Kelso bad boy made good given street name honour

A Kelso man who vandalised a local drinking fountain when a youngster and escaped punishment by fleeing to London is to be honoured by having a street in the town named after him, writes Mark Entwistle.

However, before local residents start frothing at the mouth at the thought of such irresponsible folly, it should be made clear that the young man in question was James Dickson, who ran away to sea in the early 18th century before making his fortune in the spice and tobacco trades.

Kelso-based building firm, M & J Ballantyne, had been seeking suggestions for a street name for its new development of houses in the Broomlands area of the town.

It was Scottish Borders councillor Tom Weatherston who, after reading a book about Dickson’s adventures, suggested to this month’s meeting of the town’s community council, that the street should be named after Dickson in recognition of his achievements.

“I think that is a good suggestion,” agreed Provost Fiona Scott, with support from fellow community councillors. Councillor Weatherston told TheSouthern this week that the late Audrey Mitchell’s book on Dickson had been the inspiration behind his call to honour him.

“Her book is very interesting and that’s why I suggested naming a street after him – I was actually surprised it had not been done before,” Councillor Weatherston said.

Born in 1712 in Stichill, just outside Kelso, saddler’s apprentice Dickson had run away to sea at the tender age of just 11 after breaking the pantwell, then situated in Kelso square.

In later years in London, he began trading and importing goods, mainly spices, and was also involved with tobacco plantations in America.

After making his fortune, Dickson returned to his native Kelso considerably wealthier than when he left. To celebrate his success, he built what is now the Ednam House Hotel, but was originally christened Havannah House, in 1761.

Dickson spared no expense on his lavish new home, employing architect James Nisbet, who had also supervised the construction of Paxton House, near Duns.

Plastering master craftsman Joseph Rose executed the building’s fine Italian-style plaster ceilings, while others were hired to produce exquisite carved doors, fireplaces and stonework.

As well as Ednam House Hotel, other reminders of Dickson’s impact on Kelso remain, including the Cross Keys Hotel, Havannah Court and Drying House Lane – the latter a reminder of his successful experimental business growing tobacco on the banks of the Tweed.

When Dickson had returned to Kelso he brought with him his freed Negro headman and set him up to grow tobacco alongside the Tweed.

Historical records show this proved a successful enterprise which was only apparently ended by the underhanded tactics of tobacco-importing families in Glasgow after the American War of Independence ended and previously embargoed shipments resumed.

After Dickson’s death, Havannah House had a number of different owners until, in 1928, it was purchased by Kelso baker, Ralph Brooks, and turned into a hotel.

Today, after more than 80 years, Ralph and Anne Brooks are the fourth generation of the Brooks family to own and run the Ednam House Hotel.