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Borrowstounness, Linlithgowshire

Historical Description

BORROWSTOUNNESS, a sea-port town, burgh of barony, and parish, in the county of LINLITHGOW, 3 miles (N.) from Linlithgow, containing, with the villages of Borrowstoun and Newton, 2347 inhabitants, of whom 1790 are in the town. This place appears to have originated in the erection of some buildings on a ness, or a point of land, boldly projecting into the Firth of Forth, about three-quarters of a mile to the north of the small village of Burwardstown, or Borrowstoun; from which circumstance it derived its name, Borrowstounness, or, by contraction, Bo'ness, In 1600, there was only one solitary house on the site of the present town, while the ancient town of Kinneil, which had grown up near the baronial castle of Kinneil, contained more than 500 inhabitants; but the advantageous situation of the ness, and the abundance of coal in the immediate vicinity, soon attracted shipping to its port; and the prosperous state of trade about the commencement of the seventeenth century, induced many rich merchants and ship-owners to settle in the town, which from that time rapidly advanced. In 1634, the increase of its population, and the distance of the parish church of Kinneil, situated near the baronial mansion, induced the inhabitants to erect a church for themselves, in which the minister of Kinneil continued to officiate alternately, for their accommodation, till the year 1649, when, on their petition to parliament, the town of Borrowstounness, with its environs, was separated from the parish of Kinneil, and erected into an independent parish. In 1669, the Duke of Hamilton obtained from the Scottish parliament an act declaring the church of this town the parish church of the whole barony of Kinneil and Borrowstounness, since which time the two have been consolidated into one parish. The place continued to increase in prosperity, and, from the superiority of its situation for trade, to withdraw the population from Kinneil, which in 1691 contained only a few families, and now has wholly disappeared: in 1748 the town upon the ness was erected into a burgh of barony, under the Duke of Hamilton. Kinneil was the head of the barony of that name, granted by Robert Bruce to the ancestor of the Dukes of Hamilton, in acknowledgment of his services on the field of Bannockburn.

The TOWN is situated in the north-eastern extremity of the parish, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, and consists principally of narrow streets, of houses of ancient and irregular appearance. It was formerly one of the most thriving towns on the eastern coast, ranking, prior to 1780, as the third sea-port in Scotland; and though the opening of the Forth and Clyde canal, and the establishment of the port of Grangemouth, have contributed much to diminish its commerce, it is still far from being inconsiderable. The female population were once employed in tambour-work to a very large extent, and many females are yet engaged in that pursuit. A pottery was established in 1784, and has since that time been greatly increased. There is an extensive foundry, and chemical works are carried on upon a large scale, A distillery is in full operation, paying weekly to government more than £300 for duties. There are several large malting establishments; and at the east end of the town, and on the links, are a rope-walk and extensive wood-yards, connected with which is a saw-mill worked by steam, the engine of which is also employed in the preparation of bone-dust for manure.

The chief trade of the port is in grain, for which the merchants have extensive granaries, capable of warehousing 15,000 quarters; a considerable trade is also carried on in the exportation of salt, coal, ironstone, and earthenware: the imports are principally timber, iron, flax, grain, bark, and madder. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port, in a late year, was 101, of the aggregate burthen of 6521 tons; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-home was £4824. The harbour, which has been greatly improved, under the superintendence of fifteen trustees, chosen from the merchants and ship-owners, is one of the safest and most accessible on this part of the coast, and is formed by two piers, extending 568 feet into the Firth. It is 240 feet wide, and at spring tides has an average depth of from sixteen to eighteen feet. Between the piers a broad wall has been constructed, cutting off, towards the land, a basin, which is filled with water by the tide, and at low water emptied by sluices, by which means the harbour is cleansed and deepened; and on the west side of the basin is a patent-slip, to which vessels are admitted for repair. There were once eight ships belonging to the place employed in the whale-fishery, but that trade has for some years been decreasing, and at present only one vessel is engaged in it; there are two boiling-houses for extracting the oil, one of which has been lately much improved. The Stirling steamers touch here on their passage to and from Edinburgh. A branch from the town to the Forth and Clyde canal was commenced by a subscription of £10,000, raised under an act of parliament, in 1782, and an aqueduct across the Avon was constructed for that purpose; but the work was abandoned after an outlay of £7500, before it was half completed, and has not since been resumed. In 1846 a railway act was passed for the purpose of connecting Borrowstounness with the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway and the Slamannan railway. A market is held weekly on Monday, and a fair annually on the 16th of November; a pleasure fair is also held, in July. The burgh is governed by a baron-bailie, appointed by the Duke of Hamilton as superior: a building erected by one of the dukes, for a court-house and prison, is now occupied chiefly as a granary; it is situated at the head of the harbour, and forms a conspicuous object.

The PARISH is bounded on the north by the Firth of Forth, and on the south and west by the river Avon. It is of triangular form, about four miles in length from east to west, and two miles in breadth, comprising about 3000 acres, of which 210 are woodland and plantations, and the remainder arable in the highest state of cultivation, of which 430 acres are esteemed to be the richest carse land in the country. The surface, with the exception of the carse, is much varied, rising towards the south-eastern extremity of the parish, to a height of 520 feet above the level of the sea. From this eminence, which is called the Hill of Irongath, the ground slopes gradually to the south and west, and is embellished with stately timber and strips of planting, to the wooded banks of the Avon. This river, from its numerous windings at the west end of the parish, forms an interesting feature in the scenery, from many points of view, and the Dean and Gil burns, flowing through romantic dells near Kinneil House, add greatly to its beauty. The soil is mostly fertile, and the chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans, and the usual green crops: the system of agriculture is good; draining has been practised to a considerable extent, and all the more recent improvements in husbandry have been generally adopted. The annual value of real property in the parish is £8369. The substratum is of the coal formation, with very little variety: the coal occurs in seams of great thickness, and is of excellent quality; ironstone is likewise found, and very extensive iron-works have been erected within the last few years. There are some quarries of good freestone, and also of whinstone and limestone, but the limestone is of inferior quality, and more used for building than for agricultural purposes. Kinneil House, one of the seats of the Duke of Hamilton, is an ancient mansion, beautifully situated on the brow of a steep bank, commanding a fine view of the Firth, and has undergone various changes at different times. The ancient castle has been modernised by a new front, and the battlements replaced by a balustrade; the original windows have been enlarged, and a wing projecting at right angles from the northern extremity has been added: a corresponding wing on the south was probably contemplated, the whole to form three sides of a quadrangle. The approach is by a stately avenue of venerable trees, and the ample and richly-varied demesne by which the mansion is surrounded abounds with beautifully picturesque scenery. The numerous apartments of this once princely house are now unoccupied; and among the tenants who have resided in it, since it was deserted by its noble proprietors, have been the celebrated Dugald Stewart, and James Watt, the improver of the steam-engine.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Linlithgow, synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, patron, the Duke of Hamilton: the minister's stipend is about £270, partly arising from lands bequeathed for that purpose; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £21 per annum. The church, nearly rebuilt in 1775, and enlarged in 1820, is a neat plain structure containing 950 sittings. There are still some remains of the ancient church of Kinneil, near Kinneil House. A place of worship is maintained in connexion with the United Presbyterian Synod. The parochial school is attended by about fifty children; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 1., with a house and garden, and the fees average about £40 per annum. A parochial library, in which is a collection of about 1250 volumes, is supported by subscription. In various parts of the parish are traces of the wall of Antoninus, which is supposed to have extended originally to Kinneil, and afterwards to Carriden. Near the farm of Upper Kinneil was a cairn called the Laughing Hill, in which were found four stone coffins containing black mould, and four urns, in an inverted position, containing human bones. A similar coffin and urn were found in the side of an eminence called Bell's Know, immediately above the town of Borrowstounness. Below Kinneil House, upon the coast, and near the lands called the Snab, was the castle of Lyon, of which some remains of the garden wall, and a path leading from it to the shore, called the Castle-Loan, are the only memorials.

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