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Melrose town - a descriptive account

The following quotation comes from the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, edited by John Marius Wilson and published in 1868. This reference was found in volume II, pp.411-412:

"The TOWN OF MELROSE is delightfully situated at the north base of the Eildon hills, on the road from Edinburgh to Jedburgh, contiguous to the Melrose station of the Edinburgh and Hawick railway, 3 furlongs south of the Tweed, 4 miles east-south-east of Galashiels, 7 north-east by north of Selkirk, 11 north-west of Jedburgh, and 35 by road, but 37 1/4 by railway, south-east by south of Edinburgh. It has partly the character of an antique dingy place, with narrow thoroughfares and ancient houses, and partly the appearance of a modern, spruce, aspiring seat of population, with elegant and airy edifices; and in both respects it looks in good keeping with its situation, harmonizing partly with the grand antiquities adjacent to it, and partly with the magnificent landscape around it. It has recently, on the whole, undergone much improvement, in consequence of many wealthy strangers being attracted to it for occasional or permanent residence. The body of it consists of three lines of houses, arranged along the sides of a triangular open area. A modern and pleasant little street leads out at the west corner toward Galashiels; and narrow, brief thoroughfares lead off at the other corners toward Gattonside and Jedburgh. Some of the houses display on their lintels, amid the general plainness of their walls, sculptured stones traced with the I.H.S. and other popish devices, affording obvious indication that, at the time when these houses were erected, building materials were abstracted, largely and remorselessly, from the pile of the adjacent abbey. In the centre of the open triangular town area stands the cross, a structure bearing marks of great antiquity. It is about 20 feet high, and has on its apex a carving of an unicorn substaining the arms of Scotland. A literal cross anciently surmounted the structure, and, according to the usage of popish times and things, received homage from pilgrims preliminary to their entering the precincts of the monastic pile; but this was destroyed in 1604. About a rood of land, called the Corse-rig, in a field near the town, is held by the proprietor on the condition of his keeping the Cross in repair. Another cross anciently stood at a place, half-a-mile westward on the road to Dernock, still called the High Cross. The jail, a plain, small, modern structure, occupies the site of a curious ancient one. On a stone wall still preserved of the old jail, the arms of Melrose are sculptured - a 'mell' or mallet, and a 'rose' - a punning hieroglyphic version of the town's name. The parish church is a modern plain, but neat and pleasing edifice, surmounted by a spire, and situated on a rising ground, called the Weir hill, a few perches west of the town. The Free church has a well-proportioned spire, and figures beautifully in the landscape. The railway station also is a good modern feature, very spacious and handsome. A suspension bridge for foot passengers takes across a communication from the town directly to Gattonside; but the bridge of the Edinburgh and Jedburgh highway and the viaduct of the railway are higher up the river.

Melrose was long famed for the manufacture of a fabric called Melrose land-linen, commissions for which were received from London and foreign countries. So early as 1668, the weavers were incorporated under a seal-of-cause from John, Earl of Haddington, the superior of the burgh; and for a considerable period preceding 1766, the quantity of linen stamped averaged annually between 33,000 and 34,000 yards, valued at upwards of 2,500. But toward the end of last century, the manufacture rapidly declined; and, long ago, it utterly and hopelessly disappeared. Cotton-weaving, subordinately to Glasgow, was introduced as a succedaneum, and had a short period of success; but it, too, became extinct. A bleachfield for linen also was tried, and failed. Even the woollen trade, so singularly prosperous in several neighbouring towns, was tried here without success. An ancient fair held in spring, called Kier or Scarce Thursday fair, was long a famous carnival season, but afterwards became an occasion of business, and then dwindled to extinction. Business fairs are now held on the first Monday of January, February and March, on the Saturday before the last Tuesday of March, on the first Monday of May and August, on the 12th day of August, or on the Tuesday after that day, on the Saturday after the first Tuesday of October, on the first Monday of November and December, and on the 22d day of November, or on the Tuesday after that day. The fair of the 12th day of August, or of the Tuesday after, is a lamb fair, one of the most extensive in Scotland. There is also held a weekly market for grain; and a project was a-foot in 1862 for the erection of a corn-exchange, at a cost of 2,000 pounds. The town has an office of the British Linen Company's Bank, an office of the Royal Bank, a savings' bank, eleven insurance agencies, four principal inns, a gas company, a water company, six public or congregational libraries, three benefit societies, a total abstinence society, a free masons' lodge, a farmers' club, a curling club, a cricket club, a vagrant relief society, and some religious institutions. Railway trains afford ready communication with all places north and south; and an omnibus runs to Earlston. Melrose was erected into a burgh of barony in 1609, and is nominally under the government of a baron bailie; but no burgh courts are held, and there is neither burgh property, revenue, nor expenditure. Justice of peace courts are held as required; and sheriff's small debt courts are held on the first Friday of February, May, August, and November. Population in 1841, 893; in 1861, 1,141."


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Last updated: 7th November 2000 - Brian Pears

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