UK Genealogy Archives logo

Kelso, Roxburghshire

Historical Description

KELSO, a burgh of barony, a market-town, and parish, in the district of Kelso, county of Roxburgh, 23 miles (S. W.) from Berwick-upon-Tweed, and 41 (S. E.) from Edinburgh; containing, with the village of Maxwellheugh, 5328 inhabitants, of whom 4594 are in the burgh. This place is said to have derived its name, anciently written Calchow, or Calkow, from the chalky cliff on which the original village was situated. The district now occupied by the town and parish appears to have formerly included the parishes of Kelso on the north, and of Maxwell and St. James on the south, side of the river Tweed: of these the two first had separate churches, and the last was part of the ancient burgh of Roxburgh. The churches of Kelso and Maxwell were both destroyed during the earlier period of the border warfare; that of St. James seems to have been burnt down at a later date. These several parishes were all granted to the abbey of Kelso by David I., the founder of that institution, which he endowed for brethren of the order of Benedictines, of the class called Tyronenses, whom he placed in the abbey on its completion, about the year 1130. Under the munificent endowment of that monarch's successors, the establishment became one of the most wealthy in the kingdom. From its situation, however, so near the border, the monastery was frequently exposed to violence and plunder; and after suffering repeated injuries, from which in process of time it always recovered, it was, finally, almost destroyed in 1523 by a party of the English under Lord Dacre. Having plundered the town, and laid waste the adjacent country, they burnt the conventual buildings, and removed the roof from the church, which they otherwise defaced; compelling the monks to retire to a village in the neighbourhood, to celebrate the offices of religion. In 1545, the town again sustained devastation from the English forces, who also destroyed the greater portion of what was left of the abbey, which never afterwards recovered; the north and south aisles and the choir were battered down by artillery, and the venerable and stately structure was reduced to a mere ruin. The monks, however, still maintained a religious establishment here, and inhabited the remains of the conventual buildings till the Reformation, after which the site and revenues were granted, in 1587, to Sir John Maitland, lord high chancellor, and subsequently to the Earl of Bothwell, on whose attainder, reverting to the crown, they were bestowed on Sir Robert Ker of Cessford, warden of the East marches, and ancestor of the Duke of Roxburghe, the present proprietor.

The foundation of the abbey naturally led to the increase and importance of the town, which previously was only an inconsiderable village, and a comparatively insignificant appendage to the burgh of Roxburgh, at that time a place of great note. In the reign of Robert I., the town had so augmented in extent as to be divided into the two portions of Easter and Wester Kelso; and on the demolition of Roxburgh, it became the residence of many of the inhabitants of that burgh. Its increase was now still more rapid, and it had attained a high degree of prosperity in 1545, when, participating in the disastrous fate of its abbey, it was so reduced by the English under the Earl of Hertford, that the markets could no longer be held in it, and were consequently transferred to the neighbouring village of Hume. On the accession of the Ker family to the revenues and jurisdiction of the abbots, the town recovered; the abbey was erected into a temporal lordship in 1607, by charter of James VI. to the Earl of Roxburghe, and the earl subsequently granted to the inhabitants all the privileges of a free burgh of barony. But the place was arrested in its career of prosperity by a destructive fire, which in 1686 burnt down more than one-half of the houses; it was again partly destroyed by fire in 1738, and subsequently sustained considerable damage by similar calamities till within a comparatively recent period. These losses, however, did not impede the progress of the town so much as might have been expected; and it is now in a prosperous state.

Kelso is finely situated on the north bank of the river Tweed, near its confluence with the Teviot, and consists chiefly of a principal street, irregularly built, several smaller streets, and a handsome square of considerable extent, comprising ranges of buildings in a very pleasing style. In general the houses are of light-coloured stone, and roofed with slate; and the whole has a cheerful and prepossessing appearance. The streets are paved, and lighted with gas 5 the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, and a good approach from the opposite shore is formed by a well-built bridge over the river. The surrounding scenery, remarkable for many peculiarities of feature, is agreeably varied, and when viewed in combination with the ruins of the ancient abbey is deeply interesting. Kelso bridge is an elegant structure of stone, erected in 1803, to replace a bridge which had been swept away by an inundation of the river in 1797. It consists of five elliptical arches, seventy-two feet in span, and about fifty feet in height above the surface of the stream; the structure is nearly 500 feet in length, and was completed by the late Mr. Rennie, at an expense of £18,000. This bridge forms a conspicuous feature in the landscape of the town, and derives additional interest from the beauty of the scenery on both banks of the Tweed. The Kelso library, supported by a proprietary of shareholders, contains a well-assorted collection of more than 5000 volumes in all departments of literature, and is held in a commodious building. The "New Library" and the "Modern Library" are also well supported, in a similar manner; the former has 2000 and the latter 1500 volumes, chiefly modern works. There is likewise a book club, maintained by subscribers, for the purchase and circulation amongst its members of standard and periodical publications; and a reading-room, chiefly frequented as a billiard-room, is established. A Physical and Antiquarian Society has collected a valuable museum of natural history and antiquities.

The chief trade here is in corn, and in the various articles of merchandise that are requisite for the supply of the neighbouring district. There are no manufactures carried on to any considerable extent; the principal are those of leather and tobacco, and the weaving of linen and stockings, all of which together scarcely afford employment to 150 persons. On the river Tweed are several valuable salmon-fisheries, one of which, of very small extent, was let to some gentlemen at the high rent of £210 per annum; the season commences in February, and terminates in November. Kelso contains branches of the four principal banking establishments in Scotland, namely, the Bank of Scotland, the British Linen Company, the Commercial Bank, and the National Bank; and has three newspapers, one of them published twice, and the others once, a week. The chief market is on Friday, and is amply supplied with corn, and well attended: there is a daily market for butchers' meat, fish, and vegetables. Markets, also, for cattle are held on the second Friday in every month. Fairs occur on the four Fridays in March, for horses, and on the second Friday for cattle also; and a very ancient fair is held on the 5th of August, on St. James' Green, the site of the ancient church of that name. This fair is numerously attended; and the magistrates of the town have a cumulative right of jurisdiction with the magistrates of the burgh of Jedburgh, and divide the tolls with the lord of the barony.

The lands belonging to the abbey of Kelso were, as already stated, granted, under the title of the lordship and barony of Hallydean, to the Kers of Cessford, ancestors of the Dukes of Roxburghe, in 1607; and in 1634 that portion of the lands which constitutes the town and parish of Kelso was separated and erected into a BURGH of BARONY by James VI., who conferred upon the superior, Robert, Earl of Roxburghe, the right of holding a weekly market and fairs, and of creating burgesses, a baron-bailie, and other officers. The government is now vested in a bailie, appointed by the superior; a body of sixteen commissioners of police, appointed luider the act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV. for establishing a general system of poUce in Scotland; a town-clerk; procurator-fiscal; and others. The bailie holds his office during pleasure. There are seven incorporated trades, the merchants, shoemakers, tailors, hammermen, skinners, weavers, and fleshcrs; and no person is authorized to carry on trade in the burgh who is not a member of one of these companies. The bailie holds a weekly court for the trial and determination of civil and criminal cases, of which, on an average, about forty of the latter are decided annually. The town-house, situated on the east side of the public square, is a well-built edifice of stone, two stories in height, with a portico of four Ionic columns supporting a triangular pediment, surmounted by a neat turret, in which is a handsome clock. There is likewise a small prison, employed chiefly as a place of temporary confinement for vagrants.

The PARISH, which is of triangular form, is about five miles in length and three in extreme breadth, and is divided into two nearly equal parts by the river Tweed. It comprises 4400 acres, of which 3800 are arable, 300 meadow and pasture, and 215 inclosed plantation. The surface is boldly diversified with broad vales and undulating heights, and abounds with much variety and beauty of scenery: the rivers Tweed and Teviot, especially, present some pleasingly picturesque views in their devious courses through the parish, flowing between richly-wooded banks, and receiving numerous tributary streams from the higher lands. In this parish the soil is various, but generally fertile, and of light dry quality; the crops are oats, wheat, barley, potatoes, and turnips. The system of agriculture is improved, and the four and five shift courses of husbandry are prevalent: lime and bone-dust form the principal manures. The lands have been well drained, and inclosed partly with stone dykes, but chiefly with hedges of thorn: the farm-houses are substantially built, and some, of more recent erection, are elegant; threshing-mills have been erected on most of the farms, some of them driven by steam; and all the improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. For the most part the sheep reared and fed in the parish are of the Leicestershire breed; and much attention is paid to them: the cattle are all the short-horned, or Teeswater. The Union Agricultural Society hold meetings in the town, for awarding prizes to successful competitors at the monthly show of cattle, and for improvements in agriculture. The older wood consists of oak, beech, ash, and other forest-trees, of which many fine specimens are to be seen in the parks of Floors and Springwood; the plantations are chiefly firs, intermixed with hard-woods. There are several mansions in the parish and vicinity, of which Floors, the property of the Duke of Roxburghe, is a stately edifice, erected in 1718, after a design by Sir John Vanbrugh. It is situated on the north side of the river Tweed, in an extensive park embellished with fine-grown timber and rich plantations: a holly-bush in the park, of venerable growth, marks out the spot where James II. was killed by the bursting of a cannon, while employed in the siege of Roxburgh Castle, in 1460. Ednam House is also an elegant residence, in tastefully-disposed grounds. The mansion of Springwood Park, to which is an approach by a beautiful Grecian archway; Hendersyde Park; Wooden; Pinnacle Hill; and Woodside, are all handsome; and in the vicinity of the town are also numerous pleasing villas. Facility of intercourse with the neighbouring places is afforded by railways, by excellent roads in every direction, and by bridges. The annual value of real property in the parish is £19,755.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposcs the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Kelso, synod of Merse and Teviotdale; and the patronage is vested in the Duke of Roxburghe. The stipend is £320. 13. 6., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £54. 1 5. per annum. Kelso church, erected in 1773, and repaired and reseated in 1833, is an octagonal edifice, conveniently situated, and adapted for a congregation of 1314 persons. An additional church was erected in 1837, on a site northward of the town, at an expense of more than £3500, towards which £1500 were contributed by Mr. James Nisbet, of London; it is a handsome edifice in the later English style of architecture, with a lofty square tower, and contains 877 sittings, of which 144 are free. A certain portion of the parish was allotted to it for a short time, as a district, and called the North quoad sacra parish, with a population of 2383. Adjoining it is a building for an infants' and another school. There are places of worship for members of the United Presbyterian Church, the Free Church, Reformed Presbyterians, Original Seceders, the Society of Friends, and Wesleyans, with an Episcopal chapel. Two parochial schools are held, one of which is a grammar school, and the other a school for reading, writing, and arithmetic. The master of the former has a salary of £34, with £80 fees, and a house and garden; and the master of the latter a salary of £5. 11., with £50 fees, and the interest of a bequest of £240 for teaching gratuitously a number of poor children. Another school is maintained partly at the expense of two of the heritors, who give the masters a schoolroom and dwelling-house rent free, in addition to the fees, for teaching children of the south division of the parish. A school for boys and girls, also, is supported by the Duke of Roxburghe and others, who pay the mistress £15 per annum, including fees, and give the master as much as will raise the amount of his fees to £60. The poor have the interest of funded bequests, producing £35. 10. a year. A savings' bank, under good management, has contributed to prevent applications for parochial relief; and there are several charitable institutions, which have also been highly beneficial to the poorer inhabitants. The dispensary, established in 1777, and supported by subscription, contains wards for the reception of patients whose cases require residence in the institution, and has hot, cold, and vapour baths, which are accessible to the public. The majority of the patients, however, are visited at their own dwellings. The establishment is under the direction of a physician and surgeons, and on an average affords relief annually to about 500 patients.

The principal relics of antiquity are the interesting ruins of the ancient abbey, which, within the last fifty or sixty years, have been cleared from the barbarous incrustations of masonry by which they were long concealed, and have been prevented by judicious repairs from sinking into entire dilapidation. Of this once magnificent cruciform structure, of the Saxon or early Norman style of architecture, the principal parts remaining are a portion of the choir, and the central tower, with part of the nave and transepts. A portion of the building was fitted up in 1649 as a parish church, which was in use till 1771; and the masonry employed for that purpose, which concealed some of the finest parts of the abbey, and disfigured the whole, was removed partly in 1805, and completely in 1816. By this means, the ruins were restored to their original beauty; and in 1823 their further dilapidation was prevented, by replacing much that was decayed, and thoroughly repairing what remained. They are considered to be the finest specimen of Saxon architecture in the kingdom. No vestige now remains of the ancient residence of the Earl of Morton, who resided in the village of Maxwellheugh in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Kelso gives the title of Earl to the Duke of Roxburghe.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis