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Bowden, Roxburghshire

Historical Description

BOWDEN, a parish, in the district of Melrose, county of Roxburgh, 3 miles (S. by E.) from Melrose, containing, with the villages of Bowden and Midlem, 857 inhabitants, of whom 253 are in the village of Bowden. This parish, in ancient records, is called Bothenden, Botheldene, and Boulden. Early in the twelfth century it was granted to the abbey of Selkirk, by a charter of David I., in which it is designated by the first of these names; and in subsequent charters, confirming that grant, bestowed by Malcolm IV. in 1159, and by Walter, Bishop of Glasgow, in 1232, it is mentioned by the latter appellations, probably corruptions of the former. The monks had a grange at Holydean, in this parish, which in the sixteenth century was given by royal charter to Sir Walter Ker of Cessford, ancestor of the Dukes of Roxburghe, as a reward for his services during the border warfare. A strong fortress was erected by the proprietor on the lands of Holydean, which was occasionally the residence of the family; but at present very little is remaining, the greater portion having been removed during the minority of John, the third duke, by his grace's agent, to furnish materials for the erection of a large farm-house and offices. The court-yard, comprising an area of nearly an acre, was inclosed with walls of stone, four feet in thickness and sixteen feet high, pierced at intervals for the discharge of arrows and musketry, and having an arched gateway defended with a strong portcullis. Within the inclosure were two strong towers, the one three, and the other five, stories high, containing many spacious apartments, and every requisite for a baronial residence. Part of the wall on the south side is remaining, but greatly dilapidated; and near it is the ancient well of the castle, which affords a supply of excellent water to the family living at the farm-house. About 500 acres of the farm of Holydean are inclosed with a wall of loose stones, which has stood for more than three centuries, and is still in good condition; this inclosure is called in an old lease the "Great Deer Park of Haliedean".

The parish is situated on the river Ale, by which it is bounded on the south, and is about five miles and a half in length, and four and a half in breadth, comprising above 6000 acres, of which 3460 are arable, 2531 meadow and pasture, 260 woodland and plantations, and 30 acres garden and orchards. Its surface is broken by a series of parallel ridges, extending from east to west, and declining in height towards the south, between which are fertile valleys of various breadth, watered by rivulets flowing eastward into the Tweed; and towards the south-west are some smaller streams, that fall into the river Ale. One of the Eildon hills, and part of another, rising in three conical summits, to the height of 900 feet above the general level, and about 1360 above that of the sea, are within the limits of the parish, and form conspicuous objects in the landscape. The scenery is pleasingly enriched with plantations of modern growth, and the several demesnes of the chief proprietors contain many trees of lofty and venerable appearance. In the ancient deer-park of the Duke of Roxburghe is some fine timber; at Holydean is a wood forming the only remains of natural forest in this neighbourhood, and around the churchyard are some of the largest sycamores and ash-trees in the country.

Towards the north and west, the soil is a stiff clay of considerable depth; in the southern part, especially on the ridges, lighter and more friable; and in the valleys, a rich deep loam. The substratum is generally whinstone; and in some parts are considerable tracts of moss, below which shell marl is found, resting on a layer of fine blue clay. The system of agriculture is highly improved, and the crops are favourable; lime, marl, bone-dust, and guano are the principal manures. The lands are all inclosed and subdivided: most of the fences are thorn-hedges, with hedge-row trees, Considerable improvements have been made in draining, and in the breed of sheep and cattle, of which great numbers are fed: the sheep are mostly of the Leicester and the Cheviot kinds, and occasionally a cross between them, which is on the increase; the cattle are chiefly of the short-horned breed. Numbers of small Highland cattle are pastured here during the winter, and fattened in the summer and sold to the butchers. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4963. Among the seats is Kippilaw, a handsome mansion, pleasantly situated in a demesne embellished with timber of luxuriant growth; Cavers and Linthill are also pleasant, and on the north bank of the Ale, to which the lawns in front have a gentle slope. The village contains little that is remarkable, except an ancient cross in the centre, the date of which is unknown: there were lately removed the remains of one or two small towers or peels, of which there were several within the last thirty years, containing in the lower part a place for cattle, and in the upper, apartments for the family, to which access was afforded by a stone staircase outside.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Selkirk, synod of Merse and Teviotdale, and in the patronage of the Duke of Roxburghe; the minister's stipend is about £210, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £15 per annum. Bowden church, situated near the eastern extremity of the parish, is an ancient structure, of which the original foundation is unknown; it affords accommodation for nearly 400 persons, and is in a state of good repair. The oldest date that appears on any part of the building is 1666. Under the east end is the funereal vault of the Ker family, containing twenty-one coffins, ranged along the sides of the building, among which are those of five Dukes of Roxburghe, predecessors of the present duke. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and United Original Seceders. Two parochial schools were until lately supported, one in the village of Bowden, and the other in that of Midlem, but the latter has been discontinued as a parochial school; the master of the former has a salary of £30 per annum, with a house and garden rent-free, and the fees produce about £12.

The remains of a military road, with stations or camps of a circular form at intervals of more than two miles, uniformly occupying eminences in view of each other, may be traced in various places, extending across the centre of the parish, in a direction from south-east to north- west. Where not obliterated by the plough, the road may be traced, in the form of a ditch about twenty feet in width, and, in some places, in the form of two parallel ditches, with an interval between them fifty feet in width. Warlike instruments of different kinds have been discovered by the plough, in the immediate neighbourhood of the road, and also in the adjacent mosses. On the summit of a precipice at Holydean, nearly 150 yards from the principal farm-house, and overhanging a deep dell called Ringans-Dean, was an ancient chapel and burying-place; the foundations of the building may yet be traced, and grave-stones, handles of coffins, and human bones have been frequently found near the site. It has been conjectured that from this ecclesiastical establishment the place derived the name of Holydean. Trees of various kinds, and of very large dimensions, have been discovered in the mosses of the parish, while digging for peat and marl; they are chiefly oak, ash, and fir, and have been found generally at a considerable depth below the surface, and in a good state of preservation.

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