"A town and parish in the county of Berwick. The town is situated nearly in the centre of the county, and is a borough [burgh] of barony, held in feu from the Earl of Marchmont, who is superior. After the town of Berwick was taken by the English, the courts of justice were removed to Dunse, and shorterly after established in the town of Greenlaw, which is still the county town. It contains about 600 inhabitants. The parish extends about 7 or 8 miles in length, and on average 2 in breadth. The surface is in general level, but has several eminences, which are of considerable height. The soil in the S. part of the parish is a deep strong clay, exceedingly fertile, but towards the N. it becomes wet, and spouty, and of a very inferior quality; and, on the northern borders, is only fit for sheep pasture. The beautiful house of Marchmont, the seat of the Earl of Marchmont, is situated about a mile or two from the town. It is surrounded with extensive plantations, and beautiful pleasure grounds. There are the remains of two religious houses, which were dependent on the priory of Kelso. Population in 1801, 1270." From the Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.



The Borders Family History Society has published a booklet of Greenlaw monumental inscriptions.

Nigel Hardie has transcribed and published parish of Greenlaw burials for 1780-1854.

Pre-1855 inscriptions for the parish are contained in the Scottish Genealogy Society's volume of Berwickshire Monumental Inscriptions (Pre-1855).

Presbyterian / Unitarian
Greenlaw, Church of Scotland


Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns for this parish.



Presbyterian / Unitarian
Greenlaw, Church of Scotland

Church History

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, page 11:

"The parish church is ancient, but was repaired about 22 years ago, and contains 476 sittings. There is a Free church: attendance, 360 ... There is also an United Presbyterian church, with an attendance of 280 ... The church at Greenlaw, and chapels respectively at Lambden, and on the old manor of Halyburton, belonged, till the Reformation, to the monks of Kelso. The ruins of the two chapels have not long disappeared."

Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Register and Directory of 1866 lists the following non-conformist churches:

  • Free Church
  • United Presbyterian Church

There may have been other non-conformist churches at different times.


Church Records

The parish church (Church of Scotland) has parish registers dating from 1699. Old Parish Registers (before 1855) are held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, and copies on microfilm may be consulted in local libraries and in LDS Family History Centres around the world. Later parish registers (after 1855) are often held in the National Records of Scotland as are any records of non-conformist churches in the area (often unfilmed and unindexed, and only available there).

The parish registers available worldwide on microfilm include kirk session minutes for the years 1648-1659 and accounts for the years 1719-1779 (in section 743/3). More information on kirk sessions and their records can be found in the Church Records section of the Berwickshire page. Most of Greenlaw's kirk session records are held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh (NAS reference CH2/183).

The LDS Family History Library catalogue lists a microfilm of Record of members, 1847-1848 of the Greenlaw branch of the LDS church, which will hopefully therefore be available to view in LDS family history centres around the world.


Civil Registration

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in Scotland on 1st January 1855. For further details of this see the National Records of Scotland website.


Correctional Institutions

Graham and Emma Maxwell have indexed the prison registers of Greenlaw Prison for 1840-1848 and 1848-1862.


Description & Travel

A short article on Greenlaw's history was printed in the October 1991 edition of the Borders Family History Society magazine.

You can see pictures of Greenlaw which are provided by:





See An old Berwickshire town: history of the town of Greenlaw, from the earliest times to the present day by Robert Gibson, published at Edinburgh in 1905. It is listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so is hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres.



Ordnance Survey maps covering Greenlaw include:

  • Landranger 74: Kelso & surrounding area - scale 1:50000, or 1.25inch:1mile, or 2cm:1km
  • Pathfinder 450: Greenlaw - scale 1:25000, or 2.5inch:1mile, or 4cm:1km

Greenlaw is also covered by an old Victorian one-inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map published by Caledonian Maps. The relevant sheet is sheet number 25 "Kelso & Melrose" which also includes Earlston, Galashiels, Gordon, Greenlaw, Lauder, Polwarth, Roxburgh, St Boswells, Selkirk and Westruther.

The National Records of Scotland holds the following as part of its collection of maps and plans:

  • 1731: Plan of Greenlaw and Polwarth Commons. Scale 1:4500. Size 106x118cm. Grid (map) reference NT7049. NRS reference RHP.224/1.
  • 1842: Plan showing the division of the common land showing the village, church, mill, Blackadder water, roads etc. Scale 1:23,800. Size 72x79cm. Grid (map) reference NT7047. NRS reference RHP.224/2.
  • 1866: Estate plan showing boundary between Easter Howlaws and Gordonbank. Scale 1:2400. Size 106x88cm. Grid (map) reference NT7243. NRS reference RHP.339.

You can see maps centred on OS grid reference NT706473 (Lat/Lon: 55.718547, -2.469025), Greenlaw which are provided by:


Migration, Internal

R. Houston's "'Frequent Flitting': Geographical Mobility and Social Structure in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Greenlaw" appeared on pages 31-47 of the 1983 edition (number 27) of Scottish Studies, the Journal of the School of Scottish Studies of the University of Edinburgh. The article looks in detail at people moving into or out of the parish between Whitsunday 1839 and Whitsunday 1842, using a unique listing of 385 incomers and 295 outgoers recorded in the Greenlaw kirk session records (see the Church Records section for more details).



Robert Gibson's history of Greenlaw (see the History section) gives lots of information about old occupations at Greenlaw, particularly in Chapter XXIV - "Former Industries and Occupations". Some of the industries he writes about, all vanished by the start of the twentieth century, include:

  • Handloom weaving - upwards of 60 weavers working at its peak
  • Grinding mills e.g. corn, oats, barley. (He writes there were formerly 5 grinding mills in the parish, at Halyburton, Lambden, Slegden, Greenlaw Castle, and Greenlaw town mill)
  • Cabinetmaking e.g. the firm of John & Thomas Ledgertwood
  • Coopers - made wooden bowies (for holding milk), bickers (for holding porridge or broth), luggies (small bickers with handles), ladles, kits (smaller tubs) etc.
  • Egglers - wandered the country collecting eggs from farmers etc.
  • Horn-spoon makers - confined to families of the Gordons and Youngs
  • Barnmen - those who "thrashed out the corn with the flail"
  • various associated trades such as dyers, pockmen, maltsters etc.


Here are some figures showing the parish's population through time:

  • 1755 - 895
  • 1785 - 1210
  • 1801 - 1270
  • 1811 - 1260
  • 1821 - 1349
  • 1831 - 1442
  • 1861 - 1371
  • 1871 - 1381
  • 1901 - 1014


Robert Gibson's history of Greenlaw (see the History section) gives lots of information about old schools in the parish, particularly in Chapter XXII - "Schools and Schoolmasters". He writes that the first parish school probably started between 1659 and 1667. A "side school" was kept in the early 1800s by Mr Robert Wilson and operated from various places (Shaw's Lane, Waulk Mill, and at the Todholes). After then Mr James Turnbull kept a side school in Church Street before leaving Greenlaw. A Free Church school was set up in 1846 and continued until 1876 when it was merged with the Public School. A separate school existed at Bedshiel (see Chapter XII - "James Broomfield of Slap - Bedshiel School") and payments to the schoolmaster are recorded in the kirk session minutes from as early as June 1705 through to 1816 when the school may have closed.