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Biggar and the House of Fleming
Chapter VI - The Castle of Boghall


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THE House or Castle of Boghall was one of the largest and most imposing edifices in the south of Scotland. It stood, as its name imports, in the midet of a bog, which in former times was impassable, even on foot, and which contributed greatly to its security. The habitable part of it was on the south; and, as the bog stretched behind it for several hundred yards, it had been deemed unnecessary to surround the back of it with a separate wall for the purposes of defence. An area in front, extending about two hundred yards both in length and breadth, and capable of holding all the grain and cattle in the barony, was enclosed by a square wall, three feet thick and thirty feet high, on the top of which ran a bartizan, and at each corner was flanked by a circular tower, with embrasures and loop-holes for small arms and cannon. The court was entered on the north by a spacious gateway, with two posterns, and above the gateway was a tower for the warder. The whole was surrounded by a broad and deep fosse filled with water, and spanned by a stone bridge opposite the gate. The ground, between the walls and the fosse, was planted with trees, and some very aged ones were standing within the last forty years.

The front of the habitable part of the Castle was two storeys in height, with attics, and presented a considerable degree of elegance, the lintels of the doors and the rybots of the windows being formed of carved freestone. In the centre of the staircase, which projected a little from the line of the building, the arms of the Flemings were carved in relief on a large square stone; and at the top of the wall was another stone, with the date 1670, which must have been placed there at the time some repairs were made on the Castle, during the time it was occupied as a residence by Anna Dowager Countess of Wigton. The lower part of the flanking tower on the south-east was used as a dungeon for the confinement of prisoners, and the upper part, it is understood, served the purposes of a girael, in which the mails ana duties of the vassals and tenants, payable in grain, malt, and me were stored. This building will be observed in the engraving to be a little detached from the habitable part of the Castle on the east side, or the left, facing the spectator. The gimel was

under the charge of a keeper, whose duty it was to receive the victual, to distribute it among the baron's retainers, and to sell or barter such portions of it as were required by the cottars and craftsmen located in the barony. References are often made to the ‘gar-nar,’ or ‘girnel,’ in the family documents and the Records of the Baron Bailie’s Court. For instance, in the transactions of Anthony Murray, factor to John, Earl of Wigton, for the half year ending Martinmas 1667, we notice that he paid six bolls and three firlots of meal to William Thripland, my lord's (garnar man’ in Biggar, being half a boll for every chalder of thirteen chalders and nine bolls, which he did measure into the garaar, and measure out the same again, and did uphold the measure. James Carmichael, who was factor to William, Earl of Wigton, paid to the same William Thrip-land 4 ye soume of twentie pund Scots for his service in his Lordship’s giraal, fra Martinmas 1675 to Martinmas 1676.’ The girnel at Boghall seems at that time to have undergone a repair, as there is an entry in the factor’s books of L.51, 8s. 8<L, paid ‘for wrught work and seives to the giraall, and lyme to the house of Boghall, and leid to dress the windows.’

In the Records of the Baron’s Court, we find that Bailie Alexander Wardlaw, on the 29th of July 1720, ‘decerns the haill tennents, feu-ars, and others, lyable to the Earl of Wigtoun, to pay moulter and teind meall into the girnall, and any that hes gotten out meall upon trust, to pay to John Gledstanes, giraall man, one pund and fyve shillings Scots, for each boll, betwixt and teusday nixt, under the pain of poynding.’ On the 28th of March 1747, Thomas Carmichael, keeper of the girnel of Biggar, made complaint before Bailie Robert Leckie, ‘That sundrie of the Tennants, after grinding of their farm meall, doe allow the same to ly in ye miln, or in their own houses, a considerable time, without delivering the same into the garnell, by which means the meill is lyable of being spoiled and damnified. Therefore, the Bailliflf enacts and ordains, that, for the future, the haill fewars and tennants of the barroneys of Boaghall and Biggar shall, immediately after their meall is grand att the miln, at least, within fourty-eight hours thereafter, deliver their farms into the garnell, and that under the penaltie of ten shillings Scots for each undelivered boll, to be payed by the failziers to the said Thomas Carmichael, as garnell keeper, and his successors in office.’

An opinion has long prevailed at Biggar, and is referred to by Forsyth in his ‘Beauties of Scotland,’ that the habitable part of the Castle was originally of greater extent than it was in later times, and that it stood in the centre of the enclosed area. In trenching the ground, to a considerable depth, some years ago, no distinct trace of former buildings was, however, discovered; but this is certainly not decisive evidence on the point, as the buildings may have all been thoroughly removed. The deep morass on the south serving as a sufficient defence, was evidently the cause why the mansion-house, at least in the end, came to be placed in that quarter, and left unprotected.

The Castle of Boghall was, no doubt, built at a remote period. The exact time, however, cannot now be ascertained. David Fleming, second son of Sir David Fleming of Biggar, who was killed at Long-hermonston in the spring of 1405, settled on some lands in Renfrewshire, which he called Boghall, a name which he most likely assumed out of respect to his paternal habitation. In an old book in the possession of Mr James Watt, Biggar, there is the following entry:— ‘Note.—The Boghall Castle was built in the year of Christ 1492, by Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld/ Little dependence can be placed on this assertion, as it is unknown who made it, and is unsupported by any collateral evidence. It is very far from unlikely, however, that it was rebuilt at that period. It had certainly very much the appearance of having been built about the time of James IV. or James V. It had a degree of spaciousness and elegance that removed it considerably from the style of strongholds usually occupied by the Scottish barons, and led to the opinion that it had been constructed after the fashion of some of the large chateaux in France. Although not of extraordinary strength, it seemed able, if properly garrisoned, to withstand any attack, provided it was not made with heavy artillery. It must, for a long period, have been a principal residence of the Fleming family; but in the latter part of their history they seem to have given a preference to the House of Cumbernauld, which, at one time, was also a fortified stronghold.

After the death of the last Earl of Wigton, and the transference of the Biggar estates to the Elphinstone family, in 1747, the Castle of Boghall was more and more deserted. No repair was made on the buildings, and the consequence of course was, that they began gradually to fall into ruin. Between 1773 and 1779, when the sketch of the castle was taken, by John Clerk of Eldin, from which the accompanying view of it has been engraved, it was then almost entire. Captain Grose, whose name has been immortalized by Bums, visited Biggar in 1789, and also took a sketch of the Castle, which he afterwards published in his work on the ‘Antiquities of Scotland.’ By that time it had evidently undergone considerable dilapidation. The tower above the gateway had been partially demolished, and some of the stones had been removed from the top of the outer wall. In a view of it given in the ‘Scots Magazine* for October 1815, it appears by that time to have been entirely dismantled, and many parts of the walls laid in ruins. The writer of a letterpress description of the town of Biggar and its neighbourhood, in the same number of the Magazine, says, in reference to the Castle, ‘It is in a state of rapid decay, which, we are ashamed to understand, was accelerated some years ago by the appropriation of a part of its materials to the erection of a dog-kenneL It is still a ruin of considerable interest, and we would entreat the proprietor to save it, and adorn the spot by surrounding it with planting.’ No attention was paid to this remonstrance; but, in 1821, Admiral Charles Elphinston Fleming, the proprietor, on some account or other, caused workmen to repair the walls of the projecting staircase, in the centre of the habitable part of the Castle, and to cover it with a roof of slate.

When the entail of the Biggar estate was broken in 1830, the farm of Boghall Mains, and the other lands still belonging to the heir of the Fleming family in the parish, were brought to the hammer. By some misunderstanding or mismanagement, the remains of the Castle, a short time afterwards, were nearly all carried away to fill drains and build dykes. The only parts left were the recently repaired staircase, and a portion of two of the flanking towers. These fragments, with a few trees, now stand—sad relics of a glory that has passed for ever away. How desolate and solitary is the scene around; how different from the days of feudal splendour! Now the ample court, the fosse, and the very site of the buildings, have been torn up by the plough, and are covered with the successive crops of the husbandman. Happily in our day a feeling of veneration for our ancient buildings has sprung up; the writings of Sir Walter Scott, and others, and the increased attention which has been paid to archaeological studies, have deepened and extended this feeling, and caused it to find practical manifestation in preserving our ancient and dilapidated castles, abbeys, and cathedrals from further demolition, and sending thousands and tens of thousands from all quarters to gaze on their time-worn remains. The person who presumes to lay a violent hand upon them is liable to receive very severe censure. We therefore cordially concur in the following remarks, in a recent address on Archaeology, by Professor Simpson of Edinburgh. (I solemnly protest,’ says he, ‘against the needless destruction and removal of our Scotch antiquarian remains. The hearts of all leal Scotsmen, overflowing as they do with a love of their native land, must ever deplore the unnecessary demolition of all such early relics and monuments, as can in any degree contribute to the recovery and restoration of the past history of our country and of our ancestors. These ancient relics and monuments are truly, in one strong sense, national property; for historically they belong to Scotland, and to Scotsmen in-general, more than they belong to the individual proprietors upon whose ground %they accidentally happen to be placed.’ ‘ Let us fondly hope and trust,’ he further adds, * that a proper spirit of patriotism, that every feeling of good, generous, and gentlemanly taste, will ensure and hallow the future consecration of all such Scottish antiquities as still remain—small fragments only though they be of the antiquarian treasures that once existed in the land.’ Many local poets have sung in doleful strains the demolition of Boghall Castle. We have a number of their productions lying beside us, and would gladly give some of them a place, did our limited space permit. The engraved view of it which we have been enabled to give, will, no doubt, make many other persons than poets deplore that it has been so thoroughly swept away.

The blame of the destruction of the Castle of Boghall is mainly to be attributed to the Elphinstone family. It was they who left it to entire neglect, who failed to expend a few pounds to keep it in a state of repair, who carried off a portion of its materials to build a dog-kennel, and who sold it, without making the least reserve as to its preservation.

When these men, whose forefathers had built it, had lived within its walls, and made it memorable by their presence and transactions, not only felt no veneration for it, but actually hastened its destruction, we could scarcely expect that other parties, into whose hands it might fall, would view it with feelings of warmer attachment, or would expend their efforts and their means to preserve it from further demolition. Its removal, however, is to be regretted, as it was a noble feature in the landscape, and as the district has little to show in the shape of antiquities, and little to invest it with interest and attraction to strangers. We can only now indulge the hope, that efforts will be made to preserve such fragments of it as still remain.

A few relics of the Castle have been preserved. The gimel-door is in the possession of Mr Allan Whitfield, agent, Biggar. An antique clock, which formed part of the furniture of the Castle, and which was presented by a member of the Boghall family, most likely by Lady Clementina Fleming herself, to Dr Baillie, who flourished as a physician in Biggar about the middle of last century, is now in the museum of Mr Sim at Coultermains. A huge key, which was found near the ruins, and which is supposed to be the key of the great outer gate, was, and perhaps still is, in the possession of Laurence Brown, Esq. of Edmonstone.

Several camion bullets, which appear to have been at one time part of the munitions of the Castle, or to have been shot against it during some of the assaults which it sustained, are in Mr Sim’s museum. A curious sword-blade, with a waved edged, is shown in the Museum of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, as having been found at the Castle of Boghall. It was presented to the Society, by John Loch, Esq. of Rachan, in 1829. In the letter which accompanied it, Mr Loch says that the sword was presented to him by an old man, who assured him that it was found in the ruins of BoghalL How far this man’s testimony may be relied on, it is impossible now to say; but it seems to have been credited by Mr Loch. Swords with waved edges were used in mediaeval times for the purpose of making a greater impression on defensive armour than could be done by those which had their edges straight. They acted, in fact, as a kind of saw, being drawn with great force across a helmet or a coat of maiL The Boghall sword, a cut of which is here given, is 32^ inches long, and has engraved on it the word Mini, repeated four times on each side of the blade, and some slight ornaments which very likely were trade marks.

BoghaU Castle, in a historical point of view, is not so remarkable as some other strongholds that could be named. We really know nothing of its early history. We cannot say what scenes of joy and sorrow, of peaceful entertainment or tumultuous outrage, it may have witnessed in remote times. We only begin to get some notices of it after it had been comparatively deserted by the Fleming family for Cumbernauld House. Still it is not altogether destitute of interest We have good reason for believing that it was often tenanted by the Scottish kings, in their frequent progresses through this part of the kingdom. It was, along with the town and burgh of Biggar, and the acres lying thereabout, erected into a barony, called the Barony of BoghaU, by a charter from James V. in 1538. Malcolm Lord Fleming, in his testament executed in 1547, assigned it as the jointure house of his wife, Joan Stewart, in case of her surviving him; and she was to receive the whole 1 insight,’ or furniture, except the artillery, which was to be the property of his son and heir. It was besieged and taken by the Regent Murray, and many years afterwards by Oliver CromwelL It was, during the persecuting times, the jointure house of Anna Ker, Countess of Wigton, and was made memorable by the conventicles held, under her auspices, within its walls. The last garrison that it ever contained was placed in it by the Government, to overawe the adherents of the Covenant in Tweeddale and the Upper Ward.

A large number of documents in the charter chest of the Wigton family refer to BoghalL We select one or two specimens of the accounts of the domestic expenses of William, Earl of Wigton, during his residence at the Castle, from a large mass of papers of a similar kind. The first is a statement entitled—


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