Lawyer’s letters give insight into 1800 Borders life

Lawyer's letters give insight into 1800 Borders life

Letters discovered in a lawyer’s cupboard in Galashiels are casting a light on Borders life in the 1800s.

The books of correspondence from lawyer George Craig were discovered at the back of cupboards in the historic offices of Iain Smith and Partners in 2015.

Glasgow University’s Professor John Finlay has been archiving the letters, which date from 1821 to 1849 and plans to publish a biography of Mr Craig next year.

Professor Finlay, an authority on the history of Scots law, told the BBC: “A friend of mine worked at the law firm and when the books were discovered he got in touch to see if I’d have a look at them.

“I was really surprised that these letters hadn’t seen the light of day for almost 200 years.

“What is most interesting about them, for me, is that Craig wrote to so many people from so many different walks of life - weavers, farmers, lairds, writers and even slave owners - and you could follow each of their stories through the letters.”

“The level of detail and the extent of coverage makes these letters particularly important,” he said.

“I often come across individual lawyer’s letters from time to time, and occasionally you get a run of them, but to have a whole series of letters over an extended period of time makes this collection almost unique.

“They give you an insight into Craig’s career as well as the lives of so many people he wrote to.

“Because he had several lines of employment, he writes to such a plethora of people, making this collection really interesting from a social history perspective.”

Mr Craig also looked after the affairs of individuals from the Borders who owned plantations in the Caribbean and were involved in the slave trade.

Professor Finlay added: “He wrote to lawyers in places such as Jamaica and London regarding the slave trade and plantations.

“He also corresponded with people in many countries, particularly New South Wales in Australia, where farmers had gone to forge new lives.

“But it is the sense of Borders life at the time that you mostly take from the letters - from sheep prices at local fairs, and concerns over property leases to the court business of the day.”

The academic is finalising a biography of George Craig, to be published next year. The books of letters have been donated to the Borders Archive Centre in Hawick.

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