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Canonbie, Dumfriesshire

Historical Description

CANONBIE, or CANOBIE, a parish, in the county of DUMFRIES, 6 miles (S.) from Langholm, and the same distance (N.) from Longtown; containing 3032 iuhabitants. An ancient priory that was situated here is supposed to have given name to this place, Canonbie probably signifying "the residence of the canons". How long this religious establishment existed before the year 1165, when a grant of land was made by William the Lion, is uncertain. In the year 1533 Henry VIII. claimed it as having belonged at one time, as well as the whole parish, to England; upon which pretence he ordered hostilities to be commenced on the Scottish borders. About the end of the reign of James V., in 1542, after the surrender of the Scottish army at Solway Moss, the English soldiers, upon the same pretext, pillaged and laid in ruins both the monastery and church. The church was dedicated to St. Martin, and was often called the Church of Liddel or Liddal, from the river near which it stood: in the reign of David I., Turgot de Rossedale founded a canonry in connexion with it, which afterwards came into the hands of the monks at Jedburgh, but was dissolved at the Reformation. Canonbie is called debatable land; and on account of its exposure to the English borderers, many places of defence were formerly erected, the vestiges of some of which still remain. At a place called Gill-knocky, eastward of Hollows bridge, stands the tower of Hollows, the reputed castle of Johnnie Armstrong, a famous chieftain in the reign of James V., and styled John of Gill-knocky, he was the terror of the western marches of England, and forced the inhabitants of Cumberland, Westmorland, and a great part of Northumberland, to become his tributaries, or annually pay him blackmail. Not far from Penton Linns, on the banks of the Liddel, was the strong tower of Harelaw, the residence of Hector Armstrong, the famous freebooter, who, by bribery, betrayed the Earl of Northumberland into the hands of the regent Murray.

The PARISH is nine miles long and six broad, and contains an area of 23,177 acres, 2 roods, 14 perches, of which 11,774 acres are in tillage, 10,522 in pasture, and 881 in wood. It is bounded on the south and east by the county of Cumberland, from which it is divided by the river Liddel and the river Esk, and by a plantation of above five miles reaching from the Esk to the Sark, which then becomes the boundary. On the north the parish is divided from the parish of Langholm by the Tarras, a very rocky stream with well-wooded banks, anciently a favourite haunt of the freebooters, or mosstroopers. The district may be considered as the low grounds of Eskdale, the surface, however, is uneven, and diversified by a variety of ridges, with the exception of the land on the banks of the Esk, which is generally level. The Esk river, flowing through the middle of the parish from north to south, receives the Liddel nearly at the southern boundary, and falls, at the distance of about seven miles from the parish, into the Solway Firth. Along its course, parallel with which passes the great road from Edinburgh to London by Langholm and Carlisle, is a succession of some of the most varied and beautiful scenery to be met with in any part of Scotland. The Liddel runs between banks adorned with natural wood and plantations, and in several places the channel of the river is much contracted, and, flowing over a bed of limestone, broken into fantastic masses, exhibits a scene of striking interest and beauty when the stream is a little swollen. The SOIL, on the holm-land in the neighbourhood of the rivers, is chiefly light loam, and produces early and rich crops of all kinds, being much favoured by the shelter of a profusion of wood. On the higher grounds it is mossy, wet, and clayey, but, if well limed, produces good crops of oats in dry seasons. This land has been much improved within the last fifteen years by tile-draining, and a large part of it is now capable of bearing crops of all descriptions. The sheep are the Cheviots, the largest of which are often crossed with the Leicester; some of the cattle are the Teeswater, but the Galloway breed is preferred. The annual value of real property in the parish is £9095. Limestone, sandstone, and coal abound, the last in hollows of the transition rocks. In 1847 an act was passed authorizing the construction of a colliery branch of nine miles, to Canonbie, from the Caledonian railway. There are extensive corn-mills at Hollows, near the Esk.

For ecclesiastical purposes, the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Langholm and synod of Dumfries; patron, the Duke of Buccleuch: the stipend is £236. 12. 6., with a manse, and a glebe of twenty acres, valued at £20 per annum. The church is an elegant sandstone building with a tower, erected in 1822, at an expense of £3000, and containing sittings for upwards of 1000 persons. There is a parochial school, in which Greek, Latin, French, and all the usual branches of education are taught; the master has a salary of £31. 6., with the legal accommodations, and fees amounting to about £30. A subscription library, two friendly societies, and a savings' bank are also supported. Among the numerous ruins of defence-towers, the most perfect and the most famed is that of Johnnie Armstrong, sixty feet long, forty-six broad, and seventy-two high; it has two round turrets, with loop-holes at the east and west angles, and was in former times a place of great strength. About one mile to the east of this are the remains of a Roman station, supposed to be the first in the chain from Netherbie to Castle-Over, the upper camp, in the parish of Eskdalemuir. There are also vestiges of a Roman road having passed through the parish of Canonbie, in a direction nearly from north to south. Dr. Russell, author of the History of Modern Europe, who died in 1793, and Mr. Benjamin Bell, the celebrated surgeon, were natives of the parish.

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