Industry, Trade and Commerce

Galashiels woollen firm of Arthur Dickson & Co., took over the tenancy of the old corn mills on Peebles Water and set up a 'manufacturing house' which 'finished' locally-woven blue cloth of a common kind and also materials for plaids. James Dickson earned the distinction for Peebles as the first place in Scotland to produce 'fancy trouserings' woven in the shepherd-tartan check and these were hailed as a great success in London.

There had been a local association with the weaving of cloth long before Dickson had set up his 'manufacturing house'. It can be traced back to 1480 when the first waulk-mill was built at the east end of Tweed Green. The waulking (or fulling, as it is now called) thickened or made the woven cloth more firm or compact. The weavers of Peebles were certainly a 'trading craft' since 1563 and the earliest incorporation recorded in the royal burgh. They 'enjoyed the exclusive privilege of manufacturing' within the burgh and no one was allowed to work in the craft as a master till he was a burgess and had been passed as worthy and had sufficient work looms.10 David Loch, General Inspector of Fisheries in Scotland, noted in 1776 that Peebles had forty looms which were employed in the making of coarse woollen goods. This was the same number of looms that Kelso had, but Galashiels only had thirty whilst Hawick had as many as fifty-six looms employed on 'jobbing' work. 11

In addition to the weaving of woollens, Peebles produced linen and cotton. In the eighteenth century, cotton manufacturing was introduced into the town by William Chambers, a deacon of the weavers' craft in 1703, and the grandfather of William and Robert Chambers. When cotton was in great demand, William Chambers employed about a hundred looms. Therefore, it is interesting to note that with the development of the modern woollen industry in the nineteenth century, there has been a continuous link with weaving in Peebles from medieval times through to the present time (1990) and with the spinning of yarn up to the time when the Tweedside Mill was destroyed by fire in February 1965.

The first 'modern' woollen-manufacturing mill came into being the year after the opening of the railway, when, in 1856, Thomas Dickson took over the corn-mill at the Tweedside, south of Castlehill. It was rebuilt and developed as a 'factory' with machinery driven by water-power, having acquired the feu for the use of the waterfall. Within two years the Tweedside Mill was acquired by Laing & Irvine, who were Woollen merchants  in  Hawick.  William Irvine told the Duke of

 

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