Volunteers required to bring 18th-century Kelso back to life

Sarah Chapman, education and outreach assistant with some of the ledgers from early 19th century Kelso which are being indexed at the Heritage Hub, Hawick.
Sarah Chapman, education and outreach assistant with some of the ledgers from early 19th century Kelso which are being indexed at the Heritage Hub, Hawick.

The Heritage Hub in Hawick has made an appeal for volunteers to help transcribe a major archive of 18th century documents relating to Kelso.

The collection was originally bound for Yale University in America, but was saved and has found a permanent home in the Borders after a fundraising campaign involving the local community, the Heritage Lottery fund and Scottish Borders Council.

The documents have been in the Hub’s possession since the centre opened in 2007, but the mammoth task of transcribing them to create a comprehensive database for visitors to access has just begun.

Sarah Chapman, education and outreach assistant at the Hub, explained: “We really wanted to open up and share this collection as it provides so many clues and glimpses into Kelso’s past that still connect with the town today.

“This is a real treasure trove of information on people and businesses.

“We have evidence from trades as diverse as druggists, skinners and bookbinders, and we know about the goods people bought and the prices they paid. There is also information about customers and the tools, skills and stock-in-trade of the shops.”

A handful of volunteers from Friends of Kelso Museum and UA3 have begun the transcription, but more volunteers are welcomed by the Hub.

“The work of volunteers will make the collection more accessible to the public as a resource for schools as well as family and local historians,” said Ms Chapman.

The collection consists of 34 boxes of manuscripts featuring high-profile historical figures such as the Dukes and Earls of Roxburghe and documents relating to Floors Castle.

Other papers shed light on local businesses, politics, the Kelso Mail newspaper, the Cross Keys Hotel, the poor, the local militia, the police and the fire brigade.

The documents are thought to derive from John & William Smith, later known as Smith and Robson, firm of Bridge Street writers (solicitors) no longer in existence.

Kelso schools have already viewed documents relating to their town and its rich history as a basis for learning projects and this will be enhanced when the databased is completed.

Ms Chapman is encouraging budding historians to get involved in the project.

She said: “The process of transcribing the archives is an opportunity to get really close to the records, and get to know the people and stories hidden within them. It’s fun and rewarding, and a chance to work directly with real historical sources.

“This new archival resource will benefit the local community, giving an overall view of the Kelso of the 18th century and how its people and businesses interacted with each other.

“From the records in the Kelso archive, we’re able to connect with the people and events that made Kelso the town it is today.”

To volunteer, contact the Heritage Hub at, archives@scotborders.gov.uk.