Ruthwell
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

Ruthwell

Once upon a time what is now the B724, which divides the village centre to the south from the parish kirk to the north, was the principal highway between Dumfries and Carlisle. Today one could pass along this quiet byway without realising that the kirk contains a historic monument of international importance.

The Ruthwell Cross is a key artefact in the early history of the British Isles. It was carved, almost certainly in the early part of the eighth century, by craftsmen employed by the Angles who had crossed the North Sea and established the kingdom of Northumbria on the east coast. As well as inscriptions in ecclesiastical Latin the story of Christ is told, runically, in one of the earliest extant examples of the Anglian language that lies at the root of modern English.

There can be no surprise that the cross is in Dumfriesshire. After the decline of the Cumbrian kingdom of Rheged the Angles of Northumbria took control of south-west Scotland. But why specifically it should be here in Ruthwell and indeed whether it was at one point somewhere else are among the many questions that, in the words of the historian Geoffrey Stell, 'have given rise to enough scholarly literature to paper the walls of the kirk'.

There is a touch of farce in the chequered career of the cross. In 1640 the zealots then in charge of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ordered it to be destroyed on the grounds of being 'idolatrous'. And that is exactly what happened: it was smashed to pieces. Some of the larger fragments were improvised as seating on the clay floor of the kirk but by the 1770s they had been put out into the kirk grounds. In 1823 the visionary minister Rev Henry Duncan (see below) arranged for the broken pieces to be re-assembled (the top, unfortunately, was re-instated the wrong way round) and as such the cross was placed at the gateway to the manse until it was brought back into the kirk after a display apse was specially added in 1887.


Ruthwell has the Savings Banks Museum because this is where in 1810 the savings movement was started by the aforesaid Rev Henry Duncan.

To the west of the village, Brow Well is where in the last days of his life the poet Robert Burns came in the vain hope that its waters would cure him. All that happened was that the experience of cold bathing finally finished him off.

At that time the village of Brow was a bustling stopover on the droving route. While the cattle grazed overnight on the Solway merse, the drovers relaxed at the inn, which is where Burns stayed during his ill-fated therapy. When he ran out of the port wine which was helping to sustain his strength he walked to nearby Clarencefield. He had also run out of funds and offered to leave his watch in lieu of payment but the Clarencefield innkeeper and his wife insisted on his bottle being replenished free of charge.

While at Brow Burns took up an invitation to have tea with the Craigs at the manse in Ruthwell. The daughter Agnes (who would later marry Rev Henry Duncan) was a great fan of the poet and was shocked to see the condition he was in.


With such a variety of history around Ruthwell, it seems fitting that due east of the village, at Horseclose Farm, the historian George Neilson was born in 1858.

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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