Although Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) is
better associated with Abbotsford and Edinburgh, where he lived
and worked for many years, and the monument built to commemorate
his life, the 'wizard of the north' was well-known throughout the
Borders, and not least in Kelso.
Scott's family had several connections with
Kelso. His great-grandfather owned a house at No 3 Simon Square
for many years. It appears that the people of Kelso knew this gentleman
as 'Beardie', a nickname given to him for his prodigious beard.
From Scott's own writings, it seems his ancestor was an ardent Jacobite,
and narrowly escaped the gallows on one occasion because of his
politics. With the end of the Jacobite cause at Culloden (1746),
'Beardie' took a solemn vow never to shave again, until a Stuart
once more occupied the throne.
Although born in Edinburgh, Scott lived
at the family farm of Sandyknowe for the first six years of his
life as he seems to have been a sickly infant, suffering from a
form of infantile paralysis. At the age of six, Scott returned to
live with his parents and siblings in Edinburgh.
Scott returned to the Borders when he was
12, residing with his Aunt Janet in Kelso for about six months.
Her house, a small cottage near the banks of the River Tweed, is
now better known as Waverley Cottage. Kelso, with the combination
of its picturesque setting and a tangible sense of history, made
a deep impression on Scott. Later in life, Scott recalled his time
there with some fondness, writing that it was 'the most beautiful,
if not the most romantic village in Scotland'.
SITES CONNECTED TO
SIR WALTER SCOTT:
Shedden Park Road, Rosebank
Shedden Park Road, Rosebank Lodge & Gatepiers
Parish Church and Churchyard
Roxburgh Street, Walton Hall
Maxwell Lane, The Knowes, Waverley Lodge
Coal Market, 3 Simon Square
During his stay, he attended the Grammar
School, which adjoined Kelso Abbey; the abbey ruins and its surrounding
graveyard served as an unusual form of playground. It was here that
he first befriended James Ballantyne, a local printer's son. Ballantyne
would later become Scott's business partner and publish many of
Scott's novels, an arrangement that ended with disastrous consequences.
Another of Scott's friends was Robert Waldie,
who resided at Hendersyde Park with his mother. The young Scott
spent many happy hours exploring their library and was apparently
free to borrow books from their collection at any time. In the autumn
of 1783, Scott left Kelso to enrol at Edinburgh's Old College.
During his time as a student and then as
a newly qualified lawyer, Scott was a frequent visitor to Kelso,
usually calling upon his uncle Robert who lived at Rosebank. At
the time, the house stood in countryside to the east of the town.
During these holidays Scott travelled widely throughout the Tweed
valley and beyond, gathering stories and songs, many of which featured
in his writing. One of the most famous characters in the district
was a wandering beggar named Andrew Gemmels, who had previously
been a dragoon for many years in the British Army. Local anecdotes
paint Gemmels as a figure known to all, able to stop at any house
and ask for food, shelter or a little money. It seems more than
a few were afraid of him, as he seems to have had a satirical, biting
wit. Scott seems to have known Gemmels fairly well, and immortalised
him as Edie Ochiltree, the celebrated gaberlunzie in 'The Antiquary'.
Andrew Gemmels died at the remarkable age of 106, and is buried
in the churchyard of Roxburgh parish church.
Lady Diana Scott, another relation, lived
at Woodbank house, now on the eastern outskirts of Kelso. It seems
'Lady Di', as she was known to many, did much to help her kinsman's
fledgling literary career by making introductions to those she thought
could assist him.
In later years, Scott's friend and printer
James Ballantyne built Walton Hall, a single storeyed fishing lodge
at the northern end of what is now Roxburgh Street in Kelso. Built
in Neoclassical style, the building has many elegant interior features,
such as engraved fingerplates on its doors, intricate chimney-pieces,
and a colonnaded dining room where guests would have been entertained.
Unfortunately, Ballantyne's health deteriorated and he died in 1821
before Walton Hall was completed.