by J Robison.
(From: The Gallovidian. 1910. pp 95 – 104)
One of the most picturesque among the many incidents in the history of Kirkcudbright is that of the attempted storm of the town by Sir Thomas Carleton in that dreadful period of Border warfare after the disastrous battle of Solway. It occurred in February, 1547, a year in which Dumfriesshire, especially in the neighbourhood of Dumfries and Annan, suffered severely. The neighbouring county of Roxburgh participated in the general harrying and reiving to a similar extent, and it was by way of Teviotdale and Canonbie that Carleton came to siege Dumfries. Here a proclamation was issued in the name of King Henry, calling upon all men to come and make oath to the King’s Majesty. The great majority of the natural leaders of the people, despairing, no doubt, of making a successful defence, submitted to the demand. It is to the honour of Kirkcudbright, at a time when practically the whole of the Borders was in the possession of the “auld enemy,” and the people lay under the English yoke, that it refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Henry. As was to be expected, Carleton, with a strong force of his Cumberland cavalry, left Dumfries to burn down the town as an example – a mode of warfare which had succeeded only too well in the case of Annan.
Here it may be permitted to describe the town on that far-off day. Fortunately, we are enabled to do so with some accuracy. Kirkcudbright, at that period-more than three-and-a-half centuries ago – consisted of the High Street only, with perhaps a few straggling houses about the Millburn and the mill at Shillinghill. From the mouth of the old harbour, which had done duty for over a century, and which recently has given way to a breastwork, stretched a great creek, which ran through part of the church grounds on to Townend, where it joined with the Meikle Yett. When this creek was filled up we have been unable to ascertain definitely, but when the Old Parish Church on the Moat Brae was in use the worshippers could cross on stepping-stones at low tide. On the south side of the street from the Meikle Yett it was joined to the old fosse and wall. The fosse proceeded westwards, enclosing what are now known as the town’s gardens. At the field near the Academy the ditch and wall proceeded along the west side of the town, at the foot of the gardens behind High Street, to the river. The wall continued along the side of the river, another gate – the Water Yett – being at the harbour, thus completing the defences of the little burgh.
The space included was almost square, each side being about three hundred yards long. Where Union Street, Castle Street, Castle Gardens, part of St. Cuthbert Street, and the present Castle stand would then be a meadow; on the south and west the ground will be little changed. On the Moat Brae was Greyfriars’ Monastery, not yet for a few years longer to fall a prey to the despoiler. On the south, where the County Buildings now stand, rose the Church of St. Andrew, destined to an ignoble use by the builder of Kirkcudbright Castle. The Tolbooth (not the present one), which was erected towards the end of the sixteenth century, stood, however, on the present site. In the open at Castledykes the ruins of the ancient Castle of Kirkcudbright, one of the royal fortresses, surrounded by its ditch and moat, was to be seen. Away to the south was the Priory of St. Mary’s Isle, then an island in reality at some stages of the tide; while on the east, crowning the hill, was the even then ancient Church of St. Cuthbert, standing in the “Hie Kirkyaird,” as it was then called.
About twenty years later, in 1566, when the country was again in a troublous state, an English officer was in the town and vicinity. His report, with a coloured sketch of the town and its defences, is in the British Museum, the report being entitled – “Military report of the West Marches and Liddesdale, with reference to the possibility of the occupation of that part of Scotland by an English army, prepared and illustrated by an English official between the years 1563 and 1566.” The sketch, which forms an interesting study, bears the title of “Kirkcowbright.”
The creek from the old harbour, with the fosse and wall, is seen running round the little burgh. Curiously enough, there is no trace of Greyfriars’ Monastery or the Church of St. Andrew, but the Tolbooth (some people think it is the Church of St. Andrew) is shown as an ornate building, with small crosses at the end and a tall spire in the centre. From Townend to the Tolbooth are seen tracings which may stand for the Meikle Yett and the Market Cross.
One large house, inside the creek, is shown abutting on the Meikle Yett, the High Street covering the same ground as it does at the present day. It is also interesting to note that the front of the Tolbooth shows a strong resemblance to the building of the present day, and which may, indeed, have incorporated a part of the more ancient structure. To the east is seen the road running from the high ground by the Millburn. St. Mary’s Priory is seen to the south, with its great doorway, surmounted by a cross. On the east gable is seen another and smaller doorway, with two windows, high up, on either side. In the centre is a spire similar to that on the Tolbooth, while the northern gable shows the “crow-step” architecture, so familiar a feature in Scottish buildings. One looks in vain, however, for any trace of the old Castle, or of Kirkchrist, across the river. Instead of hugging the Torrs shore the river is depicted flowing down the Senwick side till near Ross Bay, where it widens out into the estuary. Three high-pooped, low-waisted vessels are seen in the estuary, with a fourth nearer the town; and, flowing across a wide expanse of sand, is seen the Buckland Burn.
A peculiarity in the sketch is the scarcity of trees on both sides of the river. On the Senwick side, now so richly wooded, are seen five trees and two shrubs, and about as many growing in the neighbourhood of St. Mary’s Priory – truly a land of “pastoral melancholy,” and not to be changed till a much later date, when the enlightened Lord Daer planned and planted the beautiful woods which adorn the whole district. Between the date of Carleton’s raid and the English officer’s sketch there would be few, if any changes, and so we have a fair idea of what Kirkcudbright, the ancient town of St. Cuthbert, was in those days.
In that interesting book, Scotland in the Time of Queen Mary, Professor Hume Brown gives an illuminating description of Scottish towns of that period, which may equally apply to the year of grace, 1547. Without exaggeration, he says, it may be said that a journey into Galloway or the Highlands would have been attended with as many risks as a journey into the wilds of Asia or Africa at the present day.
What struck the early travellers in Scotland most was the general absence of timber in every part of the country in which they travelled, and Sir Anthony Weldon, writing in 1617, declared that “Judas could not have found a tree on which to hang himself.” This is altogether an exaggeration, as we read of the woods of Cree, Kenmure, and Garlies, in Galloway; and other parts of the country were well wooded. Writing between the years 1450 and 1460 John Hardyng, an English chronicler, indicates the best routes for an English army to follow, and even at that early time a large portion of the country was under cultivation. Of Galloway he has nothing to say; the ancient Province was then little likely to subsist an invading army. Yet Galloway filled its own place in the general economy of the country. From Galloway and the Highlands were mainly supplied both cattle and small ambling horses, long known as Galloways and a distinct breed. These, from the nature of their pace, were known in France as hobins.* It is also interesting to note that the wool of the Galloway sheep was the most famous in the country, and in the opinion of Lithgow, a well-informed Scottish traveller, nothing inferior to the celebrated sheep of Biscay. The rivers abounded in eels, and were supplied all over the country. Shortly after the period of the attack on the town a Pomeranian noble, Lupold von Wedel, says Scottish villages “look very poor, the houses having stone walls, not as high as a man, upon which the roofs are erected and covered with soil.” In the case of fortified towns like Kirkcudbright, the defences were generally of a meagre description. It was said of Scotsmen that their
“Good right hands their land can keep,
Nor need high walls and tosses deep.”
But the real reason was that the erection and maintenance of the defences was beyond the resources of most towns. That this was so receives curious confirmation in the report of the English officer already alluded to. He makes no allusion whatever to the defences of the town.
“Kirkcowbright,” he says, “foure myles within the mowtht of the watter of Dee; the best porte of all ; shippes at the ground ebb may arryve and lye within the yle of Ross, foranemptes Sant Marye yle: and at the full sea thei may pas up and lye at all tymes under the freres of the towne: To kepe the centre of the revare, may be well fortifyed the lyttil yle of Ross in the watter mowtht, it is subject to the hill called the Mekle Ross, but that may be helped casting the quare of your forte and rampare nixt to the same highar nor the rest. This Mekle Ross ys but a harde ground, subject to other hilles adjacent thereto. Soo noo part soo good and able to be well fortifyed, but onelie a forte of earthe within Sanct Marye yle, whiche will subject the town and revare. A thowsonde men by sea will kepe and fortifye the same contrar all ennymeis. It will annoye the lardes of Lowghinvar, Garleis, Bonnbie, Cardines, and otheres inhabitantes of Gallowaye on this syde the watter of Cree, and having a garrisone of two or three hundreitht men there, it will have at comandment, yf nede requyre, for relief of your garrisone, the quenes revennouss within Gallowaye, and also of the abbacyes of Tounglande, Dundranen, New Abbaye, and pryorye of Sanct Marie YIe, with the fischinges of all that coest. There will assemble to resist you in two dayes, witht these gentilmen before specified, commonares and all, in nombre vjto or vijc men, good and bad, in which tyme ye may intrynche to resist that force. Yf ye will not interpryse soo far within as this Sanct Marye Yle, then a less nombre far will fortifye the Yle of Ross in the revare mowtht. It is distant by sea from Wirkington in Englonde xviij myles, and by lande from Carlele strait-goying over revares xlviij myles. It will lett them traid of wyne and other merchandice uponn that coest, and dyminyshe somuche of the force of the West Wardanerye contrar Englonde. At the attempt I wolde wishe suche conterforce invasion as before, by the West Marches of Englonde to be used untill oure men were intrynched. This towne stoode in myndes of the Dukes of Somersett and Northumberlande.'” (Armstrong’s Liddesdale)
Roads were few, although some were in existence at a very early date. One passed from Galloway through Ayr, Kyle, Carrick, and Cunningham, to near Lanark, thence to Edinburgh. It became, about this period, the custom for the gentry to take up their residences in the nearest village or burgh, and settle there with their families for a considerable portion of the year. In those days Kirkcudbright was practically the only burgh in the county, hence the large number of houses in the High Street which once belonged to the gentry. A good example is found in Broughton House, which once belonged to the Murrays of Broughton and Cally.
It was a peculiarity pertaining to Scottish towns that they usually owned a considerable amount of land in their immediate neighbourhood, and common to all the burghers. Near the town were the “town acres,” on the cultivation of which the people greatly depended. What these “town acres,” or “skairs,” as they were known in Kirkcudbright, were, may still be seen by the curious in the narrow field between Bell’s Barns and the site of the old Castle, and we have still the town gardens, behind South High Street, which have long been in cultivation. The Boreland farms were also at one period divided into “skairs.” (W Dickie: Transactions of Dumfries and Galloway Antiquarian Society.)
Entering the burgh by the Meikle Yett, there would be the usual watchers, armed with the offensive weapons of the period. Once inside, would be heard and seen the usual sounds and sights of a Scottish town of that period, when none were remarkable for their cleanliness, and perhaps many of the buildings in a state of dilapidation. The churches and churchyards were the resorts of many loungers, although, about this period, a Tolbooth or Town Hall had been erected in most of the important burghs, and Kirkcudbright, among others, possessed one.
In common with other towns, Kirkcudbright possessed one main Street, the ” Hie Passage,” from which branched off wynds and closes, just as we see in the Kirkcudbright of the present day. The inventory of a Stirling burgess of the year 1560 may be taken as a fair index of what a well-to-do burgess was possessed of. The house consisted of four apartments – the hall, which contained a counter, a form, a meat almry, and a dressing stool; the mid-chamber with a standing bed and a press; the forechamber, with three standing beds, a chest, a form, and a little iron chimney; the upper chamber with three standing beds; two of them without bottoms. Another Stirling burgess of an earlier day was possessed of six pewter plates, six dishes, three saucers, two trenchers, a quart, a chopin, a chandelier, two pots, one pair of sheets, a stool, two bowls, a towel.” (Scotland in the times of Queen Mary)
Lighting of the streets by night there was little or none, and therefore the burghers retired early, the watch only being abroad. Even in the case of the wealthier class of burghers, timber was commonly employed in the building of the houses, although in some cases stone was used, notably in the case of the Tolbooth. There would be the usual projections from the houses, either of outside stairs, still a comparatively common feature in Scottish architecture, or of wooden erections, where the various crafts were plied, and known as “treen,” or wooden “schoppies.” Towns and villages in the Scotland of the period were not by any means remarkable for their cleanliness, and Kirkcudbright would be neither better nor worse than others.
In every town there were two classes – the freemen, and those who had not the privileges of burgesses, and many and bitter were the quarrels between them. The non-freemen “could follow no handicraft, could not engage in any form of trade or merchandise, could not be taken into partnership by any freeman, nor be employed by him in any business capacity either at home or abroad.” On the other hand, the freeman had heavy responsibilities, besides paying a considerable amount for his admission to the ranks of freeman. He had to take his share in “watch and ward,” a duty which was jealously enforced; and he must be ready at all times to accompany his Sovereign in war. In the case of Kirkcudbright, the able-bodied men followed the banner of M’Lellan of Bombie.
Hither then, on that far-away February morning, appeared the strong detachment of English horse, under Sir Thomas Carleton. The inhabitants had received timeous notice of the raid, and stood on their defence. Carleton, in his despatch regarding the affair, says “And so we rode thither to the town of Kirkobree one night, and coming a little after sun-rising, they seen us coming and barred their gates and kept their dikes, for the town is diked on both sides, with a gate at the water-ward (Moat-well) and a gate in the cross-end of the fell-ward (the Meikle Yett).” We can imagine with what feelings the approach of the enemy was viewed. Some, no doubt, would be for surrender; but some strong man, like Provost Towers of Edinburgh, after Flodden, would elect to fight to the bitter end. There would be memories, too, of Brankston’s fatal ridge, where so many Galloway men, including the then Chief of Bombie, fell on that fatal September day in 1513. That the townspeople ventured on a defence at all redounded to their honour, more especially when regard is had to what had happened on the Borders.
The attack upon the town reads like a page from Froissart. Advancing on foot, the Englishmen made a vigorous assault, but were driven back. One man within the walls was killed by an arrow, and this, according to the quaint chronicle, alarmed some of the women for the safety of their husbands. “One wife,” says Sir Thomas, “came to the ditch, and called for one that would take her husband and save his life.” Like many another English commander of that day, Carleton had Borderers under his command, and one, Anton Armstrong, with a keen eye no doubt to the ransom, rather than from any feeling of pity, called out to the poor woman, “Fetch him to me, and I’ll warrant his life.” The woman brought her husband (who was, perhaps, nothing loth) through the dyke, and delivered him over to Armstrong, who took him to England and received a ransom for him. That an Armstrong should have been in the service of the English was no cause for wonder, as it is well-known that, after the judicial murder of the celebrated Johnny Armstrong at Garlenrig, the Armstrongs, almost in a body, renounced their allegiance to the Scottish Crown, and placed their arms and their lives at the service of the English Government.
At the battle of Ancrum Moor, in 1546, there was a considerable contingent of Scottish Borderers in the English ranks, and we read that in 1583 Thomas Musgrave sent an interesting letter to Burghley, Chancellor of Queen Elizabeth, in which he gives a list of the Armstrongs and Elliots. Among the names of the former occur that of “Joke Armestronge, called the ‘lord’ Joke,’ dwelleth under Dennyshill, beside Kyrsope in Denisborne, and married Antor Armstrong’s daughter of Wylyare in Gilsland.’ Gilsland was Carlton’s own district, and it may very well be that Anton Armstrong was the same person who figures so prominently in Carleton’s attack on Kirkcudbright.
To return to the attack on the town – in the middle of the attempted storm the Laird of Bombie made his appearance with a party of his friends and vassals, and attacked the besiegers. The result of a sharp encounter was that several of M’Lellan’s men were killed and others taken prisoners, but the English were forced to retreat. Carleton returned his loss as one man, but that is hardly credible in the face of the fact that the determined attitude of the defenders, and the fear that the surrounding district would rise, compelled him to order a retreat to his headquarters at Dumfries. Carleton, however, in the true spirit of English warfare in Scotland, denuded the district of stock, carrying with him, according to his despatch, no fewer than 2000 sheep, 200 cows and oxen, with 40 or 50 horses, mares, and colts. The people rose behind them on the west side of the Dee, and proceeded towards a place then called “Forehead Ford,” which may be identified with the present farm of Ford, near Bridge of Dee. The Englishmen, retreating by the high land, on the eastern bank of the river, had evidently arrived opposite the ford in time to dispute the passage of the Galloway men. The latter must have been in considerable force, as we read that the Englishmen were alarmed to such an extent that they abandoned their sheep, and gave the charge of their “nowte and naggs” to the men who rode the worst horses. Sir Thomas, skilled in Border warfare, was a cool and wary soldier, and sent thirty of his best men to watch the Galloway men and prevent them forcing the passage.
He himself with a strong party, remained to guard the standard, and kept themselves in readiness, should occasion arise, to succour their companions. They, however, did not venture across the river, and the Englishmen continued their retreat unmolested.
Galloway, at this period, according to Buchanan, was struck with such terror that its chiefs, afraid of being left alone in the struggle, vied with each other as to who should be the first to adhere to the English Government. Kirkcudbright, deserted on every hand, was compelled to come into the King’s grace, along with, among others, the Laird and Tutor of Bombie. (Sir Herbert Maxwell: History of Galloway)
Among the list of those from Galloway who submitted to Lord Wharton, with the number of followers, were:- Laird of Dawbaylie (Dalbeattie), 41 ; Orcharton, 111 ; Loughenwar (Lochinvar), 45; Tutor of Bombie, 140; Ahbot of Newabbey, 141; Dumfries, 201 ; “Kirkcubrie,” 36. Taking the Borders and Galloway there were 7008 men under English assurance. (History of Scotland) The pledge for Kirkcudbright, described as a “pretty haven,” was “Barnaby Douglas’s son,” contemptuously dismissed as worth nothing.
When the original Meikle Yett was built we have no means of knowing, but to repel such an attack it must have been a work of considerable strength, with flanking towers and guard-house. More than forty years after Carleton’s raid another Meikle Yett appears to have become necessary for the safety of the little burgh. According to a minute of Council of 19th April, 1590, the building of the Meikle Yett was let to Herbert Gledstanes. In that minute the details of the Yett are all carefully specified, and show that the work was one of considerable pretensions. The height was to be such that “himself and his grey horse riding may not reik the hand to the pien-stane thereof.” What a delightful touch is that of the grey horse!
And the mention of the name of Herbert Gledstanes leads us into a most interesting byepath of history. Among the suggestive treasures contained in Hawick Museum is an old Bible, with moth-eaten and yellow leaves, and almost illegible writing on its blank pages. That Bible belonged to the once-powerful family of the Gledstanes of Coklaw, near Hawick, who, for centuries from sire to son, played an important part in the civic government of the ancient Border town. They were extensive landowners in the district, but now they have, as such, entirely disappeared. Their lands have passed to other owners; not even their graves remain, for the family aisle at Cavers Church was removed by consent of the heritors, no one appearing to claim it. (Border Sketches, by Mrs. Oliver).
So far as the Border district is concerned, “the place thereof knows them no more.” The old mode of spelling the name was Gledstanes, not Gladstone, “Gled” being the Scotch for hawk or falcon, and stanes, stones or rocks. Early in the fourteenth century they were a family of some standing, David II., in 1365, granting lands in the neighbourhood of Lanark, an ancient connection which has been revived by Mr Herbert Gladstone choosing the title of Viscount Gladstone of Lanark. Later charters in the reign of Robert III. granted them lands in the vale of Manor, Peebleshire, in Selkirk, and in Roxburgh, and shortly afterwards they became lords of extensive possessions in the neighbourhood of Hawick. One of them played an important part in the farcical “Siege of Coklaw,” identified with Ormiston, about three miles from Hawick, under cover of which the Earl of Northumberland and his son, the celebrated “Hotspur,” hatched their treason against Henry IV., entering into an alliance with the Duke of Albany, Lord High Steward of Scotland, and Earl Douglas, the “Tineman.” The ultimate result was the stricken field of Shrewsbury, where Hotspur lost his life and Earl Douglas was taken prisoner. One also bore an important part in the last Warden fight which took place on the Borders, at the Raid of the Reidswire –
“Then Teviotdale came to wi’ speed,
The Sheriff brought the Douglas down,
Wi’ Cranstone, Gledstone, good at need,
Baith Rewle Water and Hawick town.”
One also rose to great eminence in the Church in the person of George Gledstones, Archbishop of St. Andrews, and their lay brethren ranked with the proudest of the Border barons. The main stem of the Border branch of the family came to an end in the person of Janet Gledstanes, who died unmarried, the remainder of the property passing to heirs portioners in 1734, and in a few more years the old line was extinct. Another line was, however, perpetuated through Gladstone of Arthurshiel, near Biggar, who remained in Lanarkshire after the elder branch had settled on the Borders, and it was from this line that the great statesman, William Ewart Gladstone, sprang. At the time the main line settled on the Borders members of the family appear also to have settled in Dumfriesshire.* In 1455 Herbert de Gledstanes of that Ilk and Homer de Gledstanes were Deputy-Sheriffs of the county under Lord Maxwell, the Warden of the Western Borders, and there appears to have been a close connection between the two families. In 1517 and 1543 Herbert Gledstane was one of the bailies of the town of Dumfries. In 1579 William Gledstanes, son of Herbert, was a bailie; and the records of Dumfries show that he had two brothers, also burgesses of the town, John and James Gledstanes, the first of whom was returned heir to his father in 1564. Herbert, probably another brother, is mentioned in connection with Dumfries in 1572, and was a bailie of Kirkcudbright at that date. It is thus interesting to know that one who was evidently a prominent man in the civic life of the burgh was sprung from the same stock as the most illustrious statesman of last century.
The first of the Kirkcudbright minutes is of date 3rd October, 1576, when Herbert Gledstanes and Jon Meckill are chosen bailies. Thomas M’Clellane, or “M’Lellen” as he styles himself, of Bombie, was Provost. He was afterwards knighted, and was the father of the first Lord Kirkcudbright, and the builder of the Castle, whose ivy-clad ruins still dominate the town. His tomb, and that of his lady, is still to be seen in the Old Church School.
The next we hear of the Meikle Yett is about a century and a half later. In the Council minutes of 3rd September, 1739, there is an amusing reference to it. John Kerr, mason in Kirkcudbright, petitions the” Right Honourable the Magistrates and Town Council of Kirkcudbright for the sum of £6 11s 11d., the balance of an account for £12 7s 3d for having two years previously built and finished the port of the burgh on the same place where the old port, called the Meikle Yett, stood.” The last phrase might seem to indicate that the Yett had been removed, or at least modified to some extent, but it was to stand for a few years longer, a relic of a bygone age, and of
Old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles kong ago.”
The petition was in the following terms:-
“To the Right Honble. The Magistrates and Town Councille of Kirkcudbright. The petition of John Kerr, mason in said Burgh.
” That about two years ago I was employed to Build, and have actually within said space builded and finished a Port to this Burgh, on the same place where the old Port called the Meikle Yett stood, the meteriall and dimensions and wages of which is as follows, vizt. : –
“May it therefore please your Honours to consider the Premisses, and order me immediate payment of the above Ballance of Six Pounds Eleven Shillings and Elevenpence sterling money, or grant me precept for the same on your Treasurer, payable in a reasonable short space, according to Justice, &c. Your gracious answer
is waited by, JOHN KERR.”
“Kirkcudbright, 3rd Septr., 1739.
“Ordains ye petitioner to produce his contract and act of Councill, to which we ought to refer.”
This curt reply is signed by Robt. Calmont (a name once well known in the burgh) and An. Doneldson.
Kerr expressed his surprise that he was ordered to do this, and was unable to do so. However, the past Bailies and great part of the past Council knew very well he was employed; “yea, they desired me to do the work, and engaged to pay me, or see me paid.” Kerr proceeds to state that the work testified for itself, and the account given in by him in his former petition “this day will stand tryall before any corporation or quorum of craft, and sure I ought (to receive) payment as it could not be alleged I owe the town any sum, nor promised, nor was it in my power to do it gratis. Please, therefore,” proceeds the “earnest prayer and cry,” “to order me payment of the said balance, to prevent putting your past members, who engaged to see me paid, to further trouble. Your gracious answer is still humbly expected.”
The Council’s answer was the laconic one – “Address to the interloquitor in the petitioner’s petition this day.” And how the affair ended history telleth not, so far as we have been able to make out.
On 5th March, 1771, the Council considered a petition from sundry heritors and inhabitants of the town. The petitioners represented that “the gate, called the ‘Meikle Yett,’ while it forms a separation of one part of the town from the other, gives no advantage to the one part, and is hurtfull to the rest ; that it neither adds to the ornament or strength of the place, and, if demolished, might encourage people to build decent houses on the east end of the town ; and that, in particular, one genteel house is about to be built on the north side of the gate, provided it is thought expedient to take that gate away, and therefore praying to have the same demolished.” The minute goes on to state that the Magistrates and Council, “having reasoned on this matter, and revised the former Act of Council, ordering that gate to be built, are of opinion that the bounding of property will be as distinct after the demolition of that gate as it is now; that the street will be more free and regular, and the heritors to the east of the gate may, by taking it away, be encouraged to build good dwellinghouses in that part of the town ; and one of their members, Mr (Peter) Freeland, informing the Councill that he has bought a part of John Paul’s tenement on the north of the gate, and intends to build a dwelling house there in case the gate should be taken away: Upon the whole matter the Council are unanimously of opinion the demolition of that gate will lend to the policy, improvement, ornament, and interest of the town. And therefore agree to demolish the same accordingly, and Mr Freeman offering to purchase the stones in that gate, the Council agree to sell the same to him at ten guineas, and he agrees to pay that sum to the Treasurer, and to build a dwelling-house as soon as he can on the north side of the street at that gate; and therefore the Magistrates and Councill authorize him, whenever he pleases, to take down the said gate, and to apply the stones as he thinks proper, reserving to the town two of the pedestals and globes now on that gate.”
The agreement thus entered into was carried out, and the Meikle Yett, so long a feature of the burgh life, passed away. The house erected by Mr Freeland is now known as Old Bank House, and was used for many years as a branch of the Bank of Scotland. Two perforated stones, in which the pivots of the gate turned, are still to be seen in their original positions. One is a whinstone, and the other a Netherlaw sandstone. How many people, as they walk along the ancient High Street, notice these stones, and reflect on what part they and the yett played in the history of the burgh when the “auld enemy” were at the gate, and the burghers had, in stern earnest, to defend their hearths and homes? The yett, with its pillars and two globular ornamental stones, were removed about 1780, the arch stones being built over the burn at the east side of the churchyard. The pillars and ornamental stones were erected at the entrance to the churchyard, to guard, after all the years of storm and strife, the peaceful “God’s Acre” on the hill.