History of Selkirk Merchant Company
The origins of Selkirk Merchant Company are obscured by the mists of time, but there were Guilds of Merchants in the Royal Burgh as early as the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214).
The oldest surviving Company Minute Book is dated 1694; a small, worn, leather bound volume which is stored beside many other Company artefacts. The first Minute is dated 13th April 1694 and like many other journals of Company business, concerns the administration of the Company's assets and rights. The first use of the title of Company is referred to in a Minute Book of the Merchants of Selkirk in 1701.
The early Minutes related to the Merchant's rights to their place in the Auld Kirk loft and to the Company Mort Cloth. The names identified at this time show how the Merchants were the driving force of the Royal Burgh with many holding office in the Town Council.
The Company's first recorded reference to the Common Riding was in 1721 when Archibald Neatt was elected Standard Bearer. Part of the Standard Bearer's duties was to entertain the Company to Dinner, with fines for absentees or poinding of goods for non-payers.
The Company invested in the ill-fated Darian scheme (1698-1700) on the Isthmus of Panama, paid scant attention to the '45 Rebellion, but was instrumental in attempting to block the placing of the Kirk Minister in 1753. No reference is made to the fact that the Company, although referring the matter to the General Assembly, failed with its objections to the Minister.
Monetary assistance was always available to Members who were granted loans and financial help. Members were not always so enthusiastic to repay and the Minute Books give many examples of disputes between the Company and various members. The Company however, readily invested its monies in local affairs, granting monetary help to the building of bridges over the Ettrick and the Tweed at Yair. Education became the focus of the Company's financial assistance in the 19th century when money was made available for the teaching of children from the poor families of the town. In present times Selkirk Merchant Company continues this link with education when the Master of the Company presents the Annual Awards at Selkirk High School.
Selkirk Merchant Company has, over the centuries, been instrumental in guiding the Royal Burgh of Selkirk to its position of high standing in the Scottish Borders. Changes in Local Government Administration has meant that the town is not so pre-eminent as it was in the past but the Company, through its members, continues to add its considerable strength to the good of the Royal Burgh, Selkirk Common Riding, local trade and the community in general.