Sunday 19 September 2010

Reivers' Riddle Resolved!

Left: Photo of The Cursing Stone in Carlisle.
Left: Some of the Border Reiver Lands

I could write a whole post just on the Cursing Stone 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 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!)


Unknown said...

I read this post with interest as being married to an Armstrong who has spent several years researching his family history much of what you say is familiar reading.
We know that the family is descended from Johnny Armstrong, one of the most famous reivers and have spent many an hour wandering around churchyards and villages in the borders.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thanks, IO, for your comment. I find the Reivers amazingly interesting and am always finding out new things about them.

If you find out anything more please let me know. I'd love to do more research on them!

Tony Wilmott, the EH archaeologist, has a theory that this whole area descended into lawlessness after the Romans left...

Troy said...

Just a quick question - in your first paragraph you say "three hundred or so lawless days". Are you sure it is "days" (ie. less than a year)?

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hi Troy,

You are definitely eagle eyed! Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. Despite re-reading it several times that lack of word "years" eluded me.

My excuse is that I couldn't sleep last night so I wrote it in the middle of the night...

You get two kisses for that! :) Hxx

the fly in the web said...

Nothing too hot or too heavy....ideal motto for a Meharg in the banking trade...

French Fancy... said...

How lovely to see you back here, Hade and with all this knowledge. All those everyday surnames stemming from 'reiving' families. I suppose they were all cousins too - marrying within the families (sweeping generalisation or what).

Shame you couldn't sleep last night but at least you got a blog post out of your insomnia


Dumdad said...

Fascinating. I love mysteries - and the solving of them.

Hadriana's Treasures said...


I'm just wondering if you are referring to CL Rouse's activities..with the hot and heavy reference?! Erm. If not...that has gone completely over my head. Maybe it is through lack of sleep!!

FF: Thank you kindly my dear. Yes. I'm a bit shattered. Not sleeping at all well these days but hoping it will sort itself out. The children have taken to sleeping in the same room as me so perhaps it is something to do with that...

I love them dearly but I am longing to get back my own room again. We are going to see whether we can rent this house and possibly, possibly build a loft conversion over at the B&B. I hope so. I really do want us to be all together as a family. Hxx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Dumdad,

You sneaked in there! I'm going to try your policy of going straight back to commenters asap. (Could be famous last words that. Little boy is nagging me to take him to bed already.)

Maggie May said...

I just looked up the link on the Cursing Stone and find the whole thing fascinating.
Our name isn't on it but I do know some of the names.... but we are a long way away from you.
I've been watching TV on the progress of some of the digs and also read things in the papers.
It is all a bit compulsive!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

the fly in the web said...

Nothing too hot or too take away with them...the reivers' boast...but just as apt for bankers.

The agreement between the English and Scottish Wardens of the Marches that reivers could be pursued cross border ..the hot something else I would like to apply to bankers....not ex ones like yourself, of course.

Expat mum said...

Wow missus - I have just been bought a subscription to the excellent BBS History magazine, but methinks I won't need it if you keep this up on your blog. Fascinating, and yet more proof that my Border country ancestors were obviously serving those listed, as none of my names ever comes up. Although Summers is a common Nordic derivation I suppose!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Maggie,

I need to catch up with all those newspaper articles as I think they know more about that poor child now. I does make my stomach churn to think about what happened to him/her. It does get compulsive yes! I agree with you there.

I'm due to be at Vindolanda today and Friday plus most of next week to do my tours. So I need to get reading...

The curse of the Cursing Stone is also incredibly fascinating. :)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Fly,

I know that you've done a lot of reading about the Reivers. I need to catch up with you. I know far less about them than you do. Thanks for that intrigues me further...and I definitely like your banking analogies...

Hello expatmum,

Thanks for your lovely, lovely comment. I feel that I have done nothing but offend people this month (must be something in the air) - or must be my big mouth and big feet! Aye hinny pet...the Geordies are not known for their tact and diplomacy...but that's why I follow show me the expat way!

I looked at your latest post and I was rather taken aback by the diplomacy involved regarding dinner parties in the US. I think I'd fail at the first hurdle...!!

Must brush up my diplomatic skills!!! That can be my New Year's Resolution.... ;)

ADDY said...

Greg's family in Northumberland are tracing their ancestors and I gather the Armstrong reivers feature quite largely in their history.

Hadriana's Treasures said...


We haven't tracked down any as yet but it would be interesting if they did come up. Thinking about it ...the surname "Burn" crops up quite a bit in our family records and that might be a Reiver name.

Family history is absorbing isn't it?

Maggie May said...

Many thank for your kind comment. Will bear that in mind. Feeling better now!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Hadriana's Treasures said...

No problem at all, Maggie! Glad you are feeling better. I'm here if you need me. :) Hadriana xx

Sage said...

I loved my visit to haltwhistle and remember hearing about the reivers and being fascinated by the history.

Hadriana's Treasures said...


You've been over here? When? I'll have to interrogate you about it! ;)

You can't escape the past up here - it is right in our faces. Love it!

Graham Weeks said...

As a descendent of Grahams from the border I found this fascinating news. But the farthest I reached was who we believe fought at Trafalgar.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Glad you found this post to be of use - Graham! Funnily enough I was reading the local paper, The Hexham Courant, this week and no less than three 'Grahams' (as surnames) had written letters to the paper.

I find this whole area to be fascinating and very pleased to hear that you have traced your family tree that far back.

Merry Christmas! Hadriana :-)