Topic

Hawick

With a population of 6,877 in the 1911 census, Hawick is described in 1894 by John Murray in his Handbook of Scotland as ‘thriving but uninteresting’. Hawick, however, was a major centre of the Borders textile industry and the home of such firms as Pringle, Lyle & Scott and Innes and Henderson. It was also an important livestock market town, and is the site of the annual Hawick Common Riding, the first of the Border festivals, which celebrates the ancient custom of riding the marches or boundaries of the common land.

Reports of cinematograph exhibitions in the 1900s are relatively rare, though W.P. Gaylor of the Border Cinematograph Company regularly showed moving pictures, including his own local topicals, in various church halls. Scott’s Royal Electric Cinematograph and High-Class Concert Party appeared regularly in the Town Hall and the New Theatre on Croft Road until Scott built the Pavilion which opened on the High Street on 10 November, 1913 with a seating capacity of 1,400 and a warm civic welcome from the Provost. George Urie Scott already owned a circuit which included a number of theatres in Shettleston, Larkhall, and Barrhead. He retained an interest in the Theatre on Croft Road until he sold the Scott Circuit in 1920.

From 1920 there were three venues showing cinema: The Pavilion, billed as a ‘Picture and Variety Theatre’; The Picture Theatre on Croft Road, occasionally accommodating visiting theatre companies; and the King’s Theatre in the Corn Exchange which became a Palais de Danse on Saturday evenings. All three venues continued to mix some element of variety or dance with the film programme into the late 1920s.

Cinema was an important part of the civic culture of Hawick, reported regularly in the press, and Gaylor and the Border Cinematograph Company continued throughout the period to make local topicals commemorating particularly the Borders common ridings. Many of these topicals are preserved in the Moving Image Archive of the National Library of Scotland. See for instance: Hawick Common Riding around 1903, Selkirk Common Riding 1901.

Social concerns about cinema were aired quite frequently in the Hawick News, often accompanied by resolute editorial defense. The use of the Town Hall for screenings on Sundays was debated in 1910 with one councillor arguing that ‘people had better go to cinematograph shows than to fried fish shops’. The Council, however, took steps to discourage Sunday screenings. Chief Constable Thom of Hawick, responding to the Report of the Cinema Commission in 1917, and in particular to the evidence of Chief Constable Ross of Edinburgh that the cinema had not incited the commission of crimes, accepted that the cinema may have reduced drunkenness but cited a number of cases where ‘boys deliberately planned the crimes to get money to attend the picture-houses’. He advocated legislation to prevent children under 14 from attending cinema in the evening unless accompanied by an adult, and favoured local censorship. The Reverend Robertson of the Baptist Church took an extreme view in 1918, believing that the cinema was ‘one of the devil’s most blatant instruments for the destruction of all that was pure and holy’. This resulted in an editorial defense of the cinema, and in extended correspondence in the letters column. In 1919, the Reverend Anderson of the United Free Church preached that Sunday cinematograph entertainments, like Sunday evening suppers and Sunday evening dances, spelled the end of the Covenanters’ dream of a new race.

There seems to be no historic reason why Hawick should have taken such an extreme view of the dangers of cinema. It may have been the legacy of the Covenanters, but it is more likely that it was a symptom of the significance of cinema within the civic culture that there was such well-aired public debate in the local press about its social place.