Reverend Henry Scott Riddell was a poet, shepherd, and song-writer, born at Sorbie in Ewesdale to a shepherd father around 1798. His father was reportedly an associate of the Scottish poets James Hogg and Walter Scott. Hogg, ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’, would occasionally visit the Riddell household and recite his poetry to the children.
After his father died, when Henry was eighteen, he resolved to study for the ministry, and in 1830 was licensed by Biggar Presbytery. It was during this time that ‘the Bard of Teviotdale’ first become known for his poetry, publishing The Crook and the Plaid, as well as several articles for The Clydesdale Magazine. Moving back to Teviothead in 1831, Riddell was appointed preacher at Teviothead Church in 1832 or ‘33. He lived at the Flex in the Slitrig Valley during the early years of his charge, walking the nine miles to church to deliver his sermons. Puddles of water would often form at his feet as he preached, having walked a great distance in the Sunday morning rain.
Later, the Duke of Buccleuch had a cottage built for Riddell at Teviothead, where he lived out the rest of his days. Many of his poems, written at Teviothead, were first published in the Hawick Advertiser. In later years he became involved with the Border Counties Association, as well as local archaeological excavations. He took part in several events in Hawick, including the Burns Centenary, laying the foundation stone of the Old Parish Church, giving lectures, and awarding the prizes for the Auld Brig poetry competition. ‘The Bard of Teviotdale’ is probably best remembered for his song Scotland Yet, one of the most popular tunes of late-19th century Scotland, and regarded by many as a national anthem.
Henry Scott Riddell died rather suddenly in 1870. Four years later, a fifty-foot-high memorial cairn was erected in his memory (repaired 1926, renovated 1999) on the slopes of Dryden Fell, above Teviothead and Colterscleuch. A plaque above the door of Riddell’s Teviothead cottage reads: “Sleep on, gentle bard, for though silent for ever,/Thy harp in the hall of the chieftain is hung;/No tune from the memory of mankind shall sever/The tales that it told, and the strains that it sung.” These were the words of an elegy Riddell wrote for ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’ upon Hogg’s death – a fitting epitaph for a man as equally beloved. Being once the bard of St. John’s Masonic Lodge of Hawick, Riddell is remembered to this day by members of the lodge, who visit his cairn annually to pay their respects.
Gae bring my guid auld harp ance mair,
Gae bring it free and fast,
For I maun sing anither sang,
Ere a’ my glee be past
And trow ye as I sing my lads,
The burden o’t shall be,
Auld Scotland’s howes and Scotland’s knowes,
And Scotland’s hills for me!
I’ll drink a cup to Scotland yet
Wi a’ the honours three!
- Scotland yet, by Rev. Henry Scott Riddell
‘A sigh on every breeze is borne,
That whispers through the vale,
The wimpling waters seem to mourn
The Bard of Teviotdale’
- James Thomson source unknown