Duns Town Hall
In 1795 Duns Tolbooth was badly damaged by fire and had to be demolished but it took over twenty years for a replacement building to be erected. The delay in replacing the Tolbooth was no doubt to a large extent due to financial problems as the Town was substantially in debt at this time. In 1815 Alexander Hay of Drummelzier and Duns had obtained an order in the Court of Session for the sale and division of the common lands of Duns and it was agreed to proceed with the sale of that part of the common apportioned to the Town for a total consideration of £1488. The debts due by the Town amounted to £836, a liability taken over by the purchaser so that the sum received amounted £652. This sum was utilized to pay the cost (in full/part) of the building of the new Town Hall.
The replacement building as originally designed was of a very ornate character with spires but cost dictated that plans be modified and eventually a plainer building with a tower and incorporating a prison was constructed. Whether corners were cut in the construction, as later alleged, is perhaps a moot point but money at the time was certainly tight. The building was constructed from stone quarried at Putton Mill.
The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 3rd. December 1816 by Alexander Christie of Grueldykes and was officially opened on 17th. March 1820.The following report of the laying of the foundation stone appeared in the Kelso Weekly Journal of 13 December 1816.
The former Tolbooth built 1680
(replacement for building erected in 1328 by Sir James Cockburn of Langton).
Clock and bell added 1680.
Demolished 1795 after fire
Originally built as a Covenanting prison.
Simon Lord Lovat lodged here 1746 on his way to London and execution.
Tuesday the 23rd. instant having been appointed for laying the foundation stone of a new Town Hall in Dunse, the Lodge of Dunse met at eleven o'clock forenoon and joined the deputations from the Lodges of St. Cuthbert, Tweedmouth, St. George and St. David, Berwick and St. Ebbe, Eyemouth walked in procession to the Church where an excellent service was delivered by the Rev. Robert Cunningham, minister of Dunse from Hebrews Cap x11.v.1 "Let brotherly love continue"
After divine service the procession moved to the site of the building and were arranged so as to form a square. The Right Worshipful Master of Dunse Lodge, Alexander Christie of Grueldykes standing on the east with his depute and substitute master on each side and the wardens on the west deposited a bottle containing medals and coins and the following inscription (which was written in latin) prepared by Brother White of the grammar school of Duns;
"By the favour of God the greatest and best of beings. This house is built for a prison to confine offenders by William Hay, Esq. of Drummelzier, a noble and honourable man also many other respectable persons in the County of Berwick who promoted it by their patronage and contributions; and likewise to the feuars of Dunse who sold their right in the Common Lands for the accomplishment of this undertaking in consideration of a sum to be allowed. After being consecrated by the Rev. George Cunningham, Minister in Dunse the Foundation Stone of this building was laid by Alexander Christie Esq., of Grueldykes, Master of The Lodge of Dunse; several neighbouring Lodges also assisting, the third day of December in the year of our Lord 1816; and in aerei of Masonary five thousand eight hundred and seventy; in the Reign of George 3rd., King of Great Britain and Ireland and in the Regency of George August Frederick, his eldest son, Prince of Wales.
James Gillespie, Edinburgh, Architect.
The Right Worshipful Master thereafter received the square plumet and level and the mallet which were successively delivered by an operative to the substitute and depute and by them to the Master who applied them to the stone and with the mallet gave three knocks saying " May the Grand Architect of the Universe grant a blessing to this foundation stone which we have now laid and by his Providence enable us to complete this and every other work which may be undertaken for the embellishment of this Town and Country" This was followed by three flourishes of a trumpet and three huzzas.
The cornucopia and the vessels with the wine and oil were then delivered, the cornucopia to the substitute and depute and the vessels to the wardens and successfully presented to the Master who poured out the corn, wine, and oil on the stone saying "May the all bounteous Author of Nature bless this Town and neighbourhood with an abundance of corn, wine, and oil and with all the necessary conveniences and comforts of life and may the same Almighty Power preserve this Town from ruin and decay to the last posterity. Three flourishes of the trumpet and three huzzas.
The Lodges then retired to The Black Bull Inn where they dined and spent the evening with that harmony and propriety which characterizes the Ancient Order of Masonary.
A similar account of the ceremony is recorded in The History of Dunse Lodge 23 by Bro. Rev. High MacKay of Talmine, a copy of which is in Society Document Archives This also lists the order of procession.
The building was officially opened on 17th. March 1820 by Alexander Christie of Grueldykes. The ceremony was witnessed by the Rev. John Hastie, Minister of Edrom who however seemed slightly less than impressed, recording in his Dairy;
"At the opening of Dunse Town House on 17th. inst. a great party dined and Christie (Alexander Christie of Grueldykes) filled the Chair like an idiotical dotard with a great display of the cloven foot"
As well as serving initially as a jail, over the years the Town Hall became very much the centre of the Community; it was from the steps that many important announcements were made and the hall was the venue for numerous social occasions, dances and events of all sorts.
Eventually though the structure began to suffer the ravages of time - money was short when it had been constructed and there were suggestions that corners had been cut and after a few years housing the factory of Robert Pringle and Son Ltd. it was eventually decided the building was beyond economic repair and the decision was taken, very much against popular opposition, to demolish. Demolition started on 6th. June 1966.
In 1999 the bell was donated to the Society by the then owner Mr. Watt Lees of Maxton. The bell had been.cast in London in 1858 at the foundry of G Mears who in the same year also cast Big Ben.
After being housed in the garage of one of the Society members for a number of years a home was eventually found for the Bell, initially in the vestry of and subsequently just outside the main entrance to the Parish Church.
A stance was subsequently erected making it again ringable and the bell rang out for the first time since 1966 (when the Town Hall had been demolished) on the evening of 11th. November 2018 - the centenary of Armistice Day.
At a very moving ceremony the names of all 87 servicemen whose names appear on the War Memorial in the Public Park were read out and a toll of the bell was rung for each, in many cases personally by a family relative.