During the summer of 1919 the Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser published a series of articles entitles “Old Galloway Fairs and Trysts” with the author shown as J. Affleck. FOUR of the articles related to Kirkcudbright, and are reproduced below.
Old Galloway Fairs and Trysts – Kirkcudbright.
by J Affleck.
Like all other Royal Burghs, Kirkcudbright had its fairs and markets, established by Royal Charter, as far back as 1455. According to the Charter of James II., dated 1455, the inhabitants were granted “the power of buying and selling wool, skins, leather, and every other kind of goods, with power likewise of having within the said Burgh, all and every type of craftsmen belonging to a free Burgh, with Cross and Throne, and Mercat Place, and with a mercate day weekly on the Sabbath day, and with public Fairs yearly at the Feast of St. Michael, called Michaelmas, for ever, with certain lands, fishings, milns, multures, and their sequels, tolls, customs, possessions, Courts, and their escheats, forfeits and duties.” From this it will be observed that the patron saint was St. Michael. The fairs and markets were held on Sunday, usually after church time, according to the general custom of the period. The new charter by Chares I., granted in 1633, altered the market day from Sunday to Friday or Saturday, whatever day was found most convenient, and appointed the fairs to be held one at the Feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas) to be continued for a space of eight days, with all usual privileges of tolls, customs, profits and duties. These old fairs and markets give the historian and antiquarian a curious insight into the manners, customs and social life of the burgh in those bygone days. Being the old Royal Burgh in the Stewartry, it claimed, and had a monopoly of all the markets, such as Minnigaff, and Saint John’s Claughan of Dalry. It was not always successful, however, in retaining the monopoly, for at times these villages held their own fairs and markets, and were duly termed “forestallers,” because they sold their goods outwith the Royal Charter. Questions of “forestalling” and “regrating” were therefore of continual occurrence.
In order to give our readers a general idea of the town and social life at this early period, we will describe the conditions under which the markets and fairs were held. The town was encompassed by a wall with a moat on the outside. The wall commenced about the middle of the present harbour and passed in a straight line between the gardens of Castle Street and the park where the Quoad Sacra Parish Church now stands to the “Meikle Yett,” the site of which is still marked by two perforated stones on the High Street. From thence it proceeded towards the west, enclosing the gardens on the south side of the town, and then towards the north, enclosing the gardens fringing High Street until it entered the river. From thence it proceeded to the middle of the present harbour, thus forming a square, the sides of which were about 350 yards in length. High Street was practically the only street in the burgh at that time, and took the form of a capital L, from which several closes branched off. The most imposing building, of course, was “Maclellan’s Castle,” the ruins of which are now being renovated. To the south of the castle stood the stables and offices, whilst to the west were the castle-yard, orchard, garden grounds &c. Leading along the High Street were two rows of old rude thatched houses. Those in the immediate vicinity of the castle belonged in the 17th century to Alexander Macnaught, John Houston, Thomas Macairtney, Margaret Ormond, and others. At the other end of High Street was the Tolbooth and the Market Cross, in front of which the fairs and markets were held. Here were gathered together the vendors called “Stallengers,” with their various stalls laden with produce such as loaves, beef, mutton, salt, fruit, oats, beir, wheat, wax, wine, shoes, cloth, &c. Each of the holders was charged 10 merks for stances. The income derived from these stalls or booths amounted to XXIIIJ merks. Rules and bylaws were drawn up as follows.
Item. That whatever person happens to draw bluid upon another, the drawer thereof sal pay to the town treasurer, collector, or assessor thereof for the deed, ten merks money, and sall pay forty shillings to the man wounded.
Item. That whatever person stikes another, straiks the stall with a whinger, batters or grips; the doer thereof sall pay five merks.
Item. That whatever person blasphemes ony Magistrates, or his neighbour, sall pay five merks money.
Item. That a slander of his neighbour, quarrelling, or flytin’, sall pay for same in form of amercement to the slandered.
Item. That the breakers of arrestment sall pay to the towns collector for such, money, but with remit to the town to uptake the rest of them generally and escheat at the town’s will.
Item. That quilk day the pains and unlaws foresaid for ane year, an’ set to William M’Ghie and Thomas Hall for the sum of twenty merks.
The small customs were let for £20, 10s 4d, and the burghers had also to pay “scat” for watch or ward, which was the equivalent for our present police assessment. This watch and ward, we learn from the 86th chapter of the Leges Burgorum, was that “forth of ilk house inhabit, ane man sould come to watch for feare of peril, quha sall passé frae dure to dure with ane staff in his hand, and sall be of ane man’s age, and quhen Cerfure (Curfew) is rung in, he sall come forth with twa wapons, and sall watch cairfullie and discrietlie until the morning, and gif he fails therein he sall pay unlaw of four pennies.”
At the present day we are inclined “to kick against the pricks” of social legislation which threatens to unduly interfere with the liberty of the subject, but what would we have said to legislation which provided that “whoever buys, or causes to buy, any merchandize, victuals, or other things, coming by land or water towards any fair or market in borough, or in landward, to be sold in same, from any parts beyond the sea, or within the realm, or makes any contract or promise for the having and buying of the same, or any part thereof, before the said merchandize, victuals, or other things shall be in the fair or market place, or shall make any motion by word, writ or message, for raising of the price or dearer selling of the things above mentioned, or else dissuade or move any person coming to the fair, market or town, to bring any of the things above mentioned, shall be esteemed and judged a forestaller. . . they shall incur a penalty of fifty pounds, find surety to abstain in time coming, under the pain of a hundred merks.” Mot only that, but the “stallengers” were not allowed to take the current market price for their goods, for the bailies were ordained to go to the markets and fix the prices, after which no higher price could be taken. A very good example of this is to be found in the assize of bread – “It is enacted that it shall be lawful for the court, or for the person or persons herein authorised, to set the assize of bread, to set, or ascertain, in any place within their jurisdiction, the assize and weight of all sorts of bread which shall be made for sale, or exposed for sale, and the price to be paid for same when, and as often as they shall think proper. And therein, respect shall be had to the price which the grain, meal or flour shall bear in the market or markets in or near to the places for which assize shall be set, and making reasonable allowance to the bakers for their charges, labour, profit, as they shall deem proper. Where an assize shall be thought proper to be set, no person shall make for sale, or sell, or expose to or for sale, and sort of bread, except wheaten and household (otherwise brown bread), and such other sorts of bread as shall be allowed in the assize; but where it hath been usual to make, or the person setting the assize shall allow the making of bread with the meal or flour of rye, barley, oats, beans, or pease, or of such different sorts of grain mixed together; the same may be made and sold there accordingly; and if any person shall offend in the premises and be convicted thereof by confession, or oath of one witness before any Magistrate or Justice within the limits of their jurisdiction, he shall forfeit not exceeding 40s nor less than 20s.” For instance, if the price of wheat was 5s per bushel, the baker’s allowance by the Magistrates 1s 6d, the weight of the penny loaf wheaten would be 9 oz. 4 dr., the household loaf 12 oz. 1 dr., and the price of the quartern wheaten loaf 7½d, the household loaf 5½d. Wheaten loaves were three-fourths the weight of household ones, and the prices were always three-fourths more than the household loaves. A schedule of prices, weights, &c., is appended to the old Act.
Not only were the prices of goods in the market regulated by Act of Parliament, but even dress, ordinary clothing, &c. For long the Scottish Legislature attempted to regulate female dress, but alas, with little success. It was enacted that “wives and daughters in like manner be abuilzied, ganand, and correspondent from this estate,” that is to say (in the case of the wives and daughters of citizens not in the magistracy, and of Barons and other poor gentlemen within £40 of old extent) “were to wear in their heads short courhes, with little hoods as are used in Flanders, England, and other countries, and as to their gowns, that no woman wear motrickes nor letters not tailes unfit in length, nor furred under, bot on the bailie day,” From this it will be seen that the “hobble skirt” has arrived four centuries to be appreciated! In these prohibitions it appears that the saving of expense to the “puir gentlemen” was chiefly held in view, and not any dislike to the showy dress of ladies, because we have the above exception in the case of the “halie day” (Sunday). That this was so is made clear by the still minuter directions to “wives within ane hundred poundes” (of land rent) to “wear nae silk lyning but allenarlie in collar and slees under the same paine” (a fine of twenty pounds to the King) and to the husbandman’s’ wives to dress in “courches of their awin making.” But what seems to have given the greatest uneasiness was the use of the veil, which, however, for ages continued to be worn in defiance of the legislature. Many and anxious are the prohibitions “that no woman come to kirk nor mercate with her face muffaled or covered that she may not be kend under the paine of escheat of the courchie.”
Regulations were also made respecting the dress of the men, particularly so, that directions were given both for the “halie day” and work day dress of the commonality – “that no labourers or husbandmen weare on the warke day bot grey and quhite, and in the halie day licht blue.”
Amid all this extraordinary attention to dress the pleasures of the table were not overlooked. Statutes were passed against superfluous banqueting and the inordinate use of “confectours and drogges.” The narrative in the Acts includes the inordinate consumption, not only of “Sik stuffes as growes withinthe realm, bot alswa of drogges, confectours, and spiceries brocht from the pairts beyond the seas, and sauld at dear prices to moniefolk that are unabill to sustain that coaste.” Even their pastimes were regulated by Act of Parliament, for the Act demanded that “futeball and golfe be utterly cried down,” and “that in nae place of the realm there be used fute-ball, golfe, or sik unprofitable sports.” This was a “kick” and a “bunker” with a vengeance
From the above enactments, the size of the town, with its little L shaped street, its castle and tolbooth, its small rude thatched houses, its booths and stalls, and the appearance and dress of the burghers, a very quaint and romantic picture may be conjured up of life in Kirkcudbright in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the old minute books of the burgh, a perusal of which was kindly granted by the Town Clerk, we learn that oats were sold in the market were sold at IIJ shillings the peck, small measure XXX shilling (the fourth part of a boll). Oats were also sold at 3s 6d small measure, and shoes in 1579 cost 18d the pair. On the 19th October 1590, it was resolved and minuted that “nae flesh to be presented to the mercat to sell on Fridays and Saturdays.” This was to prevent a famine and higher prices. The price of wax was fixed for eleven years at 5s per pound. A spade cost 10d, salt £4 for a hogshead. A hogshead of wine cost £24, and Bordeaux sold at 3s 6d the pint. Mutton cost 30s for the side, and beef 44s. The price of the burgess ticket was 5 merks, and “nae unfreeman or woman was allowed to sell within the limits of the burgh.” Beir was 9d a pound. “Nae flesher was allowed to buy, slay, except that they bring the hyde,” and “nae flesher to buy any hydes except what he slays himself.” Owing to the dearth of fleshmeat, it was repeatedly enacted that no flesh be eaten on Fridays, Saturdays, or even Sundays. The treasurer was not allowed to sell customs or goods out of the burgh. The quarter cake weighed 14 ounces.
Ructions at the fair.
At the fairs and markets quarrelling and fighting were of frequent occurrence, notwithstanding the bye-laws. On the 3rd day of August, 1694, a dreadful row occurred at the Mercat Cross between James Lidderdale of The Isle, James Gordon, Town Clerk, several others their accomplices, and Thomas Corbie (Crosbie), mason. This, of course, could not be hushed up, and the matter came before the Magistrates and Council. The minute reads as follows:- “The qulk day the saids Magistrates and Councill having taken to their consideration the gross and intolerable abusses committed by James Lidderdale if Isle, James Gordounne, Town Clerk of Kirkcudbright, with subordinates or accomplices, did upon the third day of August last bypast, being ane fair day, set upon the person of Thomas Corbie, mason, at the mercat croce of the said Burgh, and there most insollent and inhumanlie battoned, bled, and abused the said Thomas to great effusion of his blood, leavin’ him in ane rough and helpless condition, whereupon he with his wife and whole family, advised, came to the said George Meek, Bailzie, crying and exclaiming bitterly, declaring that the said Thomas was murdered by the saide persons, and required and desired that they might be governed in order to justice. The said bailzie having heard, given, and considered the said matter, went to the ground where the fact was committed, and required the said persons to give obedience, and to underly the law for the said horrid fact, which both refused to do, but is a most contumacious and rebellious manner, notwithstanding that they were both burgess of the said town. I went to the house of the said James Gordounne, and yr did associate to you David and Robert Lidderdale, brother to the said James Archibald Coulter of Orraland, Robert Maxwell of Croishfield, and William Johnstoun in Park of Netherlaw, whereupon the said Bailzie went to the said house with officer and several other assistants, requiring them to make patent doors in your Mattios names, and give obedience in manner foresaid, all of which they refused, and barricaded the doors, and when the bailzie was gone a little from the house they all came down in ane furious manor and did assault and fall upon the said bailzie by cutting and wounding his head with drawn swords, some whereof broken upon his head, as also cutt the Jaylours head an gorgoned the assistants with drawn swords. The saids Magratts and Councill do ordaine and Commission to the said Bailzie Meek to repair to Edinburgh and there give full information of the haill points of facts consult and advicat, and raise letters before yr Mattios Privy Council against the foresaids persons withall expedition. As also lettres of Lawburrows if need be.” There were many rows of smaller importance, but they are unworthy of record.
To show the vigilance which the Magistrates kept on “forestallers” of the market, Robert Boyd of Logan was called before their honours and arraigned for selling meat at the Fleet Water (Gatehouse) without liberty, and not bringing and selling the same at the public and free market. “22nd Sept., sentenced to underlay the law for ye same.”
The customs multures &c., were always let by public roup. The following is a curious custom, which deserves to be recorded. When letting the mill &c, the offers were to be made and finished “while ane twa pennie candle continued to burn.” When it went out, no other bid could be accepted, and the highest bid made during the time it burned was preferred.
St Michael’s Fair
In olden times the market cross was the pivot round which the whole of the Burghal life of Kirkcudbright circled, and we would fair dwell at some length on the many quaint scenes and curious incidents presented by the evolution of our social life through the dark ages up to the present day. We must, however, leave this to a more convenient season. Kirkcudbright has been sorely tried by a plethora of amateur historians, with the result that there is not a town in Scotland whose history has been so much misrepresented, or where sheer imagination has usurped a true knowledge of the times, manners and customs of the periods to which they refer. Under the penetrating light of modern research a knowledge a new and more correct history will soon be a sine qua non.
The old-time fairs present themselves in a very different light to our modern fairs. They were the ordinary medium for internal traffic in merchandise and goods. The goods exposed for sale were generally brought on the backs of ponies, or on the shoulders of pedlars. Duties were exacted for the protection which the “stallengers” received, and for the site of their stances. As the market day was the only time for traffic within the burgh, therefore the country people brought in their produce to supply the town, and, of course, purchased such articles as were required for use in the country. The old Tolbooth was originally the booth in which the officers collected the tolls or duties. Sometimes the exaction of these duties gave rise to cases of extortion, for we learn that under James II it was enacted that “at Fairs, Parliament times, or General Councils great Constables of castles, Sheriffs, or Bailies of Burghs use no extortion by taking from poor folks for loads burdens what they call fees, under pain of being punished at the king’s will.
The Town Drummer
At the Market Cross all the proclamations regarding legal processes, Acts of Parliament, fair days, high days and holidays were made by the town piper or drummer. Prior to 1600 the proclamations were made by the piper, but in October 1600, a drummer was appointed. The minutes of appointment read as follows.
“The quhilk day Alexander Corkirk is chosin and seit drummar for ane zeir for the quhilk he sal haif ten libs of fie, and his meit throu the toun, and that thai that hes not houses pey him iijs, viijd (i.e. 3/8d) thairfoir.
The quhilk day Ferguss Neilsone is seit toun piper for ane zear, his dewtie usit and wont (x libs) provyding he and the drummer pairt the Zule wages (Christmas boxes) betwixt thame.”
At that time the town drummer was a very important personage. His duties combined those of the modern bellman or burgh officer, an office which is now following rapidly into disuse owing to all proclamations being made by printed forms posted up at the town halls and other public places, or advertised in local newspapers.
Perhaps the following extract may be interesting, as it shows not only the importance of the office, but also how the pride of the worthy magistrates of Kirkcudbright was wounded by their drummer having presumed to engage himself to another party.
“Burrow Court. Xj Maij, 1642. be the Proveist and Baillies. The qlk day the Proveist Baillies and Counsellors being convenit, and heiring ane report going that Robert Rig, drummar, had agreit with Captaine Wm M’Clellane to have gone with him to Irelandto be his drummar to ane fit company, and thairefter did agree with the tounship to be thair drummer for ain yeir. Quhairupon, they have seveall tymes convenit the said Robert Rigg before thame, and, having requyrit him to declair the veritie, he ever, hithertill, conceillit and denyit the samyn until this present day; and being overagain requyrit to declair the veritie, he confessit that his fader did first persuade him, and sterit him up to tak on and agrie with the Captaine M’Clellane to be his drummar to his companie, and for that effect to goe over with him to Ireland; and thairefter, his said fader serit him up and persuaded him to conseill the first agriement, and tak on of new again with the said tounship to be thair drummar for ane yeir. Quhairin the Magistrates and Consell findes that baith the father and the sone have dealt verie treacherouslie and unhonestlie with the toun, and ought to be examplarie punishit, to the terror of uthers to comit the lyke in tyme cuming; and thairfoir they decern and ordaine the said Robert Rig to be presentlie put in the stocks in the mercat place, and remaine thairin untill the setting of the sune; and thairefter to be brought back again to the tolbuithe and keipit thair in close ward, until the tounes fader plessor. And because Stephane Rig, his father, did counsell, entyse, persuade and steir up his sone to such dishonest dealings, therfoir they decern and ordaine the said Stephane Rig to remove himselff, his wife, and sone, out of this burgh and libertie heirof, betwixt and the term of Whitsounday now approaching, under the paine of such farder cencure and bodilie punishment as the said Magistrates and Counsell shall think expedient to be inflicted upon thame, that shall be anie tyme thairefter be fund within the burgh and liberie thairof. Quhairupon the Judge ordainit.”
The punishment of the stocks” or “jougs” above referred to was a very common one in those days. It was also a very degrading spectacle, for the culprit had not only to sit or stand pilloried in front of all the passers-by, but also bear their gibes and jeers. If the crime for which the poor unfortunate was pilloried had aroused anti-popular feeling, then stale fish or stale eggs, old shoes, &c., formed suitable means of showing their indignation. The “jougs” were affixed to the wall at the head of the stairs at the cross. The last time they were used was between 1810 and 1815. In 1805, Jean Maxwell was tried before the Steward Depute for pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, and undertaking to tell fortunes. She was found guilty and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, and one in every quarter to stand openly in the “jougs” or pillory at the Market Cross for the space of one hour. The sentence was rigidly carried out. The sentence, however, did not deter others from practicing the same supposed occult gifts. She was succeeded by “Wee Jean,” who was a dwarf, and who, for many years had a good practice in St Mary Street. Girls of all grades dropped in to learn when, where, and what kind of husbands they were to get, and also their future prospects. “Wee Jean£ was bedridden, but evidently this did not prevent her from spaeing fortunes.
The fairs and markets continued to be the principal ones in the Stewartry till well into the eighteenth century. Keltonhill Fair, however, seems to have practically killed these fairs and markets, owing to its more central and accessible situation. Up till about 1840, hiring fairs for servants were held annually on the last Friday of March and the last Friday of September, but these were not well attended. A day for hiring hay and harvest workers was likewise held on Friday immediately preceding Keltonhill, but little or no business was done. Many attempts were made to resuscitate the old fairs at Kirkcudbright even as late as the middle of the nineteenth century, but unfortunately these efforts met with little or no success. Beautiful, pleasing and romantic as the situation at Kirkcudbright is, strange to say, from a commercial point of view, this has been its greatest drawback. It has always been most inaccessible, even at the present day its train service might be improved.
A market day is still held in Kirkcudbright on Friday in each week, but it generally takes place in the hotels of the burgh for no one entering the town would find a fixed market, or realise that such a thing was taking place. Nevertheless a good amount of business is transacted privately.
During the earlier part of the nineteenth century the only means of communication with by Kirkcudbright was by steamboat, coach and carrier. Two steamboats sailed regularly to Liverpool, one a week in summer, once a fortnight in winter. Two coaches also visited the town daily from Dumfries and, exclusive of carriers from the adjacent parishes, there were carriers from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries, Newton-Stewart, New-Galloway, and Gatehouse-of-Fleet.
When the poet Burns applied his obnoxious epithet of “Whisky Jean” to Kirkcudbright, there was at least prima facie evidence for the nickname. The public houses were very numerous. Even in 1840 there were twenty-seven houses licensed for the sale of spirituous liquors. The most important of these were “The Selkirk Arms” ; “John Knox’s Public House,” kept at one time by Samuel Malcolmson ; “The Masonic Arms” usually called “The Lodge” from the Mason’s Lodge being above it ; “The King’s Arms” ; “The Commercial” ; “The Galloway Arms” ; “Mrs Postlethwaite’s Inn” in High Street ; “Mrs Casteens Inn” ; “”The Grapes Inn” ; and “The Steam Packet.”
Outstanding Characters and Worthies.
Kirkcudbright in bygone years had a galaxy of outstanding characters and worthies, who played their humble part in the burghal life, and then passed from the stage, leaving nothing behind but a memory of their names and eccentricities. We regret we cannot rescue all their names from oblivion, but we may save a few. They served their day and generation and, although their failings or idiosyncrasies may at times be amusing, yet the ancient burghal life of Kirkcudbright would be a blank without them.
There were the M’Craiths who, for nearly a century, were the bellmen of the burgh. It is supposed that they belonged to the M’Illwraiths, a family living in Kirkcudbright as far back as 1507. Be this as it may, the shoemaker’s trade books show that in 1776 Archibald Craith was Tolbooth bellringer and Church Officer, and was admitted to the freedom of the craft in that year. He died in 1844, and was the last of a long line, at any-rate, who acted in the capacity of bellman. Prior to that, the following rhyme had been recited by the younger generations for at least a hundred years with various changes to suit the altered surname: –
“Archie Craith, upon my fath,
He lives ahin’ the steeple;
He rings the bell at six o-clock,
And waukens a’ the people.”
Johnnie Price was another worthy who, from about 1840 to 1860, was perhaps the best-known and most useful man in the burgh. He was a nailer to trade, and worked incessantly from early morn till late at night in the “Lane” immediately behind the old schoolhouse. The nailers were an outstanding feature of the “Lane” for generations. Being splendid shots they attended at the “wappingschaws” (Wappenshaw – n. Muster of men with their weapons formerly held in certain areas of Scotland) in the town and neighbourhood. They were also excellent fishers, but inveterate poachers. For miles around the landlords were continually for these individuals whom they knew by their leather aprons. A good story is told of Johnnie in this respect. It seems that he and a layman friend were having an innocent stroll through the woods adjacent to Kirkcudbright one Saturday morning when Johnnie scented danger, and asked his friend to hold his apron for a minute till he returned. The friend, for a joke, put it on. At this juncture the landlord appeared on the scene, and taking the unoffending layman for a nailer, accused him of poaching, and commenced to belabour him with a stout cudgel. The layman had to fly to save his life. Accordingly he raised an action for assault, and got a good sum in name of damages, and solatium, which Johnnie and the other nailers helped to squander in the “Lodge” (Masonic Arms.)
One of Johnnie’s greatest boasts was how he cured a smoky chimney. It seems that a chimney in one of the large buildings in the town had become completely choked, and defied the efforts of masons and slaters to free it. Johnnie guessed the cause, and offered to clean it. His offer and services were gladly accepted. Accordingly he got a small canful of oil, and pouring it down the chimney, thus saturating the twigs of the jackdaw’s nests, which he firmly believed were the sole cause of the obstruction. Then he got a handful of shavings and put them down the chimney. Thereafter he dropped a lighted torch, and the whole went in a blaze. The cure was effective, though the blaze caused a great deal consternation in the neighbourhood.
During the days of the window tax, Johnnie generally delivered the surveyors’ schedules, and had of course a special eye to the number of windows in each house. He was known to the country folk as “the man who counts the windows.” On one occasion, when delivering the schedules, the proprietrix of a neighbouring country house set her whole kennel of dogs on him. Johnnie had a desperate struggle for the safety of his life and limbs, and it was only by making a good use of his stout stick that he escaped “scot-free,” as the saying goes. “Ay, ay, my lady, ye’ll pay dearly for this,” he muttered, as he clapped a few more dogs and windows to her schedule.
Johnnie once won the “silver arrow.” This placed him on the highest pinnacle of local fame, and he was an object of envy to the junior members of the various “trades” as they marched home on that eventful evening. Regarding the history of the “silver arrow,” it is interesting to record that Johnnie always maintained that he saw the “arrow” made by Mr Law, clockmaker in Kirkcudbright. “Mr William Johnston” (William Johnston, who founded the Johnston School), he said, “gave Mr Law three half-crowns which were melted and thereafter modelled into an arrow.” “The “silver arrow,” along with the “siller gun,” is carefully preserved in the Stewartry Museum.
Johnnie was a “Jack-of-all-Trades” and master of none. He ran errands for lawyers, merchants, and the general public. He also assisted the steward and the burgh officer, acted as turnkey of the jail, and groomed horses. At one time he held the position of postman between Borgue and Kirkcudbright, and often officiated as porter on the arrival and departure of the steamship, “The Countess of Galloway,” at the quay. He was head of the gang called “Fin M’Coull,” and was also employed as enumerator of the pigs and piggeries in the burgh. Perhaps the most difficult task he ever got was the enumeration of the different kinds of game on a large estate. On being asked if the grouse, hares, rabbits, and other game sat quite still till he scheduled them, he pawkily replied, “Na, na, but I followed them to mak’ sure that I didna coont them twice.” Johnnie bragged that he was the only man who was successful in this task, as several had tried and completely failed.
James Gordon, alias “The Duke o’ Gordon,” lived in the Tannery, now Atkinson Place, and also in High Street, near the Cross, but afterwards in a close behind the King’s Arms Hotel. The “Duke” was a great fisher, and knew every burn and steam for miles around, therefore he was in great request as a guide and dresser of hooks. For a long time he was with Mr Maitland, M.P., Deebank. One day he was prowling round the “Lang Acres,” opposite Castledykes, when the Earl of Selkirk came along and asked him what he was doing there. The “Duke” did not give a very satisfactory or civil answer, so the Earl said sharply, “Do you know who I am? I am the Earl of Selkirk.” “Weel, weel, that may be sae, but do you know who I am? I am the Duke o’ Gordon.” The Earl laughed heartily and left him alone. Ever afterwards he got “The Duke” as a nickname. The Rev. George Murray of poetic fame, who was a keen fisher, is said to have made the following verses, with the “Duke” as loquitor: –
“The steams may rise, the birds may sing,
Small joys they bring tae me :
The blythesome streams I dimly hear,
These steams I dimly see;
Ance mair I’ll touch with gleesome foot
The waters still and cauld;
Ance mair I’ll cheat the gleg-eyed trout,
And wile him from his haul.
It’s then farewell, dear Tongland side,
Oh gaily may ye rin,
And lead thy water sparkling on,
And dash from linn to linn.
Thy music oft charmed Gordon
On the banks in former days,
And blythe be every fisher’s heart
Who shall ever thread these braes.”
Alexander M’Naught, who was burgh officer about 1750, was a real “original,” and played an important part in the life of the old burgh. He was a little bit of a poetaster. In a rhyme of twenty verses he rehearses all the well-known family names, towns, and even gives an outline of Galloway history. The following will serve as an example: –
“The Blairs live among us, and also the Browns,
Cathcarts, and M’Clellans, in different towns,
M’Clurgs, Mures, Kennedys Muirheads, and M’Ghies,
M’Georges, M’Frizzels, Herons, and M’Kies,
M’Gachans, M’Whinnies, M’Conchies, M’Gowns,
Gillespies, Glendinnings, Gledstanes, Fullartouns,
Welshes, Herrieses, Hughans, Clarks, Cutlars, M’Gills,
Lauries, Carnochans, Martins, M’Cartneys, and Bells.”
With regard to the towns and villages he enumerates them thus: –
“Portnessock, Portpatrick, and also Stranraer,
Glenluce, ancient Whithorn, and Wigtown rare,
With brave Newton-Stewart, and auld Minnigaff,
The Ferrytoun stands a little way aff
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Ancient Kirkcudbright I cannot pass by,
The toun of New-Galloway and auld Dalry,
But Jock, my flocks straying, and I maunna stay
To tell all the towns in fair Galloway.
Willie Tamson, the cobbler, has, of course, been ably portrayed in A.J. Armstrong’s “Cobbler o’ Kirkcoobrae.” He lived in High Street, but died in Atkinson Place. Willie was a most remarkable man, and seemed to live on an entirely different plane from his fellow-men. The passion of his life was Nature, especially the flowers of the fields and woodlands around Kirkcudbright. He knew them all by name, and looked upon them as friends and companions. There was that gentleness and sweetness of temperament about him that made everybody love him. A sketch of his life appeared in the Gallovidian by the late A.J. Armstrong, and when asked what he thought of it, he pawkily replied “Weel, I wadna be sae unjust to chairge the writer as my murderer; but I wad say, as the auld wife said when she was catched choking her auld man, that ‘she was only gieing the Lord a little help tae tak puir John oot o’ his sufferings.’”
Speaking of the old sports and regatta days, he enthusiastically exclaimed, “These were the guid auld days, an’ no’ like the watered skim-milk times we noo live in. Men were men then, and they proved their manliness with the oar on the river. Amang them were three or four Wisharts, fishermen; John Beattie, John Leckie, John Tamson and Jamie Bell, and many other strapping chaps.”
Willie was a Volunteer Artilleryman in his young days, and his Sergeant was Jamie Nicholson. He used to say “Ay, Jamie was a Sergeant, but he wad never attend to his duties or his drill, therefore they elected him oot o’ the ranks, as he used to tramp the heels o’ the front rank man! There was much fun in those days, as the one half of the company was far too auld, baggy and stiff. I remember auld Neil Sibbald, Castlesod, peching and grunting, and blawin’ at every step, and rocking an’ rowing like a ship in a storm – nae wunner, the man was eighteen stane, if he was an ounce.”
Giving his opinion on religion, he said, “I don’t approve of men wearing their religion on their coat-sleeve like a porter’s badge, but rather let us live in the spirit, and use it for our happiness of mind and the daily strengthening of our faculties for the fulfilment of life’s requirements.”
Even to the last he found in wild flowers his supreme consolation in moments of depression and melancholy, and in his brighter hours they were as music to his heart, which kept time with the dancing grasses of the wind-swept meadows and the long-drawn harmony of the swaying woodlands.
Robert Malcolmson was another outstanding character, whom to know was to love. He was known as “Lovey Malcolmson,” on account of his habit of addressing his wife by that endearing term. He was a middle-sized, slender man, with narrow, straight-up-and-down head, miniature whiskers, scanty straight hair, and clean-shaven aspect. His mouth was very small and he had the peculiar appearance of being screwed up slightly to one side when speaking. He was a real genius, notwithstanding some of his eccentricities. His father kept the “John Knox” public-house, and latterly the “Gray’s Inn” in High Street. “Lovey” was a fine penman, and twice gained a prize given by the Magistrates at the Academy. He was an amateur botanist, and an enthusiastic gardener. His collection of wild plants was at one time large and varied, but his father, however, did not approve of what he characterised “as a sheer waste of time,” and one day destroyed all his specimens with a spade. This was a severe blow to “Lovey.”
One day, when visiting the gardens at St Mary’s Isle, two of the young gardeners who were watering the peaches and nectarines induced Malcolmson to fill the sprinkler with water. Their then seized it, and gave him a thorough drenching. The lads were James Drummond and Alexander Ross. Drummond was a prodigy of genius as, with scarcely any assistance from others, he cultivated botany with so much success that the Linnaean Society of London admitted him an Honorary Member, and in 1816 he was superintendent of the Botanic Gardens at Cork ; while Ross became gardener to a gentleman in Wales.
“Lovey” was also a poet of no mean merit. His first piece appeared in the Liverpool Courier in September 1808. It began as follows: –
“To the memory of James Dalziel.”
“Here calm he lies, by no wild tempest driven;
A genius who in science shone most clear,
A virtuous man and a companion dear.
While famed on earth his soul’s with God in heaven.”
This is supposed to be the Dalziel to whom the poet Burns sent a copy of the draft of “Scots wha’ hae.” An anonymous letter accused him of blasphemy in this epitaph, and even hinted at the pains and penalties at law for publishing it. He sent no more contributions to that paper.
In the spring of 1813he commenced a correspondence with the Dumfries Weekly Journal, which continued for more than two years. He married Miss M’Gowan, a daughter of the Rev. Alexander M’Gowan, Dalry. His daughter Severia, also wrote poetry.
Malcolmson furnished a series of descriptive sketches of Galloway antiquities to Sir Walter Scott, and wrote for Bennett’s Dumfries Magazine in 1826. He also wrote numerous notes for the History of Galloway and other local publications along with a well-written account of the descent of Paul Jones on St. Mary’s Isle, founded on the descriptions of eye-witnesses. “Lovey” also wrote the poetical reply to the Galloway Herds, lately re-published in book form.
His verses “To the Snowdrop” are beautiful, and we give a few lines as example: –
“Even now, in the mirror of memory, I view
Thy charms covered over with diamonds of dew;
But, Fancy, herself ever sportive and free,
Ne’er pencilled a flow’ret a fairer than thee.
True emblem of modesty, fairest of flowers,
Thou nursling of tempests and cold sleety showers,
May innocence ever remember thy form
And blossom like thee in adversity’s storm.”
His end was tragic, for he was drowned in the river. Those who found the body thought it was the corpse of a tailor named Simpson and, of course, carried it to the house of that individual. It was dark and, on arrival at the door they cried up the stair “Here is Simpson’s corpse; we found it in the river.” Back came the reply “Faith it canna be me, for I’m no’ dead yet.” The corpse was then taken to the Kirk and deposited there until identified. We understand some of his MSS are deposited in the Stewartry Museum among the treasures.
Samuel Fletcher. Many of our readers will remember Samuel Fletcher, who, although not exactly a Kirkcudbright character, yet was resident in the parish. Sam was always known as the “Recluse of the Solway.” He lived in a little cottage near Balmae, overlooking the Ross Island. He was a most remarkable man in many ways. In his younger days he was a bit of a rough, and had seen much of the world, but in his latter years he became a recluse, his only companions being his favourite cats which were trained to do almost everything but speak. He had a rich and varied knowledge and, when in a talkative mood, proved most entertaining. Many antiquarians called to see him in his little cabin, and generally came away wiser than before. Why he lived his hermit life is a mystery. His best friend was the Countess of Selkirk, who not only visited him, but sometimes tidied up his cottage, and in Sam’s own words, “made it shine like a palace.”
Johnnie M’Garva, the mason, was another worthy who lived in High Street. His house was distinguished for its old-fashioned wide fireplace, where several persons could sit on either side. It was a favourite howf of Johnnie Sinclair. M’Garva could relate some fearful and wonderful stories, but these were generally the product of a lively imagination. The following example will suffice. His greatest boast was that he had thirty musical instruments in his possession, and could play on each and all of them. “Ye must be a great musician Johnnie,” remarked one of his listeners. “Oh yes ; I was once organist in York Cathedral, but got tired of the job, and joined the navy.” “That, surely, was a downcome, Johnnie.” “Ay, but ye see there was trouble between Britain and France in those days, so I had to fecht for my Queen and country. I remember on day we sighted a French privateer, and oor Captain engaged the Frenchman till a British ship came up. To save bloodshed the Captain suggested , and it was agreed by the commanders to fecht a one-man duel by twa men, one to be chosen from each of the ships. The French commander addressed his men and called for a volunteer. The British commander did the same. There was some hesitation, so I stepped forward and saluted. ‘Yes, yes, juist as I expected’ said the Captain, ‘M’Garva’s the hero.’ Weel, the fecht began, and after three or four rounds I got tired of playing with the Frenchman, so, with one stroke of my cutlass, I made a slash at his head, and lo! And behold it bounced on to the deck juist like a turnip.” “Oh, stop, stop, Johnnie, that’ll do,” chorused his listeners. “Weel, weel, ye can believe me or no’, for it’s juist as sure as God’s in His Heaven.”
John Seggie, the blacksmith, was another worthy, and the “smiddy” was a favourite haunt for young and old in winter evenings. It was a sort of local Parliament, and there some wonderful stories were related. John was very fond of a shot, but one afternoon his leaden ammunition ran out. “Ay, boys, I was in a sad pickle, for richt in front o’ me was a nice covey of partridges. Hooever, I wisna going to be beaten. Where there’s a will there’s a way, so I juist shoved the ramrod into the gun, an’ as the partridges rose, I fired an’ strung twal o’ them richt though the e’en like herring on a spit.” A wag present remarked “that’s ane, John, gie’s anither when the iron’s hot.” John looked through his ‘specs’ threateningly, and said “ma man, if ye contradict me, I’ll gie ye a lick between the lug and the horn wi’ the hand-hammer,” meaning in our Galloway dialect “a vital spot.”
Another of John’s favourite stories was as follows: – “D’ye ken, boys, I ance had a dog that was cut in twa by a circular saw, but I clapped the halves thegither sae quickly, that it jumped up and ran aff as if naething had happened.” According to his own story, John had also a wonderfully speedy pony. He was at Dundrennan and saw a heavy shower sweeping across the Solway. It began to spit, so he gave the pony a touch of the whip and managed to keep before the shower all the way to Kirkcudbright without a hair of its tail being wet.
Of Jacky Dowd, there are many stories. Mr Johnston (the founder of the Free School) met him one day and asked him if he could find a good pavior. “If you find me a really good one I’ll give ye a guid stiff glass o’ whisky.” A few days afterwards Jacky duly knocked at the door and Mr Johnston answered. “Oh, it’s you Jacky; well, have you found me a pavior?” “Yes, sir.” “Than wait a moment till I get ye your dram.” Jacky gulped the dram over in the twinkling of an eyelid so Mr Johnston enquired “Who, and where is the pavior, Jacky.?” “If ye don’t see him you may feel him sir, for he is the best pavior ye’ll get – his name’s John Frost.”Before Mr Johnston could realise the trick that had been played upon him to obtain the glass of whisky Jacky was off.
Jacky had a son who was a veritable “chip o’ the auld block.” One day he bought two pounds of flounders from an old pensioner named Charlie Gordon. Next morning Gordon met Jacky (junior), and enquired how he liked the flounders. “Flounders did ye call ‘em man, I mistook them for bane-combs.”
Joe Somers. Some of our readers may also remember Joe Somers, who was the last of the gaberlunzie men. Joe had regular places of call, not only in the town, but also in the country for miles around. Unhappily he had a hesitancy in his speech. When he called at a house his first question generally was “c-c-can you g-g-give me a d-d-duddy-bane (meaning one with some fleshmeat on it) an’ I’ll d-d-dance J-J-Jim Crow?” The people were very kind to him, and he was very seldom sent away empty-handed. He also carried a ‘can’ for any soup which might be given him. One day an old lady asked him how much his can held. “Oh, j-j-juist the f-fou o’t, madam, an’ a wee d-d-drap mair.”
There were many other worthies, such as John Carson or “Stovers Carson” as he was called locally. John was a regular attended at Keltonhill Fair, and was at the riot referred to in a previous article. John Kirkgan was another worthy, who had been in South Aftrica, and possessed an unlimited number of stories regarding the Kaffirs. Then there was Johnnie Hill, a mason’s labourer, who was unfortunately subject to fits. John Seggie was the only man who could cure them, and his remedy was a bowlful of water mixed with a handful of salt which he poured down Johnnie’s throat. It was aid to have cured him.
Then there were Peggy Todd, Jean Craig, or “Porridge Jean” as she was locally called, along with many others whose names are familiar to the older inhabitants.