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Gala's past revealed in new book

26 October 2011

The evolution of Gala’s townscape is outlined in a new book based on above and below ground archaeology.

Historic Galashiels: Archaeology and Development charts the events that shaped the town from the formation of a valley by the movement of ice sheets through to the social, economic and architectural impact of its becoming the Scottish centre for tweed manufacture.

Authors Martin Rorke, Dennis Gallagher, Charles McKean, Patricia Dennison and Gordon Ewart have brought together the perspectives of historians and archaeologists to offer a new look at the town.

They recount archaeological evidence for settlements dating back to the Neolithic period, and building work in Gala Park in 1878-79 uncovered evidence of Bronze Age burials. Iron age hillforts and Roman roads predate the urban settlement that grew from the 14th century.

The old red sandstone that is common to the Tweed basin can be seen in nearby Melrose Abbey but you are more likely to see greywacke whinstone used in the town’s historic architecture. In 1849 the arrival of the railway offered alternative building materials -brick or sandstone- and coal for steam power that injected new energy into the wool trade and so intensified urban development.

The woollen industry affected everything from the town’s water channels and housing to society in general. A weavers corporation formed in 1666 championed better regulation of the trade and four-year apprenticeships. The book catalogues the mills that contributed enormously to the town’s prosperity, explains what can be learned from their industrial archaeology and recounts the architectural character -as defined by churches, schools, houses and shops- of different parts of the town.

Today Gala has less reliance on the woollen industry and has seen a diversification in employment, and retail uses at many mill sites, but Heriot Watt’s School of Textiles and Design ensures that innovation in textiles continues in Galashiels.

The Scottish Burgh Survey series looks at modern towns and cities and charts how development has progressed to aid planners in considering new development projects. By identifying areas that may hold an archaeological resource the survey allows developers and council archaeologists to better plan how to record and learn from these sites.

Co-ordinating author Pat Dennison of Edinburgh University says: “I have so enjoyed being the historian for something like thirty Burgh Surveys. Not only have I learned a great deal about Scottish urban history, but I have met so many local enthusiasts for their towns, many of whom have become firm friends.

“It has been a much -appreciated period of my life; and I thank Historic Scotland for this rare opportunity Galashiels is a fascinating historic town.”

Co-editor Mark Watson, of Historic Scotland, said: “From the ancient origins of the Gala dam, a contour lade that flows today over wheelpits where mills are long gone, to hand loom shops that can still be identified in the town centre, the wool industry is woven into the urban fabric as it is in few other towns.

“A good understanding of past urban development gives better confidence in combining the new with the old, and this book helps, we hope, to share that understanding.”

Mark Douglas, Principal Officer (Built Heritage & Biodiversity), Scottish Borders Council, said: " I am delighted that Historic Scotland has been able to continue with their long-established  "Burgh Surveys" in the Scottish Borders with the launch of the new "Historic Galashiels"  publication today.

“Galashiels has experienced much change in the last ten years and this publication helps us to understand the development of the town from its earliest origins as shielings (temporary farm buildings used in summer)  by the Gala Water into a powerful industrial centre for the wool trade and more recently as a regional centre which will soon once again be served by the Waverley Line.

“It is particularly appropriate for the Council  to host the formal launch of "Historic Galashiels" in Old Gala House, a building that has stood through five centuries of the burgh's development.”

Notes for editors

  • The name Galashiels is a mix of two parts: Gala may originate in the Cumbric ‘gal gwy’ meaning clear stream; ‘shiel’, derived from a Scandinavian language, means shelter.

  • The Scottish Burgh Survey project was established in the 1970s and has since produced detailed surveys of the history and archaeology of over 70 of Scotland’s historic towns and cities. Published jointly by Historic Scotland and the Council for British Archaeology, copies of Historic Galashiels, Historic Tain, Historic Dunbar, Historic Maybole, Historic Whithorn, Historic Kilsyth and Historic Fraserburgh, can be obtained from Central Books (tel. 0845 4589910) or

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

For further information

Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768096