The Cross Keys Hotel in Peebles Northgate is so entrenched in history it should have a special “Don’t touch me badge” because it has changed so much over the centuries and few have researched why it was built in the first place.
The Original Santa Claus
In 1261 the remains of Saint Nicholas of Myrna were found in a field in Peebles (he was Turkish and the original Santa Claus). A cross, some say it was made of gold, was found beside the remains and King Alexander the I rode to Peebles to hear stories of miracles which had happened on the site and erected a Friary for Trinitarian monks which is now known as the Cross Kirk. Having such a holy place which attracted pilgrims including royalty, the rich people who came to worship needed a place to stay and the Cross Keys was erected.
Crossed keys are an early symbol of Christianity, hence the fresco above the entrance door. Robert II is said to have stayed here and it later became the place where the Bishop and his retinue stayed when visiting Peebles, when it belonged to the Diocese of Arbroath. Following the Reformation it became a family home. Records tell us that a Mr Williamson or Wilkinson of Cardrona lived there, he died in 1735. The initials WW can still be seen on the roof if one looks up from the courtyard. After his death Vintner Ritchie bought the house and created an inn and hostelry with his two daughters Marion and Wilhelmina. Sir Walter Scott stayed there often and Marion was the – could we say prototype? – of his character Meg Dods in his story “St Ronan’s Well”. Marion was said to be a really strict landlady who wouldn’t put up with any drunken nonsense and the local clergy used the inn for a lot of socialising.
Strangely enough, I located the grave of Vintner Ritchie and Wilhelmina who, like Marion lived until her late 70s, in St Andrew’s Churchyard in Peebles but Marion’s name is not inscribed on the stone. Since then the inn changed hands many times, it became a hotel and is now supposed to be taking over by Wetherspoons. I wonder if anyone who eats in the restaurant realises that it was once a stable where, centuries ago, royalty and dignataries tethered their horses.
Post written by Irene Tirtoprodjo