PRESBYTERY OF BIGGAR, SYNOD
OF LOTHIAN AND TWEEDDALE.
THE REV. MR WILLIAM MEEK, MINISTER.
[This Account was drawn up by the Rev. Mr Meek,]
GEORGE C. RENTON, ASSISTANT.
I.—TOPOGRAPHY AND NATURAL.
Boundaries.—Various etymologies have been given of the name. The most
probable is, that it is compounded of Dun and Seer, the hill of the
prophet. The place seems to have been originally the site of a Druidical
The summit of the
water-level, at the upper end of the parish, where the strewn, by a
single turf, might be sent either to the Clyde or the Tweed, to the
Atlantic or the German Ocean, is 735 feet above high water at the
Broomielaw at Glasgow. The parish is bounded by Dolphinton and Walston
on the south-east and south; Linton on the east and north; West Calder
on the north; and Carnwath on the west. The extent of surface is 17.25
square miles, or 11071 imperial acres. Its form is nearly a
parallelogram, having its longest sides lying south and north.
Appearances.—The range of the Pentlands, which commences in the vicinity
of Edinburgh, may be said to terminate with Dunsyre hill, after
extending to the length of twenty miles. This hill is precipitous and
rugged, composed of the same stone as Arthur Seat and Salisbury Craigs.
It rises about 500 feet above the water level already stated; 1235 feet
above 'high water at Glasgow. From it a range of hills verges towards
the west, which gradually slopes into a flat towards Carnwath parish. In
the valley betwixt Dunsyre and Walston ranges, runs the water Medwin,
through a tract of flat ground about a mile in breadth and three in
length, which in that distance falls only about nine feet.
There is a very large
cave on the hill Craigengar, on the north- eastern boundary of this
parish, which is said to have been a chief rendezvous of the gipsies or
tinkers in this part of the country. Meteorology.—In summer,
Fahrenheit's thermometer averages from 60º to 70º, and in winter from
40° to 44º; but in frost the range is from 22° to 34º. It has sometimes
been as low as 16°, but very seldom. The general range of the barometer
is betwixt 29 and 30, so that the average may be stated at 29.5. It has
been as high as 30.6, and as low as 28.5; but these are extremes which
it rarely approaches.
The valley of Dunsyre
lies almost due east and west, having on each side a range of hills. The
rainbow often exhibits a most beautiful and imposing appearance in this
valley. This generally happens where the sun is in the west. Three
irises are usually seen: I have beheld three entire, and the fourth
imperfectly formed. The most prevailing winds in the parish are those
from the west. They often sweep the valley with great violence, being
confined by the ranges of the mountains. The soft freestone with which
the houses are generally 'built becomes damp several hours and even days
previous to a storm of wind and rain; a certain indication of a change
of weather. As a symptom of the dampness of the climate, the doors in
the interior of the houses frequently stand covered with drops of damp,
which run in streams to the floor. This must arise in a great measure
from the extent of flat marshy ground on the banks of the river, where
the water is almost in a stagnant state, and renders the river in many
places impassable. Rheumatism consequently prevails, and there are very
few who escape its excruciating ravages. Nervous disorders, probably
originating in the same cause, are also common.
abundance of fine springs in this parish. One which is in great esteem
issues from a rock of whin-stone, on the face of Dunsyre-hill, and seems
to be affected neither by summer drought nor winter rains. There is
another very abundant spring on the glebe, called the Curate's well. It
consists of two circular holes filled with soft sand, from which the
water issues; and all around, the ground is composed of the hardest clay
and gravel. At intervals of five or ten minutes, it bubbles up at three
aperture-,, as if it emitted air. There is another remarkable stream at
Easton. It flows in great abundance, and if wood be left for any length
of time in its waters, it becomes encrusted over with a white substance.
It appears to issue from a red freestone rock,—as this seems to lie in a
thick bed all around, three or four feet from the surface; or perhaps
from limestone which may be below the freestone. There is another fine
spring on the farm of Auston Park, consecrated to St Bride, and
remarkable for the abundant flow and purity of its waters. It appears to
rise from a bed of sand, upon approaching a lower seam of clay and
gravel. On the verge of the marsh, there are many springs deeply charged
with iron-ore, and seeming to rise either from that mixture or from
The only loch in the
parish, the Craneloch, lies in an elevated situation in the
moors,—upwards of 300 feet above the water level. It is about a mile in
circumference, surrounded with marshy grounds and skirted with heath.
All around, nothing is presented to the eye but a bleak inhospitable
desert. The water is of a dark mossy colour, of a pretty high
temperature, and very deep. It abounds with pike and perch, which are
allowed to enjoy their solitary waters unmolested.
Medwin is the chief
stream in the parish, and rises in the northeast corner of it, near the
foot of the hill Craigengar. It pursues a southerly direction for about
six miles, when it suddenly turns to the west. It is here joined by a
stream, called West Water, fully as large as itself, which rises amongst
the range of hills in the northern side of the parish. It continues to
run at a very slow rate along the vale of Dunsyre, forming the boundary
betwixt it and Dolphinton, and then that of Walston. Its greatest width
is about thirty feet, its greatest depth about ten. It runs shallow and
rapid in some places, but in general, from the flatness of the ground,
its motion is slow and inert.
Mineralogy.—Dunsyre-hill is composed partly of blue whinstone . partly
of strata of freestone, dipping, about an angle from 7° to 10° towards
the north. The range which diverges from Dunsyre-hill contains deep beds
of pure limestone, resembling gray marble; some of them eight and even
sixteen feet deep. These beds are frequently cut across by dikes of
clay, gravel, and loose blocks of the same material. In the channels of
some of the streams which run down from the high ground are beds of what
is denominated Coston limestone. This is apparently a mixture of sand
and lime, which has been subjected to heat, and is extremely hard.
Some traces of iron-ore
are to be found in these last-mentioned rocks in close union with the
stone; and copper-ore in some places has been discernible. Coal has also
been considered as lying under these strata, and attempts have been made
to dig it, but without success. A fair trial has never been made. The
line of the seams .which run across the island passes through Dunsyre to
the east. It has also been wrought about a' mile to the west, and runs
on to Douglas, and passes through Ayrshire to the Mull of Cantyre. Cale-spar
is discernible in many parts in the parish.
There are various
alluvial deposits in this parish. At the foot of those streamlets which
descend from the high grounds are several acres of fine soil carried
upon the flat marshy land below. This soil is generally a mixture of
clay and sand, of a reddish colour, and bears most excellent crops. The
river has also, by being often flooded, deposited on its banks sand to
the height, in some places, of two or three feet above the surrounding
bog. This large flat is mostly composed of moss,—in some places eleven
and even sixteen feet in depth. In digging down the one-half of that
depth,. it is found to become soft, and the water and sludge rise to the
mouth of the pit. It lies in a kind of basin, whose bottom is adhesive
clay. Branches and trunks of trees are everywhere deposited in it, and
these are generally composed of hazel, alder, and willow.
Soil.—The soil in this
parish, especially in the eastern part, may be said to be generally
sandy, and the grounds appear to have been, at one time, traversed by
currents of water. Towards the west, the subsoil seems to consist of the
debris of various hills; among which are found stones of all kinds mixed
with sand and clay, and occasionally transparent pebbles. These stones
appear to have been rounded by attrition. The light sandy grounds in a
few years are covered with heath, if not kept clear by the plough; and
the other soils become foul with rushes, paddock-pipes, and the coarse
bog grasses. In many places the Yorkshire fog, as it is called, covers
all the surface, particularly if inclined to moss.
Zoology.—On this head, it
may be only mentioned, that the gannet, or sea-gull, frequents this
parish, especially when a storm of wind and rain is threatened. This
appears rather singular in a parish situate nearly thirty miles from the
sea coast. The lapwing also migrates in flocks to this point during the
summer season, and has been known to continue during winter. The eagle
is sometimes seen on the hills to the north of Dunsyre, particularly on
Craigengar. There is plenty of grouse in these moors, and a few black
game. The gray plover is everywhere to be seen. Wild ducks are numerous
in the marshes; and during a storm the parish is often visited with
flocks of wild geese, to the amount of fifty-or sixty in a covey.
Medwin is a fine trouting
stream. The trout are for the most part red, of a considerable size, and
reckoned superior in quality to those of either Clyde or Tweed. Pike of
a very large size is often found in the deep parts of the river.
distinguished characters have been proprietors in this parish. So early
as the year 1147, William de Sommerville, the third of that noble
family, afterwards Lord Sommerville, married Margaret, daughter of
Gualter, who is designed of Newbigging, and Lord of Dunsyre. Sir Patrick
Hepburn of Hales was, during his father's life, designed of Dunsyre, in
the year 1450, who, on account of his great merit and fortune, was by
King James III. created a Baron or Lord of Parliament, ante ,annum 1456.
Adam Second Lord Hales succeeded his father, during whose life lie had
been designed Adam Hepburn of Dunsyre. His successors were created Earls
of Bothwell on the 5th of October 1488, and the last of the family was
created Duke of Orkney by Queen Mary, whom he had afterwards the honour
Archibald the Sixth Earl
of Angus exchanged his castle and lands of hermitage in Liddesdale, with
Hepburn Earl of Bothwell, for the castle of Bothwell in Clydesdale; and
hence this property fell into the hands of the Douglases. It has since
belonged to various individuals.
Sir Norman Macdonald
Lockhart of Lee and Carnwath, Baronet, is now proprietor of almost the
whole parish. The valuation of the parish, as fixed in 1733, amounted to
L. 1450 Scots money; of which Sir Norman Lockhart has L.1383, 13s. 4d.,
and the remainder L. 66, 6s. 8d. belongs to the Rev. Mr Aiton, which was
bequeathed by the late Rev. Mr Bowie, minister of Dolphin-ton, to the
minister serving the cure of that parish.
earliest 'registers of the parish are dated June 7, 1690. By minute of
that date, Mr Robert Skene, curate of the parish, is required to give up
the kirk-box and key. They have been regularly kept till the year 1712.
An interval then occurs till 1760; after which they are regularly kept
to the present day.
generally denominated fortalices, which were stationed in the valley of
Dunsyre, establish the fact that the parish was well inhabited in early
times. At Easter Sax- on there were no fewer of these than five. At
Todholes, in the west end of the parish, stood one of considerable
strength, with a fosse around it. There were castles of the same
construction at Westhall Hills, Auston; and about 300 yards from the
church stood the castle of Dunsyre. It had a vault on the ground story,
with two apartments above, which were approached by a circular staircase
at one of the corners. About eighty or a hundred years ago, the Baron
baillie held his courts in this tower, and in the vault were kept the
thumbkins and the boots for torture. On the death of the last baron, who
is represented to have exercised a tyrannical sway, the people of the
village met, and destroyed these odious engines.
Many Roman reliques have
been found here. The line by which the army of Agricola reached the camp
at Cleghorn lies through the parish of Dunsyre, and the route can be
traced up the county of Tweeddale. The entrance to the glen or valley
where Dunsyre is situate is called the Garvald or Garrel; it forms the
most natural and easy communication betwixt the east and west of the
plain. Through this rugged pass lies the Roman line, marked out by a
dike of earth. Several cairns occur here and in the neighbourhood; in
some of which urns have been found. One of these is about 6 inches in
diameter. It is composed of burnt clay, and rudely carved over. Its
tinder part is narrow, of the shape of the human heart, and projects
from the depth of 7 inches about 2½ towards the mouth. [Several other
cairns and urns are noticed in the original MS.]
Among the many places to
which the champions of the Reformation fled for safety, Dunsyre was one
of the chief. On the confines of this parish, where it borders with
Lothian and Tweeddale, is a deep ravine, in the centre of which there is
a large collection of stones. This deep rugged spot bears the name of
Roger's Kirke, which, in all probability, it received from one of the
Covenanters.---One of the
most celebrated preachers, Mr William Veitch, was tenant in Westhills,
which he was forced to abandon after the battle of Pentlands in 1667. He
was the person deputed by the council of the covenanting army, while
they were lying at Colinton, to go to Edinburgh to learn some
intelligence of importance. He accomplished this mission with great
difficulty, but without securing the slightest advantage. On returning,
he was accidentally surrounded by a troop of the enemy's cavalry, from
which he escaped with difficulty, and fled to Dunsyre. Mr Veitch
afterwards escaped to England; and after the Revolution became minister
of Peebles, and thereafter of Dumfries. [See notice of Major Learmonth
in Account of Dophinton.]
In 1669, Mr Donald
Cargill, one of the most distinguished friends of freedom, whose
persecutions were as remarkable as his conduct was courageous, preached
his last sermon on Dunsyre common. He went, though contrary to the
advice of his friends, to Andrew Fisher's, at Covington Mill, where next
day he was seized by Irvine of Bonshaw. He was treated in the most
ignominious manner; his back, was turned to the horse's head, his feet
tied below its belly; and in this manner he was led through the streets
of Lanark. He was afterwards hanged in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, his
head struck off and fixed on the Netherbow port.
There are several places
in the moor which still go by the name of preaching holes, and which
formed the retreat of the persecuted preachers. Into these they
generally retired, while the congregations dispersed at the approach of
The decrease has been
owing to the union of small farms, and the dislike which the farmers
entertain towards what are generally denominated cottars.
No nobility, nor families
of independent fortune reside in the parish. There are only two
proprietors, and both their properties are worth upwards of L. 50
Agriculture and Rural
There are in the parish,
cultivated and occasionally in tillage, upwards of 3000 acres.
Constantly in pasture, many of which are waste and of very little value,
Capable of being improved by a judicious application of capital, 2000
Under wood, •- - - - - - - 30
Undivided common, - - - - - - 0
All the wood has been
planted; and, from being constantly cut without any new plantation, will
very soon cease to exist altogether. The trees are Scotch fir and larch.
Rate of Wages.—Farm
men-servants receive for summer and winter, being generally hired by the
year, from L. 8 to L. 12, besides bed and board : females during the
summer, L. 3, and during the winter from L. 2 to L. 2, 10s., bed and
board. If the men are married, they generally receive about L. 10 wages,
and a free. house, with a certain quantity of fuel driven. Masons' wages
are about 2s. 6d. a-day, and a carpenter's nearly the same.
Breeds of Live
Stock.—Considerable attention has been paid to the breeds of sheep and
cattle. The Cheviot are bought in some instances when hogs, and
afterwards fattened on the turnips. The black-faced are the staple
breed, of which there are no fewer than 150 scores in the parish. They
are also reared for fattening on turnips. The Ayrshire breed of cattle
is generally cultivated, and a cross-breed of heavier stock is annually
reared for draughting and feeding on turnips.
Particular attention has
been paid to the dairy. The number of milch cows kept by the farmer is
generally betwixt 20 and 30. The milk-houses are fitted up in the
neatest manner, so as to preserve the milk fresh and clean. The usual
method is to make butter, which is salted and sold about Martinmas. Of
the skimmed milk, cheeses are made, which are sold about the same time.
Dunlop cheeses are also made, and rival any from Ayrshire.
rotation is that which is generally practised, as the soil will scarcely
admit of a heavier cropping. Turnips are reared in great abundance, and
few parishes can boast. of so fine crops.
The Medwin has lately
been straightened, and will thus afford a. facility for draining the
surrounding bog. Draining has been carried on to a considerable extent;
and irrigation was first practised in this parish in. the upper ward of
Clydesdale, and has been improving constantly for the last twenty years.
The late William Brown, tenant at Mains, was the first to introduce the
improved system of husbandry into this parish.
Leases are. granted for
nineteen years. The farm-buildings are in general commodious, and in
good repair. But the enclosures are few, and in a very indifferent
gross amount of raw produce raised in the parish, as nearly as can be
ascertained, is as follows:
nearest market-towns are Carnwath and Biggar: the former, about 6 miles
from the village of Dunsyre, where there is a weekly market held on
Friday, which may be said to be the chief resort for farm produce from
Biggar is about 8 miles
distant, and is attended from this parish principally for seed-corn in
spring on Thursday, every week, and its fairs are frequented for horses,
cattle, and lambs. Linton, however, in Tweeddale, which is about 6 miles
distant, constitutes the principal sheep and wool market.
village consists of a population of about 50 souls, chiefly composed of
tradesmen, for the accommodation of the parish.--smiths, masons,
wrights, tailors, shoemakers, &c. There was once a considerable village
at Weston. But now the remaining cottages are chiefly inhabited by the
servants and families belonging to the farms of that name.
Communication.—Dunsyre keeps up a weekly communication with Edinburgh by
means of carriers; and the parish is traversed three or four times
a-week by carriers from the vicinity of the metropolis. They purchase
butter, eggs, and fowls, which are generally sold at the Saturday
There is no post-office
in the parish. Carnwath is the chief post-town for Dunsyre. A runner
from the post-office at Linton to Roberton, in Dolphinton, might be had
twice a-week for L. 2. yearly. This arrangement would serve three
parishes, and pay back more than the outlay.
parish church stands on a tumulus or mound, on the northern banks of the
Medwin, and is quite conveniently situate for the inhabitants. At what
time the church was built is uncertain. About 1750 it was thatched with
heath ; as it then appears to have received for the first time a slate
roof. At the Reformation, it had been built of the barn construction
with the materials of an old Gothic building. In 1820 it underwent a
complete repair; and a Gothic tower was erected at the east end, and on
each side is a lofty Gothic window. It is seated to accommodate betwixt
240 and 250 sitters. The seats are all free. The heritors divided them
amongst their tenants in proportion to their rentals ; and allotted a
certain proportion to the village.
The manse was built in
1756, and was pretty well repaired in 1815. It has now, however, become
ruinous, and requires either to be rebuilt, or very thoroughly repaired.
There is also a deficiency in the accommodation of office-houses.
The glebe consists of
fifteen English acres, exclusive of the site of the manse, and offices,
and garden. It was subdivided and enclosed-with stone dikes, and hedges,
and rows of trees, by the present incumbent, and, being well drained,
may be worth L. 30 or L. 40 annually.
The church or living was
gifted to the Abbot and Convent of Kelso, betwixt the years 1180 and
1199, by Helias brother to Jocelyne, bishop of Glasgow, and held by that
Convent from the twelfth century till the Reformation. This parish was a
rectory of the monks of Kelso; but the revenue they drew from thence
till the year 1316, was not above L. 5, 6s. 8d. annually. At the
Reformation the revenue increased to L. 20. In 1791-2 the stipend was L.
100, exclusive of manse and glebe, which last was estimated at L.10
a-year. In 1811, when the Legislature augmented the livings below L. 150
to that sum, the living of Dunsyre on an average of the seven previous
years was worth L. 114, 17s. 11 9/12d. inclusive of L. 8, 6s. 8d. for
communion elements. As the seven years average was taken when grain was
very high, the deficiency in succeeding years became great; and another
act of Parliament was passed in 1824 to remedy the evil. Still, however,
although a small addition was then made, it seldom happens, from the
reduced price of grain, that the stipend rises to L. 150. It may be
worth while to mention, that the minister was titular of the teinds, and
still continues to receive annually 15s. 2Id. as feu-duty from the,
lands called Kirklands.
There are no chapels or
dissenting-houses in the parish; and hence the parish church is
generally well attended. The average. number of communicants is about
The yearly average of
collections for the last seven years, including fines, mortcloth,
interest, &c., is L. 19, 2s. 6¼d.
Education.—There is only
one parochial school in the parish. Latin is taught. The salary is about
L. 28. The schoolmaster has the legal accommodation, though it is
supposed there is deficiency of garden or glebe. There are no
individuals in this parish who have not been taught from their infancy
to read and write.
friendly society was instituted about the year 1799: it continues, and
has for its object to support the sick or disabled members, and to
assist in the funeral expenses of husband or wife.
Poor and Parochial
Funds.—The average number of persons receiving parochial assistance for
the last seven years is 5 6/7, and the sum annually allotted to each is
about L. 6. The funds arising from collections, fines, mortcloths,
proclamations, and interest of, money lent out to the road trustees at
five per cent., in general cover the expenditure ; but when found,
insufficient, recourse has been had to voluntary contributions. There
was at one time an. extreme aversion to receive parochial aid, and there
are still many in necessitous circumstances who would feel degraded by
accepting it. But the spirit of independence is gradually wearing away,.
and many consider it not only as not degrading, but talk of it as a.
right given to them by the law of the land.
Alehouses.—There are no
houses of this description in the parish.
Fuel.—The fuel generally,
used is coal, which is driven from a distance of twelve miles, and costs
about 12s. a ton. A great deal of peat is dug. In the moors or in the
marsh on the banks of the Medwin, it is to be had in great abundance,
but coal is considered more profitable.
When the former
Statistical Account was published, the modern system of husbandry was
little known, and as little practised. Nay, those who had the genius or
the hardihood to deviate from the old beaten path were branded as
visionaries. This, however, is not the case in the present day: the
farmers are active, industrious, and prosperous.
The great want in this
parish is shelter,—the farms, for the most part, being quite exposed to
the sweep of the east and west winds. There is also a great deficiency
in draining. About two years ago the Medwin; which ran in innumerable
windings, was straightened for the distance of three miles. This work,
however, has not been sufficiently done, as the water, at the under part
of the cut overflows its banks, in consequence of a mill-dam, which
keeps back the water. This should be entirely removed to render the
straightening effectual. Were the flat through which the cut runs
sufficiently drained by ditches into the river, there would be recovered
not less than 400 acres of the best land in the parish,—all of a deep
rich water-borne soil, composed of decayed vegetables, and likely to be
worth more than one-half of all the land under cultivation.
At present the principal
road runs from the one end of the parish to the other nearly parallel
with the river, at the distance of half a mile, and at the east end
joins the public road from Edinburgh to Biggar by a very circuitous
route. Whereas, were it to be continued straight east through the
Garvald, to join the same road near Linton, it would open up a most
Revised April 1834.