By Tim Porteus

I WAS in Lauder last weekend to tell stories to the Lauder Cub Group.

It was at the invitation of old friends whose son attends the Cubs there, and afterwards we spent a lovely evening catching up and being amazed how our respective children had grown so much since we’d last seen each other.

My friends had previously lived in Prestonpans, and as the evening wore on there was talk about the memories from their time there, where I still stay.

Soon after my friends arrived in Lauder, they discovered a plaque which commemorated the arrival of Johnnie Cope in 1745. Lauder, it is said, was the first place he stopped after fleeing from the Battle of Prestonpans.

“I suppose we kind of followed in his footsteps,” said my friend, “although in a very different way and totally different circumstances of course. Folk round here don’t really know the story, but coming from the Pans it gave us an immediate connection.”

The actual house on Lauder High Street that Johnnie Cope arrived at is now gone, replaced over 100 years ago. But Lauder must look much as it did on that fateful day when Cope arrived, with his horse close to collapse with exhaustion.

Johnnie Cope was the general commanding the British Army at Prestonpans on that fateful day, September 21, 1745. The battle was a major victory for the Jacobites. Cope fled the scene of battle, but only when it was clearly lost. He eventually arrived at Berwick-upon-Tweed to give news of his own defeat. Ever since, popular tradition has mocked Cope for running away and not standing his ground and dying ‘honourably’, as Colonel Gardiner of Bankton House did.

This ridicule was encapsulated in a traditional popular song, and the chorus remains well-known:

Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye wauking yet?

Or are your drums a-beating yet?

If ye were wauking I wad wait

Tae gang to the coals i’ the morning.

The song pokes fun at Cope and concludes with a harsh indictment:

Now Johnnie, troth, ye were na blate

Tae come wi’ news o’ your ain defeat,

And leave your men in sic a strait

Sae early in the morning.

There are earlier versions with slightly different words, but the sentiment remains the same: Johnnie Cope ran away and should be ashamed of himself for leaving his men. However, he was later found to have done his duty, and this reputation deemed unfair. But mud sticks, especially when a catchy tune is added to it.

This popular song is believed to have been written by Adam Skirving, a farmer at Garleton in East Lothian. There is a story that he visited the battle site a few hours after the fighting. Perhaps he spoke to some eyewitnesses who saw Cope flee up the road to Birsley Brae, and therefore got the idea for the song. The road Cope took as he fled from the battle has ever after been called Johnnie Cope’s Road.

Lauder is a short journey from Prestonpans if going by car. It had been a while since I had last ventured over Soutra Hill and into the border country and I enjoyed the drive despite the wild weather, or perhaps partly because of it.

But what was Cope’s journey like as he galloped over Soutra Hill with some of his dragoons? He must have paused at the summit and cast a glance at the view over East Lothian and screwed his eyes to find Prestonpans. The panic and terror by this time would have given way to different feelings, I suspect.

He rode more or less the same way I took to Lauder but it would have taken him much longer with very different emotions. His arrival in the town would have been a bewildering spectacle for the locals. He later continued his flight to Coldstream, which he reached by nightfall.

All this was in my head as we headed home to Prestonpans from Lauder the next day. I could almost see the ghosts of Cope and his dragoons gallop past us as we ventured over Soutra.

As we drove, I re-told the story to my kids and we sang the song in the car. They know the story and the chorus well, as we have many times ventured along Johnnie Cope Road on the way to the rail station.

By the road is Bankton House, once the home of Colonel Gardiner, who did not run but stood his ground, and paid the ultimate price with brutal death.

There is a small doo’cot by the house, and inside you will find a free but almost secret visitor centre created with the support of the Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust.

The doo’cot can only be reached via a walkway through the wood from the rail station during the day, and inside ‘Auld Archie’ tells the tale of the battle, and the life and death of Colonel Gardiner. On the wall is a model map of how the area looked at the time of the battle, with the route taken by Johnnie Cope clearly marked.

It’s all fascinating stuff which had been unexpectedly brought to my mind by the visit to Lauder to see old friends.

But it was the emotions rather than the events that I reflected on most. The hatred caused by this civil war (for the Jacobite Rising was a civil war), the loss, suffering and misery of conflict which is so often hidden by a cloak of romanticism.

Adam Watters, a Panner who lives and breathes local history, and re-enacts it for children and visitors alike, is clear on this. It is a fascinating period to study, and to have the history on our doorstep brings it alive. But as Adam has said, let’s enjoy that sense of history on our doorstep and have fun with it, but let us not glorify battle, rather learn from it.

I think Johnnie Cope, even though he was a military man, may well have agreed with Adam.