Saturday, 22 August 2015

Life in Earlston in the 1790's?

We have one of the earliest descriptions of the village  in "The First Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799," edited by Sir John Sinclair, whereby  each parish minister was asked to write a chapter on his parish.   

Contributing the Earlston chapter was Rev. Mr Lawrence Johnston,   whose children  were at one stage  tutored by a young Sir Walter Scott. 

The population of Earlston was given as 1,351 - 670 males and 681 females, with the commen: 
 "The people are in general healthy;  many of them arrive at old age.  The most common diseases are ague, rheumatism and scroph - the frequency of the last  is probably owing to intermarriage.......consumptive complaints are more common."

A generally positive picture was given of the local economy.
"The principal manufacture is linen cloth.  There are between 40 and 50 weaver looms mostly employed weaving linen........ We have only one woollen manufacturer,  though no place could be better  situated for carrying out that branch of trade.   The Leader Water runs along the west and there is plenty of wool to supply 20 manufacturers.
There are four mills which manufacture a considerable quantity  of all kinds of is carried to Dalkeith and Edinburgh markets.  Coal and lime are brought back in return.
Nor can any part of the country be better accommodated with roads.  The turnpike between Edinburgh and Jedburgh  goes close by..
The farmers rear a considerable number of black cattle...which they fatten on turnips.

Horses are absolutely necessary in this part of the country, for it is by them the farmers labour their farms and drive their corn to market.  They never work with oxen now as they did formerly.  

The most common crops in this parish are  oats, barley and peas.  There is also some wheat.  The oats that grow on the grounds at Fans are much esteemed. There is now a greet quantity of clover and of  rye grass sown.  
The account noted that two fairs were held in Earlstoun  - on the 28th June  for sheep, black cattle and horses, reckoned to be "the second best fair in the south of Scotland".  The other fair was held on the third  Thursday of October.

In terms of the local society, we learn that the manse  was built in 1734 and the church in 1736, with Sunday Schools in Earlston and Mellerstain, sponsored by the Hon.Mrs Baillie of Mellerstain House.  

An illustration of the Parish Church, demolished in 1891.- 
From the collection of Auld Earlston.

However there were "many poor in the parish at least 30 are enrolled  who receive a weekly allowance according to their necessities.  For this purpose a sum is raised twice a year".


What was happening in the world outside Earlston?  
George III was King, and it was some fifty years,  since Bonnie Prince Charlie had led the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745  south  through the Borders in his bid for the throne.  Income tax was first introduced by William Pitt  in 1799 to help finance the Napoleonic Wars. 

1795 saw the first regular coach run through the Borders from Kelso to Edinburgh - a 10 hour journey.  It was to be another seventy  years before the railway reached  Earlston in 1863.

This was the age of the Scottish Enlightenment with an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. led by such figures as philosopher David Hume, scientist David Brewster, economist  Adam Smith, engineer James Watt, geologist Jame Hutton.  and poet Robert Burns, who dined in Earlston in 1787 whilst on his tour of the Borders. In Edinburgh the New Town was being created.

The Industrial Revolution saw Scotland changing from a predominantly rural, agricultural economy into a modern capitalist economy as developments in textiles, coal and ship building industries attracted more people to urban centres.  In 1800 social reformer Robert Owen took over the running of the cotton mills at New Lanark,  which became a model for progressive and socially responsible industrial management  

Abroad the American colonies secured their independence from Britain in 1793, and France was in turmoil following the outbreak of revolution in 1789.   Radicalism was also growing in Scotland, with political reformers, led by Thomas Muir,   convicted of  sedition in trials in 1793-4,  and and sentenced to penal transportation in  Australia. 

In Africa, Selkirkshire born explorer Mungo Park reached the source of the River Niger .in 1796.   

But what was the main preoccupation  in Earlston?

This was identified in "The Statistical Account" as: 
"The want of fuel.  The common people burn turf and peat.  Coal is usually from the neighbourhood of Dalkeith, a carriage of about 25 miles, which necessarily makes the price so high that the poor cannot purchase it".

 Craigsford Bridge, built 1737  over the Leader Water
This was the main road linking Earlston tnorth and south, 
until the building of the turnpike that was to become the A68. 
 Copyright - N.F. Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved, 2015

For more information on the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, click  HERE

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  1. I enjoyed reading not only about the village, but also the events going on in the world around Earlston.

  2. Absolutely gob smacked at the wealth of information given here, it inspires me to seek more about Earlston where I have lived all of my life as has my family that can be traced back to 18th century in Earlston


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