Dalkeith (surveyed in 1852)


The former market town of Dalkeith, in Midlothian, lies on an elevated peninsula bounded by the North and South Esk rivers, approximately six miles south of Edinburgh. Although it is unclear whether the name has a Celtic or Gaelic origin, it appears to mean 'wooded valley' or 'field by the wood'. The town has a long and rich history possibly stretching back to the eleventh or twelfth century, and its origins as a burgh of barony and burgh of regality can be traced to the early fifteenth and sixteenth centuries respectively. Originally under the control of the powerful Earls of Morton, the estate of Dalkeith was eventually purchased by the Buccleuch family in the mid-seventeenth century. A bustling and prosperous centre for local trade, the population of Dalkeith in 1851 was estimated to be 5,086.

Town Planning

At the time of survey, Dalkeith was dominated by a curving high street – a typical feature of Scottish towns - that extended for approximately two thirds of a mile from the gates of Dalkeith House (or Palace) to the railway station. An unusual feature of the High Street was its exceptional width; the first half, taken from the Duke's gates, was around 85 feet wide, whilst the remainder, leading towards the railway station, narrowed to approximately 30 feet. In typical style, the High Street provided a centre for local and retail trade, with residents occupying the lanes and closes that ran perpendicular to this busy thoroughfare. The prosperity of the town in the nineteenth century is clearly evident in the expansion and development that took place at this time. It was noted in the Statistical Account (1845) that 'New houses, churches, and streets have been built . . . new roads have been opened and bridges constructed'.

Trade and Industry

As a busy market town, trade in mid-nineteenth century Dalkeith was largely conducted during the weekly markets in the town's spacious High Street. Different days were set aside for the wide range of agricultural produce that was sold here. According to Wilson (1857), a great corn market, 'the greatest for oats in the kingdom', was held every Thursday, whilst every Monday there was a market for meal, flour and pot barley. Although a large proportion of the produce sold came from the surrounding area, farmers also travelled to Dalkeith from the neighbouring counties of Roxburghshire, Peeblesshire, Berwickshire and Selkirkshire. Horse and cattle fairs, and hiring fairs, were also regular occurrences throughout the year. The weekly influx of people into town created a thriving retail trade. It was noted in the Statistical Account (1845) that 'Few towns are better supplied with bread, butcher-meat, groceries, and garden produce. We have . . . manufacturers of felt and beaver hats, straw-hats and woollen stuffs, besides extensive dealers in meal, flour, and barley, tobacco, saddlery, drapery, shoes, hard-ware, and earthenware. In short, almost every article that the present improved condition of society requires may be obtained here in abundance'. At this time, Dalkeith was also home to a foundry, gasworks, brewery, curriers and tanners, builders and carpenters.

Religious Life

Dalkeith parish church and graveyard is located in the centre of town, on the north side of the High Street. Its position here ensured that no individual living within the parish of Dalkeith was required to walk further than three miles to worship. During the mid-nineteenth century, the town was also home to a Methodist church, an Episcopal chapel, a Free church, three United Presbyterian churches, an Independent chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel.


According to Wilson (1857), the parochial school, otherwise known as the grammar school, 'held a distinguished place among the seminaries of Scotland'. Tuition was provided 'not only in all the common and liberal branches of an English and a classical education', but also in mathematics and modern languages. Within the parish of Dalkeith there were nine further schools, four of which were endowed and five unendowed. One of the unendowed schools appears to have been devoted to the education of infants and another, the Benbow School, to the children of the poor.


The town house, located on the High Street opposite the parish church, was at the time of survey used as the local weigh-house, courtroom and prison. Also located within the centre of town were offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Commercial Bank, National Bank, and the Clydesdale Bank. There was also a branch of the Savings' Bank.

Culture and Society

People's lives and educational needs were enhanced by the existence of a subscription library, a circulating library and a scientific association. There were also ten friendly societies and several benevolent institutions in the area. Whilst charitable organisations such as the Indigent Sick Society, the Old Women's Society and the Clothing Society worked to ease the plight of the poor, much is made in contemporary accounts of the generosity of the Buccleuchs.