the sixteenth century that the Homes of Renton date the foundation of their House, although their descent from the family of Renton may be traced, through the female line, from the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The Battle of Flodden or Flodden Field was part of a conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. The battle was fought in Branxton in the county of Northumberland in northern England on 9 September 1513, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey.
It was a decisive English victory. In terms of troop numbers, it was the largest battle fought between the two Kingdoms. James IV was killed in the battle, becoming the last monarch from the island of Britain to suffer such a death.
There is a Ratification (1592) of a Charter granted by John Stewart, lawful son of Francis, sometime Earl of Bothwell, Commendator of Coldingham, to Sir George Home of the Lands of Horsley, which along with Harelawside, Rentonbarns and Greenwood are included in the estate of Renton.
Patrick Home of Killknow, the son of Alexander Home (who got the lands of Manderston from George, 4th Lord Home), is, indisputably, the first of the Homes of Renton. He was the brother of George, Earl of Dunbar, and was succeeded by his son, Alexander, who was Sheriff of Berwickshire (1616-21), having followed in that office Alexander, Earl of Home. Alexander, son of Patrick Home, was succeeded by his son John, who, on 18th January, 1621, was served heir to his father, Alexander Home of Renton, in the Lands of Howburn, Sheilupdykes, Horsley, Greenwood, &c. In 1633 he was one of the Commissioners of the County of Berwick in Parliament, and was, afterwards, an adherent of Charles I. His lands and property were pillaged to the extent of £8000 by the Protectorate, but after the Restoration he was indemnified by getting a Crown grant of the feu-duties of his own lands. He was knighted, sworn as a Privy Councillor, and, on 4th June, 1663, was appointed a Lord of Session. On 20th June. 1663, he took his seat on the Bench as Lord Renton, and was lastly appointed Lord Justice-Clerk, on 1st December, 1663.
He married Margaret, eldest daughter of John Stuart, Commendator of Coldingham, and son of the Earl of Bothwell, by whom he had three sons — (a) Alexander, (b) Patrick, (c) Henry. He died in 1671, and has been described as one of the greatest zealots for the prelates of Scotland, and proof of this is found in the Kirk-Session Records of Mr John Dysart, where statements are made as to the disaffection of the Homes of Renton, when Presbyterianism was re-established. An Epitaph upon the Decease of the Right Hon. Sir John Hume of Rentoun, Knight, Lord Justice-Clerk, in the handwriting of Mr Andrew Bannatin, Minister of Coldingham, runs thus —
Here rests the rarest beam of Rentoun's Place,
A branch of Humes, that high renowned race,
Whose wise endowments and his fine deport,
Advanced his seat amongst the sagest sort,
Adorned with Senate and with Counsall's gown
He gained respect besides his birth's renown.
In all his life proved loyal to his prince
And died a judge of the pretorian Bench ;
Yea, like the swan whose last song is the best
With praying voice he went to joyful rest,
They of his loynes his lands and revenues have,
Heaven hath his Ghost, and Coldingham his grave.
Sir Alexander Home of Renton, styled " of Coldingham," was a person of somewhat weak mind and ill-fitted for business. His father, though he left the estate of Rentoun to him, gave to his second son, Patrick, powers over that estate so that quarrels sprang up between them, and for twenty years the Law Courts contain many Records of them. For some time before his death, Sir Alexander did not reside in family with his wife and son, and it is supposed that he led a somewhat irregular life. He died 27th May, 1698, and was succeeded by his son Robert, who was then seventeen years of age, and a scapegrace. Sir Robert was succeeded by his only son John, who died in 1788, when the male line became extinct.
Patrick was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, under the style of Sir Patrick Home of Lumsdain. He had one son John (who succeeded him) and three daughters, the eldest of whom— Margaret— married George Home of Wedderburn, while his second daughter, Elizabeth, married Francis Home of Quixwood. Sir John Home was followed by Sir James who (c. 1752) married Grace Johnston of Hutton, and died in 1783. The son of this marriage — John— died without issue ; his sister, Margaret, died in 1796, and another sister, Mary, born in 1775, married Sir Alexander Purves of Purves Hall, who died in 1813, leaving a family of five sons and four daughters. His second son was Alexander Home Purves of Burnhall, while John Home Purves (Scots Greys) was the ancestor of the present proprietor of Marchmont His daughter, Grace, married Admiral Sir David Milne, whose son, David Milne, in 1832, married Jean Forman Home, the heiress of the Wedderburn estates.
Henry Home of Karnes had a son, George, who was succeeded by Henry. He was apprenticed W.S. in 1712, but was admitted to the Bar in 1724, and became a distinguished Lord of Session. He wrote a large number of legal and other works, and died at a very advanced age — about 90 years. He married Agatha Drummond of Blair-Drummond. The son of this marriage was George Drummond Home, whose son was Henry Home Drummond of Blair-Drummond, and was the nearest male heir to the Earldom of Dunbar. He was proprietor of the estate of Northfield, near the village of St Abb's, in 1836. These lands were finally sold to the late Andrew Usher, Esq.
The lands of Renton are now in possession of the family of Stirling-Cookson, descended through the female line from Sir Alexander Home of Renton, who died in 1698, and whose daughter, Elizabeth, in 1703, married John Stirling. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Alexander Stirling of Glorat who, in 1788, fell heir to the Renton estates on the death of his cousin, John Home. Sir Alexander's son, Sir Samuel, having died without issue, the son of Captain George Stirling (a younger brother of Sir Samuel, who died in 1852) succeeded, viz., Sir Samuel Home Stirling, who was born in 1830, and died in 1861. He had, in 1854, married Mary (daughter of Colonel T. Stirling Begbie of Nenthorn), whose daughter, Mary Eleanor, married Charles Lisle Cookson (who assumed the additional name of Stirling on his marriage) the present proprietor of Renton. Sir Samuel Home Stirling had another daughter, Edith Home, who was married to the Rev. H. M. Lamont, B.D., minister of Coldingham.
The Arms of Sir Alexander Home of Renton, Baronet of Nova Scotia, appear thus — Quarterly : Vert, a lion rampant, argt. (for Home) ; Arft. three popinjays, vert, (for Pepdie) ; Argt. three hunting horns, sable, stringed gules (for Forester) ; Gules, a pelican feeding her young, argent, vulned, proper (Ellem); Crest, Pelican's head, couped, pp. Motto, Semper Fidelis. The Arms of Renton of that Ilk were — Azure, a chevron, or\ between three towers, argent ; those of the Foresters of Renton — Argent, three hunting horns or bugles, sable, stringed gnks. In 1429, John Raynton carried on his Seal a chevron between three circular buckles.
On 9th May, 1554, the three merk-lands of HOUNDWOOD were granted by the Commendator of Coldingham to Sir Patrick Home of Ayton, while the remainder was bestowed upon Sir John Home of Duns. Patrick Home of Ayton was served heir to his father, George Home of Ayton, in the lands of Houndwood, on 5th May, 1608. Alexander Home of Houndwood was served heir to his father, Mr Alexander Home of Ayton, Rector of Pincarton, on 19th February, 1624. Alexander Home of Ayton was served heir to his father, Lord William Home, in the lands of Houndwood, on 29th April, 1647. He appears either to have been himself in financial difficulties, or to have had his affairs involved in the monetary responsibility of the Kers of Morriston, for soon afterwards Andrew Ker of Morriston was served heir to his father, Mark Ker of Moriston, in the lands of Houndwood. John Ker of Morriston, was served heir to his brother Andrew Ker of Mcrriston, on 13th January, 1687, in the lands of Houndwood.
The following note throws some light upon the straitened circumstances of the proprietors of Houndwood :-
DEBTS DUE BY ALEXANDER HOME OF HOUNDWOOD AT 15th APRIL, 1656.
Extract from MS. Register or Book of Debts compiled under directions of an order of the Protector and the Council of State (Register-House, Edinburgh).
In 1713, the estate was in possession of Mark Kerr, who led a dissipated life and was known as " The Knave of Clubs ' He subscribed to the Darien Scheme," and this would probably ruin him. There is a sasine dated 1st May, 1714, of Agnes Henderson, spouse to John Turnbull of Houndwood, merchant in Edinburgh, in the lands of Houndwood and Lumisdean, in security of an annual rent therefrom. In the eighteenth century, the proprietor was George Turnbull (ob. c. 1783), whose only daughter married Dr William Dunbar (ob. 1805; of Fulfordlees, of the family of Kincorth. The only daughter of this union married John Veitch, surgeon in Ayton, and their only child Sarah, married Captain Robert Lisle Coulson (ob. 1822) of the Royal Navy. From 1822 to 1882, the proprietrix of Houndwood was Mrs Sarah Coulson — familiarly known as " Lady Coulson " — widow of the late proprietor, and their two daughters succeeded to the lands at the latter date. The elder daughter had married Charles Edward Cookson, who died in 1862. By this marriage there is a son, Charles Lisle-Stirling-Cookson, who is heir presumptive to the Houndwood estate, while through his marriage with Mary Eleanor, daughter of Sir Samuel Stirling, he became proprietor of the lands of Renton. It is of some interest to note here that James Cockburn, M.D., third son of Sir Archibald Cockburn of Langton, settled in Jamaica, where he died in 1718; that his elder daughter, Frances, married her cousin, William Cockburn of Ayton, whose younger daughter, Sarah, married George Turnbull of Houndwood.
The relationship subsisting between the families of Cockburn and Turnbull is further borne out by a reference to a " Note-Book " belonging to Ninian Home, in which also may be traced the impecunious position of landed-proprietors, and their indebtedness to lenient bond-holders.
Mary Queen of Scots, after her illness at Jedburgh, where she had contracted fever, following upon a terrible ride to Hermitage, turned towards Berwick. Word had been sent to Sir John Forster, deputy there, that as " the Queen was passing to Coldingham, she desired to pass through part of the Bounds. Forster at once ordered the Master of the Ordnance to prepare the great guns, and ordered all the soldiers to be on the Walls with armour and weapons. Leaving the Master in town, he took with him forty horsemen and caused the gates to be locked after him, and so rode to the Bound Road, where he met the Queen with Murray, Huntly, Bothwell, Secretary Lethington, and Lord Hume, with five hundred horse. She came to Hallidoun Hill, and while she was there, the great ordnance shot off all that night. So she passed towards Coldingham." Tradition further asserts that, in November, 1566, Queen Mary visited the Castles of Home, Wedderburn, and Langton, before proceeding towards Berwick, and that returning from Halidon Hill she passed through Eyemouth on her way to Coldingham Priory, where her escort lay while she spent the night at Houndwood Castle. There, at that time resided John Maitland, Commendator. On the morrow, she continued her journey towards Edinburgh. As she mounted her snow-white steed, the place where Royalty had last touched ground was henceforth to be known as Mount Alban. It is a pretty story, but its historical basis is more than doubtful.
In January, 1794, there was erected at Renton, seven miles from the Parish Church of Coldingham, a chapel-of-ease, known as Alton — more commonly Atton — Chapel. It was the handsome gift of Sir John Stirling of Renton, who further provided a stipend of £80 a year. Attached to the foundation-stone were a silver plate, and a single sheet of notepaper, bearing these words — (a) Inscription on silver plate: "This Chapel founded by Sir John Stirling, Bart, of Glorat, April 18, 1791." (b) On paper inside stone : I hope that I have begun this Work with a desire to the Glory of God and Good to the Souls of Men. May the Lord in this work be Glorified, the Propagation of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ furthered, and the Souls of many Edified and Benefited, and may the Lord in His Infinite Mercy grant His Divine Blessing on the Undertaking to this End, for Jesus Christ's Sake. Amen. JOHN STIRLING." The building seems to have been disused for several years prior to 1831, when it was replaced by Renton Chapel — now known as Hound wood Parish Church. At that date, there were seventy families connected with it, 250 persons attended public worship, and there were 140 Communicants.
Houndwood Church and Parish were constituted quoad sacta in 1836-8, and erected such by the Court of Teinds, 9th July, 1851, up to which date the Church was properly designated a chapel-of-ease.
Houndwood Parish Church is built of red sandstone, and has a plain, square belfry-tower. Originally a rather plain structure, containing 500 sittings, it has, by the additions (1903) of a western porch, and an eastern apse or chancel, been rendered more commodious and ornate. In the latter there is placed a massive oak Communion Table, presented by the Rev. H. M. Lamont, in memory of his wife, Edith Home Stirling (of the Renton family).
An oak Lectern is the gift of the Rev. T. Marjoribanks (now minister of Callander); and a freestone font was presented by Mr C. L. Stirling- Cookson, in memory of his first wife, and their children who died in infancy. A fine oak pulpit was recently erected by the Women's Guild, at a cost of about £60. The mural tablets in the Church are two — a marble one in the south wall to the memory of the Rev. D. Drummond (ob. 1879), and a brass one over the west doorway to the memory of the Rev. Geo. A. Bissett (ob. 1898).
The Communion " ticket," now token, of Alton Chapel was of mixed metal, round, with slight rim — i T V in. Round the circumference — "Renton Chapel": in centre — " Cor. xi 24-27: Col. i." Reverse: — Round the circumference — "Rev. J. Bethune" : in centre — "1795" with scrolls. Houndwood Church token is also of mixed metal, i t 8 j in. x I in., corners cut, rim — " Houndwood Church. Rev. J. Duncan, 1837." Reverse — "1 Cor. xi. 24. This do in remembrance of Me,"
The following Roll of Ministry appears: —
1794-9- JOSEPH BETHUNE (Beaton) died at Kingston, 5th June.
1800-11 GEORGE MARSHALL was transferred to Bressay, Zetland. He was found guilty of heresy, and forced to recant in presence of the Congregation.
1831-7. JOHN DUNCAN was translated to Ceres.
1838-43. JOHN ROBERTSON was translated to Whitsome.
1845-79. DAVID DRUMMOND.
1880-98. GEORGE A. BISSETT, B.D.
1898-1903. THOMAS MARJORIBANKS, B.D.
1903. W. J. S. MILLER, B.D.
In 1888, a Free — now United Free — Church was erected at Grantshouse, the minister of which had been settled at Houndwood, in 1882. Houndwood Free Church, which was built immediately after the Disruption, was situated on a sloping bank of the River Eye, between the railway and the post-road, nearly a mile below the parish church. The present minister of Grantshouse U.F. Church is the JRev. J. Marshall, B.D. The following notes, which he kindly forwarded, preserve an interesting record of the erection and transference of the Church : —
"At the Disruption, Rev. John Robertson, Minister of Houndwood Quoad Sacra Church, remained in connection with the Establishment. The Church had been erected under Dr Chalmers Church Extension Scheme, largely by the Contributions of those who afterwards identified themselves with the Free Church but, as in other similar cases, it was held by the Established Church. So that those who adhered to the Free Church were left without either Church or Minister.
"At this stage, in response to an application to the Free Presbytery of Duns and Chirnside, the Rev. William Cousin of Duns carried on services on Sabbath evenings at the Village of Auchencraw, in which work he was assisted by other members of the Presbytery, and for some time by Rev. John Wallace, formerly minister of Abbey St Bathan's. When regular ministerial services could not be obtained Catechists were resorted to, one being Mr James Rathie, who afterwards became minister of Longformacus Free Church, and the other Mr Adam Spence, who was afterwards ordained as the first minister of Houndwood Free Church, on 27th November, 1845, in the old Chapel at Renton Barns ; one part of the Congregation worshipped in a house at Auchencraw, and the other in a Barn at Harelawside. A site having been granted to the Congregation at Houndwood by Mrs Coulson, a church was built on it to accommodate 420 persons, which was opened in June, 1847. Mr Spence continued to minister to an attpched Congregation till his death, which took place on 23rd January, 1882, as the result of an accident, he being thrown from his horse. His successor, Rev. James Marshall, B.D., was ordained on 24th August of that year. Some time thereafter, Mr William Grant, Merchant, Grant's House, and a Member of the Congregation, who was very anxious that a Church should be erected in that village, thus securing a better distribution of Churches in the neighbourhood, made offer of £500 for that purpose, if the Hound wood Congregation would consent to remove there. This they eventually agreed to do by a majority. Services were held in the old Church on 10th July, 1887, for the last time. Other Services were begun on 17th July in a barn in the village the use of which was granted by Mr Grant for that purpose. A site was secured and a new Church erected, and opened free of debt on 29th March, 18S8. The erection of a new Manse was then proceeded with, which was ready for occupation at Whitsunday, 1889. The cost of the latter was defrayed partly by the sale of the old Manse, and partly by the subscriptions of Members and friends, and finally by the help of the ' Jubilee Debt Extinction Fund ' of the Free Church in 1893. The Church, which is commodious and comfortable in every way, is seated for about 300. The membership of the congregation at the last return in 31st December, 1907, was 135 besides adherents."
The Burial-ground, or Cemetery, beside Houndwood Parish Church, was acquired by the Coldingham Parish Council in 1901, to meet an urgent need of the south and west parts of the Civil Parish, the only place of interment for the whole of this large area being Coldingham Churchyard, more than ten miles from the boundary at Grantshouse. The Parish Council purchased the cottage and large garden on the west side of the Church. Most of the garden was added to the very small space round the Church to form the new Burialground. The equivalent given to the Church Trustees was that the Parish Council undertook the obligation of paying the feu-duty, a relief to the Trustees of £i 17s 6d annually.
Renton Public School, which is situated about midway between Houndwood Church and Grantshouse Railway Station, was erected in 1840 by public subscription to supply a much-felt want in the district. Previous to the opening of this School, there was a small adventure School at Harelawside, about a mile distant, which was altogether unsuited to the times. For several years before the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872, the heritors of the parish, the proprietor of Renton, and the Earl of Home contributed the necessary salary for the teacher, in order to earn the Government Grant.
The School was taken over, in 1873, by the School Board of Coldingham.
It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1887, and is now a very pretty country school, being up-to-date in matters of accommodation, light, ventilation and furniture.
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