Parish of Selkirk

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: Selkirk
1834-45: Selkirk

Selkirk, a post and market town, a royal and parliamentary burgh, and the county town of Selkirkshire, is situated on a rising ground flanking a - fine haugh on the right bank of Ettrick Water, 6 ¼ miles S by W of Galashiels, 7 SW of Melrose, 11 N hy W of Hawick, 22 ESE of Peebles, and 38 SSE by road and 40 by rail from Edinburgh. It stands at the termmus of a branch line, 6¼ miles long, from Galashiels, formed under an act of 1854, and amalgamated with the North British in 1859. Its site on an eminence, rising from 400 to 619 feet above sea-level, is eminently favourable for sanitary arrangements; and its environs comprise the beautiful pleasure-grounds of Haining and picturesque reaches of Ettrick and Yarrow Waters to Oakwood Tower and Newark Castle. At the beginning of the present century the town presented the appearance of an illbuilt, irregular, and decaying place, fast hastening to extinction; but since then it has suddenly revived, has undergone both renovation and extension, and is now a pleasant, prosperous, and comparatively ornate place, including various lines of new thoroughfares, elegant private residences, several good public buildings, and a number of busy factories. The plan of Selkirk is far from being regular. A spacious triangular marketplace occupies the centre of the town; and thence the chief streets branch off in different directions. On the shortest side of the market-place is the town-hall, a neat modern edifice surmounted by a spire 110 feet high. The county buildings, occupying a site on the side of the road leading to Galashiels, were erected in 1870, and contain a handsome courtroom with an open timber roof, and well-planned apartments for various official purposes. Two portraits of George III. and his Queen were presented by a Duke of Buccleuch. A tunnel under the intervening street communicates with the sunk floor of the county prison, which stands opposite, and which was altered and enlarged in 1865-66 at a cost of £2000. In the open area of the market-place stands Handyside Ritchie's monument to Sir Walter Scott, erected by the gentlemen of the county in 1839. The statue, 7½ feet high, represents the great author in his robes as sheriff of Selkirkshire, and is raised on a pedestal 20 feet high. Another monument, by Andrew Currie, was erected in 1859 to Mungo Park, the celebrated African traveller. The ancient market-cross and the tolbooth, as well as the stalls of the old flesh market, also stood in the market-place; but all these have now disappeared. In 1884 a marble tablet was erected in the West Port to mark the site of the old Forest Inn, where, on 13 May 1787, Burns is believed to have written his ` Epistle to Willie Creech.' The railway station stands in the haugh at the foot of the rising ground occupied by the town; and the ascent from it, though short, is steep and fatiguing. A bridge, carrying the line across the Tweed immediately below the influx of Ettrick Water, was originally a wooden structure; but after the winter of 1877 it was reconstructed in a more substantial form, with six piers and with iron girders.

The present parochial church was built in 1862, and contains 1100 sittings. The living is worth £461. A chapel of ease was opened at Heatherlie in Feb. 1877, and cost £3856. Early Decorated in style, it is a cruciform and apsidal structure, containing 600 sittings. In Jan. 1885 it was raised to quoad sacra parish status. The Free church was built soon after the Disruption, and contains 700 sittings. There are two U.P. churches in the town. The first U.P. congregation occupy a new church, opened in September 1880, with 850 sittings, and a hall behind. It is in the Early Gothic style, with a spire 130 feet high, and cost about £5000. The West U.P. church has 490 sittings. The E.U. chapel contains 130 sittings. St John s Episcopal church, with 150 sittings, is an Early English edifice of 1869; and the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady and St Joseph contains 250 sittings, and was erected in 1866. Four schools-Grammar, Knowe Park, Burgh, and Roman Catholic-with respective accommodation for 378, 485, 250, and 124 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 282, 158, 297, and 57, and government grants of £215, 17s., £129, 19s., £215, 9s., and £31, 18s. 6d. Since these returns were made the Grammar School staff has been transferred to Knowe Park school, which cost £3763, and was opened on 4 Jan. 1882; whilst the Grammar and Burgh schools, now designated Burgh school, have been placed under one head-master.

Selkirk has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, branches of the British Linen (1825), the National (1864), and the National Security Savings' Banks (1838-39), offices or agencies of 21 insurance companies, and 5 hotels. Among the miscellaneous institutions and associations of the burgh are a subscription library, founded in 1772; a mechanics' institute, library, and reading-room, established in 1853; a Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society (1861), a choral society (1872), a cottagers' horticultural society (1852), a farmers' club (1806), an association for the improvement of domestic poultry (1863), a pastoral society for the improvement of live stock (1819), the Ettrick Forest Club (1788), a dispensary (1851), a clothing society (1854), two friendly societies, a weavers' provident society (1864), a provident building society (1859), a Freemasons' lodge, reorganised in 1864; curling, cricket, two bowling, and golfing clubs (respectively founded in 1850, 1852, 1855, 1875, and 1882); a total abstinence society, and various religious and philanthropic associations. A Liberal newspaper, the Southern Reporter (1855), is published in the town every Thursday. The Selkirk Advertiser, containing chiefly advertisements, is published every Saturday, and distributed gratis in the town and neighbourhood. The weekly market day is Wednesday. The anniversary festival known as the Common Riding is on the Friday following that of Hawick. Annual fairs are held as follows:-Herds and hinds hiring on the first Wednesday of March, servants on 5 April and 31 Oct., shearers on 15 July, and Yule on 19 Dec. There is a general holiday on the first Saturday in August.

Industries.—The present staple manufacture of Selkirk is woollen goods-tweeds, tartans, shawls, and such articles-similar to those produced at Galashiels. This manufacture was introduced about 1836, has since steadily increased in importance, and is now carried on in large factories employing very many hands. Less than twenty years ago, according to a careful estimate, the number of power-looms in Selkirk was 181; handlooms, 97; carding-machines, 32 sets: spindles in selfacting mules, 15,612; do. in hand-mules, 12, 260; do. in throstles for twisting, 1726; persons employed, 1032. Between 860,000 and 870,000 lbs. of wool were supposed to be then annually consumed; between £28,000 and £29, 000 paid in wages; while the annual turn-over was about £220, 000. There can be no doubt that these averages have very largely increased; but the manufacturers, like those of Galashiels, are somewhat averse to taking the public into their confidence on the subject of their business operations. There are now 3 mills engaged in spinning woollen yarns, 1 in spinning Cheviot and Saxony yarns, and 6 in the manufacture of tweeds and tartans, etc. The other industrial establishments are of less importance; they include one engineering and millwright work, a saw-mill, a corn-mill, and the usual commercial institutions of a country town. In former times a principal employment of the inhabitants was the making of single-soled shoon, ` a sort of brogues with a single thin sole, the purchaser himself performing the further operation of sewing on another of thick leather.' So prominent was this craft as to give the name of ` souters ' (shoemakers) to the whole body of burgesses; while, in conferring the freedom of the burgh, one of the indispensable ceremonies consisted in the new-made burgess dipping in his wine and then passing through his mouth in token of respect to the souters four or five bristles, such as shoemakers use, which were attached to the seal of the burgess ticket, and which had previously passed between the lips of the burgesses present. ` The ceremony,' however, writes Mr T. Craig Brown, ` is comparatively modern, and I am much inclined to blame Sir Walter Scott for its institution.' He himself was made a ` Souter o' Selkirk ' in this sort, but in the case of Prince Leopold of SaxeCoburg (1819) the custom was omitted. Even in the middle of last century the shoemakers of Selkirk were so numerous as to furnish more than one-half of the 6000 pairs of shoes demanded from the magistrates of Edinburgh by the Highland army in 1745. But since then the glory of the craft has departed, and the souters are not more conspicuous in Selkirk than in any other country town. The insignia, documents, and books of the' Craft of Cordiners,' as the souters called themselves, are in possession of Mr T. Craig Brown, at whose house (Woodburn) they may be seen. A song very familiar in the S of Scotland has for its first verse:

'Up wi' the souters o' Selkirk
And down wi' the Earl o' Home!
And up wi' a' the braw lads
That sew the single-soled shoon!'

These lines, which undoubtedly relate to a football match between Lord Home's men and the souters, have given rise to much literary controversy. Scott, who gives other two verses in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, seems inclined to refer them to the gallantry of the men of Selkirk at Flodden, and to the alleged poltroonery of Lord Home on the same occasion. 'The few survivors,' he says, 'on their return home, found, by the side of Ladywood Edge, the corpse -f a female, wife to one of their fallen comrades, with a child sucking at her breast. In memory of this latter event, continues the tradition, the present arms of the burgh bear a female, holding a child in her arms, and seated on a sarcophagus, decorated with the Scottish lion, in the background a wood.' Certain at least it is that the figures in the burgh arms are those of the Virgin and Child. Nor is the legend much more tenable that a weaver of Selkirk greatly distinguished himself in the fight, and captured an English flag, though this so-called Flodden flag is now in the custody of a gentleman in the town.

Selkirk was made a royal burgh in the reign of David I. It is governed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 10 councillors. Prior to 1871 the burgh adopted portions of the General Police and Improvement Act of 1862. The corporation revenue in 188384 was £1837; and in 1885 the municipal constituency was 1157, of whom 257 were females. The police force is incorporated with that of the county, and since 1884 has been under the chief constable of Selkirkshire. Police courts are held as occasion requires; as also justice of peace courts for the whole county. Sheriff courts for the county and sheriff small debt courts are held weekly during session; small debt cases, ordinary cases, and cases under the Debts Recovery Act, on Fridays. By the Reform Act of 1832 Selkirk was thrown into the county for parliamentary purposes, but under the Act of 1868 it now unites with Galashiels and Hawick in returning one member to parliament. The parliamentary burgh is coterminous with the royal burgh, and has a constituency of 900. Extensive works in connection with the water supply were undertaken in 1866-67; and in 1876 the sewerage having been declared inefficient in a special report prepared at the instance of the board of supervision, a complete drainage system was introduced, the sewage being dispersed by irrigation. Valuation of real property in the burgh (1851) £9904, (1876) £15,433, (1885) £22,898. Pop. (1831) 1880, (1861) 3695, (1871) 4640, (1881) 6090, of whom 3251 were females, and 5977 were in the police burgh. Houses (1881) occupied 1153, vacant 64, building 3.

History.—Shielkirk, or the kirk planted beside the shiels of herdsmen and hunters in the Forest, is the modern equivalent of Scheleschirche, the earliest spelling of the name on record. In 1113 Earl David- afterwards David I. -founded at Selkirk a Tyronensian abbey. The erection of a royal castle was probably posterior to that of the church, as be speaks of a road' between the castle and the old town;' but after 13 years the abbey was removed for convenience to Kelso; and the distinction between Selkirk Abbatis, or the village beside the abbey, and Selkirk Regis, or the village beside the castle, gradually disappeared as the places merged in one. David I. seems to have preferred Roxburgh to Selkirk as a place of residence; but the latter castle was frequently inhabited by William the Lyon, who dated several of his charters from it. Alexander II. and Alexander III. also spent some time at Selkirk; but after the accession of Robert I. it seems to have ceased to be a royal residence, though still regarded as a town of the king's demesne. Selkirk made some figure in the war of succession; and the gallantry of its citizens at the battle of Flodden has already been alluded to. James V. recognised the claims of the burgh by granting 1000 acres of Ettrick Forest to the corporation; and when the town, a little later, was burned by the English, the king gave timber from his forest to rebuild it. With the battle of Philiphaugh, also in 1645, Selkirk had intimate connection; and in 1745 it was the scene of some skirmishing with the foragers of the Pretender's army, on its way to England. Selkirk gives the title of Earl in the peerage of Scotland to a branch of the powerful family of Douglas, which at one time held extensive sway in the Forest. See St Mary's Isle.

The quoad civilia parish of Selkirk comprises a main body (chiefly in Selkirkshire but partly in Roxburghshire) and a detached portion. The main body is bounded N by Stow, NE by Galashiels, E by Galashiels and Bowden, SE by Lilliesleaf and Ashkirk, SW by Kirkhope, and W and NW by Yarrow. The detached portion lies 1¾ mile S of the nearest point of the main body, and is bounded by Ashkirk, Roberton, and Kirkhope. The greatest length of the main body, from ENE to WSW, is 7¾ miles; its breadth varies between 4½ and 77/8 miles; and the area of the entire parish is 22,8951/8 acres, of which 13581/8 are in Roxburghshire, 1430¾ belong to the detached portion, and 316 are water. The surface of the parish is all of a hilly character; but, from the loftiness of its base and the peculiarities of its contour, presents less of an upland appearance than other districts much less hilly in reality. The Tweed flows 45/8 miles east-south-eastward along all the northern and north-eastern boundary; Ettrick Water flows 77/8 miles north-eastward either through the interior or along the Kirkhope and Galashiels boundary to the Tweed; and Yarrow Water runs 2¾ miles east-north-eastward along the boundary with Yarrow parish, then 33/8 south-eastward through the interior to the Ettrick. The ground in the detached portion sinks along Todrig Burn to less than 800 feet above sea-level, and rises to 1257. In the NE corner of the main body, at the influx of Ettrick Water to the Tweed, the surface declines to 397 feet. That portion of the parish to the right of the Ettrick rises rather in verdant swells and undulations than in hills; that between the Ettrick and Yarrow is largely occupied with the Duke of Buccleuch's wooded park of Bowhill; and that between the two last-named streams and the Tweed is mainly lofty and heath-clad. The highest points are Foulshiels (1454 feet), South Height (1493), Broomy Law (1519), Three Brethren (1523), and Fastheugh Hill (1645). The prevailing rocks are greywacke, greywacke slate, and clay slate. The soil, for the most part, is light and dry. The mansions are Bowhill, Haining, Sunderland Hall, Broadmeadows, Philiphaugh, and Yair. All of these are noticed separately, as also are Newark Castle, the scene of Scott's Lay of the Last Minstrel; Oakwood Tower, the traditional residence of Sir Michael Scott, but built hundreds of years after the Wizard had died; the battlefield of Philiphaugh; Carterhaugh, the scene of the ballad of Tamlane; and Foulshiels, where Mungo Park was born. Besides Park, Selkirk counts among her distinguished sons Andrew Pringle, Lord Alemoor, an 18th century judge, famous for learning and eloquence; George Lawson, D.D. (1749-1820), professor of theology to the Associate Synod, a man of considerable learning and of saintly character; and the living poets, Andrew Lang and J. B. Brown (`J. B. Selkirk'). The town is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Merse and Teviotdale. About one-third of the quoad civilia parish is now disjoined quoad sacra, forming the new parish of Heatherlie and a small part of Caddonfoot. Selkirk presbytery comprises the quoad civilia parishes of Ashkirk, St Boswells, Bowden, Ettrick, Galashiels, Kirkhope, Lilliesleaf, Maxton, Melrose, Roberton, Selkirk, and Yarrow; and the quoad sacra parishes of Caddonfoot, Galashiels West Church, Heatherlie, and Ladhope. The Free Church has also a presbytery of Selkirk. Under the landward school board, Selkirk public school, with accommodation for 200 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 187, and a government grant of £156, 9s. 9d. Landward valuation (1865) £12, 684, (1885) £15,362, of which £13,981 was for the Selkirkshire portions. Pop. (1801) 2098, (1831) 2833, (1861) 4739, (1871) 5633, (1881) 7432, of whom 36 were in the Roxburghshire portions.—Ord. Sur., shs. 25, 17, 1865-64.

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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