New Statistical Account (3)




May 1843

[Drawn up by the Rev. William McKenzie, Minister of Skirling, and author of the History of Galloway. Kirkcudbright]

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Ancient State. – The ancient state of the inhabitants of the parish was by no means favourable to their health and happiness. About the beginning of the last century, their houses in general were miserable hovels, built of stone and turf, or stone and clay, and covered with turf and indifferent straw. Holes in the walls or roof served to admit light, and allow the smoke to escape. Domestic animals, such as cows and horses, were often kept in the dwelling houses of the inhabitants. In a report made by the magistrates of Kirkcudbright to the commissioners of the convention of royal burghs in 1692, they say, ” that the most pairt of their houses are inhabited by their respective heritors, and all the rest are either waist or ruinous, and that more than the half.”

Their furniture was of the rudest and poorest kind, and their food consisted of the meanest and coarsest materials. In the same report, it is stated that the town had no foreign trade, and that their inland trade was very inconsiderable; that all the articles they required, they brought from other towns on horseback; that all the vessels they had, was one small boat of eight tons, newly bought for carrying their coal.

The dress of this period was uncouth and homely, and in general neither men nor women wore shoes in summer; shirts they scarcely knew.

Their agricultural operations continued extremely awkward and inefficient, and the instruments then in use were clumsy, ponderous, and imperfectly constructed. Almost all the ordinary drudgery of life was performed by females. Little employment could be obtained, and the price of labour remained miserably low. Education at this period was in a deplorable state. Few of the common people could read even the Bible, and superstition prevailed to a lamentable degree.


The country portion of the parish is thought to have been at one time much more populous than at present.

During the last year, there were 60 births, 50 deaths, and 10 marriages in the town and country. There are some individuals above ninety years of age. One noble family, and several persons of independent fortune reside in the parish.

There are five proprietors of land of the yearly value of L. 50 and upwards. The burgh also has a rental from land, of about L.600. 795 families reside in the parish, namely, 635 in the burgh, and 160 in the country. The parish contains 5 insane and 2 fatuous persons. There are in it one blind person and one deaf and dumb.

Character. – The people of Kirkcudbright are as intellectual, moral, and religious as those of any other parish; but their intelligence is free from pedantry, their morality from cant, and their religion from fanaticism. They have been long distinguished for their attachment to their pastors, and respect towards their superiors in station. The higher ranks are attentive and hospitable to strangers, and the lower ranks are peaceable, modest, obliging, and industrious. Formerly, they were said to be addicted to the use of spirituous liquors; but such a charge cannot now be brought against them, at least with any foundation in truth. There are few crimes committed in the parish, and these by no means of an aggravated nature. Poaching in game still prevails, though to a trifling extent, considering the temptation the great abundance of game presents, the facility of turning into money, and the poverty of some of the inhabitants. Smuggling is now almost unknown, and no regular pawnbroking has ever been carried on in the parish.



Agriculture. – There are about 3000 acres in tillage, and 500 which remain constantly in waste or pasture. About 500 acres have been planted. The management of the plantations is good.

Rent. – The average rent of arable land is about L. l per acre. A cow or ox can be grazed for L. 4 for the year, and a sheep for 5s.

Wages. – The rate of wages for farm labourers and country artisans may be stated at Is. 4d. per day. Men servants, on an average, receive about L.4, and women servants L.2 half-yearly, with victuals. Masons’ wages average 2s. 6d. per day, and house carpenters, 2s.

Cattle are of the Galloway breed, and sheep of the Leicester.

The general duration of leases extend to fifteen years; but leases are not numerous.

The state of farm buildings and enclosures is good.

Draining is now much attended to.

Fisheries. – The river Dee contains three valuable salmon-fisheries. The rent of the Tongland fishing, which belongs to Alexander Murray, Esq. of Broughton, was once as high as L. 705. Its present amount is not correctly known. It is extremely productive. Three hundred fish have been taken out of a pool called the Sandbed, on the Kirkcudbright side of the river, at one draught; and even during last season, one draught yielded no fewer than 100 salmon and grilses with three trouts. Out of another pool called the Sheep-Dubb, on the same side of the river, were taken at one time last summer, 589 fish, some of them of a large size. The burgh has a fishery, which lets at present at L.80 per annum; and Lord Selkirk possesses a third, the rent of which is generally supposed to be about L. 50. This is also a productive fishery, and the quality of the salmon cannot be surpassed; they are principally taken in yairs. A considerable quantity of excellent cod is caught off the mouth of the river by hooks fastened to lines.

Produce. – The average amount of raw produce raised in the parish cannot be exactly ascertained. The following may approach the truth.


Ecclesiastical State. – The parish church is conveniently situated for the greater part of the population : no houses are above three and a-half miles distant from it. It is in a state of complete repair.

Benefactions. – In 1639, Robert Johnston, Esq. physician, London, left to the poor of Kirkcudbright the sum of L.500 Sterling. In 1730, David Currie, Esq. of Newlaw, left L.16, interest to be applied in purchasing Bibles for the poor at New Year’s day; and in 1803 James R. Smyth, Esq. of New York, left L.31 for the same purpose Mr Currie of Newlaw left L.20, the interest to be paid to the poor in sixpences at New Year’s Day. In 1791, William Lawrie, Esq. of Barnsoul, bequeathed to the poor L.10, interest to be applied in purchasing meal and coals. William Johnston, Esq. of Madeira, left in 1795, L. 100 interest to he applied for the same purpose. In 1779, David Sproat, Esq. of Portmary, mortified L.200 for clothing and educating poor boys, the sons of respectable burgesses. William Johnston, Esq. of Mar-whim, in 1802, invested in the hands of the magistrates L.100 interest to be divided among” five householders who had seen better days.” In 1831, Alexander Gordon, Esq. of London, left L.270, the interest to be paid annually to the poor by the minister and kirk-session; and in the same year Miss Jean Gordon of Threavemains invested L.80 for the same purpose. In 1833, John Commelin, Esq. Dumfries, left L.400, one-half of the interest to be applied in aid of the poor, and one-half for purchasing prizes for the grammar school. Thomas Macmillan, Esq. of the grammar school, bequeathed, at his death in 1827, L.200 for educational and charitable purposes, and L.6 yearly from the lands of Bellerigg, one-half for a prize to the best scholar in the grammar school, and the other half for purchasing entertaining books, to be divided among the poor of the town of Kirkcudbright.

Stipend. – The minister has no manse, but he receives L.50 per annum as manse rent. He has one glebe, for which he draws an yearly rent of L.18. His stipend last year amounted to L.240, but the average amount may be about L.280.

Established Church. – Three thousand one hundred persons profess to belong to the Established Church, which is generally well attended. There are 850 communicants.

Secession Church. – This place of worship is attended by 40 families, some of whom are from the neighbouring parishes. About 150 individuals belong to the United Secession Church in the parish of Kirkcudbright. The number of communicants is at present from 90 to 100. Though in general Divine service is not numerously attended, yet the chapel is sometimes respectably filled. The stipend of the minister, which is somewhat variable, is raised by the voluntary contributions of the people, assisted occasionally by donations from the Synod fund. Collections are sometimes made for missionary and charitable purposes.

Catholics. – The Catholics have an apartment which they occupy as a chapel. The Right Rev. Andrew Carruthers, who resides generally in Edinburgh, is the Bishop.

The families that attend this chapel are 51 in number: and the number of persons who belong to the Catholic congregation of Kirkcudbright, according to a census just taken, is 314. Divine worship is said to be well attended; but the clergyman can only officiate on the first Sunday of every month. About 200 individuals of this persuasion permanently reside in the parish.

Society. – One Society has been established in aid of the India Mission. It annually contributes about L.20 to the general fund.

Collections. – The poor are supported principally by collections made in the, church, the funds of the town and country poor being kept separate. The church collections for the poor amount annually to about L.140, to which may be added L.30 collected for educational purposes.

Manufactures. – Formerly, Kirkcudbright was celebrated for its manufacture of gloves, and more recently, of boots and shoes. One firm in the town, a few years ago, generally employed no fewer than 24 men, and shoes were sent to a great distance. There were, at one time, though on a small scale, manufactories of soap, candles, and leather; and kelp was also frequently made upon the shores. On the ground occupied by the academy, once stood a brewery; and a house yet remains that was built for a snuff-mill.

Navigation. – Twenty-six vessels belong to the port – tonnage, 922. In 1692, Kirkcudbright had only one boat of 8 tons burden. In 1840, the Custom House port of Kirkcudbright, with its creeks, possessed 54 vessels – tonnage, 2069. No foreign vessels trade to the port. A little above the harbour is a ferry, where passengers are carried across the river in a flat-bottomed boat of an oblong form, with both comfort and expedition. To each end of the boat is attached by hinges, and suspended by chains, a broad platform or pathway, by which all kinds of vehicles can enter, and depart without loss of time, and almost with as much ease as if travelling along a common road. The boat is commodious, and can hold at once four carts with their horses attached, or two carriages and one gig. It is moved along a chain by a crank wench. The rent of the boat and boat-house is L. 128.

Incorporated Trades. – There are no public or private associations in the parish for the encouragement or improvement of any branch of industry; but there are six incorporated trades, namely, the Squaremen, 36 members; Tailors, 13; Weavers, 22; Hammermen ; 13; Clothiers, 20; Shoemakers, 1 7; total number of members, 121.

Market-Town. – The only town in the parish is Kirkcudbright; and there are no collections of houses in it to which the term villages could be applied, In Kirkcudbright, a weekly market is held every Friday, but it is not well attended. At one time, more foreign trade was carried on by the burgh than at present. Seldom more than one cargo of wood, containing about 15,000 feet, has been annually imported. Much coal and lime is received from Cumberland; and a great many articles of general traffic, such as flour, herrings, groceries, haberdasheries, hardware, iron, lead, slates, freestone, &c. are conveyed from Liverpool and other places, both by land and sea. Bone-dust and guano are also frequently imported. From the parish of Kirkcudbright are regularly exported, corn, potatoes, meal, wool, turnips, beans, black-cattle, sheep, salmon, grass-seed, timber, staves. From the 5th of April 1842 to the 5th of April 1843, there were sent from the port of Kirkcudbright 50 quarters of wheat, 338 quarters of barley, 5268 quarters of oats, 6 quarters of beans, 8 tons of meal, 688 tons of potatoes, 7840 stones of wool, 60 tons of turnips, and 80 cwt. of rye-grass-seed. 721 black-cattle, and 12,005 sheep, were also exported from Whitsunday 1842 to Whitsunday 1843.

Means of Communication. – The means of communication which the parish enjoys are excellent. Two commodious steam-boats ‘sail regularly from Kirkcudbright to Liverpool, once in the week in summer, and once in the fortnight in winter. Two coaches visit Kirkcudbright daily from Dumfries; and, exclusive of the carriers from the adjoining parishes, there are carriers weekly from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries, Stranraer, Newton Stewart, New Galloway, and Gatehouse of Fleet. The London mail arrives at the post-office twice in the day.

The roads in the parish are kept in good repair. The turnpike road, about a mile and three-quarters in length, is perfectly smooth and level.

There are only two bridges in the locality worthy of notice, and both are over the Dee between the parishes of Kirkcudbright and Tongland. The old bridge, which is still in good repair, was built upwards of 110 years ago, and cost only between L.400 and L.500: it has two arches. The new bridge, completed in 1808, cost L.7350. It consists of one large arch of 110 feet span, and three small arches on each side.

Harbours. – The parish of Kirkcudbright contains two good harbours. In the harbour at the town, vessels often disload at the beach and load in the dock. One side of the dock is of wood, and the other two sides are of stone.

The river opposite the harbour is 30 feet deep at spring-tides, and 500 feet in breadth. At neap-tides, its depth is from 20 to 25 feet, and its breadth about 400 feet. Below the harbour is a ford, by which the river may be sometimes crossed, the depth of water upon it on some singular occasions being not more than 1.5 foot. [In the severe winter of 1813-14, the river opposite the town became completely frozen over, and passengers regularly crossed it upon the ice; even some individuals went across on horseback. Such an event had never before been heard of.]

There is another harbour about two miles and a-half from the mouth of the river, called Torrs’ Lake, or Manxman’s Lake. Here almost any number of vessels might lie in safety on a clay bottom. At four hours of flood, there is generally a depth of from 14 to 16 feet of water. Before reaching it, a bar, which cannot be crossed by ordinary vessels at low water, extends across the channel, but at half-flood there are from 10 to 12 feet of water upon it. Two towers and a lighthouse lately erected on the island of Little Ross, kept in one line bearing south-west, lead over the bar in the deepest water. For this harbour vessels frequently run in bad weather, but before they can gain admittance to it, they have often to anchor at the Ross-road in from two to three fathoms water. Many fatal accidents have occurred from mariners mistaking other inlets for the entrance to the Dee. The lighthouse on Little Ross will now be seen from a great distance, and serve as a beacon to direct shipping, but particularly stranger vessels, to a haven of safety. The lantern is about 50 feet above the level of the sea at high-water. The light is a revolving one, producing a bright flash every five seconds.

Police. – The Rural Police of the Stewartry consists of a superintendent and eleven officers. The superintendent and one of the officers reside in the town. This officer’s district comprehends the parishes of Kirkcudbright, Rerwick, Tongland, and Twynholm. The burgh has one police officer in its constant employment, and two additional officers receive salaries for assisting to keep the peace of the town and other public services. There are besides a harbour-master and some steward-officers in the parish.

Steward Court. – A Steward Court is held within the town for ordinary cases every Friday during session, and a Commissary Court when business requires, the Steward-substitute being generally the presiding judge. A Small Debt Court for the disposal of cases where the claim is under L.8, 6s. 8d., is held once in the fortnight. From the legal knowledge, acuteness, and patience of the Judge-Ordinary, this Court has become very popular. The number of cases disposed of in it during the last year was 272, exclusive of those decided in the Small Debt Circuit Court. In the Steward Court, during the last year, were tried, with or without a jury, no fewer than 59 criminal actions. Both the magistrates of the burgh and the justices of the peace also sometimes hold courts for disposing of civil and criminal business.

Banks. – T here are two branches of banks in the town of Kirkcudbright, namely, one of the Bank of Scotland and another of the Western Bank.

Water. – The town is excellently supplied with water, brought in leaden pipes from springs at the distance of nearly half a mile from the main cistern. This useful work was completed in 1763, and cost L. 440 Sterling. The burgh defrayed about one-half of the expense, and the inhabitants the other. Even in the dry summers of 1826 and 1842, there was no great scarcity of water.

Markets. – The markets in general are supplied with abundance of provisions, and prices are moderate.

Assessments. – The inhabitants of the town enjoy a complete exemption from all local assessments, such being paid from the burgh revenue. [Revenue of the burgh during the last year L.l 131 ; the debts amounted to L.5587, namely, L.1803 mortified money, and L.3784 borrowed money.]

Education. – Kirkcudbright is well provided with the means of education. There are no fewer than eleven schools, six of them endowed, and five unendowed. Three of the endowed, namely, the Grammar, the Commercial, and the English schools, are united, and form the Academy of Kirkcudbright. This institution is under the patronage of the magistrates and town-council, and the salaries of the masters are paid by the burgh. There are nearly 200 pupils constantly attending the academy, and the fees for one branch of education vary from 2s. to 7s. 6d. per quarter. In the classical departments are taught Latin, Greek, and French, with ancient geography, &c. Attached to the grammar school is a library consisting of between 300 and 400 volumes of useful literature. It was instituted by the present master in 1837. The teacher of the grammar school is allowed a yearly salary of L.50; and he realizes by fees about L.60. In the commercial department are taught mathematics, navigation, geography, book-keeping, arithmetic, writing, &c. The teacher receives a salary of L.50; and his annual fees amount to about L.90. The master of the English school has a yearly salary of L.40; and his fees on an average amount to L.60. In this class are taught history, geography, composition, and the principles of the English language. The Academy of Kirkcudbright has long maintained a high reputation. It can boast among its teachers of Dr Cririe, afterwards one of the masters of the High School of Edinburgh; Mr Thomas M’Millan of Bellerigg, long a zealous, efficient, and celebrated instructor; and Mr Robert Mitchell, subsequently one of the masters of the New Academy, Edinburgh.

There is one other endowed school in the town, namely, a females’ school, where needle-work and some other branches are taught. The mistress of the Ladies’ school receives from the funds of the burgh a salary of L.20. The master of another school is allowed an annual gratuity of L. 10, one-half of which is paid by the burgh, and the other by the Countess of Selkirk. Seventy scholars attend this school, and the fees, which vary from 2s. to 2s. 6d. per quarter, amount annually to L.30: no schoolroom is provided. There are three other unendowed schools in the town, namely, one containing 109, another 50, and the third 40 pupils; fees varying from Is. 8d. to 3s. per quarter. About 100 children are educated gratuitously from a collection made yearly in the parish church, and the interest of money mortified for the purpose. In the town, classes almost constantly exist for the ornamental branches of education. There are two endowed schools in the country, each of the teachers of which has a house and garden, and L.25, 13s. 3d. of salary. These schools are generally attended by nearly 100 scholars. None of the fees exceed 3s. per quarter. There is likewise an unendowed school, attended by about 40 scholars; the fees in it are very moderate.

For about thirty years, a Sabbath school has been open in the town, and has been attended generally by 300 scholars. It is tinder the superintendence of the minister, assisted by the gratuitous labours of a few benevolent individuals.

From the opportunities of obtaining education which prevail, and of which the people seem disposed to take advantage, there are few or none above the age of seven years who cannot read.

Literature – A few years ago, the town contained two circulating libraries. At present, neither of them is in active operation, cheap periodical publications having tended to supersede them. In 1777, the principal inhabitants of the district established a subscription library, for which they selected books of interest and merit. Of late years, the number of subscribers has rapidly decreased, and few new works have been obtained. Last winter, however, a new library was formed on the basis of the old, and the total number of subscribers now amounts to about 50. It is still impossible to predict what success may attend this institution.

The town contains one reading-room, supported by subscription. It receives no periodical works, but several Scotch and English newspapers. There are two printers’ presses in Kirkcudbright, but no periodical works issue from them.

Charitable and other Institutions. – No alms-houses, poor-houses, or hospitals exist within the parish. A soup-kitchen, however, confers an incalculable benefit upon the poor during the dreary months of winter, by dispensing clean and wholesome nourishment at least three times a-week, either gratuitously or at a very small price.

Savings’ Bank. – At Whitsunday 1842, a branch of the National Security Savings’ Bank was established in Kirkcudbright. From its commencement until the 10th of May 1843, the deposits amounted to L. 423, 9s. l0d., and the sums withdrawn were very trifling. The depositors are principally servants, both male and female, mechanics, and children of the middle class.

Poor and Parochial Funds. – During the last year the roll contained the names of 130 permanent paupers, with 30 who received occasional assistance. The poor are relieved principally by church collections, interest of money mortified for their use, and alms distributed in private. The church collections amounted last year to L.140, 8s. 6d. ; contributions from heritors and burgh, L.80; mortifications, &c. L.38, 17s.; total, L. 259, 5s. 6d. [The poor receive the rent of a house of about L200 value, bestowed upon them by the late Robert Lennek, Esq. of New York. ] It is impossible to estimate the sum bestowed in private charity. The allowance of each pauper from the sessional fund varies from 12s. to L. 6 annually. There are several charities, foundations, and mortifications, where the magistrates and members of the town-council are sole trustees.

The poor in general evince little delicacy in applying for parochial relief: they do not consider it degrading to solicit charity.

Prison. – The number of persons committed to the prison of Kirkcudbright from 1st April 1842 to 1st April 1843, was 85 criminals and 15 debtors. The offences or crimes for which the criminals were committed are the following:

The prison is pretty well secured, though it is only partially surrounded by a wall.

Proper means are used for preserving the health of the prisoners. Each is comfortably clothed, and receives three meals a-day of plain, but wholesome food. Their hands and faces are washed night and morning, and their feet once in the week. They are bathed once in the month, and the male prisoners are shaved twice in the week. Clean linens, clean stockings, and clean handkerchiefs are furnished to them every week, clean sheets every fortnight, amid clean blankets every month. They are allowed to take daily exercise in the open air, and are supplied with various kinds of employment in their apartments.

The jail is under the particular superintendence of’ the County Prison Board, consisting of nine members, the steward, or his substitute ex officio being one.

The new system of’ prison discipline is in operation. The keeper, matron, and male warden reside within the precincts of the prison, and the prisoners are regularly visited by the chaplain and surgeon. The keeper acts as schoolmaster. Thirteen individuals were committed during the last year who could not read.

Fairs. – Hiring fairs for farm and domestic servants are held annually on the last Friday of March, and the last Friday of September. A day for hiring hay and harvest workers is likewise held yearly on the Friday, immediately preceding Keltonhill fair at midsummer, but not much business is transacted on any of the days. The ancient fairs of the burgh have fallen into desuetude.

Inns. – The parish contains twenty-seven inns, or houses licensed to sell spirituous liquors. It is probable, however, that the number will soon be materially diminished.

Fuel. – Coal is the principal article of fuel used both in the town and country. The average price is about 11s. per ton of 20 cwt. Wood and peat, which are procured in the neighbourhood, are also used, though in small quantities. The coal is generally. brought from Cumberland.

Constituency. – The town contains 102, and the country 26 electors. Kirkcudbright, with Dumfries, Annan, Lochmaben, and Sanquhar sends a member to Parliament.


The size of the town of Kirkcudbright has considerably increased since the last Statistical Account was written. One building Society was formed in 1808, and another in 1810. These Societies erected in whole 112 houses, which have not only enlarged the town, but, from lowering the rents of houses, tended to augment the population of the parish. In 1838, a Gas Light Company was formed, and a great improvement has taken place in the lighting of the streets.

The people are now better fed, better clothed, and better lodged than they were at the date of the last Statistical Account. Their food is of a superior quality. ‘ Formerly nearly all the butchers’ meat they consumed was in a salted state; now, the market is well supplied during the whole year. At one time, nothing but oaten bread was used, except by the wealthiest class; now, the great body of the people occasionally partake of wheaten bread. The use of tea and coffee, those wholesome and enlivening beverages, is more common, and the consumption of spirituous liquors is considerably on the decline. The temperance Societies of the district have powerfully contributed to produce this beneficial effect.

Cloth of all kinds, but particularly the cloth worn by females, is much cheaper than it was fifty years ago, and the people, in general, are more comfortably clad.

They are, at the same time, more comfortably lodged, for from the great addition of houses, so many families are not at present crowded into one house, as was customary at one time; and the houses, themselves, which are generally of two storeys in height, are cleaner and better aired, and consequently less apt to engender or diffuse infectious and malignant distempers. The pernicious effect of the window duty is here often experienced by the lower ranks of society, for proprietors not unfrequently build up windows, which practice both disfigures their houses, and prevents the apartments of their tenants from being properly ventilated.