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Sir Walter Scott and Kelso

Sir Walter Scott 250 anniversary logo

Kelso Heritage Society is pleased to be working alongside The Abbotsford Trust to celebrate the 250th anniversary of one of Scotland’s greatest writers, Sir Walter Scott. Events and items of interest around Kelso are described below, and details of events and activities across Scotland are described on the website.

Walter Scott’s Kelso – Heritage Trail

Kelso and District Amenity Society have created a walk around Kelso, visiting a number of places which Sir Walter Scott would have known. He was at school in Kelso, and his first printer was based in the town. The leaflet describing the walk, with a map, is available here to download.

Further details about Kelso and District Amenity Society are on the Kelso Connections Website.

Shop Displays

Still in early planning, but we hope that many of the shops in Kelso will build displays to celebrate the Sir Walter Scott 250 anniversary.

Beardie’s House, circa 1770. The home of Walter Scott’s great-grandfather. The building still stands, and is used as the stores for James Stewart & Sons.

Kelso, the most beautiful if not the most romantic…

From material provided by Christine Henderson

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in August 1771, the son of a lawyer, but his family’s roots lay in the Borders. They were descendants of the famous Reiver Wat Scott of Harden. Scott’s great grandfather, “Beardie” Scott a keen Jacobite, ended his days living in Kelso in the house overlooking the churchyard (now James Stewart & Sons works store) where he died in 1729. Walter Scott spent some of his early years near Smailholm, north of Kelso.

In 1779 Scott was in Edinburgh where he attended the High School, but his health was delicate and in 1783 he was sent back to the Borders, to be cared for by his Aunt Janet. She was by then living in “a small house situated very pleasantly in a large garden to the eastward of the churchyard of
Kelso, which extended down to the Tweed. It was then my father’s property …” It is now known as Waverley Lodge, at the corner of the Knowes. He attended Kelso Grammar School which stood roughly where the Abbey Row Centre is today. Here also he became friendly with one James
Ballantyne, the son of a local merchant, of whom more anon. He read enthusiastically any books he could get his hands on. One source was the library of Mrs Waldie of Hendersyde, whose family’s town house was Commercial House in Bridge Street.

His stay in Kelso also inspired him in other ways. “To this period also I can trace the awakening of that delightful feeling for the beauty of natural objects. The neighbourhood of Kelso, the most beautiful if not the most romantic village in Scotland ….The meeting of two superb rivers, the Tweed and the Teviot …the ruins of an ancient abbey, the more distant vestiges of Roxburgh Castle… From this time the love of natural beauty, more especially when combined with ancient ruins … became with me an insatiable passion.”

After completing his studies, and becoming a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1792, Walter Scott spent many holidays with his uncle Captain Robert Scott who retired from the sea and took up residence at Rosebank House in 1787. He spent his time on country pursuits, riding hunting and fishing, often with his friends, the Walker brothers from Wooden.

It was also during this time in his late teens that he had his first romantic encounter, with a local girl whom we know only as Jessie. She was apparently the daughter of a small trader in Kelso – and therefore rather down the social scale from young Walter Scott, gentleman and prospective advocate. Aware of the disapproval of both their families, they met up secretly and exchanged letters for a few months, and Scott wrote her poems in praise of her beauty.

Another important encounter was when he met up again with his old school friend James Ballantyne. In 1796 Ballantyne set up a new weekly newspaper, the Kelso Mail, with its office and print works in Bridge Street. In 1799 Ballantyne invited Scott to visit his works, with momentous results. Scott remarked that he was surprised Ballantyne did not get some book printing work to keep his presses busy all week. Ballantyne took up the idea and the result was Scott’s first printed work “Apology for Tales of Terror”, a limited production circulated to a few of his friends.

Following its success Scott suggested “I have been for years collecting old Border Ballads, and I think I could with little trouble put together such a selection …as might make a neat little volume …I will talk to some of the booksellers in Edinburgh and if the thing goes on you shall be the printer.” The result was the printing of “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” at the press in Bridge Street, Kelso, in 1802. It was a great success and marked the start of his career as a writer of poetry and later of novels. With Scott’s encouragement, Ballantyne moved his business to Edinburgh. He became the printer of all Scott’s works and for the rest of their lives the two men were friends and business partners.