"A considerable town in Roxburghshire, pleasantly situated on the N. side and bottom of the Eildon hills, upon the side of a fertile vale about a mile in length, intersected by the river Tweed, which winds through it in a serpentine direction, and surrounded by hills of moderate height ... The parish of Melrose is 7 miles long, and from 5 to 7 broad. The surface and soil are various, being flat and fertile on the banks of the Tweed, and hilly and covered with heath in the parts farther removed from the river ... A short distance from the town, on the S. side of the river Tweed, is the abbey of Melros, one of the largest and most magnificent in the kingdom. It is the admiration of strangers, and is reckoned one of the most beautiful Gothic structures, from the height and embellishment of its columns, the elegance of its sculpture, the beauty of its stones, and the symmetry of its parts ... There are several Roman encampments in the parish, particularly in the N.E. of the 3 Eildon hills. There is also another Roman camp near the village of Newstead, which is upwards of three quarters of a mile in circuit. Population in 1801, 2625."
From the Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh.
- A description of the parish of Melrose: in answer to Mr Maitland's queries, sent to each parish of the Kingdom by Adam Milne and William Maitland, published at Kelso in 1782.
- History of St. Mary's Abbey, Melrose, the monastery of old Melrose and the town and parish of Melrose by James Wade, published at Edinburgh in 1861 (listed in the LDS Family History Library catalogue in microfilm format, so hopefully available worldwide in LDS family history centres).
- Melrose's old customs and worthies by J.E. Fairbairn, published at Galashiels in 1946.
- Melrose: 1826 edited by D.M.Hood, published by Melrose Historical Association in 1980.
- Fair Melrose published by Melrose Historical Association in 1989.
The Borders Family History Society has published a booklet/CD (available in either format) of monumental inscriptions in Melrose Abbey churchyard. They have also published a CD listing inscriptions at Weirhill and High Cross cemeteries.
Selkirkshire Antiquarian Society has published a CD containing transcripts and digital photographs of gravestones in Melrose's Wairds Cemetery.
The Scottish Genealogy Society's library also has a list of gravestone inscriptions in the grounds of Melrose Abbey.
See also the Military History section for details of a book about local war memorials.
Census returns for Melrose in 1831 have apparently survived among kirk session records held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh (NRS reference CH2/386/19). Please bear in mind that the amount and depth of information in these early returns may differ from that in later ones (source of info: Gordon Johnson's Census Records for Scottish families at Home and Abroad - see the Census section on the main Scotland GENUKI page for further details of this publication).
Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed the 1831, 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns for this parish.
A 19th century account of the early history of Melrose parish can be read online.
Rutherfurd's Southern Counties Register and Directory of 1866 lists the following non-conformist churches:
- Free Church
- United Presbyterian Church
- United Presbyterian Church (Newton)
- Congregational Church
- Episcopal Church
Pigot and Co's Commercial Directory of Scotland published in 1837 lists the following non-conformist churches in the parish:
- Secession, at Melrose
- Secession, at Newton
There may have been other non-conformist churches at different times.
See also some of the books mentioned in the Bibliography section above.
The parish church (Church of Scotland) has registers dating from 1642. 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).
A transcribed version of some of the parish records was published at Edinburgh in 1913 by the Scottish Record Society. Edited by Charles S. Romanes, and entitled Melrose parish registers of baptisms, marriages, proclamations of marriages, session minutes (1723-1741) and mortuary rolls: 1642-1820, it contains baptisms, marriages and burial records, together with a useful index of names for easy access, including names of mothers of children, baptism witnesses, cautioners etc. This out of copyright book has been scanned and put online by the Internet Archive.
In his entry for the Statistical Account of Scotland (compiled 1790s, see the Statistics section of the Roxburghshire page for more details) the Rev. George Thomson made the following comment about deficiencies in the parish registers of Melrose in the late 18th century:
"A statement might be given of births, marriages, and burials, from our parish-register, but it is very incomplete; because the Seceders, considering this as an appendage to the Established Church, rather than an institution calculated to promote the civil interest of their posterity, do not in general registrate the names of their children; and, because the temptation to neglect this among the lower classes of people, has also been increased by the late tax upon registration."
For an account of the Melrose kirk session minutes, see Melrose: Its Kirk and People, 1608-1810 by John Gilbert, published by Melrose Historical Association. The kirk session records for Melrose are held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, reference CH2/386.
An article about incidents recorded in the Melrose Session Minutes of 1723-1741 was published in the June 1992 edition of the Borders Family History Society's magazine, written by Bob Fife.
As a Burgh of Regality, Melrose was presided over by a Regality Court. Many of these old court records were published at the start of this century:
- Melrose Regality Records, 1547-1706
Published by the Scottish History Society, 1914-17 (3 volumes).
Other court records relating to Melrose are held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Melrose now has its own town website giving lots of information about the modern town, photographs, maps, and also articles about the history of Melrose.
Around Melrose edited by John W. Butcher and published in 1999 by Tempus Publishing Limited (in the "Images of Scotland" series) contains many dozens of photographs of Melrose in the past and present. The book is 128 pages long and its ISBN is 0752411594.
Three photographs of Melrose (the Eildon Hills, Melrose Abbey, and the River Tweed) can be viewed online.
A 19th century description of Melrose town can be read online.
For another older description, see an account of "Life in Melrose - 150 years ago", published in the October 1989 edition of the Borders Family History Society magazine. Written by Catherine Helen Spence who was born in Melrose in 1825 and died in Adelaide in 1910, the published account was taken from her autobiography published in The Register, Adelaide, South Australia.
- Ask for a calculation of the distance from Melrose to another place.
The Melrose One-Place Study is an ongoing project aiming to piece together references to people in the parish before 1820, with a particular emphasis on the 17th and 18th centuries.
Lots of information on the town's history is contained in Melrose's town website.
The Trimontium Trust has its own website giving information about the Roman fort near Melrose.
Allan Wilson's Roman and Native in the Central Scottish Borders (British Archaeological Reports British Series 519, 2010) examines interactions between Romans and native society in Roxburghshire, Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire. It includes an inventory of Roman-era archaeological finds in this part of the Borders, as well as plans and sketches of archaeological sites and finds. Its ISBN is 9781407307220. The book was sponsored by The Trimontium Trust.
See also some of the books mentioned in the Bibliography section above.
A descriptive account of the records of one 16th century Melrose notary was published in 1997 by the Walter Mason Trust: The Protocol Book of Sir Ninian Brydin, 1536-1564 was transcribed, translated and edited by Teresa Maley and Walter Elliot. Sir Ninian Brydin was a notary in Selkirk from 1536 to 1545, worked in Edinburgh from 1546 to 1559, then returned to the Borders, working in the Bowden/Melrose area, between the years 1560 and 1564.
Ordnance Survey maps covering Melrose include:
- Landranger 73: Peebles, Galashiels & surrounding area - scale 1:50000, or 1.25inch:1mile, or 2cm:1km
- Outdoor Leisure 44: Tweed Valley (Peebles to St Boswells) - 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:
- 1809: A Design for the Improvement of Old Melrose. Scale 1:1600. Size 95x81cm. Grid (map) reference NT5834. NRS reference RHP.3656
- circa 1811: Photostat copy of a sketch plan of Abbotsford in the handwriting of Sir Walter Scott. Scale 1:3600. Size 46x31cm. Grid (map) reference NT5034. NAS reference RHP.3397
- 1826: Plan of lands of Carolside and Clackmae, including names of adjacent lands and owners. Scale 1:6300. Size 40x54cm. Grid (map) reference NT5639. NRS reference RHP.1206
You can see maps centred on OS grid reference NT526383 (Lat/Lon: 55.636205, -2.754089), Melrose which are provided by:
- Google Maps
- StreetMap (Current Ordnance Survey maps)
- Bing (was Multimap)
- Old Maps Online
- National Library of Scotland (Old Ordnance Survey maps)
- Vision of Britain (Click "Historical units & statistics" for administrative areas.)
- Magic (Geographic information) (Click + on map if it doesn't show)
- GeoHack (Links to on-line maps and location specific services.)
Records of Dingleton Hospital at Melrose are held in the Lothian Health Services Archives. Dingleton Hospital opened in 1872 and was the lunatic asylum for patients from the counties of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk. The hospital closed in 2001. The surviving records include detailed patient records from 1845 (including the pre-Dingleton era when patients from the Borders were sent to Musselburgh near Edinburgh) as well as records of staff. Note that the records are subject to closure periods for privacy reasons. For details see the LHSA website.
A book of Melrose Parish War Memorials: The Men and their Stories has been published and can be bought from the Borders Family History Society. This book identifies the people recorded on the war memorials in Melrose, Darnick, Newstead and Gattonside.
For an account of farming life in sixteenth century Melrose, see pages 103-120 of Mary Stewart's People by Margaret H.B. Sanderson, published in 1987 by the Mercat Press Ltd, Edinburgh. An earlier work by the same author (Scottish Rural Society in the Sixteenth Century, published 1982 by John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh) looks more generally at the whole of Scotland but still uses a number of examples from Melrose at this time.
Here are some figures showing the parish's population through time:
- 1755 - 2322
- 1801 - 2625
- 1811 - 3132
- 1821 - 3467
- 1831 - 4339
- 1851 - 7365
- 1861 - 7711
- 1871 - 9432
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 410 and lists the schools in the parish at that time:
"The principal schools, additional to the parish school, are Weirhill academy, a Free church school, an Episcopalian school, 3 boarding-schools for young ladies, and 6 ordinary schools at Newton, Blainslie, Langshaw, Gattonside, Dernock, and Newstead."
Some records of the Melrose branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland (a teaching union) are held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. Their NAS reference is GD342 and they consist of minutes covering the years 1847-1940. (source: National Register of Archives).
For a description of the annual Melrose Festival see Chapter 19 of The Borders Book.
The Lodge of Melrose St. John No 1 is is a Freemasons lodge based in the centre of Melrose. See its website for details of the lodge's history and a list of the Past Masters.
The Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Centre holds records of the Melrose Literary Society, covering the years 1863-1986. These include minutes, magazines and correspondence. (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. The Melrose hearth tax records (reference E69/21) are held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, as are many other tax records for the parish. In 2002 I transcribed these hearth tax records and analysed them as part of my postgraduate Masters degree. My notes from this are now online.