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Johnstone, Dumfriesshire

Historical Description

JOHNSTONE, a parish, in the county of Dumfries, 9 miles (S. by E.) from Moffat; containing 1072 inhabitants. It is generally supposed that the name of this place was derived from some ancient and important personage of the name of John, distinguished either by his possessions or achievements, and to whose name the ordinary Saxon termination ton or toun was added. From time immemorial the lands have been the property of the family of Johnstone, lairds of Annandale, whose castle of Lochwood, now in ruins, was situated in the north of the parish, and almost surrounded by impassable bogs and marshes. This fort, which was a place of great strength, and inaccessible to a foe, induced James VI. to declare that "he who built Lochwood, though outwardly an honest man, must have been a knave at heart". About the end of the sixteenth century, it was burnt by Robert, natural brother to Lord John Maxwell; in revenge for which the Johnstones, who were a warlike tribe, assisted by the famous Buccleuch, the Elliots, Armstrongs, and Grahams, the bravest of the warriors of the Scottish border, attacked and cut to pieces a party of the Maxwells near Lochmaben, where the incendiary himself, Robert, was among the number of the slain. Those who escaped taking refuge in the church of Lochmaben, the sacred edifice was burnt to ashes by the Johnstones. This rash and sacrilegious act occasioned the memorable battle of Dryfesands, in which the Johnstones finally prevailed. Lord Maxwell being attacked behind and slain by "Will of Kirkhill", while engaged in single combat with Lord Johnstone.

The PARISH is situated in that district of Dumfriesshire known by the name of Annandale, and comprehends a considerable portion of the old parishes of Garvald and Dumgree. It is six miles in length, and averages three in breadth. On the north it is bounded by the parish of Kirkpatrick-Juxta; and on the east by Applegarth and Wamphray, from both which parishes it is separated by the river Annan. On the south, at a narrow part of about a mile, forming the vertex of the triangular figure of Johnstone, is the parish of Lochmaben; and on the south-west, the river Kinnel divides the lands from Kirkmichael parish. The country is generally flat with a gradual ascent towards the west. A large proportion of the surface is stony, supplying great facilities for filling the thorough-drains that have been cut to so considerable an extent of late years, and that are so necessary to prepare the land for the successful operation of the subsoil plough, now in very general use. The whole of the parish lies between the rivers Annan and Kinnel, with the exception of 2000 or 3000 acres to the west of the latter stream, which in their ascent towards Nithsdale rise about 1200 or 1500 feet. The two rivers form a junction two miles below the southern extremity of the parish. The Annan abounds with yellow and sea trout, eels, and salmon. Its banks are subject, in rainy and snowy seasons, to violent inundations, from which great mischief has arisen to the crops; two of the most remarkable floods were in August 1782, and in August, September, and October 1790.

The SOIL of the flat alluvial land along the Annan is a dry loam or gravel: in other parts the soil is chiefly a light loam, resting on gravel or rock, or a moorish soil lying upon a retentive clay or till; and there are several peat-mosses, extending to some hundreds of acres. Of the total area, between 5000 and 6000 acres are under tillage; about 5000 are uncultivated, or in natural pasture; from 509 to 1000, which have never been ploughed, are considered capable of cultivation; and 1500 are under plantations or natural wood. Wheat was at one time unknown in this district as a part of the produce, but it is now partially cultivated; other kinds of grain are raised, and the green crops, of which turnips and potatoes are the principal, are abundant and of good quality. The most improved system of husbandry has been for some time adopted, and within the last half century the aspect of the parish has been changed by the construction of roads, the formation of inclosures, and especially by the number of comfortable dwellings erected for the accommodation of the labouring classes. Pigs are reared in large numbers, and hams and flitches are sent in great quantities to England. There are two sheep-farms, on which the stock consists partly of the native black-faced, and partly of Cheviots. The cattle are the Galloway, except upon two or three of the farms, where they are of the pure Ayrshire breed. Great attention has been paid to the improvement of the cattle, and in several instances the farmers have obtained premiums from the Upper Annandale Agricultural Society. The plantations receive much care: they were greatly increased about half a century ago by the then Earl of Hopetoun, at which time a large quantity of Scotch firs, interspersed with larch and spruce, were added to the former stock. About a dozen fallow-deer brought from Hopetoun House, in the year 1780, were put into an inclosure opposite the house of Raehills, and after a while broke loose, and established themselves among these extensive plantations: since that time no one has been able to capture or control them; and they are now increased to the number, as is supposed, of about 200 or 300. The rocks in the district consist of red sandstone, and whinstone, the latter of which varies much in its fineness and consistence. Attempts have been made to discover a vein of lead-ore, the existence of which seemed to be indicated by several portions occasionally found above the surface, near Lochwood ruins; but the expected success has not attended the undertaking. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4408. The mansion-house of Raehills, the seat of J. J. Hope Johnstone, Esq., descendant of the Earls of Hopetoun, was principally built by James, third earl, grandfather of the present possessor, in the year 1786; and is a castellated edifice, of the old baronial style which prevailed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. A large addition, fronting the south, and containing an elegant suite of apartments, has lately been erected, constituting it one of the most splendid and imposing mansions in the south of Scotland.

This is entirely an agricultural parish, and the population are scattered. The road from London to Glasgow, by Carlisle, passes for five miles through the parish; and that from Dumfries to Edinburgh, by Moffat, for the same distance: a turnpike-road from Moffat to Lochmaben and Annan runs for six miles, from north to south, nearly through its centre. There is a bridge over the Kinnel at St. Ann's, and one across the Annan at Johnstone Mills, besides several bridges over the smaller streams: all these, with the roads, are kept in good repair. Ecclesiastically the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Lochmaben and synod of Dumfries; patron, Mr. Johnstone. The stipend is £165. 13., and there is a good manse, with a glebe of ten acres worth about 20s. per acre. Johnstone church, which is inconveniently situated, at the eastern extremity of the parish, was built in 1733, and rebuilt on an enlarged scale in 1818; it is now a comfortable and commodious edifice. There is a parochial school, where Latin, Greek, and French, and all the usual branches of education are taught: the master has the maximum salary, with the fees, which average about £21 per annum, and £3 received from a bequest left by the late Mr. Aitkin, farmer, of Kirkbank; he has also the legal allowance of land. Of two other schools, the teacher at Goodhope receives £16 a year from the patron of the parish, with about £10 fees; the master of the school at Cogrieburn-bridge has an income of £10, independently of the fees. The parochial library, now consisting of 300 volumes, was established in 1828, by the minister of the parish. There was once also a farming society, founded in 1818, which proved beneficial in supplying a stimulus to improvements in husbandry, and especially in the rearing of cattle; but it is now discontinued. Near the farm of Crawknowes is a small barrow, or tumulus, said to mark the spot where the Laird of Lochwood, in a private quarrel, shot the Laird of Dumgree, whose body he afterwards hid in the earth. The only other memorial of antiquity is the old castle of Lochwood, already referred to, supposed to have been built during the fourteenth century. Dr. Matthew Halliday, physician to the Empress Catherine of Russia, and Dr. John Rogerson, who succeeded him in that station, were born in the parish of Johnstone; the latter died about twenty years since.

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