It’s always nice to link my visits to watch-towers with a story or two and none can be as amusing as the tale linked with Eckford watch-tower in the Border region of Scotland.
One evening in 1829, not long after William Burke had swung for his part in the West Port murders, James Goodfellow aka ‘Dandy Jim’ was walking past Eckford churchyard on his way home after spending the evening with his sweetheart. A stout fellow, he was not easily frightened and took little heed of the stories told over a pint of ale about the dangers of being abroad late at night.
His walk home took him near the churchyard and on getting closer, he noticed a strange, luminous haze hovering above a grave. Dismissing the idea that the light was a corpse-candle* but remembering that there had been a burial in the parish only the day before, Jim decided to investigate.
As he walked nearer the church, the light disappeared, only to reappear moments later. Creeping up to the churchyard wall, Jim peered over and look out onto the dark expanse of gravestones. Unable to see through the darkness, he heard more than enough commotion to realize that he had stumbled upon a pair of bodysnatchers.
Eckford lies 13 miles south of Kelso and the pair of miscreants had traveled to the site in a gig, now tied up alongside the churchyard wall. Realizing that he had to do something to stop the bodysnatchers in their tracks, Jim decided to create a diversion. Untying the horse, he gave it a sharp slap on its behind sending it galloping across the nearby fields. The bodysnatchers, noticing that their only means of getting home was running loose, dropped everything.
Whilst the bodysnatchers huffed and puffed across the field, ‘Dandy Jim’ put his plan into action. He swapped places with the freshly exhumed corpse which was lying so patiently next to the open grave. Not long afterwards, the two bodysnatchers, muttering and cursing to one another, returned to the churchyard to collect the cadaver and be on their way.
‘My!’ exclaimed one of the snatchers, ‘this corpse is a heavy one‘. Heavy or not, Jim was thrown into the back of the gig and the jostling soon began on the journey back to Kelso.
It was not a relaxed affair for the two bodysnatchers, fearful of being caught were becoming more and more agitated as the miles slipped away. ‘I’ll take an oath before the Justice of the Peace’ declared one, ‘the body’s warm!’.
Unable to restrain himself any longer, and growing hot under the cover of the cloth, Jim removed the cover from his face and cried ‘Warm you say? Pray, what would you be if you came from where I have been?’.
With a tremendous leap the bodysnatchers jumped from the gig, one tearing across the open fields the other heading for the cover of woodland. As soon as he’d finished laughing, Jim turned the horse around and headed home, the proud new owner of a horse and gig.
It is from this attempt that the parishioners of Eckford rallied round and decided to build the watchtower so that their dearly departed might rest in peace.
* It was once believed that when someone died their soul left the body in the form of a flame.