The area around Melrose has been inhabited for thousands of years. When the Roman army arrived in AD79 or 80 they were met by a native tribe, possibly the Selgovae, who had their hillfort base on Eildon Hill North. Contrary to the traditional view, the Romans were probably met with a peaceful reception when dealing with this tribe. The Romans established a fort 2.5km (1.5 miles) to the east of Melrose called Trimontium, "Place of the Three Hills" and built a signal station or shrine, enclosed by a circular ditch, on the summit of Eildon North Hill. The Romans never fully conquered Scotland and due to pressures elsewhere in their empire, they gradually withdrew their troops, finally leaving in AD369.
There then followed the "Dark Ages" during which Melrose was part of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria. The Dark Ages also saw the arrival of Christianity in the Borders. Some time before AD650, a monastery was founded beside the Tweed at Old Melrose by St Aidan of Lindisfarne. One of the best known monks connected with the monastery was St Cuthbert. He was born in Lauderdale in AD634 and spent his early life as a shepherd, entering the monastery in AD651 after hearing of St Aidan's death and connecting it with a vision he had seen one night. Almost 500 years after the foundation of Old Melrose monastery, King David I (1124 - 1153) brought Cistercian monks from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire to Melrose and established the Abbey in its present location.
The Abbey suffered at the hands of English armies on several occasions making it necessary to rebuild and redesign the Abbey complex. Much of what survives today dates from 14th and 15th century reconstruction work. Melrose was made a Burgh of Barony in 1609 and raised to a Burgh of Regality in 1621.
In peace, Melrose became a thriving market town. Many famous people have visited Melrose, including Daniel Defoe and Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott both wrote of Melrose and Joseph Turner painted scenes of the town and its surroundings. With the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, access for visitors and commerce became even easier and the town expanded rapidly. For a time there was a linen industry producing high quality linen. However, nearby Galashiels drew much of the trade away and eventually the venture failed.
Melrose in recent years has become a quiet town, well able to supply the local community and farms. The undoubted beauty of the area has made it one of the most visited towns in Scotland.
Next: Abbey House