About the tales

About the Tales

“Wilson’s Tales of the Borders, and of Scotland. Historical, Traditionary and Imaginative” , known more commonly as “Wilson’s Tales of the Borders” are, as there title suggests a collection of some of the tales, stories, history and ballads, principally of the Borders of Scotland and North Northumberland. An area for many years known as “The Debatable Lands” as exactly where the Border lay was a rather vague concept to those living there as was the reality of whether either the Scots or English crown of the time had any real control over the area for many centuries.

They were first drawn together and published in weekly instalments from 8th October 1834 by John Mackay Wilson, at the time also editor of the “Berwick Advertiser” . This was a common method of publishing at the time used by amongst others Charles Dickens and Walter Scott.

They became a minor publishing sensation of their day with the original runs of 2,000 having to be raised to 30,000 within a year. Wilson was no doubt delighted with this as he had lived a struggling live trying to make a living through various literary endeavours in London and Manchester before returning to Berwick for the more secure appointment as editor to the local paper. Though the salary seemed a bit less reliable than he had perhaps hoped as he complained in a letter to a friend in January 1834 “  ..the humbugs have jerked me this year and not paid me yet!”.

He was not however to enjoy the fruits of his success, dying in 3rd October 1835, less than a year after the first edition, which contained two stories “The Vacant Chair”, concerning a farmer, Peter Elliot, who’s Farmhouse straddled the Border and who knew not whether he was English or Scottish and “Tibby Fowler” a tale of wealth , despair and love winning through to save the day.

Wilson had contributed 66 tales to the collection before his death. His Executors and Family continued the process of publication after his death to ensure his widow was not left penniless. They therefore recruited a further collection of contributors to continue the publication of these tales. A further 18 identified contributors together with 9 unattributed contributors added to the collection. A total of 485 were eventually published.

The largest single contributor was Alexander Leighton, who also went on to edit a 20 part, 10 Volume publication of the collected works published by William Nimmo of Edinburgh in 1857 and later expanded 24 volume edition, including a wider range of tales from around Scotland, published on this occasion by The Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd. In 1869.

The tales thus contain a rich collection of tales that represent a record of our History, Heritage, lore and legend. They caught the imagination of the their age and are rich in social history covering some 500 years and can once more entertain a new generation.


  1. This is one awesome article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

  2. We have all 299 of Wilson’s original tales bound in three volumes, published by Walter Scott. Do have any information about these particular editions?
    Many thanks.
    Sir G Fergusson

    • apologies for delay in responding. Interesting. The walter Scott publishing company mainly did smaller editions published late 1800’s , typically in 12 or 24 volume editions. the 3 volume sets were often about A4 size and by earlier publishers. could you send some photos via the email address on our web site and I will look at what you have , see if I can help further. I will add you to our mailing list for updates on ongoing activity.

  3. I have a copy of the William F. Nimmo, Edinburgh edition of Volume V, tho’ it also has a place where it says end of Vol IX, and at the end says end of Vol X. Brown leather binding with “Wilson’s Tales of the Borders” on a black background, and an embossed V below it in the brown ‘field’ Any idea what year it was published? I’m thinking now to give it to the local host of Robbie Burns’ Night at the local Wilno Tavern (Ontario)… he does great recitations of Robbie’s poetry… and deserves a good gift of another Scot. Great site you have.

  4. After recently cleaning out an old house, I also found volumes one,two and three. They are in really great shape and if anyone is interested in these, please contact me at dsuperd@mts.net. Perhaps you can also let me know if these are of any monetary value.
    Thanks, Dave

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