The Gypsies
The Early History
Gypsies in Scotland
Gypsies in the Borders
The Yetholm Gypsies
Gypsy Families
The Faa Family
Jean Gordon

Gypsy Families

Despite the fact that many of the gypsy families abandoned their given names and adopted other local names, the Faas and the Baillies kept theirs throughout. They considered themselves, and were considered by others to be the leading families of the tribes. They appeared in most of the trials which took place, and we can be sure that they knew of and were involved in most of the 'goings-on'. The Faas have long been accepted as the 'royal house' of the Scottish gypsies, but it is possible that at one time they had rivals in the Baillies. The Faas tended to look to the Eastern Borders as their domain, whilst the Western Borders was the home of the Bailliies. In Roxburghshire, however, there was some overlap, and therefore some rivalry on the ground.

The Baillies are described by Anne Gordon in 'Hearts upon the Highway' as being a remarkable family. They kept up the tradition of wearing coats of scarlet and green, with sporting dogs at their heels - reminiscent of the traditions of the early gypsies.

'Their women folk went to fairs dressed as ladies, riding side saddle on ponies, whilst their children were cared for by servants in ruined huts at home.'

In 1594, a Captain Baillie was executed in Edinburgh for counterfeiting the Great Seal. Why he should wish to do so is not known, as it seems a rather pointless exercise. In the late 1600's Captain William Baillie, leader of the group, was described as a gentleman - handsome, well-bred and well-dressed, and a sorner and tinker, who was one of the most skilful swordsmen of his day. In 1698, many of his family were condemned to death and he was ordered to be deported, but somehow, through influence, he was allowed to remain both in the country and at liberty, eventually being killed in 1724, in a fight.

Matthew Baillie married a lady of considerable renown in the South-West, one Mary Yorkston or Yowston, who became queen of her tribe, being regarded by the public as a dangerous robber, while being graced with the title 'Duchess' by the tribe.

Peter Bailley, also known as 'Pate' was a great exponent of the fiddle, one who suitably fortified with spirits and an appreciative audience, could play for days at functions such as weddings.

Safe conducts in the form of tokens were handed out by gypsies to travellers, and it has been said that a 'pass from a Baillie was good all over Scotland.'

The opinion of the Faas of the Baillies however is somewhat different - 'a parcel of thieves and vagabonds'.

As has already been said, the name Faa appears in various spellings and guises, Fa, Faa, Faw, Faley, Falla and Fall. The term 'a Faw' was used to refer to anyone thought to be a gypsy whether they were or not. Some of the name became upright citizens and rose to positions of power and influence. There was at least one MP, a Faa became a baillie in Dunbar, an interesting cross-link, and a Fall family prospered as merchants one being knighted.

The mercantile house of the Falls at Dunbar, was so extensive as to have many connexions in the ports of the Baltic and Mediterranean, and supported so high a character that several of the best families sent their sons to it, to be initiated in the mysteries of commerce.

The latter Falls always claimed their origins were as Faas from Yetholm. George Faa was Master of St John's Masonic Lodge in Kelso in the early 1700's. Henry Faa was obviously a man considered very important as he was paid 'blackmail' to influence those with whom he held sway. Much as gangs have done through the ages, payment to protect people or their property was a good source of income to these gypsy leaders.

The fabled gypsy of the ballad 'The Gypsy Laddie', was one Johnnie Faa. He is supposed to have run away with the wife of the Earl of Cassilis in 1643. The Earl, returning from Parliament in London, and finding his wife missing, then pursued them, eventually catching up with them. Johnnie Faa and his followers were all executed. That is the basic story, but with so many versions of the ballad in existence, each with its own twist or embellishment, the true story is lost in the mists of time.

Another Faa, Jenny, married Sir John Anstruther of Elie. She was described by Dr Alexander Carlyle writing in his autobiography, in 1744, as follows:

'He had the celebrated Jenny Fall, a coquette and a beauty, for months together in the house with him; and as his person and manners drew the marked attention of the ladies, he derived considerable improvement from the constant intercourse with this young lady, and her companions, for she was lively and clever, no less than beautiful'.

The Gypsies

Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day