Galashiels, pp.596-600.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   GALASHIELS,1 a parish consisting of the ancient and suppressed parishes of Bowside and Lindean, the former in Selkirkshire, and the latter in Roxburghshire. Bowside, or the Selkirkshire part of the modern parish, is nearly pentagonal: having one side formed by Gala water, two by the Tweed, one by the Tweed and Cadon water, and the fifth, except for 1½ furlong in the middle, by two small lakes and two rills which they send off respectively to the Gala and the Cadon. It is thus very nearly an island; and is bounded on the north-east by Melrose; on the south-east by Melrose and Lindean; on the south by Selkirk; on the west by Selkirk and Stow; and on the north-west by Stow. Measured in any direction from side to side, it extends about 3 miles, and from angle to angle about 3¾. Lindean, or the Roxburghshire part of the modern parish, marches over one-half of its north-west boundary with the Selkirkshire part, and is there divided from it by the Tweed; and over the other half of that boundary it stretches along, and at one brief point overleaps Ettrick water, and is conterminous with Ettrick parish. On other sides it is bounded by Selkirk, Bowden, and Melrose. In general form, it is a parallelogram 2¾ miles by 1½, stretching north-westward and south-eastward; but it sends off south-westward from its south-west angle a stripe 1½ mile long, and 3 furlongs broad. The whole parish of Galashiels is hilly, and may even be called mountainous; one of its heights, called Meigle, which overlooks the town, rising 1,480 feet above the level of the sea, or 1,200 feet above the level of the Tweed, at its junction with the Gala. But the hills expand on wide bases, and have in general rounded tops and a soft outline, and are separated from one another by winding, narrow, and beautiful vales; and altogether present, both to the eye of taste and to the hand of culture, gentle and enchanting properties. Though patches of heath and spots of rock occasionally variegate the surface, the hills are green, and, to a considerable extent arable; and even in one or two instances in which their forms are conical, plantation and verdure wreath and adorn them up to the very summit. The vale of the Gala, which forms the north-east side of the pentagon of Bowside, is in itself a mere ribbony stripe; but it has a beautiful and very broad edging of gentle acclivity up the side of Meigle and other hills, and besides being itself adorned with rows and tufts of plantation, is confronted behind Galashiels with a phalanx of trees 1¼ mile long, and upwards of ¾ of a mile deep. The vale of the Tweed, which forms half of the western side, and the whole of the southern and south-eastern sides of the pentagon of Bowside, is all the way along very richly wooded, and absolutely gorgeous in beauty. Nothing more needs be said to hint how fascinating its landscape is than to state that its Galashiels side, and the sylvan and variegated slopes which come gracefully down upon it from the heights behind, were the scene chosen as the view from the front of his temple of taste by the most graphic and the most chastely imaginative and the most nicely sensitive to scenic beauty of all Scotland’s poets or literary painters, – Sir Walter Scott. Abbotsford house, indeed, is not within the limits even of Lindean, but it looks across the Tweed to the south-eastern slopes of Bowside, from a delightfully picturesque site ¾ of a mile above the confluence of the Gala and the Tweed; and, with its rich and very broad cincturing of plantation – part of which stretches into Lindean – flings over the landscape of the parish enchanting influences of no common power. The rivers abound in salmon, in trout of very large size, and in sea-trout, bull-trout, par, and eels. At the northern verge of Lindean is a small lake named Cauldshiels, about 1½ mile in circumference, opulently planted on one side, and bleak and wild on the other, and deep, bedded with marl, and abounding in pike and perch. The soil, while very various throughout the parish, is, in the aggregate, surprisingly different on the two sides of the Tweed. In Bowside it is in general deep, heavy, cold, and wet, on a bottom of clay or of rock: in some places it is perfectly red, and occasionally interrupted with ironstone; in other places it is very porous, yet not sandy, or superincumbent on gravel; and, in various instances, it gives place to morasses and lochlets which are productive of peat and marl. In Lindean the soil is, in general, dry and shallow, lying partly on gravel, extensively on till, and occasionally on rock; and it is almost everywhere sprinkled and mixed with a remarkably large proportion of small stones; and is believed to derive, in some degree, from their power of reflecting heat and aiding it to retain moisture, a fertility in excellent and luxuriant crops, which, considering its small depth, is truly astonishing. Nearly one-third of the entire area of the parish is arable; nearly two-thirds are unsuited to the plough, and chiefly covered with pasturage; and about 500 acres are under plantation. The chief mansions are Gala house, overlooking the Gala from a bower of groves, and Faldonside delightfully situated on the right bank of the Tweed, a little above Abbotsford. Traces of two ancient camps and a stretch of Roman road are visible. The old post-road from Edinburgh to Selkirk, Hawick, and Carlisle, runs along the west margin of Bowside; a road recently used runs along the north-east and the south-east margins; and a still newer road intersects the district from north to south. The road between Selkirk and Melrose runs along the west margin of Lindean. The interior parts of the entire parish are ill-supplied with roads; and, indeed, scarcely need them. Population, in 1801, 844; in 1831, 1,534. Houses 226. Assessed property, in 1815, £5,873. – Galashiels is in the presbytery of Selkirk, and synod of Merse and Teviotdale. Patron, Scott of Gala. Stipend £211 11s. 7d.; glebe £28. Unappropriated teinds £543 13s. 1d. Besides the parochial school, attended by a maximum of 125 scholars, there are 4 schools attended by a maximum of 229 scholars. Parish-schoolmaster’s salary £30, with £40 fees, £10 other emoluments, and a house and garden. Two of the non-parochial schools are endowed; one in Lindean, with £8 18s. a-year, and a house and garden; and the other at Ferniler, with £8 a-year, and a house and garden: the fees of the former amount to £19, and of the latter to £20. The ecclesiastical statistics of the parish are so blended with those of the town – which contains the parochial places of worship, and at the same time sends half its bulk, including other places of worship, into the conterminous parish of Melrose on the opposite bank of the Gala – that they will find a better place in the next article than in the present. – The two parishes of which Galashiels consists were for a long period perfectly distinct. The church of Bowside anciently stood in a hamlet of that name, about half-a-mile below the junction of the Ettrick and the Tweed. Lindean derived its name from the British Lyn, signifying, secondarily, ‘a river-pool,’ and the Anglo-Saxon Dene, ‘a valley;’ and seems to have been a very ancient parish. The body of William Douglas, the knight of Liddesdale, lay in Lindean church the first night after his assassination in 1353. The monks of Dryburgh probably obtained possession of this church, and had it served by a vicar; and, in Bagimont’s roll, it figures as the vicarage of Lindean, in the deanery of Teviotdale, and diocese of Glasgow. But before the year 1640 it had ceased to be the parish-church, and become supplanted by that of Galashiels. 

   The town of GALASHIELS stands on Gala water, 5 miles north-west of Melrose; 6 north-east of Selkirk; 18 east of Peebles; and 28 south of Edinburgh. The original village occupied a site on the acclivity south of the Gala, and was simply an appendage of the baronial seat of Gala; but, though still partially standing, and even slightly renovated with new buildings, it has, for a considerable period, been sinking gradually into decay. The present town originated about 60 years ago, when the spirit of manufactures alighted on the villagers, and brought them down to the margin of the stream to avail themselves of its water-power; and it stands in nearly equal parts in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire – the former part being the more ancient, and the latter the more modern. The town, on the south side of the river, comprising all Galashiels Proper, and a considerable portion of the Roxburghshire section, consists of one long bent street, and two shorter and new streets, the whole dotted round with detached buildings, winged with drying and bleaching grounds, and stretching along a narrow stripe of plain between the river and the neighbouring heights. On the north side the town is both more irregular in form and less advantageous in site, ascending in straggling clusters or lines of building, from the margin of the river to the transit of the Edinburgh and Newcastle road, a little distance up the face of the acclivity. The two districts are united by a stone-bridge for vehicles, and an iron suspension-bridge and an ingeniously constructed timber-bridge, both for foot-passengers. All the houses are built of blue whinstone and slated. Though quite a manufacturing-place, the town partakes not a jot of the dinginess, and the confusion, and the concentration of character upon mere labour and gain, which so generally belong to places of its class; but is lively and mirthful in its appearance, heedful of the adornings of taste and beauty, and seems to reciprocate smiles of gladness with the charming scenery amid which it is embosomed. The spirit of manufacture is no doubt here, and walks abroad in an energy which contrasts strongly with the sickliness of its nature, and the feebleness of its movements in many other localities; but it breathes a mountain air, and has the dress and the habits far more of rural than of city life. The factories being worked by water and not by steam-power, – the grounds attached to them being painted over with the many-coloured fabrics which are hung out to complete the process for the market, – the dispersedness of the seats of stir and activity at considerable intervals along the banks of a pastoral stream, – the beauty and lightness of the materials with which the town is constructed, – and the picturesqueness and pastoral features of the rich landscape which sweeps around, – all contribute to protect Galashiels from being defiled with the sootiness, or wasted dawn into the cadaverousness of most other seats of manufacture. In 1832 there were here ten large cloth factories, some of them of considerable date, and two of them quite new. – There are two parochial churches, one quoad civilia, in the Galashiels division, and one quoad sacra, in the Melrose division. The former, built in 1813, and fitted up with between 800 and 900 sittings, is in the semi-gothic style, and rises, in the front end, into a square tower. The quoad sacra church, built in 1837, is a small but neat structure, so situated as to overlook most of the town. A United Secession place of worship, nearly as old as the modern town, and of considerable capacity, though of plain exterior, stands on the Galashiels side. A Relief congregation was established in 1837, and have since erected a small neat meeting-house. There are also small chapels belonging to the Glassites and the Baptists Galashiels, in all other respects, is destitute of public buildings. Even its shops are few and tiny compared with either its population, its relative position in the country, or its manufacturing importance. Its streets, in fact during the hours of labour in the factories – have the silence and timidity and wealthless aspect almost of a hamlet in the Highlands. Its markets also are defunct, and its fairs – held on 8th July and 8th October – feverish and wasted. Manufacture, in its most athletic form, alike heedless of the luxuries and unhurt by the malign influences of what passes for refinement, is almost the sole tenant of the place. The town has branch-offices of the National bank of Scotland, and the Leith bank; a savings’ bank, a friendly society, a public reading-room, two subscription libraries, a small printing-office, a Bible and Missionary society, and an excellent grammar and boarding-school, besides other schools. The town has no police establishment, though it is watched under night by a constable paid by the county of Roxburgh. Attempts to light and clean it by voluntary assessment have hitherto had but partial success. The Edinburgh and Carlisle mail, and stage-coaches between Newcastle, Jedburgh, and Hawick, respectively, and Edinburgh, pass through Galashiels; and numerous carriers continually travel between it and all the towns and important localities intervening from the Forth to the central part of the Border. 

   Galashiels, for some period after its erection, was subject to such fearful inundations of the Gala, that occasionally a boat was brought from 2 miles distant on the Tweed for the rescue of its people; and even yet, it at times is exposed to considerable risk, or even sustains actual damage. The Gala sweeps past it with a rapidity of current and an amount of descent which render its power of vast worth in driving the machinery of the factories, but which, if due means of resistance were not provided, would occasion, in a flood, the sapping and possibly the total destruction of the town. But the bed of the stream has of late been quarried and excavated for building-materials, and has, in consequence, received greatly enlarged capacity for conveying along a swollen volume of water. Strong bulwarks called ‘puts,’ have also been constructed along the banks of the stream, and serve to repress its riotousness when in a surfeited and turbulent mood. Yet strong as the bulwarks are, the river is in hazard of becoming energetic enough to toss them from its path; and whenever it makes an impression on them, it so violently menaces the mills and other buildings on its margin, that all hands are at work to prevent if possible its eruption. But if all efforts be unsuccessful and the work of destruction have begun, the persevering and hardy townsmen brave the invading and impetuous foe on its own territories, and in groups or bands of several scores strong, drag branching full-grown fir-trees into the more quiescent waters on the exterior of the flooded ground, make fast the trunks at points where the stream is comparatively gentle, and toss the branches upon the margin of the central and careering current. By a sufficiently frequent repetition of this process so as to form a bushy wall or rampart of tree upon tree, they now invariably succeed in averting danger even though the regular bulwarks should be broken down; but in 1829 – the year so memorable for Scotland’s asserting its character as ‘the land of the mountain and the flood,’ when Morayshire, in particular, was so fearfully devastated by inundations, – Galashiels might have been all but utterly destroyed had not an astute spectator, amid general looks of despair, suggested for the first time, the trial which was immediately effective, of encountering the torrent with an array of felled trees. 

   Galashiels has a brewery and establishments for the tanning of leather, the dressing of skins, and the construction of machinery for woollen manufacture. It also conducts considerable trade in the production and sale of hosiery. But its grand staple is the manufacture of woollen cloth. “With the exception of Hawick,” say the commissioners on Municipal corporations, “Galashiels is the most important manufacturing town in the south of Scotland. The manufacture is of woollen cloth. There are 9 manufactories, each employing about 40 persons. Although on a scale comparatively limited, the manufactures have of late years made rapid advances, and, from the activity and industry of the inhabitants, united to its advantageous situation, it is probable that the town will continue to increase.” But though inferior in population or in amount of produce to Hawick, it is second to no town in Scotland in the excellence of its woollen fabrics, or in the ingenuity and success of effort to improve the quality and extend the range of its staple. For a considerable series of years, it was known for the production of woollen cloths of only the coarser kinds, fabricated from home-grown woollen; but, for several years past, it has run an increasingly successful course of effort to produce, from foreign wool – chiefly that of Van Diemen’s Land – cloth of the finer qualities, and has even commenced a rivalry, infantile as yet but bold and promising, with the choice broad-cloth manufactories of England. By the mixation of home and foreign wool, it also produces flannels which the Board of Trustees have pronounced finer than any made elsewhere in Scotland, and equal if not superior to the best made in Wales. A large proportion of the home-grown wool is smeared, in order to be fabricated into an improved coarse cloth. Yarns, blankets, shawls, plaids, narrow cloths, grey or mixed coloured crumb-cloths, and blanket-shawls of many hues and changeful patterns, are the forms into which home-grown wool alone, or in mixture more or less with foreign wool, is made to assume. In 1833, according to the statement in the New Statistical Account, the annual consumption of wool amounted to 21,500 stones at 24 lbs. imperial to the stone; of which 21,000 were home-grown, and 500 were foreign. But since that period, not only has the aggregate consumption considerably increased, but, in consequence chiefly of the success of the broad-cloth manufacture, the proportion between foreign and home wool is exceedingly changed in favour of the foreign. We need come no farther down than 1833, however, in order to see the prosperous condition of the manufacture of the town; for instead of the 21,500 stones of wool which were then consumed, there were, in 1792 – when the Old Statistical Account was published – only 2,916 stones; and in 1744, the still more paltry amount of 722 stones. Yet in 1792, the Rev. Mr. Douglas, the minister of the town and parish, reported, “The manufacture of coarse woollen cloth is here carried on to great extent. It has rapidly increased within these few years, and is now brought to great perfection.” The Messrs. Cochrane and Gill, and Syme & Co., are the chief cloth-manufacturers. All the weaving, with trivial exceptions, was, till lately, done in factories, but is now performed chiefly in shops built in their immediate vicinity. The spinning of the yarn is done in the factories by water-power. Average wages for coarse cloths vary much, according to the pattern, from 14 shillings to 20 shillings. The weekly clear wage for blankets and white plaiding, is 12 shillings; for checks, 15s.; for shawls at 42 ells a-week, 16s.; and for twill-cloth and tartans, about 16s. 6d. The condition of the weavers – especially as compared with that of persons of their vocation employed in other localities upon cotton fabrics – is, of course, exceeding good. When in full employment, their clear weekly wages averaged 14s. 3d. in 1839. The total number of looms in 1828, was 175; and in 1838, it was 265. 

   Though Galashiels as a whole is quite unique in position and interests, it consists of three legally distinct portions. The first is the town of Galashiels Proper, situated in Selkirkshire, the tenure of which is leasehold, in leases of 99 years, renewable in perpetuum. The second, situated in Roxburghshire, but on the south side of the Gala, and compact or contiguous with the former, consists of feus, holding, with few exceptions, of the same superior as Galashiels Proper. The third, also situated in Roxburghshire, but on the north side of the Gala, is a suburb called Buckholmside, and consists of feus which are held of a different superior, Mr. Pringle of Torwoodlee. A burgh-of-barony, which includes part of the town of Galashiels and a considerable agricultural district, was erected by a charter, dated 9th June, 1630. There is no property, revenue, expenditure, debt, or taxation. The jurisdiction within the barony is of the ordinary kind, the bailie holding his commission during the pleasure of the superior. No courts have been held for upwards of a century; and there is neither court-house nor gaol. Those parts of the town which are not within the barony, are subject only to the jurisdiction of the county. The weavers were incorporated by a seal of cause from the superior, but enjoy no exclusive privileges. The manufacturers also are called a corporation; but they do not possess a seal of cause. Trade and manufactures are in all respects free. Population of the whole town, in 1831, 2,100. Of 2,209, which the writer in the New Statistical Account reports as the population in 1832, 1,130 are stated by him to have belonged to the Selkirkshire portion of the town, and 1,079 to the Roxburghshire portion. 

   The earliest notice of Galashiels – which, like every other, till a very modern date, refers, of course, not to the present town but to the extinct aboriginal village – occurs in Lord Hales’ Annals, and is wholly confirmed and partly amplified by tradition. In 1337, during the reign of David II. a party of English invaders halted at Galashiels in the course of a retreat from a vain effort to raise the siege of Edinburgh. The season being autumn, and the little army not thinking itself pressed to make a hurried passage across the Tweed, the soldiers began to straggle about the neighbourhood in search of wild plumbs with which it then abounded. A party of Scotch now came up, and learning the position of the foe, rushed down upon them in contemptuous feeling for their employment, took them by surprise, drove them headlong to a spot on the Tweed, still called “the Englishmen’s syke,” nearly opposite Abbotsford, and there hewed them down with the sword almost to a man. The people of the village, in self-gratulation of an exploit which had been a sourer fruit to the invaders than any they went in search of, called themselves “the Sour Plumbs o’ Galashiels,” and transferred the soubriquet to their successors, and are celebrated by it in a Scottish song of high antiquity, and even bequeathed it as the quaint and sarcastic motto of the armorial bearings of the burgh. So early as 1622, the old village must have been a place of considerable note; for the report by the Lords of Commission for the Plantation of Kirks, dated in that year, says, “that there lived about 1,400 people in Galashiels.” A tradition prevails in the district that the village was anciently a royal hunting-station. An old rudely-built square tower, two stories high, called “the Peel,” and supposed to have been the lodge in which Royalty found an occasional temporary abode, was pulled down less than a quarter of a century ago, to make way for an enlargement of the parish school-house.

1  The name Galashiels means simply ‘the Shepherds’ huts on the Gala,’ – the word Gala or Gwala itself meaning ‘a full stream.’ The terms ‘shiels’ and ‘shielings’ were very commonly used by the Northumbrian Saxons to denote the temporary shelters of shepherds; and are still currently employed by the peasantry in pastoral districts, besides forming part of the compound names of many localities.