Galashiels nestles in a valley with the Rivers Tweed and the Ettrick, the town divided by the Gala Water which is the historic boundary between Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, the town partly lying in both counties. Uniquely, local born population were listed in the Census as either born ‘Galashiels, Roxburgh’ or ‘Galashiels, Selkirk’ until changed in 1891 when the Boundary Commission placed the town entirely in Selkirkshire. With waterpower so readily available and the district producing an ample supply of wool, local enterprise was not lacking and woollen-textile mills sprung into being on the banks of the River Tweed and beside the lades of the Gala Water almost as fast as the latest inventions became adapted for the carding, spinning and weaving of wool fibres.
Four woollen-textile mills were erected just prior to 1800: Wilderbank (formerly Wilderhaugh Burn), Ladhope and Mid Mill 1793c and also Botany Mill (originally Weirhaugh) 1797. A further nine mills were established by 1851 with Waulkhillhead 1802, Deanbank 1804, Nethermill and Rosebank 1805, Huddersfield and Galabank 1818, Gala Mill 1826, Abbots 1841 and Buckholmside 1846. Four more were started by the time the Census of 1861 had been taken: Comelybank and Tweed Mills 1852, Victoria 1853 and Netherdale 1857; by Census 1871 two others were in operation: Waukrigg (formerly Tweed Place) and Wheatlands 1866. When Langhaugh Mill started in 1875 and there were 20 mills in production by Census 1881. Later, Bristol Spinning in 1885 and Waverley Mill in 1886 were built.
In addition some 16 smaller manufacturing factories were producing woollen texiles; many processing spun yarn by using hand-looms to produce finished cloth.
Population and Inwards Migration
With this rate of enterprise it is clear why Galashiels expanded so rapidly as an urban centre, its population rising from 5919 to 15330 during the thirty years from 1851 to 1881, showing an increase of 159 per cent. It was a rate of growth spurred on by employment opportunities attracting incomers to the town seeking to better themselves.
Table 1 shows the progress of population expansion that occurred through inwards migration and natural growth, increasing by 60 per cent in the decade to 1871 when 19 woollen-textile mills were providing employment. By 1881 there was a further near-50 per cent increase when the town had 20 mills. This pattern of growth was well in excess of the average population growth of 10 per cent to 11 per cent occurring elsewhere in Scotland during this period. However, after further population increase in the decennial period to 1891 the town then experienced outwards migration and a drop of over 20 per cent was recorded when the Census of 1901 was taken. In Galashiels (and for Britain, too) it marked the beginning of a long period of steady decline for the textile-woollen industry as it faced greater competition from overseas.