I could write a whole post just on the Cursing Stone itself...click here if you'd like to read more about the Curse of the Cursing Stone! It's all about the Border Reivers and if you've not heard about the Reivers before then the BBC have written a good summary of those three hundred years or so lawless days here. "To reiv" means "to raid".
The main families (and there were very many) Reiving names are here: Armstrong, Bell, Burn, Charlton, Crozier, Dacre, Dodds, Douglas, Elliott, Fenwick, Forster, Graham, Hall, Harden, Irvine, Johnston, Kerr, Maxwell, Milburn, Noble, Reid (Reed), Robson, Scott, Turnbull. More surnames of the Reiving Families are listed here. (All these names still belong to families living in this area.)
Now back in 1997/8 I had, albeit unknowingly, met a descendant of a famous Reiving Family in my banking days when I worked at the French Bank - Crédit Lyonnais in the City. The descendant was a futures trader working for a very successful CL subsidiary, CLRouse, based in the same building as myself - in Appold Street near Liverpool Street Station. Our paths crossed when I was attempting to understand more about the different products sold by the bank. My job was to sell those products to other foreign banks based in the City. Or at least to mention them when I was trying to sell CL's sterling clearing services to those said banks. (A pretty uphill task, as I was to find out, given CL's parlous state of affairs back in the 1990's. The global bank went bankrupt a few times and each time the French taxpayer bailed it out. Let's say it started the trend before it caught on with other banks!)
Anyway this Reiver descendant chap was tall, dark, handsome (he had more than a passing resemblance to Liam Neeson, sigh,) and from his accent I deduced that he came from Northern Ireland. His name (and his accent) intrigued me. We discovered at the end of a business meeting that we both knew Málaga in Spain. We flirted a little and as I was a single girl at the time...I thought why not?! but the "romance" (such as it was) was doomed. Our only chance of meeting up was via coincidental meetings in the shared floorspace in the building e.g. by the lifts (plus he started work in the mornings far earlier than I did). Nevertheless even after our paths did actually cross it quickly dawned on us that we really did not have much in common. The small talk rapidly petered out.
And his name? Well - his name was/is ??? I'll reveal that in a minute.
Despite the end of the "romance", I was still marooned in my sinecure which left me with a lot of spare time and my mind wandered. I hated to be bored. I was obsessed by languages (one of the excellent perks of the CL job was the free French lessons) thus I decided that his name must be local to Northern Ireland. Did it come from a dialect? I wondered. I scoured maps (back in those pre-internet days) and any other resource on which I could lay my hands. What did I find? Absolutely Zilch. Zero. Nicht. Nada. A Big Fat Rien. I remained unenlightened.
And so our paths went their separate ways. Within a couple of years I'd left the bank to go to another bank elsewhere in the City. In the meantime I'd heard, on the grapevine, that he'd left CLRouse to work for a bank abroad.
And that was it, completely it....I'd utterly forgotten about it all until a couple of years ago.
I was drinking tea and idly watching Alistair Moffat's The Reivers and The Making of The Borders on ITV. This particular episode was all about the Reiving Graham Family and what became of them...(I bet you can guess the punchline by now but I certainly hadn't). The fate of the lawless Graham/Grahem family involved them being expelled to Ireland. How did they respond? They simply changed their name and got back over here. They had changed their surname to Meharg and so they quietly slipped back into England hoodwinking the authorities yet again. Of course, when I heard this, I nearly choked on my cup of char. The Reiver descendant's name which had so flummoxed me was - Grahem Meharg (a veritable palindrome). The answer to the riddle had been staring me in the face all along!
Fast forward to this month - September 2010..with Mr.H. loving the history of this area as much as I do. . .
We had some Scottish guests staying with us who had not heard of the Border Reivers. This is understandable as they came from a coastal part of Scotland far from the Border area. (The Reivers are not widely known outside this region although many Americans, who are researching their family history, come over to learn more about their ancestors and know a lot about them.)
When Mr. H. got onto the subject of the Reiving Grahams/Grahems' name change the Scottish lady spluttered into her tea too when she heard the story! It turns out that they know some Mehargs as well. Those Mehargs, it seems, may well be unaware of their Border roots as they think their name was McHarg or something similar given that it is so unusual. The Scottish lady's husband who was also present, plies his trade in linguistics and dialects so he too was extremely taken by all of this. "A palindromic riddle solved" as Mr.H. so aptly put it.
So there you have it. Here is a short history of the Grahams/Grahems (for a lengthier version the BBC has done a sterling job here) - I've quoted an extract from this brilliant website - The Debatable Lands Beyond The Wall:
"A couple of tales exist relating to where the Graham clan came from. One states they were descendents of a man called Graeme, who in Roman times helped to breach the Antonine Wall which ran between the Rivers Clyde and Forth. However it is more likely that they were of Norman French origin and initially settled in Grantham in Lincolnshire from which they took their name. Their original name is likely to have been De Grantham, which over the years changed to De Graham and finally shortened to Graham.
It is known that the clan moved to Scotland in 12th Century where a William de Graham is recorded in 1127. The Grahams were accepted as Scottish citizens after one of the clan married into the native Scottish family of Strathearn. Whilst spread throughout areas of both Scotland and England, The Graham clan were mainly associated with Dumfriesshire and Cumberland.
The Grahams are one of the most notorious of the Reiver families and often raided the lands of their arch enemies the Robsons of North Tynedale.in Northumberland. By 1552 legend states that the Graham clan was at least 500 strong occupying 13 Pele towers.
Following the Union of England and Scotland in 17th Century, some of the most ruthless Grahams were sent to Ireland with other tribesmen including Kerrs, Armstrongs and Eliots and forbidden to return."
Have you had any similar mysteries in your lives and did you get to solve them?
(P.S.: I'm hoping to get back to telling my tales of banking life in The City (in chronological order). Apologies to everyone whose blog I have not visited for a while. Hope you are all well. Life seems to be continually hectic but I'm hoping to get over to your blog in the end. Hopefully before Christmas 2011!)