Langholm
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

Langholm

The Muckle Toon ['big town'], as it is affectionately known, may not seem especially muckle nowadays but in its nineteenth-century phase of rapid industrial expansion it did seem to be just that within the otherwise tranquilly rural Eskdale.


The lang ['long'] holm ['low-lying land by a river'] was a natural place of settlement where two rivers, the Esk and the Ewes, meet, with a third, the Wauchope, flowing into the Esk slightly to the south.


The land between the Esk and the Ewes was where Langholm Castle was built in the early 1500s by the Armstrongs.

All that remains of
Langholm Castle

Langholm became a burgh of barony in 1621. It was Eskdale's centre for fairs and markets. At first development, including the building of a tolbooth, took place along the east side of the Esk.


The proximity of so many rivers meant that Langholm had an abundance of the water power required for the eighteenth-century boom in cotton, linen and wool mills. To accommodate an expanding workforce the building of New Langholm to the west of the Esk began in 1778. It was here that the Meikleholm Mill was built around 1789. In 1797 the Whitshiels Mill was erected along the Ewes.


The town's new wealth was celebrated in the building of a new Town Hall in 1812 on the site of the old tolbooth.


Langholm Town Hall

Exploiting the natural resource of sheep farming on the surrounding moorland, the town came more and more to specialise in woollens and by the second half of the nineteenth century Langholm was internationally renowned for the high quality of its blankets, hosiery and cloth. The most renowned brand, still with a presence in the town under Indian ownership, was Reid and Taylor.

Alexander Reid, a local man, began manufacturing tweed in the 1830s and later invited Joseph Taylor, a financier, to join him around 1850. The company was often described as the Rolls Royce of cloth production but a former managing director used to insist that 'it is more likely that Rolls Royce regard themselves as the Reid and Taylor of the motor car industry.'


Craigcleuch House, to the north-west of the town, was built in the 1870s for Alexander Reid but he died before it was finished.

Getting Langholm's finished goods to market was made much easier with the opening in 1864 of a railway branch-line off the Border Union Railway at Riddings Junction.


Langholm is so far into the eastern section of Dumfriesshire that it would not seem out of place in the adjacent county of Roxburghshire, and indeed many of its inhabitants identify more with the Borders than they do with the region in which they pay their local taxes.

This Borders bent is typified by local sporting tradition. Here rugby football is followed with more passion than association football is. In terms of the national administration of the game Langholm Rugby Football Club, founded in 1871, is aligned with teams from such Borders towns as Hawick, Selkirk and Kelso.


Other towns in the south-west have an annual 'riding of the marches' but Langholm follows the Borders tradition of calling theirs the Common Riding. This takes place on the last Friday of July. The ritual arose from a 1790s court hearing to demarcate between private and public land in the area. The court stipulated that the territory in common ownership should be clearly marked out. This was done by the building of cairns and the digging of pits. The Common Riding is therefore the annual mounted inspection. The riders carry with them numerous objects that have come to symbolise Langholm civic life: a barley bannock, a salted herring, a thistle and a spade (for clearing those boundary pits).


The most famous Langholmite of modern times is the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, the pen-name of Christopher Murray Grieve who was born in 1892 at Arkinholm Terrace to the north-east of the town centre. Arkinholm was the scene of a battle in 1455 which led decisively to the demise of the over-mighty Black Douglas dynasty. It is a fitting name for the birthplace of a writer whose career was characterised by belligerence. The road is now part of the town's belated tribute to him in the form of a tourism feature called the MacDiarmid Trail.

Hugh MacDiarmid memorial

The town is associated with at least two other men of letters: William Julius Mickle, the author of 'There's nae luck aboot the hoose', who is commemorated by a plaque on the exterior of the Town Hall; and Henry Scott Riddell, the author of 'Scotland Yet', who was born to the north of the town at the farm of Sorbie in the parish of Ewes.


The town's Thomas Hope Hospital was built in the 1890s as the Thomas Hope Hospital for the Poor. It was named after its benefactor, a local lad who at the age of 10 joined his father in the USA and rose to be a grocery magnate.


As the naming of Thomas Telford Road suggests, Muckle Tooners lay claim to the great engineer being one of theirs. He certainly worked here for a while but his formative years were spent in and around Bentpath.


The present-day Clan Armstrong Museum records the family's prominence in the history of cross-border 'reiving'. Other local family names associated with the sixteenth-century reiving way of life are Beattie, Elliot, Glendinning, Irvine, Little and Scott (see The Border).


In 1972 there was a joyous 'homecoming' for a famous Armstrong - several centuries after his forbears emigrated. Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut who in 1969 became the first man to walk on the moon, came to Langholm to receive the burgh's freedom.

In the traditional style his 'burgess ticket' was contained in a casket, which in this case was a replica of reiver Johnnie Armstrong's tower-house near Canonbie*. He was also presented with some Langholm-woven 'moon tartan'.

The spaceman declared: 'The most difficult place to be recognised is in one's home town. I consider this Langholm to be my home town. I have gained a new home today.'

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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