13 The ChasesThe first of the Cornet's Chases occurs on the the Thursday evening of the week before the Common-Riding. The Chases take place up a hill called the Nipknowes, where the crowds and the Lasses cheer the riders on their way to St. Leonard’s Farm.
A feature of the Chases is that the riders are divided into two groups at Rosebank Road – the unmarried riders, nearly all young, and the married riders, mostly older. First comes the Acting Father’s Chase. The married riders gallop up the hill behind the Acting Father. Then the Cornet dashes forward his Right- and Left-Hand Men spurring furiously at his heels. A hurricane of unmarried riders follows. There are ringing cheers from the crowds on the slopes as they thunder past. Once all the horses reach the St. Leonard’s crossroads the cavalcade follows the Cornet to St. Leonard’s Farm.
The Chase could represent the youths of Hawick returning in triumph from the Battle of Hornshole as they proudly follow the captured Flag to the cheers of the local people. The Chase could also represent the Bailies and local people chasing "intruders" from the common lands. Very often they were chased in the direction of other lairds’ property.
The Cornet and his mounted supporters proceed to the "Hut", a farm shed laid out with trestle tables, benches and a bar, where song singing, speeches, toasts and an interesting ceremony called the "Ordering of the Curds and Cream" takes place. A local caterer is asked to prepare the traditional dish of curds and cream. This dish will act as refreshment during the Common-Riding the following Friday. The atmosphere in the Hut is electric and loudspeakers relay the proceedings to the Lasses and crowds of supporters who gather outside.
The actual "Ordering" began in 1886 and was permanently moved to St. Leonard’s in 1912. However, it is not known when the first curds and cream were eaten during the Common-Riding. For many, many years the dish was eaten as a staple food by the working class people of Scotland. It was also the dish most often given by friendly farmers to Cornets when they were riding the marches. Years ago the Cornet and the Right- and Left-Hand Men were alone when they visited the farthest point of the common land. There was no ceremony when they called on these farmers. But over the years the numbers of people riding with the Cornet increased and it became a Common-Riding custom.
Nowadays, the man who will act as the Cornet’s Father (the Acting Father) is also presented with his badge of Office. The Acting Father along with the Common-Riding Committee, helps the Cornet perform his duties and keep up to time, etc. He also acts as Senior Magistrate during the Common-Riding. Before the company heads back to Hawick, the Principals, led by the Official Song Singer, sing "Teribus" in front of St Leonard’s Farmhouse followed by three cheers. The riders then make their way by Flex and Liddesdale Crescent to Backdamgate. Here the Saxhorn Band meets the riders and plays them along the High Street, Oliver Crescent, Union Street and back to the Tower Knowe where the horses are dismissed and the Principals return to the Tower steps for the sing song and strive.
On Common-Riding week there are chases to St. Leonard’s on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings which only involve the four Principals and a handful of mounted supporters. On the Wednesday morning the Cornet receives the practice flag at St. Leonard’s and rides to the Moor and round the race course before giving it to the Acting Father in the paddock to carry back to the Nipknowes. The practice flag used today is green with "Aye Defend" in yellow and was presented to Cornet David Nuttall by the Mosstroopers Club at their annual dinner in 1986.
On the Thursday morning the Cornet receives the "unbussed" Flag for the first time at 6.00am. It is not officially handed to him until the Colour-Bussing later. This Chase, however, marks the fact that some years ago the marches were ridden on the Thursday instead of the Friday as today. At the St. Leonard’s crossroads the Cornet passes the Flag to his Acting Father who carries it round to St. Leonard’s. After three cheers the Cornet then leaves the Flag on display at the front of the farmhouse before proceeding to the Hut for further toasts and song singing where again the atmosphere is highly charged.
After the Hut the Cornet collects the Flag from in front of the farmhouse. "Teribus" is sung, led by the Official Song Singer, and then after three cheers the cavalcade follows the Cornet to Pilmuir field and into the Moor where he gallops round the racecourse with Flag in hand. The Four Principals, Ex-Cornets and Ex-Acting Fathers return to the paddock while the other supporters head round to the top of the Moor. Both groups join up here and return to the town via Crumhaughhill and the Loan. The cavalcade then proceeds along the High Street, Bridge Street, Princes Street, Wilton Path, the Sandbed and back to the Town Hall where the Principals dismount and enter, reappearing on the balcony where the Cornet displays the Flag to three cheers. The Flag remains on display until later in the day.
At approximately 8.45 am on the Friday morning the Principals, i.e., the Cornet now carrying the Bussed Flag, the Right- and Left- Hand Men and the Acting Father, mount their horses. They are followed by a large number of supporters, consisting of Ex-Cornets and Ex-Acting Fathers in order of seniority, visiting Principals and sometimes as many as 300 other supporters who all set off in procession round the town. After the High Street they ride up the Loan to the Nipknowes where the main Chase takes place. The Provost, Bailies, Lasses and guests watch the Chase and then proceed to St. Leonard’s by car.
At the end of the Chase the Cornet hands the Flag to the Acting Father in his role as Acting Senior Magistrate and three cheers are given. The senior bailie received the Flag in olden times. He takes it to St. Leonard’s and after dismounting the Cornet then carries it to the front of the farmhouse and where, after three cheers, it is displayed while the Cornet is in the Hut. The reception for the Cornet when he enters the Hut is tremendous and the atmosphere is highly charged and emotional. Here the riders, as well as the Lasses outside are refreshed with the Curds and Cream ordered the week before. They are joined by friends and guests. The Acting Father wears his robes as Acting Senior Magistrate in the Hut on the Friday. After a brief rest spent in toasts, speeches and song the Principals, again led by the Official Song Singer, sing "Teribus" in front of the farmhouse, followed by three cheers. The riders then remount to follow the Cornet on the important duty of riding the marches.
Many years ago the Chases were as an important part of the Common-Riding as they are today. However, they started at the bottom of the Loan. In those days the Loan was open country and the road was surrounded by fields. Hawick grew larger and as houses were built in the Loan the Chases became more dangerous because crowds of sightseers lined the road. There were indeed accidents and in 1876 someone was killed, resulting in the Cornet and some of his supporters being arrested! This mishap led to the Chases being moved to the Nipknowes.