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Peebles and Selkirk
County and Shire - The Origins of Peebles and Selkirk

The word shire is of Old English origin and meant office, charge, administration. The Norman Conquest introduced the word county—through French from the Latin comitatus, which in mediaeval documents designates the shire. County is the district ruled by a count, the king’s comes, the equivalent of the older English term earl. This system of local administration entered Scotland as part of the Anglo-Norman influence that strongly affected our country after the year 1100. Our shires differ in origin, and arise from a combination of causes—geographical, political and ecclesiastical.

The first known sheriff of Selkirk was Andrew de Synton appointed by William the Lyon (1165—1214); and there were sheriffs of Peebles in the same reign. In 1286 Peebles had two sheriffs, one holding his courts at Traquair, the other at Peebles—the two courts being amalgamated about the year 1304. In Alexander II’s reign Gilbert Fraser was sheriff of Traquair, while in the reign of Alexander III Sir Simon Fraser was sheriff of Peebles and keeper of the forests of Selkirk and Traquair.

But these counties were more familiarly known by other names. In State Documents Peebles was frequently called Tweeddale (Tuedal), and Selkirk, Ettrick Forest or the Forest. Even in Blaeu’s Atlas (1654) the inscription on the map of the two counties is: "Twee-Dail with the Sherifdome of Ettrick Forest, called also Selkirk." Ettrick Forest—sometimes, and presumably later, Selkirk Forest—was, however, much more extensive than the present Selkirkshire.

The name Peebles, older form Peblis, is generally regarded as derived from the British word pebyll, tents, place of tents. Selkirk, old spelling Schelescbirche, is taken to mean the kirk of the shieling.

No doubt the counties came into existence as convenient districts determined mainly by natural conditions as rivers, mountains, forests, for the administration of local and national affairs. Peebles corresponded to the Vale of the Tweed from the source of the river till it approaches the region of its first large tributary, the Ettrick from the Forest, the watershed between the Tweed and the Ettrick forming a natural boundary. The Shire of the Forest was a distinctive area at first marked out and set aside as a hunting preserve for the Scottish kings. As political and social conditions have changed, these counties have also changed in shape and to some extent in size.

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