Wilson’s Tales

The Wilson’s Tales Project has been created by a group of volunteers based in Berwick upon Tweed, to stimulate a revival of interest in the Tales.  Constantly republished throughout the English-speaking world in the 19th century, when the 1934 centenary edition was reprinted in 1947 , the Tales as a published body of work were slipping into obscurity.

The Wilson’s Tales Project aims to raise awareness of the original Tales and provide a platform for contemporary artists of all types to respond to and re-tell them in modern ways to modern audiences.
This has included live performances by story tellers, musicians singing the original ballads on which many were based, and stage and radio play adaptations of the Tales in historic venues.
In addition, we have published our own ‘Revival Editions’ of Tales, each one retold in modern language and with an accompanying item setting out the historical accuracy, or otherwise, of the original.

Can I get involved?
Of course you can.  We are in need of writers, editors,  bloggers, volunteers of all kinds.  You can Sign up for the Newsletter here,
or make a donation here.

Why should his work still be of interest?
The main reasons for re-examining the body of Tales are twofold:-
their historical and cultural significance, and
they’re (mostly) ripping good yarns!
At the time of publication, their weekly appearance was the equivalent of today’s soap operas.  Their print runs expanded and expanded as people ‘tuned in’ to the latest goings on in the Borders, and Scotland.  Although they were presented in a  dramatic way to suit expectations of the readers, most were founded on actual events and stories.  We commission companion pieces to each of our Revival reprints to investigate just how factual the particular Tale is/was.

Who was Wilson?
At the time of the first ‘Tales of the Borders’  John Mackay Wilson (JMW) was Editor of the Berwick Advertiser.  A new work (October 2018) detailing his life and activity has been published under the auspices of The Project, and is available in ebook or print format in the project shop here, or on line at various ebook retailers.
A brief summary is also at this page.   

Where can I read some Tales?
The first place would be from our shop, where we now have the first 8 Revival Edition reprints, where Tales are retold, and companion pieces explain their historical accuracy (or not).

The Berwick Advertiser has been reprinting serialisations of tales, which is an elegant closure of a full circle, from the original Tale in the paper of November 8th 1834.
After that, you can download original Tales from places like Project Gutenberg or other sites, listed on our page here


17 thoughts on “Wilson’s Tales”

  1. Hi, I have a set of volumes 1 to 6 of Wilson’s Tales of the Borders in fairly good condition. The covers are dark blue. I can’t see a date anywhere. They are published in London by William Mackenzie.
    If they are of interest to you I am happy to donate the volumes to your project.

    1. Hello Mary,
      Thanks for getting in touch. There were many editions published, many subtly different, according to the publisher’s view on which Tales were ‘better’ and would sell well. or merely which would best fit the number of pages they intended to use.

      We would indeed be very grateful for thi set, for although volumes are often turning up, frequently they are singles, and all of the earlier editions were in sets, of 3, of 6, even of 20. We have a note for Mackenzie beginning in the 1870’s, but we are attempting to compile a definitive list, with some guidance to dating.

      Whereabouts are you, and how do you suggest we arrange collection?

  2. Hi I have 11 volumes out of a 12 volumes set of Wilson Tales of the boarders. They are published in Edinburgh by William P Nimmo and revised by Alexander Leighton.
    Are they worth keeping? The covers are Burgundy Black and gold.

    1. Hello Margaret,
      Thanks for visiting.

      Well, I’d say they are worth keeping, if only for the ripping good yarns in them. Though I freely admit that some of the yarns are definitely not ripping good ones.
      That said, it seems to be the case that Tales of the Borders were published in such quantities that it was said that every household in the Borders had a set, and they can usually be found in any second hand book shop. Our list of known editions on the site here shows Nimmo published in 1857, so they are pretty old and if in good condition, you may find a bookshop would be interested.
      Incidentally, we don’t have a picture of that edition – if you can be bothered, we’d be grateful for a couple of photos of the covers, spine, and title page.
      Sorry not to be more helpful.

      Wilson’s Tales

  3. Very interesting website, John Mackay Wilson is a distant relative of mine (1st cousin 6x removed).
    It looks like you have some information regarding John Mackay Wilson slightly wrong. I believe his father was William Wilson (1777-1844) and mother Jane Mackay (-1844)

    1. Peter,
      Thank you for contacting us.

      Very timely as we are in the process of updating our website and content, so we can check this out and get corrected next time.

      We have had some research on Wilson’s family tree done locally and traced a descendent of his sister, to an English teacher living in Leeds called Beattie.

      To be honest though it is all a bit disjointed and could really do with being tidied up into a more comprehensive and accessible way. Do you have more information that leads down your route of the family tree? Would you be willing to share this and perhaps help tidy this area up?

      Andrew Ayre – project Director.

  4. You are best to subscribe to our friends news email which comes out about 4 times a year and give details of any forthcoming events.

  5. How old are Tales of the Borders and of Scotland McGready, Thomson & Nevin Glasgow, Melbourne & Dunedin volume I and II. These do not have a printed date on them. Hard cover, 6 gold box patterns on spine, brown covers with panel bordered with gold on left side darker brown and matching triangular right side corners. The centre section is lighter brown. Back is the same but reverse sides.
    Vol I first picture (opp title page) is titled ‘The Blacksmith of Plumptrees’. Showing a gentleman, blacksmith and horse.
    Vol II titled ‘The Suicide and has a man in bed reading a book, gentleman holding tophat and can behind back and scratching his chin and a maid leaving the room.
    Both have the same verse by Sir Walter Scott, Old tales I heard of woe or mirth…
    Many thanks

    1. Hello,

      The Tales were published in 1834, and remained in print, from several publishers, up to about 1963. There is a list of the editions we know about elsewhere on the website.

  6. Hi
    I have a set of 1-12 of Wilson`s Tales of the Boarders
    Actually book 1 and 2 have a brownish cover with a shield and a rampart lion on the front and the others 3-12 are blue with sword, bible, hat and shawl on them
    all are in remarkable Condition considering
    Can you tell me are they worth anything, or where I might be able to sell them
    Thank you

    1. Hello Kevin,
      Thanks for the enquiry. It’s difficult to provide an answer without seeing them of course. I suggest you check prices on eBay or Abebooks to get an idea of value.

  7. I have a 3 vol copy that belonged to my gg grandfather James Douglas Turnbull of East Middle Hawick and later of Kangaroo Paddock and Guy Fawkes NSW.
    In very poor condition. I am in the process of rebinding the thee. Vol 3 has to be pulled and re sewn.
    I do not think necessary to have replica bindings made as per the Walter Scott edition that it is now.

  8. I have a 3 vol copy that belonged to my gg grandfather James Douglas Turnbull of East Middle Hawick and later of Kangaroo Paddock and Guy Fawkes NSW.
    In very poor condition. I am in the process of rebinding the thee. Vol 3 has to be pulled and re sewn.
    I do not think necessary to have replica bindings made as per the Walter Scott edition that it is now.

    1. Hello Peter,
      There are a number of 3 volume sets still circulating. Usually they incorporate 6 volumes within 3 bindings. Personally (i.e. not the view of the Project) I think these hit the right spot between usable, imposing, and interesting. May I enquire if your set is still in NSW? We often wonder about how many Northumbrians are spread around th world with copies of the Tales.

  9. Where can the lithotypes of the illustrations can be found? my edition vol 1 of 3 has a badly damaged Frontis page on the story The Vacant Chair? I am in the process of rebinding the 3 volumes. 1 and 2 are OK however Vol three has fallen to pieces. I big job to repair all he paper damage. Worth it. Peter Newcastle NSW

    1. Hello again Peter,

      Sorry for the delayed reply.
      I know of nowhere that the illustrations can be found, and asking around, we all seem to have the same conclusion. The Project has a number of different editions, but we do not have a comprehensive library of scans or photo’s – though that is one of the items on the ‘to do’ list to add to our comprehensive catalogue content.
      You could, of course, keep an eye open for a set for sale. Possible in Newcastle-upon-Tyne rather more easily than in your location though.
      I’m sending some images from my Mackenzie edition which may help.

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