Rambles in Galloway (3)

RAMBLES IN GALLOWAY, by M. McL., Harper. 1876.

Chapter 7 – Kirkcudbright and Environs (Part 2).

Page 3 of 3

Leaving the pleasant walk through the parks we follow the road leading past the Academy, a large substantial building, containing three school-rooms, with a portico in front, which affords shelter for the scholars in bad weather. This Academy has for many years been justly celebrated as a classical and commercial seminary.

In the field between the Academy and the High Street stands a stunted old hawthorn, close to which was the site of the dwelling of Mr. John Welsh, Knox’s son-in-law, who was minister of Kirkcudbright between 1594 and 1602.

In connection with the Academy the name of the Rev. William Mackenzie, author of the History of Galloway, deserves fitting mention He was a native of Kirkcudbright, and was licensed as a preacher in 1818. When a young man he was appointed Master of the English School in the Academy of his native town, and in that capacity was very successful. Having earned a competency, he retired from his labours as a teacher, and devoted his leisure hours to the cultivation of a naturally refined taste, and occasionally courted the muse. His I Verses on taking leave of the Old Church of Kirkcudbright; On visiting Threave Castle; and To a Skeleton, are of considerable merit. At this period of his life, at the instigation of the late Mr. John Nicholson, who contemplated issuing a reprint of Symson’s History of Galloway, he wrote the History of Galloway, in two volumes. This very difficult undertaking was ably performed. It is a work of great labour and research. It was printed and published by Nicholson, who lent valuable assistance in collecting materials.

In 1843 Mr. Mackenzie was presented to the parish of Skirling, and continued to perform the duties of his ministry until within a few months of his death. He died on 20th February 1854, in the 64th year of his age, and his remains rest in the romantic churchyard of Skirling.

From the Academy we return to the Old Courthouse and Jail, at the corner of the High Street, supposed to have been erected about the middle of the 16th century. It is a very curious-looking old edifice, surmounted by a very neat tower and spire, the stones of which were taken from the ruins of Dundrennan Abbey; and in front of it stands the Old Market Cross of the town.

Here the capacious wassail bowl of the burgh, presented by Mr. Hamilton of Bargeny, M.P., soon after the Union, is brought forth on festive occasions, such as coronations and royal marriages. The last time it was used was in March 1863 – the Prince of Wales’ marriage day, when the lieges had an opportunity of testing its brewing capabilities The bowl is of walnut wood, hooped with brass, and capable of holding ten gallons.

Here also hung the jougs, that in feudal times grasped in their iron embrace the neck of the culprit while undergoing the degrading sentence of a public exhibition so many days of the year. It is not many years since these “monsters of justice” were taken down, our guide having a piece of them in his possession. A portion of the old building is now occupied by the Musketry Instructor to the 1st K. P. V. as a dwelling-house, and a large upper room has been appropriated as an armoury and drill room, for which it is admirably suited. A cell adjoining is used as a powder magazine, and is very convenient and useful for the purpose. The entrance-door to the tower is reached by a flight of steps leading from the main street. Having procured a guide with the key, after considerable difficulty – passing from one “Robinson Crusoe” ladder to another, we reached the top of the tower and were amply repaid for all our scramblings and genuflexions by the extent and beauty of the prospect which it commands. Immediately below is the “auld toun,” embosomed in its sylvan surroundings.

While looking towards the north the scene is truly delightful, the banks of the river, from Tongland to the sea, being peculiarly rich in natural beauty. In the foreground is the river sparkling in the sun s rays, and winding like a silver thread among the green meadows; while the grounds around Compstone, sloping gently to the river’s margin, are clothed with plantations of great freshness and beauty. Farther on, towards the Vale of Tarff, the eye passes over a succession of gently swelling knolls and well cultivated fields and hills, their sides and summits interspersed with clumps of wood and fine belts of plant ing, backed by the brown heathy peaks of Kirkconnell and Barstobrick. Towards the west we have the sparsely wooded grounds and rich alluvial pasturages of Borgue, with the river in the middle distance, still forming an agreeable rest to the eye; while, almost lost in the silvery haze, we discern the broad brow of Cairnsmore-of-Fleet.

On facing to the right about the eye rests on marine and inland views of great extent and loveliness. Before us is the river, broadening out. so as to resemble, as it is called, a lake. To the right the quiet burying-ground of Kirkchrist, the high lands and thriving plantations of Kirkeoch and Senwick sloping gradually to the sea; and to the left the precipitous cliffs of the Torrs Point, present a bold headland, The Ross Isle, with its lighthouse, lies in the mouth of the river, while the densely wooded peninsula of St. Mary’s Isle invades the estuary with its sylvan foliage. The environs of Kirkcudbright are truly delightful, and the objects of historical and traditional interest which are situated in the neighbourhood are well worthy of a visit. The beautiful scenery of the Banks of the Dee in this locality has been often and justly admired. It inspired the muse of Montgomery when he wrote the poem of The Cherry and the Slae, and the Rev. Dugald Stewart Williamson, the late gifted minister of Tongland has thus feelingly sung in its praise:-

” Till life has vanished let me deem
I hear the ripple of thy stream,
And see thy beauteous vale !

May the earliest sound and sight
That gave my infant heart delight,
The latest be to fail !

More bright and beautiful on earth
May other landscapes shine;
For me their charms are little worth
E’en though resembling thine.”

The poet Nicholson also alludes to its charms in many of his poems; and Mactaggart, author of the Gallovidian Encyclopedia, in a long descriptive poem, entitled Mine Address to the Dee, written when a student at Edinburgh, also writes of its many beauties and attractions:-

” The Dee is king of all the streams
That roll to Scotland’s southern sea,
On it I had my youthful dreams,
Its banks are ever dear to me.

The Nith, the Urr, the Fleet, and Cree
Are waters not to match with it,
No stately ship on them we see
For navigation they’re unfit.

Upon its banks what waving wood
And fertile glades for ever green,
What salmon spouting in the flood
And pellocks hunting them are seen.”

In front of this building is the Main Cistern which supplies the town with water from the springs situated about half a mile to the east. A tablet on this cistern bears the following inscription:

This fount, not riches, life supplies,
Art gives what nature here denies,
Posterity must surely bliss
St. Cuthbert’s sons who purchased this.”

Near to the Cross are the County Buildings, a handsome and commodious edifice, both externally and internally. It is to be regretted that such an imposing structure should not have been placed in a more advantageous site. Here it is quite buried in a narrow street. The New Jail, erected in 1865, lies behind, and is a plain oblong building. The publishing office and shop of the late John Nicholson are also in this street. To the inquiring tourist, possessed of Grose-like propensities for “auld nick nackets,” and a taste for legendary lore, the removal by death of the late John Nicholson is much felt on visiting Kirkcudbright. He was acquainted with all the traditions, oral and written connected with Galloway; and possessed a retentive memory, and the “nack” of telling a story to advantage, which made an hour in his company as instructive as it was enjoyable.

Mr. Nicholson was born in the parish of Tongland in 1777, and in early life followed the trade of a weaver; for a short time adopting the military profession, by enlisting into the Scots Greys. His bent, however, was antiquities ; and on leaving the service he settled down in Kirkcudbright as a bookseller and printer. From his press was issued the History of Galloway, the Traditions of Galloway, and a number of other works. He was also publisher and proprietor of the Stewartry Times. He died at Kirkcudbright on 11th September 1866, leaving an only son, who succeeded him in the business, and inherits also the antiquarian leanings of his father. In High Street is the United Presbyterian Church. The office of the National Bank, a plain substantial building, is situated in Castle Street.

The Public Rooms, or Literary Institute of Kirkcudbright, is a large square building at the corner of St. Mary Street, opposite the Parish Church. This building contains an excellent Library, connected with the Institute. The office of the Bank of Scotland is a few doors farther on, and it is undoubtedly the most handsome building in the town. Its front is built of grey freestone, with carved Corinthian pillars; and the breadth of the street allowing ample room for a favourable view, it has a very airy and tasteful appearance.

On reading the history of the town we are pleased to find that the old burgh has laudably striven to be foremost in the career of improvement. In 1763 water was introduced ; in 1777 a public library was established; building societies were formed in 1808 and 1810, which erected a large number of houses, adding much to the comfort and convenience of the inhabitants; and in 1838 the inhabitants of Kirkcudbright had the honour of introducing the first gas company into Galloway. It was at an earlier period introduced into the burgh of Maxwelltown by pipes from Dumfries, but Kirkcudbright was the first place in Galloway in which gas was manufactured and burned.

Few towns enjoy the advantage of such agreeable walks as are to be found in the environs of Kirkcudbright Along the seashore, by the banks of the Dee, and in the woods on the slopes above the town, there is an endless variety of pleasant paths. It is due to the Earl of Selkirk to mention that there is almost no restriction of the liberty of wandering through these woods.

The town was formerly encompassed by a wall and a deep ditch. None of the wall is now visible, though the fosse or ditch may still be traced. The space within the wall was almost a square, each side being about 350 yards long. The town had one gate at the river, and another on the side next the Barrhill, called the Meikie Yett. The tide flowed into the fosse, and at high water completely surrounded the town. Houses stood built with their gables to the street, and closes radiated from each side of it. The gates at the Meikle Yett were taken down within the last century.

Two perforated stones in the pavement are here still visible, in which the pivots of the two divisions of the gate turned. The pillars, with the two globular ornamental stones which stood above them, were removed to the present entrance of St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard. An English party, who marched against the town in 1547, in the warfare about the marriage treaty between Mary and Edward VI., narrate that as they approached “Kirkcobrie, they who saw us coming barred their gates, and kept their dikes, for the town is diked on both sides, with a gate to the waterward, and a gate on the overend to the fellward.”

St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard is about a quarter of a mile north of the burgh. The glebe of the parish nearly surrounds the churchyard, and close by, in an elevated situation, a commodious new manse has been built. On our way we pass the lifeboat station, and the springs which supply the town with water. The road to the cemetery being on rising ground affords fine views of the surrounding country.

This cemetery marks the site of the ancient church which was dedicated to St. Cuthbert. The church was given in the 12th century by Uchtred, son of Fergus, lord of Galloway, to the monks of Holyrood, and was a vicarage under them till the Reformation; in 1633 it was given to the Bishop of Edinburgh; and when Episcopacy was abolished it reverted to the Crown. St. Cuthbert possessed great influence in his time, and several churches both in England and Scotland were dedicated to him. From a note to vol. 1 of the History of Galloway, containing an interesting account of his we quote briefly: – “St. Cuthbert took the monastic habit at Melrose under Eata, afterwards Bishop of Hagulstad and Lindisfarne, Boisil being prior. Eata took Cuthbert to Ripon, till Wilfred was appointed abbot. Then he returned to Melrose. On the death of Boisil, of the great plague, in 664, Cuthbert was promoted to his place, and he commenced to evangelise the barbarous people in the villages in the neighbourhood. After many years thus spent, Eata removed him to Lindisfarne. After governing Lindisfarne as prior for some years, he betook himself, for solitude and contemplation, to the Isle of Fare, at a distance of nine miles. There he built himself a small dwelling, with a trench about it, and the necessary cells – a rath, in short – where he produced a stream of water from the hard rock. He was after many years present at the Synod of Adtwiford, on the Alne, where Theodore was present, when he was reluctantly appointed bishop. He was consecrated at York by Theodore and six other bishops, and Eata returning to Hagulstad, Cuthbert presided over Lindisfarne. After spending two years in his bishopric, he retired to Ferne, and died in 687.”

In the Aberdeen Breviary we get a short account of his death and burial: – “After two years in the duties of the episcopate, feeling that his end was drawing near he returned to the hermit’s life. After two months in the desert, he was suddenly seized with illness, and after three weeks he died, and was honourably buried in Lindisfarne. Even years after, on opening his tomb, his body was found incorrupt. The body was now set up as a shrine to which multitudes of pilgrims resorted, to the great enrichment of the church.”

At the entrance-gate to the churchyard is a monument to the memory of the Ewarts, a very old Stewartry family, and the ancestors of the late indefatigable member for the Dumfries burghs. It is dated 1644, with carvings of emblematical figures, and is profusely lettered; but as it is cut in the quaint style of that century, and placed at a considerable height from the ground, it is scarcely decipherable.

A most curious and interesting stone has been erected to the memory of Billy Marshall, the famous Gallovidian gypsy or tinkler. The one side bears the inscription: – ” The remains of Wm. MARSHALL, Tinkler, who died 28 Novemr., 1792, at the advanced age 120 years.” On the other side of the stone are carved two ram’s horns and two tablespoons crossed. Billy Marshall was a wonderful character in his day, and, as M’Taggart says, “hid both the good and bad qualities of man about him in a very large degree. He was kind, yet he was a murderer; an honest soul, yet a thief; at times a generous savage, at other times a wild pagan ; lie knew both civilised and uncivilised life; the dark and fair side of human nature; had no fear; was seldom sick; could sleep on moor as soundly as on feather-bed; took whisky to excess; but lived to a patriarchal age. He was buried in state by the hammermen of Kirkcudbright, who would not permit the Earl of Selkirk to lay his head in the grave, merely because his lordship was not one of their incorporated body.”

An anecdote is told of him that having joined the army and gone to the wars in Flanders, he one day accosted his commanding officer, who was a Galloway gentleman- “Sir, ha’e ye ony word to sen’ to your friends in Scotland at present ?” “What by that,” returned the officer; “is there any person going home ?” “Ay,” continued Billy, “Keltonhill Fair is just at han’. I ha’e never been absent frae it since my shanks could carry me to it, nor do I intend to let this year be the first.” The officer, knowing his nature, knew it would be in vain to try to keep him in the ranks, so bade him tell his father and friends how he was; he also gave him a note to take to his sweetheart. So Marshall departed, was at Keltonhill Fair accordingly, and ever after that paid much respect to the family of M’Culloch of Ardwall, one of whom, it would seem, was the commanding officer alluded to.

Amongst the remarkable stones in this churchyard are two in the east end, which mark the graves of two Covenanters. On 18th December 1684, Claverhouse surprised six of these sufferers for the cause of right and truth in a place called Auchincloy, in the parish of Girthon He ordered four of them to be instantly shot, while William Hunter and Robert Smith were carried prisoners to Kirkcudbright, where a mock trial was gone through. They were found guilty, hanged, and afterwards beheaded. The inscription on the gravestone is still quite legible, and is as follows:-William Huntre – Robert Smith 1684 –

This monument shall show posterity
Two headles martyres under it doth ly’
By bloody Grahme were taken and surpris’d
Brought to this toune and afterward’s were saiz’d
By unjust law were sentenced to die
Them first they hang’d then headed cruelly
Captains Douglas, Bruce, Grahame of Cleverhous
Were these that caused them he handled thus
And when they were into the gibbet come
To stope their speech they did beat up the drum
And all becawse that they would not comply
With indulgen and bloody prelacie
In face of cruel Bruce, Douglas, Grahame
They did maintain that Christ was Lord supream
And boldly ouned both the Covenants
At Kirkcudbright thus ended these two saints”

Galloway, in the days of prelatic persecution, was the scene of much oppression and suffering, and in these times it was famous for the number of its adherents to the cause of the Covenants. When post-Reformation Episcopacy was forced on Scotland, the inhabitants of Kirkcudbright simultaneously rose to prevent the settlement of an Episcopalian minister in their church. A judicial commission, appointed by the Privy Council, made inquiry into their conduct, and adjudged some women as ringleaders to the pillory. “Whether the women or the Privy Council” sardonically remarks the author of Caledonia, “were on that occasion the most actuated by zeal, it is not easy to decide.”

John Hallume, an inoffensive lad, about 18 years of age, was pursued by a Lieutenant Livingston, with a party of dragoons, and without being asked a single question, fired upon and wounded. He was again barbarously cut on the head by a sword. Conveying him a prisoner to Kirkcudbright, they ordered him to take the abjuration oath. Upon his refusing to do so a jury of soldiers was empanelled, who, as a matter of course found him guilty, and he was executed in the usual manner. His body was also interred in the churchyard of Kirkcudbright, and the stone bears the following inscription : – ” Here lyes JOHN HALLUME, who was wounded in his taking, and by unjust law sentenced to be hanged. All this done by Capt. Douglas, for his adherence to Scotland’s Reformation Covenants Nationall and Solemn League, 1685.”There are many very ancient and curiously carved stones in this churchyard, which would amply repay a leisurely inspection by those who possess in any measure the tastes of Old Mortality.