Melrose’s doll in the wall enjoys a facelift

George McDonald and Cameron Shand with the dolls head in the wall at Melrose.
George McDonald and Cameron Shand with the dolls head in the wall at Melrose.

A once-familiar face has made a welcome return to Melrose this month, creating a bit of a nostalgic stir among residents.

Some eagle-eyed passers-by seeing the wall surrounding St Mary’s School have welcomed back a tiny doll’s head first put in place back in the 1960s.

The new doll's head in place.

The new doll's head in place.

The mysterious part-figure disappeared from sight long ago after the porcelain head perished away to almost nothing, but a fresh-faced equivalent has taken its place, thanks to a builder inspired after hearing tales of the so-called doll’s head wall.

Cameron Shand, 46, was repairing the wall bordering the school at the foot of High Street earlier this month, when he came across what’s left of the old doll’s head.

“I was repairing the wall at St Mary’s School when a few locals, including Jane Swanston, came up to me and said there used to be a doll’s head in the wall and that it was a vivid memory from their childhood,” the self-employed father of two said.

“She pointed out to me where it was the following day.

“When I was repairing the wall, I chipped it out, and it was a doll’s head, right enough.

“All that was left was its outline as it had been a rubbery doll.

“A few people when I was working there stopped and mentioned it.

“I don’t remember the original head being there, and I’ve lived in Melrose all my life, but it seemed important to a lot of folk so I thought it would be nice to put one back.

“A quick visit to a charity shop later and the new head was in.”

Cameron posted a photo of the reinstated doll on the Melrose in Time Facebook page claiming there was “a weel-kent face back in Melrose”.

He added: “I got loads of responses back.

“It really jogged people’s memories, which is really nice.”

The photo prompted such a huge reaction that townsfolk were able to track down the original builder who planted the doll’s head, George McDonald, now living in Blairgowrie.

George, 87, told us: “I was repairing quite a substantial part of that wall back in 1962.

“I can’t remember how I came to build the doll’s face into the wall, but I think I brought it from home, if I mind right.

“I never dreamt someone would come across it now.”

George lived in Darnick at the time and worked for N Galloway’s builders. He left Melrose, with his wife Anne, in 1971 to work overseas in Rhodesia before retiring to Pertshire, but he says he always made time for a visit to the doll on his trips home.

And his visit home this month, for a friend’s wedding anniversary, proved the ideal chance to meet Cameron and the new addition to the wall.

“I am so pleased someone has replaced it. It’s a real memory, and it certainly lasted a long time,” he said.

“When I used to come back from overseas, if I was in Melrose I always used to go down and have a look at the doll’s head.”

“I’m just delighted Cameron thought to save the original and replace it. It’s a lovely thing do to.

“It was such a long time ago, but I always wondered whether the St Mary’s School children from that time gave the doll a name. I hope so, but who knows.”

A stone displaying the initials G McD, JG, RR and WW was also uncovered within the wall. One initial is George’s, and the others are thought to belong to Jim Galloway, Will Wood and either Robbie Riddle or Robert Redpath, other builders who worked on the wall at the time.

A flurry of theories about how the doll came to be have been shared online, including one suggesting “strong encouragement” from Drew Patterson.

What is left of the original head has been presented to St Mary’s School headmaster Liam Harvey for safekeeping.