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


Ever since the Romans established a marching camp on a site north-west of the town Lockerbie has been a favoured stopping-place along both roads and railways.

In the eighteenth century there were several coaching inns catering for the passing trade. The Carlisle to Glasgow highway engineered in the 1820s by Dumfriesshire-born Thomas Telford (see From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey) was eventually superseded by the A74, which in turn was upgraded to a motorway. The main road used to pass through the town-centre, causing much congestion, but this problem was removed by the building of a by-pass in the early 1960s.

The mid nineteenth century brought the Caledonian Railway, with Lockerbie as a major intermediate halt between Carlisle and Glasgow. The station opened in 1848 but had to be re-built in the 1880s following an accident in which nine people died.

In 1863 the town got a second rail service with the opening of the Dumfries, Lochmaben and Lockerbie Railway, which lasted until 1966.

Not everyone passing through was entirely satisfied. The story is told of the traveller who, having unsuccessfully sought help on some matter, exclaimed: 'What kind of place is this? Are there nae Christians in it?' To which the reply was: 'Na, there are nae Christians in Lockerbie, just Johnstones and Jardines.'

From the eighteenth century onwards Lockerbie flourished as an agricultural centre for both Dryfesdale and well beyond. The town used to hold every August the biggest lamb fair in Scotland, with up to 20,000 beasts being sold at a time. The present auction mart, distinctive in its octagonal shape, was built in Sydney Place in the early 1900s.

For the general population too there were nineteenth-century fairs featuring, according to Thomas Henderson in Lockerbie: A Narrative of Bygone Days (1937), 'old soldiers with wooden legs...musicians in faded cloth playing the fiddle, the melodeon and the flute...quacks, mountebanks, fat women and dwarfs, competitions at wrestling, climbing the greasy pole, sack races and hunting pigs with soapy tails.'

The appearance of Lockerbie town-centre today took shape very substantially during Victorian times. Many of its iconic buildings, not least the handsome banks and other commercial premises along the High Street, sprang up in the final couple of decades of the nineteenth century.

Dryfesdale Parish Church on Townhead Street was completed in 1898, replacing a previous one built on the same site in the 1750s.

The striking Town Hall, with its particularly tall landmark tower, was begun in 1887 to coincide with Queen Victoria's golden jubilee.

At one point during construction there was a shortfall in the necessary funds, which was rectified by the holding of a Grand Charity Bazaar, of which one of the highlights was the chance to play 'the old, yet ever new and exciting game of Love-in-a-tub'.

The name Lockerbie tells us that the Norsemen were here back in the Dark Ages. The -bie ending is Old Scandinavian, meaning 'farm' or 'settlement'. The LOCKER is believed to derive from a personal name, perhaps 'Locard'. Who he was is anyone's guess.

Sadly, the town's name has now taken on a new meaning, resonating around the world as a synonym for terrorist mass murder.

The Lockerbie Bombing was of course not specifically aimed at the town. Lockerbie, so to speak, just got in the way - with appalling consequences.

It was the evening of 21 December 1988. At 7.03 pm radio contact with Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to New York via London was lost. 31,000 feet above Lockerbie the Boeing 747 had been blown apart by an explosive device hidden in the baggage hold.

Shortly afterwards the plane's two wings landed on the Sherwood district of the town, blasting a huge crater in the ground and destroying twenty-one houses. Its cockpit landed to the east in a field at Tundergarth. Other debris fell to earth up to 80 miles away.

All 259 people on board - 243 passengers and 16 crew - were killed. Another 11 people died in Lockerbie.

The shattered pieces of the aircraft were recovered and forensically re-assembled in a hangar. After extensive inquiries the trail of suspicion led to two Libyan Air officials based on Malta. The British and American investigators believed that it was they who had authorised a suitcase containing the bomb to be transported by Air Malta to join the Pan Am flight from Frankfurt.

Three years after the plane went down the two Libyans were indicted on 270 counts of murder. But another eight years were to pass before Colonel Gaddafi's Libyan regime finally bowed under the pressure of international trade sanctions and handed over the suspects to the prosecutors.

It had been agreed that the pair would be tried under Scottish law but on neutral territory. And so on 3 May 2000 the trial opened under three judges at Camp Zeist, a specially convened Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands.

The trial ended the following year. One man was acquitted but the other, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years' imprisonment. A subsequent appeal against the conviction was rejected by the five judges who heard it. Megrahi was placed in a specially constructed unit at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow; later he was transferred to Greenock. His wife and family moved to Scotland.

As time went on doubts about the reliability of Megrahi's conviction were increasingly aired and in 2003 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission began taking a fresh look at it. In 2007 the commission recommended that Megrahi should be granted a second appeal. The following year the Libyan was diagnosed as suffering from prostate cancer and the High Court in Edinburgh was asked to release him on bail pending his appeal. This request was refused in November 2008. However, the following year Scotland’s Justice Secretary freed him on compassionate grounds. On his return to Tripoli Megrahi was received as a hero. He was said to have three months to live. In fact, he survived for another three years, outlasting even Gaddafi and his barbarous junta.

On the western outskirts of Lockerbie a Memorial Garden of Remembrance was created within Dryfesdale Cemetery. A granite monument names all 270 victims 'whose ages ranged from 2 months to 82 years from 21 nations.' There is also a memorial at Sherwood Crescent where the town's victims died; and a commemorative stained glass window has been installed in the Town Hall. 35 students from the University of Syracuse in New York were among the dead. Links built between the university and Lockerbie Academy enable two school pupils annually to spend a year at Syracuse.

Three miles east of the town, the parish kirk of Tundergarth has its own Lockerbie disaster reminder. A field next to the kirk is where the nose of Pam Am Flight 103 landed along with some of the dead bodies. The small outbuilding which has been converted into a Memorial Room has a strange history. It was built in the early 1800s at a time when Burke and Hare-style gangs were robbing new graves of their corpses to sell for dissection by medical students. From this 'watch room' relatives could guard the graves until the bodies of their loved ones were too decayed to be of use.

Now bereaved relatives come for very different reasons. The visitors' book contains poignant messages like this one written on the twentieth anniversary of the disaster: 'Miss you like crazy. Twenty years on and not a day goes by you're not in my mind. Just back from New York, went to your favourite place: Hard Rock Café. The wee one can now say your name and knows she was coming to Lockerbie today. I wish so much you were here to see her. She loves to make people laugh like you did.'


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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