Standing in Melrose Square, today, it is difficult to imagine that at one time, Melrose was the Abbey. The wall of the Abbey grounds surrounded all the area between the south side of the Square and the Abbey Mill, from the Greenyards to the west to the Abbey grounds in the east. All the associated buildings - the workshops and builders yards have gone, with only the damaged and derelict church part remaining above ground. The monks lived in what was for centuries a building site, only being allowed out for walks along the Middle or Prior's Walk towards Newstead.
Pilgrims gathered in the Square to be allowed through the Bow gate into the abbey grounds which stood at the narrow entrance to Abbey Street. This huge gate had a chapel above its arch, under which the Pilgrims passed, on their way from the High Cross (west of Melrose) to venerate one of the sacred tombs in the Abbey, perhaps that of St Waltheof, who had fed the people in a famine.
The Square was also the cattle market. The Mercat Cross used to have five little steps round it and still has the hook on its shaft to which the jougs (chains with the metal collar) were attached for the restraint of offenders. Today, it has the Royal unicorn on top, bearing a shield, perhaps denoting the Royal attachment to the Abbey where two Scottish Kings are buried.
At the top of the shaft, along with the other carvings of a sundial, the mason's compasses, and the initials of John, Earl of Haddington who replaced the shaft in 1645, is a rebus, a mediaeval joke, with the mel and the rose carved. The name of the town has nothing to do with the mel (a hammer) or the rose but comes from 'Mail ros' "the bare promontory" at Old Melrose upon which the first abbey was founded (&th to 9th century AD), before the Cistercian monks began their building at Fordel in the 12th century and brought the (inappropriate for their site) name from Old melrose as a dedicatory link with that first religious settlement.
Around the Square are other sights of interest like the sundial above the fishmongers; the ship of the Ship Inn, a modern construction by Denys Mitchell but harking back to the past ( a retired sea dog landlord, perhaps?), and the ceiling boss from the Abbey attached to the wall above Pyrocanthus, the Ormiston community building left by Dr Meikle to the town and the Ormiston clock, commemorating that Victorian gentleman, the Italianate front of the Bank of Scotland building; Burt's Hotel and the Coats of Arms above McGrath's Gents Outfitters shop, are all of interest.
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