CHAPTER 2

 

The Burgh

 

WRITING AS A child of his native town, Robert Chambers was to say of Peebles: 'In the early years of this century, Peebles was little advanced from the condition in which it had mainly rested for several hundred years previously.' He said it was a quiet place and that Peebles was a 'finished town', by which he meant that no new houses were ever built within it. Within his own lifetime, however, both William and Robert Chambers were to see vast changes, not only in Peebles, but in Scotland as a whole, as the results of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions took effect.1

Of the same period William, in more pragmatic vein, was to report that the town consisted of but three main streets, the High Street, Eastgate and Northgate. Lesser streets existed, the Briggait and Biggiesknowe and a straggle of mean, single-storeyed thatched cottages which lay along the Old Town westwards to the Town Well at the top of the Old Town Vennel. The two-storey buildings in the main streets were thatched also and within them the apartments were small and few in number. 'Even of the good kind the houses consisted only of kitchen, parlour and bed chamber closet.' As to furnishings, 'in perhaps no more than two dozen were there any carpets; horn spoons were giving way to pewter; and silver forks were unheard of.' There were no public meeting places and such two or three newspapers which arrived daily or bi-weekly were handed round in clubs.

The transit of goods from Edinburgh was conducted by carriers' carts over roads which had yet to be improved under the provisions of the Toll Road Act of 1790. Of property, as a guide to social and economic status, William Chambers was to say: 'Shortly before the period referred to [1800] there was a tax on clocks and watches.' From the tax returns we glean the following: 'In the town of Peebles there were but fifteen clocks,

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