Melrose - Looking Back From The Seventies
A New Scottish Book Available On The History of Melrose
The following is an extract from the newly published book written by the late Ex-Provost William Lawrie in which he recorded the history of most shops and buildings in the town.
The building next to Buccleuch House was for many years a telephone exchange until Melrose went automatic. Now comes the Post Office. Some of the postmen were very well known, such as Adam Scott. I daresay many people never even knew his other name. He was always just "Adam, the post". Another postman, Mr Hewie, after a lifetime of service, retired as head postman and lives with his daughter, a retired hospital matron, at Hawick. Then there was Jim Gill of Newstead. I remember, as a small boy, being taken to visit Edinburgh Castle and there, on the esplanade, was a squadron of the Imperial Yeomanry preparing to depart for the South African War and I was very thrilled to have pointed out to me Trooper Jim Gill of Melrose. Jim was a tailor with J.B. but, being badly wounded in the hands in the Second World War, had to find another job. George Gordon, killed in World War One with K.O.S.B., was known as the "country postman", delivering letters by hand to outlying farms etc and walking many miles every day. The Gordon family were very well known Melrose people. Mr Gordon was one of Hamilton's char-a-banc drivers and the family of about eight children lived in that small cottage opposite the now demolished white house at the top of Dingleton. The accommodation would not now be considered sufficient for the present standards of an old person's house but Phemie, the eldest daughter, will simply not move, in spite of the offer of other accommodation. Phemie was very knowledgeable about old Melrose affairs and quite often, where there was a doubt about some event which we couldn't quite remember, we simply said, "we'll ask Phemie, she'll know".
Another son, Jim, was very well known as "Piper" Gordon, lived at Newstead and was always very much in demand at Burn's Suppers for his rendering of "Tam O'Shanter" There was also John Gordon, a very well known employee of Johnstone & Aitchison, still cycling about at a sprightly eighty-five. He was at one time one of the best known canary breeders in the south of Scotland, winning many awards at bird shows. John served with the K.O.S.B., mostly in the Near East. I once asked him about his war experiences against the Turks but the only answer I could get was that at times it was "gey coorse". His son, Jim, joined up with a Highland regiment at the beginning of the '39 War and continued to serve after the war and retired as Major.
On the other side of the road, opposite the Post Office, there was the plumber's yard of Charlie Jardine, followed in turn by "Peter" Dodds, a Gallipoli veteran, and one of the original 4th K.O.S.B. machine gun section. Why "Peter" I don't know because his name is John. At present it is occupied by Mr Rutherford, the plumber.
Next is the building with an unreadable inscription on its wall. This building was in use as the Congregational Church in 1841 and from Dick's Close the original church type windows can be seen. On the ground floor are two shops, one at present a watch-makers, was originally the showrooms of Tait Brothers, well known house painters of Galashiels. I don't know if they still exist but they were very well known in their day for being almost unnecessarily particular in their first class work. George Hope Tait, a partner of the firm, was very well known in the Borders and the Melrose War Memorial scroll, which was given to every man who served or to the relations of the fallen, was designed by him. A copy of this scroll hangs in the Ormiston Institute Reading Room. The other shop has had various occupants and is at present the showrooms for a manufacturing under taking located in the Abbey Mill. I knew it first as a bootmaker's shop occupied by a Mr Atkinson. After the '14 War it was occupied by a Mr Willie Sharp. Mr Sharp served his apprenticeship as a joiner but, after making the unequal exchange of a leg for a Military Medal, he had to change his job and ran a very successful business as a bootmaker.
Across Dick's close the corner shop is the "Border Galleries". It was once showroom and business premises of a Mr Robert MacDonald who employed quite a large staff of cabinet makers and upholsterers. When Mr MacDonald retired, two of his employees, John Aitchison and Robert Johnstone took over and for a good many years ran a very successful business. Both, however, died in the early ‘50s. John Aitchison was Provost of Melrose for nine years. His eldest son was killed in a tragic motor accident when returning from an international match at Twickenham.
This business was carried on for a time by George Aitchison, the younger son, but he decided to take up an appointment with the Ministry of Works and so the business was wound up. Next to them was a saddler's shop, occupied by a well-known Melrose personality, Robbie Butler, and later by a Mr Gibson, but with increasing motor transport, the demand for harness and saddlery grew less and with the death of Mr Gibson the premises reverted to a private dwellinghouse which was later occupied by Mr & Mrs Johnny Hamilton when the Abbey Hotel was demolished. On the other side of the road was the house and shop of Johnny Pringle, a grocer, who eventually retired and built that house known as Douglas Cottage on Weirhill Brae. Johnny Pringle was succeeded by a Mr Beveridge who served for a term as Provost and retired to the house on Waverley Road known as Riverslea. Still as a grocery and wine merchant's shop the business was carried on by Johnny Wood, once the manager of Paterson's, a very well known Melrose figure, particularly on the bowling green where his antics after playing a shot were such that it was almost an entertainment to watch him playing.