Greenlaw Village

History of Greenlaw

Old Greenlaw Town Hall

The unveiling of the war memorial at the front of the Town Hall

Today’s Greenlaw is a small village, nestling just south of the Lammermuir hills on the A697, less significant on the map than neighbouring Duns, Kelso, Coldstream and Melrose. There is perhaps, little to suggest that this village was once the County Town of Berwickshire. Until, that is, you stumble across the magnificent Town Hall.

Greenlaw was first made County Town of Berwickshire in 1596, and was the first town to take on this role since the English took Berwick in 1482. At this time Greenlaw was situated about a mile south of the present village, in an area now known as Old Greenlaw.

In 1661 County Town status was lost to Duns by an Act of Parliament. But when Patrick, Earl of Marchmont attained the barony of Greenlaw in the 1670’s, he made it his business to restore what he saw as the rights and privileges that came with the barony. In 1696 he succeeded: an Act of Parliament was passed, laying down in statute that the town of Greenlaw should be the Head Burgh of Berwickshire. It was around this time that the Greenlaw of the present day was founded.

However, attempts were made in 1739, 1790 and 1810 to take the rights and privileges from Greenlaw and make Duns County Town once more. Though unsuccessful in their primary aim, the grounds were laid for an 1853 Act authorising Sheriff and Commissary Courts to be held at Duns. This was the beginning of the end for Greenlaw as a County Town. Though little came of a renewed attempt in 1889, office buildings and police cells were built in Duns to prepare for the desired take-over. Finally, in 1903, a bill first introduced by the Secretary for Scotland in 1900 was passed, causing Greenlaw to lose its status the following year as County Town of Berwickshire once and for all.

History of Greenlaw Town Hall

Greenlaw Town Hall was erected in 1829 as the new County Buildings and Court House. The Hall was paid for by Sir William Purves Hume Campbell, Earl of Marchmont: he had initially offered to contribute half of the total cost, but ended up paying the whole lot due to a disagreement surrounding the final cost. The foundation stone was laid by Sir David Milne Home in the presence of a large crowd, with Royal Arch Masonic honours, on August 4th 1829. The building was completed in the winter of 1831, at a total cost of £6,500.

In 1904, when Greenlaw lost its County Town status, the Hall having served less than a century as Town Hall, was put to use as a village hall. During the Second World War Polish Troops were billeted there. After the war the hall was used as a community centre once again. Threatened with demolition in the 1960’s the Hall passed into the hands of trustees, under whose care it has enjoyed an unusual few decades, being made use of as a swimming pool, housing an antiques sale room, and holding youth clubs and social events. In the 1990’s the Hall was put on the Buildings at Risk Register. Use of the Hall declined, partly due to its state of repair, and it has lain largely unused since 2001.

Poles in Greenlaw

During the Second World War Polish Troops were billeted at Greenlaw Town Hall. A recently published booklet on Polish soldiers in the Borders records the prevailing and fond memories in the area of the Poles who lived with them in Greenlaw between 1942 and 1944. Photographs survive of Polish troops playing football on the green surrounding the Hall. They contributed a great deal to village life, and many married local girls and settled in and around the Borders.

In the nearby town of Duns, a memorial to the soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Polish Armoured Division who died in the war was erected in 1981. In the mid 1990’s, locals took action to twin Duns with the Polish town Zagan, further strengthening the links between Poland and the Scottish Borders.

It is estimated that there were 50,000 or more Polish soldiers stationed in Scotland during the Second World War. This is not so far off the estimated 40,000 Poles living in Scotland today.

For more information on the history of Greenlaw, please see ‘An Old Berwickshire Town: History of the Town and Parish of Greenlaw, From the Earliest Times to the Present Day’, by Robert Gibson; Oliver & Boyd, London and Edinburgh, 1905

Also see, ‘Polish Soldiers in the Borders: 1942 – The Present Day’, by Brigid McEwan; Duns & District Twinning Association, 2006


The following observations and statistics were extracted from the 1881 Census of Greenlaw which I have recently transcribed as part of a countrywide project.

The population of the Parish was 1,245 with 744 living in the town.

Some of the occupations not seen today were 2 Weavers, 2 Woollen Warpers, 2 Woollen Spinners and a Wool Dyer. They would be working at what was once the Waukrigg Mill, which was situated in the area now occupied by Fairbairn Court.

There was 9 Blacksmiths, 1 Tin smith, 3 Slaters and 2 Thatchers, the latter being Robert and Peter Lamb. This shows that the folks in Greenlaw were getting round to putting slates on their roofs but still needed the services of a Thatcher.

Some occupations show the number of small businesses run from home. There was no need to venture to Duns or Kelso in those days, everything one needed was bought in Greenlaw. 6 Tailors and 2 Apprentice Tailors, 2 Milliners, Jane Cochrane and Elizabeth Clark, 1 Clothier - Robert Gibson, There was 3 Shoemakers, James Whitelock at 5 Mill Wynd, George Common at 5 East Green and William Stark at 6 East High Street. A saddler was always in demand and he was Peter Cockburn at 1 High Street. 12 Dressmakers worked from home and a Staymaker, a Margaret Mauchline living in 4 Mill Wynd!

There would be keen competition with 8 Grocers, plus Henry Fergus in 19 High Street as a Grocer, Wine & Merchant dealer. Henry Miller was Draper & Postmaster at 21 High Street. The 3 Bakers in residence were Robert Alcorn, James Tait and Thomas Borthwick. The Miller providing the flour for the village was Andrew Renton. The 2 Butchers were Andrew Purvcs living and working from 24 East of Green and George Rogerson at 11 High Street, Jacob Tait was the Fish Merchant and Idington Hay at 15 East of Green was a Con­fectioner.

There was 3 Ministers and 1 retired Minister with James McGiffen as the Sexton. To care for the sick was Physician / Surgeon, Dr Patrick Kynoch. and dispensing the doctor's prescriptions was Chemist/Druggist Mr David Leitch. The Police Constable in charge of keeping the peace at this time was George Wood.

The building trade was well represented with Henry Steel who employed 37 men and 9 boys and Andrew Smeaton employing 16 men. Then there was 3 Carpenters, 9 Joiners with 2 Apprentices, 2 of the Joiners being Hugh and Edward Bain. The resident House Painter was John Broomfield.

Looking after the 157 children at School were Schoomaster, Mr John Williamson, 2 Teachers and a Pupil Teacher. 86 of the children would have walked from the outlying farms in the Parish carrying with them their tin of tea and a 'jeely piece'.

According to the Census there was only a few residents over the age of 70 years, 8 over the age of 80 years, one man living at Elwartlaw aged 90 years, but a Mrs Catherine Scott living in 18 High Street had reached the great age of 100.

In the County Jail there was 2 prisoners, a female hawker from Edinburgh and a Frenchman. Pity the Census did not reveal their crime. Lodging in one house in Duns Road were 6 Irish Navvies, the census states they were working as Drainers Altogether 12 men, women and children lived in this house and there was only one window.

I also studied the Parish Registers and in 1881 there were 33 births, 3 marriages and 19 deaths. 8 of the deaths were babies dying from lung disorders, scarlet fever and teething/diarrhoea!! There was only one case of Cancer but 3 of the then dreaded tuberculosis . There was a drowning in the Blackadder and Mrs Catherine Scott named above died 2 months after the Census at the age of 101, cause of death - Senile decay and the retired Minister Rev. John Hunter died aged 80 years.

Greenlaw was then a self sufficient thriving community. Life for the ordinary folks would be hard, but I am sure there would be a great deal of fun and laughter. Had there been a Gala Day in 1881 the whole village would have turned out - changed days!!

Written by Carol Trotter

Greenlaw Church

The history of Greenlaw Church

The original Greenlaw Church from about 700AD was at Old Greenlaw a mile to the south of the present village. No trace remains.

The first kirk at the present site was probably built and endowed by Cospatrick, 2nd Earl of Dunbar who died in 1147. He conveyed the Church to Kelso Abbey who held it as a rectory from which the monks derived the tithes and offerings. Greenlaw Church was a mother church having dependent on it the chapels of Lambden and Halyburton.

The first known priest is Nigel about 1159. First reference to a church yard is 1230.

On 4th April 1242, the Merse being included in the diocese of St Andrews, Bishop David de Bernham dedicated the Church. The patron saint may have been St. Helen for a fair was held on 3rd May which is the HolyCross or St. Helens Day.

At the reformation in 1560 many former Roman priests became readers and this church was thus served. (By that time the Kirk Town or New Greenlaw had become more populous than Old Greenlaw). David Home who became first Minister in 1606 built a wooden bridge over the Blackadder River at the West Row. He was succeeded by Robert Home (1645) and John Home (1674).

In 1675, under the Second Episcopate, the church was rebuilt on the medieval foundations. The corbie step gables preserve a feature of the architecture of that period.

In 1712 the church was lengthened. The East and West lofts were erected not later than 1721. After 1784 the North loft was added. In 1855 the kirk was completed on the T plan by the addition of the North aisle. In 1883 most of the church was re-seated; the pulpit modernised and the canopy removed. The outer stair to the East loft was demolished and the inner stair erected.

After Greenlaw became County Town in 1696 the Tower was planned as a Tolbooth or Prison and was completed by 1712. Its style was adapted to present the appearance of a Church Tower. It is unique in structure – square rising to a height of 60ft and ending in a corballed parapet from which an 18ft steeple rises. The old iron gate or yett is no doubt the original one of 1712. A Court House also completed in 1712 stood on the west side of the tower, therefore by 1712 there stood by the side of the Church, a Tolbooth and Court House, hence the rhyme

“ Here stands the Gospel and the Law
Wi Hells Hole atween the twa”

A new Jail was built in the town in 1824. A few years later (1828-31) the Town Hall was erected and the Court House was demolished.

The Tower houses the Church bell as well as the Town Clock. The bell was provided under the will of Thomas Broomfield, farmer at Greenlawdean who died in 1667. Made in 1696 and refounded in 1726, it bears his name and there is a tablet to him on the south outside wall of the Church.

Minister: Rev. Thomas S. Nicholson Tel: 01361 810316
Session Clerk: Mrs C.L. Trotter Tel: 01361 810253

Church Services. Every Sunday 9.45 a.m.