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William Laidlaw


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William Laidlaw (bap. 1779-1845)

William Laidlaw was born at Blackhouse Farm. He was the eldest of three sons born to James Laidlaw, tenant farmer of Blackhouse, and his wife, Catherine Ballantyne. Laidlaw was educated for a time at Peebles Grammar School, but had to return to the farm, to work with his father sheep-farming. One of the labourers on the farm was James Hogg, who worked as a shepherd at Blackhouse for ten years, and he and Laidlaw formed a life-long friendship. Laidlaw continued farming, moving firstly at Liberton in 1803 and subsequently at Traquair, near Innerleithen.

According to Lockhart’s Memoirs, it was during one of Scott’s forays into the Yarrow Valley, that he first met the Laidlaw family. Laidlaw shared the same enthusiasm about ballads which Scott enjoyed, and their acquaintance quickly grew into friendship, with Laidlaw helping to procure material for the editions of The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

This friendship became an essential lifeline to Laidlaw in 1817, when his attempts at farming failed. Scott, aware of Laidlaw’s abilities, employed him as steward and amanuensis. When Scott was too weak through illness to write, he dictated his novels to Laidlaw. He left Scott’s employment for a time in 1826, when Scott’s financial situation was desperate, but returned in 1830.

After Scott’s death, Laidlaw took up a post of factor to Mrs Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth, and subsequently to Sir Charles Lockhart Ross of Balnagowan. These posts took his to Ross-shire, far from the Borders, but he was close to his brother, who lived at Contin, near Dingwall. In failing health, William Laidlaw retired and he died in his brother’s home. He was buried in Contin kirkyard.

William Laidlaw was instrumental in introducing Scott to James Hogg, and also contributed songs to Hogg’s publication, The Forest Minstrel. He also had pieces published in periodicals such as Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.

If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to these versions of ballads which were published in the editions of The MInstrelsy of the Scottish Border .
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If there is a School of Scottish Studies Archive Audio Track related to a specific ballad, we have included this in the left sidebar.

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border playlist


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