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Galashiels

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Galashiels, a parliamentary burgh and parish of Selkirkshire. The town is situated on both banks of the river Gala, 4 miles WNW of Melrose, 6 N of Selkirk, 18 ESE of Peebles, and 28 SSE of Edinburgh by road. It is a station on the Waverley section of the North British railway, and from it diverge branch lines to Selkirk and Peebles. The name, from Gala and shiels or shielings, signifying shepherds' huts, appears to have designated originally a small village, on the site of what is now called the old or high town, which had found its nucleus in the baronial seat of Gala, on the S bank of the river. This Gallowschel was a place of considerable antiquity, and is traditionally said to have contained a hunting-seat of the Scottish monarchs. Its name appears in a charter of the early part of the 14th century; it is mentioned as containing a tower of Earl Douglas in 1416; and it figures in documents relating to the marriage of James IV. with the Princess Margaret of England. The old peel tower, known as 'Hunters' Ha',' stood till the end of last century; and ivy-clad ruins of the tolbooth, whose vane bore date 1669, were demolished in the summer of 1880. The decay of the village has been arrested by the prosperity of the modern town, and its site is now occupied by numerous handsome villas and dwelling-houses. The armorial bearings of Galashiels are a fox and a plumtree, and are said to have been assumed in memory of an event that occurred during Edward III.'s invasion of Scotland (1337). A party of English, encamped in or near the town,. had begun to straggle through the neighbouring woods in search of wild plums, when the inhabitants of Galashiels fell suddenly upon them, drove. them headlong to a spot on the Tweed, nearly opposite Abbotsford, still known as the 'Englishmen's Syke, 'and cut them down almost to a man. Congratulating themselves on an exploit that had proved to be sourer fruit for the invaders than the plums they had been seeking, the villagers dubbed themselves 'the Sour Plums o' Galashiels,' and are celebrated under that name in an old song. The arms of the town, however seem to indicate some confusion of thought between this event and the fable of the fox and grapes.

The modern town owes its origin, as well as its growth and prosperity, to the spirit of manufacturing enterprise, which first seized the people in last century. Galashiels has no history apart from the narrative of the development of its manufactures, and although mills on the Gala are mentioned in the early 17th century, it was not till the 18th that a general move was made down to the banks of the stream which afforded such excellent water-power. Dorothy Wordsworth, speaking of the place in 1803, describes it as 'the village of Galashiels, pleasantly situated on the banks of the stream; a pretty place it once has been, but a manufactory is established there; and a townish bustle and ugly stone houses are fast taking place of the brown-roofed thatched cottages, of which a great number yet remain, partly overshadowed by trees.' Since that time the prosperity and activity of the burgh have reached a very high pitch. An important factor in furthering the prosperity of the town was the opening of the various railways - to Edinburgh and Hawick, to Selkirk, and to Peebles - which furnished access to the best markets at a lessened cost for the manufactures of the town.

The burgh of Galashiels stretches for 2 miles along both sides of the Gala, which flows through the narrow town from NW to SE. For the most part it is built on the alluvial ground along the banks, but it also sends offshoots, extending up the slopes of the adjacent hills. It is flanked or overlooked on the one side by Meigle Hill (1387 feet) and Gala Hill, and on the other by Buckholm and Langlee Hills; and the environs are picturesque and varied in their scenery. Situated thus on the border between Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire, the burgh belongs to two parishes - Melrose and Galashiels - which are, however, for all civil and police purposes, regarded as one community in Selkirkshire, though for parochial matters each parish rates its own district. The boundary between them is exceedingly irregular; and though Melrose parish, which takes in the Ladhope district of the burgh, lies to the N of the Gala, and Galashiels parish generally to the S, the stream does not form the boundary between them. Some time ago both districts were about equal in population, but with the recent opening up of Gala policies, a new town has arisen in Galashiels parish, both larger and finer in appearance than the Melrose portion.

The aspect of the town is unassuming. Most of it is either straggling or irregular; the central parts and both extremities, contiguous to the river, consist mainly of factories, shops, offices, and workmen's houses. The part S of the Gala is made up chiefly of one long irregular street, with two newer and shorter streets and detached buildings, stretching along the narrow level strip that intervenes between the river and the hills. The northern part of the town, which is the quarter showing the greatest extension and improvements in recent times, has a number of short, irregular streets and rows and clusters of buildings that reach up the face of the hill. The suburbs, especially Abbotsford Road, Melrose Road, and Windy Knowe, are adorned with large and elegant villas, offering one of the best and most visible evidences of the prosperity of the Galashiels manufacturers. The river, which is spanned by five bridges, of which two are railway viaducts, is, in times of drought, almost entirely drawn off by the factories; but in times of freshet it is not always prevented by strong bulwarks from flooding the adjacent streets. A heavy flood on 12 July 1880, and another on 10 March 1881, were attended with great damage to property along its banks. There is no drainage system whatever, and at all times the Gala serves as the common sewer for the refuse from the factories and houses - a fact which at times is unpleasantly impressed upon the olfactory nerves of visitors to the town. The railway within the burgh is crossed by one foot-bridge and two for wheeled traffic.

Galashiels has no imposing show of buildings. The houses, with the exception of the suburban villas, are in a plain and unambitious style; and even the shops are few and small in consideration of the population and relative importance of the town. The public buildings are neither very numerous nor very fine. The townhall, built in 1860 at a cost of £3000, is a handsome edifice of two stories, with a large hall capable of containing 600 persons, besides a smaller hall and committee rooms. The Corn Exchange was erected in 1860 at a cost of £1100, and has a hall with accommodation for 500 persons. The Volunteers' Hall was built in 1874, and cost £3500; the Masonic Hall buildings, including shops and small dwelling-houses, as well as the public rooms, were erected in 1876 for about £3000; and the Good Templar Hall can accommodate 300 persons. All these halls are the property of various companies of shareholders. The public hospital was projected in 1872. The public library was erected in 1873 at a cost of about £1000, and is managed by a committee chosen from among the town council and the householders. In 1881-82 the income of the library was £296, derived chiefly from an assessment of 1d. per £; and the expenditure was £271. There is a very large number of associations and combinations for various purposes - social, commercial, helpful, and pleasurable - among the people of Galashiels. These include a Mechanics' institute and library, a cottagers' horticultural society, two farmers' clubs, a provident building society, a provision store and several co-operative store companies, a manufacturers' corporation, masonic, good templar, and foresters' lodges, clubs for angling, cricket, football, bicycling, bowling, curling, etc., a literary society, two total abstinence societies, and various religious societies, an ornithological society and club, an entomological society, and several benefit societies. The churches and meeting-houses are numerous and capacious. The parish church is a semi-Gothic edifice .dating from 1813, and contains about 850 sittings. Ladhope church serves for a quoad sacra parish constituted in 1855, and comprising part of the town within Melrose parish. It contains about 900 sittings. The West church serves for a quoad sacra parish constituted in 1870, and as built at a cost of £1400 In Nov. 1881 a fine new church was opened, its erection, begun in 1878, being the result of the growing needs of the populous town. It serves as a consort to the parish church, the parish minister and his assistant holding alternate services in the two buildings. The style of the new edifice is Early Decorated Gothic; the estimated cost is £13,000, exclusive of the spire, which is designed to be 190 feet high, but of which only the tower is as yet completed. The church, which is seated for 950 persons, has a nave83 feet long, besides aisles and transepts; the height to the apex of the roof is 62 feet. A large organ was placed in this church at a cost of £1150. Galashiels Free church was built in 1875 at a cost of about £5150, to supersede a previous edifice. It is in the Gothic style, with two gables in the transept, and is seated for 650 persons. A hall in the same style adjoins it. Ladhope Free church contains 550 sittings. The East United Presbyterian church, built in 1844, with 840 sittings, superseded a previous church that was nearly as old as the modern town. The West United Presbyterian church was opened in 1880, also on the site of a former church, and affords room for upwards of 800 hearers. The South United Presbyterian church, an edifice in the Early English style, with a square tower 70 feet high, was opened in Aug. 1880. It cost £4500, and accommodates between 750 and 800 persons. St Peter's Episcopal church, an Early English building dating from 1853, was enlarged by the addition of a new chancel and S aisle in 1881, when a new organ also was erected, and contains between 450 and 500 sittings. The Gothic Roman Catholic church of Our Lady and St Andrew, opened in 1858, with 400 sittings, was not entirely completed till 1872. Other places of worship are an Evangelical Union chapel (rebuilt 1872); two Baptist chapels, Galaslhiels (1804) and Stirling Street (1875); two meeting-houses of Plymouth Brethren; and one of Christadelphians.

Schools, in the year ending 30 Sept. 1881, with accommodation, average attendance, and grant, were the burgh public (470, 546, £452, 4s. 6d.), the infant public (156, 137, £85, 17s.), Ladhope public (252, 204, £118, 19s.), the Episcopalian (263, 265, £231, 7s. 6d.), the Roman Catholic (313, 109, £94, 18s. 6d.), and Glendinning Terrace public (300, 350, £328, 16s.), this last being under the Melrose school-board. The burgh public school in Gala Park was erected in 1875 at a cost of £4200; and £8500 has since been spent in providing additional accommodation. There are various private schools, including three young ladies' schools and the academy for boys, which will probably soon be recognised as a higher class public school, and which the burgh school-board has agreed to lease, provided they obtain the sanction of the Education Department.

Galashiels contains a head post office, with all the usual departments, including a savings' bank. The other banks comprise branches of the Bank of Scotland, British Linen Company, Commercial Bank, National Bank, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Thirty-six insurance companies are represented by branches or agents in the town. There are 7 inns and hotels. Two weekly newspapers, both Liberal in politics, are published at Galashiels - The Border Advertiser, established in 1848, and The Scottish Border Record, established in 1881. A weekly market is held each Tuesday, a special market for seed-corn on the third Wednesday in March, another for wool on the second Thursday of July, and one for general business on 7 Oct.

Galashiels contains 4 iron and brass foundries and 3 engineering works, 3 dye-works, 1 skinnery, perhaps the largest in Scotland, though at present (1882) only in course of being rebuilt after a destructive fire, and several establishments for the production of such mill furnishings as shuttles, heddles, etc.; besides the usual shops for the local trade of a country town. But by far its most important interest centres in the manufacture of woollen cloth; the greater part of the population is connected with it; the largest buildings in the town are its woollen mills, and the most ornate the mansions of its tweed manufacturers. The industry seems to have been followed in the district from an early period; for a charter of 1622 makes mention of certain waulk-mills (fulling-mills). But even in 1774, 150 years later, no great progress had been made, for only some 170 cwts. of wool was used at Galashiels, and woven into blankets and coarse 'Galashiels Greys.' At the same date, the united rental of the three waulk-mills in the town was £15. But before the close of the 18th century an advance was begun. In 1790 the first carding machine in Scotland was erected at Galashiels, and that was only the forerunner of many new machines and modes introduced by the active and enterprising manufacturers. In that year mills began to be erected for the reception of the new machinery; but by far the greater part of the 660 cwts. of wool used in the district in 1792 was woven in the dwellings of the weavers. Few years passed in the beginning of the present century without the introduction of some improvement that enhanced the quality of the cloth, or lessened the cost of production. The chief products up till 1829 were, as before, blankets and cloth of home-grown wool, with knitting yarns and flannels; but the depression of that year, co-operating with a change of fashion, inflicted a check on the prosperity of Galashiels. The manufacturers skilfully adapted themselves to circumstances, and introduced new fabrics, of which the chief were tartans and mixed trouserings in tweed. Thenceforward the prosperity of the town has been steady and uniform; and, notwithstanding the keen and growing rivalry of the mills in Selkirk, Hawick, Dumfries, Innerleithen, etc., the manufacturers of Galashiels, as they were the first to introduce the woollen manufactures into the south of Scotland, have constantly maintained their position at the head of the industry. The chief fabrics now produced at Galashiels are the world-renowned tweeds; but yarns, blankets, plaids, shawls, tartans, narrow cloths, grey and mixed crumb-cloths, and blanket shawls of variegated patterns, also bulk largely in its trade returns. In 1882 there were 17 woollen-mills in operation, and 3 large and 1 small yarn-spinning mills. There are no factories for the manufacture of hosiery, although there are two or three stocking-makers in the town who do a little business privately. There are also 3 tweed warehouses, on a tolerably extensive scale, which carry on a home and foreign trade. The manufacturers are exceedingly averse to affording information concerning the extent of their operations; and it is difficult to obtain accurate returns as to the number of hands employed or the yearly value of goods manufactured.

Galashiels proper was made a burgh of barony in 1599, and, till 1850, was administered by a baron-bailie under the Scotts of Gala, who succeeded the Pringles of Gala as superiors in 1632. The town adopted the General Police and Improvement Act for Scotland in 1864, and began to be governed under that Act by a provost, 2 junior magistrates or bailies, and 12 councillors or commissioners of police. In 1868 it was constituted a parliamentary burgh, and it unites with Hawick and Selkirk in returning one member to parliament. In 1876 the boundaries of the burgh were extended for municipal purposes, though not for parliamentary election purposes. In 1882 the corporation consisted of a provost, 4 bailies, a treasurer, and 9 councillors, elected in terms of a bill introduced into parliament in 1875 for extending the limits of the police burgh, and for investing the governing body with efficient powers. The same bill authorised the corporation to construct waterworks, with a compensation reservoir on the Caddon, a clear water reservoir on Howesdean, and a service reservoir to the S of Leebrae. These were completed in 1879 at a cost of about £60,000. The police force, in 1882, consisted of 12 men, and a superintendent, receiving a salary of £116. Police courts are held as occasion may require. Small debt courts are held on the second Mondays of February, April, June, and December, on the last Monday of July, and on the first Monday of October. A gas company was established in 1836, and a water company in 1839. Great improvements were made in the matter of cleaning and lighting the town after 1864; but both the water supply and the drainage continued for several years in an unsatisfactory condition. The only funds at the disposal of the magistrates and council are such as arise under the Police Act. The annual value of real property in the parliamentary burgh, exclusive of railways, was £29,838 in 1872; £56,904, 5s. 5d. in 1882; £56,699,12s. 11d. in 1883, this being the first decrease on record. The municipal constituency, in 1883, was 2758; and the parliamentary, 1828. Pop. of the parliamentary burgh (1871) 9678, (1881) 12,435; of the entire town (1831) 2209, (1851) 5918, (1861) 6433, (1871) 10,312, (1881) 15,330, of whom 7250 were males and 8080 females, whilst 9140 were in the parish and police burgh of Galashiels and 6190 in Melrose parish. Houses (1881) 3123 inhabited, 114 vacant, 82 building.

Galashiels parish is situated partly in Selkirkshire and partly in Roxburghshire, its larger portion being in the former county. It includes the ancient parishes of Boldside in Selkirkshire, and Lindean in Roxburghshire; and the union appears to have been carried through in 1640. The parish as it now exists is bounded on the NE and E by Melrose, on the SE by Bowden, on the S by Selkirk, on the W by Selkirk and the Selkirkshire section of Stow, and on the NW by the Selkirkshire section of Stow. Its greatest length, from NW to SE, is 6 ¼ miles; its greatest breadth is 3 ¼ miles; and its area is 8589 acres, of which 150 are water, and 5710 belong to Selkirkshire. From Caddonfoot to the Ettrick's influx the river Tweed winds 3 7/8 miles east-south-eastward along the boundary with Selkirk parish, and then, bending 2 ½ miles north-north-eastward, divides the Boldside from the Lindean section and from the Abbotsford corner of Melrose. The Ettrick, for the last 1¾ mile of its course, divides the Lindean section from Selkirk parish. Caddon Water, over its last 6½ furlongs, traces the N half of the western border; and Gala Water, for 3½ miles above its junction with the Tweed, traces the boundary with Melrose parish on the NE. Cauldshiels Loch (2¾ x 1 furl.) is in the Lindean section; in the Boldside is Hollybush Loch (2 x ½ furl.), 1¾ mile S of the town. The whole parish of Galashiels is hilly; but the hills expand on wide bases, and have in general rounded tops and a soft outline. They yield a good quantity of land to the plough and for plantation, and afford excellent pasture-land for sheep, and they are usually separated from each other by beautiful narrow valleys. The principal heights are, in Selkirkshire, Meigle Hill (1387 feet), Mossilee Hill (1264), Neidpath Hill (1203), Blakehope Hill (1099), and Gala Hill (904); in Roxburghshire, Cauldshiels Hill (1076 feet), White Law (1059), Lindean Moor (968), and Broad Hill (943). Greywacke and clay slate are the prevailing rocks, and these furnish most of the local building material. Ironstone has been found, but no quantity of sandstone, limestone, or coal. The soil along the river banks is sandy, on the rising-ground N of the Tweed, dry and gravelly; and on similar ground S of the Tweed, it has a considerable admixture of clay resting upon till. Some small patches of table-land, distant from the rivers, have black mould. Nearly one-third of the land is arable; most of the remainder is pasture, though a respectable number of acres is under wood. Antiquities are represented by the beginning of the Catrail, a reach of Roman road, the Rink camp on the Rink Hill, relics of various other Roman and Pictish fortifications, and Fernilee Tower. Gala House, a little S of the town, is a recent Scottish Baronial edifice, one of the last works of the late David Bryce; its owner, John H. F. Scott, Esq. (b. 1859; suc. 1877), holds 3600 acres in Selkirkshire, valued at £3396 per annum. Another mansion is Faldonside; and, in all, 6 proprietors hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 18 of between £100 and £500, 16 of from £50 to £100, and 56 of from £20 to £50. In the presbytery of Selkirk and synod of Merse and Teviotdale, this parish is ecclesiastically divided into Galashiels proper, West Church quoad sacra parish, and part of the quoad sacra parish of Caddonfoot, the first a living worth £527. Under the landward school-board, Galashiels and Lindean public schools, with respective accommodation for 266 and 60 children, had (1881) an average attendance of 132 and 61, and grants of £71, 8s. 4d. and £59, 16s. Valuation of landward portion (1881) £4743, 3s. 4d. Pop. (1801) 844, (1831) 1534, (1861) 3379, (1871) 6062 (1881) 9742, of whom 6347 were in the ecclesiastical division of Galashiels, 3252 in that of West Church, and 143 in that of Caddonfoot.—Ord. Sur., sh. 25,1865.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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