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


The dominating feature here, to the north of the village, is the big estate containing Kinmount House. Former home of the marquesses of Queensberry (until they dissipated their wealth and eventually had to sell up), the mansion was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, whose other commissions included the British Museum in London. It was built during 1812-18 for the 5th Marquess. The style was a pared-down variant of Greek Revival nicknamed at the time 'New Square'. Towards the close of the century fancy bits were added to the house to reduce the severity of the original.

An earlier mansion on the site had been known as Kelhead.

The Queensberry fortunes took a nose-dive towards the end of the nineteenth century and the man in the cockpit heading for catastrophe was John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess (1844-1900). His name lives on through his role in the formulation of the Queensberry Rules for boxing. But he is better and more notoriously remembered for his pugilistic part in the downfall of the married but scandalously homosexual writer Oscar Wilde.

Queensberry's son Lord Alfred Douglas was famously Wilde's young lover. Queensberry himself was a maniacal queer-basher. He already suspected another son of having been led into a homosexual lifestyle by the then Foreign Secretary Lord Rosebery. When he discovered what Lord Alfred was up to, he went in pursuit of Wilde. He turned up, but was refused entry, on the first night of Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest. He had with him a bunch of carrots which he had hoped to fling at the playwright.

Later he was more successful in goading Wilde by leaving a note for him in a public place describing him as a sodomite. Wilde prosecuted him for libel. The court case, in which Queensberry was acquitted, exposed Wilde's sexual practices, then illegal, and he in turn was prosecuted and imprisoned, after which his life and career went into terminal decline.

Queensberry's own private life was vigorously heterosexual and his conquests unashamedly extramarital. After he left his first wife he set up home in London, where he entertained a string of mistresses. His second marriage took place at Eastbourne registry office, the new marchioness being apparently someone he had met shortly beforehand on the town's promenade. They separated after just weeks. The subsequent divorce hearing did nothing for Queensberry's reputation as a lothario. His wife alleged that he had been unable to consummate their union 'by reason of the frigidity and impotence of his parts of generation'. The Marquess counter-claimed that he was 'apt for coition as will appear on inspection'. The short-term marchioness got her divorce, however.

In 1872 Queensberry took up a seat in the House of Lords as a representative elected by the Scottish peers. But after six years his colleagues voted to expel him in protest against his views on religion. He had lapsed from the Christianity of his upbringing into an idiosyncratic form of agnosticism which he expressed through his presidency of the British Secularist Union and in a poem called 'The Spirit of the Matterhorn' (a brother had died attempting to climb the mountain), in which the supernatural power is named not as God but as 'The Inscrutable'. When the poem was published in 1881 it was mock-dedicated to the Scottish peers who had unseated him.

In the last years of his life Queensberry's behaviour became even more erratic. His son and heir Percy, whom he had disowned as 'that so-called skunk of a son of mine', paid him a death-bed visit. Queensberry managed to sit up but only in order to spit in his son's face. It is thought that he may have been suffering from dementia brought on by syphilis. His ashes were buried at Kinmount. By then most of the land, along with the family's Old Master paintings, had been sold off to provide ready cash.

Lord Alfred Douglas spent most of the rest of his life bemoaning the downfall into relative penury of a once great Dumfriesshire family and the end of what he called 'the eight hundred years' identification of the Douglases with that part of Scotland'. One of his biographers, Rupert Croft-Brooke, put it pungently: 'The Douglases of history whose pennons flew in so many savage battles from Bannockburn to Halidon Hill became in time the licentious grandees whose passions for pugilism, horseflesh and adultery were notorious in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.'

In his autobiography Lord Alfred summed up the basis of his and his siblings' misfortune following their father's death:

Owing to the quarrel between him and my late brother, Percy, no settlement was made, and my brother came into about 300,000 in cash, which was "taken off him" in the City in a few years, and he died in South Africa, in 1920, practically penniless. The unfortunate younger children, including myself, naturally came very badly out of this debacle. We were each left a small sum (less than 15,000) when my father died and, when the main trunk of our ancient house collapsed, we, the branches, went with it.

And he added, bitterly: 'The lot of a younger son with the courtesy title of "Lord" and no money is indeed a miserable one.'

Lord Alfred had spent some ten years of his childhood at Kinmount and retained happy memories of playing with his brother Percy:

We rode about on our ponies together, our favourite objective being the little village of Ecclefechan..., where there was a small shop which dealt in such commodities as wooden swords and gold-leaf paper (most of our games being connected with battles and forays). The estate carpenter, Dunkeld, kindest of men, used to make us wooden spears, and shields on which the Douglas Heart was painted...

He remembered too the pomposity of life in an aristocratic household, quoting the story of.

...the "odd man" at Kinmount, whose duties were to clean the boots and knives, and also to wait on the upper servants in the housekeeper's room. When he had been in the house a few days the butler, a most stately person, addressing my mother, said: "If Your Ladyship has no objection, we propose to call the new man 'the Usher of the Hall.'"

As dear old Joe Graham, my grandfather's and my father's huntsman, said to me years afterwards (when I turned up to see him in his cottage in Cummertrees one day, and he instantly recognized me, although he had not seen me for ten years, because, as he said, I had my father's smile):
"They was the days."

One of the 9th Marquess's sisters was the traveller, war correspondent and writer Florence Dixie (1855-1905). Domesticity and motherhood were never allowed to curtail Florence's wish for exotic adventure, particularly in parts of the world where she could indulge her passion for hunting big game. Her travels around South America resulted in her first published work Across Patagonia (1880). This brought her to the notice of the Morning Post and she was appointed by them to cover the Anglo-Zulu war. Hostilities had actually ended by the time she arrived on the scene but she spent the next six months investigating the causes of the war and so identified with the other side that she wrote A Defence of Zululand and its King (1882).

Florence Dixie

She seemed to like the idea of small nations. On her return home she argued the case for both Irish and Scottish nationalism. The other causes about which she wrote in later life included sex equality and the cruelty of blood sports. She lived latterly at Glenstuart on the edge of the Kinmount estate.

There were brash new beginnings at Kinmount when the Yorkshire businessman Edward Brook took over the estate in the 1890s (adding it to his other big acquisition, Hoddom estate near Ecclefechan). He had plans for creating a vast seaside resort between Cummertrees and Powfoot. The scheme never took off but at the east end of the village a flavour of what he had envisaged remains in Queensberry Terrace, a row of properties originally intended as holiday apartments - 'like a cross between Blackpool and Chelsea', commented one architectural historian.

Queensberry Terrace


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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