William O'Phaup Laidlaw

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William O'Phaup Laidlaw

Also Known As: "Will o' Phaup"
Birthdate: (64)
Birthplace: Craik, Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland
Death: 1755 (64)
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland
Place of Burial: Ettrick Churchyard, Ettrick, Selkirk, Scotland
Immediate Family:

Son of Private
Husband of Bessie Scott
Father of Margaret Hogg; Robert Laidlaw; William Laidlaw; James Laidlaw; Agnes Laidlaw and 1 other

Occupation: Sheppard, runner and all round wonderful fellow
Managed by: Erin Spiceland
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About William O'Phaup Laidlaw

Will o' Phaup, one of the genuine Laidlaws of Craik was born at that place in 1691. He was shepherd in Phaup for fifty-five years. For feats of frolic, strength, and agility, he had no equal in his day. In the hall of the laird, at the farmers ingle, and in the shepherd's cot, Will was alike a welcome guest; and in whatever company he was, he kept the whole in one roar of merriment. In Will's days, brandy was the common drink in this country; as for whisky, it was, like silver in the days of Solomon, nothing accounted of. Good black French brandy was the constant beverage; and a heavy neighbour Will was on it. Many a hard bouse he had about Moffat, and many a race he ran, generally for wages of so many pints of brandy; and in all his life he never was beat. He once ran at Moffat for a wager of five guineas, which one of the chiefs of the Johnstons betted on his head. His opponent was a celebrated runner from Crawford-Muir, of the name of Blaikley, on whose head, or rather on whose feet, a Captain Douglas had wagered. Will knew nothing of the match till he went to Moffat, and was very averse to it. "No that he was ony fear'd for the chap ," he said; "but he had on a' his ilka-day claes, and as many leddies and gentlemen war to be there to see the race, he didna like to appear afore them like an assie whalp."

However, he was urged, and obliged to go out and stip; and, as he told it, "a poor figure I made beside the chield wi' his grand ruffled sark. I was sae affront it at thinking that Will o' Phaup should hae made sie a dirty shabby appearance afore sae mony grit folks and bonny leddies, that not a fit I could rin mair nor I had ben a diker. The race was down on Ann an-side, and jimply a mile, out and in; and, at the very first, the man wi' the ruffled sark flew off like a hare, and left poor Will o' Paup to come waughling up ahint him like a singit cur, wi' his din sark and his clou tit breeks. I had neither heart nor power, till a very queer accident befell me; for, Scots grund! disna the tying o' my cloutit breeks brek loose, and in a moment they were at my heels, and there was I standing like a hapshekel'd staig! 'Off wi'them, Phaup! Off wi'them! cries ane. Od, sir I just sprang out o'them; and that instant I fand my spirits rise to the proper pitch. The chield was clean afore me, but I fandth at if he were a yeagle I wad o'er tak him, for i scarcely kenn'd wheth er I was touching the grund or fleeing in the air, and as I come by Mr Welch, I heard him saying, 'Paup has him yet;' for he saw Blaikley failing. I got by him, but I had not muckle to brag o', for he keepit the step on me till within a gunshot o' the starting-post.

'Then there was sic a fraze about me by the winning party, and naething was serve them but that I should dine wi' them in the public room. 'Na, fi end be there then, Mr Johnston,' says I, 'for though your leddies only leuch at my accident, if I war to dinner wi' them in this state, I kenna how they might tak it.'

When Will was a young lad, only sixteen years of age, and the very first year he was in Phaup, his master betted the price of his whole drove of Phaup hogs on his head, at a race with an Englishman on Stagshawbank, James Anderson Esq. of Ettrickhall, was then farmer of Phaup, and he had noted at the shedding, before his young shepherd left home, that whenever a sheep got by wrong, he never did more than run straight after it, lay hold of it by sheer speed, and bring it back in his arms. So the laird having formed high ideas of Will's swiftness, without letting him know of the matter, first got an English gentleman into a heat, by bragging the English runners with Scots ones, and then proffered betting the price of his 300 wedder hogs, that he had a poor starved barefooted boy who was helping to drive them, - whom he believed to be about the worst runner in Scotland, - who would yet beat the best Englishman that could be found in Stags hawbank-fair.

The Englishman's national pride was touched, as well it might, his coutrymen being wel known as the superior runners. The bet was taken, and Will won it with the greatest ease for his master, without being made aware of the stake for which he ran. This he never knew till some months afterwards, when his master presented him with a guinea, a pair of new shoes, and a loaf of oatmeal, for winning him the price of the Phaup hogs. Will was exceedingly proud of the feat he had performed, as well as of the present, which he remarked, was as much to him as the price of the hogs was to his master. From that day forth he was never beat at a fair race.

He never went to Moffat, that the farmers did not get him into their company, and then never did he get home to Phaup sober. The mad feats which he then performed, were for an age, the standing jokes of the country, and many of his sayings settled into regular proverbs or by-words. His great oath was "Scots grund, quo' Will o' Phaup," is a standing exclamation to this day - "One plash more, quo' Will o' Phaup," is another, - and there are many similar ones. The last mentioned had its origin in one of those Moffat returning by night greatly inebriated, the former riding, and Will running by his side. Moffat water being somewhat flooded, the farmer proposed taking Laidlaw on the horse behind him. Will sprang on, but, as he averred, never got seated right, till the impatient animal plunged into the water, and the two friends came off, and floated down the river, hanging by one another. The farmer got to his feet first, but in pulling out Will, lost his equilibrium a second time, and plunging headlong into the stream, down he went. Will was then in the utmost perplexity, for, with the drink and ducking together, he was quite benumbed, and the night was as dark as pitch; he ran down the side of the stream to succour his friend, and losing all sight of him, he knew not what to do; but hearing a great plunge, he made towards the place, calling out, "One plash more, sir, and I have you - One plash more, quo' Will o' Phaup!" but all was silent! "Scots grund! quo' Will o' Phaup - a man drown'd, and me here!" Will ran to a stream, and took his station in the middle of the water, in hopes of feeling his drowning friend come against his lega; - but the farmer got safely out by himself.

There was another time at Moffat, that he was taken in, and had to pay a dinner and drink for a whole large party of gentleman. I have forgot how it happened, but think it was by a wager. He had not only to part with all his money, but had to pawn his whole stock of sheep. He then came home with a heavy heart, told his wife what he had done, and that he was a ruined man. She said, that since he had saved the cow, they would do well enough.

The money was repaid afterwards, so that Will did not actually lose his stock; but after that he went seldomer to moffat. He fell upon a much easier plan of getting sport; for, at that period, there were constantly bands of smugglers passing from the Solway, through the wild region whe re he lived, towards the Lothians. From these Will purchased occasionally a stock of brandy, and then the gentlmen and farmers came all and drank with him, paying him at the enormous rate of a shilling per bottle, all lesser measures being despised, and out of repute, at Phaup. It became a place of constant rendezvous, but a place where they drank too deep to be a safe place for gentlemen to meet. There were two rival houses of Andersons at that time that never ceased quarrelling, and they were wont always to come to Phaup with their swords by their sides. Being all exceedingly stout men, and equally good swordsmen, it may easily be supposed they were dangerous neighbours to meet in such a wild remote place. Accordingly, there were many quarrels and bloody bouts there as long as the Andersons possessed Phaup; after which, the brandy system was laid aside. Will twice saved his master's life in these affrays, - once, when he had drawn on three of the Amoses, tenants of Potburn, and when they had mastered his sword, broken it, and were dragging him to the river by the neckcloth. Will knocked down one, cut his master's neckcloth, and defended him stoutly till he gathered his breath' and then the two jointly did thrash the Amoses, to their heart's satisifaction! And another time, from the sword of Michael of Tushielaw; but he could not help the two fighting a duel afterwards, which was the cause of much mischief, and many heartburnings, among these haughty relatives.

Will and his master once fought a battle themselves two, up in a wild glen called Phaup Coom. They differed about a young horse, which the Laird had sent there to graze, and which he thought had not been well treated; and so bitter did the recriminations grow between them, that the Laird threatened to send Will to hell. Will defied him; on which he attaked him furiously with his cane, while the shepherd defended himself as resolutely with his staff. The combat was exceedingly sharp and severe; but the gentleman was too scientific for the shepherd, and hit him many blows about the head and shoulders, while Will could not hit him once, all that he could thrash on." The latter was determined, however not to yield, and fought on, although as he termed it, "the blood began to blind his een." he tried several times to close with his master, but found him so complete in both his defences and offences, that he never could accomplish it, but always suffered for his temerity. At length he 'jouked down his head, took a lounder across the shoulders, and, in the mean time, hit his master across the shins." This ungentlemanly blow quite paraluzed the Laird, and the cane dropped out of his hand, on which Will closed with him, mastered him with ease, laying him down, and holding him fast; - but all that he could do, he could not pacify him, - he still swore he would have his heart's blood. Will had then no recourse, but to spring up, and bound away to the hill. The Laird pursued for a time, but he might as well have tried to catch a roebuck; so he went back to Phaup, took his horse in silence, and rode away home. Will expected a summons of removal next day, or next term at the farthest; but Mr Anderson to ok no notice of the affair, nor ever so much as mentioned it again.

Will had many pitched battles with the bands of smugglers, in defence of his master's grass, for they never missed unloading on the lands of Phaup, and turning their horses to the best grass they could find. According to his account, these fellows were exceedingly lawles, and accounted nothing of taking from the country people whatever they needed in emergencies. The gipsies, toom, were then accustomed to traverse the country in bands of twenty to forty, and were no better than freebooters. But to record every one of Will o' Phaup's heroic feats, would require a volume. I shall, therefore, only mention one trait more of his character, which was this -

He was the last man of this wild region, who heard, saw, and conversed with the Fairies; and that not once but twice, but at sundry times and seasons. The sheiling at which Will lived for the better part of his life, at Old Upper Phaup, was one of the most lonely and dismal situations that ever was the dwelling of human creatures. I have often wondered how such a man could live so long, and rear so numerous and respectable a family, in such a habitation. It is on the very outskits of Ettrick Forest, quite out of the range of social intercourse, a fit retirement for lawless banditti, and a genial one for the last retreat of the spirits of the glen- before taking their final leave of the land of their love, in which the light of the gospel then grew too bright for their tiny moonlight forms. There has Will beheld them riding in long and beautiful array, by the light of the moon, and even in the summer twilight; and there has he seen them sitting in seven circles, in the bottom of a deep ravine, drinking nectar out of cups of silver and gold, no bigger than the dew-cup flower; and there did he behold their wild unearthly eyes, all of one bright sparkling blue, turned every one upon him at the same moment, and heard their mysterious whisperings, of which he knew no word, save now and then the repetition of his own name, which was always done in a strain of pity. Will was coming from the hill one dark misty evening in winter, and, for a good while, imagined he heard a great gabbling of children's voices, not far from him, which still grew more and more audible; it being before sunset, he had no spark of fear, but set about investigation whence the sounds and laughter proceeded. He, at length, discovered that they issued from a deep cleugh not far distant, and thinking it was a band of gipsies, or some marauders, he laid down his bonnet and plaid, and creeping softly over the heath, reached the brink of the precipice, peeped over, and to his utter astonishment, beheld the Fairies sitting in seven circles, on a green spot in the bottom of the dell, where no green spot ever was before. They were apparently eating and drinking; but all their motions were so quick and momentary, he could not well say what they were doing. Two or three at the queen's back appeared to be baking bread, The party consisted wholly of ladies, and their number quite countless-dressed in green pollonians, and grass-green bonnets on their heads. he perceived at once, by their looks, their gigling, and their peals of laughter, that he was discovered. Still fear took no hold of his heart, for it was daylight, and the blessed sun was in heaven, although obscured by clouds; till at length he heard them pronounce his own name twice; Will then began to think it might not be quite so safe to wait till they pronounced it a third time, and at that moment of hesitation it first came into his mind that it was All Hallow Eve! There was no farther occasion to warn Will to rise and run; for he well knew the Fairies were privileged, on that day and night, to do what seemed good in their own eyes. " H is hair," he said, 'stood all up like the birses on a sow's back, and every bit o' his body, outside and in, prinkled as it had been brunt wi' nett les. " He ran home as fast as his feet could carry him, and greatly were his children astonished (for he was then a widower) to see their father come running like a madman, without either his bonnet or plaid. he assembled them to prayers, and shut the door, but did not tell them what he had seen for several years.

Another time he followed a whole troop of them up a wild glen called Enter trony, from one end to the other, without ever being able to come up with them, although they never appeared to be more than twenty paces in advance. Neither were they flying from him; for instead of being running at their speed, as he was doing, they seemed to be standing in a large circle. It happened to be the day after a Moffat fair, and he supposed them to be a party of his neighbours returning from it, who wished to lead him a long chase before they suffered themselves to be overtaken. he heard them speaking, singing, and laughing; and being a man so fond of sociality, he exerted himself to come up with them, but to no purpose. Several times did he hail them, and desire them to halt, and tell him the new of the fair; but whenever he shouted, in a moment all was silent, until in a short time he heard the same noise of laughing and conversation at some distance from him. their talk, although Will could not hear the words of it distinctly, was evidently very animated, and he had no doubt they were recounting their feats at the fair. This always excited his curiosity afresh, and he made every exertion to overtake the party; and when he judged, fro the sounds, that he was close upon them, he sent forth his stentorian hollo- " Stop, ladsk and tell us the news o' the fair !" which produced the same effect of deep silence for a time. When this had been repeated several times, and after the usual pause, the silence was again broken by a peal of eldrich laughter, that seemed to spread along the skies over his head. Will began to suspect that that unearthly laugh was not altogether unknown to him. He stood still to consider, and that moment the laugh was repeated, and a voice out of the crowd called to him, in a shrill laughing tone, "Ha, ha, ha! Will o' Phaup, look to your a in hearth-stane the night," Will again threw off every encumbrance, and fled home to his lonely cot, the most likely spot in the district for the Fairies to congregate; but it is wonderful what an idea of safety is confer red by the sight of a man's own hearth and family circle.

When Will had become a right old man, and was sitting on a little green hillock at the end of his house, one evening, resting himself there came three little boys up to him, all exactly like one another, when the following short dialogue ensued between Will and them. "Good e'en t'ye, Will Laidlaw." "Good e'en t'ye, creatures. Whare ir ye gaun this gate?" "Can ye gie us up-putting for the night?" "I think three siccan bits o' shreds o'hurchins winna be ill to put up -- Where came ye frae?" "Frae a place that ye dinna ken. But we are come on a commission to you". "Come away in then, and tak sie cheer as we hae." Will rose and led the way into the house, and the little boys followed; and as he went, he said carelessly without looking back, "What's your commission to me bairns?" He thought they might be the sons of some gentleman, who was a guest of his master's. "We are sent to demand a silver key that you have in your possession. " Will was astounded; and standing still to consider of some old transaction, he said, without lifting his eyes from the ground,-- "A silver key? In God's name, where came ye from?" There was no answer, on which Will wheeled round, and round and round; but the tiny beings were all gone and Will never saw them more. At the name of God, they vanished in the twinkling of an eye. It is curious that I never should have heard the secret of the silver key, or indeed, whether there was such a thing or not.

But Will once saw a vision which was more unaccountable than this still. On his way from Moffat one time, about midnight, he perceived a light very near to the verge of a steep hill, which he knew perfectly well on the lands of Selcouth. The light appeared exactly like one from a window, and as if a lamp moved frequently within. His path was by the bottom of the hill, and the light being almost close at the top, he had a first no thoughts of visiting it; but as it shone in sight for a full mile, his curiousity to see what it was continued still to increase as he approached nearer. At length coming to the bottom of the steep bank, it appear ed so bright and near, that he determined to climb the hill and see what it was. There was no moon, but it was a starry night and not very dark, and Will clambered up the precipice, and went straight to the light, which he found to proceed from an opening into a cavern, of about the dimensions of an ordinary barn. The opening was a square one and just big enough for a man to creep in. Will set in his head, and beheld a row of casks from one end to the other, and two men with long beards, buff belts and their waists, and torches in their hands, who seemed busy on writing so mething on each cask. They were not the small casks used by smugglers, but large ones, about one half bigger than common tar-barrels, and a ll of a size, save two very huge ones at the further end. The cavern was all neat and clean,. but there was an appearance of mouldiness about the casks as if they had stood there for ages. The men were both at the farther end, when Will looked in and busily engaged; but at length one of them came to wards him, holding his torch above his head, and, as Will thought, having his eyes fixed on him. Will never got such a fright in his life; --many a fright he had got with unearthly creatures, but this was the worst of all. The figure that approached him from the cavern was of a gigantic size, with grizly features, and a beard hanging down to his belt. Will did not stop to consider what was best to be done,. but quite forgetting that he was on the face of a hill, almost perpendicular, turned round, and ran with all his might. It was not long till he missed his feet, fell, and hurling down with great celerity, soon reached the bottom of the steep, and getting on his feet, pursued his wasy home in the utmost haste, terror, and amazement; but the light from the cavern was extinguished on the instant--he saw it no more.

Will apprised all the people within his reach, the next morning, of the wonderful discovery he had made; but the story was so like a fantasy or a dream, that most of them were hard of belief; and some never did believe it, but ascribed all to the Moffat brandy. However, they sallied all out in a body, armed with cudgels and two or three rusty rapiers to reconno itre; but the entracne into the cave they could not find, nor has it ever been discovered to this day. They observed very plainly the rut in the grass which Will had made in his rapid descent from the cave, and there were also found evident marks to two horses having been fastened that night in a wild cleuch-head, at a short distance from the spot they were searching. But these were the only discoveries to which the investigation led. If the whole of this was an optical delusion, it was the most singular I ever heard or read of. For my part, I do not believe it was; I believe there was such a cavern existing at that day, and that vestiges of it may still be discovered. It was an undeasible story altogether for a man to invent' and, moreover, though Will was a man whose character had a deep tinge of the superstitions of his own country, he was besides a man of probity, truth and honour, and never told that for the truth, which he did not believe to be so.

From Find a Grave memorial and contributor clack48

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William O'Phaup Laidlaw's Timeline

Craik, Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland
February 27, 1725
Age 34
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, , Scotland
February 1, 1728
Age 37
Ettrick, Selkirk, Scotland
Age 39
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, , Scotland
January 1, 1735
Age 44
Ettrick, Scottish Borders, Scotland, United Kingdom
April 26, 1738
Age 47
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, , Scotland
March 22, 1740
Age 49
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, , Scotland
Age 64
Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland
Ettrick Churchyard, Ettrick, Selkirk, Scotland