A short history of the village of Walkerburn
Establishment of Walkerburn
Ballantyne bought land to build a Tweed mill here in 1846. Frederick
Thomas “Eccentric” Pilkington designed and built a new village with
houses for the workers and for the Ballantyne family. The new village
came into being in 1854, taking its name from the Walker Burn. Shops
opened, a school was built and the railway arrived in 1866.
The Good Templar Movement built a village hall in 1877 and this is still
in use. The Church of Scotland was built in 1883 and the Rugby Club
founded in 1884, as the 25th member of the Scottish Rugby Union.
Extracts from minutes of WRFC AGM from 1947 -2016 accessible here.
French style ‘pissoir’ was installed as a public toilet on the A72
beside the bridge over the Walker Burn. It is no longer in use!
Initially the mill lade produced enough power for the mills in
Walkerburn but as production expanded more cheap energy was needed. In
1920-21 Messrs Boving & Co of London built a revolutionary system,
pumping water from the Tweed up to a reservoir on Kirnie Law above the
village then bringing it down to drive a Pelton turbine to produce
A funicular railway was built from the A72 up to the reservoir site to
haul up all the materials used in construction – a total weight of 3,650
tons was carried on the railway. As production in the mills declined,
less power was required. The system was dismantled and all that is left
is the old reservoir. To see what is left of the reservoir, walk towards
Priesthope from the A72 and climb uphill to the left. The views are
In 1904 David Ballantyne built the Henry Ballantyne Memorial Institute
in memory of his father. The Institute was built in red Dumfriesshire
sandstone, next to the Tweed Bridge, to provide education and
entertainment for mill workers and their families.
The Institute was endowed with £32,000 and its management handed over to
a committee of local men. It remained in the trust of the Ballantyne
family until 2000 when it was donated to the village. The closure of the
railway in 1961 and a decline in the woollen industry saw the population
of the village fall and shops close.
The last mill closed in 1988. Walkerburn had the highest casualty rate
during the Great War as a proportion of its population of any community
in Scotland. In 1920 the War Memorial was built by public subscription.
In 1997 the statue was stolen, perhaps to order, and another fund
raising effort was made to replace it.
Enough money was raised for a full size figure. The new statue was
unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal on 20th September 1999. The stolen
statue was subsequently discovered beside the perimeter fence at
Edinburgh Airport. It was returned to the village and sits alongside the
Mill bell on the A72.
There is evidence of settlers around the Walker Burn as far back as the
Bronze Age because Burnt Mounds have been identified at Glenmead and on the
Plora Burn to the south of the village. Burnt Mounds are just mounds of
blackened earth, usually found near a source of fresh water, where the earth is
mixed with the remains of heated stones and ash. Beneath these mounds lie the
remains of paved areas, usually incorporating a hearth and a stone lined pit.
The Mounds are evidence that people once heated stones in these areas that were
then used to heat water. The sites near Walkerburn may have been either,
domestic and used for cooking, or they may have been used for some ritualistic
purpose connected perhaps to a sweathouse or sauna. Whatever the purpose, as the
stones cooled and cracked, the remains were discarded and built up around the
area, along with quantities of ash, to form the Burnt Mounds that dot the
The remains of an Iron Age Hill Fort can be seen on Bold Rig and it is easy to
see why this spot was picked for a defensive position with its excellent views
over the valley to the north. This fort measured approx 220ft by around 140ft.
Although the Romans conquered Tweeddale, they do not appear to have settled it
and there are no great Roman roads or buildings in the area. Vestiges of Roman
camps exist near Lyne Church, west of Peebles, and at Innerleithen. On Tower
Knowe there are the remains of what is thought to be the Roman road that led
from Newstead to Peebles. This would tie in with the Roman Camp outside
Innerleithen and there might be some connection with the terraces on Purvis
Hill. Maybe there was a settlement of Romanised Britons around the Walker Burn
or at least local people who settled and farmed perhaps to feed the legionaries
in the camp at Innerleithen. The terraces themselves are something of a mystery.
It is not really certain whether they were cultivation terraces or built as a
form of theatre seating up the hillside. There has never been an excavation in
this area so little is known about the people who built the terraces, whether
from Roman times or Anglo Saxons. Towards Galashiels, at Kill Brae, there are
more terraces and signs of an old settlement.
During the 9th century, the Britons of Tweeddale, in common with those of
Strathclyde, felt severe pressures from the Irish Scots on the west, and the
Saxons on the east. After the kingdom of Cambria was overthrown by the Scottish
king in 974, many Irish Scots settled in this area followed by settlers from
Northumbria as the Saxons gained ascendancy.
To the north of the village, past the steading of the ‘new’ Caberston Farm lies
the ruined cottage at Priesthope. Old records suggest that there was a
substantial farm in this area but where the name came from is still a mystery.
Hollewell, which became Holylee, the estate and house to the east of the
village, is another name which suggests a religious connection, perhaps to a
holy well. This name appears in records back to 1455 and refers to land reserved
for the King’s sport. James IV leased the land for £26 per year from the
Crichton family and may have had the first house built, probably further up hill
than the current house.
Castles or peel-houses formed a thick dotting over Tweeddale. They belonged to
the wild feudal barons of the area between the 14th and 17th centuries. Some
towers were attached to a hall house and others stood alone. The towers probably
also had small settlements around them and may have shared the corn mill at West
Bold, which from a date stone of 1700 found in Bold Wood, was certainly
operating at that time.
The towers were usually built within view of one another, forming a cordon of
fortified positions. Beacon fires were lit to announce to the district that a
foe was approaching; the smoke gave the signal by day, and the flames by night.
The remains of one such castle can still be seen on the hill above the Tweed at
Elibank. This tower would have signalled to one at Holylee, which in turn would
signal to Scrogbank, to Caberston, to Bold and to Purvis Hill before the signal
went on to a similar chain at Innerleithen.
Elibank was the manor of the Murray family, of whom Sir Walter Scott was a
descendant. The manor is mentioned in a poem by the Border poet James Hogg
called the ‘Fray of Elibank’. Perhaps Elibank is more famous today for the
Elibank Forest Field Archery Course which attracts archers from all over the
By the time, the woollen industry expanded in this area, however, the pattern of
settlement was that of small farms belong to large estates, often with absentee
landlords. Market gardens supplying the rapidly growing city of Edinburgh
abounded and both sheep and cattle farming were profitable.
The Coot Stone
The Coot Stone is a large wedge-shaped rock, with large natural "cup"
marks on the upper surface, located a few metres from the south bank of
the River Tweed opposite Holylee to the east of Walkerburn. The stone is
actually in the river bed and may have marked a crossing point to the
Holy Well. The origins of the name are unclear.
The Basin Stone
This large stone slab measures less than 1.00m square, is about 0.30m
thick and can be found at the top of Thornylee Forest, an area of
woodland managed by Forest Enterprise. The stone has a distinct hollow
or basin in the centre and appears to have been deliberately propped
underneath by smaller stones. There is an old Scottish remedy for warts
where the afflicted wash the warts in water that has collected in
natural stone basins. After washing the warts would disappear. It may be
that this was the purpose of the stone.
The Cheese Well (pictured)
Above Walkerburn, on the Southern Upland Way, lies the Cheese Well. Two
dressed but well weathered stones mark a small freshwater spring on the
old drove road across the Minchmoor between Traquair and Selkirk. One
stone, older than the other bears the inscription "Cheese Well". The
second stone also bears the same name and is dated 1966. It is said that
if you pass the well you should leave an offering, usually cheese, to
the Fairies or "Wee Folk" who are supposed to haunt the area. This would
ensure a safe and successful journey. The Cheese Well may have been a
pagan shrine in the past, whose veneration has fallen to superstition.
Myth of Muckle mou'd Meg
The Scotts and Murrays were ancient enemies; and as their lands were
adjoining at many points, they had many opportunities of exercising
their enmity "according to the custom of the Marches." In the
seventeenth century much of the property lying upon the river Ettrick
belonged to Scott of Harden, who made his principal residence at Oakwood
Tower, a Border house of strength still remaining upon that river.
William Scott (afterwards Sir William), son of the head of this family,
undertook an expedition against the Murrays of Elibank, whose property
was a few miles distant. He found his enemy upon their guard, was
defeated, and made prisoner in the act of driving off the cattle he had
collected for that purpose.
Sir Gideon Murray. conducted his prisoner to the castle, upon enquiry
from his wife as to the fate of his prisoner, he is reputed to have
said: "The gallows, to the gallows with the marauder." "Hout, na, Sir
Gideon," answered the considerate matron, in her vernacular idiom;
"would you hang the winsome young laird of Harden when you have three
ill-favoured daughters to marry?" "Right," answered the baron, "he shall
marry our daughter, Muckle-mouthed Meg, or strap for it." Upon this
alternative being proposed to the prisoner, he upon the first view of
the case stoutly preferred the gibbet to "Muckle-mouthed Meg," whose
real name was Agnes. But at length, when he was literally led forth to
execution, and saw no other chance of escape, he retracted his ungallant
resolution, and preferred the typical noose of matrimony to the literal
cord of hemp. Such is the tradition established in both families, and
often jocularly referred to upon the Borders. It may he necessary to add
that Muckle-mouthed Meg and her husband were a happy and loving pair,
and had a large family.’
truth, the marriage contract, which is still in existence, shows that
‘the marriage of young Harden and Agnes Murray, instead of being a
hurried business, was arranged very leisurely, and with great care,
calmness, and deliberation by all the parties interested, including the
two principals, the bridegroom and bride, and the parents on either
side. Instead of one contract, as is usual in such cases, there were two
separate and successive contracts, made at an interval of several
months, before the marriage was finally arranged.’ The first contract
bears date at Edinburgh, 18th February, 1611. In it young Harden and
Agnes Murray agree to solemnise their marriage in the face of Christ’s
Kirk, within two months and a half after the date of the contract.
Stipulations are made in the document for the infeftment, by Walter
Scott, of his son and his promised spouse, and their heirs male, in the
lands of Harden and other lands belonging to Walter and William Scott;
and Sir Gideon Murray on his part becomes bound to pay to William Scott
the sum of seven thousand merks as tocher with his daughter. The
contract is subscribed by Sir Gideon Murray, William Scott, and ‘Agnes
Murray,’ all good signatures. But as Auld Wat of Harden could not write,
his subscription is thus given: ‘Walter Scott of Harden, with my hand at
the pen, led be the notaries underwritten at my command, becus I can not
The marriage however did not take place at the time specified in the
contract, a failure which is not accounted for, and a second contract
was made at the Provost’s Place of Creichtoun, on the 14th of July,
1611, in terms similar to those of the original contract.
The existence and the terms of these two contracts no doubt show that
the marriage of young Harden and Agnes Murray was not a hastily-settled
affair, regulated by a contract ‘executed instantly on the parchment of
a drum;’ but it is difficult to believe that a story so minute and
circumstantial in its details could have been entirely fictitious. Myths
are of slow growth, and have always some fact as a foundation. Sir
William Scott died in 1655. The eldest son of ‘Little Sir William’
survived till 1707, and his second son lived three years longer. Sir
Walter Scott was born in 1771, and the story must have been in
circulation and universally credited long before his day.
Is it not possible and probable that Sir William Scott was ‘handfasted’
to Agnes Murray in some such circumstances as are narrated by his
descendant, the poet? And may not the delay in solemnizing the marriage,
necessitating the formation of a second contract, have been caused by
the reluctance of ‘the handsomest man of his time’ to marry an
Sir William Scott had by Agnes Murray five sons and three daughters. The
eldest son, called ‘Little Sir William,’ was knighted by Charles II.
immediately after the Restoration. The second was Sir Gideon of
Highchester, whose posterity carried on the line of the family. Walter,
the third son, called ‘Watty Wudspurs’ (or Mad-spurs), figures
characteristically in the ballad of ‘Jamie Telfer.’ He was the ancestor
of the Scotts of Raeburn. The fourth son was James of Thirlestaine; and
from John of Woll, the fifth son, the family of Woll are descended.
Middle Ages to Great War
All through the Middle Ages the production of cloth was a cottage
industry. The crofter-weaver ran his own sheep, usually on common land,
the whole community helped with shearing, the women carded and span the
wool and the weaver himself warped and mounted his web and wove it in
his handloom. The cloth was afterwards washed and ‘waulked’ or milled
and beaten in a burn. Such dyes as were used came from local plants but
for the most part the wool was undyed.
Along the banks of the Tweed, especially where burns ran down the
hillsides, small groups of these crofter-weavers would be established
and it may be that the name ‘Walker Burn’ simply referred to the burn
where weavers ‘waulked’ the wool.
The Ballantyne family first appears as landowners and yeoman farmers of
Bellenden Farm on the upper Ale Water with the name spelt Bellendaine,
then Ballantin and eventually Ballantyne. Later, in 1666, a small colony
of weavers in the village of Galashiels had as a member one William
Ballantin and in 1672 the birth of his son Walter is the first entry in
the baptism record of Galashiels Parish Church. Eventually, a descendent
of William and Walter, Henry Ballantyne rose to prominence as one of the
most skilful developers of Tweed cloth. In 1846/7, looking around for a
site for a new mill, Henry saw the possibilities of the site where the
Walker Burn ran into the Tweed. He entered into negotiations with Thomas
Horsburgh to buy a site around the Walker Burn on which to establish a
mill to take advantage of a bend on the nearby River Tweed which would
make it easy to build a mill lade taking water into the mill controlled
by two sluice gates. The only buildings in the area on that side of the
Tweed were Caberston farm and steading and 4 farm cottages. On the south
side of the Tweed, West Bold Farm was much older and in other ownership
– there was no bridge at this point.
Work began on the mill and J Pilkington was retained to design and build
115 houses for mill workers who initially came mainly from Galashiels,
walking to and from work – and the working day was typically 14 hours.
The blocks of flats at Plora Terrace were the first workers’ home to be
built. In 1854 and the village was christened Walkerburn after the
Waulker Burn which runs from the hills above Priesthope into the Tweed.
The first child was born in the new village in 1856 and the first shops
opened in 1858.
Gradually, more and more workers’ houses were built and by 1861 there
were enough children to support an elementary school. The arrival of the
railway and the opening of a Post Office in 1866 put Walkerburn firmly
on the Peeblesshire map as an expanding, energetic mill village. The
railway closed in 1962 but the Post Office is still in the original
The Parish Church, built in 1875, was followed by a Methodist Chapel and
then a Congregational Church in 1890, both now private houses, and in
1877 the Good Templar Movement built the Public Hall which subsequently
passed into community ownership in 1908. The Hall is now maintained as a
By 1878, when the first gas street lamps were installed, the population
of the village was 1028, growing to 1500 by the turn of the century, and
in 1882 the village got its own police station at the foot of Hall
Street, which remained in use until a new police house was built
opposite the mill gates. Both it and the original police station remain
in use, though not by the police. In December 1883 there was the first
meeting of the Walkerburn Co-operative Society, which played an active
role in village retailing until it merged with the Innerleithen Society
in 1966 and then with the Borders Society in 1969.
There is still a co-operative store in Innerleithen but sadly the
Walkerburn store closed in 1987. Until the 1960s, in addition to the
Post Office, Walkerburn had a grocery store, a butcher, baker and
greengrocer, a chemist, a jeweller, a tailor, a haberdasher, a general
clothes shop and a knitwear and dressmaking shop, two fish and chip
shops, two hairdressers, a library, a boot repair shop, several sweetie
shops, and lots of small shops run in people’s front rooms.
The first bridge was built across the Tweed, where the bridge is today,
in 1867. This was replaced by a girder bridge in 1914. And beside the
bridge, the Ballantyne family built a club for their workers to provide
education and recreation, but definitely no alcohol. The Henry
Ballantyne Memorial Institute, know to villagers as the ‘HB Club’ is
still in existence providing a cosy bar and entertainment for the
By the outbreak of The Great War, the population of the village had
risen to 1279 and two Ballantyne mills were in operation. Scotch Tweed
had established itself worldwide.
First war to second1914 – 1918
The Great War Tartan, Khaki and Flannel
The young men joined the Army, the old men and women ran the Mill
producing 10,000 yards of tartan per week plus khaki flannel for the
Army. Walkerburn had the highest casualty rate as a percentage of its
population of any settlement in Scotland but the Mill owners and the
community looked after the many widows and children. Post war, the
textile trade boomed and in 1920 a Hostel was built on Park Avenue to
house female workers recruited from outside the village. This is now
single persons’ flats.
In 1920 the War Memorial was built by public subscription. A full sized
figure was planned but lack of funds led to a cut down figure being
sculpted. In August 1998 the statue was stolen, perhaps to order, and
another fund raising effort was made to replace it. Enough money was
raised for a full size figure, produced by Beltane Studios in Peebles,
which was installed in at a service on 20 September 1999, held in heavy
rain in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal. Amazingly, in 2000
two policemen spotted the old statue beside a cut in the perimeter fence
at Edinburgh Airport. After much discussion, the old statue was placed
alongside the Mill bell in a small garden opposite the site of the main
mill buildings on the A72.
1920 – 1921 The Hydro Electric Scheme (A Scottish First for Walkerburn)
Initially the mill lade produced enough power for the mills but as
production expanded more cheap energy was needed. In 1920 Messrs Boving
& Co of London were asked to examine the possibility of setting up a
better system of using water power from the Tweed.
The first step was to make the lade more effective, and this was done by
creating a greater and deeper fall, but this wasn’t enough. And yet, at
night, the lade system produced power which was wasted. The
revolutionary solution was to build a huge reservoir in the hills and to
use the surplus power to pump water from the Tweed up to the reservoir.
The next stage was to bring the water back down to drive a Pelton
turbine to produce more power. The answer was to use the same 9” pipe
but to use a different system of connections.
And so, a ferro concrete reservoir was built on Kirnie Law connected to
the power house by a 9” pipe. A funicular railway was built from the A72
up to the reservoir site to haul up all the materials used in
construction – a total weight of 3,650 tons was carried on the railway.
You can still see the remains of the reservoir and the walk up to the
reservoir is well worthwhile for the views of the village and the
valley. It’s easy to see the old layout of the village and the mill
1920s and 1930s The Boom and Bust Years Charleston and Jitterbug
The school leaving age was raised to 14 – no more children going to work
in the Mill at 11, or even younger. The Depression hit the wool trade
and there were bleak years when only one loom ran but then there were
also boom years when all 98 looms worked flat out. Wages rose and fell
accordingly. There was a cinema in the Public Hall where silent films
were shown to the tinkling of a piano and the serial was very popular.
Sometimes, the projectionist went to the George Hotel in the interval
and the films were then shown upside down. Dances and the Club Balls
were well attended and always started with the Grand March.
Walkerburn wages were never high but the work was dependable from age 14
to retirement and the Mill owners paternalistic, looking after workers
who were sick and providing more and more recreation activities as
working hours were slowly cut and leisure time increased. In a new park
beside the river there were two tennis courts, a swing park and a
putting green. Only the swing park survives! And in 1929 the local
authority began to provide public housing in Walkerburn as more and more
families sought a higher level of accommodation.
In 1932 the first village Summer Festival for the children was held with
a football match against Innerleithen school for the ‘Paul Cup’. The
festival still takes place over the last week of the school year in June
and the Paul Cup is as hotly contested as ever.
World War 2 1939 – 1945 Another War – More Tartan
Twelve Walkerburn men lost their lives in the service of their country
in World War 2. Soldiers were billeted in the old wool store in Park
Avenue (the new houses), in the Hostel in Park Avenue (the block of
flats) and with families. The young men came from Glasgow in 157 Field
Ambulance and from Yorkshire in 68 Field Regiment. And several new
brides eventually left the village!
The officers lived in Stoneyhill throughout the war, the soldiers’
canteen was run by the ladies of the village in the old darning shed …
and the dances were definitely more interesting for the girls! Sandy
Russell, the chemist, won the Irish Sweepstake and threw a magnificent
ball in Innerleithen for all the troops in the area and in 1941 the
local Home Guard and Fire Service turned out as the Mill Wool Store
The British Restaurant run in the Mill canteen provided food for the
poor of the village as well as mill workers. Those with cars, and
petrol, ran a ‘get you home’ service for village men in the Forces
coming home on leave and met them off trains and buses in Edinburgh and
Symington. The Women’s Voluntary Service established a unit in the
village and ran not only the canteen but also lots of events to keep
everyone entertained and help the war effort.
Into the 21st Century
1950s You’ve never had it so good…
Walkerburn Mill employed some of the large numbers of Poles, Ukrainians
and other Eastern European displaced persons who came to work here in
the 1940s. And another type of ‘refugee’ arrived – people
displaced from Glasgow as the slums were cleared. The culture shock of
moving to a mill village from the big city was too much for some but
New houses were built along Tweedholm Avenue. New clubs sprang up. Car
ownership began slowly to spread and 1954 saw great celebrations for the
100th anniversary of the village.
Money was being made fast in the textile trade but there were the first
of many amalgamations though confidence was high and few foresaw the
massive changes coming. During the twice yearly selling season, the
owner would get on the train in Walkerburn and be in London in time for
breakfast at Lyon’s Corner House in Piccadilly before walking round to
the Ballantyne office at 1 Golden Square.
And around the area the new Forestry Commission was buying up land and
block planting Sitka spruce. The ‘Swedish’ houses at Glenbenna were
built to house forestry workers and forest work became an alternative to
employment in the mill. Over the next 30 years the landscape was
transformed by the dark coniferous forest but eventually changes in
forest practice led to a reappraisal of the planting policy which should
mean that as the dark forest is harvested new planting will be mixed
close to roads and habitations.
1960s and 1970s … The Slow Decline
By 1961, when the railway closed, the population had dropped to 863,
shops were beginning to struggle and close and although local people
could still depend on the mill for jobs, wages were not keeping pace
Ballantyne’s amalgamated into Scottish Worsteds & Woollens in 1968 and
then in 1980, the remaining mill was bought by Dawson International. At
first Walkerburn reaped the benefit of mill closures elsewhere in the
Borders but in 1988 Dawson pulled out and the mill closed. That was the
end of Walkerburn as a mill village.
But there were glimmers of hope as new industries such as Rathburn
Chemicals (1972) started up and expanded. It took time, as the village
struggled with high unemployment and depressed house prices, but
Walkerburn slowly regenerated.
Into the 21st Century
With help from the European Union, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish
Borders Council, villagers formed the WAVE Group bringing together all
the village clubs, societies and individuals to look at future
regeneration. Burning Issues was founded as a monthly village newsletter
and the Walkerburn and Innerleithen Partnership was formed to make the
most of European regeneration funding. The Community Council was
reinvigorated and a new Community Development Trust took shape. The
Pathway Group re-built Alexandra Park with new equipment in the swing
park, a wildlife hedge, tree planting and walkways. The Public Hall was
renovated and extended just in time to provide a home for a village
Healthy Living initiative which provides exercise and dance classes and
healthy cooking classes for all ages.
The Development Trust started to look at the feasibility of further
extending the walking, riding and biking trails around the village,
developing Walkerburn as a new focal point for tourism in the Tweed
Over 80 households in the village signed up to a home composting scheme,
village clean-ups and community events were again well supported, house
prices started to rise and new homes were built on gap sites.
A strong, united village looking forward with confidence