Peebles, a post and market town, an ancient royal burgh, and the capital of Peebles-shire, stands at the confluence of the Tweed and the Eddlestone, 6 miles north-west of Innerleithen, 22 north-west of Selkirk, 22 by road, but 27 by railway, south of Edinburgh, 27 east by south of Lanark, 47 1/2 east-south-east of Glasgow, and 54 north-north-east of Dumfries. Its site is on the north bank of the Tweed, and on both banks, but chiefly the east one, of the Eddlestone; exactly on that part of the convergent vales of the parish which commands the richest view all round of the low grounds, with their mansions, ancient castles, woods, and demesnes, and of the encincturing screen of green and beautiful hills, overhung in the distance by a horizon of mountain-heights. The Tweed at the place runs nearly due eastward, or in the direction of east by south; and the Eddlestone approaches it in a direction due southward, till within 850 feet of falling upon it at right angles, and then, contrary to the usual manner of 'the meeting of the waters,' bends upward along the basin of the parent stream, runs 1,000 feet south-westward, and debouching round the point of a peninsula, disembogues itself into the Tweed. The point or extremity of the peninsula is occupied as a bowling-green; and the south side of it is disposed in a beautiful promenade and play-ground called Tweed-green. The High-street, a spacious and airy thoroughfare, runs from near the bowling-green 750 feet along the ridge of the peninsula to the cross; and thence 250 or 300 feet eastward to the East-port. From the cross the Northgate, or Northgate-street, a narrow and subordinate thoroughfare in comparison with the High-street, runs nearly 900 feet due northward, lying parallel over most of its length with the course of the Eddlestone. Various brief streets and alleys go off at right angles from these main thoroughfares; chiefly Portbrae, communicating from the lower end of High-street with Tweed-bridge,--School-wynd, communicating from the middle of High-street with the burgh schools, situated on the margin of Tweed-green,--Old Vennel, leading down from the East-port to the lower end of Tweed-green,--and Bridgegate, communicating from the lower end of Northgate with the upper one of two bridges across the Eddlestone. All these parts of Peebles, located in the peninsula and along the left bank of the Eddlestone, and a few houses on the south side of the Tweed, constitute the New town. The ancient district, or Old town, is of small extent, consisting almost entirely of a single street, 1,400 feet long, 300 feet distant from the Tweed, coming down the face of a high ground parallel with that river , and bending for a short way up the right bank of the Eddlestone. The houses of the Old town, though in a few instances modern, are generally old and thatched. Two bridges, one a stone erection of a single arch, and the other a timber bridge for foot passengers, the former on a line with Portbrae and Tweed-bridge, and the latter on aline with Bridgegate, connect the Old town and the New. The New town is of motley character; but it has a pleasing, modern, and recently-improved appearance in its High-street; and it elsewhere possesses many good houses and some neat villas. The town, as a whole, looks sequestered and dingy, having little stir in the midst of a thinly peopled country, and being built of stones of cold hues,--grey and ashy blue.
A wall formerly surrounded all the New town, except where it was washed by the Tweed; but only some small remnants of this, at the exterior of gardens parallel with Northgate, are now in existence. Tweed-bridge is a structure of unknown antiquity; and, having a different style of architecture in the different piers and arches, it was probably built at different times. It has five main arches in the ordinary channel of the river, and three smaller ones on dry ground to assist the transit of a flood; it formerly had a width of only 8 feet between the parapets, so that it could not allow two carriages to pass each other; but in 1835, under authority of an act of parliament, it was widened and improved. A little below the town a light, handsome iron-bridge, constructed in 1818 for foot passengers, spans the Tweed, at a point where it is 108 feet wide. On the south side of the High-street is a commodious tontine inn, erected in 1808. At the went end of High-street, on a small rising ground, stands the parish church, a plain but substantial edifice, built in 1784, and surmounted by a steeple which is more massive than elegant. The church does not front down the High-street, but stands somewhat aslant to it; and the steeple stands not outside the church walls, but within them, so as to destroy the uniformity of the gallery. The other places of worship are in proper keeping with the character and wants of the town. The county hall and jail is a neat structure, in the Elizabethan style, erected in 1844. A number of the private houses are handsome buildings raised on the sites of old deformed ones that had fallen into decay. In the roadway of High-street near the cross, is a well dedicated to St. Mungo, affording a copious supply of water. The town, in general, is kept in good condition; and has a public trust water company and a gas company.
At the western extremity of the Old town are the ruins of St. Andrew's church, occupying the site of an earlier ecclesiastical erection, the pristine parish church of Peebles. The ruins, in the state in which they existed toward the end of last century, are depicted in a drawing by Grose; but they were even then greatly dilapidated; and they have since suffered such decay, that little more than the wreck of the tower remains above ground. The cemetery around it continues to be the ordinary burying-ground of the parish. That the original church on the site was one of Culdee erection, one belonging to the British people, one connected with a social and religious state long prior to that of the Anglo-Saxon period, is extremely probable. From some very old freestone in its walls, the church which survived in ruin to a comparatively recent date, and which must have been built several years before the close of the 12th century, appears to have been the successor and, to a certain extent, the re-edification of a church greatly more ancient. At the Inquisitio of David I., the church of Peebles is noted as existing, and as David made chancellor of the kingdom in 1151, and who became bishop of Glasgow in 1164, was previously rector of Peebles, and archdeacon of Glasgow. The church in which he was rector, that which comes into view at the epoch of record, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but probably did not receive the name of St. Mary's church till it ceased to be Culdean, and became the scene of the Romish ritual of the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norman colonists. David I. granted to chaplains of St. Mary's church--who probably were of his own appointing, or whose altarages he instituted--the corn and the fulling mills of Innerleithen, with extensive mulctures and the adjacent lands. In 1195, the new church, that dedicated to St. Andrew, was consecrated by Joceline, Ingelram's successor in the bishopric. In this church, and in its predecessor, the bishops of Glasgow occasionally held their synods. Joceline, or his successor, in order to settle a dispute with his archdeacon, assigned him a revenue out of the church's pertinents, and thus converted the rectory of Peebles into a vicarage. An altar in St. Andrew's church, dedicated to St. Michael, had a special endowment for the services of "a chappellane, there perpetually to say mes, efter the valow of the rents and possessiouns gevin thereto, in honour of Almighty God, Mary his modyr, and Saint Michael, for the hele of the body and the sawl of Jamys, Kyng of Scotts, for the balyheis, ye burges, and ye communite of ye burgh of Peebles, and for the hele of their awn sawn sawlis, their fadyris sawlis, their modyris sawlis, their kynnis sawlis, and al Chrystyn sawlis." St. Andrew's had various other chaplainries; it continued to be used as the parish church till the Reformation; and was then wilfully damaged, rendered unfit for use, and abandoned. The archdeacon of Glasgow continued till that epoch to be rector both of it and of the church of Manor, and is believed to have annually drawn from the two parishes parsonage tithes to the amount of 6,000 marks. Part of the vicarage tithes was at the Reformation assigned by the patron of the parish to the master of the burgh grammar-school. The dragoons of Cramwell are said, when engaged in the siege of Neidpath-castle, to have used the church as their horses' stable.
Two hundred yards north of the east end of the Old town stand the ruins of the conventual church of the Holy Cross, one of the four in Scotland called Ministries, and founded for 70 Red or Trinity friars. The entire building was a hollow quadrangle, 124 feet by 110; and the church formed the south side of the square, and measured 164 feet by 26 within walls. In the front wall was inserted a small open arch over the spot containing the relics which occasioned the erection of the structure; and by this means worshippers of the relics, or devotees of the shrine, had access both from without and from within to the object of their veneration. The sidewalls of the church were 22 feet high; and the front was perforated with five large Gothic windows. The convent or cloistered residence of the friars formed the other three sides of the square. Its ground floor was vaulted; and its side walls all round were 16 feet asunder, and 14 feet high. From the abandonment of St. Andrew's church, till the opening of the New town church in 1784, the church of the Red Friars was used as the parochial place of worship; and till the beginning of last century, the cloisters, which had, at the Reformation, undergone some change in their interior arrangement, were occupied as schoolrooms of the burgh schools, and dwelling-houses of the schoolmasters. Only a fragment of the church now remains; and the cloisters have been obliterated. A steeple was, after the Reformation, added by the town; and this still exists as a sort of post mortem memorial of the ancient building. So rapidly, after its relinquishment as public schools and church, did the original pile disappear, so rapaciously did the burghers seize upon it as a convenient quarry for cottage, cow-house, or sty, and so magnanimously indifferent were the authorities to the work of dilapidation, that even the Protestant steeple might have been as bodily run away with as the Popish convent and mass-house, had not a neighbouring gentleman, for the sake of defending an enclosed family burying-vault, fenced the fragment and scared away the stone-eaters.
The church of the Holy Cross owed its foundation to a very common event, which yet, from the superstition of the times, created a popular sensation. On the 7th of May, 1261, as we learn from Fordun, there was found on the spot which became the site of the church, and, "in the presence of honest men, kirkmen, ministers, and burgesses, a certain magnificent and venerable cross," which seemed to have been very long inhumed, and was supposed to bear marks of martyrly or even higher sacredness. As a stone box which enclosed it bore the inscription, "The Place of St. Nicolaus, Bishop," the sapient opinion was instantly adopted that it had belonged to a Culdean saint and prelate of the name of Nicolaus, who had been martyred in the year 296 under the Maximian or Dioclesian persecution! Such a medley of anachronisms betrays well the ignorance and the craft of the priests of Rome who had, but three or four generations before, been let loose on Scotland to trick the country into abbey-building; but it was by no means gross enough to provoke the suspicion of that superstitious age. Even the discovery "in the same place, about three or four paces distance from the part where that glorious cross was found at," of "the holy reliques of his [St. Nicolaus'] body cut assunder in bitts, or collops, and pieces, laid up in a shrine of stone," could not suggest to "the honest men and burgesses," that the whole inhumation was a monkish imposture, and an act probably of not many days' date; but, on the contrary, operated on them like demonstration, that, by the bequest to them of the uncorrupting flesh and the thaumaturgical cross of a primitive martyr, their town would henceforth be the theatre of sacred prodigies. Nor did the adroit impostors permit them to be disappointed. For, "in the place where it was found," says Fordun, "there were, and are yet, frequent miracles done by that cross; and thither the people with holy vows and oblations to God devoutly flocked, and still do, from all parts;" and, says another writer, "the place, while the piety of our ancestors continued, was famous by the glory of its miracles, and repaired to by a wonderful confluence of people." Alexander III., when only 21 years of age, drenched with the lessons of monkish tutorage, and prompted ot urged by the bishop of Glasgow, lost no time in erecting over the spot "the magnificent church" and cloisters; and he gave for its support about 50 acres of excellent circumjacent land, and various other endowments. A prodigious addition was made to the thaumaturgical appliaces of the foundation by the setting up--though at what precise date does not appear--of a pretended piece of the true cross of our Lord; for a charter of James V. says, respecting the church, "quhair ane part of ye verray croce yat our salvator was crucifyit on is honorit and keepit." An oath in the reputed royal poem of "Peblis to the Play," in the words, "By the Haly Rude of Peebles," shows in what deep veneration the fictitious relic was held. A foundation so rich in relics could not, in an age when all religious well-being was treated as an affair of merchandise, fail to be rich in worldly wealth. King Robert IV., to whom its minister, Friar Thomas, was chaplain, gave it the lands of King's-meadow. The noble and opulent family of Frazer, the proprietors, in the 13th century, of the greater part of Tweeddale, bestowed upon it several princely donations. Frazer of Fortune, in Athelstaneford, gave it a right to an annual revenue of grain from his lands, so considerable in value as to have come down by entail to the Earl of Wemyss, as heir to the proprietor after the abolition of Scottish monasticism. James V. gave it a splendid mansion in Dunbar, built by the Countess of the seventh Earl of Dunbar, and only daughter of the royal Bruce, for a community of Red friars who were suppressed. Other parties also gave it lands in the parish of Cramond, houses in the West Port of Edinburgh, and various other donations of soil and tenement. All these possessions seem to have been transferred to William, Earl of March, second son of the first Duke of Queensberry, at the Revolution and the Union. But connected with various chaplainries and alter ages which existed in the church, there were numerous endowments of partiland, in some instances, entire rents of houses, by the burgesses of Peebles for the "sawll-heil" of particular individuals; and all these, as well as similar property connected with alters in St. Andrew's church, were granted, in 1621, by James VI. to the community of the burgh, on the condition of their paying an annual rent into the exchequer, and offering daily prayers for the royal donor.
On the rising ground near the point of the peninsula now crowned by the modern parish-church, anciently stood a chapel, attendant upon Peebles castle. Whatever the castle was, it does not, as a castle, figure in history, but appears in record solely or chiefly through the medium of its chapel; and, as a building, it has, for ages, been traceable only by tradition. The chapel was of great but unascertained antiquity; and, along with a carrucate of adjacent land, and ten shillings a-year out of the firm of the town, was granted by William the Lion to the monks of Kelso. It stood a little eastward of the site of the present church, looking right along the High-street; it was a long, narrow, Gothic structure; it was, for a long period after the Reformation, the meeting-place of the kirk-session and the presbytery, and the scene of the celebration of marriages; and it stood and was in use, till pulled down at the erection of the modern church.--Other chapels, particularly one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and called our Lady's chapel, anciently stood in the town, but are now untraceable in both their history and their ruins.--The contemporaneous existence of the three churches of St. Andrews, the cross, and the castle, with their respective towers, seems to have suggested to Timothy Pont, the compiler, at the middle of the 17th century, of Bleau's Atlas Scotiae, the conceit of searching out triads of objects in Peebles, and celebrating the town by the parade of as many as he could discover. "Celebris est haec civitas," says he, "quinque ternis ornamentis, nempe, tribus templis, tribus campanilibus, tribus plateis, tribus pontibus." The quaint Dr. Pennecuick, delighted with the conceit, adopts and enlarges it in his usual style of versification:--
Several localities and old houses in Peebles present, in their names, their association, or their appearance, memorials of ancient importance or bygone interest. Usher's-wynd, Borthwick's-walls, Castle-hill, King's-house, King's-orchards, and some others, are names which still indicate that anciently the town was often graced with the residents or the visits of royalty. "Money" says the writer of the Agricultural Report of the country, "would seem to have been coined in the town, an house still retaining the name of Cuinzee Nook." A strand across the High-street is called Dean's gutter, and an edifice immediately to be noticed is called Dean's house,--names which indicate the residence of influence as parish minister of the archdean of Glasgow. An old house of agreeable aspect, now sectioned off into small apartments for families of the working class, is called Virgin's Inn, and, not improbable, was a nunnery. Dean's house, situated in the immediate vicinity of Dean's gutter, was the town residence in Peebles, of the noble family of March, and the natal mansion of the last Duke of Queensberry. The edifice is somewhat castellated, has one of its corners a curious pepper-box turret, and admits ingress only by an arched passage leading through to the back courtyard. This house now forms part of the Chambers Institution, containing a public hall, a public library, a reading room, a gallery of art, and a museum of natural history, inaugurated in 1859. The cross of Peebles stood in the centre of a spacious area, at the intersection of High-street and North-gate, and still bequeaths its name to the locality. It resembled the cross of Edinburgh, both in the elegance of its structure, and in the barbarousness of its fate, possessing beauties too sublimated to be seen by the burgh authorities of last century, and ordered to be taken down as an obstruction to the thoroughfare.
Peebles has often been twitted for its want of enterprise, but not justly; for it lacks some of the chief requisites for trade, and has displayed as much activity in proportion to its population and means as some first-class towns. Its recent projection of a railway, from its own deep seclusion, through a region of hills, toward the metropolis, is as strong a proof of its spirit as could well be given. It is the central market of exchange for an extensive, thinly-peopled, surrounding agricultural country; and it works that market well, not only in the direct matters of trade, but also in the matters of stimulating rural improvements, and diffusing useful knowledge. It also possesses, for so small a town, in so sequestered a situation, a tolerably fair amount of manufacture. In a suite of waulk-mills on Eddlestone-water, waulking and dyeing are an established employment; and the fabricating of plaiding, flannel, and coarse woollen cloth, in all parts of the process from carding onward, was at one time carried on, and is likely to be resumed. Stocking-making employs a few workmen. Two breweries were formerly at work, but there is only one. The corn-mills on the Tweed, alluded to in Dr. Pennecuick's lines, were recently destroyed by fire; and a wooden factory now occupies their place. The working of leather was formerly carried on, but has been discontinued. The manufacture of fine cotton fabrics was introduced from Glasgow at the beginning of the century; but, as in other places, and more than in most, it speedily declined. The number of hand looms 1828 was 190; and in 1838, it was reduced to 50. The town and its vicinity have, in late years, been much frequented, as a summer retreat, by families from Edinburgh; and, were the accommodations increased three or four fold, or perhaps even ten fold, they would probably be all put in requisition. The scenery, the climate, the fishings, and other attractions, all combine with the facility of the railway transit to attract wealthy summer visitors. A weekly corn and meal market is held on Tuesday; and fairs are held on the second Tuesday of January, on the first Tuesday of March, on the second Wednesday of May, on the Tuesday after the 18th of July, on the Tuesday before the 24th of August, on the Tuesday before the 12th of September, and on the Tuesday before the 12th of December. The principal inns in the town, besides the Tontine, are the Cross Keys, the Crown, and the Commercial. The town has offices of the British Linen Company's bank, the Union bank, and the Bank of Scotland. It has also a savings' bank, fifteen insurance agencies, a literary and scientific institution, a horticultural society, an agricultural society, a widow and orphan society, a lodge of free masons, a curling club, a total abstinence society, and some other institutions. A newspaper, called the Peebles Advertiser, is published once a-month.
Peebles was formerly much celebrated for games and amusements, which probably Kings in some instances introduced, or at which they presided. "Peblis to the Play"--an antiquely written poem, written in the same stanza as "Christis Kirk of the Green," and first published by Pinkerton in 1783--pertinaciously ascribed by some critics to James I., as pertinaciously regarded by others as an impossible production of his pen, and quietly affiliated by not a few to the parodial genius of Allan Ramsay--gives a fair idea of the ancient pastimes, and, in a humorous manner, exhibits them as a tissue of rustic merriment and athletic sport. They are noticed in the opening stanza of James I.'s undoubted poem:--
Yet Tytler, the enthusiastic admirer of James I., and the editor of his Poetical Remains, but one of those critics who will not allow 'Peblis to the Play' to be ascribed to him, says, "The anniversary games or plays of Peebles are of so high antiquity that, at this day, it is only from tradition, joined to a few remains of antiquity, that we can form any conjecture respecting the age of their institution, or even trace the vestiges of these games were. That this town, situated on the banks of the Tweed, in the pastoral country, abounded with game, was much resorted to by our ancient Scottish princes, is certain. The plays were probably the golf, a game peculiar to the Scots, foot-ball, and shooting for prizes with bow and arrow. The shooting butts still remain. Archery, within the memory of man, was still kept up at Peebles; and an ancient silver prize-arrow, with several old medallions appended to it, as I am informed, is still preserved in the town-house of Peebles." Some vestiges of the ancient games are still maintained; and more modern recreations, such as bowling, angling, and a variety of athletic sports, are abundantly practised. The Border games of Innerleithen also belong to Peebles very much as the affairs of a suburb belong to an adjacent city. Rambling and sporting in the surrounding country, as far as through Ettrick forest and up to the sources of the Yarrow, are relished alike by natives and by visitors.
Peebles, from about the date of record at the commencement of the Anglo-Saxon period, was a King's burgh, frequently visited by the Scottish princes for the sake of the pleasures of the chase. In the time of Robert I., it was made a marker town. In 1357, it sent two representatives to the parliament which was called to grant an aid for the ransom of David II. It received a charter, as a royal burgh, from James II.,--two charters from James IV.,--and a charter in 1621, which is its governing charter, from James VI. Many lands and other properties were granted or confirmed to it by these charters; but a great part of them has been alienated. Between the national union and the passing of the Reform act, Peebles united with Selkirk, Lanark, and Linlithgow, in sending a member to parliament. But by the Reform act, it was disfranchized as a burgh, and thrown into the county. It is governed by a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and seven common councillors. Its municipal constituency in 1865 was 110. A large part of its property was recently sold to pay off its debt; and the annual rental of what remains is about £517. The revenue, in 1832, was £649 14s. 6d.; and the expenditure, in the same year, was £767 17s. 6d. The burgh and guildry courts are held only as occasions for them arise; so also are justice of peace courts. But ordinary sheriff courts are held on every Tuesday and Thursday during session; and sheriff small debt courts are held on every Friday during session. All matters of police are regulated by the magistrates and town-council. Population in 1841, 1,898; in 1861, 2,045. Houses, 361.
Peebles seems to have a seat of population in British, or, at latest,
in Romanized British times. Its name is a British word, or the moulding
of a British radix, which signifies 'shielings,' or the shingly and slender
domiciles of a rude people. Its site is one of those fertile and
mountain-sheltered vales of the Tweed which are known to have been very
early settled, and which were the scene of some of the earliest enterprizes
of evangelization and social enlightenment. Strongly protected on
some sides by the thick forest of Ettrick, and on others by high broad
ridges of mountain-rampart, its naturally fortified position would necessarily
invite settlement as a retreat from hostile invasion. The town comes
first distinctly into notice at the beginning of the 12th century.
It had then a church, a mill, and a brewery; and, though in the midst of
a naturally poor and thinly peopled district, it was considered wealthy
and important enough to be drawn into close connexion with the see of Glasgow.
The castle, with its chapel and other accompaniments, was probably coeval
with the date of record. Ingelram, which rector of Peebles in the
12th century, vigorously defended, in a provincial council at Norham, and
afterwards in the papal court at Rome, the independence of the Scottish
church, against Roger, archbishop of York's claim of superiority; and he
carried his point with Pope Alexander III., and was translated from his
rectory to the bishopric of Glasgow, not only without the archbishop's
concurrence, but in spite of his opposition. Alexander III. was much
attached to Peebles, and must have lavished great care upon it at the time
of his erecting its Cross-church. In 1296, William de la Chaumbre
'the bayliff,' John the vicar, several burgesses, and 'tote la communite'
de Peblis,' swore fealty to Edward I. at Berwick. In 1304, Edward,
then lord paramount, granted Peebles, with its mills and pertinents, to
Aylmar de Valence and his heirs. In 1334, Edward Baliol conveyed
to England, as part of the purchase-money of a dependent crown, "villam
et castrum et vicecomitatum de Peblis." James I. appears to have
occasionally visited Peebles; and by those who regard him as the author
of 'Peblis to the Play,' is believed to have been residing in it, and to
have witnessed its now obsolete festival of Beltein--the fire of Ball--when
he composed that poem. In 1545, the Earl of Hertford reduced Peebles
to ashes, but spared its churches and its cross. In 1604, part of
the rebuilt town was destroyed by an accidental fire. In 1566-7,
Lord Darnley resided for some time in Peebles in a state of exile.
In 1585, the Protestant lords passed through it in their march against
the Earl of Arran at Stirling. "The inhabitants, says Pennecuick,
speaking of both the town and the county, "are of so loyal and peaceable
dispositions, that they have seldom or never appeared in arms against their
lawful sovereign; nor were there amongst that great number twelve person
from Tweeddale at the insurrection of Rullion-green or Bothwell-bridge.
Of their loyalty they gave sufficient testimony at the fight of Philiphaugh,
where several of them were killed by David Leslie's army, and others, the
most eminent of their gentry, taken prisoners." In 1745 a detachment
of the troops of Prince Charles Edward encamped a day at Peebles on their
way to Dumfries; but they obtained no recruits, nor did they inflict any
damage beyond being the occasion of some needless alarm. While Buonaparte
threatened Britain with invasion, this ancient burgh was second to no place
in the United Kingdom in the display of loyalty, and jointly with the county,
out of an available population of 8,800, mustered no fewer than 820 effective
volunteers and yeomanry, besides furnishing its proportion to the militia.
The arms of Peebles allude to the increase in the number of salmon at their
annual spawning migration to the upper waters of the Tweed and the Eddlestone;
and they express the allusion by the device of one salmon represented as
swimming up the stream, and two represented as swimming down, and by the
motto, "Contra nando incrementum." Above the shield appears St. Andrew
with his cross, the adopted tutelary of the town, because the patron saint
of the most ancient of the churches. Peebles gives the title of Viscount
to the Earl of Wemyss and March.