The Royal Burgh of Peebles in the nineteenth century : the impact of a locally-organised railway on a moribund Scottish county town

Duncan, John Stuart (2005). The Royal Burgh of Peebles in the nineteenth century : the impact of a locally-organised railway on a moribund Scottish county town. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d3b9

Abstract

Peebles, a small burgh in the Scottish Borders, was stagnant at the start of the 1800s, having remained virtually unchanged for 200 years. It was by-passed during the 1840s railway boom, the North British Railway (NBR) having decided that building a railway from Edinburgh to Peebles would be too costly. Local people then planned, built and ran the successful Peebles Railway, opened in 1855 as a 19-mile branch line linked to the NBR Edinburgh-Hawick route. It was an early example ofthe 'Cheap Railway Movement' in Britain.

Within months, the town's com market had reopened, and the first of four woollen mills had begun production. The NBR and the Caledonian Railway soon provided additional rail links, and, as Peebles was no longer isolated, tourism blossomed because of the town's situation in beautiful countryside that had associations with Sir Walter Scott. The local Burgh and Grammar Schools were rebuilt, and low freight charges for building materials meant that the appearance of Peebles changed. New houses used sandstone instead of the local whinstone, and Welsh slates instead of thatch. A palatial Hydropathic was opened in 1881, which encouraged the' carriage' trade. The Parish Church became too small for the growing population, and was rebuilt in 1887, using expensive materials-an expression of the renewed confidence in the town.

This thesis explores why Peebles was stagnant in the first part of the nineteenth century. It reviews previous attempts to obtain a railway and the efforts of the Town Council to attract industry. The contribution of the Peebles Railway to the town and district is compared with those of a number of similar branch lines in Scotland and northern England. Much of the undoubted rejuvenation of the town is shown to be due to the three progenitors of the Peebles Railway Company, who were prominent members of the community.

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