KIRKCUDBRIGHT, Scotland - History and Description, 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]

"KIRKCUDBRIGHT, a county in the S. of Scotland. It is commonly called a stewartry, but to all intents and purposes a sheriffdom, or shire, and forms the eastern, and by far the most extensive, portion of the ancient district of Galloway. It is bounded on the N. by the county of Ayr, on the S. by the Irish Sea and Solway Firth, on the E. by the rivers Cairn and Nith, which separate it from the county of Dumfries, and on the W. by the county of Wigton. It extends from N. to S. 40 miles, and from E. to W. 44 miles, and contains an area of 954 statute miles, or 610,734 acres. It has no subdivisions, but the four most northerly parishes Carsphain, Kells, Dalry, and Balmaclellan, are commonly designated the district of "Glenkins." The character of the country naturally separates it into two divisions; if a line be drawn from the centre of Kirkpatrick. Irongray parish, to the Gatehouse of Fleet, all to the N.W., with little exception, is so mountainous, that it may with propriety be termed a Highland district; while the southern and eastern portions exhibit a fine champaign and cultivated country. The principal eminences are Cairnsmuir, 1,728 feet, Crawfell, or Criffel, 1,800, Bencairn 1,200, and Cairn 1,000 above the level of the sea. Its principal rivers are the Dee, the Cree, the Urr, and the Ken, of which the latter is the largest, being fed by numerous tributaries from the neighbouring hills. The whole of these rivers rise in the N. and empty themselves in the Irish Sea, or Solway Firth. The smaller streams are the Cluden, the Deugh, the Fleet, and the Turf. ,The Solway Firth, in a circular form, washes the coast of the county from the Nith to the head of Wigton Bay, a coast-line of 50 miles, exclusive of sinuosities. The coast on the E. is flat, but elsewhere, in general, bold and rocky, the cliffs in some instances rising to a great height. Wigton Bay is on the W., and a large estuary on the E.; the other principal bays are Kirkcudbright Bay, Fleet Bay, Heston Bay, and Auchencairn Bay. The Rough frith is formed by the mouth of the river Urr. There are numerous lakes, the chief of which are the Ken, the Doon, and the Kinder. There are several chalybeate springs in the stewartry, that of Lochenbrack being the most celebrated. In the southern portion of the district the climate is mild, but in the moors it is sharp. The most prevalent rocks are varieties of greywacke and slates, but a large portion of the mountainous district consists wholly of granite, which is quarried at Rerwick and Colvend. Sandstone and limestone are also met with, but the latter only in large quantities at Kirkbean. A good deal of money has been expended in searching for coal, which has been found at Kirkbean, but is not worked. Ironstone and lead-ore abound in several parts of the district. At Colvend a copper mine was formerly worked. The lakes and mosses of the stewartry supply a large quantity of shell marl of the finest description. The soil, which is principally composed of a thin mould, or a brownish loam mixed with sand, is generally incumbent on gravel, in many places on rock. The surface is interspersed with meadows and mosses, but a large portion of the lowlands is under tillage. The size of the farms in the lowlands averages about 200 acres, while in the highlands they are about 6 to 12 square miles in extent. The ordinary length of leases is nineteen years. The pasture of the district is of excellent quality, such as few counties can boast of The attention of the farmer is chiefly directed to the rearing of cattle for the Norfolk fairs, where the beasts are sold to graziers, by whom they are fattened for the London market. On the hills large quantities of sheep are pastured, the sheep here being chiefly black faced, mixed with Cheviots, South Down, the Morf and the Mendip breeds. The peculiar breed of horses which this and the adjoining county of Wigton formerly possessed, and which was known by the name of the Galloway breed, has nearly disappeared, its place having been supplied by horses of a larger size, and better adapted to draught. Large numbers of pigs are reared chiefly for the English markets. In many parts great attention is given to bees, and the honey procured from this quarter is of a superior quality. Oats are chiefly cultivated. The potato crops are considerable, many tons of which are sent to England. The estimate gross produce is about 49,276 bushels of wheat, 60,068 bushels of barley, 1,068,887 bushels of oats, 946 bushels of bere, 14,149 bushels of beans, 212,660 tons of turnips, and 8,372 tons of potatoes. Considerable plantations have of late years been formed by several noblemen and gentlemen of the stewartry, and much has been accomplished in reclaiming mosslands. There are scarcely any manufactures. Both the cotton and the woollen manufactures have been introduced, but, with rare exceptions, they have either died out, or are of very limited extent. The chief exports are cattle, sheep, grain, potatoes, and wool; and the imports, coal, lime, and colonial produce. The excellence of the roads in the county has been long celebrated, the original formation of many being attributed to the Romans. About the middle of the 18th century a military road was made through the stewartry from Carlisle to Fort Patrick, and, of late years, the old roads have been much improved, and new ones constructed. The Glasgow and South Western railway intersects the county, and has stations at the following places-viz: Moaxweltown, Lochanhead, Killywhan, Kirkgunzeon, Southwick, Dalbeatie, Castle Douglas (here is the Kirkcudbright junction), Crossmichael, Parton, North Galloway, Dromore, Creetown, and Palnure. It contains the royal burghs of Kirkcudbright and New Galloway, the former being its county town. The burghs of barony are Maxwelton, Gatehouse, Castle Douglas, and Creetown. The county sends one member to parliament. The population in 1851 was 43,121, and in 1861, 42,495, showing a decrease of 626 in the decennial period. At the county town, stewart and commissary courts are held on Thursdays and Fridays; stewart small-debt courts every second Friday during session. The quarter sessions are held by the justices of peace on the first Tuesday of March, May, and August, and last Tuesday of October. The stewart circuit courts, under the Small Debt Act, are held at New Galloway on the 4th March, 3rd June, and 23rd September; at Creetown, 8th March, 7th June, 27th September; at Castle-Douglas, 8th January, 8th April, 8th July, 30th September; and at Maxwelton, 9th January, 9th April, 9th July, and the 1st October. Justice of peace small-debt courts are held as follows:-at Kirkcudbright on the second Tuesday of every month; at Castle-Douglas on the first Monday of every month; at New Galloway on the second Monday of every month; at Maxwelton on the first Thursday of every month; at Gatehouse on the first Saturday of every month; and at Creebridge on the first Saturday of every alternate month. That portion of the county W. of the river Urr belongs to the synod of Galloway, and is distributed into eighteen parishes, sixteen of which constitute the presbytery of Kirkcudbright, while two are included in that of Wigton. The district E. of the Urr is distributed into ten parishes, and belongs to the synod and presbytery of Dumfries. There are places of worship in the county belonging to the Established Church, the United Presbyterians, Free Church, Reformed Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics. Previous to its subjugation by-Agricola in A.D. 85, this part of Scotland was possessed by the Selgovæ, of whom, and of the races which preceded them, numerous remains have been found, including cairns, tumuli, circles of stones, &c. Nor are the marks of the civilised occupation of the Romans less rare-arms, coins, and utensils of that people having been, and still continue to be found. The denomination of "stewartry" originated at the period when, by the forfeiture of the possessions of the Baliols, the Cummins, and their various vassals, this district became the property of the crown, when it is understood to have been first put under the authority of a royal stewart. In subsequent times the office of stewart, in the appointment of the king, was one of much honour, and often the subject of contest. For a considerable time, however, after the establishment of a separate stewardship, the district was still, in some measure, esteemed to be politically attached to Dumfriesshire, but this nominal connection was dissolved before the civil wars of Charles I. From the force of ancient usage, the appellation of stewart, instead of that of sheriff, has, down to the present day, been popularly continued, although, by the civil arrangements of modern times, there is not the least difference in the two offices. The events of early times are connected with Kirkcudbright, its capital. It was for the siege of Creive Castle, the chief seat of the Douglas family, on an island in the river Dee, that "Mons Meg," the great cannon (now at Edinburgh Castle), was manufactured .in 1455. Edward I. held Kirkcudbright for some time, and was followed here by his court. Wallace embarked for France from this port. Edward Bruce became Lord Galloway on Baliol's forfeiture. Henry VI. took refuge and resided at Kirkcudbright with his queen; and the Duke of Albany landed here in 1523. Sir Thomas Carleton, in the reign of Edward VI. of England, besieged the town. Queen Mary resided in Kirkcudbright for some days before applying for refuge to Queen Elizabeth. A visit from James VI., a riot on the attempted thrusting on the town an Episcopalian curate in 1663, the pursuit and death of several of the Scottish martyrs, a visit from the fleet of William III. on its way to Londonderry, and from Paul Jones in 1778, when this American admiral robbed the house of Lord Selkirk, are the other chief events in the history of the county. The principal ecclesiastical antiquities are the abbeys of Tongland, Dundrennan, and New Abbey, the convent or college of Lincluden, and St. Mary's Isle Priory. The chief mansions are Cumloden, the Earl of Galloway; St. Mary's Isle, the Earl of Selkirk; Earlston, Sir William Gordon, Bart.; Cassencarie, Sir John M. Mackenzie, Bart.; Netherlaw, Sir G. S. Abercromby; Woodhall, Mollance House, Ardwall House, Bargally House, &c."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]