Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

KELSO (surveyed in 1857)




Kelso is situated in the Scottish Borders in the old county of Roxburghshire, lying on the north bank of the River Tweed, near its junction with the River Teviot. The name Kelso means ‘Place of the Chalk Hill’ and is derived from the Old English words calc meaning chalk' and how or 'hill'. There is still a part of the town called ‘the chalkheugh'. Kelso was a church burgh in the early thirteenth century, associated with the Benedictine monastery in the town. After the Reformation and the dissolution of the monastery in 1545, Kelso became a burgh of barony in 1607. Like many Border towns, Kelso was often attacked or used as a garrison by one or other side in warfare between Scotland and England. In the census of 1851, the population of the town was 4,783. This was only an increase of about two hundred over the twenty years since 1831.


Town Planning

The town is laid out around a market square with the Townhouse at one end (sheet 25).



The ruins of the Benedictine abbey were one of the town’s main architectural attractions. In the mid-nineteenth century the north and south aisles remained standing although the nave and choir had been destroyed. Part of the abbey had been used as the parish church after the Reformation until the beginning of the nineteenth century when it became too ruinous. The new parish church was an unusual octagonal building originally built in 1773 and altered in 1823. The Townhouse was a large Italianate building with columns supporting a pediment.


Trade and Industry

Kelso, at this time, was predominantly a market town for the surrounding area, with regular markets for corn and other produce as well as more general fairs. The industry in the town was on a very small scale but varied, to supply the needs of the local market. Other industries in the town included tanning, the weaving of woollen and linen cloth, and the production of items as varied as hats, stockings, shoes, candles and tobacco.


Religious Life

The parish church had been enlarged several times at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There was also a Free Church, built in 1838, two United Presbyterian churches, a Reformed Presbyterian church, an Episcopal chapel, an Independent chapel and a Baptist chapel.



There were a number of schools in the town at this time, including two for girls and several religious schools. The public library, which was formed in 1750, had over 8,000 books by the middle of the nineteenth century. There were, in addition, two other libraries.



The Union Poorhouse for sixteen parishes was situated in Kelso, towards the north end of the town (sheet 20).


Culture and Society

A very active physical and antiquarian society was formed in the town in 1834 and had formed a museum several years later. Kelso was once described by Sir Walter Scott, the poet and novelist, as the 'prettiest, if not the most romantic village in Scotland'. Scott’s collection of border songs, Border Minstrelsy, was published  by James Ballantyne in Kelso in 1802-3. The poet Leyden, who lived in the area, wrote:


'Bosom’d in woods where mighty rivers run,

Kelso’s fair vale expands before the sun'





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website – Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/