Middlebie
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

Middlebie

Though the village is not a great deal more than a 1929 kirk for the parish of the same name, the area has two of the most important archaeological sites in the county, if not in the country. Both are evidence of the extent of the Roman penetration of southern Scotland during the early centuries of the first millennium AD (see Some Historical Background).


To the north-west of the village, the flat-topped Burnswark hill, an unmistakable landmark, is where in the 2nd century the Roman army occupied an earlier Celtic hill-fort. No one knows for sure whether they took over an empty site or had to lay siege to the previous occupants. More than just a fort to the Romans, Burnswark appears to have been used as a shooting practice range, with the original Iron Age fort as the target.


To the south of the village, where the Middlebie Burn flows into the Mein Water, is the site of another Roman fort, known locally as Birrens. To the Romans it was Blatobulgium. It lay along the Annandale section of the road network that the invaders began engineering from their arrival in the late 1st century. Like many of the other Roman installations, Birrens was not continuously manned. It was abandoned and re-built several times. From the 120s it served as an outpost of Hadrian's Wall, the frontier built from the Solway to the Tyne.


To the north of Middlebie is Scotsbrig, the farm that the writer Thomas Carlyle's parents moved to from Ecclefechan after his father gave up being a stonemason. During visits Carlyle was fond of taking long meditative walks round by Waterbeck. The name of the steading has had an intriguing evolution: in the sixteenth century there was a small tower-house here with the name Godsbrigge.


At the farm the Carlyles had a servant whose illegitimate son became the painter William Ewart Lockhart, a favourite of Queen Victoria (see The Artists).


Carlyle must have known and been suitably contemptuous of a somewhat lesser literary talent that flourished locally in the person of Susannah Hawkins (1787-1868), the self-styled 'Annandale Poetess'. The daughter of a blacksmith from near Burnswark, she began her working life as a dairymaid but in middle age took to the writing of what Frank Miller in The Poets of Dumfriesshire (1910) dismisses as 'sad doggerel'. So comically na´ve was Miss Hawkins that she wrote of having been born 'near the famed camp of Burnswark, where the brave Caledonians fought against the Roman Catholics'!

She persuaded the editor of the Dumfries Courier to publish some of her pieces and when the grandiosely titled The Poetical Works of Susannah Hawkins appeared in 1829 the copies were snapped up.

A schoolmaster who employed her as a servant tried giving her grammar lessons, after which she is reputed to have declared 'I'm a gran' grammarer noo!' She was sufficiently self-deluded to compare herself with Burns and after visiting his monument in Ayrshire she reportedly exclaimed 'Hech, sirs, an' this is what they do wi' us when we are deid!' Many more editions of her verses were published and she spent much of her old age on the road as her own sales rep, until finally retiring to a property near her birthplace called Relief Cottage.

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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