James Dickson was born in Stichell, the son of a tenant
farmer. Aged about fourteen, young James was apprenticed
to a saddler in Kelso. However, he seems to have been a
high spirited and mischievous young man for he vandalised
the Town Well in the Square, (according to one version by
polluting it with a dead cat), then fled the town to escape
The details of his subsequent career are somewhat obscure but by 1739 he was living in London where he carved out a very successful career as a merchant. It is likely that among his activities he was a prize agent dealing with the sale of ships captured during the wars with France and Spain. (At that time enemy ships and their contents were sold and the spoils shared by the men who had captured them.) He probably also did very well from the capture of Havannah in Cuba in 1762, as he would later name his house after this event.
In the 1760’s James Dickson returned to his native town, now an extremely wealthy man. He immediately began to acquire land in the district including an area beside the River Tweed, between Oven Wynd and the Old Bridge. Here he built himself a handsome town house - Havannah House - employing as his architect one James Nisbet, also a native of Kelso but with a practice in London. He also bought a number of properties in the Square where he had the Cross Keys Hotel erected. Further afield he bought the barony of Broughton near Peebles, and he became Member of Parliament. for a Scottish Burghs seat.
In 1765 James Dickson bought the barony of Ednam from the last of the Edmonstone lairds. Thereafter he styled himself Dickson of Ednam and his house in Kelso was renamed Ednam House. As laird he was an enthusiastic improver, draining and enclosing land, building a water powered mill for making woollen cloth, and encouraging the setting up of a brewery business. The village of Ednam was rebuilt, the houses being roofed with pantiles or slates, and its main street is still today as Dickson planned it. His most ambitious project - for a canal from Kelso to Berwick to allow for the easier export of local produce - was never achieved. He was unable to raise the enthusiasm, or the money, from other local landowners and the plan came to nothing. He died in 1771, aged just 59.
Find out about the contribution people from Kelso have made through the ages. Biographies of characters with Kelso connections who have made their mark throughout the world.View Storyboard: James Dickson