The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon



Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford

Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes


Quite simply, it's the BRIDGE over the CARRON Water which joins the River Nith to the south of the village. The bridge was built in the middle of the eighteenth century and subsequently widened. Carronbridge grew as a ducal estate village on land that came under the control of the Douglas family in the fourteenth century.

The surrounding area throngs with castles. This is not surprising, for from here two strategically vital routes connect Dumfriesshire with central Scotland: the north-south Nithsdale highway, and the route going north-eastwards to Clydesdale via the Dalveen Pass - all part of the original Roman road network (see Some Historical Background).

To the west of the village, on the opposite side of the Nith, are the remains of Tibbers Castle, a mid-thirteenth-century fortification deriving its name from the older man-made Mote of Tibris on which it was built.

Morton Castle, to the north-east, takes its name from the ancient barony of that ilk; Morton is also the name of the parish. The triangular promontory on which it was built around 1300 is now defended on two sides by the water of Morton Loch but this was not always the case: as the dam to the east of the castle demonstrates, the loch is artificial, possibly early-nineteenth-century in origin. Morton Castle was occupied until 1714, after which it was used as a source of building material. The remaining stonework was 'repaired' by a thoughtful conservationist in the 1890s.

The picturesque ruins of Morton Castle

The motte-and-bailey site of what had been the thirteenth-century Enoch Castle lies along the north-eastern route to the Dalveen Pass. According to the fifteenth-century verse epic The Wallace, our 'Braveheart' hero captured Enoch in 1297 (see Some Historical Background). Here the later masonry re-cyclers managed to remove the lot and the stone appears to have gone towards the building of a kirk manse and an estate wall.

North-west of the village, Drumlanrig Castle, bigger by far than all the above castles put together, is the county's architectural megastar. It is also misleadingly named: Drumlanrig is certainly not, in the strict sense of the term, a castle but a stately home with castellated decorative trimmings. There had been real defensive buildings on its site in the days when the Douglases were still Nithsdale warriors but all of that was swept aside for the family's grand architectural statement of their wider social standing and national political power.

Drumlanrig Castle: the concept (above) and the reality (below)

The building of Drumlanrig as we now know it began around 1675 and went on for more than twenty years. It is a swaggering exercise in Scottish baroque. From its completion the contrast between its opulent sophistication and its bleak upland setting was much remarked upon. The writer Tobias Smollett saw it during a tour in the 1760s:

We went some miles out of our road to see Drumlanrig, which appears like a magnificent palace erected by magic in the midst of the wilderness. It is indeed a princely mansion, with suitable parks and plantations, rendered still more striking by the nakedness of the surrounding country, which is one of the wildest tracts in all Scotland.

It was William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry (1637-1695) who started it all off. He was the right man to have undertaken such a hugely ambitious project, for he had proved himself at a national level as a canny handler of money. In 1682 he was appointed Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, with a brief to raise 40,000 a year for the King. The duke had an incentive for doing the job well: he was allowed to keep any surplus for himself. He went about his duties with unusual zeal and was, in the words of a contemporary, 'for every thing that would bring money into the treasury'. His support for pursuing Covenanters was motivated not just by Episcopalian principle but also by the prospect of revenue-raising from the fines imposed on the dissidents.

By the 1690s the duke was more or less retired from national politics and concentrating his energies on the development of the castle. He was succeeded by his eldest son. James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry (1662-1711) became known as the 'Union Duke'. He represented Queen Anne in the negotiations with the Scottish parliament over its dissolution and eventual amalgamation with the English parliament in 1707. His reward for services to the Queen was a British peerage, the dukedom of Dover (see Part 2 - Some Historical Background). The early dukes were buried in an extravagant mausoleum at Durisdeer.

Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry (1698-1778) was more of a London-based socialite and patron of the arts than a rooted Dumfriesshire grandee. However, he took an interest in the agricultural improvements that were then transforming the county's economy and he was a promoter of industrial progress, particularly through his chairmanship of the Forth and Clyde Canal Company. Perhaps the most significant aspect of his ducal tenure was that the direct line of succession came to an end, his sons having predeceased him. At this point in the family's history the title passed into the unsavoury hands of a cousin.

William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry (1725-1810) dedicated his long life to the pursuit of pleasure. His principal interests, unashamedly, were horse-racing and fornication. He was widely renowned for his rakish tendencies, a frequent target of eighteenth-century caricaturists. His enthusiasm for opera added to his sexual conquests: his many mistresses included a number of the London divas. It was a lifestyle that appeared in his case to be a recipe for longevity. 'Old Q', as he was nicknamed, survived to eighty-five. As a gambler, his most daring wager was 1000 guineas that a carriage could transport a passenger for at least nineteen miles in an hour. He won the bet by building an unusually lightweight vehicle and giving his horses special training.

The 4th Duke's major contribution to the appearance of Drumlanrig was his drastic felling of its surrounding woodland to generate cash, an act of environmental vandalism that outraged public opinion. Robert Burns is credited (by some) with a protest poem called 'Verses on the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig', in which the poet addresses the 'genius' of the place:

'Alas!' quoth I, 'what ruefu' chance
Has twin'd ye o' your stately trees?
Has laid your rocky bosom bare?
Has stripp'd the cladding aff your braes?
Was it the bitter eastern blast,
That scatters blight in early Spring?
Or was't the wil' fire scorch'd their boughs?
Or canker-worm wi' secret string?'

'Nae eastlin blast,' the Sprite replied -
'It blaws nae here sae fierce and fell,
And on my dry and halesome banks
Nae canker-worms get leave to dwell:
Man! Cruel man!' the Genius sign'd,
As through the cliffs he sank him down:
'The worm that gnaw'd my bonie trees,
That reptile wears a Ducal crown.'

The tree-felling duke was also lambasted in a sonnet by the English poet William Wordsworth: 'Degenerate Douglas! Oh, unworthy Lord!'

Burns resumed his attack on the Douglas decadence in one of his election ballads:

All hail, Drumlanrig's haughty Grace,
Discarded remnant of a race
Once godlike - great in story!
Thy fathers' virtues all contrasted,
The very name of Douglas blasted,
Thine that inverted glory!

Hate, envy, oft the Douglas bore
But thou hast superadded more,
And sunk them in contempt;
Follies and crimes have stain'd the name;
But, Queensberry, thine the virgin claim,
From aught that's good exempt.

None of his many mistresses managed to entice 'Old Q' down the aisle and so when he died in 1810 he had no direct male heir. Much of his fortune was left to a woman whom he acknowledged as his illegitimate daughter. The Queensberry dukedom passed to Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch, whose grandmother had been a daughter of the 1st Duke of Queensberry. At Drumlanrig this line of succession continues. Some of the other titles could pass only directly down the male line. At this point the Douglases of Kelhead/ Kinmount at Cummertrees took on the marquessate of Queensberry.

A sensational robbery took place at Drumlanrig Castle at the height of the tourist season in the summer of 2003. Thieves escaped with a Leonardo da Vinci painting known as the Madonna with the Yarnwinder. After a four-year police investigation the picture, with an estimated value of 30 million, was finally recovered during a raid on a solicitors' office in Glasgow. In 2008 five men were charged with conspiracy to extort money from the owners and their insurers.

When the eight-week trial concluded in 2010, all five walked free with a combination of ‘not guilty’ and ‘not proven’ verdicts. The 9th Duke of Buccleuch (and 11th Duke of Queensberry) had longed to see the painting again but died just one month before its re-appearance.

When the Glasgow & South Western Railway opened its Nithsdale line in 1850 Carronbridge was given a station (closed 1960s). But, owing to opposition from the Drumlanrig estate, the company's engineers had to take the line on a long diversion to the east. As a result 'Carronbridge' was actually at Enoch, where today there is a private dwelling called the Old Station House.


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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