Hawick’s James Wilson statue now in new home under shelter

Councillor George Turnbull at the James Wilson statue at Tower Mill, Hawick.
Councillor George Turnbull at the James Wilson statue at Tower Mill, Hawick.

A marble sculpture depicting one of Hawick’s most famous sons has finally found a new home not so far from his original home.

The 12ft-high tribute to James Wilson, founder of the Economist magazine, was created by Edinburgh sculptor John Steell in 1865, and until 2017 it took pride of place in the weekly publication’s old head office in London.

When the magazine moved premises, it was gifted to Hawick and took up residence in the town outside Tower Knowe in August 2017.

In December of that year, however, the statue was damaged, with two fingertips from its right hand found to be missing.

In a bid to protect it from further incidents of vandalism or accidental damage, it never having been established which was to blame, Hawick’s common good fund sub-committee began looking for an alternative location.

It was initially thought that moving it inside the town’s heritage hub at Kirkstile was the best option.

Council officers ruled out a move there, though, as its floors’ load-bearing capabilities were inadequate because of the building’s under-floor heating.

Now the sculpture has taken up residence instead on the outside of the building, under the external canopy to the right of its entrance.

Its positioning is appropriate too as it looks across to High Street, Wilson’s 1805 birthplace.

That’s certainly the view of Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull.

“I definitely think this is a better site for James Wilson as he is positioned to be looking along to his place of birth on the High Street,” he said.

“The site had to be checked to ensure the weight of the statue could be coped with as other sites that were considered could not.

“The civic space, what with the heritage hub and the Borders clans statue, the bull monument and the open seated area, all complement each other to make this an interesting part of the town for locals and visitors alike.”

Fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer added: “Its new location should provide good protection from all elements.

“We will now progress repairs to the broken fingers and arrange to have it cleaned.

“This new location is excellent and continues to provide a line of sight towards his High Street home, which was one of the reasons for its initial placement at Tower Knowe.

“I am sure James will have a happy existence at his new heritage hub home.”

An original option to put glass casing around the statue, to protect it from vandals was dropped as that part of town is covered by CCTV cameras.

Wilson, born in Hawick in 1805, was a businessman and a politician.

He founded the Economist in 1843, as well as the now-defunct Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China in 1853.

He was later sent by Queen Victoria to India to establish a new paper currency and reconfigure the country’s finance system following the rebellion of 1857.

He died a year later in Calcutta of dysentery at the age of 55, leaving a wife and six daughters.