THE search is on to put a face to the Galashiels man who penned the world-famous lullaby Ali Bali Bee.

A statue to Coulter's Candy originator Robert Coltart will be unveiled in his hometown this summer.

But the people behind the life-sized bronze tribute are desperately trying to confirm if an old newspaper photograph sent from Canada is the weaver-turned-sweet seller.

Historians Graeme McIver and Mary Craig have been championing Coltart's story for over a decade.

And they are delighted that celebrated sculptor Angela Hunter is currently sketching designs for the tribute which will be placed in the town's Market Place.

Graeme told us: "Coulter’s Candy is arguably Scotland’s best known and most loved children’s song and it is fantastic that at long last there will be a permanent reminder.

"To coin a phrase we used during our research, ‘Ali Bali is actually from Guid Auld Galae’.

"The town has faced challenges in attracting new visitors and this statue, along with the other proposed regeneration works, will I’m sure provide a much needed boost for Galashiels.

“Angela Hunter’s work is fantastic and it has been a pleasure looking at her ideas for how the finished statue will look.

"I am sure it will become a much loved local attraction and will rekindle interest in the story of Robert Coltart and the song.”

Robert Coltart was born in Dumfries and Galloway and moved to Galashiels at a young age, like many at the time, to work in the mills.

It was during the 1870s that is thought he began making aniseed-flavoured toffee at his Overhaugh Street home.

As well as doing a fine trade at fairs, he would sell his candy around the streets of his adopted hometown playing a whistle and singing his jingle - Ali Balie Bee - with a trail of children in his wake.

Coltart also lived at houses in Henderson Close and Park Street, which have both since been demolished.

And he was known to travel to nearby Melrose and Selkirk, as well as other Borders towns, to sell his candy on the streets - traders in Selkirk even raised a court order against him as he was taking away their trade.

One report from the time states: "He wore a tam a shanter, or was it a Balmoral bonnet? With a pheasant’s feather sticking straight up from a buckle above his ear.

"A shiny black bag slung over his shoulder held stock of the famous candy!"

While there are many descriptions of the larger-than-life Robert Coltart, who died in 1880 at the age of 48, only one photograph is known to exist.

And the researches, as well as sculptor Angela, are trying to have the image verified before the final detail is made to the bronze statue.

Angela, whose work includes the iconic Turn bull bronze in Hawick, said: "We do have one newspaper cutting from the Gala Post, sent from Canada, and we are hoping to confirm this is Robert.

“It is hoped that someone may have further information on his life, so we can make this sculpture as accurate as possible.

"I was born in Galashiels and am therefore incredibly proud to be involved in this project."

Although the recipe for Coulter's Candy was lost after Robert's death, his Ali Balie Bee jingle was passed through the generations.

And after it began to be sung at folk nights all over the country in the 1950s, eventually being recorded by Donovan in 1971.

The statue, which will feature Coltart selling his candy with two children by his side, will be erected close to his Overhaugh Street home at Market Square.

The artwork is part of a new town trail, supported by the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.

The fund provided a £1.18m grant last year, a proportion of which is being used to fund £900,000 of streetscape improvements.

Among the supporters of the statue and trail is business councillor Mark Rowley.

Councillor Rowley said: “The story of Robert Coltart is a fascinating one which should be known by more people and alongside the other regeneration works taking place in Galashiels, I am sure it will attract people to the town and the Borders.

“A partnership approach is being used to take forward the project with a variety of stakeholders from the local community and businesses involved in finalising the streetscape improvements as priorities.

"These improvement works would not have been possible without the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor complex, which helped secure the overall support from the Scottish Government Regeneration Grant Fund.

“This year is to be an exciting one as Galashiels is re-shaped and investment encouraged in the town and the wider Borders economy as part of the Galashiels Masterplan.”

Helen Calder of Energise Galashiels Trust has also championed Coltart’s story.

She added: “We are delighted to play our part in the telling of the story of Robert Coltart.

"Ali Bali is such a world-famous nursery rhyme that we see real opportunity in celebrating its link to our town.”

Robert Coltart was buried in an unmarked 'pauper's grave' at Eastland Cemetery.

But his legacy will return to his hometown in June with the unveiling of the bronze in Market Square.

Anyone with further information or images of Coltart can contact Angela on