KELTON, a parish, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright; including the villages of Rhonehouse and Gelston, and containing 2875 inhabitants, of whom 1848 are in the town of Castle-Douglas, 10 miles (N. E. by E.) from Kirkcudbright. This parish derives its name, of Celtic origin, from the extensive woods formerly in its vicinity; and is bounded on the west by the river Dee, which separates it from the parishes of Balmaghie and Tongland. It extends nearly six miles in length, and is about three miles in average breadth, comprising an area of almost 11,400 acres, of which 3000 are arable, 560 woodland and plantations, and the remainder moorland pasture and waste. The surface rises gradually from the river into a ridge of hills of conical form, most of which are arable to the summit, and which, towards the south, increase in loftiness, till they attain, in some parts, an elevation of 1200 feet above the level of the sea. Of these hills the highest are Bengairn, the Skreel, and Dungyle: from the two former is obtained an extensive view embracing the whole vale of the Dee, the hill of Cairnsmuir, the mountain range that separates the county of Kirkcudbright from Ayrshire, St. Bees Head, and the Cumberland hills. The river Dee, which here attains its greatest breadth, divides into two streams above and below the bridge, inclosing two large and beautifully wooded islands. Several rivulets, descending from the hills, intersect the parish in different directions. The Slack burn and the Auchlane burn, which have their rise in Bengairn, after flowing for some distance towards the north, take a western direction, and fall into the Dee. Three other burns descend from the Skreel, one of which, taking a northern course, flows past the village of Gelston into Loch Carlinwark, while the other two run south-eastward into the Solway Firth. The loch of Carlinwark, situated in the north angle of the parish, was originally 180 acres in extent; but in 1765 it was partly drained by the construction of a canal, one mile and a half in length, which, conveying its water to the Dee, reduced its height to the same level, and diminished its surface to 100 acres. By the draining of the lake, great quantities of rich marl were obtained, which, being carried by the canal to the Dee in boats, were shipped to many of the surrounding parishes for the improvement of the lands.
For the most part the soil is a thin hazel loam, or brown mould, mixed in some places with sand, and in others incumbent on gravel and a stiff retentive clay, but generally fertile, producing abundant crops of grain, with potatoes and turnips, and the various grasses. The system of agriculture has been greatly improved under the encouragement of an agricultural society comprising Kelton and the adjacent parishes, in each of which ploughing matches take place by turns: and a general show of stock is held annually at Castle-Douglas on the first Tuesday in October, when prizes are awarded. The farm-houses are substantially built, and roofed with slate. The lands have been much enriched by the marl from Carlinwark loch, and are inclosed partly with stone dykes, and partly with hedges of thorn; bone-dust is used as manure for turnips; and all the more recent improvements in the implements of husbandry have been adopted. On the moorlands is good pasturage for black-cattle, of which considerable numbers are reared; and though none of the farms are exclusively appropriated to the purpose, numbers of sheep, chiefly of the black-faced, with a few of the Leicestershire and Cheviot breeds, are fed on the several lands. There is no established fishery; but salmon are taken in the Dee, and trout, pike, and perch in the loch, which is also frequented by almost every variety of waterfowl. In this parish the substrata comprise greywacke and slate, with veins of porphyry; and granite is found in the hills. The plantations, most of which are of modern growth, consist of oak, ash, elm, and larch, Scotch, and spruce firs, and are in a very thriving state. The annual value of real property in the parish is £9170. Gelston Castle was built by the late Sir Willam Douglas, and is conspicuous for the elegance of its architecture, and the romantic beauty of its situation. Carlinwark, erected by the late Mr. Mc Culloch, and Daldawn, built by the late proprietor, Captain Mc Dougall, are also handsome mansions. The village of Rhonehouse, on Kelton hill, was long celebrated for its annual fairs for cattle and horses, all of which have been removed to Castle-Douglas, except the summer fair, which is still held at Rhonehouse, on the first Tuesday after the 17th of June, O. S., chiefly for horses and for the hiring of servants. There are no manufactures of importance; but a few of the inhabitants are employed in hand-loom weaving for the houses at Carlisle. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads, of which the military road from Carlisle to Portpatrick passes through the northern part of the parish for about four miles, and others intersect it in various directions.
This parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Kirkcudbright, synod of Galloway; and both civilly and ecclesiastically includes the ancient parishes of Gelston and Kilcormack, which, after the decay of their churches, were annexed to Kelton about the year 1689. The minister's stipend is £246. 18., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Crown. The present church, a plain substantial structure with a campanile turret, was erected on a more eligible site than that of the old edifice, in 1806, and has since been enlarged by the addition of galleries; it now contains 1000 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and Reformed Presbyterians. Three parochial schools are supported, of which the original school is at Rhonehouse, and the two others respectively at Gelston and Castle-Douglas: about 440 children are instructed. The master in Rhonehouse has a dwelling-house, and one-third of £51. 6. paid by the heritors, with £2 from a bequest by Sir William Douglas, and £7. 10. from the seat-rents of the galleries in the church. The master of Gelston receives one-third of £51. 6., with £3. 3. from Sir William Douglas's fund, but has no dwelling-house; and the fees in each of the two schools average £32. The master at Castle-Douglas has one-third of £51. 6., £7. 10. from the Douglas fund, and £15 from seat-rents, in addition to the fees, which average £120 per annum. There are three other schools, for females, unendowed, but the teachers of which, besides their fees, receive a small sum from the Douglas fund. Miss Harriet Douglas bequeathed £100, the interest of which is distributed in coal among the poor.
The parish contains numerous remains of antiquity, among which is part of a Druidical circle on the farm of Torrs. There are several British forts, two of which are in good preservation, on the hill of Dungyle, and both defended by three ramparts of stones and earth; one has a circular area of 117, and the other of sixty-eight, paces in diameter. In a tumulus near Gelston, have been found a stone coffin containing human bones of gigantic size, a copper helmet, and some military weapons greatly corroded. At Mid Kelton, a Roman tripod has been discovered by the plough; and on an island in Carlinwark loch has been found a large iron hammer, supposed to have been used by the Druids. Several canoes; a Roman dagger, plated with gold, and twenty-two inches long; the remains of an iron forge said to have been employed by the troops of Edward I., for shoeing their horses; and various other relics, have also been discovered in the loch. The great cannon called Mons Meg, which stands on the Argyll battery of Edinburgh Castle, was made in this parish, at a place called The Buchan.