The village of Greenlaw is found some seven miles north of Kelso, and similar distances south west of Duns and north west of Coldstream. Yet despite lying at the crossing of two of the main roads through the Borders, it is less well known than many of its neighbours, and as a result its history and remarkable architecture are too often overlooked.
Greenlaw's story dates back at least as far as 700AD when a church was established a mile south of the current village in what is now called Old Greenlaw. The line of tracks and roads in this area suggest a possible Roman link, so Old Greenlaw's real origins may go back even further.
But by the mid 1100s the old church had been replaced by one on the site of today's Parish Church, near the banks of the Blackadder Water, and it is likely that the village then started to grow up around the church and around the ford across the river. Today's church mostly dates back to the 1700s and 1800s. Until 1830 the six storey tower now serving the church acted as a tolbooth, while to its immediate west stood a courthouse: giving a symmetrical building with the tower in the middle. The courthouse was demolished following the building (see below) of the new County Buildings and Court House.
The key point in Greenlaw's history was 1482, when the English capture of Berwick-upon-Tweed left the Scottish county of Berwickshire without a county town. In 1596 this deficiency was remedied when Greenlaw was made the county town. In 1661 an Act of Parliament made Duns the county town instead; but another in 1696 restored Greenlaw's dominance.
This rivalry between Duns and Greenlaw was to continue for another three centuries, and largely helped shape the Greenlaw you see today. In 1739, 1790 and 1810 supporters of Duns tried to reclaim county town status for it, each time unsuccessfully. However, in 1853 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising Sheriff and Commissary Courts to be held in Duns and this began a shift in the balance between the two, which was confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1903 making Duns the county town.
Meantime, in 1829, in an effort to see off the claims of Duns once and for all, the Earl of Marchmont commissioned the architect John Cunningham to build a magnificent new County Buildings and Court House (now referred to as the Town Hall) in the centre of Greenlaw. This was completed in 1831, at a cost of £6,500. Cunningham also designed the grand building to the south of the Town Hall, originally the Castle Inn Hotel, now residential accommodation.
After the loss of both the courts and the county town status, Greenlaw Town Hall served a range of functions, including as home to a Polish tank regiment in World War II. In the 1970s the interior was converted to house a swimming pool: but a few years later a bigger and better swimming pool opened in Duns. The building stood empty from the 1990s and and became increasingly derelict. A strong local campaign to restore the town hall led to it becoming one of three Scottish contenders in the 2006 series of the BBC's Restoration programme. It was unsuccessful, but the resulting publicity gave further impetus to the campaign and, after a restoration coordinated by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust costing £2 million, the town hall reopened for community use in early 2011.