"A considerable town in Roxburghshire, pleasantly situated at the confluence of the rivers Teviot and Tweed, on an extensive plain, bounded on all sides by rising grounds covered with plantations, forming a most beautiful amphitheatre. It is built in the manner of a Flemish town, with a large square, and 6 streets going off from it at regular distances. In the square stands the town-house, with the principal houses and shops ... During the border wars, which long spread desolation and misery over the country, Kelso was three times burnt down by the English: it was also totally destroyed in 1686, by an accidental fire, and nearly so about 60 years ago ... The parish, which formerly contained 3 parishes, viz. Kelso, Maxwell and St James's, is of an irregular triangular fiture, each side of which is 4½ miles in length ... Population of the town and parish in 1801, 4196."

From the Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.


Business & Commerce Records

Miscellaneous records of Kelso Races Ltd. for the years 1812-1962 are currently held in the Department of Manuscripts of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. If your ancestor was connected with the race course in any fashion, there may be a mention of them in there. (source: National Register of Archives).



The Borders Family History Society has published two booklets of monumental inscriptions: the first covers Kelso Old Parish and Abbey graveyards, the second covers Kelso Rosebank Cemetery.

The Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre holds the Kelso Cemetery Mortality Record for 1871-1929 (reference R/PR/1/11/34). This records burials in the town during this period.

See under Newspapers for details of pre-1855 death notice indexes compiled from old Borders newspapers.



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

Census returns for Kelso in 1831 have apparently survived among kirk session records held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh (NRS reference CH2/1173/153). Please bear in mind that the amount and depth of information in these early returns may differ from that in later ones.

The Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre has a copy of the Kelso School Census of Children, taken circa 1885 (reference R/ED/1/57) . This gives information about children of school age living in the town at that time. An example entry shows the sort of information in there.



Episcopal Church of Scotland
St Andrew, Kelso, Scottish Episcopal
Presbyterian / Unitarian
Kelso, Church of Scotland
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Abbey Row, Kelso, Quaker

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 171:

"The present parish comprehends the ancient parishes of Kelso or St Mary's, Maxwell, and St James. The first of these lay on the north side of the Tweed, and was within the diocese of St Andrews; and the second and third lay on the south side, and were within that of Glasgow, - the river being here the boundary."

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

  • North Free Church
  • Free East Church (Sprouston)
  • United Presbyterian Church (1st)
  • United Presbyterian Church (East)
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church
  • Congregational Church
  • St Andrews Episcopal Church
  • Roman Catholic Chapel

Pigot and Co's Commercial Directory of Scotland published in 1837 lists the following non-conformist churches in Kelso:

  • Episcopalian, at Abbey court
  • United Secession, at Back way
  • Original Seceders, at Back way
  • Reformed Presbyterian, at Back way
  • Relief, at Horsemarket

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

According to Rev. William Ewing's Annals of the Free Church of Scotland (published 1914 in Edinburgh) the minister of the North Church in Kelso, Dr Horatius Bonar, left the Church of Scotland in 1843 along with his congregation. The congregation retained their church until 1864 when the Church of Scotland claimed it. Then a new church was built and opened in 1867. The 1848 membership of this congregation was 360; in 1900 it was 281.

Also breaking away in 1843, per Rev. William Ewing, was the minister of nearby Sprouston and some of his congregation. They worshipped in the old Original Secession Church in Kelso until their new church was opened in 1846 in the outskirts of the town. In 1883 this Free Church congregation was renamed from Sprouston to Kelso East. This congregation's membership in 1848 was 414; by 1900 it was 221.


Church Records

The parish church (Church of Scotland) has registers dating from 1598. 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).

Registers for the Earlston & Kelso Anti-Burgher church are available in LDS family history centres around the world. These include christenings for 1771-1799.

Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed the Kelso Relief Church Baptisms 1813-1819.


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 Kelso Prison for 1844-1862.


Description & Travel

An account of the parish (history, topography etc.) may be found in the Borders Family History Society's booklet of monumental inscriptions.




Historical Geography

You can see the administrative areas in which Kelso has been placed at times in the past. Select one to see a link to a map of that particular area.



Some relevant books include:

  • A topographical and historical account of the town of Kelso, and of the town and castle of Roxburgh by James Haig (352 pages), published at Edinburgh in 1825. This out of copyright book has been scanned and put online by the Internet Archive.
  • Kelso records: being traditions and recollections of Kelso by John Mason (205 pages), published at Edinburgh in 1834
  • Kelso Past and Present by W.F. Vernon, published at Kelso in 1873
  • Glimpses of Kelso by J.B. Dickson, published at Kelso in 1883
  • Yesterdays in a border parish by James Lindsay Hilson
  • Kelsae: a history of Kelso from the earliest times by Alistair Moffat, published at Edinburgh in 1985
  • Historic Kelso by Audrey Mitchell, published 1999 (available from McGregor's Bookshop in Kelso)


A reprint of John Wood's plan of Kelso compiled in the early 19th century is available from Caledonian Maps. This was one of a number of plans of Scottish towns compiled during the period 1818-1825, most naming streets and property owners.

Ordnance Survey maps covering Kelso include:

  • Landranger 74: Kelso & surrounding area - scale 1:50000, or 1.25inch:1mile, or 2cm:1km
  • Pathfinder 462: Kelso - scale 1:25000, or 2.5inch:1mile, or 4cm:1km

The town 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:

  • 1736: A Survey of Floors. Scale 1:4800. Size 68x52cm. Grid (map) reference NT7134. NRS reference RHP.3234
  • 1805: Chalkheugh with roads and properties adjoining. Scale 1:288. Size 74x31cm. Grid (map) reference NT7234. NRS reference RHP.4434
  • 1813: Plan of march between the Roxburgh Estate and Sharpetlaw in the River Tweed. Scale 1:1200. Size 69x39cm. Grid (map) reference NT7434. NRS reference RHP.4219
  • 1820: Detailed plan of Kelso and surrounding lands copied from plans made in 1769. Scale 1:3600. Size 95x130cm. Grid (map) reference NT7234. NRS reference RHP.3630
  • 1820: Three sketch plans of lots in Kelso. Size 52x52cm. Grid (map) reference NT7234. NRS reference RHP.3542/1-3

You can see maps centred on OS grid reference NT718332 (Lat/Lon: 55.591376, -2.449777), Kelso which are provided by:


Medical Records

Records of Kelso Dispensary are held in the National Records of Scotland, reference HH71. The Kelso Dispensary was founded in 1777 and treated patients from all over the Scottish Borders. Patient registers for 1777-1783 and 1783-1785 survive, including name, parish from, who recommended them for treatment (often gentry, or the kirk session), which surgeon/physician dealt with them, illness, outcome (cure, died, dismissed etc.), and the dates as well. Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed the first year of the patients register.


Military Records

A roll book for the Kelso company of the Border Rifles, covering the dates 1879-1891, is now held at the Kings Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum, The Barracks, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1DG. (source: National Register of Archives).



A list of marriage announcements from the Kelso Mail newspaper for 1798-1854 is available in LDS family history centres around the world. The National Records of Scotland holds this record as part of its collection of Miscellaneous Records (MR 84).

Indexes of death notices in 1854 and 1853 in the Kelso Chronicle have been published. These list many deaths throughout the Scottish Borders as well as deaths on the other side of the Border (including Berwick-on-Tweed) and deaths of Borderers overseas.

The Tasmanian Family History Society Launceston Branch is indexing early editions of the Kelso Chronicle newspaper. So far volumes for 1855-1865 have been completed.



See under Newspapers for details of pre-1855 death notice indexes compiled from old issues of the Kelso Chronicle.



An act book for the Kelso Incorporation of Glovers, covering the years 1613-1746, is currently held in the Department of Manuscripts of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. (source: National Register of Archives).


Poor Houses, Poor Law

The Borders Family History Society has published a CD of Kelso Poor Law and Ragged School Records.



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

  • 1749 - 2900
  • 1755 - 2781
  • 1792 - 4324
  • 1801 - 4196
  • 1811 - 4408
  • 1821 - 4860
  • 1831 - 4939
  • 1861 - 5192
  • 1871 - 4564
  • 1891 - 4184
  • 1911 - 3982


An article on the history of Kelso's Ragged School was printed on pages 12-13 of the February 1989 edition of the Borders Family History Society newsletter, written by Audrey Mitchell. The school closed in 1889 but prior to then (at least from 1858) it gave a free education to many of the poorer children in the neighbourhood.

The Borders Family History Society has published a CD of Kelso Poor Law and Ragged School Records.

James Smith's History of Kelso Grammar School was published at Kelso in 1909.

A list of prizewinners at Kelso Grammar School in July 1853 was printed in The Scotsman.

See also the Census section for details of a census of school-age children taken in Kelso circa 1885.



Records of the Border Union Agricultural Society Ltd. are held at the Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre. These cover years 1813-1874 and include minute books, account and cash books, subscription books and letter books. (source: National Register of Archives).



In the 1690s a tax was levied by Parliament on every hearth in Scotland. Both landowners and tenants had to pay this tax and are therefore recorded in the records which were kept at the time. A transcript of the hearth tax records for Kelso parish (NRS reference E69/21/1) is included with the list of monumental inscriptions published by the Borders Family History Society.

Most taxation records are held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.