The Burgh

In 1898, the assets of the Peebles Gas Company were acquired by Peebles Town Council. The following period marks the introduction of gas cookers, grillers, hot plates and other items of cooking equipment, marking a further improvement in the standard of living within the burgh. By 1900, the output of the gas works reached 13.5 million cubic feet and demand was shortly to outstrip production, requiring a greatly-increased plant capacity. Since the original site was constrained from expansion by its situation, the new gasworks were planned and thereafter built. The Eshiels site is still used as storage for natural gas.

At the time of its transfer to the town council, a director of the Peebles Gas Company was William 'Paraffin' Young of Priorsford House. He it was who demonstrated the distillation of oil shale in vertical retorts with the consequent production of paraffin oil and ammonia. His original theories were adapted to the carbonisation of coal to produce illuminating gas. Indeed, his ideas spread far beyond the West Lothian shale-fields and his home in Peebles.8

Long before the introduction of coal gas as a relatively safe method of heating and lighting, the hazards of domestic fires and lighting by 'crusie' were considerable - especially in houses which were huddled together and often thatched. Fire is often mentioned in the records of Peebles. As early as 1826 an 'engine of the latest design' was purchased. Manned by volunteers, this was a hand­drawn vehicle which also relied on manpower to drive its pump and utilise the leather hoses and buckets which completed the sum of its equipment. In 1868, as part of the provisions of the General Police and Improvement Act (Scotland), a new horse-drawn fire-engine was purchased by the town council and a regular fire brigade appointed. This, in the main, meant the retaining of eighteen volunteer firemen by paying them a fee for turnouts. This system prevailed until the Second World War brought certain changes, mainly in the removal of control to autonomous bodies. In the case of Peebles, this was to be eventually the Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade. The 1868 fire-engine survived for many years under the northernmost arch of Tweed Bridge, whilst successive engines were housed in the Town House on the High Street, a situation which prevailed until the 1960s  when a new fire station was built in Caledonian Road.

Cholera was the spectre that threatened Britain's cities in 1862; no respecter of person, the Prince Consort was to die of it in this year. As the epidemic spread, there was a cholera




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