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Holywood, Dumfriesshire

Historical Description

HOLYWOOD, a parish, in the county of Dumfries, 3 miles (N. N. W.) from Dumfries; containing 1061 inhabitants, of whom 81 are in the village. It is uncertain when the present name was first applied to the parish; but the oak forest that once overspread the ground, and the Druidical temples situated here, leave no doubt as to its origin. The wood, or forest, extended, it is supposed, for about eight miles, reaching to Snaid, in the parish of Glencairn; and as it must have been well known by the early Christian missionaries to have been a retreat of the Druids, some of whose temples are still to be seen in the vicinity, the memory of its primitive consecration was probably transmitted by them, under the name of Holywood. The ancient abbey of Holywood, which stood in the south-east corner of the present burying-ground, was founded by Dervorgilla, or Donagilla, daughter of Allan, lord of Galloway, who died in 1269: she was the mother of John Baliol, declared king of the Scots by Edward I., in 1292. It was called Monasterium sacri nemoris, on account of its situation in a grove of oaks; and its monks were of the Praemonstratensian order: among them is said to have been Johannes de Sacro Bosco, a great mathematician, and author of the book De Sphæra. This monastery, like that of Whithorn, is supposed to have sprung from the religious institution of Souls-seat, near Stranraer, founded by Fergus, lord of Galloway, early in the twelfth century. The remains of the abbey, the roof of which was supported by a fine pointed arch across the middle of the building, were taken down in 1778, and the materials used for the erection of the present parish church. Two bells belonging to the edifice were, however, preserved; they are of excellent tone, and are now the parish bells. The patronage of Holywood formerly belonged to the Earls of Nithsdale, one of whom sold it in 1714 to Alexander Ferguson of Isle in Kirkmahoe, whose son, Robert, disposed of it to Robert Ferguson of Fourmerkland in this parish, after which it passed through several hands, and was purchased in 1823 by the late John Crichton, Esq., of Skeoch. Cowhill, in the parish, was long the seat of the Maxwells, cadets of the noble family of Nithsdale. In the year 1560, the old castle at Cowhill was burnt by the English; and a tower, in lieu, was built in 1579; but being obtained by purchase, in 1783, by G. Johnstone, Esq., a Liverpool merchant, he pulled the building down in order to erect an elegant mansion on its site.

The PARISH is about ten miles long, and its mean breadth is one mile and a half; containing 8960 acres. It is situated in the most beautiful part of Nithsdale, and is bounded on the north-east by the parish of Kirkmahoe; on the east by the parish of Dumfries; on the south by the parishes of Terregles, Irongray, and Kirkpatrick-Durham, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright; and on the west and north by the parishes of Glencairn and Dunscore. Being in a broad valley, the surface is flat and low, with the exception of one range of hills, which, however, is neither abrupt nor of great height. The lands are watered by the Nith and the Cluden, the latter of which is a famous trout-stream. The soil in the vicinity of these rivers is for the most part a rich alluvial mould free from stones. Adjacent to this the earth is lighter, and rests upon fine sand or gravel. There is also a deep strong loam, incumbent upon a tilly subsoil; and although this in its natural state is not so fertile as the former kinds, yet when drained, limed, and properly tilled, it becomes very productive, except in cold and wet seasons. The hilly ground is of the same character, but less deep; it is covered with an ordinary kind of grass, mixed with heath and harsh weeds. The parish comprises 7500 acres under tillage, 560 in wood, 360 moss, 300 hill land, 120 meadow, and 120 occupied by roads. Both white and green crops of all kinds are produced, and the system of husbandry followed is of the first description. Fine crops of turnips are raised by the liberal and judicious application of bone-dust manure, and are eaten off the ground by the sheep. The cattle are mostly the black Galloways, with cows for the dairy of the Ayrshire breed: the hilly tracts are occupied by the native Scotch sheep; but the English breed is preferred on the lower grounds, from the superior quality of the wool. Extensive improvements have been carried on for a considerable time in the different branches of husbandry, comprising subdivisions of land, good drainage, the repairing and enlarging of farm-houses, &c.: indeed, the rental of the parish has been considerably more than doubled since the year 1790, the annual value of real property in Holywood now amounting to £7437. The upper or hilly part of the parish contains greywacke; in the midland district there are strata of hard red freestone and of limestone. Boulders, also, of large and small grained greywacke, conglomerate, and trap, with boulders of granite and sienite, are to be seen. There are two small villages, viz., Holywood and Cluden. The facilities of communication are unusually great, about thirty miles of road being distributed in different directions throughout the parish, all of which are in excellent condition for travelling: the turnpike-road from Glasgow to Dumfries and Carlisle is the principal of the roads. The Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle railway also intersects the parish. At Cluden are some extensive mills, which are let on lease to the Company of Bakers at Dumfries: about 16,000 bushels of wheat; 12,000 of oats; of barley shelled, 1000; and of barley for flour, between 400 and 500 bushels, are produced at the mills every year. About a mile higher up the Cluden is another mill, in which barley is ground, flax prepared, and wool carded. Wool is also spun by machinery, on a small scale, at Speddoch.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the limits of the presbytery and synod of Dumfries; patron, James Otto, Esq., of Skeoch. The stipend of the minister is about £200; and there is a good manse, with seven acres of arable land, valued at £10. 10. per annum. Holywood church was built in 1773, and thoroughly repaired in 1821. It is a neat building with a square tower, and well adapted for the purpose of accommodation, but inconveniently situated, being eight miles distant from a part of the population: the edifice contains 600 sittings. There are three parochial schools, in which all the usual branches of education are taught. The master of the first school has a salary of £26; the second master has £15, and the third £10. The total income of the first master is about £60; that of the second and third, between £25 and £30 each. There is also a subscription library, established about fifty years ago, the volumes in which are chiefly theological. About a quarter of a mile south-west from the church, are eleven large stones, placed in an oval form: the number was twelve till within these few years. They have been universally ascribed to the Druids; and the massy size of the stones, the largest of which weighs twelve tons, excites the astonishment of all visiters. Mr. Charles Irvine, who in 1790 discovered the method of rendering salt water fresh, for which he was rewarded by government with a grant of £5000, was connected with the parish.

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