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Abercorn, Linlithgowshire

Historical Description

ABERCORN, a parish, in the county of LINLITHGOW, 5½ miles (E. by N.) from Linlithgow; containing, with the villages of Newtown and Philipstown, about 950 inhabitants. This place, which derives its name from its situation at the influx of the small river Cornie into the Firth of Forth, is of very remote origin. Its ancient castle occupied the site of a Roman station between the wall of Antonine and the port of Cramond on the Firth, in the harbour of which the Romans moored their ships. A monastery appears to have been founded here at a very early period by the Culdees, which, in the seventh century, became the seat of a bishopric; but after the death of Egfrid, King of Northumbria, who, in 696, was killed in a battle with the northern Picts, the bishop who then presided over the see, not thinking the establishment sufficiently secure, removed it to a place less exposed to danger. Of this monastery, which is supposed to have occupied a site near the present parish church, there are not the slightest vestiges remaining; and its only memorial is preserved in the names Priestinch, Priest's Folly, and others, by which some lands in the parish that most probably appertained to it, are still distinguished. The castle, and the lands belonging to it, in the twelfth century were the property of the Avenale family, from whom they passed by marriage to the Grahams; and in 1298 they were held by Sir John Graham, the friend and firm adherent of Sir William Wallace, under whose banner, fighting for the independence of his country, against Edward I. of England, he fell in the battle of Falkirk. Abercorn subsequently became the property of the Douglas family, and on the rebellion of the Earl of Douglas, the castle, which was one of the strongholds of his party, was besieged by James II., and taken by storm on the 8th of April, 1455, when the earl's retainers were put to death, and the fortifications demolished. Eventually the castle became a complete ruin, and every vestige of it has long since disappeared: the site, however, is still apparent, being marked by a grassy mound on which several cedars of Lebanon now grow. The lands were afterwards granted by the crown to Claude Hamilton, third son of the Earl of Arran, and the first Viscount Paisley, by whose devoted attachment to the fortunes of Mary, Queen of Scots, they became forfeited; but they were subsequently restored by James VI. to his son, whom, in 1606, that monarch created Earl of Abercorn. From this family, the estate passed successively to the Muirs, the Lindsays, and the Setons; and in 1678, the lands, which had been greatly diminished in extent, but to which was still attached the sheriffdom of the county, were sold by Sir Walter Seton to Sir John Hope, ancestor of the Earls of Hopetoun. The office of sheriff was separated from the estate about the middle of the eighteenth century.

The PARISH is situated on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, and comprises about 4500 acres, of which 3700 are arable, meadow, and pasture, 670 woodland and plantations, and the remainder roads and waste. Its surface is pleasingly undulated, and rises in two points into hills of inconsiderable eminence, of which the highest, Binns, has an elevation of about 350 feet, and Priestinch of nearly 100 feet. The former of these, at the western extremity of the parish, ascending gradually from the shore of the Firth, is arable to the very summit, and commands an interesting and extensive view; and the latter, on the south border of the parish, is a precipitous rock of trapstone, of elliptical form, on the flat summit of which are some remains of an ancient fortification. The shore, extending for about four miles, is beautifully diversified with bays, headlands, and undulating banks, enriched with plantations to the water's edge, and occasionally interspersed with verdant patches of sloping meadow-land. The only rivers are, the Nethermill burn, and the Cornie, a still smaller stream, both which, uniting near the church, flow into the Firth; and the Blackness and Linnmill burns, of which the former separates the parish from that of Carriden, and the latter from the parish of Dalmeny. In general the soil is a clayey loam, producing grain of all kinds of good quality, with potatoes and turnips; the pastures are rich, and the meadows yield abundant crops of hay. Considerable attention has been paid to the rearing of cattle, in which much benefit has been effected by the introduction of the Teeswater breed; and all the recent improvements in husbandry, and in the construction of agricultural implements, have been generally adopted. The plantations, which are extensive, and carefully managed by regular thinning and pruning, consist mostly of beech, elm, oak, sycamore, lime, and chesnut, with larch, Scotch, silver, and spruce firs, of all of which many beautiful specimens are to be found. There are quarries of valuable freestone in various parts of the parish, which have been wrought for many generations, the stone varying, in colour from a light cream to a dark grey; and in the hill of Priestinch is a quarry of trap, affording excellent materials for the roads. Limestone is also abundant, and of very pure quality, better adapted for agricultural purposes than for building; it occurs in beds ten feet in thickness, generally at a depth varying from fifteen to twenty-five feet below the surface. There is likewise a small mine of coal near Priestinch, of moderate quality, in working which about twenty persons are employed. The annual value of real property in the parish is £8009.

Hopetoun House, the seat of the Earl of Hopetoun, originally commenced after a design by Sir William Bruce, in 1696, and completed under the superintendence of Mr. Adam, is a spacious and handsome mansion, consisting of a centre connected by colonnades of graceful curvature, with boldly projecting wings, terminating in octagonal turrets crowned with domes. Being seated on a splendid terrace overlooking the Firth, it forms a truly magnificent feature as seen from the water. It contains numerous stately apartments, decorated with costly splendour; the library contains an extensive and well assorted collection of scarce and valuable books and manuscripts, with numerous illuminated missals and other conventual antiquities, and the picture-gallery is rich in specimens of the ancient masters of the Flemish and Italian schools. The grounds are tastefully laid out, embellished with plantations; and the walks along the heights overlooking the Firth command diversified prospects: the eastern approach to the mansion is through a level esplanade, and the western under a stately avenue of elms. His Majesty George IV. visited General the Earl of Hopetoun at this seat, on the day of his return from Scotland, in 1822, and, after partaking of the earl's hospitality, embarked at Port-Edgar, for London. Binns House is an ancient castellated mansion, beautifully situated on the western slope of the hill of the same name, and surrounded with a park containing much picturesque and romantic scenery; the grounds are pleasingly embellished with plantations, interspersed with lawns and walks, and on the summit of the hill is a lofty circular tower forming a conspicuous landmark. Duddingston House is a modern mansion in the castellated style, situated on an eminence in the south-east of the parish, and commanding an extensive view. Midhope House, formerly a seat of the Earls of Linlithgow, is an ancient mansion still in tolerable preservation, and now occupied in tenements, to which an old staircase of massive oak affords access; the building consists of a square embattled tower with angular turrets, and above the entrance is a coronet, with the letters J. L.

The inhabitants are chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits, and in the quarries and mines. About thirty persons are employed in a salmon-fishery at the mouth of the Linnmill burn, where several stake-nets are placed. The quantity of fish taken was formerly very considerable, but has, within the last few years, very much diminished; the lessee of the fishery pays a rent of £60 per annum, and the whole produce is estimated at about £200. Facility of communication is afforded by the turnpike-road from Queensferry to Linlithgow; the Union canal intersects the southern portion of the parish, and the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, which pursues a direction parallel with the canal, frequently approaches within a few yards of its line. At Society, in the parish, is a small bay, where vessels with coal land their cargoes on the beach, and occasionally take back lime. There are two corn-mills propelled by water, and a saw-mill has been built on the Nethermill burn.

Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Linlithgow and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. The minister's stipend is £188. 15. 2., with a manse, and the glebe is valued at £16 per annum; patron, the Earl of Hopetoun. Abercorn church, a very ancient building, was enlarged at the time of the Reformation; it is an irregular building, but in 1838 was thoroughly repaired, previously affording very indifferent accommodation. There is a place of worship for members of the Free Church. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average about £40 per annum. A parochial library was established in 1833, but it was superseded in 1844 by a parish church library, which contains upwards of 300 volumes.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


Online maps of Abercorn are available from a number of sites:

CountyWest Lothian
Postal districtEH30
Post TownSouth Queensferry