Jane Hay of St. Abbs Haven

Jane Hay.

Jane Hay (1864-1914).

At the very beginning of the 20th century, a woman of outstanding personal qualities came to live at St. Abbs. Though still in her early forties, Jane Hay had already made an astounding contribution to the progress of social reform both in this country and abroad. Her influence on the small community of St. Abbs greatly enhanced the lives of a whole generation. The echo of her endeavours can still be encountered within the village today.

She was born in Leith on 10th March 1864, and was educated at Oxford High School, Leeds College and London University. While in London she undertook considerable social work, to improve the lives of the less fortunate, both independently and in connection with institutions for the destitute. Her desire to help others manifested itself in her wish to study medicine. Unfortunately, before she could commence her studies she succumbed to serious illness, necessitating her return to Edinburgh to recuperate.

After recovering from her illness she again started to undertake work to improve the lives of those less fortunate than herself. She involved herself in improving the conditions for working girls, despite scathing comment from the city’s "gentility". She founded a Working Girls’ Club at James Court, a close off the High Street, where she herself taught country dancing, singing, and domestic and social skills.

In 1894 she was elected to the Edinburgh Parish Council and successful campaign to have the conditions within the poorhouse improved, this resulted in nurses being appointed to care for the children.

In 1896, as part of a delegation from the Scottish Armenian Relief Committee, she journeyed to Turkey. Entrusted with £300 she organised aid for the starving and homeless widows and children of Armenian massacre.

In 1897, at the request of the British Minister of Athens, she returned to Greece to establish further relief work for the refugees of the Greco-Turkish war, establishing a soup kitchen in Chalcis and distributed food, clothing and blankets provided by the British Red Cross.

The Haven.

Jane Hay's home, St. Abbs Haven, overlooking Coldingham Sands.

By the turn of the century Jane Hay’s health had began to deteriorated, and she was advised by doctors to move to the country. She chose to live in St. Abbs, which she already knew and loved. However being unable to obtain a plot within the village, she elected to have her house built as near as possible. Thus a house was built overlook the beautiful Coldingham Sands, which she named the "St. Abbs Haven".

For the remainder of her life, she continued to work for social improvement, giving practical, compassionate help to those less privileged than herself. Times were hard in these early days of the village; boys had to leave school early, usually to work as fishermen, and girls to work at home, mending fishing gear, baiting lines, and helping with summer visitors.

Jane Hay recognising the lack of opportunity for those wishing to continue their education, hired certificated teacher to offer training in diving, navigation, woodwork and cookery. She held weekly dance classes in the village hall and arranged for the young people of the village to be trained in the use of rocket live-saving equipment. The courses that she offered were recognised by the Berwickshire Secondary Education Committee and Miss Hay arranged an award ceromony where certificates were presented by Admiral of the fleet Sir Gerald Noel.

After witnessed the destruction and loss of the entire crew of the S.S. Alfred Erlandsen, which had ran aground on the treacherous rocks known as the Ebb carrs. She repeatedly impressed upon the authorities the urgent need of a lifeboat at St. Abbs. Her efforts finally proved successful with the opening of the St. Abbs Lifeboat Station on the 25th April 1911, when the lifeboat Helen Smitton was commissioned. In recognition of her efforts she was appointed as Honorary Secretary of the new station.

Jane Hay sadly died on 26th January 1914, at Monnetier-Mornex, France. He body was brought back by sea to Leith, and thence home to St. Abbs Haven, before finally being buried in churchyard at Coldingham. Her funeral was attended by a great company of people from this country and abroad, many of national importance, but many more numbered among those of humbler stock who had their individual reasons to be grateful to her.

A newspaper eulogy at the time ended with these words:

"For little ones she has a special place in her heart. Five orphans she has already brought to man and womanhood, and four will continue in the care of those to whom she has entrusted them. She held that all children, of whatever class, were entitled to the chance of making a fair start in life, entitled to love and kindly upbringing, and these ideals she put into practice, not by the easy way of subscribing to orphanages, excellent as that may be, but by having the children in her own house, giving them her personal attention and love and taking interest in all their interests.

On one of the last occasions that the present writer was in Miss Hay’s house, she saw her bath and dress, morning and evening, her youngest charge, a child of months, whose father had gone down in the Titanic".

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