PART I: 1850 - 1900

The often quoted Lord Cockburn had something apt to say about most Scottish towns. He was referring to Edinburgh when he suggested it 'was as quiet as the grave, or even as Peebles'1; Dundee he dismissed as 'the palace of blackguardism'. Certainly the memoirs of William and Robert Chambers support his view that, in the early nineteenth century, Peebles was indeed a very quiet place and had 'little advanced from the conditions in which it had mainly rested for several hundred years'.

It was the county town of one of the four slowest shires in Scotland in terms of population growth during the period 1755 to 1821. At that period, when Scotland's population rose from 1.26 million to just over 1.6 million, a rise of 27 per cent, Peeblesshire only increased by 12.8 per cent, and whilst neighbouring Lanarkshire trebled its population through the development of new industries, Peeblesshire continued to be a shire mainly concerned with farming.2

Peebles was at one time an important meeting place for the growers from the east and the dealers from the west, providing a profitable market for the town. However, that was before the building of good roads across Soutra and the opening of the canals between Edinburgh and Glasgow in the late eighteenth century. Once the Forth and Clyde Canal opened in 1790, the farmers in the south began to send their corn to Dalkeith for shipment on the canal. It was 'with oratorical enthusiasm' that the toasts to the trade of the town would urge the need for a good weekly corn market with a 'row of farmers' carts laden with grain lining every side of every market day with plenty of merchants going to buy'. It was naturally assumed, when the railways were first mooted, that Peebles would re­establish itself as a market-place for grain. This was not to be the case, but the failure to achieve a thriving market for grain was more than compensated by the other beneficial opportunities that followed in the wake of the railways.

The River Tweed and its tributary, Peebles Water, better known to many generations as the 'Cuddy', were recognised by the town council as assets in their endeavour to attract the attention of 'manufacturers, capitalists and others' to the possibility of setting up a manufactory in the burgh. The town council was remarkably enterprising at this time. They not only advertised these assets but took steps in 1829 to develop them, constructing a cauld at the lower part of the Minister's Pool to ensure there would be sufficient water to drive the corn-mills.  They also  showed great  initiative in 1828, when

 

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