• Kelso Town Hall
    Celebrates 200 Years

Kelso Town Hall

Celebrates 200 Years
1816-2016

In this very special year for Kelso, Friends of Kelso Museum have researched the history of Kelso Town Hall and arranged a programme of events to commemorate the building of a new Town Hall 200 years ago.


A History of Kelso Town Hall

In 1806, a public subscription was organised to raise funds for a new town hall to replace the old tollbooth which had been demolished in or around 1798. The Duke of Roxburghe made significant donations both in money as well as in land. The fund raising took ten years.

In the late 18th Century the Tolbooth was described as old and ruinous. A painting of that period shows a three storeyed hip-roofed building with an arcaded ground floor & a tall steeple projecting from the front.

Finally in 1816 the foundation stone was laid and building work began.

The new building probably incorporated much of the stonework from the old tollbooth, although the town hall's present appearance is due to remodeling work carried out between 1902 and 1908. The two-storeyed building is rectangular on plan and had an arcaded ground floor, opened on market days for stall holders to sell grain and other farm produce. Like the old tollbooth, the floor above was entirely filled by a hall where the burgh court met. The town's trade incorporations also used the town hall for their meetings. The curfew bell, housed within an octagonal cupola was rung at the town hall at 8pm each evening.

Around 1841 a clock was inserted into the cupola, gifted by Alexander Purvis a native of Kelso. Some repair and restoration work was carried out in 1854.

During 1898 his Grace the Duke of Roxburgh indicated that he was willing to make over the Town Hall to the Burgh by means of a Feu Charter. The Feu Duty would be nominal and the only restrictions would be in favour of these Public Bodies who now have a right to use the Hall and whose interests would be preserved.

The following were said to have claims to use the Town Hall: The County Council of Roxburgh for Sheriff, Small Debt Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts. The Kelso District Committee of the County Council as representing the former Turnpike Road Trustees and Statute Labour Trustees; The Lord Lieutenant of the County for meetings regarding Lieutenancy business; The Kelso St John’s Lodge of Freemasons and the Kelso Gas Company for their Annual Meetings all on payment of rates set forth in a letter of 13th March 1893.

The Council now resolved by special order to acquire the building and to repair, alter and fit it up as a Public Hall and Court Room with Burgh Office and Council Chamber on the ground floor.

The lower part which was in the form of a Piazza had originally been used for selling grain and other farm produce on market days. However conditions had changed and latterly it seemed only to be used as a refuge on rainy days for “loafers and hangers on”. This was now to be filled in to form two Public Rooms.

Arrangements were finalised in 1902 for the taking over of the Town Hall. The renovating work was put in hand and continued for the next 6 years.

The Town Hall which is built of finely wrought ashlar is of a rectangular plan and having two storeys with twin hipped and slated roofs. The main front has a three bay pedimented centrepiece surmounted by an octagonal clock tower. The fenestration is regular and the round-headed ground-floor windows are recessed within the arches of the original open arcade.

The building’s present ornamented character with Gibbs surrounds around the first floor windows and an elaborate pedimented entrance-doorway is largely the result of work carried out by J.D. Swanston of Kirkcaldy in 1904-6.

At first-floor level the detached Ionic columns of the centrepiece were replaced by attached columns raised on pedestals linked by a balustrade. The wellhead balustrade was removed, and Gibbs surrounds were added to the round headed openings of the clock tower. The interior was also extensively remodelled and most of the original fittings were replaced. The first floor, reached by a staircase to the rear, incorporated the Council Chamber.

Delays in the restoration and refurbishment meant that the Town Hall was not reoccupied until 1908. The first meeting in the renovated Town Hall took place in January 1908. The Council now found themselves in a very comfortable and convenient meeting place, an amenity which they had not experienced before.

The Provost, James Melrose, said he had known the old Town Hall and could remember how uncomfortable it was.

The cost of the improvements amounted to £3000.

During the next 80 or so years the changes in local government administration resulted in several alterations to the interior of the building to the detriment of the appearance of the building. Finally in the late 1980’s a decision was taken once more to extensively restore and refurbish both the interior and exterior of the building.

Architects Aitken and Turnbull, Galashiels were appointed with the restoration work being carried out by J. Laidlaw and Son Jedburgh. The Council Chamber on the upper floor was completely restored and fitted out in the original manner. It is now used in the main by the Community Council for meetings.

The Burgh Room on the ground floor has been occupied by Visit Scotland since 1996 with the former Court Room being occupied by the Registrar. This later room retains the original oak panelling and fireplace from the 1904 refurbishment.

Bicentenary Celebrations

1798

Tolbooth demolished.

Kelso c 1790 courtesy of Stormonth Darling family

(Kelso circa 1790 courtesy of Stormonth Darling family)

In the late 18th century the Tolbooth was described as old and ruinous. A three storeyed hip-roofed building with an arcaded ground floor and a tall steeple projecting from the front.

1806

Public subscription organised to raise funds to build a new Town Hall, the Duke of Roxburghe made significant contributions both in money and land. Fund raising took 10 years.

1816

Foundation stone laid. Cost of Stone £24.3/3d

Kelso c 1790 courtesy of Stormonth Darling family

(Kelso early 19th Century)

The new building probably incorporated much of the stonework from the old tollbooth. The two-storeyed building is rectangular on plan and had an arcaded ground floor, opened on market days for stall holders to sell grain and other farm produce. Like the old tollbooth, the floor above was entirely filled by a hall where the burgh court met.

1841

Clock inserted in Cupola. Gifted by Kelso born Alexander Purvis who was an imminent Clock Maker based in London.

1854

Repair and restoration work carried out.

1898

Discussion opened by the Duke of Roxburghe to make over the Town Hall to the burgh by Feu Duty.

1902

Arrangement finalised. Renovations started and continued for 6 years. The cost of the work amounted to £3,000.00

1908

First meeting of the Council took place in the renovated Town Hall in January 1908.

1913

Dinner held in the Town Hall to mark the Centenary of Border Union Show.

1972

Reorganisation of Local Government commenced.

1975

Community Council formed. Last Town Council meeting held.

1975-6

Council Room converted in to offices.

1993

Restoration and renovation of entire building commenced. Council Room restored.

1996

Visit Scotland occupied a ground floor room to the right of the front entrance. Registrar occupied the ground floor room to the left of the building.

2016

Bicentenary