Kelso Town Trail Introduction
This descriptive series of three walks will take you from the Square on each occasion. Starting from the front of the Town Hall, which houses the Tourist Information Centre, you will be taken along one of the arteries leading out of town, to look at the historical growth of the town, its buildings and other items of interest connected with the town. Highlighted, in this virtual tour, will be those places where there is a link to more detailed information, and all photographs embedded within the text can be enlarged for closer study.
Each walk has its own distinctive atmosphere, detailing structures which may be as old as the twelfth century or as new as the year 2000, but all show the architectural riches which together make up the town which locals know and love.
To set the walks in a historical context, it seems only sensible to give a concise background to the town and to detail what made Kelso the town we see today.
The present town is mainly Georgian and Victorian in appearance, although here and there we find individual buildings which have survived the ravages of time, fire and war.
The basic structure of the town is that of the traditional Scottish Burgh, where there is a market place with the main public building, with main roads on both sides of the town hall and with the other ways to access to the Square radiating off. Lauder, where the toll booth/town hall is isolated on what is, in effect, a small island is an even more obvious example. The 'island' on which stands Kelso Town Hall is bounded by Woodmarket, Horsemarket and Cross Street. Bridge Street and Roxburgh Street are the two other major roads leading to and from the Square.
In the early times, about AD 1100, the main settlement in the area was in what was then known as Marchmount which was a castle which stood on the mound between the Teviot and Tweed. Renamed by David I, in 1124, as Rokesburgh, or Roxburgh, it soon had a major settlement outwith the castle walls on the land which is now the point to point course, Springwood Caravan Park and the Border Union Agricultural Society Showground. Today the few fragments on top of the mound show the site of the castle, but, unfortunately, nothing visible remains of the town.
With the founding of the Abbey, in 1128, the focus for development moved across the river to the site of Easter Kelso which grew up around the abbey site. There was probably some form of overflow settlement from Roxburgh adjacent to the abbey site, prior to its founding, but this extensive development was the nucleus and the trigger for Easter Kelso's expansion into a town.
There was already a small settlement, that of Wester Kelso, which had the Mercat Cross and was the main settlement across the Tweed from Roxburgh, and linked to it by a ferry. Today this site is within the main gates to Floors Castle, and no structures remain. Between the the two settlements there were the grounds and gardens of the Abbey complex. After the final destruction of the Abbey buildings in the 'Rough Wooing' of the 1540's, the space between the two settlements was built upon, and the Abbey grounds began to disappear under the new developments. As a result of a fire in 1684 in which Wester Kelso was destroyed, the whole community became just Kelso.
Kelso, at the beginning of the 18th century was a town of low stone-built houses with small windows, thatched roofs and outside stairs.
As the prosperity of the town increased with the development of manufacturing industry - Kelso was famous for leather, blue bonnets and hosiery - so the quality of the buildings improved. A new Parish church was built, a replacement Toll booth constructed and many of the old houses replaced. Large houses, usually designed by Edinburgh architects for the increasing number of the wealthy of the town, were built on the outskirts.
As Roxburgh declined, so Kelso grew and, with its bridge and coaching inns, it became an important stopping and changeover point on the road between Edinburgh and London.
As the demand for modern housing has grown, so the town has spread into the surrounding countryside. The population of the town is not that much greater than it was 200 years ago, but the people now live in houses with gardens and space round them, rather than in the tenements and alleyways of the old town centre.
An Industrial Estate, which is still growing, was developed to cater for the needs of the changing industries of the late twentieth century, many of which required more specialised facilities. Others just needed more space - Pettigrew's chutney factory, formerly in Oven Wynd, has just opened a brand new factory on the industrial estate at Pinnaclehill.