JM Wilson Book now available

Now available here

“Health and Home are Powerful Magnets”.
An Exile returns to Berwick.
Mike Fraser BA (Hons) MSc MPhil


John Mackay Wilson – the Writer of Tales of the Borders and Editor of the Berwick Advertiser 1832-1835

Mike Fraser

Mike lives in Berwick upon Tweed and writes and lectures on Northumberland political history, including studies of Sir William Beveridge and Sir Charles Trevelyan. He now turns his attention to a native of Berwick and his writings.
John Mackay Wilson (1804-1835) was the writer of Tales of the Borders and Editor of the Berwick Advertiser 1832-1835. At this turbulent stage in British history Wilson wrote his popular Tales, transformed the Advertiser and wrote controversial editorials on Grey, Peel, Wellington, the Great Reform Act, religion, trade unions, the Poor Law and the role of Freemen. Quoting extensively from Wilson’s prose and poetry Mike, in the first extended examination of Wilson’s life and work, discusses what his writings tell us about Berwick and Britain at the dawn of the modern age.

Praise for Mike’s Sir William Beveridge: the Man, the Report and the Berwick Division –
“I think it is terrific” – Steve Richards, Political Commentator

“This study should be in the House of Commons Library” – Sir Alan Beith (former MP for Berwick and now Lord Beith)

“I very much enjoyed your piece which taught me a lot about Lord Beveridge’s Northumberland career and later life” – Professor Jose Harris (Beveridge’s only Biographer)

It’s been a busy autumn. 2 Live events, our Pop Up Museum and the launch of Volume 3, now available either directly from us at £8-50 (cheques payable to The Wilsons Tales Project) or at Grieves in Berwick. 6 more tales and their background  together with 5 new illustrations by local artists and the next instalment of Wilson’s biography.

An excellent Christmas present idea!  

Over 350 attended one or more events with us during 4 days of the Berwick Literary festival. Feedback on our Pop Up Museum  was very good. There were 243 visitors 86% found it fascinating and 98% would recommend it. Many came back for a second visit and 61% spent over 15 minutes there and 20% more than 1/2 hour. Most thought it could have a permanent place as part of Berwick’s cultural offering.

 We got some useful feedback and chance to experiment with concepts. Most negative feedbacks were venue specific or that they didn’t have a long enough opportunity to take it all in.

The challenge is to see if we can make it into something more permanent!

Wilson’s Tales at the Scottish story telling centre.

 Charles Nasmyth provided the front cover illustration for Volume 3 and is providing more for next year as an illustrated interpretation of an entire Tale. He will be working on this at the Scottish Story Telling Centre, on The Royal Mile , Edinburgh as part of his exhibition running there from 7th November till 26th and he will be there in person working on his tale on 17th November between 10.30 and 2.30.





May 2015 and Forwards…

We also continue to discover further editions of the tales. The photograph is of a reprint in 1887 as part of the “Kenilworth library” series. A selection of what were considered to be literary classics from the back catalogue of the time.

Our March “revival” life event was a success and again attracted an audience of around 60.

We have been awarded some funding from the ‘Pen and Palette’ fund and the ‘AONB’ programme to let us make a start on producing some more professional display material for the project and make a start recording some of the retelling of the tales for future repeat use. More on all this latter. We still await a further funding decision on this.

The first of our revival editions of The Tales is close to selling out with only limited copies now available.

Exciting research from one of our readers has recently suggested that Wilson’s tales may have actually contained the first ‘who dun it’. This has traditionally been attributed to Allan Edgar Poe in literary circles for his short story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, first published in 1846. A tale which one suspects Conan Doyle largely lifted his ‘Sherlock and Watson’ characters from and it the unexpected twist in the tale was that it was an Ourang-Outang that did it!

However the tale of ‘The Forger’, written by Alexander Campbell and published in 1835 as part of The Tales, predates this and contains all the aspects we would recognise as a ‘who dun it’ or ‘detective story’.

Finally a date for the Diary. Northumberland Theatre Company are bringing their stage version of ‘Lancelot Errington: A Tale of Lindisfarne’ to the Berwick area in October. It will be told in the Town Hall on the 10th October with a background talk on the event it depicts, the Jacobite 1715 uprising.

It will also be presented as part of a suite of 6 tales as part of ‘A Wife of the Gallows & Other Tales’ at Paxton House on the 11th October and then tour to other venues.

Our profile continues to rise. Our revival edition was reviewed in ‘Scottish Field’ and we were recently invited to and attended the Wigton Spring Book festival.

Fourth revival event on 15th March 2015 at the Guildhall, Berwick-upon-Tweed

A second opportunity to enjoy ‘The Monomanic’ (the photograph is of the cast taken in the Picture Gallery at Paxton House at the time of the first performance in November 2014.)

Mary Kenny , a professional storyteller , will be retelling ‘Judith the Egyptian’. Mary had the following to say about the tale and her preparation:

“You may wipe images of pyramids and sand dunes from your mind’s eye, for this is a tale closer to home and of a different grandeur, of a proud race whose name is connected with the small town of Kirk Yetholm – Royal seat of the King of the Gypsies. Set amongst the towering Eilden Hills, and along the banks of the Tweed, this romantic story of love and pride winds, inevitably as the river runs to the sea, to a dramatic and fateful conclusion. My task as an oral storyteller working with this extraordinary, encyclopaedic collection of tales is to adapt what can be difficult and outmoded written language, and re-interpret the story sensitively for telling to a new audience.”

Re-written as short plays by retired Eyemouth GP Michael Fenty are “The Monomaniac” an early description of post-traumatic stress and the events giving rise to it during an eventful trip to India. And “The Monks of Drybrugh”, presented in radio style by the Duns players provides an amusing finale to the evening. Both of the latter tales have been

Future events in 2015.

1st May at the Wigton Spring Book festival, where Morag Eaton’s “Red Hall” prints will also be exhibited.

In October 2015 we have the launch of ‘Revival edition, Volume 2’ at the Berwick Literary Festival , which will be an expanded edition, containing 6 tales with companion pieces on the historic context and the first chapter of a biography on Wilson and the Tales.

The Fifth Revival event is a re-telling of the true tale of the seizure of Lindisfarne castle as part of the 1715 Jacobite uprising on the 300th anniversary of the event. Look forward to ‘Lancelot Errington and his nephew Mark; A tale of Lindisferne’. A joint collaboration between The Berwick 900 Project, Northumberland Theatre Company and the Northumbrian Jacobite society.