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The small town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders lies on Jed Water, a tributary of the River Teviot. It lies only 16 km from the border with England, and is dominated by the substantial ruins of Jedburgh Abbey. Its proximity to England made it historically subject to raids and skirmishes by both Scottish and English forces. The town's population in 2001 was 4,090. This writeup will look at some of Jedburgh's long history before looking at the modern town and some of the towns in the nearby area.

Jedburgh's history

A church had been at Jedburgh since the 9th century, and David I made it a priory between 1118 and 1138, housing Augustinian monks from Beauvais in France. The abbey itself was founded in 1147. Border wars with England in the 16th century left the abbey a magnificent ruin, still worth a visit today.

The deeply religious Scottish king Malcolm IV died at Jedburgh in 1165, aged 24. His death was thought to be brought on by excessive fasting.

David I had also erected a castle at Jedburgh, and in 1174, it was one of five fortresses ceded to England. It was an occasional royal residence for the Scots but captured by the English so often that it was eventually demolished in 1409, when it was the last English stronghold in Scotland.

In 1258 Jedburgh had also been the focus of royal attention, with negotiations between Scotland's Alexander III and England's Henry III over the heir to the Scottish throne, leaving the Comyn faction dominant. Alexander III was also to marry at the abbey in 1285.

Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at a house in the town in 1566 which is now a museum. In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army passed through the town on its way to invade England, and the Prince also stayed here. The Castle Jail opened in 1823.

Several noteable people were born in the town, including the actress Deborah Kerr, in 1921. Tory MP Michael Ancram was born here in 1945, and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds was born in 1959. Also James Thomson (1700-1748) who wrote Rule Britannia, was born nearby, and educated here.

"Jeddart" or "Jedburgh Justice", where a man was hanged first, and tried afterward, seems to have arisen from one case of summary execution of a gang of villains.

The town today

As mentioned above, the ruined abbey is a definite must-see, and Jedburgh Castle Jail is open to the public. Borders traditions like the annual Callants Rideout and bands of pipes and drums add local colour, and delicacies include Jethart Snails(!) and Jeddart Pears. The Canongate Brig dates from the 16th century, and there are some fine riverside walks. The Capon Oak Tree is reputed to be 900 years old, and Newgate Prison and the town spire are among the town's older buildings. The town's industries include textiles, tanning and glove-making, corn mills, and electrical engineering.

Surrounding area

Other towns of interest include Kelso, Hawick, Galashiels, Selkirk, and Melrose. There are abbeys at Melrose, Kelso, and Dryburgh, and Kelso boasts a fine cobbled square. Hawick is famous for its rugby, and Galashiels has associations with William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and the earls of Douglas. Selkirk was where Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland, and Melrose was the scene of a battle in 1526 over the stewardship of James V.

This writeup has mostly been a case of node what you don't know. My memories of Jedburgh are limited to a single childhood visit while on a cycling trip with my father and brother. We stayed in the former youth hostel at spectacular Ferniehurst Castle, and we boys were delighted to get to sleep in one of the turret rooms!

Chronicle of Britain, Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1992
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc, 1994-2000

Part of Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK

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