Clock ticking for Kelso burials as site is probed for ancient artefacts

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THE race is on to provide Kelso with a new cemetery before the present one, at Rosebank, is full, as an archaelogical investigation has been called for at the proposed site.

The search for a suitable site has gone on for five years, but councillors will hear next week that lairs at Rosebank will be exhausted in less than 12 months.

The only other burial ground in the town, the Abbey churchyard, has been full for many years.

Earlier attempts by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) to acquire suitable land in and around Kelso drew a blank and in 2008 it made the bold decision to agree to the principle of using compulsory purchase powers to acquire new burial space where negotiations for the purchase of sites failed.

Step forward George Miller who farms just north of Kelso.

Mr Miller has offered 1.7 hectares of undulating agricultural land just to the east of the B6461 road to Ednam and the house known as Ferneyhill Toll. The land, opposite the racecourse, is bound to the north and west by hedgerows with a stone wall running along the southern boundary.

The site fits SBC’s criteria, being capable of hosting 2,200 lairs – enough to last nearly a century at current burial rates – while, although just outside the Kelso boundary, being sufficiently close to the town.

The shortage of burial space is not confined to Kelso and smaller sites in the region with less than five years of capacity include Bowden, Newcastleton and Earlston.

In 2005, the shortage of burial space provoked a study into the feasibility of the region having its own crematorium.

Bristol-based Westerleigh obtained planning consent over a year ago to build one at Wairds Cemetery near Melrose.

The firm’s operations director Adrian Britton said recently he expected groundworks to get under way this spring, with completion expected by the end of the year.

On Monday, SBC’s planning committee will be asked to give full planning consent to its own council for the Ferneyhill Toll cemetery.

However, a potential stumbling block has been highlighted in a report to the meeting by SBC’s archeology officer Dr Christopher Bowles.

He points out that buried archaeology associated with the medieval St Leonard’s Hospital was likely to be on the site and that test drills he oversaw a year ago had revealed the truncated remains of a wall.

He recommends that Headland Archaelology undertakes an archaeological evaluation of the site before any work takes place.

“It is desirable to afford a reasonable opportunity to record the history of the site,” Dr Bowles says.

The first mention of a hospital serving Ednam comes during the 12th century reign of William the Lion.

The master of the hospital is recorded as receiving various payments in the first half of the 14th century, at the end of which it was a wedding present from King Robert III to his sister and her husband, John Edmondstoune.

The Edmondstounes remained as patrons for the next 250 years and the hospital was referred to as both St Leonard’s and St Lawrence’s. The hospital, which Dr Bowles believes may have had dormitories, a chapel and a graveyard, is thought to have finally succumbed to the ravages of the invading English in the mid-16th century.

Dr Bowles’ concerns apart, there are no formal objections to the plans which include provision for 49 parking spaces with access via gates on the B6461. The work will be phased with 988 lairs on 0.84 hectares representing the first phase.

Kelso Amenity Society has questioned the proposed design of a pavilion providing toilet facilities, a waiting area and a place of quiet contemplation for mourners. The SBC plans envisage a building of natural masonry and glass with a timber screen and metal sheet roof.

“We welcome the provision of a new cemetery for Kelso which is urgently needed, but we are anxious economic constraints should not result in an inferior design,” writes the society’s secretary.

“The proposed pavilion is soulless, utilitarian… and looks done on the cheap”.