In setting before the reader the antiquities that
have been discovered in the neighbourhood by the industry of persons
of antiquarian tastes, chief among whom is Mr J. R. Wilson, of the
Royal Bank, it has been thought fitting to put these in the form of
a descriptive catalogue, as being probably the most convenient.
1. Saen Caer: The old fort.—Perhaps the one object
which connects with the very earliest history of the place is this
ancient British fort, from which the name of the town, as elsewhere
stated, is derived. It is situated on the farm of Broomfield,
overlooking Welltrees Meadow and the railway embankment, under which
lies the old well of St. Bride. The trench on the north side of the
fort is distinctly visible, being a small natural ravine, and the
circumference can easily be traced, more especially when the land is
in crop, for then the circle of luxuriant fertility is distinctly
2. St. Bride's Well.—Although this ancient well is no
longer visible, it merits a passing notice. Simpson regards the name
St. Bride as another form of St. Bridget, an Irish saint, who had
for attendants nine virgins. “She was held in veneration by Scots,
Piets, Britons, English, and Irish,” says Leslie, “and more churches
were erected to God in memory of her among all those nations than to
any other saint,” and if Bride and Bridget are different forms of
the same name, as Simpson argues, Kirkbride in Durisdeer was one of
them. It is at least a curious coincidence that, according to the
testimony of the old people, it was customary for the maidens of
Sanquhar to resort on May-day to St. Bride’s Well, where each
presented nine smooth white stones as an offering to the Saint,
which correspond in number with St. Bride’s nine virgin attendants.
3. Ryehill Moat.—Immediately below the farmhouse of
Ryehill there is a remnant of antiquity in the form of a Moat.
“There was,” says Chalmers, “a moat hill in every district of North
Britain, during an age when justice was administered to a coarse
people in the open air.” These moats belong to the Saxon age, and
were of two kinds—the folkmote and the wittenagemote—the place of
assembly for the people and the judgment seat. Grose, in his “
Antiquities,”, says of this moat—“Not far from the (Sanquhar) Castle
down the river remains the moat, or ancient court hill, of the
former Barons of this Castle, where, by their bayliffs and
doomsters, they were wont to give decisions upon civil and criminal
cases agreeable to the feudal system, the bayliffs determining upon
the former, the doomsters upon the latter. The Creightons, Lords of
Sanquhar, were heritable Sheriffs of Nithsdale.” Whether Ryehill
Moat was the place where these courts were first held by the
Crichtons is doubtful. The Ryehill portion of the barony of Sanquhar
was possessed by the Ross family until the failure of the male line,
when, by the marriage of Isabel Ross, the heiress of Ryehill, to
William, son of Thomas, Lord Crichton, who flourished in the reign
of Robert Brus, the whole of the barony came into the possession of
the Crichtons, and it was then, in all likelihood, that Ryehill Moat
became their place of judgment. It was close by the moat that the
gravestones of the Rosses, elsewhere mentioned, were found. The
Gallows Knowe, or place of execution, was situated not far off on
the upper side of the road between the Castle and the Moat, but it
is now cut through by the railway. In these rude times they
proceeded with their business in an expeditious and unceremonious
manner, and the unlucky wight upon whom doom had been pronounced at
the moat would be found in a short space of time dangling at the end
of a rope on the top of the knowe. The gallows for male, and the pit
for female offenders, were the forms in which capital punishment was
then administered. The pit was filled with water, and the woman was
put into a sack tied closely at the mouth, and plunged overhead,
where she was left till death put an end to her straggles. This was
the power of “ pit and gallows ” possessed by the barons, and
conferred by charter upon the civic authorities, and, though clung
to tenaciously by the holders, was wrested from them by the
abolition of heritable jurisdictions in 1748. In connection with the
Deemster or Doomster, attention may be directed to the list of
lands, enumerated in the appendix, as belonging to the barony of
Sanquhar, on its transfer from the Crichtons to the Douglases in
1630, which contains the Glenmucklochs. Now, one of these was, and
still is, termed Deemstertown of Glenmuck-loch ; in all likelihood
it was at one time occupied by the Deemster or Doomster as a
pendicle of his office.
4. Druidieal Circle on Knockenhair hill, of the
common type, having no particular history.
5. Kemp's Castle.—This is a natural promontory formed
at the junction of the Barr Burn with the river Euehan. It is about
two acres in extent, and rises to an altitude of thirty or forty
feet above the level of the surrounding ground. On three sides it
was practically unassailable, and on the fourth —the west side—it
had been well protected by at least three entrenchments. There must
have been at this end at some remote period a building, which
probably gave its name to the place. The surface here is more
elevated, and about thirty years ago a cutting was made through part
of the debris, which revealed the fact that the site had been
occupied by either a vitrified fort or a stronghold which had been
destroyed and its walls calcined by fire. Vitreous masses,
containing stones of various descriptions fused together, can be
picked up on the southern bank at the roots of trees, by which they
have been thrown to the surface. The chief attraction to the visitor
is the magnificent view down the esplanade, through the vista of
trees beyond, which looks direct across the Nith to Sanquhar Castle.
No antiquities have been found on its site except a quern of the pot
type, which is in Dr Grierson’s Museum at Thornhill.
6. Lake Dwelling in Sanquhar Loch.—This lacustrine or
stockaded island is situated in the centre of the Black Loch on
Sanquhar Muir. The loch itself is about three acres in extent, and
is very deep, besides being surrounded by fissures in the moss,
likewise of great depth. The island attracted no particular
attention till about thirty years ago, when a man was drowned in the
loch. He had been seen wandering in the vicinity before his
disappearance, and it was supposed that he was under the water. It
was resolved, therefore, to drain the loch, and on the level of the
water being reduced, not only was the object of the search disclosed
to view, but also an ancient canoe, dug out in rude fashion from the
solid oak. It was removed to a garden in Sanquhar, where, by natural
decay, it has shrunk to very small dimensions. The attention of
antiquaries was drawn to the place, and the Dumfries Antiquarian
Society visited and reported upon it in the year 1865. The following
is taken from the report:—
“The extent of the surface of the island available
above the water was forty-nine feet from east to west by forty feet
from north to south. It would stand from six to eight feet above the
exposed bottom of the loch, and the sides being sloped, the base was
considerably wider than the dimensions above given. When first seen,
after the bottom was laid dry, a few upright piles were observed,
and the curving narrow passage from the mainland appeared somewhat
raised, and was hard below the immediate mud deposit, as if a sort
of rough causeway had been formed; and when the water was at its
height, or nearly level with the surface of the island, persons
acquainted with the turn or winding of the passage could wade to it.
The base of the slope of the island was laid or strengthened with
stones, some of considerable size, so placed as to protect the
wooden structure. Round the island could be seen driven piles, to
which were attached strong transverse beams, and upon making a cut
six or seven feet wide into the side of the island to ascertain its
structure, we found a platform of about fonr feet in depth raised by
transverse beams alternately across each other, and kept in position
by driven piles. These last were generally self oak trees, but
dressed and sharpened by a metal tool, some of them morticed at the
heads, where a transverse rail or beam could be fixed. The
transverse beams, of various sizes, were chiefly of birch wood. It
is, therefore, very similar to that of some of the smaller Irish
Crannogs, only that in the latter the platform was frequently formed
of stones. The wooden platform rested upon a hard foundation, either
the natural subsoil in the loch or quarry refuse. The mud prevented
this being ascertained correctly, but it was most probably the
former, as the hard subsoil was soon struck when deepening the
outfall. On the top of the wooden platform was a layer, of from
twelve to eighteen inches thick, of, apparently, chips
or debris from some neighbouring quarry of white or grey sandstone,
upon which the vegetable mould now supporting the rank vegetation
had accumulated. On the surface of the island there were some
indications of building, but on examination these were found to be
only the erection of curlers for fire, or the protection of their
channel-stones when not in use. No remains of any kind were found on
the island nor around it, but, except on the passage from the
mainland, the mud was so deep and soft as to prevent effectual
search. Neither have we any record of any other remains being found
in or near the loch except the canoe already alluded to. It is
formed out of a single oak tree, sixteen feet in length by three
feet broad at the widest part, at the prow only one foot ten inches.
It is at present lying exposed to weather, and for protection a
coating of pitch was lately given to it. It will thus ere long decay
and be lost. The burgh of Sanquhar should endeavour to protect their
curious and valuable relic. It would easily sling from the roof of
one of the public rooms.”
During the work undertaken by the Town Council a few
years ago, with the view of constructing a curling pond there, the
passage from the mainland to the island, referred to in the above
report, was more thoroughly inspected, and the gangway was found to
be supported by piles. There was at the same time laid bare a
massive stockade of large trunks of trees, set perpendicularly and
secured together at the bottom by mortices, through which were
driven smaller trees, which bound the whole together and kept it in
position. There is in Grierson’s Museum, at Thornhill, a stone celt
of rude type which was found on the margin of the Loch.
7. Remains of Ancient Strongholds.—These belong to a
later than the Roman period, and their sites and their names are—Clenrae
Castle, near the March with Lanarkshire; Castle Gilmour, near to the
present farmhouse of Auehen-gruith ; Goosehill Castle, on the march
between that farm and South Mains, above the road, where some time
ago a number of old gold coins were found ; the remains of the
ancient stronghold of Ryehill, in the wood adjoining the farmhouse
there ; at Drumbuie, in the west of the parish, where traces of
ancient buildings exist north of the present house, and a stone
bearing the date 1513, and also a coat of arms of ancient design
8. Cairns.—There are no cairns of great dimensions in
the parish. In the upper reaches of Euchan there is a small cairn
near the river which has been cut through, but revealed nothing of
interest. About a mile from Corsebank, in a little holm between the
road and the stream, the attention of the passer-by is attracted by
a stone set up in the form of a pillar or monument. It is about
three feet in height, and tradition says it marks the place where a
battle was fought between the men of Crawford and Nithsdale. Be that
as it may, the notable fact is that this is a boulder
of Hornblende, and, with the exception of a large flat specimen of
the same kind on Corsebank-burn, is the only one of the kind that
has been observed in Nithsdale. In all probability it, like the
Orchard Burn stone mentioned in the Topography, is a glacial stone,
whose parent rock lies in the Grampians.
9. The Deil’s or Picts’ Dyke.—This interesting relic
of antiquity traverses the whole of the south-west of Scotland from
the head of Lochryan, and is supposed to connect with the Catrail,
which means the dividing fence, in the border counties. There is
little doubt that it is the remains of a great territorial division
between the different tribes that inhabited this region. In this
parish it enters at Drumbuie farm, on the south side of the Nith,
proceeds south-eastward till it leaves the parish at the farm of
Burnmouth, in the parish of Durisdeer. There are vestiges of
entrenchments or fortifications to be seen at various points along
its route, particularly at South Mains, and at Kelloside, in
Kirkcounel. The former is of a square form, and may have been a
Roman encampment at a later period.
10. Mention may here be made of the Chapel Yard of
Dalpeddar, which indicates the existence there at one time of a
chapel; and the name of a streamlet in the vicinity, “The Brewster’s
Burn,” is further proof, for the constitution of a Saxon hold was a
castle, a kirk or chapel, a mill, a smithy, and a brew-house. The
familiar pronunciation of the name “Dapether” points to its ancient
origin, carrying us back to the Peithwyr, who were the Piets of
11. At the foot of Glenclauch Brae on Mennock Road,
near the roadside, on a flat piece of land at the base of the hill,
there is a relic of antiquity in the shape of a large cross formed
on the ground of stones and earth. On the same place is erected a stell or
fold for sheep in winter. This is called the Cross Kirk of Mennock, and
is believed to mark the site of an ancient chapel. This is only
conjecture. Certainly no better site could have been chosen by the
monks for practising their holy rites, for in that age there was no
road up the pass, and the situation would be one of perfect
seclusion—of unbroken peace.
12. Domestic Architecture. — Some of the houses in
Sanquhar are of considerable antiquity. One in the vicinity of the
Town Hall bears at the eaves on the west the date 1626 in raised
figures, and at the end the initials Another on the Corseknowe shews
good examples of bottle moulding of an ancient type ; the walls are
about four feet thick, the mortar used having been clay. This house,
it is said, at one time served as the jail, and if that be so, it
points to a date anterior to the erection of the old Town Hall and
Tolbooth. There are other houses in the town shewing mouldings of a
later but still ancient date, and the walls of several, when cleared
of whitewash and plaster, give indications of the entrance having
been obtained to the upper storey by an outside stair. Many houses
in Sanquhar are described in their titles as “high and laigh,”
according to their elevation. One opposite the Royal Bank was called
“The Gairland Great House,” while the Bank itself stands on the site
of what was once the town-house of the Crichtons, and where, as is
elsewhere stated, Queen Mary was entertained when she was on her
flight from the field of Langside. In former days there were many
small lairdships in the neighbourhood—The Holm, Knockenstob,
Carcomains, Carcoside, Orchard, Carco, Castle Robert, and Gairland,
among others, having all been separately owned, and some at least of
their proprietors possessed town residences. At the demolition of
old houses there are frequently seen specimens of ancient masonry, a
notable example being the house at Lochanfoot.
13. Sanquhar Cross.—The ancient Cross of the burgh,
to which the famous declarations were affixed, was situated at the
Crossknow, now called the Corseknowe. It was a slender pillar, not
more than nine inches in diameter, and was surmounted by a plain
capital, which now adorns the apex of the porch of the Free Church
in St. Mary Street. The stone in front of the Cross, upon which
Cameron stood when he read his declaration, was subsequently removed
to a slaughter-house in the Back Road, where it was sunk in the
floor, and a ring attached for securing the animals. What a
profanation ! It has now disappeared—probably when the place was
converted into a weaving shop, and the floors were sunk to allow
room for the play of the “treddles.”
The following is a catalogue of the principal relics
of bye-gone ages which have been picked up in this locality:—
Stone Axe.—Found on Ulzieside in 1884, with five
incised lines on edge, and one ornamental course on face. Length, 10
inches ; weight, 6½ lbs.
Stone Hammer, of diamond shape.—Found on South Mains
in 1850, beautifully perforated, and believed to be unique in shape.
Measures 4 by 3 inches.
Stone Hammer, perforated.—Found in Crawick in 1875.
Measures 3½ by 2½ inches.
Stone. Hammer, half perforated.—Found in Kello in
1886. Measures 4 by 3 inches.
Stone, slightly perforated.—Found at Birkburn in
1888. Measures 34 by 3 inches.
Celt.—Found at Greenhead in 1882. 5 inches long,
of Crawick grey stone, beautifully polished.
Celt, adze-shaped, of clay stone.—Found at Eliock
Grange in 1881. 5 inches long, with polished, sharp edge.
Celt, also of claystone. —Found at Wellstrand in
1889. 11 inches long.
Stone Maul.—Found at Sanquhar Bowling Green in 1889.
8 inches long.
Charm Ring of Shale.—Found at Elioek Grange in 1881.
4 inches in diameter.
Cannon Ball of Malleable Iron. — Found in Deer Park,
Sanquhar, in 1830. 2 lbs. in weight.
Part of Runic Stone.—Found in dyke at New Road,
Groin Stone of Arch in old Parish Church, and several
well-preserved pieces of the Mullions of the windows of the old
[The above are all in the collection belonging to Mr
J. R. Wilson, Royal Bank, Sanquhar.]
Stone Celt.—Found at Black Loch. In Grierson’s
Cannon Ball, same as above.—Found also in Deer Park.
In the possession of Miss Bramwell, St. Helens.
Arrow Head, with barb awanting.—Found at Ryehill. In
the possession of Mr T. B. Steuart, Auchentaggart.
Large Putting-stone, known as “Strong Glenmanna’s
putting-stone,” he having used it at sheep handlings at Glenwhern,
whence it was removed to Craigdarroch, and is now in the possession
of Mr Paterson.
Part of Runic Stone.—Found in the district by the
late Rev. Dr Simpson. Now in the possession of the Rev. James Hay
Pre-Reformation Tombstone, embellished with
cross-and-scissors device ; built into the east wall of the
Support of Thruch-stone from Abraham Crichton’s
burying-place*; also built into the same wall.
Carved Head.—Built into wall of house known as “The
Ark,” near the Townfoot; believed to have been removed from the
ancient hospital of Sanquhar.
Several Carved Stones in roadside dyke on Castle Farm
; also believed to be from said hospital, together with one at
courtyard at Castle Mains.
1. Portable Type.—Specimens are in possession of Mr
Wilson, Rev. Mr Scott, and Mr Lewis.
2. Hand Querns.—Some of these are of considerable
size, and are slightly ornamented. The finest specimens are in Mr
Wilson’s possession, and are yet fit for use. The upper stones of
such querns are quite common, but only two of the lower have ever
been recovered in the parish.
3. Pot Querns or Kneading Troughs.—These were
formerly used for detaching the awns from barley and other grains,
and Mr Wilson states that in this parish alone he has seen no less
than 75 examples.
Stone Weights.—These were formerly hung on weavers’
beams to keep the web on the stretch. There are many to be seen in
and around Sanquhar, and are not to be confounded with the round
stones with iron rings attached, formerly and still used as weights
at farmhouses. These latter still exist, ranging in weight from 7
lbs. to 70 lbs., but they are fast disappearing.