Population and inward 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.

More than half the population increase in Galashiels was due to short distance movement of people from the rural areas of the counties of Selkirk and Roxburgh and by others crossing over into the town from the adjacent counties of Peebles, Midlothian and Dumfries.  In Table 2, the 1851 Census shows 35.5 per cent born in the town, a quarter of the population born in other parts of Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire whilst another quarter had migrated from the neighbouring counties.  In 1881 that position had changed to 40 per cent born in the town, 23 per cent within the two counties and just over 20 per cent migrating from neighbouring counties. 

Gulvin suggests this pattern indicates they were mainly agricultural workers moving into their nearest urban centre to better themselves by working in the new woollen factories and textile workers migrating from woollen districts elsewhere in Scotland.(3)   Analysis of those working in the town’s woollen-textile mills in 1881 confirm this with just over two-thirds being migrants, 2514 born outside of Galashiels and only 1153 native-born.  Irish-born migrants accounted for 3.4 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively, well below the average for Scotland of 7.2 per cent and 5.9 per cent.


Table 1.  

Galashiels Population 1851-1891 

Relative to the number of Woollen-Textile Mills in operation. 

Percentage growth compared with Scotland.

Decennial PeriodPopulationGalashiels% Growth Weaving/Spinning MillsScotland% Growth 
1851 5919 13 
187110312+60.319 +9.7
190113615 -21.6 +7.7


Table 2.     

Galashiels Population 1851 and 1881 

Place of Birth.

Town 209235.3604039.4
Local Counties*151125.5355523.2
Bordering Counties**151125.5333121.7
Rest of Scotland4487.614629.5
Wales 03
Ireland 2033.43912.6
Not known270.5130.1
 (5919) (15330) 

*Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire  **Peebles, Midlothian, Dumfries 

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