Some Historical Background
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

Some Historical Background

Sad to say, it appears that no scholar has ever got round to writing a general narrative history of Dumfriesshire. For such a big and varied county this is a surprising and pretty shocking state of affairs. James Anderson Russell's The Book of Dumfriesshire (1964) serves the purpose up to a point but is too much of a rambling ragbag to be satisfactory. Thank the Lord, therefore, for the redoubtable Victorian ex-bookbinder, journalist and one-time editor of the Dumfries & Galloway Standard William McDowall (1815-88), whose epic History of the Burgh of Dumfries (1867; second edition 1873) goes well beyond the strict remit suggested by its title to become the nearest we have to a history of the county. McDowall did not have the benefit of modern scholarship, particularly the opportunities for re-evaluating the primary evidence through technological advances such as aerial surveillance for the archaeologist. But the story he tells is largely sound thanks to his immense labours among the old charters, minutes, accounts and other written records. His grandiloquent literary style may now be regarded as out of date but it accommodates great flows of eloquence, much wit and, when the subject rouses him, a wonderful indignation. No Dumfriesshire person should go to his or her death-bed without reading McDowall's book. Don't leave it too late, though: there are almost eight hundred densely packed pages to get through!

Rule Brittonic

The Celtic tribes who migrated into what is now Dumfriesshire around the middle of the 1st millennium BC, bringing with them new skills in metal-working, were by no means the original population of the area. There had been humans here for thousands of years but the Celts of the so-called Iron Age were the first in the county's history to have left traces of their presence which even the untrained eye of today can recognise. The hilltops which they shaped into their fortified homes are everywhere to be seen, most spectacularly at Tynron and at Burnswark near Middlebie.

Dumfriesshire has fewer of their loch-dwellings or crannogs than Galloway but the remains of at least one have been found in Loch Urr north-west of Dunscore.

The Celts of Dumfriesshire were of the same stock as tribes throughout lowland Scotland and northern England. Collectively, we call them Brittonic, ie the peoples of Britain before the Roman invasion. Brittonic is also the name we give to the more or less common Celtic language they spoke, a tongue that survives to a certain extent in modern Welsh. (Another strand of Celtic speech would arrive in Scotland much later, the Irish linguistic import that evolved into Scottish Gaelic and eventually ousted its Celtic cousin-tongue.) The only name we have for these Celts of Nithsdale, Annandale and Eskdale is the Selgovae, not a Brittonic term of their own but a Latin tag applied to them by some surprise visitors in the first century of a new millennium.

Hail Caesar!

After several decades confined largely to the south of England the Romans decided to venture north and their advance-party under Agricola arrived in Dumfriesshire around 80 AD. This was not the start of a wholesale takeover, more of an ongoing part-occupation for the occasional purpose of reconnoitring and containing the Picts of the far north, the Caledonians as they named them. For this they required an infrastructure of movement and so they set about creating a network of roads and marching-camps from the Solway to the Clyde and the Forth.

There were numerous routes through Dumfriesshire, as we can still see from the frequent occurrence of 'ROMAN ROAD (course of)' on modern maps. From Cumbria a principal highway came north up Annandale to Birrens near Middlebie. From Birrens there were two roads northwards. One went straight up to Milton near Beattock and onto Crawford in Lanarkshire. The other took a north-westerly direction via Carzield near Kirkton to Dalswinton. At this point there may have been a junction, with one road swinging westwards towards Glenlochar in Kirkcudbrightshire and the other carrying on up Nithsdale to Drumlanrig near Carronbridge. Here the road forked. One branch continued up to Ayrshire via Kirkconnel and Sanquhar. The other went north-east via Durisdeer to re-join the Birrens-Crawford highway. Later there was also a road up Eskdale, passing through Canonbie, Langholm and Raeburnfoot near Eskdalemuir.

Along these roads temporary marching-camps were laid out but also more permanent installations. There were forts or fortlets at Birrens, Carzield, Dalswinton, Drumlanrig, Durisdeer and Milton. The old Iron Age hill-fort at Burnswark north of Middlebie was adapted by the Romans to include a combat training facility, with the entrance to the original fort serving as the practice target.

These military structures were not built all at once. After all, Roman troops were in and around the area for more than three hundred years. Once built, few if any of them were in continuous use. They were commonly abandoned entirely, only to be re-activated years later. The needs of the Romans in south-west Scotland fluctuated according to political and military crises elsewhere.

When they constructed the massive Hadrian's Wall from the Solway to the Tyne in the 120s, it may have looked like a strategic withdrawal. In fact as much as anything else the wall was a base from which southern Scotland could still be kept under surveillance and that base still required outlying camps, forts and signal-stations up and down the Dumfriesshire dales. When a new commander decided twenty years later to build a second wall, the Antonine, between the Clyde and the Forth, Dumfriesshire was once again like a giant transit depot between the two.

No more Roman in the gloamin'

With their Europe-wide empire unravelling, the Romans finally abandoned Dumfriesshire and the rest of Britain in the early 400s. The Brittonic civilisation had survived. There had been no genocide. The Celts, wiser no doubt and not entirely uninfluenced by their long-time Latin neighbours, were free to re-organise themselves and re-group. The tribes of south-west Scotland and Cumbria, no longer divided by Hadrian's Wall, coalesced into the kingdom of Rheged. To its north evolved the brother-Brittonic kingdom of Strathclyde, based at Dumbarton. Both became Christian and Strathclyde may have shared with Rheged the saintly services of the spiritual leader known as Kentigern or Mungo.

St Kentigern? 'Just call me Mungo'

Kentigern ['high lord'], famously the patron saint of Glasgow, had the alternative pet-name of Mungo ['my dear friend']. One might be so flippant as to suggest that 'Kentigern' was for Sunday best. It is mainly as Mungo that he has featured in the folklore of Dumfriesshire and a whole parish, centred on Kettleholm, is named after him, as were generations of Dumfriesshire boys until that particular form of parental cruelty went out of fashion. It is the posh name, however, that is traditionally applied to the site at Hoddom (or Hoddam) near Ecclefechan where the missionary is supposed to have had his headquarters sometime towards the end of the 6th century.

There is a problem with Kentigern. We know virtually nothing about him with any certainty. The stories associated with him are unreliable, based as they are on biographies written some six hundred years after his presumed lifetime. That does not inhibit even fairly recent local historians from asserting Kentigern's evangelising in Dumfriesshire as unquestioned fact, eg 'Hoddam, the county's most acceptable ecclesiastical capital, was his fitting centre and see, and here, indeed, his church, a wooden structure, was erected before ever he accepted the call to Clydesdale.' The Glasgow University historian Professor Dauvit Broun urges scepticism: 'it is doubtful whether any genuine information about the saint can now be convincingly identified.'

Kentigern is supposed to have been of Brittonic royal birth, his father a prince called Owain and his mother Thaney, a princess who was sanctified. Professor Broun is again on hand to wag the finger of caution: 'the possibility that this parentage is largely, if not completely, fictional must be taken seriously.' There seems to be less doubt about his friendship with King Rhydderch of Strathclyde. But whether or not Kentigern transferred his operations south to Hoddom when the king was temporarily overthrown and returned north on the king's restoration, as has been claimed, is anyone's guess. In the early 1990s an archaeological dig took place at Hoddom in the hope of finding some evidence of a Kentigern kirk. They found none.

Invasions from all Angles

The Solway kingdom of Rheged was run ragged by competition from the east coast Angles, the Germanic settlers in Northumbria who were the ethnic source of the English nation. King Urien of Rheged was killed fighting them at their stronghold of Bamburgh and by the 7th century his realm had disintegrated. The Angles expanded west and for the best part of two hundred years south-west Scotland was under their control. They built a monastery at Hoddom near Ecclefechan (where Kentigern may or may not have preceded them) and left a lasting legacy in the form of Christian stone crosses, most notably the one at Ruthwell. Numerous carvings of this period have been recovered from the Hoddom site. Some were lost forever, though, when the Hoddom estate was requisitioned during the Second World War. Various stones which an eye-witness described as 'bearing strange symbols and writing' were among a lorry-load of material crushed and laid into a roadway for tanks.

By the late 9th century the Angles had lost their grip on south-west Scotland in the face of the Viking onslaught. The Norsemen penetrated into Dumfriesshire. Their imprint remains in the place-names ending in bie, eg Lockerbie and Middlebie, and in wald, eg Torthorwald and Mouswald. At the same time much of Dumfriesshire came back into the Brittonic fold through a southward expansion by the kingdom of Strathclyde.

Great Scot!

The kingdom of Scotland, meanwhile, had been spreading steadily east and south from its original Irish colony of Dalriada in Argyll. Dumfriesshire would be absorbed into Scotland only on the collapse of Strathclyde, which finally happened with the death in 1016 of its last king, Owain the Bald. At first Malcolm II gifted the Strathclyde throne to his grandson Duncan, the very same who would later be murdered by Macbeth:

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell
[William Shakespeare]

When Duncan succeeded his grandfather in 1034 Scotland and Strathclyde merged. Note it well: 1034, the year Dumfriesshire became Scottish! Galloway to the west held onto its separate identity for another couple of hundred years.

In terms of language and culture Dumfriesshire was now in theory and to a certain extent in practice embraced into Gaeldom. But the Scottish kings of the 11th and 12th centuries were strongly tied also to the culture of England through baronial land-holdings in the south and through marriage. In particular David I, who reigned from 1124 until 1153, had spent much of his early life at the court of England and encouraged large-scale Anglo-Norman immigration into southern Scotland. This was when many of the families who figure prominently in the story of medieval Dumfriesshire first arrived: de Brus (Bruce), de Bailleul (Balliol), Cumin (Comyn), de Gardine (Jardine) and so on. The new barons used Norman French but their followers were English-speaking, as were the monks who manned King David's religious foundations and the business people who settled in his new royal burghs. Gaelic was drowned under this massive wave of anglicisation but in time this northern English evolved into a language distinctive enough to be termed Scots.

With Dumfriesshire well integrated into Scotland, and Galloway falling into line by the 1230s, the royal regime had just one final insecurity to attend to in the Solway area. The Isle of Man was still under Scandinavian rule and when the time came to eliminate that menace Dumfriesshire played its part.

Manx catch

Given its geographic closeness to the Isle of Man, Dumfriesshire became the base from which in 1264 the king Alexander III launched his campaign to stabilise his southern maritime frontier by wresting control of the Manx island from the occupying Norwegians, the continuation of a strategic positioning for which his father had died. The previous year Alexander's navy had regained mastery of the Hebridean west following the Battle of Largs. Now he was intent upon doing the same for his Solway and Irish Sea periphery. A Scottish flotilla was assembled at the mouth of the Nith.

The threat of an invasion was enough, however, to persuade the Norwegians to sue for peace. The Manx ruler Magnus Olafsson crossed the Solway and entered into negotiations with Alexander in Dumfries. Terms were agreed and in 1266 the Treaty of Perth confirmed the Isle of Man as Scottish territory, the Norwegians receiving financial compensation in return. The accord was sealed by the marriage in 1281 of Alexander's daughter Margaret to Erik II of Norway.

Annandale ambition

Dumfriesshire again featured prominently in the constitutional crisis that afflicted the country following Alexander's sudden death in 1286. All of the king's children had pre-deceased him. The next-in-line was his infant grand-daughter Margaret, the 'Maid of Norway', but in 1290 she too died. The crown was now up for grabs in what was dubbed the 'Great Cause'. Thirteen barons put themselves forward. The two strongest candidates, in terms of their connection with the royal blood-line descending from David I, were both intimately associated with Dumfriesshire and Galloway: Robert de Brus, the Lochmaben-based Lord of Annandale; and John de Balliol who, though brought up as an Englishman, was closely aligned with the south-west through his mother Dervorguilla, the very same who by repute paid for Dumfries's first bridge across the Nith.

Disastrously for the future of Scotland, Edward I of England was asked to adjudicate, a golden opportunity for him to consolidate his claim to be the Scots' overlord. Naturally he chose the weaker man and so John de Balliol was enthroned, the monkey to Edward's organ-grinder. When de Balliol dared to defy his master by refusing to send a Scots army to fight the French, he was relegated to eternal obscurity. The humiliating stripping away of his regalia led to the nickname that has been an indelible blot on the Balliol scutcheon: Toom Tabard ['empty coat']. Edward imposed direct rule by the English. A Scots resistance movement sprang up and at its head was the doughty Ayrshire warrior William Wallace.

William Wallace in Nithsdale - or not?

Dumfriesshire tradition has it that the great 'Braveheart' himself came marching down Nithsdale in 1297 to sort out the occupying English. The whole episode, based on a minstrel's verse tale written two hundred years later, ought to be taken with slightly more than just a pinch of salt. Wallace is said to have arrived via Durisdeer and stormed down the dale, flushing out enemy troops castle by castle: Morton, Tibbers and Enoch near Carronbridge; then onto Closeburn and Dalswinton; and finally at Cockpool, south-west of Clarencefield, trapping and slaying an exhausted English rump. 'Even as the bowers of Dalswinton gave them but deceitful shelter,' writes William McDowall with gusto, 'so the waters of the Frith [firth] received many into its fatal embrace. Some were slaughtered on the shore, some were drowned in the deep, and only a few escaped to the opposite side with life.'

Wallace, according to the story, called in on Dumfries and Sanquhar on his way back north but not before he had 'rested from the fatigues of this memorable day' at Caerlaverock Castle south of Bankend. All of this may well be romantic twaddle but it is a reminder that Caerlaverock was the citadel par excellence that each side wanted to secure for itself in the long Wars of Independence that followed. It was there that Edward of England, back from fighting in Flanders and ready for retribution against the Scots, headed with a huge army in the summer of 1300.

'Le Siege de Karlaverock'

Edward's siege of Caerlaverock stands out with a special vividness in the annals of the county for one very simple reason. The English king brought with him his very own spin-doctor - and a poetic one at that. Walter of Exeter, an in-house minstrel who wrote in the courtly language Norman French, got a ringside seat and described the fight blow by blow in 'Le Siege de Karlaverock'. The story [in a nineteenth-century translation] begins with the splendour of the English army's departure from Carlisle.

'There were many rich caparisons embroidered on silks and satins, many a beautiful pennon fixed to a lance, and many a banner displayed; and afar off was the noise heard of the neighing of horses - mountains and valleys were everywhere covered with sumpter-horses and waggons with provisions, and sacks of tents and pavilions: and the days were fine and long. They proceeded by easy journeys, arranged in four squadrons.'

Accompanying his father was 16-year-old Prince Edward, making his battlefield debut (fourteen years later, as Edward II, he would be thrashed by the Scots at Bannockburn). 'He was a well-proportioned and handsome person, of courteous disposition and intelligence; and desirous of finding an occasion to display his prowess. He managed his steed wonderfully well, and bore with a blue label the arms of the good King, his father.'

On arrival the three-thousand-strong invading army set up camp. 'Then might be seen houses built without carpenters or masons, of many different fashions - many a cord stretched with white and coloured cloth fastened by pins driven into the ground - many a large tree cut down to make huts; and leaves, herbs, and flowers gathered in the woods, which were strewed within.the gleam of gold and silver, and the radiance of rich colours, emitted by the embattled host, illuminated the valley which they occupied.'

As for the defenders, there were a mere hundred or so of them: 'those of the castle, seeing us arrive, might, as I well believe, deem that they were in greater peril than they could ever before remember.'

More provisions and equipment arrived by sea and the fighting began. 'Then might be seen stones, arrows, and crossbow bolts flying from among them; but so effectually did those within exchange their tokens with those without, that, in one short hour, there were many persons wounded and maimed, and I know not how many killed.'

The battle turned in favour of the English when they began using their robinets, machines that could send big boulders right into the heart of the castle. After two days the castle defenders put up the flag of surrender and out came sixty bedraggled survivors. No one could believe that so few had been able to resist for so long. 'They were beheld with astonishment.' Walter does his spin-doctoring best to suggest a merciful treatment of the prisoners, including the issue of fresh clothing but according to other accounts. But, according to other accounts, they were hanged from the trees around the castle.

As for Wallace: after being captured in the Glasgow area and taken to London in 1305, he was not just hanged; his heart and bowels were removed and burnt, his head chopped off and fixed to London Bridge, and his body divided into quarters for display in Scotland and northern England. This was meant as a warning but served instead as an incitement to the next resistance leader: Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale.

Bruce - murder and monarchy

The future course of the war for Scottish independence was determined by a gruesome incident in Dumfries on 10 February 1306. The two main claimants to leadership of the nation were barons with roots in Dumfriesshire. Robert Bruce (1274-1329), though an Ayrshireman by birth, had inherited from his father the lordship of Annandale, a position the family had held since migrating to Annan and later Lochmaben in the twelfth century. His rival for power, John Comyn - known as Red Comyn from the family heraldic colour - owned land all around Scotland, including Dalswinton. Both were ruthlessly ambitious. Bruce, in particular, had a record of prioritising his own self-interest above any wider cause. Until recently he had been supporting Edward I and indeed had been involved at one point in the hostile pursuit of William Wallace. Now it suited Bruce's purposes to play the Scottish card. Bruce and Comyn arranged to meet at Greyfriars church. They had previously quarrelled violently and again they both lost their tempers. 'And the next moment', writes William McDowall, 'the dagger of Bruce is at his heart. Comyn falls - never, alas, so "red" before, now that the crimson tide of life is flowing over his prostrate frame.' The popular story, a core of truth in a coating of embellishment, is that Bruce, having stabbed Comyn, was not certain that he was dead. His aide Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn is said to have volunteered to 'mak siccar' ['make sure']. Whatever the precise sequence of events, the Red was dead and Bruce was catapulted into action. He and his men crossed the town to the castle and there they raised their standard. What a day it had been, one for the fulsome pen of McDowall:

He entered Dumfries without any fixed resolve - ready, perhaps, if others led the way, and favourable circumstances ripened their projects, to join them in striking a blow for Scotland's freedom and the crown; but the events of the last few mixed up his country's interests with his own that they became henceforth inseparable; and instant war, open and undisguised, was alike the dictate of self-defence and of patriotism.

A few months after the murder of Comyn on sacred ground, Bruce was crowned Robert I at Scone but there were years of being more like a fugitive guerrilla before the final and famous victory over Edward II (veteran of the Caerlaverock siege) at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The English were expelled, for the time being at least, and Dumfriesshire could enjoy a brief respite from armed conflict:

To no part of the country was this season of peace more acceptable than to Dumfriesshire. Some counties of Scotland suffered comparatively little from the English usurpation, on account of being remote from the enemy's usual route of march; but, owing to their frontier position, the districts watered by the Esk, the Annan, and the Nith became the highway of the invading armies, and a debatable territory, on which, for full twenty years, the destructive controversy of the sword went on with little intermission.
[William McDowall]

Since Bruce's rise to power began in Dumfries, it is particularly apt that it was in the same town that Robert Burns wrote 'Robert Bruce's Address to His Troops at Bannockburn', more familiarly known by its opening words 'Scots wha hae'. It concludes:

Lay the proud Usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do - or die!!!

Toom Tabard 2

The peace did not last long and in the next attempted takeover by England, by now under the rule of Edward III, Dumfriesshire was again a target. The English monarch once more looked to the Balliol family to provide a suitable pseudo-royal stooge. There was no better man for such a subservient role than Edward Balliol, son of the earlier puppet-king John Balliol.

In 1332 Balliol Jnr along with a coalition of English troops and disgruntled Scots scored a victory at Dupplin Muir near Perth. At Scone Balliol was crowned at the same time as he paid homage to his southern controller. Cocky with his new but hollow status, Balliol proceeded to the south-west in an attempt to consolidate his position. A thousand Scots horsemen under Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, arrived in hot pursuit and found the Balliol contingent near Annan. What followed was a tragi-comedy: tragic in the scale of slaughter; comic in the inept unpreparedness of the newly crowned 'king' and his men. Having been 'apprised by scouts that the puppet-king had turned his camp into a court', according to William McDowall, the Douglas men 'were guided to their destination by the glimmering lights, and also, perhaps, the bacchanalian sounds that emanated from the encampment.' Balliol himself was fast asleep in his bed and woke to find his supporters unable to offer much of a defence 'as they were only half awake, and many of them naked, with neither sword nor buckler'. Toom Tabard the Second scarpered ignominiously: 'With scarcely the rag of a royal robe to cover him from the cold, the miserable mimic of a king threw himself upon a cart-horse, unfurnished with either saddle or bridle, and in this fashion galloped for bare life fifteen miles, stopping not till he reached Carlisle.'

Edward Balliol made one or two more attempts to impose himself upon Scotland but his royal sponsor in the south, distracted by military adventures on the Continent, lost interest and Balliol dropped into obscurity, though continuing to receive his English pension until his death in 1364.

Medieval mayhem - and merriment

For the next two hundred years the history of Dumfriesshire seems at times like one long litany of men in combat, from battles between countries to the brawls of gang warfare (see The Border). Reviewing it is tedious and bamboozlingly complex, a catalogue of carnage likely to make the stomach churn. Let us take it as read, except always to keep in mind the general consequences for the county: continuous impoverishment through the pillage and the often gratuitous destruction.

One particular battle ought nonetheless to be mentioned, not because it took place on Dumfriesshire soil but because it had such a wide-ranging impact on the nation that the county could not remain immune from its ripple effects. This was the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Twenty thousand Scots went onto the battlefield at Branxton in Northumberland because their king James IV had an obsession with the Ottoman Empire and wanted to go crusading against it. The French offered to help him with this project if in return he would divert the attention of the English who were at that time threatening to attack France. James duly obliged, gathering around him the cream of his baronage and their followers. It was a disaster, a Scottish wipe-out.

James himself perished along with 11 earls, 15 lords and countless others - including, from Dumfriesshire, Lord Maxwell and four of his brothers, Lord Herries and a brother, and two hundred men by the name of Douglas. Truly, in the words of the song, 'the flowers o' the forest are a' wede away'.

The following year the Warden of the English West March Lord Dacre led his troops across the border to inflict further punishment on Dumfriesshire for the foolhardiness of Flodden. He laid waste to most of Eskdale and lower Annandale, boasting in a despatch to his controllers that Annan and thirty-three other townships 'are now clearly wasted, and no man dwelling in any of them at this day, save only in Annan, Stepel [Staplegordon outside Langholm], and Wauchope'. Dacre added that he would be happy to continue thus serving his country 'with diligence, from time to time, to the utmost annoyance of the Scots.'

It had been a happier occasion nine years before Flodden when the young James IV came to the county to hold a criminal court. In his case serious business was invariably mixed with jollification. With him in his flamboyant entourage came bards, magicians and musicians including bagpipers. He and his queen lodged with the Cunninghams in Dumfries. 'During his stay, the old Burgh would luxuriate in the radiant atmosphere of the royal presence - dreading neither Border banditti nor Southron marauders so long as it remained' [William McDowall]. James, when he finally left after several weeks, seems to have been well contented with the hospitality: according to the royal accounts, 10 went 'To William Cunnyngham's wif in Drumfreise for the Kingis bele [good] chere'.

Foxy Knoxy at the Nith

The national collapse of Catholicism in the Reformation of the 1560s and its replacement by Protestantism soon had its effect on Dumfriesshire. The privileges attached to the old religious foundations such as the abbey at Holywood and the priory at Canonbie were eroded and the structures of Presbyterianism put in place. In 1562 the leading reformer John Knox himself visited Dumfries to supervise the establishment of the new ministerial arrangements. The ecclesiastical transition, however, was by no means straightforward in Dumfriesshire, complicated as it was by the ambivalence of one of the county's leading families.

Mary Queen of the South

The Maxwells of Terregles - major players throughout the sixteenth century in the wardenship of the Scottish West March (see The Border) - supported Protestantism but also protected Protestantism's greatest obstacle, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots who had returned from France in 1561. Robert, 5th Lord Maxwell (died 1546) had sponsored the parliamentary act which, crucially for the advance of the new religion, allowed the Latin Bible to be translated into the language of the people. His successor John, 4th Lord Herries (the title, acquired through marriage, by which he was better known) inherited these Protestant sympathies and at first was on good terms with Knox, who described him as 'a man stout and wittie' and praised his 'great judgement and experience'. The two men fell out, however, over Herries' active support for Mary in her increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto her crown.

At the fateful Battle of Langside in 1568 Herries was commander of the Queen's cavalry and when Mary had to flee in the wake of defeat it was Herries who looked after her, taking her to the safety of Terregles. While there Mary decided to throw herself upon the mercy of her cousin Elizabeth I of England and it was again Herries who negotiated her reception in England and accompanied her in the fishing-boat that took her across the Solway Firth from Kirkcudbrightshire to Workington. With the Queen in custody, Herries continued as her propagandist, advocating the case for her restoration in Scotland and for Elizabeth helping to 'put my mistress in her awin country, and cause her as Queen thereof, in her authority and strength, to be obeyit.' Herries' dream of a Marian revival ended of course in the dismal reality of Mary's execution in 1587, four years after Herries' own death.

England, with a vested interest in the success of Scotland's Protestant revolution, decided that Dumfriesshire should be punished for its association with the Marian lobby. In 1570 the English march warden Lord Scrope led a raiding-party into the county and comprehensively trashed it. Scrope reported to his masters that he had 'took and cast doun the Castles of Carlaverock, Hoddam, Dumfries, Tinwald, Cowhill, and sundry other gentlemen's houses, dependers on the house of Maxwell, and, having burnt the toun of Dumfries, returned with great spoil into England.'

This was the last of the 'official' English raids across the border. It was not, however, the end of the frontierland carnage. Trouble here was endemic. The landed gentry of Dumfriesshire did not need a foreign enemy to get their dander up: they had, as ever, their own neighbours to pick a fight with (see The Border).

Royal Visit - with a fishy end

Dumfriesshire was on the itinerary in 1617 when, fourteen years after adding I of England to his VI of Scotland, King James obeyed a 'salmon-like instinct' and made a return visit to his native land, the only one of his unified reign. The outward journey was up the east coast to Edinburgh, from where he moved west and headed homeward down Nithsdale. He called in on Sanquhar, where a eulogy was delivered in which the royal guest was compared to Solomon, Julius Caesar, Numa Pompilius [an early king of Rome] and the Athenian statesman Lycurgus.

At the old tower of Drumlanrig, the Earl of Queensberry entertained him for the night, reciting to the royal party his own composition in praise not only of the king but of his own Douglas heritage too. It was written in Latin and later translated into English verse:

Divinely favoured, led by lucky star,
Not for the first time sparkling from afar,
Come to Drumlanrig Castle, gracious King -
Rest thee beneath its broad palatial wing;
A banquet rich enjoy, and grateful sleep,
For here the weary have no cause to weep.

Why ranks this mansion high in storied fame?
'Tis gilded by the glorious Douglas name;
And now new lustre o'er its turrets falls
Since Sovereign Majesty has graced its halls.
This kingly visit leaves a brilliant trace
Which Time's destroying hand will ne'er efface.

Another night was spent at the collegiate church of Lincluden on the outskirts of Dumfries.

It is possible that he paid a visit to the Maxwells of Terregles, whose forebears had been such staunch supporters of his mother Mary Queen of Scots.

On 3 September the king and his entourage entered the county capital. James may have recognised a few faces from his visit of thirty years previously, a less happy occasion than this one (see The Border). From a 'bevy of fair maidens' emerged the wife of the burgh's parliamentary representative to offer the King a gift:

Making due obeisance to his Majesty, she prayed him to accept a broad, massive gold coin, from an Italian mint, as a token of love and welcome from his leal subjects, the ladies of the Burgh. How James demeaned himself is not recorded; but it may easily be supposed that with all his natural warmth, and all the awkward gallantry of which he was capable, he would accept the offering, and tender his grateful thanks in the expressive Doric, which - Latin perhaps excepted - came most readily to his tongue.
[William McDowall]

For his part James presented the town with the Siller [silver] Gun, a trophy to be competed for in an annual display of weaponry skills. The banquet held in the king's honour was less successful. James took strong exception to the serving of vendance, the fish from Lochmaben that was considered to be one of the glories of Dumfriesshire cuisine. James was probably quite relieved to resume the journey south via Bankend, and no doubt not a few of his Dumfries subjects were relieved they no longer had to bite their lips in the royal presence over his hostile attitude to the Church of Scotland: 'If there were present at the banquet any true-blue Presbyterians, who detested the system of chants and surplices, of liturgies and genuflexions, which his Majesty had thrust upon the Kirk, they would be prudently silent on the subject, and allow the praise of royalty to flow round as freely as the wines in which the King's Health was toasted.'
[William McDowall]

The dogmas of war

King James's Episcopalian prejudices were passed onto the son who succeeded him in 1625 as Charles I. Charles was even more stubborn than his father in his efforts to turn the Church of Scotland into the Church of England. When he ordered the English prayer-book to be adopted north of the border in 1637, mass public revulsion led in the following year to the signing of the National Covenant throughout Scotland and nowhere more enthusiastically than in Dumfriesshire. The Covenanters began preparing for war. 30,000 volunteers were enrolled through the War Committee for the south-west. The Covenanter army's new South Regiment was based in Dumfries.

Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale, was the King's chief supporter in Dumfriesshire. He began reinforcing his castle at Caerlaverock near Bankend in preparation for an expected assault. The Covenanter army arrived in the summer of 1640. It was a long-drawn-out affair. The siege began on 29 June and did not end until thirteen weeks later on 26 September when the Earl finally capitulated in return for a safe passage to England. The castle was so badly damaged it was never lived in again.

Charles I's execution by the English Parliamentarians in 1649 did not resolve the religious conflict. The Parliamentarians, with whom in 1643 the Covenanters had agreed a pact known as the Solemn League and Covenant, turned out to be untrustworthy, as did Charles II when he became king in the Restoration of 1660. At first, after the promises Charles had made to the Covenanters during the interregnum, the return of monarchy was welcomed in Dumfriesshire. Even the Presbytery of Dumfries sent him a letter of congratulation. But they soon realised that Charles was a liar, that he had every intention of resuming the royal erosion of the Kirk's independence and freedom to worship in its own way. Soon two-thirds of the ministers in the very same Dumfries Presbytery would be forced out of their jobs, to be replaced by Episcopalian lick-spittles.

The ousted ministers and their congregations moved for their services from kirk buildings to open-air conventicles.

'Parents who had children to be baptized carried them to "the secret places of the hills", or the solitary glens, where the outed ministers were hiding, that the sacred ceremony might be performed in Nature's own temple, a nd according to the simple ritual of the Presbyterian Church.' [William McDowall]

All such activity was declared illegal and government troops under the leadership of Sir James Turner were sent to the south-west to root out the rebels.

Briefly in 1666 the Covenanters successfully counter-attacked. They captured Turner in Dumfries and performed the hilarious spectacle of parading him around the town in his underclothes. This small coup was followed weeks later by catastrophe when they marched into the Pentlands and, along with other contingents of Covenanters, were soundly defeated at the battle of Rullion Green: 50 were killed in action and another 130 captured and hanged.

The conflict escalated into what became known as the 'Killing Times' of the 1680s. The notorious John Graham of Claverhouse ('Bonnie Dundee' to some, to others 'Bloody Clavers') was recruited to lead the government crackdown in the south-west and he entered into his duties with sadistic enthusiasm. Fugitive dissidents tracked down to their hiding-places, far from being arrested and sent for trial, were summarily shot on the spot. There is hardly a kirkyard in the county that does not contain 'martyr' memorials with inscriptions fulminating against the evils of the oppressors.

While Claverhouse was an outsider brought into the county, his chief accomplice in this reign of terror was a local man, Sir Robert Grierson of Lag (the name of the tower-house near Dunscore which he inherited in 1666). Claverhouse and Lag first collaborated in 1679 when they destroyed a refusenik kirk disguised as a byre on the west bank of the Nith at Dumfries. From then on Lag was no lag at matching Claverhouse for cruelty and ruthless contempt. On one occasion in 1685, responding to a captured fugitive's request for a few moments in which to pray for the last time, he reportedly said 'What the devil have you been doing so many years in these hills - have you not prayed enough already?', whereupon the man was shot dead. Long after his death Lag retained close to top billing in the demonology of Covenanter folklore, his name almost a byword for scariness, as in the old tale that when he bathed his gout-ridden feet the water fizzed and boiled. Ironically, in later years Lag became a rebel himself, incurring numerous fines and periods of imprisonment for his support of the Jacobite movement (see below).

Claverhouse and Lag together are reckoned to have presided over a regime of oppression that was responsible for the deaths of 82 Presbyterians in Dumfries and Galloway. Hideous though their actions were, their ferocious devotion to duty was in many ways equalled by the kamikaze fanaticism of the fundamentalist wing of the Covenanter cause.

Moniaive produced in James Renwick (1662-88) the final flowering of Covenanter 'martyrdom'. The son of a weaver, he studied at Edinburgh University and was radicalised by witnessing in the city the execution of the field preacher Donald Cargill. He attached himself to the ultra-purist Cameronian sect, named after Richard Cameron who in 1680 had published the first Sanquhar Declaration. The full title of this document, fixed to the town's market cross, was 'The declaration and testimony of the true presbyterian, anti-prelatic, anti-Erastian, persecuted party of Scotland'. A month later Cameron died in an engagement with government troops and Renwick effectively took over the leadership, dashing around the country delivering sermons, baptizing children (600 in one year alone) and in most cases narrowly evading arrest.

Following in the footsteps of his master, Renwick posted the second Sanquhar Declaration in 1685. His luck ran out in 1688: he was captured in Edinburgh and, aged just 26, was hanged for treason in the Grassmarket. He was virtually the last Covenanter to be put to death for his beliefs. If he had been able to remain at large for just a few months longer, he would have survived thanks to the Toleration Act 1689 that followed the 'glorious revolution' of William and Mary, though for a dogmatist of Renwick's uncompromising ilk the ideological struggle would probably never have ended.

Bewitching times

Another unpleasant consequence of religious fanaticism during the seventeenth century was the sadistic obsession with eliminating dotty females whose eccentricity was interpreted as witchcraft. The persecutors believed that the crackdown had scriptural authority: 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' The Reformation theologian John Calvin had declared that 'God expressly commands that all witches and enchantresses shall be put to death' [nice man].

In 1563 anti-witch legislation had passed through the Scottish parliament. In the 1590s no less than the country's very own monarch, James VI, had expounded the theory of witchcraft in a book called Daemonologie. The witch-busters, with such powerful backing, could torture with impunity. The thumbscrew was a common means of gathering evidence and 'confessions'. 'Witch-pricking' was a gruesome examination of the suspect's body in search of a pain-free zone believed to be the Devil's.

In Dumfriesshire the worst bout of persecution took place in 1659. Of ten women put on trial in the county town, nine were found guilty and sentenced to death. The method of their killing was particularly repellent. They were all tied to stakes on the Whitesands, strangled and then burned. William McDowall is quite indignant in his emotional description of what he imagines the scene of execution to have been like, culminating in 'the awful close of all, when, as the clock strikes four, the crowd, which had "supped full of horrors", can see nothing where the nine poor martyrs to superstition stood, save a morsel of blackened bones and a heap of bloody dust, which the grimy hangmen, like so many scavengers of death, are sweeping up and preparing to carry out of sight.' The executioners were rewarded with alcohol.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the barbarous treatment of women stigmatised by their weirdness was still current. However, the trial at Dumfries in 1709 of Elspeth Rule was the last that would take place in the county before the anti-witchcraft law was repealed in 1736. Found guilty of having 'used threatening expressions towards persons at enmity with her, who, in consequence of such menace, suffered from the death of friends or the loss of cattle, while one of them became mad', she was punished by being banished for life. But before her expulsion she was ordered by the judge to be burned on the cheek with a hot iron. According to McDowall, this part of the sentence was 'carried out with such merciless effect, that persons living in 1790 have been told by their parents that the smoke caused by the torturing process was seen issuing out of the mouth of the unhappy woman.'

Drumlanrig's 'Union Duke'

It was a Dumfriesshire man - James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, of Drumlanrig near Carronbridge - who took the lead in pushing through the treaty of 1707 that abolished the separate Scottish parliament and completed the process of Scotland-England unification that had begun a century earlier with the Union of the Crowns. Queensberry was Queen Anne's personal representative at the Edinburgh negotiations and his fingerprints were no doubt upon the bribes required to secure a pro-Union majority. The year after he delivered what the Queen wanted he was richly rewarded with not only a pension but also an extra British title, the dukedom of Dover.

Another Dumfriesshire man had been working behind the scenes to the same end: the banking wheeler-dealer William Paterson (see Fame and Fortune).

The pro-Union enthusiasm of these well-placed men was not shared in general by the common people of the county. Towards the end of 1706, while talks were continuing in the capital, a band of protestors marched into Dumfries, picking up more and more supporters along the way:

Near noonday this formidable band - made up partly of resolute, high-minded, well-organised men, and partly of the Burgh mob - appeared menacingly in High Street, and, making their way to the Cross unopposed by the authorities, many of whom sympathised with them, they in a calm deliberate manner proceeded with their work; and so exciting was it, that every other sort of work was abandoned in the town, even the great enterprise of the Steeple [the Midsteeple in Dumfries was then under construction] making no further progress on that eventful day.
[William McDowall]

A bonfire was lit ('workmen at the adjoining building contributing, we may be sure, odd bits of the Garlieswood timber to swell the rising blaze') and onto it was thrown a copy of the proposed treaty of union. The ringleaders had prepared a statement of their own:

.if the subscribers of the foresaid Treaty and Union, with their associates in Parliament, shall presume to carry on the said Union by a supream power, over the belly of the generality of this nation, then and in that case, as we judge that the consent of the generality of the same can only divest them of their sacred and civil liberties, purchased and maintained by our ancestors with their blood, so we protest, whatever ratification of the foresaid Union may pass in Parliament, contrar to our fundamental laws, liberties and privileges concerning Church and State, may not be binding upon the nation, now nor at any time to come.

Exaggerated reports of the Dumfries incident reached Edinburgh and Parliament was so alarmed as to pass a proclamation 'against all tumultuary and irregular meetings and convocations of the lieges'. The popular ill-feeling subsided, however, and the people of Dumfriesshire learned to live with the new constitutional arrangements voted through by, in the words of Burns, 'such a parcel of rogues in a nation'.

The Provost of Dumfries, who sat in that final Parliament, proudly voted against the measure and ordered a special inscription for his gravestone in St Michael's kirkyard: Scoticae libertatis assertor, Unioni fortiter opposuit ['he asserted the liberties of Scotland and opposed the union'].

Tax avoidance

Though post-Union trade was to a certain extent liberated, there were on the other hand extra new taxes on imported goods. The county had a straightforward solution to the increased excise burden: they avoided the taxes by dealing with smugglers. The shores of Annan, Ruthwell and Caerlaverock were well suited for the clandestine reception of contraband arriving via the Isle of Man. Revenue men snooping around the coast were liable to boisterous resistance from the locals, not least by the women. In 1711 at Glenhowan near the coast of Caerlaverock a parish constable and an official called Young were returning to base with some seized tobacco.

.when a "multitude of women" pounced, vulture-like, upon the captors. The wrathful amazons first dispossessed the constable of the pack which he carried; and whilst they were running away with it, Young, leaving the trusses to the care of his companion, foolishly set off in pursuit. The consequences may be readily guessed at. He might as well have sought to make a troop of wolves give up their prey, as these Glenhowan termagants surrender theirs. The bold, rash man of the revenue was soundly beaten by them, and lodged as a captive in the smuggler's stronghold, Hidwood House, till they had secured the whole of the tobacco; after which, sore in mind as well as in body, he was set at liberty. On reporting himself at head-quarters, he was sent back to the scene with a force of ten men.lo! another "monstrous regiment of women", armed with clubs and pitchforks, waylaid the party.
[William McDowall]

Towards the end of the century smuggling was still taking place along the coast of Dumfriesshire, as we know from the Annan experiences of the most famous Scottish excise officer of all time, Robert Burns.

Ye Jacobites by name

Strongly Presbyterian Dumfriesshire had no time for the two attempts, in 1715 and 1745, to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the British throne. Of the local gentry only Viscount Kenmure of Kirkcudbrightshire and William Maxwell, 5th Earl of Nithsdale joined the 1715 uprising but their efforts to raise an army in support of the 'Old Pretender' James were almost farcical. When they assembled in Moffat with a view to an assault on Dumfries, there were only 152 of them and the county town, believing the threat to be worse than it was and that an attack was imminent, was in a full state of armed alert:

...the town-crier proceeded through the principal streets at eleven o'clock that night, and warned in the usual way such burgesses and residents as possessed horses, to appear mounted and with their best arms at next beat of drum. All that night through, great excitement prevailed; few of the inhabitants closed their eyes; the windows looking into the leading thoroughfares were illuminated, for the double purpose of supplying light for the warlike muster, and affording a greater sense of security; and when, about an hour after midnight, the roll of the drum again reverberated through the town, followed by the neighing of steeds, by the ring of their hoofs upon the pavement, as they hastened to the Market Cross, by the jangling of arms, and the less discordant calls of the bugle, those of the lieges who did not know precisely how matters stood might be excused for believing that the dreaded enemy, favoured by the darkness, had really stolen a hurried march upon the town. [William McDowall]

Kenmure's rag-tag contingent never came but instead joined up with the main force heading over the border into England. They were crushed at Preston in Lancashire and both Kenmure and Nithsdale were taken to the Tower of London. Kenmure was executed but Nithsdale was sprung from his cell on the eve of his own hanging in an audacious escape plan orchestrated by his formidable wife Winifred. He walked out of the Tower dressed as a maid. The couple took refuge in the Venetian embassy before making their way to Dover, the Earl dressed this time in the ambassador's official garments. The couple arrived safely in Calais and never saw Scotland again, spending the rest of their days serving the Jacobite court-in-exile.

There was even less support in Dumfriesshire for the second and final Jacobite rising in 1745 but this time the rebels under Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', did enter the county town for a few days of mayhem and merriment. 'They were most rude in the town - pillaged some shops and pulled shoes off gentlemen's feet in the streets,' wrote a kirk minister in his diary. The occupiers took the Provost as a hostage and 'fined' the town 2000 and 1000 pairs of boots. After a couple of days of passing the hat round, the baillies of the town presented Charlie with 1195 and 255 pairs of boots.

The Jacobites did not hang about to argue. Hearing rumours that the Duke of Cumberland and his men were hotfooting it to Dumfries, they fled north. McDowall writes of the townsfolk: 'They had suffered much from the Pretender's visit - were delighted at the idea of being relieved of it soon; and, when he did disappear, they never thought of singing the Jacobite strain, "Will ye no come back again?"' The Duke did eventually catch up with them and that was the famous Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which Scotland heard no more of Stuart revivalism and Dumfries got down to replenishing its stock of boots.

The only local laird to join the '45 rebellion and fight at Culloden was William Maxwell of Kirkconnel House on the west bank of the Nith facing Glencaple. In the wake of the Invernesshire defeat, he escaped to France and spent his exile there writing his Narrative of Charles Prince of Wales' Expedition to Scotland, still an important source for historians of the Jacobite movement. He was allowed to return home in 1750 and in 1755 inherited from his mother the Carnsalloch estate at Kirkton.

Disease and dirty water

A massive outbreak of cholera reached Britain from India in 1831 and, as it rapidly spread through the country, the people of Dumfriesshire braced themselves for the inevitable arrival of the disease. The overcrowded and insanitary condition of its tightly packed closes made Dumfries much more vulnerable than the open countryside. The story of cholera's eventual arrival in the town in September 1832 and of its horrific effect on the population is a dramatic theme well suited to the vivid narrative style of the town's epic historian William McDowall. The town water supplies had for long been badly contaminated. In summer the water 'acquired a taste-me-not repulsiveness by the presence of innumerable little objects, pleasant to no one save an enthusiast in entomology.' In preparation the poorer houses were scrubbed with hot lime and their inhabitants fed from special soup kitchens in the expectation of strengthening their resistance to infection.

The disease hit Carlisle in the July. Its first victims in south-west Scotland were two who died at Tongland in Kirkcudbrightshire. At last 'after lingering some weeks about the district, doing little harm, but gathering increased power and venom, the fell destroyer burst upon Dumfries.' The first casualty, on 15 September, was an elderly widow in English Street and after that the daily death toll rose steadily until by the end of the month it was in double figures. The annual Rood Fair and the Riding of the Marches were cancelled and St Michael's kirk was shunned for fear of infection from the graves. An emergency hospital had to be set up because the infirmary refused to accept cholera cases. Two doctors died from the disease they were treating. 'At first the humbler classes suffered most severely: eventually it mattered little whether people sojourned in narrow, noisome courts, or in spacious squares - in the vilest rookeries of the Vennel, or in the stately mansions of Buccleuch Street: all places were freely visited, and no respect of persons was paid.'

The worst single day was 2 October when there were 55 new cases and 44 deaths. The fatalities came to an end on 29 October. The final official number of deaths in Dumfries was put at 421; in the neighbouring burgh of Maxwelltown (then still in Kirkcudbrightshire) the figure was 127. Other estimates have put the actual grand total at almost 700. The gravediggers at St Michael's worked flat out for weeks piling the coffins tier upon tier into a vast communal pit.

Nothing was immediately done about the town's dodgy water supply. It took another cholera outbreak, in 1848, with another 431 deaths, finally to galvanise the authorities into action. In 1861 work began on the laying of a pipe system from Lochrutton Loch in Kirkcudbrightshire and later that year 'the first instalment of the pure Lochrutton fluid emerged sparkling from the pipes, in presence of a delighted throng.' The installation of a fountain in High Street capped the town's celebration of this major advance in civilised living.

Trains and tragedy

The town authorities at Annan and Dumfries had only just brought their harbours up to date in the early decades of the nineteenth century when along came the railways as a rival form of transport.

The development of the county's rail system began in the 1840s. The Caledonian Railway between Carlisle and Glasgow opened in 1847 and, passing through Annandale, it had stops at Gretna, Quintinshill, Kirkpatrick Fleming, Kirtlebridge, Ecclefechan, Lockerbie, Nethercleugh, Dinwoodie, Wamphray and Beattock. The gradient rising to Beattock Summit was notoriously challenging.

In 1850, thanks to the Glasgow, Dumfries & Carlisle Railway, the county town was joined up to the network. This was (and, happily, still is) an alternative north-westerly route to Glasgow via Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. Along the Solway coastal plain there were originally stations at Gretna, Rigg, Dornock, Annan, Cummertrees, Ruthwell and Racks, while up the Nith valley the export of farm produce and coal suddenly became easier with stops at Holywood, Auldgirth, Closeburn, Thornhill, Carronbridge, Sanquhar and Kirkconnel.

In the 1860s Dumfries was connected in two more directions. The Castle Douglas & Dumfries Railway, followed by the Portpatrick Railway, gave the town easy access across Galloway to the Irish ferries operating from the west coast of Wigtownshire. Opened in 1863, the Dumfries, Lochmaben & Lockerbie Railway, as well as linking those towns, had intermediate stops at Locharbriggs, Amisfield and Shieldhill.

Meanwhile, Gretna got a second station for an odd little branch linking at Longtown in Cumberland with the Border Union Railway between Carlisle and Edinburgh. Remoter parts of the county clamoured to be connected too. In 1864 the Muckle Toon, Canonbie and Gilnockie got their own wee single-track Langholm Branch on the Border Union Railway. Similar add-ons to the Caledonian Railway created in 1883 the even wee-er Moffat Railway to stimulate the spa trade, and in 1902 the Leadhills & Wanlockhead Branch, principally for the movement of mining products.

Only the two Carlisle to Glasgow lines survived the brutal rationalisation begun in the 1960s and even they have lost many of their smaller stations.

The most spectacular rail development affecting Dumfriesshire was the Solway Junction Railway across the firth between Scotland and England. Opened in 1869, its primary purpose was to carry iron ore from west Cumberland direct to the smelters of Lanarkshire. The landward section in England stretched thirteen miles to Bowness on the southern Solway coast. The section on Scottish land began at Seafield below Annan, passed through the town and ended six miles to the north where it joined the Caledonian mainline at Kirtlebridge. Seafield and Bowness were linked by an iron viaduct constructed on embankments laid across the water where once there had been a ford. A passenger service was introduced in 1870. This was especially handy for Annan's drinkers wanting to take advantage of England's less restrictive licensing laws governing the Sabbath.

In the severe winter of 1880-1 the viaduct was badly damaged when ice-floes released by a thaw were smashed against the cast-iron pillars by the fast-flowing Solway tide. It was repaired and re-opened in 1884. During World War 1 it was of major strategic importance. The line was closed in 1921, however, following an inspectors' report stating that the viaduct was unsafe, though when demolition began in 1934 the structure was found to have been so well constructed that parts of it could be removed only by blasting and the whole operation took 19 months. Three demolition workers lost their lives through drowning.

The last railway to be opened in Dumfriesshire was the Cairn Valley Light Railway between Dumfries and Moniaive. It branched off the Glasgow, Dumfries & Carlisle Railway just south of Holywood. The campaign for such a link had gone on for well over forty years before parliamentary approval was finally granted in 1899. A mainly Irish workforce of 200, rising to 400, was accommodated along the line of the route in wooden shacks. The Scottish Navvy Mission appointed an on-site representative, who described the range of his duties: 'There is preaching the Gospel to all, personal dealing, ambulance work, letter-writing, mending clothes, hair-cutting, & co: in fact anything to help the men, influence them for good, and win them for Christ.' On one occasion 'a number of the men, I regret to say, were under the influence of strong drink.'

The line was officially opened in March 1905, with stops at Irongray, Newtonairds, Stepford, Dunscore, Crossford and Kirkland. There were three trains per day in each direction, with an extra one on Wednesdays for the Dumfries market and on Saturdays for the Dumfries cinema. The last train back on a Saturday night could be eventful, according to the line's historian Ian Kirkpatrick: 'The non-corridor train had no toilets, which often caused delays in the small intermediate stations while those young men who had enjoyed a few 'refreshments' in the town's public houses jumped off to make their own arrangements. At times the train was obligingly backed-up to retrieve any wayward souls who had forgotten to get back on!'

In 1943 the passenger service was suspended until at least the end of the Second World War but in fact it was never re-instated. The loss of an important contract with the Morrington Quarry near Stepford undermined the goods side of the business and it too came to an end in 1949. The Cairn Valley Light Railway had lasted not much longer than the campaign to get it in the first place.

Dumfriesshire was the scene of Britain's worst-ever rail disaster. It happened on 22 May 1915 at Quintinshill to the north of Gretna. 227 people died and another 246 were injured. Most of them were young Royal Scots volunteers on their way from Larbert in Stirlingshire to Liverpool, where a ship was waiting to take them to the First World War battlefields of Gallipoli.

The cause of the accident, involving three trains, was straightforward enough: the signalmen just forgot about one of the trains. A local train ought to have been diverted onto a loop to allow the southbound troop train to pass through. Instead the local remained on the main line and, on a descent at 70 mph, the troop train crashed straight into it. The impact was so great that the bigger train was squashed to well under half its normal length.

The catastrophe was not over yet. A minute or so later a northbound express from London Euston smashed into the debris of the other two. Then the gas used to light the carriages exploded into flames and many of the casualties were burned alive. It is said that a military officer went round shooting men to spare them the agony of dying in the flames.

One of the first helpers to arrive on the scene was the writer and educationalist A S Neill (see Other Literary Figures), then teaching at Gretna:

Men were lying dead or dying; one soldier with both legs torn off asked me for a cigarette, and he grinned as I lit it for him. 'May as well lose them here as in France,' he said lightly.
He died before the cigarette was half smoked.

A correspondent for the Times newspaper wrote:

Never was the spirit of the Scottish soldier more tragically displayed. Men groaned with pain, and yet they wore the smile of valour on their faces. Many of them met death - an agonising death - without a qualm. It was as if they shrugged their shoulders at their fate, but they had no thought of bitterness. A dying soldier was heard to exclaim, "If it had only been a fecht."

Later in the morning of the accident the battalion held a roll-call in a nearby field. Only sixty-four soldiers were there. They resumed their journey to Liverpool but were in such a state of shock that most of them were sent back home, thus avoiding the carnage of Gallipoli as they had done that of Quintinshill.

The whole ghastly scene had unfolded in full view of the Quintinshill signal-box. The two men on duty, George Meakin and John Tinsley, must have realised immediately what had gone wrong and that they were to blame for it. Meakin's night-shift had ended at 6.00am and Tinsley should have relieved him. But to make travelling to work easier for Tinsley, the two men had a private arrangement that Meakin would cover for his colleague until 6.30am. Meakin would take notes on the passing traffic during that half-hour and Tinsley, as soon as he arrived, would transcribe them into the official register in his own handwriting. Absorption in this paperwork was what made them completely forget about the local train being in the wrong place.

Meakin and Tinsley were charged with neglect of duty and sent to prison. A S Neill knew one of them: 'I had his sons in school, and liked them, as well as their father. To me, imprisoning him was only one of the many signs of barbarity in our legal code.' The two men were released early, however, partly on the grounds of their previously unblemished records and partly because it was felt that the mental torture they would experience for the rest of their days was punishment enough.


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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