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Sound be his Sleep and Blythe his Morn'.

Sound be his sleep and blythe his morn',

That never did a lassie wrong;

Who poverty ne'er held in scorn,

For misery ever tholed a pang.

25th Aug. 1787

Yes, it's come around once again. January 25th. The anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns and this individual, with fifty per cent Ayrshire blood flowing through his veins, isn't going to pass up the opportunity of producing a Burns-related post. There have been a couple of earlier ones with a Burns connection. There was the one produced following Mrs Bygone Boozer's and my trip with the bikes to Dumfries and Galloway which took in a number of places that he'd stayed in, in and around Sanquhar and New Cumnock and also one produced for Burn's Night last year, which featured the Burns Tavern in Tarbolton. This post looks at the Cross Keys Inn in Falkirk.

Towards the end of August 1787 Burns set out from Edinburgh, with his friend Willie Nicol, on a tour of the Highlands and called in to Falkirk to visit the grave of Sir John de Graham. On arriving in the town he found the main coaching inn, the Red Lion, to be full on account of the upcoming Falkirk Tryst. These large livestock markets could attract up to 150,000 cattle, sheep and horses, along with their owners/drovers. The main sales were on the first Tuesday of August, September and October so Burns' unfortunate timing meant that Falkirk was full of folk, full of animals and, presumably, full of dung. The result was that he had to settle on the Cross Keys for the night, just a little away from the Red Lion on the opposite side of the High Street.

Extract from the Ordnance Survey's 1858 town plan of Falkirk.

Looking at the above map extract, it would seem that in the intervening years all of the inns and pubs marked have disappeared.

Whilst at the Cross Keys Burns, with the aid of a diamond-tipped pen, etched the quatrain at the top of the page into one of the panes of glass in the window of his room. The National Trust for Scotland now has the pane at Burns' birthplace in Alloway, Ayrshire as well as a photograph of it on the Burn's Museum's website, from where this embedded image originates. If you wish to see a larger version, click here.

Falkirk's Cross Keys Inn was located at 185 High Street...

Cross Keys Inn Falkirk
The Cross Keys Inn, Falkirk. c1900

...and in 1887 was bought by William Gow. It used to be home to the town's Burns Club which met twice a year – on the 25th of August, the anniversary of Burns' visit – and on the 25th of January, the anniversary of his birth. In the picture below it is possible to see the sign attached to the wall, celebrating Burns' stay.

Cross Keys Inn Falkirk
The Cross Keys Inn, post-1889, during the days of William Gow's occupancy.

The cast iron plaque, probably designed by William Thomson Mitchell and cast by his Grahamston Iron Company, was unveiled on 25th January 1889. It was later removed, restored in 2018 and then replaced on the wall of the former inn.

Talking of signs, if you look back at the first black and white image you may well spot this one attached to the building.

Rudge Whitworth

Bikes manage to get a brief mention in this post, for this was the sign for Coventry cycle manufacturers Rudge-Whitworth.

Yes, as well as an innkeeper, William was also a cycle dealer although I'm not sure if he sold any Rudge-Whitworths like this. It's easy to think this is a four seater, but look carefully and you'll see that it is a five-seat tandem.

William continued in the trade in New South Wales after emigrating there with his family, aboard P&O's SS Persia, in the autumn of 1907. Then he had a eureka moment and started producing beers, cordials and other liquid comestibles. He must've been pretty good at it, for in various years at the Royal Sydney Easter Show he won prizes with his Eureka hop beer, his Eureka ginger beer, his Eureka non-intoxicating ale and his Eureka Worcestershire sauce.

Whilst William was enjoying his new life down under the Cross Keys continued to operate and survived until the 1960s. Since then the building has been used for retail purposes and currently houses a music shop.

Returning to Burns' etched quatrain:

Sound be his sleep and blythe his morn',

That never did a lassie wrong;

Who poverty ne'er held in scorn,

For misery ever tholed a pang.

All I can say is, that judging by his record, the Cross Keys ought not to have given him a sound night's sleep and his morn ought to have been anything but blythe.

Richard Sutcliffe's images are copyright and are reused under the terms of this licence. Leo Reynolds' and Elliott Brown's images are also copyright and are reused under the terms of this one.

The Ordnance Survey map extract too is copyright and has been reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the terms of this CC BY licence.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.


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