IT'S not everyday you find yourself on holiday and discover your name on the gates of your destination.

However, this was the reality for Dr Melrose Stewart MBE when she visited the Borders recently.

A physiotherapist and lecturer, Dr Stewart has worked as one of the experts on the multi award-winning Channel 4 series “Old Peoples’ home for 4 Year Olds”.

A black woman who was born in Jamaica and then moved to the UK when she was 11-years-old, she made the stop at her namesake, Melrose, while on holiday here in Scotland.

"It was absolutely wonderful," said Dr Stewart, "I think Melrose just set the scene, we arrived and it was a glorious day.

"I didn't know what to expect.

"It was absolutely beautiful and I didn't expect to see my name on the entry to the town."

But as well as enjoying the sunshine and the sights the area has to offer, Melrose had another reason to visit the town bearing her name – its connections with her ancestry.

Dr Stewart added: "I'd spoken to Sir Geoff Palmer [OBE, chancellor at Heriot-Watt University and human rights activist] – who is doing a lot of work in Scotland around the slave trade and the history of Jamaica and its connections with the slave trade. I'd spoken with him a few times and he said Melrose has connections in Jamaica and Scotland.

"I wasn't too aware that there was a Melrose in Jamaica, but he said Melrose in the Borders is a lovely place to visit."

Although she knows of no direct connection to the town – "I think my mother told me it was my sister who chose the name, I don't know where she got it from," – Melrose (town) and Jamaica have a shared history.

The local National Trust of Scotland attraction, Harmony House, will be known to many in the region.

The house was built in 1807 by Robert Waugh.

Melrose said visiting Harmony House was a "seminal moment" in her trip, not only because of the link between Waugh and her name, but also how he profited from her ancestors.

In the 1800s Waugh used the profits he brought back with him from Jamaica, where he owned lime and pimento plantations – named Melrose and Mount Nelson – and slaves, to build his home in the Borders and the nearby chain bridge.

Waugh was also financially compensated when slavery was abolished.

"He had built this house out of profits made from my ancestors in Jamaica," said Dr Stewart.

She added: "But all in all, in such a short period, the couple of hours we spent there [Melrose], there was just so much to capture about my history and for me it was well worth a visit."

Dr Stewart explained that she has been able to look back on her history up to the late 1800s.

"It's very difficult as a black person to begin to trace your ancestry because names changed, there was lots of cruelty and all the things going on in terms of how individuals were treated.

"And this is the sort of history – which is painful for all of us from Jamaica because I really don't know where my journey started. It was probably the west coast of Africa. I'm not sure who bought my ancestors, how they arrived – it's just something I started touching the tip of the iceberg really."

As October marks Black History Month in the UK, Dr Stewart hopes that by addressing the connections we all have to slavery and Britain's colonising history, we can have more open and honest conversations about race.

She said: "I think everyone needs to know their history – I wasn't taught it at school – I knew nothing about my name and its connections with Scotland when I was growing up as a child in England.

"I came here when I was 11 so all of my secondary schooling was done here and so all of the history I have learnt has been me finding out for myself.

"And obviously things have moved on a bit since then – not much.

"I don't think people really know how to manage it [discussions on slavery].

"Because of the sensitivities, people probably think, 'I didn't do it, it's the people that went before me that did that'.

"We need to have those sorts of discussions because you might not be personally responsible, but it helps explain in depth why we're in the position we are in now."

The last 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic have been marked with a number of events where the topic of race has been very prevalent – namely the death of George Floyd in America in March 2020, which sparked worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

In the UK this brought about conversations on how we view commemorative statues, plaques and other memorabilia to figures known to have profited from the slave trade.

Some call for the figures to be removed from their literal (and figurative) pedestals.

The statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader, was famously toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour in June last year and a statue of Winston Churchill in London was also defaced last year.

But others feel the statues could remain if more is done to make their connections to slavery clearer.

"We hope that by learning about the past we don't repeat these atrocities in the future," said Dr Stewart.

"We just want history to be told as it was."

"We can make it [learning about the slave trade] really interesting for children in schools.

"There are lots of interesting ways in which the curriculum can be changed, and should be changed, the narrative made factual from different perspectives.

"Especially in places like Melrose where they probably can even connect with a school in Melrose in Jamaica.

"Making connections is something I would strongly encourage, for children to have the conversation so they can share stories.

"You can imagine how different the children in Melrose in Scotland are from the children in Melrose in Jamaica – yet there's this strong connection."