In 1792, as Robert Burns worked with George Thomson collecting material for his book “Select Scottish Airs,” a son George was born to parents Alexander and Isabel Henderson in the parish of Strathbrock near Broxburn. Young George found work as an Agricultural Labourer which probably caused his migration up the hill to Balerno.
Some fifty years later George (49) is recorded as staying in the “Village of Balerno” with his wife Agnes, children Alexander (32), George (24), Agnes (18) and a “daughter” Margaret (5) who, it’s suspected, may have been a granddaughter. At some point, George had become a spirit dealer (Inn Keeper), and his two sons Alex and George Jnr. were employed as carters. The location of George’s business premises, presumably an inn, isn’t known but it seems safe to assume that it too was in the village of Balerno. There were a total of nine children of the marriage, the third being a son William.
Documents show that the current building known today as the ‘Grey Horse Inn’ was built c.1850 and, in 1851, it was William, his wife Elizabeth and their children who were in residence managing the Inn throughout the 1850s/1860s. Elizabeth died in 1861 followed by William ten years later.
For reasons unknown, ownership of the Inn passed to William’s brother Alex who, together with his wife Jane, owned/managed the premises for the following twenty-four years, the inn becoming affectionately known as “Henderson’s Inn”. They resided there with their son Peter.
Also staying under the same roof was Alex & Jane’s daughter Agnes, her husband John G. Laird, their daughters Jane & Isabella, and son John Jnr. A sign of the times was that there were also two Domestic Servants in residence. Those of us who know the Inn today, will wonder how they all fitted into the space while still operating as an Inn with a function room !
In Henderson’s Inn on 25th January 1881, the chair was occupied by James Pearson Snr. He presided with his accustomed dignity and joviality of manner and by his great sociability, contributed in no small degree to the hilarity and harmony of the evening.
To Alex and his wife Jane, fell the task of providing the food and drink for our early annual Suppers. It’s recorded that at the 1883 Supper, the “Haggis Ticket” was 5/- ( £ 0.25 in today’s world ).
Alex & Jane’s son Peter was also a member of ‘Let it Blaw’ attending the AGM each year and singing as part of the harmony at early annual Suppers.
At a meeting of the Club Committee on 4th January 1889 the following was recorded: “Much regret was expressed by the Meeting at the illness of Mr Peter Henderson who had been laid up for some time and was still very weak. On this account, it was doubtful if the Supper could be held in the Inn but they agreed to issue the invitations as usual with the hope that by that time, Mr Henderson would be sufficiently recovered.”
The next committee meeting on 17th January 1889 recorded: “Mrs Henderson having signified that on occasion of the continued illness of Mr Peter Henderson, she regretted being unable to purvey for the Club this year, it was resolved after considerable discussion to hold the Festival in the Reading Room permission having been granted.”
Peter Henderson died of tuberculosis at the age of 36 on 23rd January 1889. Such was the respect with which Peter and rest of the Henderson family were held by the Club membership, a decision was taken at very short notice to cancel the 1889 Supper.
In 1890 things had returned to normal with the supper going ahead in Henderson’s Inn. However, on 29th May 1890, Alex Henderson died at the age of 81. At the next meeting in December 1890, the Chairman George Y. Robertson proposed that : “A letter of condolence be sent to Mrs Henderson expressing the Club’s regret and sympathy for the loss she had sustained on the death of her husband Alex Henderson which had occurred during the year. The motion was unanimously agreed to.”
Jane was a great friend of ‘Let it Blaw’ and highly respected by the membership. On Peter and Alex’ death, she continued to run the Inn herself catering for the Club through to the Supper of 1894. At that point she sold the premises to an Irishman, William Brow who, together with his wife Euphemia, a native of Linlithgow, took up residence on the premises. As Mr Brow was having alterations carried out early in 1895, he advised the Club Committee of his inability to host the annual Club Supper causing it to move across the street to the Malleny Arms for the first time.
The alterations didn’t impact on Mr Brow’s social life too much as it’s recorded in the Minute of a Club committee meeting in December 1894, that his application to join the ranks of the Club membership had been accepted. In 1896, the annual Supper moved back to the Inn, with Mr Brow making the catering arrangements through to the 1898 Supper. The reason for the Club’s departure from The Inn is not recorded, but it was quite amicable, and probably due to the Malleny Arms’ large wooden function room at the rear having far greater capacity. Not long after the move, the number attending the annual Supper doubled to over 40 each year.
William Brow – 1911
Henderson’s Inn became the “Grey Horse Inn” some time prior to 1930. William Brow died that year, and the management of the premises was taken over by his wife, mother-in-law of the Mrs Brow (below) many in Balerno today will fondly remember. It remained in the Brow family for almost 100 years until 1995.
Mrs Brow on her retirement from the Inn – 1995
The latter Mrs Brow was a much liked and respected lady in the village albeit a formidable landlady. She didn’t tolerate swearing and once barred a couple of worthies for fighting outside the butcher’s shop even though they were always well behaved in the pub. On at least one occasion, she chased an individual out of the pub with a sweeping brush after his behaviour had fallen below unacceptable standards. How times change !
Let it Blaw AGM at “Brows” – October 2012
The Inn remains the watering hole of choice for many after committee meetings or AGMs no matter where the actual meeting is held, and many an aperitif is still taken there prior to our annual suppers.
Gordon Sloan, Kevin Miller & Andrew Hood
Colin McFadyen & Iain Downie with some of the pub’s Burns Memorabilia in the background
The Inn has become affectionately known as “Brows” by one and all. Indeed, several owners of the establishment since Mrs Brow have, with varying degrees of tolerance, had to put up with the Balerno community continually referring to the place as Brows. It will take a long time to shake off the name, as many who were never in the place under Mrs Brow ownership, still refer to it as “Brows” probably without knowing why.
Today the ‘Balerno Burns Club’ maintains its association with Brows by holding occasional meetings in the premises. The historic association between the Club and Brows was literally cemented in 2009 when Jack McCaig arranged for a plaque recording the first Club Supper to be mounted on the Inn’s front wall.
The plaque was unveiled as part of the Club’s celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.
[L to R] Ken McDonald (Vice-President), Jim Weatherston (President) Jack McCaig Snr. (Hon. Vice President) and Paul Ng (Owner) unveiling the plaque on 1st May 2009