Historical description of Dumfriesshire, Scotland

DUMFRIES-SHIRE, a county, in the south of Scotland, bounded on the north by the counties of Lanark, Peebles, and Selkirk, on the east by Roxburghshire and part of the English county of Cumberland, on the south by the Solway Firth, and on the west by the county of Ayr and the stewartry of Kirkcudbright. It lies between 55° 2' and 55° 31' (N. Lat.) and 2° 39' and 3° 53' (W. Long.), and is about fifty miles in length and thirty miles in breadth, comprising 1016 square miles, or 650,240 acres; 14,356 inhabited houses, and 733 uninhabited; and containing a population of 72,830, of whom 34,137 are males and 38,693 females. The county was originally inhabited by the Selgova, and after the invasion of the Romans formed part of the province of Valentia; upon the departure of the Romans it was occupied by the Northumbrian Saxons, and subsequently by numerous emigrants from Ireland, who had settled first on the peninsula of Cantyre. In the reign of David I. many of the Norman barons obtained possessions here, among whom was Robert de Brus, who procured a grant of the lands of Annandale, and was ancestor of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. Previously to the reign of James VI., the county was often the scene of sanguinary conflicts between hostile clans, and, from its situation near the border, was subject to repeated predatory incursions of the English. It was anciently included in the diocese of Glasgow, and comprised the deaneries of Nithsdale and Annandale; at present it constitutes the greater part of the synod of Dumfries, and contains several presbyteries, and forty-two parishes. It includes the royal burghs of Dumfries (which is the county town), Annan, Lochmaben, and Sanquhar; and the towns of Moffat, Lockerbie, Langholm, Ecclesfechan, Thornhill, and Minnichive, which are all burghs of barony. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the county returns one member to the imperial parliament.

The SURFACE near the sea-coast is level, rising towards the middle portion into ridges of hills of moderate elevation, intersected with fertile vales, and becoming mountainous in the north. The whole is separated into three principal districts, each deriving its name from the river which flows through it; of these, Eskdale forms the eastern, Annandale the middle, and Nithsdale the western part of the county. In Eskdale the chief mountains are the Langholm, the Wisp, the Tinnis, and Etterick-Penn, varying from 1200 to 2220 feet in height; in Annandale, Errickstane-Brae, Loch-Skene, and the Hartfell, from 1118 to 2629 feet; and in Nithsdale, Cairn-Kinnow, Queensberry, Black-Larg, and the Lowthers, which have elevations ranging from 2080 to 3150 feet above the level of the sea. From each of the three dales diverge smaller valleys, watered by their several streams, and the principal of which are Moffatdale, Dryfesdale, and Eskdale. The river Esk has its source in the vale to which it gives name, and, receiving in its course the White Esk, which rises on the borders of Selkirk, flows into the Solway Firth. The Annan rises on the borders of Peeblesshire, and, after being augmented by numerous tributary streams, also falls into the Firth; while the Nith, rising in Ayrshire, and pursuing a south-east course, joins the Solway Firth about three miles below the town of Dumfries. The rivers and their tributaries abound with excellent trout. There are numerous lakes, of which not less than nine are in the parish of Lochmaben; and in the mountain of Loch Skene is one that forms the picturesque cascade called the Greymare's-tail. The Solway Firth, into which the waters of the rivers discharge themselves, differs very materially from other estuaries receiving in Scotland the appellation of firths. Its depth is inconsiderable; and at the ebbing of the tide, long sandy reaches are left. The flows and ebbs of the Solway are proverbial for the rapidity of their action, and this is particularly the case during spring-tides, and the prevalence of gales from the south-west; persons have repeatedly been overwhelmed and drowned when crossing the bed of the estuary to Cumberland, being overtaken by the waters. The Firth abounds in salmon and other fish. Not much timber of ancient growth is to be seen in the county: the parish of Tinwald was formerly one extensive forest, but this has long since disappeared; and the woods and plantations are now chiefly those around the houses of the landowners.

The SOIL varies from a rich loam to a light sand; the system of agriculture is in an improved state, and considerable attention is paid to the rearing of live stock. The cattle are chiefly of the Galloway breed, and the cows on the dairy-farms of the Ayrshire; the sheep are generally of the Cheviot and black-faced breeds: vast numbers of pigs are kept, and great quantities of bacon and hams are sent to the Liverpool, Newcastle, and London markets. The minerals are mostly lead, antimony, iron, and gypsum. The lead is very abundant, and mines are in operation at Leadhills and Wanlockhead, from which 48,000 tons have been annually extracted; in the mines at Wanlock the ore contains a considerable proportion of silver, varying from six to twelve ounces in the ton. Among these mountains, gold has been found in veins of quartz and in the sand of the streams at their base; and in the reign of James V. 300 men were employed for several summers in collecting gold, which they obtained to the value of £100,000. The search was renewed under the superintendence of Sir Bevis Bulmer, master of the mint to Queen Elizabeth, with the concurrence of James VI.; and particles of gold adhering to pieces of quartz have been since found, the largest of which, weighing nearly five ounces, is in the British Museum. The antimony was discovered in 1760, but was not wrought till 1793, when a mine was opened at Glendinning, from which 100 tons of the regulus were taken annually, valued at £84 per ton. The ironstone occurs chiefly in masses, and the gypsum in thin veins. Coal is found in abundance, but of a very inferior kind, and is wrought only at Sanquhar and Canonbie. Sandstone of various colours and of good quality for building is extensively quarried, as is limestone, of which the principal quarries are in Nithsdale and Annandale; there are also veins of slate and marble. The annual value of the real property in the county is £319,751, of which £266,547 are returned for lands, £46,132 for houses, £4360 for mines, £1624 for quarries, and £1088 for fisheries. The seats are Drumlanrig Castle, Kinmount, Comlongan Castle, Raehills, Springkell, Jardine Hall, Maxwelltown, Amisfield, Closeburn Hall, Craigdarroch, Wester Hall, Drumcrieff, Hoddam Castle, Dalswinton, Murraythwaite, Blackwood House, Langholm Lodge, Terregles, Mossknow, and various others. In this county the manufactures are neither numerous nor extensive. Facilities of communication are afforded by good roads, and by the Caledonian railway, and the Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle railway: steamers, also, navigate the Solway Firth, affording an easy mode of conveying agricultural produce to England. There are various remains of antiquity, consisting of Druidical circles, British forts, Roman roads, ancient castles, cairns, mounds, and other relics. In the county are some mineral springs, the chief of which are chalybeate; near Closeburn House is a sulphureous spring issuing from the marshy lands, and in the vicinity of Moffat are springs of both kinds, the waters of which are extensively used. The county gives the title of Earl to the Marquess of Bute.

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