Down Memory Lane

Newmills  bridge, Dalkeith
Newmills bridge, Dalkeith

A severe storm in 1594 damaged Dalkeith’s two bridges. They were considered to be very old. One was the Lugton bridge over the North Esk and the other was the Cowbridge over the South Esk.

The location of the Cowbridge was different from that of the present time.

The bridge there now was not build until 1839 and was the result of a re-alignment of the Buccleuch estate, making possible the present Musselburgh Road into Dalkeith.

The original Cowbridge was demolished a few years ago and traces of it can be seen within the country park.

Following excessive flooding in 1659, an Act of Parliament was passed requiring Dalkeith to introduce a system of tolls that would pay the cost of future repairs.

The Act was renewed in 1670 with the addition that the responsibility for the administration of the toll be with the magistrates and community of Dalkeith, and that the same bodies should give any surplus of tolls to any local good cause.

This was recognised as a mistake since the town did not have any magistrates nor any collective body that could act on behalf of the community. It was therefore agreed that the powers be exercised by the Baron of Regality, the Duke of Buccleuch’s principal officer. He would have the right to use his own judgement, answerable to nobody else, except the Duke, his employer.

In 1747 some inhabitants raised an action against the Duke and his Baillie. They contended that the bridges and causeways had not been sufficiently maintained and that the accounts of the tolls and town benefits had not been made known to anybody. As an interim measure, the Court declared that the accounts of over the last 40 years be made available for inspection.

Upon examination, the pursuers were convinced that far too little had been spent on the bridges and that the only local interests to benefit from toll surpluses were the Duke’s. In their opinion, the tolls had been treated as if they were part of the Duke’s estate. Some examples of alleged misuse were as follows:

1. Repairs to the tollbooth which incorporated a prison and weigh-house. There were also payments to the jailor. The pursuers maintained that the property was owned by the Duke and from it he derived a considerable income. He held the Regality of the Burgh and part of his obligation was control over law and order.

2. Repairs to the grain and flesh markets. The reply was that the Duke obtained charges for the use of the markets and any cost should come out of these funds.

3. The tolls surplus was used to pay an addition to the salary of the parish school headmaster. The object was to attract someone with very high qualifications. The objection was on the grounds that the heritors were responsible for school costs and the payment should come from their own resources. The use of the bridge levies gave the maximum benefit to the Duke, being the biggest heritor.

4. Payments were made to the church for a new pulpit and seats, as well as for an assistant minister. As for the school, the costs were the responsibility of the heritors.

5. Money had been used to buy uniforms for the town officers, bearing the Duke’s coat of arms. Since they were servants of the Duke he should pay for them.

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