Industry, Trade and Commerce
measure, the future looked far from bright. 'Extremely difficult for the tweed trade' was the judgment about these years of the early 1930s. The Peeblesshire Advertiser believed the pre-1914 prosperity of the Border tweed trade had perhaps been too largely based on foreign orders and that the quality of the product of our local mills was higher than many in this country could afford to buy.
Fortunately, the first half of 1935 turned out to be better than had been anticipated and was considered to be the best six months since 1931. There were still problems in the early months of 1936 and many of the mills were not able to keep their machinery running at full capacity but there was some improvement as the year ended. This was the time D. Ballantyne & Bros. undertook a comprehensive reorganisation and all the carding and spinning machinery was concentrated at the Waverley Mill in Innerleithen and March Street became the centre for the weaving machinery.
Then it happened, just before the Second World War: the mills were again running at full capacity. The Defence Programme had invited competitive quotes for the production of one million yards of Army serge and the Peebles mills were successful in getting part of the order. No doubt the representations that had been made to the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Hore Belisha, on behalf of the Tweedside Mills for a share of this work had helped to secure the order.
In retrospect, the wartime economy of the town during the First World War was good and strong. In addition, the county's agriculture was reaping good harvests and that helped the economy in every part of the shire. The hard years came in the 1920s, when the fluctuations of the woollen trade created uncertainty. Then followed acute periods of recession and during these times hopes were raised that, once the latest setback had been overcome, there would be a pattern of regular employment and better days.
The number of the unemployed in Peeblesshire in September 1932 totalled 603; in July 1934 there were 787 and the number had fallen to 472 in July 1935. In Peebles it had fallen over this period from 228 in July 1934 to 196 in July the following year, indicating thirty-two more people at work.5 In October 1936, the unemployed in Peebles had further reduced to ninety-nine but by October 1937 it was up to 115. This was against a background of about two million unemployed throughout the United Kingdom in the middle of 1935; it had been very near to 2.7 million in 1931.6 The unemployed were