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A Riot in Duns

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The Mercat Cross in Duns Town Centre


K. J. Logue, Popular disturbances in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1977), 304-313.

Opposition was commonplace wherever toll roads were to be found in Scotland.  One well documented case of violent opposition comes from the town of Duns, Berwickshire in 1792. 


The town authorities gained a turnpike act for the town and subsequently four toll points were established on Tuesday the 3rd of July.  That same night a crowd of townspeople gathered, angry at this encroachment of their liberties.  One witness described seeing the east toll bar first surrounded by a crowd of women and shortly afterwards there was nothing but a post left in the ground!  The crowd then carried the toll bars to the centre of the town where a bonfire was made of them.  The same was done to the toll bar at the west end of the town.  


One individual, Alison Porteous took a leading role in these events.  While pulling down the east toll bar, the town Sheriff moved to arrest her while at the same time her brother attempted to rescue her and pull her away from the Sheriff.  Alison however, broke free from both of them and returned to attacking the toll bar. The next day, the Sheriff having clearly identified Alison, arrested her.  However, no sooner had he done so than a large crowd appeared and rescued Alison from his clutches.  Immediately the crowd turned its attention back to what remained of the toll houses and a second bonfire was constructed ‘which gathered the largest crowd ever seen in Duns’.


On the Friday of that same week, two men were arrested for the riots.  As news of this spread a bell was rung and a crowd of people assembled outside the tollbooth armed with clubs intent on freeing the prisoners but were dissuaded from doing so by some of the older members of the community.  


Peace was restored on the Saturday and criminal prosecutions followed promptly.  Alison Porteous was sentenced to four months in the tollbooth while several other men were banished, outlawed or jailed.

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