Kelso squares up to a pantwell and a cross

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KELSO Square it seems is an atmospheric expanse of Georgian space just begging to be filled.

A mooted market cross and now a pantwell could soon be features in the cobbled vacuum, which has stood unadorned save a few flower beds and the bull ring for the last several centuries.

Both were discussed at Kelso Community Council.

The Sainsbury’s-funded £40,000 piece of art – currently at the design stage in the hands of Morebattle artist Paul Grimes – is a modern market cross incorporating themes of the town. So far its suggested resting place is the Square, but the cross and its location will be the subject of further consultation.

However, according to Kelso Chamber of Trade chairman Bruce Roberts, the piece of art and the questionnaire Mr Grimes had used to collect information about the town had been the subject of concern at a recent stakeholders group meeting.

“People didn’t understand the information-gathering system the artist had put in place, they were concerned that the design was a fait accompli and they want a say in that and in where it goes,” he told us.

The art project has been included in the work of the stakeholders’ group which is being consulted by Scottish Borders Council on traffic management and the Townscape Heritage Initiative which is aimed at making improvements in Kelso town centre.

And Mr Grimes will be reporting to the group’s next meeting next month.

Mr Roberts said: “I imagine a lot of people don’t understand his process but I think we should respect it, We will know more in May.”

Provost Fiona Scott asked that the question of the cross’s design and location be raised at the meeting.

She said: “The design is up to the artist, we’ve got to trust he knows what he’s doing, but the location should go out to public consultation.”

The subject was being talked about said Scottish Borders Councillor Tom Weatherston: “I’ve had a lot of feedback from local groups. They are not against a market cross per se, it’s the location in the middle of Kelso Square.

“We may have to ask the public if they want a cross in the square. To change the Square drastically after hundreds of years without asking the townspeople whether they want it or not would be wrong.”

Meanwhile, ex-Kelso Laddie Michael Ballantyne is seeking ideas to mark the 75th anniversary of his family’s business, Kelso builders M and J Ballantyne. Councillor Weatherston said thatso far, he’s come up with an idea to replace the pantwell (drinking fountain) that once stood in the Square.

The orginal pantwell was broken in 1723 by one James Dickson, then an 11-year-old who fled the town, made his fortune as a merchant, returned to build the Cross Keys Hotel and Havannah House which later became the Ednam House Hotel.

Scottish Borders Councillor Tom Weatherston said: “Mike’s come up with the idea, he’s not said ‘this is what we are doing’. He’s asking the Kelso Amenity Society what they think.”

Fellow Scottish Borders Councillor Alec Nicol suggested the pantwell could be a fountain of knowledge, an information spot with a touch screen.

Provost Fiona Scott suggested the community council be guided by the local amenity society.

And Councillor Weatherston commented: “If I was to pin my colours to a mast I’d prefer the pantwell.”