150 years of Sweets in Yetholm


Town Yetholm from a postcard of around 1894-1908.
Publisher: G W Gibson, Coldstream

The Sweets are originally from Kent, and held land ere the Norman Conquest. During “Bloody Mary’s” reign one of the name was burned as a Protestant, and hence, it is said, the coming to Scotland, just crossing the Border at Beaumont Water…..”.

This is the record left by my Great Grandfather, Alexander Sweet (1843-1921) written in 1908. 

Mary Tudor acceded to the English throne in 1553. The daughter of King Henry VIII she attempted to reverse her father’s English Reformation and persecuted the Protestants. She was known as “Bloody Mary” due to her persecution of Protestant heretics, whom she burned at the stake in the hundreds.

I have not been able to verify the existence of Sweet in Kent and the earliest evidence that I have found of a Sweet family in the Borders is of John Sweet who appears on the transcription of Scottish Covenanters dated 1682 in Midlem in the Parish of Bowden. It is just possible that this is the John Sweet who had three children: William (about 1677), John (1679)  and Jane (1681). All three were born in Newcastle but it is possible they moved to the Borders after Jane’s birth. In any event, William Sweet was certainly in Yetholm as he married Jean Tully on November 6th, 1709. Jean Tully was christened in Jedburgh on 17 January, 1683.

Prior to their marriage, on 19 January, 1709, William, younger son of Wauchope of Niddrie Marischal, granted a Feu charter in favour of William Sweet in Town Yetholm. To the best of my knowledge, as the title deeds have been lost, under the terms of the charter William built Sweet Holm and had three quarters of an acre behind it. This has been known as Sweet Holm, Orchard Cottage and Nichol’s Cottage over the years and, after falling into a ruinous state in the 1950s, now forms a storage unit for the allotments behind it in what was an orchard. In the orchard there is a magnificent Yew tree which is reckoned to be 350 years old. The excellent booklet Yetholm Past and Present records the following:

This majestic tree has been certified by the Conservation Foundation as at least 350 years old, and may be between 450 and 500 years old. Yew trees are normally associated  with burial grounds but this tree is some distance from the local kirk in Kirk Yetholm. One theory is that the yew was planted near the spot where plague victims were buried during an epidemic. A popular but unlikely  theory is that the tree marks the spot where Scots who fell at Flodden were buried in 1513.

Whatever its origins, the tree would have been there before William built Sweet Holm. 

Sweet Holm
Courtesy of Stenlake Publishing Ltd and Roy Perkins.

Robert Nichol, whose father and grandfather ran a market garden from the orchard and had the cottage until the 1950s, told me that the cottage was thatched and it had two rooms at ground level with an upstairs and many outbuildings.

Sweet Holm, known as Orchard Cottage.
Courtesy of Robert Nichol.

By a writ called a “Rental Right”, dated 10 May 1711, William Wauchope admitted William Sweett  Gardiner in Town Yetholm… and his heirs and successors, as Kindly Tenants in a tenement of land for a period of 19 times 19 years from Whitsunday 1710. This relates to the property that is now known as Mertoun Cottage. At the time the Wauchope family granted land provided a house was built upon it and so I suspect William built Mertoun Cottage also.


Mertoun Cottage 2005

Mertoun Cottage 2005

William Sweet assigned Mertoun Cottage to his son, George, who on 17 July, 1787 assigned this to his second son, James, who in turn assigned the property to John Lockie on 9 December, 1803 and so out of the family.

William and Jean’s children were as follows:

William Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 7 March, 1714. William married Dorothy Wilson of Lessudden on 20 May 1752. He appears to have left Yetholm at some time and had some success in life as he settled an annuity of £40 per annum on his father. I cannot find where he and Dorothy lived or indeed their deaths. Possibly Newcastle?

Walter Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 2 September, 1716. I suspect he died before 1758 as he is not mentioned in his father’s disposition of that year ( see below).

Jean Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 14 September, 1718. Jean married Frances Wilkinson a weaver from Wooler. They moved to Newcastle and Frances became a Merchant. When her father, William, died in 1766, his widow, Jean, went to live with this daughter in Newcastle.

Grizel Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 9 October, 1720. Grizel married Robert Turner a tailor in Yetholm and together they had seven children. Grizel had a shop in Yetholm and she, with her daughter, cared for her parents in their advancing years. Robert died prior to 1767 and Grizel died after 1773.

Robert Sweet: christened at Yetholm about 1722 and was still alive in 1758 when he was mentioned in his father’s disposition but I don’t know where or when he died.

Margaret Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 9 June, 1723. Margaret probably died before 1758 as she is not mentioned in the disposition of 1758.

George Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 28 November, 1728. More of George below.

William prepared a disposition on 27th November, 1758 in favour of his youngest son, George, who was a gardener at Swinton at the time. This was to leave Sweet Holm to George in the event of William’s death. William during his tenancy had obviously improved the land behind Sweet Holm as evidenced by the description included in the disposition as follows:

That Tenement of Houses in Town Yetholm lying at the Townhead with the yard thereto belonging and whole parts pendicles and pertinents of the same and also all and whole there three quarters of an Acre of Land with the Tiend sheaves thereof included now converted into a garden and all fenced and enclosed round with a Hedge bounded by the highway in the North the Wellroad on the west and the Croft of Land on the south and east parts all lying within the Parish of Yetholm and Sheriffdom of Roxburgh.

Orchard Cottage
Formerly Sweet Holm in Yetholm.

George Sweet, William’s son, married Ann Lyon about 1750; it is possible that Ann was of the family living in Lyon’s Cottage in Yetholm described in ‘Yetholm Past and Present’:  

Lyon Cottage 

Its floor is below the current level of the High Street and it may date from the early 1700s, making it one of the oldest houses in the village. A cobbler’s loft behind the house is now built into it. The house is named after a family called Lyon who were shoemakers. A gravestone in the kirkyard records the Lyon family going back to the 1700s. One of the Lyons, a prize vegetable grower, developed the famous Lyon leek in the late 1800s. It is still available from seed merchants.

The grave referred to provides dates for some Lyons starting in 1754 which is too late for our Ann Lyon.

I have no positive proof of this connection as I have not found a marriage record and it is only, a not unreasonable, supposition on my part.

Using the baptisms of George and Ann’s children as a guide to where George and Ann lived prior to returning to Yetholm, he was first:

  • a gardener at North Berwick between 1752 and 1754 (Elizabeth and William christened there). 
  • At Garvald, gardener in nearby Nunraw House in 1756 (James christened there), 
  • at Simprim, gardener there between 1758 and 1765 (Thomas, Jean and John were all christened there) and 
  • finally at Yetholm from 1766  where George, Walter, Anne and Jean were christened.

George’s father, William died in 1766 which is when George returned to Yetholm to take up the tenancy of Sweet Holm.

As noted above George and Ann had ten children:

  • Elizabeth Sweet: christened at North Berwick on 31 December, 1752. Elizabeth (Betty) married James Elliott, Feuer and Weaver of Yetholm on 18 June 1779. They had eight children. James Elliot predeceased Elizabeth in 1810 and Elizabeth died in 1820.
  • William Sweet: christened at North Berwick on 2 November, 1754. I suspect William died before 1809 as he is not mentioned in his father’s disposition, see later.
  • James Sweet: christened at Garvald on 19 September, 1756. At the time of his birth his father, George, was a gardener to Major Dalrymple at Nunraw. Some time previously, William, James’ grandfather, had assigned what is now Mertoun Cottage to his son George who on 17 July, 1787 assigned this to his second son, this James, who in turn assigned the property to John Lockie on 9 December, 1803 and so out of the family. I think this will be when James left to farm at Spittal in Rutherglen returning on his father’s death. In 1841 James was living at Bridge Foot Kelso with Margaret Sweet, his wife. He died at Newcastle in 1845.
  • Thomas Sweet: christened at Simprim on 28 August, 1758. Thomas left for Glasgow about 1780 and set up in business with his cousin William Copland as woollen cloth manufacturers although he became the Billet Master for the City of Glasgow in 1803 (following their business falling into financial difficulties due to bad debts) until his death in 1847.
  • Jean Sweet: christened at Simprim on 5 May, 1763. Jean married Archibald Hogarth in 1807, a joiner from Edinburgh. They feature in the tale below.
  • John Sweet: christened at Simprim on 22 June, 1765. John became a baker in Newcastle before marrying Isabella Turner, who I suspect died in childbirth. His second wife Catherine Brewes (Bruce) bore him two sons, George Sweet, of whom I cannot find any trace, and Robert Sweet. At some time John must have returned to Yetholm as in 1805 he is involved in fisticuffs in Yetholm after his father, George Sweet (1725-1818) encouraged him to help him in a fight with another Yetholm resident. This fight was recorded in the Caledonian Mercury on 8 October, 1805 and if John had not been resident in Yetholm I am sure the paper would have mentioned that fact.  But he was not a permanent resident in Yetholm as John Sweet died on the 19th May 1837 and was buried at Ballast Hills Cemetery, Newcastle where it is possible his first wife, Isabella, was buried. There is no trace of his second wife Catherine.
  • George Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 31 January, 1768. George was in a partnership with William Thompson and John Gillespie in Yetholm trading as Thompson, Gillespie and Sweet merchants in muslin textiles. The firm was bankrupted at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and probably around this time George moved to Glasgow where he purchased a burgess in 1796. He died in 1828.
  • Walter Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 17 March, 1771 and died some time before 1809.
  • Anne Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 11 April, 1773 and died some time before 1809.
  • Jane (Jean) Sweet: christened at Yetholm on 21 July, 1776 and died some time before 1809.

While the family were born at various Border’s villages, they were brought up in Yetholm, staying in Sweet Holm.

Ann Lyon must have died prior to 1809 as she is not mentioned in a disposition of 1809: her husband, George Sweet, made a disposition in 1809 but died some time shortly after 1818 but before 1821. In this disposition he left Sweet Holm to his daughter Jean Sweet who had married Archibald Hogarth in 1807. According to family legend, George’s eldest son, James, had probably expected to inherit Sweet Holm as the eldest male heir. However, he had already benefitted by George assigning Mertoun Cottage to him in 1758 (which he subsequently assigned to John Lockie in 1803) and so he was probably passed over for this reason. The next in line was Thomas Sweet who was five years older than Jean, however he was, by this time, a successful merchant in Glasgow. And so Sweet Holm passed to Jean. Jean’s husband, Archibald, at the time of their marriage was a joiner in Edinburgh; he was born in Gordon, Berwickshire, but in the 1841 census he is described as a Gardener. So I suspect he will have taken on the role of running the orchard. 

Thomas, who left Yetholm to become a merchant in Glasgow had eight children by Catherine Robertson. One of these was Ann Lyon Sweet who left Glasgow for Yetholm some time before 1821 when she would have been 20 years old. I am supposing that she lived with her aunt Jean in Sweet Holm. On 19 June, 1835 she married her cousin, Robert Sweet, son of John Sweet and Catherine Brewes. Pigot’s Directory for 1837 has two entries for Robert Sweet as a Linen Draper and as a Shopkeeper & Dealer in Groceries. The 1841 census records Robert as a Gardener and the Caledonian Mercury of Saturday July 16, 1842 refers to the first exhibition of the Yetholm Horticultural Society; included in the prize winners was Robert Sweet. So I imagine that some time prior to 1841 Robert became involved in the market garden. In subsequent years he is mentioned as a regular prize winner in various categories at the Horticultural Society Exhibition. Reference is also made to his prowess in developing vegetable seeds. 

At the time of the 1841 and 1851 censuses Anne and Robert were living in a property on the west of the public road and Jean Sweet and Archibald Hogarth in Sweet Holm were lying east of the public road. Precisely where Anne and Robert were living remains a mystery. However, in 1853 they had decided to sell their entire business and home and emigrate to Australia. The sale advertisement in the Kelso Chronicle provides some clues as to the scale of the property Sweet Holm.

Kelso Chronicle July 26, 1852

This also provides an insight into Robert’s business in that there are eight acres of crops along with bee hives and piglets. Also he is described as Gardener and Seedsman. There is more than Sweet Holm’s declared three quarters of an acre under cultivation. Certainly in old photos of Yetholm  and the map below there are fields next to the Sweet Holm orchard. Perhaps this is the land on which Robert was growing his crops included in the sale. 

The property is of some size given that there is both the Dwelling House and Shop together with a six stalled Stable and Granary. This correlates with Robert Nichol referring to there being a range of outbuildings when his father and grandfather had  the property of Sweet Holm/ Orchard Cottage .

Town Yetholm, Ordnance Survey of 1863 .
Courtesy of Yetholm History Society

On this 1863 map of Town Yetholm, Sweet Holm is the rectangular building on the east of the High Street  and the smaller square building on it’s left could be the granary. What is also easily seen is the field system around Sweet Holm where possibly Robert grew his crops.

My Great Grandfather’s notes show the following: “They sold it to Dr Turner, who sold it to the late General Wauchope of Niddrie, after having been in the family for two hundred and eighty years”. This is referring to Sweet Holm which Ann had inherited from her aunt Jean Sweet who was married to Archibald Hogarth. Archibald Hogarth continued to live on the east side of the public road (High Street) until his death in 1862. The census enumerator in 1861 recorded “….commencing with the dwelling house occupied by Archibald Hogarth Gardener and ending with the Parochial Schoolhouse….” This would suggest that Archibald was living on the east side of the public road and was at the end of the village, which points to him continuing to live in Sweet Holm after it was sold in 1853. 

The same 1861 census places Dr Robert Turner on the west side of the public road and describes him as a House Proprietor. At the time of the 1871 census he is living on the east side of the public road a few houses away from the Plough Inn and he is described as a Proprietor of Houses and Capital. It would appear, therefore, that Robert Turner bought Sweet Holm as an investment with Archibald as a sitting tenant.

Dr Robert Turner, a cousin of the Sweets, read George’s will to the family in 1818-1821 and is a grandson of Grizell Sweet (1720-1773) and Robert Turner (?- before 1767). He practised as a medical practitioner but he was unqualified. He fathered an illegitimate child, Euphamia Turner born in 1836 and who died in 1864. He married Euphamia’s mother, Euphamia Dove (1806-1878) in 1850. Euphamia Dove was herself the illegitimate daughter of Euphamia Rea (or Rae) who was a mid wife in the Village. 

Anne and Robert (aged 52 and 55 years respectively) in October 1853 set off with their four children (aged between 11 and 17 years) for a new life in Australia and with that there were no more Sweets in Yetholm. Despite my Great Grandfather recording that this ended an association of two hundred and eighty years that the Sweets had with Yetholm, I have only been able to account for one hundred and fifty years.

While this was the end of the Sweets in Yetholm they probably maintained links with the village as the deaths of both Catherine Sweet (1838-1866) and her father, Robert Sweet (1798-1866), now both in Australia,  were announced in the Kelso Chronicle on 5th October, 1866. By that time the last remaining close relative (Archibald Hogarth) had died.

Alexander Sweet (1843-1921) and Mr Elliot outside Sweet Holm in 1909, photograph by Charles Sweet, Rothesay.

Connections of one sort or another continued: on December 24, 1869 the Kelso Chronicle published one of Alexander’s poems, A Christmas Lyric. In addition, as the above picture taken by Charles Sweet in 1909 shows, my Great Grandfather (Alexander Sweet (1843-1921)) visited Yetholm. Here he is standing with Mr Elliot of Clifton Park, Morebattle. At this time the cottage was owned by the Nichol family. It is not clear why they were there other than for nostalgia.

So much of history is erased by the passage of time but, for the Sweets at least, there is a lasting legacy of the Sweets in Yetholm in that what was Sweet Holm provides a store room for the community allotments and Mertoun Cottage is still occupied as a home.

Sweet Holm 2019 as a storage area for the allotments where the orchard once flourished.


Find my Past, Scotland’s People, Annegret Hall ‘Andrew Thompson’, Court of Session Papers, Wikipedia, Yetholm Historical Society ,’Yetholm Past and Present’ and Google Street View.

October 2022