John Forrest was born in Jedburgh, the youngest of three
sons of blacksmith William Forrest and Ann Wood. In 1809,
John’s eldest brother, George, helped their father to set
up a gunsmith’s business in Jedburgh and George’s sons
became gunsmiths in their turn.
John spent several years in the merchant navy. It was almost certainly during his years at sea that he began to think about and experiment with the making of fishing rods. In the early days, before previously unknown woods began to be imported from the colonies, fishing rods were home-made using local woods such as hazel, crab and juniper. John’s service overseas introduced him to exotic woods such as greenheart, lancewood and bamboo. Greenheart, grown in South America, was to become the most popular wood for rod making because it is so dense and heavy and one of the strongest woods known.
One great advantage was that it could be cut down to a very fine, but still strong tip. It also resists decay and was often used for repairing canal gates and piers.
In 1837, John and his brother George set up their fishing tackle business in Kelso Square, trading as Forrest & Sons. While George brought his gunmaking expertise to the tackle making side of the business, John’s true skills lay in the making of the rods. To begin with, every fishing rod that John sold was entirely his own making – from the sawing of the wood to its final completion. John’s reputation for fine craftsmanship spread through the British Empire and the firm became so successful that over 100 outworkers were employed. John was also a fine violin maker.
John’s youngest son, George, took over the business (two of his brothers and all three sisters had died young). He too, was a master rod maker and gunsmith. In 1886 George Forrest entered a competition for Fly Fishing and Greenheart Fishing Rods at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886 The firm was awarded two Gold and three Silver medals.
Forrest of Kelso still trades today from 1 Bridge Street Kelso.
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: John Forrrest