THIS week, Ronald Ireland brings us the history of the Black Dwarf...

The origin of the character ”Elshender the Recluse” in Sir Walter Scott’s story the “The Black Dwarf” was David Ritchie, known locally as “Bow’d Davie of Wudhus”.

He was born at the farm of Easter Happrew in 1741. Deformed and misshapen from birth, he had a very large head with long hair. His feet were twisted, his legs very short and his body large and fat. His face was sour and angry. He did not wear any shoes and his toes were exposed.

In adulthood, he had immense strength. There is a very large stone built into the roadside wall about half a mile from Manor Village which is said to have been carried there by him. It is known as the “Black Dwarf’s stone.”

Rumour also had it that he had mystical powers. In his introduction to “The Black Dwarf”, Scott, who met him on at least one occasion, describing how he built the cottage at Woodhouse in Manor valley, known as the “Black Dwarf’s Cottage”, which still stands to this day, says, “some of the corner stones were so weighty as to puzzle the spectators how such a person as the architect could have possibly raised them.”

Sadly Richie does not seem to have been a pleasant character. Robert Chambers (brother of William Chambers), who knew him, says that, “A jealous, misanthropical, and irritable temper was his most prominent characteristic.” In fairness to the poor man, it seems that he was the butt of insults and ridicule because of his ugly appearance.

When he came into Peebles as he often did to buy provisions and made his way across the Tweed Bridge and along the High Street, he was “followed and hooted by a band of boys, who kept well out of the reach of his long heavy stick, for his temper was fierce and his arm was powerful.”. On one occasion when he was in Peebles for his fortnightly shave, the barber shaved only one side of his face.

When he returned to the street the usual band of tormentors saw this and told him of his ridiculous appearance. As soon as he realised what had happened he ran back in a fury with every intention of killing the practical joker, who fortunately made his escape through the back door.

He died in December 1811 and is buried in Manor churchyard. A statue of him stands in the grounds of Hallyards House and a collection of his personal possessions can be seen in Tweeddale Museum.