Eaglesfield
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon

THEMES & PERSONALITIES

Introduction

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

Eaglesfield

Unlikely as it may seen, the village is called after a man's forename. For the Smiths of the Blacket House estate, naming boys Eaglesfield had been a family tradition ever since they were joined in marriage to the descendents of the fourteenth-century Cumbrian Robert de Eglesfeld, founder of Queen's College, Oxford. The original Eglesfeld/Eaglesfield is near Cockermouth and has nothing to be with eagles but derives from Brittonic Celtic egles, 'church'.


Eaglesfield Smith (about 1770-1838) was the laird who began to develop the village around 1810. The weavers who settled here did well until mechanisation brought hard times and what had once been the longest village in Scotland was mournfully nicknamed Poverty Row. Smith practised as a surgeon but also had a minor reputation as a man of letters. As a poet, he is best remembered for the anti-slavery ballad 'The Sorrows of Yamba' (1797).


A stretch of the Kirtle Water north-east of the village is associated with the elegiac romance of 'Fair Helen of Kirkconnel', the title of countless versions of a lovers' tragedy said to have taken place here sometime in the sixteenth century. Two men, Adam Fleming and a Bell of Blacket Tower, are in love with Helen. She prefers Fleming, whom Bell vows to kill. One day on Kirkconnel Lea, Helen and Fleming are together when Bell appears with a gun on the opposite bank of the river. He aims at Fleming but Helen leaps in front of her lover to protect him and is shot dead instead. Fleming then kills Bell. He goes into hiding but eventually returns home and dies of grief on Helen's grave. The two lovers are supposed to be buried side by side in the medieval kirkyard of Kirkconnel on the western edge of the Springkell estate.

Where Helen lies

The tale has caught the fancy of many writers, including Sir Walter Scott, and each has put his own gloss on the original anonymous ballad. The above-mentioned Eaglesfield Smith published a version in 1796, calling it 'William and Ellen':

Here Melancholy loves to stray,
'Tis here the lovers lie,
Where pilgrims come to view the grave,
And heave the mournful sigh.

William Wordsworth re-worked the story into 'Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle', with a characteristically clunking rhyme:

Fair Ellen Irwin, when she sate
Upon the braes of Kirtle,
Was lovely as a Grecian maid
Adorned with wreaths of myrtle.

Today the story endures as the popular traditional song 'Fair Helen of Kirkconnel':

I wish I were where Helen lies,
Where night and day she on me cries,
I wish I were where Helen lies
On fair Kirkconnel Lea.

The main block of Springkell, the mansion house on the estate of that name, was completed in 1734 and given wings around 1818. A former occupant, Sir William Maxwell, developed the village of Springfield near Gretna.


Blacket House, to the south of the village's main street, was built around 1835 next to the late-sixteenth-century Blacket Tower.


The last man to be hanged in Dumfries was an Eaglesfield man. He was a young labourer by the name of Robert Smith and was sentenced to death in 1868 'for the atrocious crimes of ravaging, murdering, and afterwards robbing a girl named Thomasina Scott, only eleven years old, in a wood between the village of Cummertrees and the town of Annan.' [William McDowall, History of the Burgh of Dumfries]

PLACES

Ae
Amisfield
Annan
Auldgirth
Bankend
Beattock
Bentpath
Brydekirk
Canonbie
Carronbridge
Carrurtherstown
Chapelknowe
Clarencefield
Closeburn
Collin
Cummertrees
Dalswinton
Dalton
Dornock
Dumfries
Duncow
Dunscore
Durisdeer
Eaglesfield
Eastriggs
Ecclefechan
Eskdalemuir
Glencaple
Gretna
Hightae
Holywood
Johnstonebridge
Kettleholm
Kirkconnel
Kirkpatrick Fleming
Kirkton
Kirtlebridge
Langholm
Lochmaben
Lockerbie
Middlebie
Moffat
Moniaive
Mouswald
Newton Wamphray
Parkgate
Penpont
Powfoot
Ruthwell
Sanquhar
Templand
Thornhill
Tinwald
Torthorwald
Tynron
Wanlockhead
Waterbeck

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