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The Annals of Penicuik
Chapter II - The Village of Penicuik

HAVING thus gone over in detail the various objects and landmarks visible to the observer placed upon the heights above, it will be no longer necessary, when writing on the subject of the village and its concerns, as also upon the other matters connected with the internal economy of the parish, to describe them as to an onlooker.

While unfortunately, not a market town, and as a business place none the better for its close proximity to the metropolis, the village of Penicuik, as a principal seat of the great paper-making industry, cannot be considered unimportant or unknown.

The earliest allusion to its existence is contained in a letter preserved amongst the historical documents of Scotland, and referred to in a subsequent chapter. It gives evidence as to the favourable attitude of the people of the place towards their English oppressors in the days of Sir William Wallace. The probability is, that what is therein dignified by the name of a town was little more than a hamlet or cluster of cottages occupied, by the husbandmen and vassals of the Laird. Neither is it likely that it was built upon any portion of the site of the present one. The lawlessness of the times, and the consequent insecurity of the country, necessitated the grouping together of the houses occupied by the cultivators of the soil in the immediate proximity of the baronial residences, for the purpose of mutual protection.

The tower of Rikillis or Terregles, the old home of the Penicuiks of that Ilk, occupied the high ground, now covered with trees, approached from the side of the task by what is known as the Thirty Steps, and it is more than probable that the old village was situated somewhere near to that place. As already indicated, its inhabitants would be few in number, for even so recently as the middle of last century the entire population of the parish was only 80 souls. It is known that in the year 1745 only one house existed between the old Penicuik farm-house (now the Store Drapery) and Auchendinny Bridges.

Subsequent to that time, probably about the year 1770, Sir James Clerk, while carrying; out other enlightened improvements upon his estate, planned and laid out a portion of the village as it now stands, giving at the same time pecuniary assistance towards the erection of not a few of the buildings. He also induced a doctor to settle in it, building him a house to dwell in, and providing a large park to graze his horse in the summer. This gentleman continued in the practice of his profession in Penicuik until after the death of the Baronet in 1782. About eight years subsequent to that event, Mr. Robert Renton, formerly surgeon in the navy, also settled down in Penicuik. For a. time he had a considerable struggle to obtain a foothold, but, being successful in some difficult operations, he finally made such inroads on the business of his rival that the latter left the district. Mr. Renton thereafter took over his house and park, and in course of years acquired considerable wealth. He had a large family, five of his sons, adopting their father's profession, several of them attaining to eminence in it.

Mr. Renton was followed by many able and valued practitioners in Penicuik. The names of Doctors Madden, Monteith, Alison, Symington, Thin, Messer, M'Hae, and Kennedy will readily suggest themselves to parishioners who in the past have benefited by their skill. At the present time the profession is ably represented by Doctors Badger, Willins, and Riddell.

The first trustworthy plan of the village of Penicuik was prepared in the year 1796, and its comparison with those of modern date is most interesting. It presents the main street or High Street much as it is now. John Street, or The Loan, extending from the hotel corner northwards, contained on I)oth sides only thirteen houses, all of them apparently one story in height. In Bank Street there had been erected three small buildings. West Street, back and front, contained twelve houses, while Back Mill Lands had seven. In the Square there were thirteen buildings, big and little, scattered around. Bridge Street was not in existence, with the exception of the portion between Thorburn Terrace and the exit from Back Mill Lands, and on that space only one small house had been erected. About fifty yards down from the corner of the high land of the Terrace a hedge closed the way; the ground behind it, now covered by the houses on both sides of the street, was in grass, and was included in what was then known as Lauries Farm, the buildings of which were removed in the year 1840. The way by Back Mill Lands then led to a point about thirty-seven yards from the Esk, where it turned to Valleyfield Mill, and thereafter continued for about 173 yards, until its junction with the other road from the village by the Delve Brae. Half-way, and near to where once stood the old corn-mill, a newly made road struck off to Howgate across the mill-lade, the river Esk, and Blackburn, permitting for the first time of direct traffic to the south. What is now the road to Edinburgh by The Loan or John Street, then terminated at Chicken Farm. The only existing way to the metropolis in those days, and for many years afterwards, was that by Kirk bill and Harpersbrae, which joined the main road to the north at Maybank.

The direct route westwards was that leading ill) past the Episcopal chapel, through the Penicuik policies, continuing above the river by Brunstane, Marfield, and Newhall. All the ground between the village and the high park, now included in Mr. Robert Henderson's farm, was laid cuff' in market gardens and crofts, occupied by William Brown, John Grant, John White, and others. A meal-mill existed near to the site of the present Bank Mill, at which the feuars were obliged by their lease or charter to get their corn gristed. They had also the privilege of casting their peats in the Bog Moss, now covered by the wood bearing that name.

The spring of water in High Street, known as the Old Well, was then enclosed by only four slabs of stone, and the street being lower than it is now, the water ran across it, and found its way down through the Bog and into the river. Snipe and other wild birds then freely frequented its channel in the winter season. In 1809 Mr. Alexander Cowan of Valleyfield erected a substantial stone covering over the well, and this was replaced by the present handsome building in 1864, when, by the munificent legacy of that gentleman, the water from Sillerburn was brought into the village. The opening ceremony upon that occasion was performed by the late Mr. Charles Cowan. A pair of pitchers was offered by him to the first bride who as a wife carried water from the new well. These were won by Isabel Burton, after her marriage with John Donaldson, baker in Penicuik.

The sanitary arrangements of the village at the close of last century, and even on to a period within living memory, were of a very primitive kind. A large open drain used to run clown through Wilson Square, in front of Mr. Cowe's shop. It passed Mr. Tait's property, and thence into the Bob, finding au exit somewhere in the low ground beneath. MIiddensteads existed upon the streets, and innumerable pigsties were to be seen in close proximity to the dwellings of their owners.

One hundred years ago the entire population of the parish slightly exceeded 1700, and of that number possibly about a half would be resident in Penicuik and Kirkhill. The latter suburb had then been recently built to accommodate the cotton-spinners at Esk Mills. The valued rental of the parish a century ago was 2110 sterling. In the present year, according to the abstract prepared by the county assessor, it is 25,191, with an additional sum of 2838 for railways and waterworks.

In the year 1811 occurs the first mention of Penicuik as a post town. Prior to that time the delivery of letters was made at May-bank by the Dumfries coach as it passed by from the metropolis. Inhabitants of the village and parish who were in the habit of conducting correspondence had accordingly, in addition to the high rate of postage which then prevailed, to pay messengers to carry their letters to and from the primitive post-office, at hat is now Mr. Clapperton's farm-house.

In 1817 a daily delivery began between Edinburgh and Penicuik, and the mails were placed in charge of a Mrs. Rankine. Shortly afterwards the office of postmaster was given to Mr. J. Dodds of the hotel, and after his death it passed in succession to Mr. Paterson, Mr. Jenkinson, Mr. Anderson, and Mr. John Robertson. The position has now been held for many years by Mr. John Robertson, son of the last named.

The first mention of Hiring Fairs in Penicuik is in the almanac of 1802. Then, as now, they were held on the third Friday of March and the first Friday of October. Within the recollection of middle-aged in11abitants, the gatherings of farmers and their servants on the village streets upon these occasions were very, great. Confectionery stands and travelling shows filled the space from the church to the well, and visitors from all directions added to the throng.

This condition of things, however, no longer continues. The shows and merry-;o-round, are relegated to the park behind the loyal Hotel, and the agricultural community have almost entirely cease(] to put in an appearance.

Prior to 1845 the streets of the village depended in great measure for their light in the Clark evenings on the illumination shed from the lamps in the shop-windows. Fifteen years before that date gas had been introduced into the paper-mills, and in 1835 the parish church was also lighted with it. It was not, however, until ten years later that this valuable light was adopted by the villagers generally. It was from the first manufactured and supplied by Messrs. Cowan and Sons at Valleyfield Mills, and it continued in their hands until the formation of the Penicuik and District Gas Company in the year 1877.

Prior to the introduction of the regular county police as guardians of law and order in the village, this duty devolved upon a number of special constables, acting under the Bailie of the Barony, but their services were seldom if ever required. A monthly Court was held in the Parish School, now the Volunteer Armoury, and there are many yet alive who remember Bailie Disher presiding upon these occasions with all the solemnity becoming so exalted a position, and passing judgment upon the offenders brought before him by old Fiscal Robertson. The schoolboys had a holiday upon the Court days, and they were generally very ready to superintend the conveyance of drunk and disorderly individuals by John Sinton, the constable, to their night's incarceration in the dismal apartment beneath the steeple of the old kirk.

Since the abolition of the Bailie Court all offenders against the peace, as well as debtors and defaulting parents, are proceeded against in the Edinburgh Sheriff Court. At the present time, however, the Police Commissioners of the Burgh are considering the necessity of putting into local operation the jurisdiction clauses of the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act, 1862, which they now administer. Many of my readers will recollect what a storm of angry and excited feeling was raised in the village when a majority of the ratepayers decided to move in the direction of obtaining the introduction of the Act. Several prominent citizens had for long been dissatisfied that no form of local and representative government existed in a place so important as Penicuik, and in consequence set the necessary machinery agoing to remedy this defect. A section of the inhabitants were however bitterly opposed to their action, and very considerable opposition ensued. .Mr. Thomas Penman was one of the leading dissentients, and he was afterwards presented with a silver snuff-box by those who sympathised with his active and unwearied hostility to the new form of government. The Act was finally adopted, and the first meeting of the Commissioners was held on 18th March 1867. Mr. Charles Cowan of Valley field was elected Senior Magistrate, a position which, upon his retirement, devolved upon, and has ever since been held by, his son, Mr. Charles W. Cowan. Sir. Thomas Hall, merchant, and Mr. John Paterson, banker, were chosen as Junior Magistrates. while Messrs. Charles Lawson, Robert Veitch, John Laing and Henry Symington constituted the remaining four members of Commission. It may be mentioned here that the present police force of the parish is composed of one inspector and three constables, all under the control of the chief of the county police. There are also three Justices of the Peace for the parish,—Sir George D. Clerk, Bart., Mr. Charles W. Cowan of Loanhouse, and Mr. John J. Wilson, banker. The last mentioned is member for the burgh in the County Council, while Mr. Charles Buchanan of The Gardens represents there the landward portion of the parish.

Along with the increase of population the trade of the village has correspondingly developed. In old times the pend leading down from Bank Street to High Street was the only butcher's shop in the parish. When a sheep or ox was killed it was customary to send through a man with a bell to announce to the inhabitants that the meat was for sale. The carcasses were meantime suspended from the stout oaken beams which supported the floor of the house above. These supports continue even now in a good and sound condition, and the marks of the ropes are still visible upon them. This primitive style of business was supplanted during the first quarter of the present century by the opening of regular butchery establishments by Mr. Symington and others. Shops for the sale of bread, grocery, drapery, and ironmongery goods also multiplied, and it is worthy of remark that several of the business concerns in existence in those old times are presently carried on by the descendants of those who founded them. The most extraordinary and successful of all the commercial ventures in the village has been that of the Co-operative Association. An account of its origin and progress has been printed in pamphlet form, and it is there recorded that in the year 1859 four paper-workers, named James M' Heath, Andrew Cowan, Joseph Diarmid, and James Skinner, met from time to time in each other's houses for the purpose of discussing the principles of Co-operation as carried on by the Rochdale pioneers. They finally determined to advocate the benefits of the system among their fellow-workers, and amongst others they sought the counsel and assistance of Robert Veitch and Stephen Cranston. The ultimate identification of these two shrewd and intelligent men with the movement went far to snake the venture the success it afterwards proved. On 24th April 1860 arrangements were so far complete that a meeting was summoned in Mr. White's hall for the enrolment of members. On 2d June of the same year a meeting of shareholders was held, at which a scheme of association was drawn up, and a committee appointed, consisting of Robert Veitch, treasurer; James Skinner, secretary; Alexander Forbes, Alexander Clapperton, Stephen Cranston, Joseph Diarmid, Andrew Cowan, David Smail, James Cossar, and Alexander Porteous. Mr. Cranston was elected chairman. A small shop was secured in old Thorburn Terrace, and opened two nights a week for the first three months, the committee serving the customers in turn. On 5th .July 1860 the association was fairly floated with a membership of forty-eight and a capital of 61, 5s. The total sales for the first year amounted to 795, 11s. 8d., and the profits to 24, 4s. 5d., yielding a bonus to members of 4d. per pound upon their purchases. It is needless to describe in detail the struggles of these early pioneers of Co-operation in our village, or to chronicle the development year by year of their business; suffice to say that it progressed by leaps and bounds. A glance at the present position of the society will sufficiently explain its success. Its report for the half-year ending 13th March 1890 states that the capital at that date was 31,125, 10s.; sales for the six months, 32,438, 10s. 8d.; profits for corresponding period, 6317, 0s. 11d.; and reserve fund, 1993, 2s. 2d. Branch establishments have been opened in Loanhead and Roslin. The employed in all the various departments of business carried on by the association number over eighty, all being under the personal superintendence of Mr. Andrew M'Gregor, the present excellent manager.

Considerable enterprise has also been shown in our village from time to tine in the engineering and building departments of business by Messrs. Paterson, M`Gill, Lain;, Lawson, Evart, and Tait. The last-named gentleman many years ago purchased the old foundry buildings, used as cavalry barracks at the time when the French prisoners were at Valleyfield, fitting theme up with elaborate machinery for sawing, planing, and moulding timber. As many as seventy and eighty workmen have frequently been employed there by Mr. Tait in the various departments of the building industry carried on by him. Messrs. Ewart and Son also go largely into the cutting and sawing of wood by steam power, besides carrying on their ordinary work as carpenters.

A branch of the Edinburgh and Leith Bank was opened in the village before the middle of the present century, and Mr. James Symington was appointed to the agency. Ili 1844 the business of the Glasgow Joint-Stock Bank became amalgamated with the former, under the title of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank. This joint concern continued thereafter to be represented in our village by Mr. Symington until the date of his death. lie was succeeded in the agency by Mr. John Paterson, a man of great vigour and public spirit. The Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank developed into a successful concern, lout in the commercial panic of 1857 the directors proved unable to cope with the crisis, and its valuable business fell into the hands of the Clydesdale Bank. The branch at Penicuik was continued by the latter company under Mr. Paterson's charge until his death in the spring of the year 1878, when the directors appointed the author of this volume as agent. It is noticeable that all the three gentlemen who have been identified with banking interests in Penicuik were members of families who have been for many generations resident in the parish.

After thus attempting to place before my readers an account of the village and its commercial progress, it is fitting that a short space should be devoted to a description of the educative and literary opportunities which from time to time have been placed within reach of its citizens.

For about fifty years, with occasional breaks, a Debating Society existed in the village. It has unfortunately come to an end, but many there are, both at home and abroad, who trace Much of their success in public life to the confidence they acquired in giving audible expression to their opinions on the various subjects brought before the meetings of the Society in Valleyfield Schoolroom. Perhaps it reached its point of greatest popularity about twenty years ago, having then had a membership exceeding fifty, and many of those members men possessing the gift of great natural eloquence. None who, like the writer, were privileged to attend these meetings, will readily forget the absorbing interest of the debates, or the culture exhibited in the treatment of literary subjects.

In the month of February 1853 there appeared the first number of the Penicuik and Vallyfield Monthly Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. This somewhat ambitious publication consisted of twelve small pages, and the arrangement and composition of its articles, not always confined to the subjects on its title-page, showed considerable ability. Notwithstanding its modest price of one penny, its editors did not find sufficient encouragement to continue its publication beyond ten months. Local news are now supplied through the medium of the Peeblesshire Advertiser and Midlothian Journal, both of which devote a portion of their columns to Penicuik.

Another literary entertainment has been the winter course of Lectures. The initial move in what has since proved such an interesting and valuable educative influence was made by the late Rev. David Duncan of Howgate. In a letter written to Mr. John Cowan, on 16th July 185, lie suggested the propriety and desirableness of a village like that of Penicuik having such a course, offering himself to give a series of eight lectures on the Natural History of fan. Mr. Cowan took up the scheme warmly, and a committee was very soon formed to carry out the necessary arrangements. It consisted of Rev. W. Scott Moncrief, Rev. D. Duncan, Rev. T. Girdwood, Rev. A. Mackenzie, Dr. Symington, Dr. Alison, Messrs. John Wilson, Eastfield, John Paterson, James Jackson, Thomas M'Dougal, Adam Cranston, Alexander Anderson, James Hamage, and Thomas Chalmers, with Mr. John Cowan as treasurer.

The first course, 1852-53, contained fifteen lectures, and at their conclusion a statement of accounts was read by the treasurer, showing a creditor balance of 6, 17s. 1d. Mr. Charles Cowan, M.P., in proposing a vote of thanks to the committee, especially complimented Mr. Duncan for his valuable services in initiating and contributing; to such a successful and interesting course. Mr. Duncan's services were afterwards more substantially recognised by a presentation of a selection of valuable books.

In the years immediately following, prominent strangers like Gerald Massey, Stevenson Macadam, and Professor Blackie, and intelligent residenters like Mr. John Wilson of Eastfield, Dr. Donaghy, Dr. Thin, and Mr. Charles Howden, lectured to large and appreciative audiences in the Parish School.

So popular were these lectures that they were continued without a break until the year 1865. After an interval of three years they were resumed for a like period, after which they were discontinued until 1883. In the winter of that year they were begun again with renewed vigour. The services of prominent lecturers like Archibald Forbes, Oscar Wilde, Rev. David Macrae, Professor Blackie, and many others, were secured from time to time during successive years, and the consequence was continuous and absorbing interest shown on the part of the public. Owing to the gloom cast over the district by the Mauricewood Pit disaster of 5th September 1889, the committee thought it wise not to have the usual course last year, but they have again presented an attractive syllabus for the present winter.

Another useful institution was the Village Library, so long carried on by llr. James Jackson and his much-respected daughters, the Misses Jackson. It was formed in the year 1797 by "Mr. Alexander Cowan of Valleyfield, and one or two others interested in the place and neighbourhood. It continued for a long period thereafter to be a prized possession of the Penicuik citizens. In the year 1837 it contained 1200 volumes, and had fifty regular subscribers, and for thirty years afterwards its literature was freely taken advantage of by a large circle of members. During that period valuable libraries had also been formed in connection with the Dissenting congregations of Howgate and Bridgend. Book clubs had been formed. Literature was year by year increasing in volume and cheapness. Circulating libraries in Edinburgh were offering inducements to Penicuik people to join them. These and other causes finally produced a weakening interest in our venerable village institution. Its membership decreased, many of its books bore evidence of their octogenarian age, and considerable outlay for renewals had to be faced. Gradually the necessity for terminating its existence was forced upon the minds of the remaining members, and accordingly in the year 1879 the books were dispersed and the library closed.

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