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Kettle Stealing

Peter Hunter

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Many years ago, in the 15th and 16th centuries there was a part of Britain that was as lawless as it gets. This was the region in the North of England/South of Scotland which is now called The Borders. This was good cattle country but it fell between the jurisdiction of the Scottish Kings and the English. Being too far away from either to be effectively governed or policed the inhabitants were left for much of the time to their own devices.

In this region there developed a sport peculiar to the time and the geography that was called Rieving, which translated means to rob or plunder.

The genesis of the sport is lost in time but its roots are firmly in the natural antipathy the Scots borderers felt for the English and vice versa.

The young men of the time, lacking the diversion of the playstation, the educational value of the internet, or the speed of a souped up Vauxhall Corsa, would take it upon themselves to visit their English or Scottish neighbours and make off with anything they found, generally this was their neighbours cattle which were valuable, easily transported and usually located at some distance from their neighbours stronghold.

The sport was then heightened by the perils of the return journey encumbered by cattle which if they were caught would certainly spell their guilt.

The theft of cattle would clearly not go unnoticed and depending on the situation a reprisal raid would not be long in the planning and would take place in what we might today refer to as a “Return Match".

The problem was that having stolen their neighbour's cattle the home team could reasonably expect some sort of return visit and would be on their guard. Thus the stakes were raised.
The return visit would therefore be planned with even more care and with more support than the original. This was where the clans became useful, an affront to one member was an affront to all and there were no shortage of volunteers or intelligence when the return event was held.

Since the extended family, or Clan, system was common on both sides of the border the home team stood a very good chance of becoming aware of the exact date and time of the return visit and the Clan would lie in wait for the Rievers, not as they arrived, innocent of anything but the desire for a long walk, but when they were returning with the proceeds of their afternoons sport, were obviously guilty and could therefore be mishandled with impunity in the ensuing Melee.

As a descendant of an old West Coast Family I am sometimes asked about this history and have to admit that my ancestors were active participants in this sport, though not very proficient since one of them was red carded and hung by the neck in Peebles in 1543 for what was probably just a misunderstanding of the offside rule.

Last month we played host to a couple from Peru into whose company we had been thrust for three days last year while the Iberia Airline worked out how to get us from Heathrow to Lima via Madrid and Amsterdam.

During their stay in Cranfield the subject of family history came up and we told our guests this story. Their English is better than our Spanish so we told the story in English and were a little disappointed at the rather puzzled reaction that we got to our tales of 16th century derring do in the heather of the borders.

An uncomfortable silence descended, broken when one of our Peruvian visitors asked “Why would they steal each others Kettles?"

Peter A Hunter.
Author-Breaking the Mould

If you have ever experienced or learned something which you then knew was instinctively right - you will never have forgotten it. Peter Hunter learned something years ago which, regrettably, most of us have still yet to learn. When we do - once we have understood the simplicity of his book ‘Breaking the Mould’ - it will transform our lives forever! Vic Baxter - Business Workout.


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