Selkirk (surveyed in 1865)


Selkirk is in the Ettrick Forest, on the east bank of the River Yarrow. It is now in the Borders, but at the time of the survey was classified as being in Selkirkshire.

The name Selkirk means 'church by the hall'. It is derived from the Old English words sele meaning 'hall' or 'manor house' and cirice or 'church', which became the Scots word kirk. It was recorded as Selechirche in 1124.

In the twelfth century there was a royal forest and hunting lodge, or small castle, at Selkirk and, in 1113, Prince David (later David I) gave land for a Benedictine abbey there. A few years later the monks moved to Kelso. The settlement, which had grown up beside the castle and the abbey, was made into a royal burgh, possibly as early as the thirteenth century although the earliest surviving charter dates to 1535.

Selkirk has been linked to many events in the troubled history of the Scottish Borders, but it is best known for its part in the battle of Flodden in 1513. Seventy-nine of the eighty men mustered from Selkirk were killed in the battle when the Scots king, James IV, was heavily defeated by the English army. Later, the English burnt the town to the ground.

The population was 3,314 in 1851, an increase on twenty years earlier in 1831 when the total was 1,880.

Town Planning

The core of the town was almost triangular, bisected by the market place and High Street. One of the main roads leading out of the town ran almost parallel to the river on the west of the town. At this period the industrial development of the town was very dependant of water and water power, so the factories lay alongside the river. A branch line railway lay on the opposite side of the river from the main town.


By this time there were no traces of the short-lived abbey and it is probable that few, if any, stone buildings had been erected in the short time the monks were in Selkirk. Wilson, writing in 1857, also says that no traces of the castle were identifiable in the mid-nineteenth century.

Trade and Industry

Selkirk had formerly been famous for shoe making but by the time of the survey the main industries of the town were based around woollen manufacture. The industrial, factory production of woollen cloth had been introduced to the town around 1836. By the time of the survey, there were three large mills beside the river (sheets 12, 22, 31) and related features such as the ‘tenters’ where the woven cloth was stretched to dry (sheets12, 22, 31).


The area around Selkirk is hilly with much pasture suitable for sheep to supply the woollen industry.

Religious Life

In the mid-nineteenth century, Selkirk had a Church of Scotland parish church (sheet 31), two United Presbyterian churches (sheets 31,32), a Free church (sheet 32) and chapels for the Evangelical Union and for the Scottish Episcopalians.


At this period there appear to have been three schools, the parish school, the burgh school and a charity school.

Culture and Society

The town had a number of societies, including a choral society, a horticultural society, a forest club, a farmers’ club and sports clubs for bowling, cricket and curling.

The writer Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was sheriff in Selkirk from 1803 until his death in 1832. The famous explorer, Mungo Park (1771-1806), who tried to find the course of the River Niger, was also born near the town.

Jane (Jean) Elliot (1727-1805) wrote the poem The Flowers of the Forest in reference to the Selkirk losses at the battle of Flodden: