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Kells, Kirkcudbrightshire

Historical Description

KELLS, a parish, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, 14 miles (N. W. by N.) from Castle-Douglas, and 19 (N. by W.) from Kirkcudbright; containing, with the burgh of New Galloway, 1121 inhabitants. This place is supposed by some to derive its name from its elevated situation, of which, in the Gaelic language, the word is descriptive. Others deduce the name from the British Cell, on account of the extensive woods formerly existing here, and of which considerable remains are still found embedded in the various mosses. The parish is one of the largest in the county. It is bounded on the west and south by the river Dee, which separates it from the parishes of Minnigaff, Girthon, and Balmaghie; and on the east by the river Ken, which divides it from Dairy, Balmaclellan, and Parton parishes. Kells is about sixteen miles in length and eight miles in extreme breadth, comprising an area of 47,500 acres, of which by far the greater part is mountain pasture, and, with the exception of about 400 acres of woodland and plantations, the remainder is arable and in good cultivation. Its surface is irregularly broken, rising towards the north into a range of lofty mountains, including the most conspicuous heights of Galloway, some of which have an elevation of 2700 feet above the sea. The arable lands, which are chiefly along the banks of the Ken, are tolerably level, and interspersed with copses of oak and birch. The lower grounds are watered by numerous rivulets, intersecting the parish in various directions, and forming tributaries to the Dee and to the Ken. The Ken has its source on the confines of Dumfriesshire, and after entering the parish on the north-east, receives the waters of the Deuch, and at the southern extremity unites with the Dee. There are also many lakes, of which those of Loch Dungeon and Loch Harrow, in the north, are of considerable extent, but both inferior to Loch Ken, on the eastern border of the parish, which is about five miles in length and three-quarters of a mile in breadth, and by far the most eminent for the beauty of its scenery. A remarkably large pike, probably the largest known to have been killed in Scotland, was caught in this loch with the rod and fly many years ago; it weighed seventy-two pounds, and the head is still preserved in Kenmure Castle, bearing witness to its enormous size. The parish affords an interesting field for the investigations of the botanist.

The SOIL of the lands along the Ken is a rich clay, producing good crops of oats, but not in larger quantity than is sufficient for home consumption. The district is chiefly pastoral, and, under the auspices of the Glenkens Society, established in 1830 with the patronage of Mr. Yorstoun of Garroch, has been greatly improved: among other changes for the better, the cottages have in many instances been rendered much more comfortable and commodious. The progress of agricultural improvement, however, is retarded by the difficulty of obtaining lime at any moderate expense; and consequently, several farms which would otherwise be capable of tillage are thrown together as sheep-walks. The number of sheep pastured in about 17,500; about 560 head of cattle of the Highland breed are kept, about 320 Galloways, and 420 cows and their followers. There are also a great number of pigs kept in the parish. The sheep and cattle are sent to the markets in the south. In this parish the hills are chiefly of granite: there are neither mines nor quarries of any description. The remains of ancient wood are principally copses of oak and birch, both of which are indigenous, and appear well adapted to the soil; the plantations, which are of recent formation, consist of oak, intermixed with Scotch fir and larch, and are well managed, and in a flourishing condition. The annual value of real property in the parish is £5246. Kenmure Castle, the seat of Lord Viscount Kenmure, the principal landed proprietor, is a very ancient structure, seated on a circular mount, at the head of Loch Ken, within a mile of the town of New Galloway; and is supposed to have been the residence of John Baliol. It suffered frequent assaults during the wars with England in the time of Edward I.; and was burnt in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, and again during the usurpation of Cromwell. The estate subsequently belonged to the Gordons of Lochinvar, of whom Sir John Gordon was created Lord of Lochinvar and Viscount Kenmure, in 1633; but it became forfeited to the crown in the time of William, the sixth viscount, who was attainted for his participation in the rebellion of 1715, and beheaded on Tower Hill, London, in the following year. The property was, however, purchased from the crown by a member of his family; and the title was restored by act of parliament, in 1824, to his grandson, the late viscount and proprietor. The grounds are tastefully embellished with stately timber and thriving plantations, and the approach to the castle is by a noble avenue of lime-trees. Glenlee is a handsome mansion, which has been greatly enlarged, and is finely situated on the banks of the Ken, in a park embellished with many oaks of majestic growth. Knocknalling and Ballingear are also good houses lately erected.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Kirkcudbright, synod of Galloway. The minister's stipend is £300, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £15 per annum; patron, the Crown. Kells church, erected in 1822, is a handsome structure in the early English style of architecture, with a square embattled tower; it contains 560 sittings, and is capable of being made to hold a greater number. In the churchyard lie interred the remains of several generations of the Coultharts of Coulthart, chiefs of their name, who had a seat in the parish during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The parochial school is attended by about 100 children; the master has a salary of £34, with a house and garden, and the fees average £30 per annum. The Glenkens Society annually award prizes to the most deserving of the scholars. A school-house has been erected in the northern part of the parish, by Mr. Kennedy of Knocknalling, who pays the salary of the master; and there is also a Sabbath school in the parish, to which is attached a good library. The poor are partly supported by the interest of £522 bequeathed by various individuals, in the hands of the Kirk Session. There are several chalybeate springs, one of which, on Cairn-Edward, about two miles from New Galloway, was formerly in great repute, and is still used by the inhabitants in its neighbourhood. Among the natives of the parish have been, Lowe, the author of Mary's Dream; Heron, author of a history of Scotland; Gordon, the translator of Tacitus; and the Rev. William Gillespie, author of the Progress of Refinement, of Consolation, and other works.

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