09 Choosing the cornet
The Cornet for the year is chosen by last year's Cornet. He usually consults with the Cornets of the previous two years on his choice of the young man who he believes will carry out the duties as well as, if not better than he did. The Cornet is asked in January well in advance of the Common-Riding in June and is known as Cornet Elect until Picking Night in May. This gives time to make many of the arrangements required for the Common-Riding including agreeing the routes for the Ridesout wth up to 80 land owners and farmers.
To qualify for this honour the young man must be a "Teri", registered and brought up in Hawick or surrounding area. He must also be unmarried and indeed must remain unmarried for the next two years. It has become expected that he will have been a mounted supporter of previous Cornets for several years.
The Cornet Elect then chooses his Acting Father, a more mature person whom he respects and has a good understanding of the Common-Riding. The Acting Father is able to guide the Cornet through the various ceremonies and duties.
Last year's Cornet and the Cornet from the year before have special titles. They are called the Right-Hand Man and the Left-Hand Man. They formally write a letter to the Provost's Council recommending the young man whom they consider worthy to succeed them.
If the Provost's Council agree, then at 7pm on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in May, the Halberdier leaves the Town Hall, accompanied by the Drum and Fife Band, and takes a letter signed by the Provost to the honoured young man. It tells him that he has been appointed Cornet for the year on the recommendation of the two immediate past Cornets and asks whether he wants to become Cornet. The Halberdier arrives at the Cornet Elect's house where a large crowd of well-wishers is gathered. Here he is welcomed by the young man, his family, ex-Cornets, Lasses and guests. The Halberdier and Bandsmen are invited in and given some refreshment. The Halberdier is asked if he would take a letter of acceptance back to he waiting Council. As a memento he is rewarded with a new "shilling" or 5p piece ("piece of silver") for delivering the letters. The young man is then congratulated by his friends as the new Cornet.
The new Cornet, his Right- and Left-Hand Men and Acting Father go outside where they are greeted with much cheering at the front of his house. After the anticipated strive, where the Principals throw coins to the youngsters waiting outside, the Principals return inside.
Shortly afterwards the Halberdier, accompanied by the Drum and Fife Band, takes the letter back to the Town Hall where the Provost opens it and announces to those present that the Cornet has accepted the position.
Soon after the Halberdier and Band have left, the Cornet, Right- and Left-Hand Men and Acting Father then leave the house and, accompanied by the youngsters outside, walk round the older parts of the town. They visit the sites of the old tolls or gates, where people were admitted to the town, nearest and furthest from the Cornet's home. Then they visit the Town Hall where a congratulatory meeting or smoker is held in his honour. An evening of song, poetry and story is enjoyed. During this he is presented with his Cornet's Badge. From then till the Common-Riding is over he is an honoured figure in Hawick. This function, and many others to which the Cornet is invited, ends with everyone standing for "Teribus" and "Cornets Up" when the Cornet and all ex-Cornets attending stand on their chairs.
At the same time as the smoker the Cornet's Lass, who is a young unmarried lady chosen by the Cornet to perform her important duties, and the Acting Mother attend the Ex-Cornet's Lasses and Ex-Acting Mothers Association Dinner where they are presented with their Association badges and the Lass also receives a Hawick Song Book. The Acting Mother position became officially recognised in 2003. The main duty of the Cornet's Lass is to "Buss" the Flag on the evening before the Common-Riding and, with the help of the Right- and Left-Hand Lasses and Acting Mother to support the four Principals throughout the Common-Riding. They also make all the ribbons required throughout the various ceremonies.
Many of those who are not attending either function head to the shop where traditionally the tie designed by the Cornet is on display for the first time. The Cornet's Tie is not worn until the Kirkin and then not again until the Colour Bussing. Ties go back to the late 19th century and are worn by many supporters during Common-Riding functions and during the following year. In 1953 the Cornet reverted to wearing stock (a type of cravat) instead of a tie during Common-Riding Friday and Saturday, but from 1957 this has been left to the Cornet's choice.
The first recorded Cornet was in 1703:
"May 17—The said day the Common-Rydeing was ordained to be upon Fryday the twenty-eight of May, James Scott, called Laird, was voted to carry the pencell." — From the Annals of Hawick.
Although this is the first recorded mention of the Flag and the Cornet it is clear from other entries that a Flag and a Cornet were involved for many years before in the Common-Riding festival.
The election of a Cornet has not always been the happy event it is today. In the past there has been some dispute and controversy. For instance in 1856 an election took place but the young man chosen by the councillors did not accept. At the next meeting of the Council it was decided not to elect another one. It was also agreed to let the young men themselves choose the Cornets in future. This was because some councillors did not want to have anything to do with the Common-Riding because of bad behaviour and drunkenness.
However, at a public meeting the next year it was agreed that the Council should elect the Cornet. A petition was drawn up. It demanded that the Council change its mind. Many people were afraid that the whole Common-Riding would be in danger, so important is the Cornet to the festival.
The Council did change its mind. However, this argument carried on for some years before it was decided, happily for the Common-Riding that the Council should play a part, not only in the choice of the Cornet but also in the organisation of the festival itself. In this way it would be conducted in a proper manner. Today the Common-Riding Committee makes sure that everything is well organised for the enjoyment of all.