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Town Trail

The Tolbooth and Cloth Hall (4a)

On Scott Crescent near the Mercat Cross stood the Tolbooth and the 'Pant Well'. In Scottish market towns, the tolbooth was the building in which monies were paid by traders attending the markets. The Tolbooth in Galashiels was probably built in 1599 when Galashiels became a Burgh of Barony. Prior to 1617, the Tolbooth was used as a place of worship and as a dancing school. Those who fell foul of the law also saw the Tolbooth at close quarters, as it was used as a prison for the Manorial Court of Galashiels. Originally there was a clock and a bell contained within a tower but the clock was removed to the parish church. Unfortunately, the bell has since been lost. The building was demolished in 1880 as it was in danger of falling down. The weather vane from the top of the Tolbooth can now be seen in Old Gala House.

The 'Pant Well' was once located to the left of the shop and was one of the public wells supplying drinking water to the locals. Such wells were common in Galashiels until the latter stages of the 19th century. Even though the water from these wells was frequently unfit for drinking and outbreaks of disease occurred as a result, the townspeople were against installing a piped supply. Matters were not helped by town councillors who were opposed to the introduction of pipes. The government eventually compelled the Burgh Council to provide a secure water supply in 1879 but it was not until 1907 that the Secretary of State for Scotland forced the Town Council to install a piped sewage system.

The manufacture of cloth has been important to Galashiels for many years and in 1666 the weavers of the town formed a corporation to promote their trade. The Corporation dissolved in 1875, by which time the mills (where most of the weavers worked) had made the cottage weaving industry uneconomic. The Galashiels Manufacturers' Corporation was established in 1777, followed a year later by the Dyers' Corporation. In 1791 the first mill in Scotland with mechanical carding machines was constructed in Galashiels. There was a massive increase in the quantity and quality of cloth being produced as a result of such mechanisation.

The Cloth Hall (on the right hand side of the road) was constructed in response to this. Here was a centre for the trade of cloth produced by the early mechanised textile industry. Without this building, trade from Gala would not have been as strong as it became. The Hall opened for business on 30 July 1792 and was an instant success. The cost of the building was met by subscription and the local minister, Dr Robert Douglas gave a loan of 1000. Each member of the Manufacturers' Association was allocated a shelf and charged an annual rent for this space.

In 1813, the Hall became a public house and later a bank. Today the Hall has been subdivided to form private flats. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, there was a depression in the woollen industry. The depression hit Galashiels badly and in 1827 the town was described as being "in a most disastrous condition". Sir Walter Scott and some of his friends visited London wearing trousers made from Shepherd's Tartan, the material became an instant fashion success and trade in the material increased.

In the 1830s, Gala became a distribution point throughout the Borders for coal carted from the Lothian coal fields (for many years, the tenants of Gala paid their rent by carting coal). This coal enabled steam power to be introduced to the mills in 1836 and cloth production increased. The arrival of the railway in 1849 helped to boost trade again as producers could transport their goods to customers with great ease.

Next: The Mercat Cross

Historical Background
Where to Start
(1) Scott Park
(2) Old Gala House
(3) Old Parish & St Paul's Church
(4a) The Tolbooth and Cloth Hall
(4b) The Mercat Cross
(5) Tea Street
(6) Old Burial Ground
(7) St Peter's Episcopal Church & School
(8) Burgh Buildings
(9) Public Library
(10) Market Square
(11) Church of Our Lady & St Andrew
(12) Post Office
(13) Former Co-op Building
(14) Glasite Chapel
(15) Burgh School
(16) Bank Street Gardens
(17) Volunteer Hall
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