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Graitney or Gretna, Dumfriesshire

Historical Description

GRAITNEY, or Gretna, a parish, in the county of Dumfries, 9½ miles (N. by W.) from Carlisle, and 309 (N. W. by N.) from London; containing 1761 inhabitants. The derivation of the name is doubtful; but it is usually traced to the words Great knowe, descriptive of a hill standing at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the church. This district is chiefly memorable for the many bloody feuds of which it was formerly the scene as part of the frontier land of Scotland, and the celebration of which in tales and songs has scarcely at this time altogether passed away. The parish is skirted on the east by the river Sark; and the lands lying between that river and the Esk, now forming the English parish of Kirkandrews, were for many ages debateable ground, being common to both England and Scotland. These lands extended eight miles in length and four in breadth, and were long held by a kind of lawless banditti, whose chief employment was rapine and smuggling. In the year 1552, a line of demarcation was agreed upon by the sovereigns of the respective kingdoms; but notwithstanding this, the habits of the people continued nearly the same until the union of the crowns under James VI., from which time the state of the population gradually improved.

The PARISH is six miles in length and three in breadth, and contains about 11,000 acres. It is bounded on the north by the parishes of Kirkpatrick-Fleming and Halfmorton; on the south by the Solway Firth; on the east by the county of Cumberland; and on the west by the parish of Dornock. The surface is generally level towards the south and west; but towards the east and north it is diversified by many gentle acclivities, of which Graitney, the highest, rises about 250 feet above the sea. From this eminence is obtained a beautiful and extensive view of the valleys of the Esk and the Eden, the Solway Firth, and the coast of Cumberland with St. Bees, in a southern direction, and also of the mountains of Dumfriesshire and Northumberland. The eastern portion of the parish, from the number of its hedge-rows, has the appearance of being well wooded; and the lands in this quarter are thickly interspersed with ash, oak, and plane trees. These, with the laburnum, give a pleasing variety to the scenery, and by their fine and luxuriant growth indicate the fostering power of a congenial soil. The whole southern boundary of the parish is formed by the Solway, whose flat shore consists of sand and clay. The only part of the coast approximating to the character of a bay is the curve between Redkirk and Tordoff points, the latter of which is about two miles from Bowness on the opposite shore. The Firth is between four and five miles across in the widest part, and is navigable as far as Sarkfoot, in this parish, for vessels of 120 tons' burthen. In this estuary the tide flows with amazing rapidity, and rises, at its spring, twenty feet above the low-water mark; when it recedes, the streams of the rivers Esk and Eden, which run into the Solway from Dumfriesshire and Cumberland, are seen with a wide bed of intermediate sand, and the Firth appears like a sandy waste, for a distance of forty miles, to the south-western extremity of Dumfriesshire, where the river Nith joins it. There are several landing-places along the shore of the parish, but the navigation of the Firth is dangerous to those not acquainted with the soundings. The Kirtle stream divides the parish into two nearly equal portions. There are excellent salmon-fisheries on the coast, and sturgeon, cod, and herrings are occasionally caught: salmon ascend the rivers for spawning, in the beginning of October, and return early in March.

Near the sea the soil is a rich loam, with a subsoil of deep strong clay, and has the appearance of having been transported hither by the tides, which formerly came much higher up than at present. Further inland, the earth partakes more of the nature of clay and gravel, resting upon large hills ot sand. Portions of peat-moss are to be seen in different places, in which the remains of oak-trees are embedded; and in some of them silver coins have been discovered, without a date, but bearing the scarcely legible marks of Canterbury and London. About 10,000 acres are cultivated, or occasionally in tillage; 300 acres have never been cultivated, and sixty are planted with wood. All kinds of green crops and of grain are produced, oats being the chief crop of the latter; and considerable numbers of every sort of live stock are kept. The most improved system of husbandry is followed: the manure in use comprises dung, guano, and lime, the last brought from several of the neighbouring parishes. The farms have been considerably enlarged, and the superior method of cultivation which has been pursued has nearly tripled the worth of the land since the year 1790, the annual value of real property in the parish now amounting to £6069. The prevailing rock is sandstone, through which many excellent springs of water find a passage.

Among the villages in the parish is that of Gretna, where a weekly cattle-market was formerly held, and which was a burgh of barony; the market-cross was standing till within these few years. The ancient mansion of Graitney Hall, in which one of the landowners once resided, has been fitted up in an elegant and commodious manner as an inn, where every accommodation may be had as at the best inns in England. The population are partly engaged in agriculture: about 600 persons are cotton-weavers, employed by Carlisle houses, and who receive the yarn regularly every fortnight. Vessels of 100 tons arrive at various places along the shore from the ports of Cumberland, bringing coal to the amount of 600 tons yearly, together with about an equal quantity of slate. Grain and potatoes are largely exported to Liverpool and other places on the coast of Lancashire. Till the commencement of the present century, an extensive contraband trade was carried on with the Isle of Man; but this traffic, with all its injurious consequences, has been abolished. The turnpike-roads between Glasgow and Carlisle, and between Carlisle and Portpatrick, run through the parish; and the old road to Carlisle crosses the Glasgow road at the village of Gretna, where is a post-office, connected with that of Carlisle. There are two bridges over the Sark, and one over the Kirtle. Great facility of intercourse is also atforded by the Caledonian railway, which passes through the parish, and crosses the river Sark into England by a fine bridge of two arches. This railwaj' is joined at Springfield, in the parish, by the Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle railway. A cattle-market is held in June, and fairs on the 15th of September, the first Thursday after Falkirk tryst in October, and on the second Thursday in November.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Annan, synod of Dumfries; patron, the Earl of Mansfield. The stipend of the minister is £237: the manse has lately been enlarged and repaired, and is now a comfortable residence; the glebe consists of about sixteen acres, valued at £28 per annum. Graitney church was built in 1790, and is a commodious building capable of containing 800 persons. There is a meeting-house at the village of Rigg, belonging to the United Presbyterian Church. Two parochial schools are supported, in which the usual branches of education are taught, and the masters of which have each £25 a year, with fees amounting to about £24 and £20 respectively. A friendly society was instituted more than fifty years ago. There are the ruins of several square towers in the parish, the relics of ancient times, raised for the defence of the inhabitants against the English borderers; the walls were of great thickness, the doors of massive iron, and within were caves for the safe custody of cattle, &c. Redkirk was formerly a separate parish; but its church, situated at Redkirk point, was entirely swept away by the repeated encroachment of the tide. The remains of a Druidical temple are still visible on the farm of Old Graitney, and there are the remains of several old camps in the neighbourhood. This being the nearest and most easily accessible point in Scotland from the sister kingdom, it has long been a place for fugitive marriages, first celebrated here by a man named Paisley, a tobacconist, whose original residence was on a green between Gretna and Springfield, to the latter of which villages he removed in 1782. It is said that between 300 and 400 marriages used at one time to be annually celebrated in the neighbourhood by rival "priests", for the most part functionaries of the lowest class, who accosted parties as they passed, and officiated for a very small charge. An attempt was made in the General Assembly, in 1826, to suppress this description of marriage, but without success. Paisley died at a great age, in 1814.

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