Historical description of Kirkudbrightshire, Scotland

KIRKCUDBRIGHT, STEWARTRY of, a county, in the south of Scotland, bounded on the north and north-east by the county of Dumfries; on the north and north-west by the county of Ayr; on the south and south-east by the Solway Firth; and on the south-west by the county and bay of Wigtown. It lies between 54° 43' and 55° 19' (N. Lat.), and 3° 33' and 4° 34' (W. Long.), and is forty-eight miles in length, from east to west, and thirty miles in extreme breadth; comprising an area of about 882 square miles, or 564,480 acres; 8485 houses, of which 8162 are inhabited; and containing a population of 41,119, of whom 18,856 are males and 22,263 females. This district, which, from its ancient tenure, is called a stewartry, though for all puposes a county, occupies the eastern portion of the ancient province of Galloway. Prior to the Roman invasion of Britain, it was principally inhabited by the British tribe of the Novantes. The Romans, on their invasion of the island, erected several stations in the district of Galloway, and constructed various roads; but though they maintained something like a settlement in this part of the country, which they included in their province of Valentia, they were not able completely to reduce the original inhabitants under their dominion. After the departure of the Romans from Britain, the county, owing to its proximity to the Isle of Man and the Irish coast, became the resort of numerous settlers from those parts, who, intermingling with the natives, formed a distinct people, subject to the government of a chieftain that exercised a kind of subordinate sovereignty under the kings of Northumbria, or kings of Scotland, to whom they paid a nominal allegiance. Upon the death of Allan, Lord of Galloway, in the thirteenth century, the country was distracted by the continual struggles of the various competitors for its government, and fell under the power of Alexander II., King of Scotland. On the subsequent marriage of Devorgilla, one of Allan's daughters, with the ancestor of Baliol, King of Scotland, it became the patrimonial property of that family. During the contest between Baliol and Bruce for the crown, the province was the frequent scene of hostilities; and from the attachment of the inhabitants to the cause of Baliol, it suffered severely. Ultimately it became the property of the Douglas family, on whose attainder it escheated to the crown, and was divided by James II. among several proprietors.

The stewartry of Kirkcudbright was for some time included in the county of Dumfries, and was under the jurisdiction of the same sheriff; but every vestige of that connexion was lost prior to the time of Charles I., since which period it has to all intents formed a distinct and independent county, though still retaining its ancient appellation. Previously to the abolition of episcopacy, the district was part of the diocese of Galloway; it is now mostly included in the synod of Galloway, and comprises the presbytery of Kirkcudbright and parts of others, and twenty-eight parishes. For civil purposes it is under the jurisdiction of a sheriff, or stewart, by whom a stewart-substitute is appointed. Kirkcudbright, which is the chief town, and New Galloway, are royal burghs in the stewartry, it also contains the towns of New-Galloway, Maxwelltown, Castle-Douglas, Creetown, and Gatehouse of Fleet, and some inconsiderable hamlets. By the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., the stewartry returns one member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters is 1260. Of the lands, about one-third are arable, and the remainder principally mountain pasture, moorland, and waste. The surface is strikingly varied, and towards the coast is diversified with numerous hills of moderate height, generally of bleak and rugged aspect, and interspersed with masses of projecting rock. In other parts are mountains of lofty elevation, the principal of which are, the Criffel, rising 1900 feet above the level of the sea, and the Cairnsmore and Cairnharrow, nearly of equal height. The mountainous district is intersected with valleys of great fertility, and in a high state of cultivation. Many of the hills are easy of ascent, and afford rich pasturage for cattle and sheep; and some, which are of more moderate elevation, are cultivated to their summit. The rivers are the Dee, the Ken, the Cree, and the Urr. Of these, the river Dee has its source in the western part of the stewartry, on the confines of Ayrshire, and flowing south-eastward, pursues an irregular course for about forty miles; it forms in its progress some picturesque cascades, becomes navigable at Tongland for vessels of 200 tons' burthen, and falls into the bay of Kirkcudbright. The Ken rises in the north-west part of the stewartry, and after a south-eastern course of several miles, expands into the loch to which it gives name, and shortly forms a confluence with the Dee. The river Cree has its source on the confines of Ayrshire, and flowing south-eastward, forms a boundary between the stewartry and Wigtownshire; it runs past Newton-Stewart, on the east, and falls into the creek at the head of Wigtown bay. This river abounds with smelts; and, for several miles in the latter part of its course through a district abounding with romantic scenery, is navigable for small vessels. The Urr has its source in the lake of that name, on the northern boundary of the stewartry, and after a course of nearly thirty miles through a pleasant and richly-wooded strath, falls into the Solway Firth nearly opposite to the island of Hestan. There are various less important streams, some of which are navigable for small craft; the chief are the Fleet, the Tarf, the Deugh, and the Cluden. Numerous lakes also adorn the county, but few of them are of sufficient extent to require particular notice; the principal is Loch Ken, measuring nearly five miles in length and about half a mile in breadth.

The whole of the district appears to have been at a very early period in a forward state of cultivation; and during the war of the Scots with Edward I. of England, it furnished the chief supplies of grain for the subsistence of the English army after the conquest of Galloway. In the subsequent periods of intestine strife, however, it fell into a state of neglect, in which it remained till the commencement of the eighteenth century, since which time it has been gradually improving. The soil is generally a brown loam of small depth, alternated with sand, and resting usually on a bed of gravel or rock. In some parts a clayey loam is prevalent, in others are large quantities of flow-moss of considerable depth, which are supposed to be convertible into a rich soil, a very wide tract of such land having been rendered productive within the last thirty or forty years. The crops raised in the stewartry are oats, barley, wheat, potatoes, turnips, and other crops; the farms on the arable lands vary from 150 to 500 acres in extent, and those on the moors from 4000 to 5000 acres. The rotation plan of husbandry is adopted; the lands have been drained, and inclosed principally with stone fences, called Galloway dykes. The farm-buildings are not inferior to those in most other parts of Scotland. In this county the cattle, of which more than 60,000 head are pastured, are of the Galloway breed; and great attention is paid to their improvement. The sheep, of which upwards of 200,000 are fed on the moorland and other farms, are of the black-faced breed, with many of English breeds. Great numbers of swine are also reared, and they form a valuable stock; the horses are more than 6000 in number, and, though not pure Galloways, are much esteemed.

There are no remains of the ancient forests with which the district formerly abounded, except a few trees on the banks of some of the streams; but considerable plantations have been formed on the demesnes of the various proprietors and in other parts, adding greatly to the appearance of the country. The minerals, on account of the scarcity of coal, have not been rendered available to any profitable extent; copper is wrought near Gatehouse of Fleet by an English company, and lead-mines were at one time in operation in the parish of Minnigaff. Iron-ore is found in abundance, but, from the want of coal, is of little value; the limestone and coal used here are brought from Cumberland. Indications of coal, and also of limestone, have been perceived on the lands of Arbigland, in the parish of Kirkbean; but no mines have as yet been opened. The manufacture of linen, cotton, and woollen goods is carried on to a considerable extent in the towns and villages: the principal trade, however, of this district, which is almost entirely pastoral or agricultural, is the large export of cattle, sheep, and grain, for which the facility of steam navigation affords ample opportunity. The salmon-fisheries at the mouths of the various rivers are highly productive, and the Solway Firth abounds with fish of every kind; but little benefit is derived from this source, and comparatively few fishermen's cottages are to be found upon the shores. In general the coast is precipitous, with intervals of low shelving sands; and the navigation is for the most part dangerous, though some of the bays afford safe anchorage. Kirkcudbright harbour is easy of access, and affords secure shelter from all winds; it has a considerable depth at high water. About two miles from the small island of Little Ross, at the mouth of Kirkcudbright harbour, and on which a lighthouse has been erected, is a fine bay called Manxman's lake, where 100 vessels of large burthen can ride in safety. Communication with Liverpool is maintained by steamers, which sail regularly from the port. The annual value of the real property in the county is £193,801, of which £182,926 are for lands, £9444 for houses, £1204 for fisheries, and £2227 for quarries.

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