Introducing George Craig

Who was George Craig?

George (1783-1853) is known for the George Craig Bridge in Galashiels which was named after him in 2010. His house in Galashiels is not marked by a plaque, although the building does bear an inscription that Sir Walter Scott did some of his banking there. That is one clue to Craig’s identity. He is also discussed in Robert Hall’s History of Galashiels (1898) as being an important figure in the history of the burgh. That is true but what Hall did not appreciate, and no one did until recently, is Craig’s wider importance across the eastern Borders.

The rediscovery of some of Craig’s letter books, running from 1821 until 1840, has revealed a rich history of his activities as a writer (law agent), banker, insurance agent, baron bailie and notary public. He worked as a sole practitioner until he took on, as partner, William Rutherford from Jedburgh, who later became the first chief magistrate of Galashiels.

A selection of Craig’s letters will form the substance of these blogs as part of a project by Professor John Finlay of the School of Law of the University of Glasgow which is funded by the ESRC in collaboration with the Scottish Borders Archive and Local History Service. The aim is to illustrate some of Craig’s activities through discussion, transcription and digitisation. The wider project involves the indexing of Craig’s letters which are now held by the Archive. An exhibition is planned of the letter-books themselves in the summer of 2022.

Craig’s correspondence has much to tell us about the Borders way of life in the first half of the nineteenth century. A huge amount of detail can be found in them. He corresponded with hundreds of people in all walks of life, from weavers and tenant farmers to Sir Walter Scott, the duke of Buccleuch and the laird of Torwoodlee. Amongst his letters we find out about local textiles, farming practice, emigration to the Americas and New South Wales, disputes amongst neighbouring parishes and everyday life across the region. They provide a fascinating insight into the activities of a lawyer and banker at an important time of social and industrial change and will become a significant additional asset to the impressive collections held by the Archive.In literary and intellectual terms, Craig lived in the Romantic Era. He himself thought he lived in ‘the age of adventure’ and he spent much of his time traversing the Borders to visit the properties of his major clients, such as George Fairholme of Greenknowe, Professor Alexander Monro III at Cockburn, and doing business at the Borders Fairs. He also superintended Gala House on behalf of John Scott, the laird of Gala whose factor he was.

Craig was the son of William Craig (1753-1803), the first bank agent to be established in Galashiels, and his wife Jean Hall (b. 1755) from Stow. The Craig family presence in the burgh can be traced back at least as far as George's grandparents, William Craig and Margaret Donaldson, in the early part of the 18th century.

William Craig worked as factor to the laird of Towoodlee, who referred to him in correspondence as ‘my friend Willie Craig’. He was also a notary public. George was therefore well-placed to take up the reins as a local banker and law agent when his father died in 1803. With strong links to local landowners, and a knowledge of local business, animal husbandry and agriculture, Craig became a figure of importance in Galashiels at a relatively young age. His importance to the burgh is reflected in the discussion of him in Robert Hall’s History of Galashiels (Galashiels, 1898). While we see in Craig a figure of authority, closely connected to the local heritors, he was also a public-spirited individual who took a keen interest in developing the local economy, particularly farming and the textile industry, and also local workers. One aspect of that was his establishment of one of Scotland’s early Savings Banks (illustrated) which he ran from his office from 1815, in conjunction with his role as local agent for the Leith Banking Company.

What Craig’s letters demonstrate, as well as the breadth of his engagement with people from all walks of life, is the nature of his everyday working life. During the currency of the collaborative project with the archive, this blog will be posting transcriptions and commentary on some of Craig’s letters – a source that has much to reveal not only about Galashiels, but about the eastern Borders generally as well as their links to the world beyond.