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Parish of Melrose

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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1791-99: Melrose
1834-45: Melrose
1791-99: Melrose
1834-45: Melrose

Melrose (Brit. Mell-Rhos, ` the projection of the meadow '), a parish, containing a post-town of the same name, at the extreme northern corner of Roxburghshire. It is bounded N and E by Berwickshire, SE corner by St Boswells parish, S by Bowden parish., at the SW corner by the part of Galashiels Parish in Roxburghshire, on the rest of the SW side by Selkirkshire, and W by Edinburghshire. The boundary is largely natural. Starting at the point at the NW corner where the counties of Edinburgh, Berwick, and Roxburgh meet, it follows the watershed between Leader Water and Allan Water, until it reaches the upper part of Lauder Burn, whence it passes irregularly first NE and then SE, till it reaches the Leader near the Bluecairn Burn. It passes up the latter to the road westward from Bluecairn Farm, and follows this road to a small burn that flows past Kedslie, which it follows downward for about ½ mile, and then strikes irregularly ESE to the Leader Water N of Leadervale House, and follows the course of that stream for 4 miles to its junction with the Tweed, and thereafter the course of the Tweed downward for 33/8 miles. Along the S side the line follows an irregular course westward over the top of the centre peak of the Eildons (1385 feet), along the S side of Cauldshiels Loch, till it joins the Tweed at Abbotsford Ferry station. It follows the course of the river downward 1¼ mile to the junction of Gala Water, whence it follows, in the main, the course of the latter stream to the point where the counties of Selkirk, Edinburgh, and Roxburgh meet, and then strikes along the high ground E of Gala Water to the starting-point. The greatest length of the parish, from NW at the point where Edinburghshire, Berwickshire, and Roxburghshire meet, to the lowest point on the Tweed that the parish reaches, is 11 miles; the average breadth is about 5 miles; and the area is 26, 058¼ acres, of which 264½ are water. From the mouth of Gala Water to the mouth of Leader Water, the Tweed flows 4¾ miles across the parish, dividing it into two very unequal portions, that to the S of the river being only about of the whole. In both portions the surface is hilly, and rises for the most part rapidly from the bed of the river Tweed, which is a little under 300 feet above sea-level. On the S the height rises, in the course of ½ mile, to 508 feet near Huntlyburn House, 540 W of Viewbank, and 510 E of Oakendean House. From the first point the rise is continued south-westward to 876 feet above Cauldshiels Loch; and from the other two more rapidly southward to the summit of the Eildon Hills, of the three tops of which the E (1327 feet) and the centre (1385) are in this parish. To the N of the Tweed the ground again rises rapidly to an elevation of over 700 feet, and then passes northwards in two ranges of heights, of which that to the E, between the valleys of the Leader and Allan, is 876 feet high near Avenel plantation, 929 between Housebyres and Mosshouses, 979 near Jeanfield, 829 near the border W of Blainslie, and 1057 farther to the W between Newhouses and Threepwood; that to the W, between the valleys of the Allan and Gala, is 1018 feet (S) and 1031 (N) at Langlee, 1064 at Buckholm Hill, 1315 at William Law, 1219 at Hawkshawhead, and 1126 at Allanshaws. The lower districts are cultivated, and the upper afford excellent pasture, while plantations and belting of trees are to be found all over the parish, and cover about 3000 acres. The soil in the southern district is chiefly a strong clay, well adapted for wheat. Along the valley of the Tweed-where there seems to have been at one time a great lake, and where, even within the last two centuries, the river course has evidently in places been changed; since a fine rich haugh, now on the S side of the river, is called Gattonside Haugh, and its feudal tenures show that it once actually formed a part of the Gattonside lands, which are on the N side of the river-it is a rich alluvial earth; while the northern district varies from light loam mixed with sand on a gravelly bottom, to strong wet clay full of springs, and moss which sometimes overlies marl. The underlying rocks are Lower Silurian, above which, in the S and SE are sandstones of later age. These are quarried for building purposes, but the rock is of inferior quality, and most of the building-stone used is brought from adjoining parishes. The drainage of the parish is effected on the W by the Gala and the burns flowing into it, of which the Halk Burn is the chief; in the centre by Allan Water, which, rising at the NW corner at Blinkbonnie, flows southward for 9 miles to the Tweed, a short distance above Pavilion, 1½ mile above Melrose. It receives a number of smaller burns, of which the chief is Threepwood Burn. The lower part of its course is prettily wooded, and the valley is the prototype of the 'Glendearg' of Sir Walter Scott's Monastery. The drainage on the E is carried off by the Leader and the various burns entering it, of which the Clackmae and Packmans Burns are the chief. In the portion of the parish to the S of the Tweed are Huntly Burn, entering the Tweed opposite Gattonside; Malthouse or Dingle Burn, flowing past the town of Melrose; Bogle Burn, rising on the SE side of the Eildon Hills, and entering the Tweed at Old Melrose; a burn joining the Tweed near Langlands; and the lower part of the course of Bowden Burn. Huntly Burn is closely associated with Thomas the Rhymer (see Earlston), and one finely-wooded hollow on its course-a favourite resort of Sir Walter Scott-is known as The Rhymer's Glen. Bogle Burn also is said to take its name from the Bogles or Goblins with whom Thomas was so familiar. The parish is traversed by the main inland road from Edinburgh to Berwick, which winds along the N side of the Gala, crosses the Tweed by a good stone bridge W of Darnlee, passes through the town of Melrose, and then south-eastward by Newtown till it joins the road from Selkirk to Kelso, and thence to Berwick. From N to S, on the E border, along the valley of the Leader, is a main road, leaving the south coastroad at Musselburgh, traversing Lauderdale, crossing the Tweed close to the mouth of the Leader, and joining the first main road ¾ mile N of Newtown. The main section of the North British railway, worked in connection with the Midland railway, and known as the Waverley route, passes through the parish, keeping closely to the line of the first-mentioned main road; while 2 miles beyond Melrose station it is joined by the Berwick and Duns branch of the same system, which crosses the Tweed at Leaderfoot, and follows the line of the second road for 2¾ miles to the northward, till crossing the Leader it enters Berwickshire. Half-a-mile SE of the mouth of the Leader, and 2½ miles E of the modern town of Melrose, is a promontory formed by a loop of the Tweed, and measuring 4 furlongs by 2, which is known as Old Melrose, and which is the 'projection' from which the name of the parish is said to come. The banks of the river all round are lofty, wooded, and rocky, and from them the ground rises in a smooth grassy ascent to a small plateau occupied by the modern mansion of Old Melrose. Old Melrose was the site of one of the earliest Columban establishments on the mainland of Scotland. It owed its foundation to St Aidan, who, with a number of brethren from Iona, had, about 635, on the invitation of Oswald, King of Northumbria, established a monastery at Lindisfarne for the purpose of instructing the Saxons in Christianity. Aidan seems to have chosen twelve Saxon youths to be trained and sent out to preach and teach, and one of these, Eata, became, about the middle of the 7th century, the first abbot of the Columban monastery of Melrose. The prior during part of the time, and subsequently his successor, was that St Boisil or Boswell who has given name to the adjoining parish, and he in turn was succeeded by his pupil St Cuthbert. In 839 the monastery was burned by Kenneth, King of Scots, but reappears again rebuilt, and the temporary resting-place of the body of St Cuthbert, which had been removed from Lindisfarne on account of the invasion of the Danes. It seems to have declined about the same time as the parent monastery in Iona, and to have become, in the latter part of the 11th century, ruined and deserted, for when between 1073 and 1075 Aldwin, Turgot-afterwards Bishop of St Andrews and confessor to St Margaret the queen of Malcolm III.-and other monks came from 'Girwy to what was formerly the monastery of Mailros' they found it 'then a solitude,'and they, being persecuted on account of their opinions and threatened with excommunication if they remained, had also soon to withdraw. From this time onward the place was never again the site of a monastery, but there was a chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert, and, till between 1126 and 1136, when David I. exchanged it for the church at Berwick, dependent on the priory of Durham, as the former church had been dependent on the abbey of Lindisfarne. This chapel seems to have been held in great esteem, for when it was burned by the English in the reign of Robert Bruce, in 1321, Symon, Bishop of Galloway, describing the chapel as recently burned by the English, grants 'a relaxation of forty days'penance to all truly penitent and confessed who should, with consent of their diocesan, devoutly visit the chapel of Saint Cuthbert of Old Melros, where that saint lived a monastic life and was celebrated for his miracles; or should contribute of their goods'; while between 1417 and 1431 we find Pope Martin V., at the instance of John, dean of Cavertoun, one of the monks of Melrose, granting to all who should make pilgrimage to, or contribution to, the same chapel 'a remission of penance for seven years and seven Lents on all the festivals of St Cuthbert and on certain other holidays.' The place where the chapel stood continues to be called Chapelknowe, and adjacent portions of the Tweed still bear the names of Monk-ford and Haly-wheel-the holy whirlpool or eddy. Pilgrims from the north approached by a road known as the Girthgate, which led from Soutra hospice by Colmslie, near the centre of the northern portion of the parish and across the Tweed to the bend. It seems to have had the privilege of sanctuary. It crossed the river at Bridgend, about 1 mile W of Darnick, where a bridge with stone piers and wooden beams seems afterwards to have been built. Considerable remains of the latter are mentioned by Pennant in 1772 as having been standing when he visited the place. The early monastery seems to have been protected by a wall running across the neck of the peninsula, traces which remained in 1743, when Milne published his account of Melrose. There are traditions of an abbey called the Red Abbey having stood near the village of Newstead, midway between Old and modern Melrose. In the district N of the Tweed there w ere chapels at Chieldhelles, at Blainslie on the extreme NE, and, according to Milne, also at Colmslie on Allan Water- said to take its name from the patron, St Columba- and at Gattonside. The present name of the parish seems to have been assumed from the old Culdee settlement, by the monks, when the modern abbey was founded, and applied by them to the whole district occupied by their early possessions, the boundaries of which correspond pretty nearly with the present limits of the parish. At the Reformation, and for a considerable time afterwards, down to about 1584, Melrose, Bowden, Lilliesleaf, and Langnewtoun were under the charge of one minister, with a reader at Melrose. In the year just mentioned it is noticed as a separate charge, and that state of matters continued. The earliest minister was John Knox, whose tombstone still remains in the abbey churchyard, and who was a nephew and namesake of the great Reformer. He died in 1623, and, under the modified Episcopacy of the time, was succeeded by Thomas Forrester, a poet, who was bold enough to introduce into the litany the special prayer, 'From all the knock-down race of Knoxes, good Lord, deliver us.` Besides this he also declared that the Reformation had done incalculable harm to Christianity; that the liturgy was better than sermon; and that bringing corn in from the fields on the Sabbath was a work of necessity-the last of which propositions he practically exemplified. For these and other delinquencies he was deposed by the Glasgow Assembly of 1638.

The principal antiquities, besides those already mentioned and those noticed in the following article, and in the account of the Eildon Hills, are remains of camps between Kittyfield and Leaderfoot; N of Kaeside, near Abbotsford; and at Mars Lee Wood; and border peels at Buckholm on the Gala, in the valley of the Allan, and at Darnick. The principal mansions, most of which are separately noticed, are Abbotsford, Allerly, Chiefswood-once the residence of Lockhart, Scott's sonin-law-Drygrange, Eildon Hall, Huntly-burn Houseonce the residence of Scott's friends, the Fergussons, and the name itself of Sir Walter's choosing-Gattonside House, Ladhope House, Langhaugh, Lowood, Abbey Park, The Pavilion, The Priory, Prior Wood formerly Prior Bank-once the residence of the well-known Edinburgh publisher, Tait, the founder of Tait's Magazine, which was established to oppose Blaekwood's Magazine-Ravenswood, Sunnyside, Threepwood, Whitelee, Wester Langlee, and Wooplaw. Besides the town of Melrose, which is noticed in the following article, the parish contains also the villages of Blainslie (NE), Darnick (S), Gattonside (S), Newstead (SE), Newtown (extreme SE), and part of the town of Galashiels-all of which are separately noticed-and the hamlet of Eildon. Except in Galashiels there are no industries, and the population of the parish are mostly engaged in agriculture. In suitable spots there are excellent orchards-legacies of the monks-some of which are very productive, those in the Gattonside district being said to produce more fruit than all the others in the vale of Tweed. About ¾ mile WSW of the town of Melrose, on Bowden Moor, is the district lunatic asylum for the counties of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Berwick, which with its grounds covers a space of 25 acres. The buildings occupy three sides of a rectangle; the principal front to the SW being 377 feet long, and the wings each 148 feet. They are mostly two stories in height, and two towers are 100 feet high. The asylum was erected in 1870-72, after designs by Messrs Brown & Wardrop of Edinburgh, at a cost, inclusive of site, of £46, 500, and there is accommodation for about 150 patients. To the N of Darnick, and about 1 mile W of the town of Melrose, is a rising-ground, called Skinners or Skirmish Hill, the name being taken from the last great battle among the borderers proper in 1526. In that year, James V., tired of the dominion of the Douglases, sent word, privately, to Scott of Buccleuch to come to his rescue. This Scott did, but the forces of Angus, Home, and the Kerrs proved too strong for him, and his men fled. Pitscottie tells the story at length. The place is now the site of the Waverley Hydropathic Establishment. Erected in 1871, and enlarged in 1876, this is a fine edifice, with accommodation for 150 visitors. Its dining and drawing rooms each are 84 feet long; and there are also a news-room, library, two billiard rooms, etc., besides every variety of bath. The grounds, 40 acres in extent, are tastefully laid out; and the view around is of singular beauty.

In common with the whole district, the parish suffered severely from the ravages of the English during Hereford's invasions in 1544-45, and at a later date, Oliver Cromwell gets the credit of having pounded the ruins of the abbey from the heights above Gattonside. Besides the churches in the town, which are noticed in the following article, there are also Established and Free churches in Galashiels, on the Melrose side of the Gala (Ladhope), and there is a U.P. church at Newtown. The civil parish contains the quoad sacra parish of Ladhope, which includes part of Galashiels. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Selkirk and the synod of Merse and Teviotdale, and the living is worth £482 a year. In 1883 the following were the schools-all public but the last-under Melrose school-board, with their accommodation, average attendance, and Government grant:-Blainslie (110, 64, £50, 17s.), Gattonside (87, 46, £37, 19s.), Glendinning Terrace (300, 342, £316, 13s.), Langshaw (51, 35, £40), Melrose (300, 177, £165, 0s. 6d.), and Newstead Subscription (86, 68, £46, 6s). Valuation (l864) £42, 344, 8s. 2d., (1882) £43, 757, 16s. 8d., (1884) £39,900, 12s. 5d. Pop. (1801) 2654, (l83l) 4339, (l861) 7654, (l87l) 9432, (l881) 11, 13l, of whom 4555 were in the ecclesiastical parish, and 6576 in Ladhope quoad sacra parish.—Ord. Sur., sh. 25, 1865.

The U.P. Church has a presbytery of Melrose, which holds it meetings in the town, and includes 2 churches at Earlston, 3 at Galashiels, 3 at Hawick, 2 at Selkirk, and those at Innerleithen, Lauder, Lilliesleaf, Melrose, Newtown, and Stow.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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