Woollen-Textile Mills and Population Growth

Demographic Study 1851-1881

THIS STUDY by Joe Brown BA(Hons) analyses the growth and the changes in population that occurred between 1850 and 1880 in Galashiels, a town in the Scottish Borders. 

Dorothy Wordsworth in her Journal of a Tour made in Scotland describes Galashiels in 1803 as a village ‘pleasantly situated on the banks of the stream; a pretty place it once has been, but a manufactory is established there; and a townish bustle and ugly stone houses are fast taking the place of the brown-roofed thatched cottages, of which a great number yet remain, partly overshadowed by trees.(1)   

The manufactory she observed was the domestic workshops with their spinning wheels and handlooms: the ‘seedbed’ of a local industry that would expand to over twenty woollen-textile and yarn spinning mills by the last half of the nineteenth century.  Although there was undoubted local flair for spinning yarn and weaving cloth, it was the enterprise of entrepreneurs prepared to use the new technologies that transformed Galashiels into a thriving urban town, producing nearly one-fifth of the output of the Scottish woollen industry by 1863(2) earning recognition for the town’s fine worsteds and tweeds. 

It was all made possible by the inventions of Hargreaves spinning jenny and Crompton’s mule.  Initially these inventions were suited for the production of fine but strong thread for the weaving of cotton on Cartwright’s powerlooms and were the means that helped the cotton industry to expand with such spectacular results.  However, the success of the woollen-textile industry in Galashiels demonstrates that when these new developments became adapted for handling softer wool fibres, their impact was just as dramatic. 

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