VIDEO: Sweetest statue in Galashiels now unveiled

The lullaby Ally Bally Bee is popular throughout the world, but few people know it is based on an advertising jingle for a 19th century Galashiels sweetseller.

Robert Coltart was certainly a colourful character in the town, a former millworker who decided to go out on his own to sell his own brand of sweets, dressed in colourful garb and a stovepipe hat.

Sculptor Anglea Hunter and folk singer Jimmie Macgregor, who made the song famous, were there for the unveiling of the Robert Coltart statue.

Sculptor Anglea Hunter and folk singer Jimmie Macgregor, who made the song famous, were there for the unveiling of the Robert Coltart statue.

Children used to flock to his side when he sang his couthy song, but he fell foul of locals and sweetshop owners, even appearing in court after getting into scuffles.

But were it not for the song being catchy enough to work its way down through the decades – passed between parents and their children – and being made popular by Jimmie Macgregor and Robin Hall, he might well have been forgotten.

Indeed, the musical duo’s performances on telly in the 1950s proved so popular the song spread around the world, with many singing the line “to buy some Coulter’s Candy” without knowing its orignal source.

However, it was tracked down to Galashiels by a Japanese documentary crew in the late 1990s, and that is when Graeme McIver’s interest in the confectioner began.

He, and fellow local historian Mary Craig, started to look at ways of commemorating Coltart in his home town, and his enthusiasm attracted other individuals and organisations to the idea.

For Scottish Borders Council and Energise Galashiels it was a chance to attract visitors to the town, and for individuals, it became a mission to bring the story of the largely forgotten Borderer to life.

And on Friday, the impressive effigy, complete with tray of sweeties and that huge hat, was unveiled in the town’s Market Square, just along from Coltart’s former home in Overhaugh Street.

See our gallery of photographer Brian Sutherland’s photos of the event here
Sculptor Angela Hunter said: “I am delighted to finally see Robert Coltart returned to his home-town.

“It has been a fantastic project to work on with the council, Energise Galashiels Trust and the local community.

“I worked closely with local historians to try to ensure the finished sculpture reflected the descriptions of Robert from the time, as well as his flamboyant character.

“I am looking forward to adding the two further sculptures of a girl and a boy to complete the piece.”

Musician Mr Macgregor was also speaking at the event.

He said: “We could never have dreamt the song would have come to this level of fame.

“It was just another wee folk song, but because it was related to this particular man at that particular time, it’s just become huge here.

“I think Angela has done a fantastic job on the sculpture.”

Mr McIver thanked all those who came together to ensure the project reached fruitition, adding: “It’s a life-sizedstatue to a larger-than-life character, a man who would have been very much of his time.”

A call to find descendants of Robert Coltart found many – and over 30 of them attended the unveiling.

One, Anne Reid, said: “He was the brother of my great-great-grandfather and my mother told me of the link to the song. It does feel weird to see an ancestor in this way, but it is great to meet the other relations.”

Dumfries-born Coltart died in 1880 at the age of 47 due to a brain tumour.