Local Authority Minutes Galashiels – 1866

J R G Hastings


When I last had the privilege of addressing you it was on the subject of the Minutes from 1864. By far the most important item of business in the minutes for that year was a large scale extension to the burgh boundaries. There is no such outstanding item of business to be found in the Minutes for 1866, but they do, I think, amply illustrate that the business with which the Commissioners had to deal was gradually increasing, and that a growing demand was being made for the Municipal services available at that time. I hope that there will be something of interest to you in the references which I intend to make from the Minutes of the latter years.

1866 saw the building of a bridge over the River Gala near the railway station. Three tenders were received as follows –

James Harkness, Builder, Hawick……..£ 994

John Dickson, Builder, Galashiels……..£1,120

Mark Liddle, Builder, Lauder…………….£1,190

It was agreed that Mr Harkness’s offer should be accepted on condition that the work be carried out within three months. The Council also decided to approach the Commissioners of Supply for Roxburghshire and the Trustees of the Melrose District of Statute Labour Roads for further grants, in consequence of the bridge costing £300 more than was anticipated. The Commissioners must, however, have been too optimistic in expecting the project to be completed in three months, because some five months later (September) we read of complaints about the delay in constructing the bridge and the inconvenience thereby caused to the inhabitants. In September of that year it also reported that the Bridge fund showed a deficit of £320:10/- and the Commissioners decided to impose a special assessment of 1d in the £ to help meet the deficiency. Some of the revenue came from private subscriptions and according to Hall’s History the new bridge was largely the result of the exertions of John Thorburn, Auctioneer. The bridge was completed before the end of the year at a cost of £1,050.

There are again a number of reference to the level crossing near the railway station, which seems to have given frequent trouble. Counsel’s opinion was obtained and he recommended that the Commissioners should press for the insertion of a clause in any future Parliamentary Bill that might be promoted by the Railway Co. obliging the company to build a bridge. The Commissioners decided to endeavour to enlist the assistance of a Mr Hope Scott, Barrister, who, however, declined the invitation to help in view of the fact that he held a retaining fee from the North British Railway Company. Mr Hope Scott, I understand, married a grand-daughter of Sir Walter Scott and was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church and School in the town. 1866 incidentally saw the opening of the branch line to Peebles.

The bridge over the railway at Low Buckholmside had also been giving trouble, but as a result of the Commissioners’ representations the North British Railway Company had taken down the wooden bridge and were in the course of erecting a more substantial bridge.

There are several references to the service of notices calling on frontagers to form footpaths and make up roads ex-adverso their properties. There is a very amusing reference (although it would not appear to the frontagers concerned) in the case of Church Street. The Commissioners had been considering calling for the formation of a footpath along the north side of the road in continuation of Church Street. The clerk pointed out, however, that as the cemetery frontage was 100 yards in length and as there was no probability of any buildings being erected there, about two thirds of the cost of the footpath would fall on the Commissioners. In these circumstances, the Commissioners resolved that the proprietors on the opposite side of the street should be called upon to make the footpath, allowing them, however, if they could so arrange with the heritors to form the footpath along the side of the wall enclosing the burial ground. As you know, the footpath runs along the south side of the street. No doubt the frontagers felt that if they were to pay the bill they might as well have the footpath on their side of the street.

There was considerable controversy over the formation of a paved footpath along the west side of Wilderhaugh between Robert Hall & Co’s premises and Wilderbank Mill, and there is an exhaustive report by the Clerk on the subject in the Minutes. There had apparently been a gravel footpath which was believed to have been formed by Roxburghshire Road Trustees sometime previous to the year 1854. In 1857 Major Scott of Gala had been called upon to form a stone sewer alongside the footpath. Major Scott’s factor had replied to the effect that in his opinion there was no legal obligation upon him to implement the order to form a sewer, but that he was unwilling to enter into litigation with the Commissioners when the cost was so small and moreover he did not wish to resist any attempt to improve the condition of the town. He accordingly instructed the formation of a stone sewer which was laid in 1857. The Clerks report expressed the opinion that the Commissioners had power to compel the formation of a paved footpath in room of the gravel one and that Major Scott as the owner of the dam was responsible for the construction of a paved footpath, although he might possibly have relief against the mill owners using the dam for a proportion of the cost. The Commissioners accepted the advice of the Clerk and agreed that a statutory notice should be served on Major Scott requiring him to pave the footpath. At a later meeting however the Clerk reported that he had since discovered that a notice had been served on Major Scott by the Commissioners in 1862 requiring him to make a gravelled footpath and that the Laird’s factor averred that this notice had been complied with. The Commissioners decided, in view of this information, to defer consideration of the matter, and there is no further reference to it in the Minutes for that year. Possibly the view was taken that the Commissioners in 1862, having been satisfied with a gravel footpath, had exhausted their rights on the subject as far as Major Scott was concerned.

The Commissioners had under consideration the Selkirkshire Roads Bill which would, I think, be a measure of intent to regulate and improve the roads in the county. The Commissioners had previously met in Committee and agreed to recommend that the following additions and alterations to the Bill should be suggested to the Selkirkshire Roads Trustees –

1) That the Selkirkshire Road Trustees should be bound to contract with the Roxburghshire Road Trustees for the removed of the Damhead Toll Bar and that the latter body should be taken bound not to erect another Bar within two miles of the boundaries of the burgh.

2) That not only the Chief Magistrate should be qualified to sit and act as a Trustee, but that two Junior Magistrates should also be so qualified.

3) That the Parochial Board of the Parish of Galashiels should be entitled to elect and return two representatives, instead of one, and that such representatives should not necessarily be tenants in the proposed Bill.

4) That the Bill should be so altered as to oblige the Trustees to assume and maintain the whole of the new street and footpaths formed or to be formed in Galashiels

5) That the Trustees should not be bound to make new streets or roads in Galashiels in respects the Commissioners already possess that power and at present exercise it.

6) That the existing debts of the Trustees should be charged on lands according to their value.

7) That lands and heritages in Galashiels should not be charged with the assessment for making new roads.

8) That power be conferred upon the Commissioners to acquire the roads belonging to the Trustees within the Burgh at such time and under such conditions as may be agreed upon.

Mr Adam Cochrane Jnr, moved that, provided the above additions and alterations were given effect to by the promoters of the Bill, the Commissioners should agree to support the Bill. Mr William Brown moved as an amendment that the first of the suggestions be deleted, namely that aiming at the removal of the Damhead Toll Bar, and that in lieu thereof the promoters of the Bill be requested to insert a clause bringing the whole roads within the Burgh under the operation of the Bill. On a vote being taken three voted for Mr Cochrane’s motion and five for Mr Brown’s amendment which was declared carried. A remit was made to the Chief Magistrate, Mr Brown, and the Clerk, to attend a meeting of the Selkirkshire Road trustees to be held in Selkirk the following day to support the decision arrived at by the Commissioners. The Commissioners were, I think you will agree, asking quite a lot, and we learn from a Minute of a subsequent meeting of the Commissioners of a letter having been read from Messrs Lang & Steedman, Agents for the Promoters of the Bill, intimating that “with the exception of the proposal made by the Police Commissioners of Galashiels regarding an arrangement with the Roxburghshire Road Trustees for the removal of the Damhead Toll Bar etc. the suggestions of the Commissioners were not adopted by the Trustees”. It is rather strange to learn of the Trustees’ decision to adopt a suggestion regarding the Damhead Toll Bar when the amendment carried at the aforementioned meeting of the Commissioners appears to have involved the deletion of that suggestion. However, there it is. The arrangements for the administration of roads and streets at that time were very complex, several statutory authorities being involved, and must, I think, have remained so until the passing of the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act 1878 which made far-reaching amendments in the law relating to the maintenance and management of roads and bridges in Scotland. A considerable part of the 1878 Act is still in operation.

There are several references to requests for street lamps, and it appears that the street lighting was becoming extensive, because the gas account for the year to 2 April 1866 amount to £103:2:11d which would be quite a substantial sum in those days.

There were interesting developments in 1866 in connection with public buildings. The Directors of the Town Hall Company had requested an increased rent of £30 per annum for the Commissioners use of the hall and the Commissioners decided to endeavour to obtain a modification of this. A Committee was appointed to meet the Directors but their representations were ineffectual. The Special Committee were then instructed to ascertain what rent would be asked for the corn exchange. The Committee subsequently reported that the Directors of the corn exchange were prepared to given the Commissioners the use of rooms for courts and meetings at a rent, including for heating, lighting and attendance, of £21 per annum. It was apparently felt however that the corn exchange was not in a proper state in which to hold the Commissioners meetings and it was decided to retain possession of the Town Hall for one year at the increased rent of £30. Shortly afterwards the Commissioners appointed another Special Committee to ascertain on what terms the shareholders would be prepared to sell the Town Hall and adjoining ground to the Commissioners. The Special Committee eventually reported that after having gone fully into the matter they had decided to recommend that the Commissioners should offer £1,897 for the Hall. The recommendation was adopted but the proposed transaction fell through, the Hall was not in fact acquired by the Town Council until 1920, the purchase price being £2,500. No doubt as a result of the negotiations for the purchase of the Hall having fallen through in 1866, yet another Special Committee was then appointed to look for a site for the erection of police offices. This Committee subsequently reported that they had had the offer of property in Paton Street at a price of £400 and that this particular site seemed to be suitable for the purpose. The Commissioners decided to conclude a bargain on this basis and instructed the preparation of plans for a court room and police and other offices. Plans of a new court house were submitted to a Special Meeting of the Commissioners held on 18 December 1866. According to the Minutes the plans gave general satisfaction. The work was gone ahead with and completed the following year and the original court room now forms part of the present Burgh Chambers.

The year 1866 saw the first steps being taken towards the provision of a slaughterhouse for the Burgh. Major Scott of Gala had offered a site at Galafoot but at first it was thought to be too far away from the town and it was reported that Major Scott and Mr Elliot had agreed to make site available near the Shepherd’s Cottage at Hollybush. It is later reported however that the proposed site at Hollybush had not materialised and the Commissioners agreed to revert to the site at Galafoot. On 12 November of that year tenders for the erection of the necessary buildings were submitted, the lowest being an offer of £410 by Andrew Murray. On the casting vote of the Chairman consideration of the tenders was deferred until the burgh boundaries had been extended to incorporate the site of the slaughterhouse. It is interesting to note that during the debate on the tenders one of the Commissioners moved that the second lowest tender (namely that of Mr John Dickson amounting to £470) be accepted in respect that it was ultra vires of the Commissioners to accept Mr Murrays tender he being a partner in business with one of the Commissioners. This notion did not receive a seconder however and was consequently not put to the meeting. This is an early example of the question of pecuniary interest in a public body. The project was eventually proceeded with and the boundaries extended to bring the site within the burgh. Almost one hundred years later we have seen the erection of a modern abbatoir designed to meet the needs not only of Galashiels but of a wide area and the closing of the slaughterhouse erected by the Commissioners.

At one of the meetings the Chief Magistrate drew attention to the great inconvenience caused to the inhabitants in certain parts of the burgh by the late delivery of letters and, in many instances, the none delivery of letters. It was agreed to petition the Postmaster general in the matter suggesting the appointment of additional letter carriers. These person were apparently not yet known as postmen. The Postmaster General replied to the effect that he considered the present force to be adequate and that the delivery of letters was effected with reasonable expedition. The Commissioners were of the opinion that the information on which those conclusions were arrived at was inaccurate and the Clerk was instructed to repeat the protest, pointing out that letters were not delivered to a large part of the town. The Postmaster General was however not prepared to move in the matter, his reply stating that the result of careful enquiry had strengthened his opinion that there was no need for additional staff. It was also suggested in his reply that it was in the power of the Commissioners to secure and important acceleration of the delivery by using their influence to induce the inhabitants to fix letter boxes in the doors of their houses.

Reference is made in the Minutes to the rebuilding of the Harrow Inn and to provision being made at the same time for the widening of Sime Place. Mention is also made of plans of additions to Wilderbank Mill and Buckholm Skinworks having been approved by the Commissioners.

Dealing with the subject of public health we find that the Commissioners agreed to issue a notice requiring the householders to comply with the Sanitary Regulations it being the intention of the Commissioners to cause a thorough survey to be made by the Inspector with a view to enforcing the Regulations. It is obvious that the sanitary condition of the burgh was far from satisfactory.

The Inspector also complained about a large part of the Contractor’s time being uselessly spent in collection ashes daily at the extremities of the Burgh and suggested that dust boxes be placed at Buckholm Haugh and at the cottages at Buckhom Mill. The suggestion was approved and orders given for the erection of the boxes. We read also of a complaint by the Inspectors of a large accumulation of ashes at the Railway Companies property in High Buckholmside. The Commissioners agreed to remove the ashes at their expense and with a view to preventing a recurrence of the complaint, to instruct the police to watch the premises and apprehend any parties contravening the Act. Forthright methods were used in those days.

Pig styles were also apparently giving trouble, the Inspector being asked to report to the Clerk on all cases where, in his opinion, these were foul of injurious to health, with a view to compelling the parties to keep the premises clean.

There is reference in the Minutes to the Inspector having reported that certain drains in King Street, Queen Street and High Buckholmside were in a defective condition. The Sanitary Committee were instructed to examine the drains in question and, if defective in construction and so foul as to be injurious to health, to enforce the provisions of the Nuisance Removal Act.

There is an interesting reference to an account from a Mr Jardine, Civil Engineer, Edinburgh in respect of a survey and report upon the proposed drainage of the town. The amount of the account – which is incidentally not stated in the Minutes – had apparently been questioned because the account was remitted to a Sub-Committee to examine and report. The Sub-Committee subsequently reported that the account appeared to be correct, but they suggested that in the circumstances (whatever these may have been) Mr Jardine should be asked to make a statement. The Minutes do not disclose the result of any approach made to Mr Jardine in this respect. The important question of drainage must however have been exercising the minds of the Commissioners and little wonder; but it was to be several decades yet before the town was provided with a proper drainage system.

A special meeting of the Commissioners was held on 18 June 1866 to hear an Order in Council with reference to the threatened approach of cholera. It was agreed that the whole Commissioners should form themselves into a Committee for the carrying out of the purposes of the Order.

Five applications for lodging house licenses were lodged and granted.

Dt Tweedie was appointed Officer for Health for one year at a salary of £10 per annum.

The Minutes contain several references to the erection of public conveniences in the town and of protests by neighbouring proprietors against the proposals.

Arrangements were made with Mr Walter Elliot, Hollybush, for a site for a manure depot near the shepherd’s house and for the purchase of the manure by him.

There are relatively few references to the Police Force in the Minutes but it is reported that the Sergeant of the Police and the Constables had requested an increase of 2/- per week in their wages and the Clerk was asked to find out the wages in neighbouring towns. After having obtained this information it was agreed that the wages should remain as they were but that the Magistrates should be authorised at their discretion to grant an increase of 1/- per week when they considered this proper. The scavengers also asked an increase in pay and they were given an extra threepence per day so they fared a little better.

The assessments were fixed at 1/1d per £ the total estimated expenditure being £1,155:18:9d. As I have already mentioned an additional assessment of 1d per £ was also imposed to meet the deficit on the cost of the new bridge over the River Gala. The Minutes also disclose that assessments, amounting to £61 in respect of the year to May 1865 were written off as irrecoverable.

The Commissioners advertised for a loan of £375 to meet the following expenditure :-

75 cast iron lampposts £225

Fire Engine House £120

Making access to clock in Town Hall £25

Witness box for court room £5

Total £375

They received only one offer at the rate of 5% which was eventually accepted. Another lender requested an interest rate of 5% instead of 4 ½%. The Commissioners agreed to the increase provided the lender would take repayment of £150 to account of his loan.

The auditor of the Commissioners accounts was still Mr James Stalker, Writer.

The Commissioners resolved to present a petition to Parliament praying for the abolition or further reduction of the duty on fire insurance.

There is reference to the Magistrate having again seen the Lord Advocate on the subject of the extension of the Civil Jurisdiction of the Sheriff of Selkirkshire over the whole Burgh and that they had reason to believe that a Bill would be introduced into the ensuing Session of Parliament giving effect to the Commissioners proposals.

The Commissioners accepted an offer by Mr James Gowans, Watchmaker, for winding and regulating the clock at the Town Hall and Corn Exchange for one year for the sum of £5:10/.

Up to the annual election in November the Commissioners were:-

William Brown, Manufacturer

Thomas Clapperton, Graindealer

Adam Cochrane, Jnr, Manufacturer

William Haldane, Brewer

John Hall, Builder

William Mitchell, Blacksmith

Thomas Roberts, Manufacturer

William Alex. Sanderson, Manufacturer

John Thorburn, Inspector of Poor

William Haldane was the Chief Magistrate. In November of that year, Henry Roberts, William Mitchell and William A Sanderson retired by rotation. Mr Roberts was re-elected and the other two vacancies were filled by the election of Thomas Wood, Skinner and Peter Sanderson, Manufacturer. Mr William Mitchell and Mr W A Sanderson did not seek re-election.

There was no contest on this occasion, there being only three nominees for the three vacancies. I had a look at the Minutes from 1860 to 1866 to see whether there had in fact been much competition in the annual election of Commissioners. I found the position to be as follows:-

1860 - 4 candidates for 3 seats

1861 – 5 candidates for 3 seats

1862 – 6 candidates for 3 seats

1863 – 6 candidates for 3 seats

1864 – 4 candidates for 4 seats

1865 – 5 candidates for 3 seats

1866 – 3 candidates for 3 seats

It would appear, therefore, that some interest was being taken by the taxpayers in the government of the town despite the fact that they may not have been very progressive in outlook. (I was thinking here of the absence of such important services as a piped water supply and a proper drainage system). At the 1865 election, 230 votes were recorded but I am unable to say what proportion of the total electorate this represents. As I mentioned in my last paper, those having the right to vote at such elections were the male occupiers of lands or premises of the yearly value of £10 of upwards. The annual meeting for the election of Commissioners was convened by the Sheriff who presided at the meeting.

I hope the foregoing references from the Minutes have given you some kind of picture of municipal life in 1866. The Minutes do, I think, make it clear that the municipal services were expanding, although still very rudimentary in character and that local government was beginning to make its impact on the town.