Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

GALASHIELS (surveyed in 1858)




The Scottish Border town of Galashiels is situated close to where the Gala Water and River Tweed converge, and lies approximately 18 miles south-east of Peebles and 5 miles north of Selkirk. The name ‘Galashiels’ refers to ‘Shielings by the Gala’, a shiel or shieling being a dwelling. In 1599, Galashiels was erected into a burgh of barony by the Pringles, who were replaced as lairds by the Scott family in the mid-seventeenth century. The Scotts were responsible for creating a new settlement, closer to the river, in the late-eighteenth century. This was in response to the growth of the textile industry and the need for water power to run the mills. By the nineteenth century, Galashiels had become an important centre for the textile and woollen industry in Scotland. During its heyday, towards the end of the century, the town was home to upwards of 20 mills. The prosperity of the town was reflected in the population figures, which almost tripled between 1831 and 1851 from 2,100 to 5,918.


Town Planning

Although Galashiels was originally an ancient settlement located to the south of where it stands today, at the time of survey the present town had only been in existence for around 80 years. Divided by the Gala Water, the older part of the modern town was to be found on the south side of the river. According to Wilson (1857), it comprised ‘one long bent street, and two shorter and newer streets’ and was surrounded by drying and bleaching fields. The north side, meanwhile, was ‘more irregular in form and less advantageous in site’ and ascended from the edge of the river to the Edinburgh-Jedburgh road. Wilson also commented that in recent years the north had undergone extensive development and was by far the largest and most prosperous part of town. The town was connected by an iron suspension bridge and a wooden bridge for pedestrians, and a stone-built bridge for traffic. By 1853, however, the stone bridge was deemed inadequate for the increased levels of traffic - a result of the railway - and plans were put in place to build another.


Trade and Industry

The town of Galashiels has long been associated with the textile industry. From the early-eighteenth century, the manufacturing of woollen cloth has taken place here. Originally known for its coarse cloth produced from homegrown wool, by the mid-nineteenth century there was a move towards producing cloth of a finer quality using imported wool. The appearance of the Edinburgh-Hawick Railway in 1849 not only brought with it cheaper supplies of coal, which resulted in the construction of more mills, but also increased the amount of wool imported into the area. By combining the coarse homegrown wool with that of a finer quality, Galashiels began producing cloth that was on a par with the main textile manufacturers in England and Wales. At the time of survey, Galashiels was home to around 12 cloth factories. Once produced, the cloth was sold in yarns or made into shawls, blankets, plaids, narrow cloths and grey or coloured crumb cloths. Wilson (1857) noted that during ‘the great exhibiton of the industrial products of nations in 1851, Galashiels took four prize medals for the excellence of its woollen manufactures.’ The town was also home to a brewery, a number of tanneries, and factories devoted to the production and sale of hosiery. A large number of the machines used in the manufacturing of woollen cloth were also made locally.


Religious Life

Wilson (1857) noted that the parish church, which was constructed in 1813 and included seating for 850 people, was a semi-gothic structure with a square tower. At the time of survey, a second Free church had recently been built, as had another United Presbyterian church. There was also a chapel of ease and places of worship for ‘Episcopalians, Morrisonians, Baptists, Glassites and Roman Catholics’.



At the time of survey, there appears to have been little in the way of prominent public buildings or institutions. Wilson commented that ‘even the shops are few and tiny compared with either its population, its relative position in the country, or its manufacturing importance.’ There were, however, a number of financial institutions located in the centre of town, including branches of the National Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, a savings’ bank and several insurance agencies. The educational needs of the parish were served by a parochial school and a number of non-parochial schools.


Culture and Society

Life in Galashiels at this time appears to have been dominated by ‘the factory’. As most of the townspeople were employed in the textile industry, the streets showed little signs of life during factory hours. By the mid-nineteenth century, the traditional weekly markets and annual fairs – held on the 8 July and 8 October – were paltry affairs. A small number of societies and institutions were set up to enhance people’s daily lives, however, including several friendly societies, two public libraries, a total abstinence society and a mechanics’ institute.





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website – Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/