THIS week, Ted McKie from the Innerleithen Community Trust tells us how the town's High Street nearly had a very different name...

The origins of Innerleithen High Street date back to 1775 when the turnpike road between Galashiels and Peebles was constructed, the same road we know and love as the A72.

Before this highway and Leithen Bridge appeared, the route through the village, as it was then, followed a track through Pirn Wood (the Backs), over the cuddy brig, across the Green, up the Strip, over the sware on the north flank of Caerlee Hill, by Glenormiston and over the hill to join the present road at the Dirtpot Corner (which ironically did not exist before the A72 was built).

In the first half of the 19th century the new road became the main thoroughfare for the expanding town where goods were unloaded, and passengers alighted. Shops and houses began to line the road and hotels were built to accommodate the influx of summer visitors to the spa at St. Ronan’s Wells. By the mid-1800s the textile industry came to dominate the lives of Innerleithen folk and the former crofts and cottages were swallowed by two lines of substantial stone buildings.

The High Street could have been named Piccadilly. Much of Innerleithen was built on Traquair land. The Earl was supportive of the development of the town and readily sold or granted leases on land for the building of factories, business premises and housing. He remained, however, the feu superior with the right to impose certain conditions on the property owners, but generally his lordship’s relations with the townsfolk remained cordial. He also greatly admired London, then the hub of a growing British Empire, thus Innerleithen now boasts a Strand and a Bond Street and, nearly, a Piccadilly. While the Strand and Bond Street were mainly residential it’s likely that, as “Piccadilly” became the obvious commercial and business centre of the town, “High Street” was deemed more appropriate.

The Earl of Traquair nevertheless left his mark on Innerleithen High Street. He instigated the building of St. Ronan’s Hotel to help accommodate the hundreds of summer visitors. Conversely, he refused to allow the dilapidated howf at the corner of Chapel Street to be demolished because Robert Burns, the National Bard, had spent the evening there. The eyesore remained until after 1861 when the Earl died.

A memorial plaque in honour of the poet adorns the present building. He did, however, provide Innerleithen with its first town hall, now a private house at 20 High Street. Facing the street below the first town clock, refurbished a few years ago, can be seen the Earl’s coat of arms, proudly etched in sandstone relief. At the west end of the High Street a generous Traquair legacy paid for the building of the elegant St. James’ Church and the only spire in town.

Recently, one High Street resident decided that, if the road was not to be named in accordance with the Earl of Traquair’s wishes, he would commemorate this historical quirk by naming his house “Piccadilly”.