Drew Young


This is the second part of a talk given to Old Gala Club by the late Mr Drew Young.

In 1868 there were a dozen Mills in the Burgh and every one of them drew Water either from the River Gala, direct, or, indirectly through the Dam. Some had wells of their own that drew Water either from the Water Table or from Springs. There were Wells strategically placed throughout the Burgh and these "Watered" the Galaleans.

The Geography of the Burgh shows that there is a very ancient plateau to the north of Gala and Meigle Hills, that during the Ice Age a glacier gouged into the flat land, leaving an escarpment on both sides of the Gala Water.

The same glacier smoothed out the bottom of the gorge and subsequent floods and erosion filled these flattened places. the Haughs and made them good places to grow things in and build upon.

There are three burns that cross the plateau The Lint Burn, The Mossilee Burn and The Bakehouse Burn. Such is the nature of wee burns they cannot be relied upon during a very dry summer. At the other side of the River, there are two more burns; The Ladhope Burn and The Buckholm Burn, they were a bit bigger than their southerly cousins and for a season or so, they were tapped to supply Water to the Buckholmside "Villa and I will be examining this anon.!

In the 1860s there were --- STIRRINGS

• The Mills were expanding

• There was a need for more Housing

• The Population was getting larger

In 1850 the Population in the Burgh was 5,918. Of which 47% (2811) were MALE and 53% (3007) were FEMALE.

Building just had to take place and the land for building was up on the Plateaux and this had a poor water supply. The private wells that did most of the rest of the Burgh just would not do, it was going to take something of a Bomb to punch a message through and following that Saga is where we will go now!

During my "trawl" through the Minute Books of the Galashiels Town Council I came across entries which gave an insight into life in the Burgh during the latter portion of the 19th century.

At a meeting of the Police Commissioners in September 1873 it was reported that there were still several houses in the Burgh that had thatched roofs, properties in Overhaugh Street and Tea Street were cited and the Owners were encouraged to either fit tiles, or, construct rhones to carry rainwater away from passers-by.

Prior to a Drainage Scheme being developed in 1912 the Burgh's Sanitation Requirements were met through street drains eventually running into the River Gala, these drains took away rain water and whatever was poured into them from the houses. Toilets per se were primitive things; where gardens or closes were at the riverside, then a shed was built by the riverside and "whatever" was directed right into the river, where it was not, then the "whatever" would be collected in a can and on specified dates and times, these can would be put out on the street and a cart would come round and empty the carts --- the euphamism for this was Street Manure and the Contract for the collection of this was awarded annually by the Corporation's Public Health Committee .

Being a Galalean, it rather breaks my heart to be forced to talk about the sobriquet "Pail-Merk" but this was awarded to Galaleans by Teris who got their Drainage System installed a good few years before Galashiels and they claimed that Gala folk would get marked in the rear when they had to sit on a pail to do "whatever"! However, the last laugh must be with Gala because the last set of urban "Dry Toilets" in The Borders were to be found when the houses at the foot of Drumlanrig in Hawick were renovated in the early 1960s.

The Minute of The Public Health Committee meeting held in the Burgh Chambers on 11th March 1878 stated:-

The Committee considered Estimates for Street Manure and the Carting of same,

(1) David Wilson, For Manure ………… £205. 0.0.

(2) " " ,For Carting ………… £440. 0.0.

(3) A.Oliver, For Manure ………… £170. 0.0.

(4) G. Mark & Son For Carting ………… £366.10.0.

(5) Mitchell & Curran, For Carting ……. £385. 5.6.

It was decided to recommend the acceptance of G. Mark & Son for Carting and that of D. Wilson for Manure, provided that he (Wilson) understands that another Party will be doing the Carting, should he decline then Mr. Oliver's quotation would be accepted.

At a full Town Council meeting held on 29th August 1877, the following little "gem" was recorded …..

It was agreed that the following be licensed to keep Gunpowder on certain conditions as suggested by the Police Inspector, vis.,

• Mrs Kemp

• William McLane

• Messrs Yellowlees and Hogg

When going through the "Southern Reporter" I noticed an advertisment for Messrs Yellowlees & Hogg … and it turned out that they had a General House Furnishing Warehouse in Bank Street, I did not locate where they functioned in the 1870s but I did wonder why House Furnishers needed to have Gunpowder!

Typhoid and Scarlet Fever Outbreak

Following the story of this from Newspaper Reports and from the Town Council Minutes.

(Such Outbreaks happened from time to time in the late 19th Century and many folk regarded them as "just one of those things", others felt they were preventable and advocated that steps be taken to eradicate this scourge. There had been a similar outbreak in Selkirk during the summer of 1876 and steps urged to combat this were to be repeated in Galashiels and in both places Complacency was the greater enemy than the disease! The fact that Remedial Steps were going to cause Disruption and the Spending of Large Sums of Money had a very Retarding effect.

On the 19th December 1876, there was an outbreak of Typhoid and of Scarlet Fever in the Burgh and by following the course of this and of the actions taken one gains an insight to life in the Burgh and the problems confronting the Town Council at that time.

The issue of "The Southern Reporter" of the 28th December 1876 had two leading Articles which by their juxtaposition and their content might have a bearing although it is only from this retrospective distance that I make a connection.

The first article has the heading, The Storm --- Clearing the Pavements on Monday. --- Wednesday and Thursday of last week proved two of the worst "black Weather" days experienced in the Galashiels District for a long time. (it wrote --- and went on,) All Wednesday the rain and sleet poured down without interruption, giving place late at night to snow. The streets have seldom been in a worse condition than on Thursday morning. In many places the "slush" was ankle deep. It snowed all Thursday, a good deal of it on low grounds melting as it fell, but at a higher elevation it fell dry. And drifted in some places into deep wreaths. Beyond personal discomfort, not much material damage was done in the town; only in Bank Street, where the houses are on a low level, was any mischief done. On Wednesday afternoon and about the midnight succeeding, the Co-operative Store Company's premises and one of the adjoining dwelling houses were flooded with water, occasioned by the overflowing of the dam.

The article went on to describe the effect the snowstorm had on the surrounding countryside and then went on to discuss the effect a Poster had on the populace. Anew Act called upon householders to clear off snow and ice in front of their dwellings under pains and penalties in case of neglect to comply with the Order. The Writer then gave a graphic description of the bustle that this Order caused all the folk took to the streets and were busied in clearing work and he observed “and it was quite amusing to see unwilling dames labouring away at hard trodden snow with tools not best suited for the work." The writer went on to record that much abuse was hurled at the head of Councillor Brown who had proposed that a Poster be issued to the Town Council and the Council had agreed and praised the bulk of the populace for turning out and complying with their civic duty. He also observed that "it is creditable to the good sense of the general body of the householders that the new order was so almost universally, although in many instances unwillingly obeyed." The writer also observed …"Exceptions from their rarity were the more conspicuous and none more than in the case of the fronts of the Royal Bank and the writing chambers of the Town clerk and Fiscal. Some of the public offices were in the same bad position, and some of the chambers had nobody to care for their frontage. The article made the point that if the Order was not universally enforced it would become a Dead Letter. " a result not to be desired," it claimed and went on, " as it is simply impossible that the ordinary staff of scavengers could overtake the work in time to meet the public convenience; and in this respect the Order and its enforcement put us in no worse than the householders of Edinburgh and Glasgow. "

The second Article was headed " Meeting of the Corporation" and it gave an account of a Special Meeting held on Saturday evening and Provost Hall was in the Chair.

For the Corporation to meet on a Saturday evening must have meant that some real Emergency had occurred. Indeed it had. Typhoid and Scarlet Fever.

The Article stated that the first business taken was a letter from Dr. J.J.Hardesty who was the Burgh's Medical Officer of Health, regarding the sanitary state of Roxburgh Street and the newspaper prints it in full.

"To the Corporation of Galashiels

Gentlemen, I have directed my attention for the last few months to Island Street, Roxburgh Street and neighbourhood to try and discover the cause of the prevalence of typhoid fever and scarlatina in the district. On making careful examination of the sinks inside the houses and the branders in the street, and looking at the mouths of the drains which discharge into the Gala, nothing is to be seen that will account for so many cases of these diseases; but the fact that cases of these diseases have been numerous in the locality, especially cases of typhoid fever, proves beyond a doubt that there must be something insanitary in the locality requiring to be remedied. I am of the opinion that the cause lies out of sight, in the covered portion of the drains, or in the cesspools, or in both; and accordingly I advise that all the drains and cesspools in the locality be opened and examined and thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected without delay. I consider the measures ought to be speedily taken, not only on the account of sickness which has been and still is in the district, but also in prospect of the threatened epidemic of Smallpox

I also wish to communicate to you the fact that the servant of Mr. Richard Haldane , Bank Street, left the hospital on Saturday evening last against my orders to the contrary, being in a condition likely to communicate the disease --- scarlatina --- from which she is not free to other persons. I wrote to Mr.Haldane and Ballie Roberts at once acquainting them of this. I beg leave to call your attention to section49 of the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1876 in referenced to this case.

I am &c,


Medical Officer of Health. "

During the debate that ensued from the reading of the M.O's letter it was alleged that one cesspool in Roxburgh Street had for a great number of years been not only in a leaking state but had been overflowing as well and that it poisoned and impregnated the subsoil around and polluted the adjacent well or wells and made their use dangerous to health, in proof of which it was stated that a large number of fever cases had occurred in the families using water drawn from one well and living in the neighbourhood. It was further insisted that the surroundings of the cesspool should be at once examined. On the other hand it was contended that the proper way to set about it was to have the water in this and the other wells in the district analysed, when, if sewage matter from human excreta was found in the water, it would be so far proof that the polluting cause proceeded from the cesspool or cesspools and the well or wells in question could be shut up as being dangerous to health. This (it was reported) ---- was agreed to ; and having regard to a partial failure which occurred some 15 years ago (1861) in an action against cesspool owners, it was considered prudent to proceed cautiously in the present instance. It was resolved that no official action be taken against them, but the Convenor of the Committee was requested to call on the owners and urge upon them to put them in as good a condition as possible.

The entries in the Town Council Minute Books do not tell the tale so well but from them, one can follow the Thinking.

23rd December 1876

An Outbreak of Typhoid and Scarlet Fever was recorded in the neighbourhood of Island Street and Roxburgh Place on the 19th curt. And to discuss this a Special Meeting of the Council had been convened.

The Meeting decided to have the drains in the area opened, cleaned and disinfected and send samples from the 3 wells in the area for analysis and in the event of any of them being found unfit for culinary or drinking use --- it was to be shut immediately. It was also decided to call on the owners of cesspools in the area to discontinue their use.

8th January 1877

It was reported that Water Samples from the 3 Wells in the area had been sent to The City Analyst, Edinburgh and that a Report on them had been received and was signed by Dr. J. Falconer King.

"No.1 Sample" was from a Well owned by Mr. James Neilson of 15 Roxburgh Street.

"No.2 Sample" was from a Well owned by Mr. Scott Wilkie, (no address was given.)

"No. 3 Sample" was from a Well owned by Mr. John Ronald of 7Roxburgh Street.

There were two cesspools, (the Minutes called them Cesspools), one owned by Sanderson & Murray Ltd and the other was owned by The Misses Stewart who lived at No.10 Roxburgh Street. The Inspectors were satisfied that the Sanderson & Murray cesspool was well sealed and was cleared and cleaned regularly. The Misses Stewart were not at home when the Inspectors called and the Council gave powers to the Inspectors to visit again and invoke the Laws and Regulations should their cesspool found to be at fault.

The Report from the Edinburgh City Analyst was read and it was faithfully reproduced in the Minute Book.

The Laboratory of the City Analyst


8th January 1877

The Imperial Gallons of the Waters contained the following, expressed in Grains.

Analysis of Three Wells in Galashiels

Well No.1 Well No.2 Well No.3

Total Residue …………………… 59.20 79.76 23.52

Consisting Of:-

Volatile Residue ………………….. 11.20 8.96 7.68

Saline Residue …………………… 48.00 70.80 15.84


Lime …………………………………. 10.96 15.36 5.36

Magnesia …………………………… 3.44 3.36 1.92

Nitric Acid ………………………….. Distinct Abundant Distinct

Chlorine ……………………………. 6.80 8.64 2.08

Saline Ammonia ………………… 0.0008 0.0032 0.0024

Albuninoid Ammonia …………… 0.0024 0.0168 0.0008

Silica ………………………………… 0.24 0.23 0.48

( Since the Measure … "A grain" might be almost unknown today, let me spell out the Table to take it to something that may still be recognisable --- An Ounce.

1 Grain = 1/20th of a Scruple

1 Scruple = 1/3rd of a Dram

1 Dram = 1/8th of an Ounce

Thus it could be said that A GRAIN … is gie wee!

As shown in the foregoing statement of analysis 0f these waters they are more or less impure, No.2 being certainly the worst. Nos. 1 and 2 contain an excessive amount of dissolved saline matter which, as it consists in both instances to a large extent of Lime and Magnesia, renders the water very hard; so much so as to lead one to the opinion that from this cause alone they are undesirable waters for domestic use. No.3 does not contain so much Lime and Magnesia as either No.1 or No.2 and is therefore much softer than any of these.

As regard positive impurity, No.2 Sample, as I have indicated, as the worst, it contains a large amount of Albuminoid Ammonia and of Chlorine and it is also impregnated with Nitric Acid.

No.1 Sample although not as bad as No.2, I consider to be too impure to be used for portable water, it contains Nitric Acid and an excess of Chlorine. The amounts of Saline and Albuminoid Ammonia however is low, from which fact I conclude that this water has been obtained from a deep well.

No.3 water is certainly the best, even tolerably free of Saline and Albuminoid Ammonia, contains Nitric Acid thus I cannot consider it as being pure, in the sense of being quite suitable for dietetic purposes. No doubt this water might be occasionally used but I think it would be desirable that it is use should be entirely discarded.

As the result of my analysis of these waters I have come to the conclusion that Nos. 1 and 2 are so impure as to be quite unfit for use and that No.3 is so much so that it should be at least regarded with great suspicion.

(S.D.) J. Falconer King "

In 1877, Dr. King did not have the facilities not possibly the knowledge of identifying pathogens such as Cryptosporidium; E.coli ; Salmonella typhi or Haemolytis Streptococcus all he was able to do was to give a Chemical Profile of the samples presented to him and draw on knowledge from whence such chemicals originated … for example two kinds of Ammonia were found and of Nitric Acid --- all three have an ANIMAL origin !!!

The Council debated Dr. King's Report and the Provost proposed that the Owner of Well No.1 (Mr.Neilson) and of Well No.2 (Mr. Wilkie) and other interested parties be informed of the unfitness of the Water for portable purposes and the Wells should be shut within 4 days notice being given under pain of Proceedings being taken against them under the various HEALTH ACTS. There was an Amendment proposed that the Waters should be only used for Washing Purposes but on a Vote, the Amendment was heavily Lost.

The Meeting further agreed that the Owner of Well No.3 (Mr. Roland) be made aware of that portion of the Report referring to his Well and informed that the Council will NOT be closing his Well but that ALL Users should know the Results.

It will have been noted that the Analysis was of the Chemistry alone, Microbiology in 1877 was not at all well developed mainly because of the power of the Optical Microscopes, limited, in these days , to a magnification of +30 at the very best. The common contaminant organisms that are so familiar to us today, such as E-Coli ; Salmonella ; Paratyphi ; Streptoccus &c., just were not known. Dr. Falconer King did the best with the technology that was available to him; it was going to be some 30 years into the future before Haemolytic Streptococcus was found to cause Scarlet Fever and not much more before Salmonelli Typhi was identified as the cause of Typhoid Fever.

Let us run another Virtual World exercise and see if we can work out How the poor folks in Island Street and Roxburgh Street came to be afflicted.

What building were in the area?

Start up at the top; The Skinworks and across the road, "Pickie Broon's Mill"; come down the street and you have The Free Kirk on the water side of the road and across it , Hall the Builder's yard; then a row of fairly high density housing on either side of the street.

Turn into Roxburgh Street and what do you have? On the left there is more high density housing then you have Sime & Sandersons' Mill --- Botany Mill.

On the right, there are a few shops then a warehouse, then some low density housing, then a School and Schoolhouse.

Roxburgh Street runs right into the escarpment and makes a right turn. Almost on the bend of the turn there is, set into the escarpment, a gents toilet, which had been built in the 1850s, the drainage from which ran straight into the Dam. Also set into escarpment, is a blacksmith's shop which will eventually become Burns & Company, the Textile Engineers. The street goes past the smiddy and Rosebank Mill and comes into Hall Place and Union Street which were much as we see them today.

What contaminated the Wells?

We know from the Newspaper cutting that there had been a heavy fall of snow and that the Dam had flooded. We know that one cesspool was pretty foul - I did not quote it but the newspaper report spoke of the cesspool being full and "foul issue" from same had been absorbed by the ground round about it. The roads in the area were unmetalled and with snow and slush kicking about, things would be … "gie slaistery".

What we do not know for sure, is the location of the Wells. Such information as we have puts a public well at the top of High Street and two wells in the Botany Mill complex. The Analysis speaks of No.2 being the worst, No.1 only slightly better and No.3 "not recommended".

Any clues to be got from the Analysis? One of the Wells are described as being fairly deep so how deep is that? Island Street has the River Gala on its north side. Roxburgh Street has the Dam at its southern end and The Lintburn runs down its length in a culvert to empty into the Gala just about at the Stane Brig. Do any of the Wells dip into these sources? One could speculate and say that the "Deep" well probably drew from the Water Table and would probably be something like 8 or 10 feet deep.

Such drainage as there was, would have ran right into either three of the running sources and there would be no way of knowing if any of them leaked and this could be a source of contamination. It seemed that there was a drain of some sort outside most of the dwelling houses into which liquid domestic waste was poured. As we have already noticed, Solid domestic waste (Street Soil) was collected on a regular basis.

There are not many parts of the Burgh left where one can see conditions as they would have been in 1877 a close up Overhaugh Street west of the Bank Close junction on the south side of the street; the close that is the back entrance into The Border Telegraph's print works and the close off Market Street just below where Gray's Toy Shop used to be. A wander down some of the closes off High Street, Island Street and Bank Street can give one a flavour and having done that one can get in tune with the period.

One can get further "into tune" by looking at the wording of the old Minute Books and of the old Health Acts. Here, one comes across the phrase … "Causing a Nuisance" and we learn that the Perpetrator had to remedy this under pain of Prosecution and we discover that said Nuisance was described as "any street, pool, drain, ditch, water course, sink, cistern, water closet, earth closet, privy, urinal, cesspool, dung pit or ash pit so foul or in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious or dangerous to health." Under this, the Town Council acted in the manner that has been related.

Knowing what we know Today, one has to wonder just how our Fore Bearers lived and thrived. It has been proposed that the main reason was that our Ancestors had built up a battery of Antibodies that ensured their Survival but that, there were the occasions when a "Bug" came along that punched through these Defences and we got ---- Outbreaks.

I have recorded the number of Wells there were in the Burgh and it has been seen how reluctant Galaleans were to change their ways, to give up the Wells (the majority of which seemed to be Free to the User) and to shell out money to get Clean, Piped Water and have their streets and countryside dug up … the outbreaks of Typhoid and Scarlet Fever were borne with stoicism as almost being par for the course. Their course of action was to have Wells analysed from time to time and to shut down those found wanting.

One suspects that if the Well at the end of the Close got shut down and one had to go a street or two away for water and shed the odd halfpenny to someone there one would go along with this for a little while and one would see the Corporation men doing all the "Cleaning" things and in the fullness of time, one would take a bit dip from the "closed" well and if things were OK, then one would take another dip if this second dip gave one a bad tummy, then, it might be ignored until the pennies and halfpennies ran out and one would be at it again.

From this distance in time, one can only repeat the Biblical Formula "Forgive the Lord, they (knew) not what they (were) doing!"