The present Cross Keys Hotel was built in 1769 by James Dickson, who was born in 1712 in the village of Stichill, a short distance from Kelso. According to local legend, while working as a saddler's apprentice Dickson broke the "Pantwell", or public drinking-fountain in the Market Place, now known as Kelso Square, and ran away to avoid punishment. He set up business as a merchant in London and returned to his native soil in 1760, a wealthy man. Among the many properties he bought were tenements fronting Kelso Market Place which he rebuilt and converted into an hotel, replacing the original Cross Keys which was situated next door.
If there is truth in the story that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the Cross Keys during his visit to Kelso, then it must have been at this earlier Inn. The proprietor of the Inn was John Waldie, who transferred to the new Hotel until 1784. He ran a coaching business between Kelso and Newcastle and four-wheeled chaises could be hired for 9 pence per mile. The Cross Keys was quickly established as a focus of Kelso's social life. There was an Assembly Room where a variety of important functions took place, a Ballroom which was the scene of many grand occasions not to mention a large dining-room, fine bedrooms and extensive stabling.
John Waldie was succeeded as proprietor by George Horsington, then Adam Main. Main ran a coach to Edinburgh, the journey taking 10 hours in summer and 12 in winter. By 1802, there were three coaches per week and the full distance cost 13 shillings.
When James Dickson died in 1771, the Hotel was inherited by his nephew, Admiral William Dickson. In 1803, on the death of the Admiral, the Hotel changed hands and Adam Main was obliged to move out. Altough there had been horse-races in the Kelso area Back in 1751, it wasn't until Dickson's time. the 1760s, that Kelso Races began in earnest. Sir Alexander Don's horse, "Cheviot" won a famous race in 1765. From that time on, the races grew in popularity with the noblemen of the district and in 1777 they formed a Society called the Caledonian Hunt, which met twice a year. The Cross Keys Hotel was used as a base and Col. Thornton of Yorkshire, visiting in 1786, gave the following vivid description:
"A charming scene of confusion; cooks, ladies' servants, waitresses all running against each other, being the time of Kelso Races. The company is composed of gentlemen of the Turf on both sides of the Tweed with families and friends and also members of the Caledonian Hunt. Foxhounds and harriers hunt alternately in the mornings. There is also a concert and races and next night the gentlemen of the Hunt give a handsome ball. After the ladies retired therefrom, the gentlemen formed a party to drink their healths and when I got up at 8 they were still drinking and meant to sit till hounds went out. This meeting, I heard, is most expensive of any. An English Steward was obliged to pay 10 guineas for his room, though only there 5 nights."
The Duke of Roxburghe transferred the racecourse from Caverton to Blakelaw, which is nearer Kelso, but this move was unpopular and in 1822, the present site at Berrymoss was chosen. The Incorporated Trades of Kelso, realising the importance of this event to the whole town, helped to transform the rough ground into a racecourse. A grandstand with weighing-in room was built and there was a Masonic procession to mark the laying of the foundation stone. This grandstand is still in use today.
Adjacent to the Cross Keys were the stables where the racehorses were accommodated. In recent memory these stable were run by the Anderson family, but were demolished to form the present car-park. When Adam Main left the Cross Keys in 1803, he was replaced as landlord by George Yule and his wife Mary. They eventually bought the Hotel from the owners and they too ran a coaching business, with a service to Edinburgh three times a week. The coach left Kelso at 7 a.m. and arrived at the White House Inn, Canongate, at 4 p.m. In winter, the outside passengers sometimes froze into position and had to be helped down from their seats.
George Yule died in 1814 and his wife four years later. The Hotel was then in the possession of their son, Adam Yule, an ambitious young man. He began to expand by moving into a tenement behind the Hotel, known as "Tweed Lodge", which consisted of a ballroom in the upper storey, a hayloft and school-room in the middle storey, and stables on the ground floor. Adam Yule borrowed money but.was not very punctilious in paying his debts and his creditor w as obliged to take drastic action to recover the loan.
In 1836, the messenger-at-arms, Andrew Drysdale, "passed to the Market Cross of Edinburgh and after crying three several oyesses, open proclamation and publicly reading the written letters of horning and the said execution in His Majesty's name and authority lawfully denounced him (Adam Yule) H.M.'s rebel and put him to the horn by three several blasts". Adam Yule paid up £50 on account.
The arrival of the railway in 1850 badly affected the coaching business, but Yule ran a horse-drawn cab to take passengers to and from Kelso Station. Parties of day-trippers from other towns and cities made their way to the Cross Keys for meals and the Hotel was very much part of all the events which took place in the Square. Adam Yule was still in debt when he died in 1854 and his w idow and daughters w ere left in penury The Hotel was again put up for sale.
On one of the windows of the Cross Keys Hotel fronting the square, an observer will see "Keddie" inscribed in the glass. This was the name of the man who took over in 1867 as landlord, and who purchased the hotel in 1878. James Keddie proceeded to make alterations to the roof, which had been built in the French style, and added the Italianate facade. Following the refurbishment, Keddie advertised: "Situated in close proximity to the finest Salmon Angling Casts on the Tweed, and being a convenient centre for gentlemen during the Hunting Season, from which the meets of the Duke of Buccleuch's, the Northumberland and Berwickshire and the North Berwickshire Foxhounds may be attended, it is highly suited for the quarters of gentlemen following these sports. The most careful attention is given to the comfort of guests. The Cuisine is attended to with scrupulous care, and the Wines & Liquors are first-class".
Mr. Keddie had three children. His eldest son, David, operated the Friars Burn Brewery, Jedburgh. Sarah, his daughter, married John Watts and moved to London. When James Keddie, senior, died in 1889, Sarah sold her share in the hotel to her younger brother, James Thomas Keddie and he was the owner until his own death in 1917. Sarah repurchased the Cross Keys but sold it again in 1922. Since then, there has been a variety of ownership until it was most recently purchased by Mr. Kenneth Ballantyne in 1972 who's firm M&J Ballantyne Ltd meticulously restored over a two year period to bring the hotel back from almost dereliction. The hotel has been in the ownership of the Ballantyne family for over 40 years.