Follow the steps of Robert Burns, 'The National Bard of Scotland'
drawn up by
The Burns Howff
Dumfries (Approx 1mile, 1.6km)
walk which starts at the Fountain at the junction of High Street and
English Street, could be called a Robert Burns/Hospitals walk, as it
covers places which are either connected with the National Bard or the
Dumfries and Galloway Infirmaries and Hospitals. There have, incidentally,
been four Infirmaries since 1776.
let us move off in a Southerly direction down High Street and almost
immediately we find, through one of Dumfries's many closes, Robert Burns
favourite howff or place of resort or concourse - the Globe Inn. This
ancient hostelry dates back to the year 1610, and still stands as it was,
with the same romantic atmosphere. The stables have now been incorporated
with the Inn but many of the other rooms still remain as they were in
Burns' day. Robert Burns was a frequent visitor to the Globe Hotel, as it
was in his day, even writing some verses, probably with his diamond ring,
on the window panes. These can still be seen today. Full of Burns'
artifacts, the Globe Inn is well worth a visit from all lovers of Robert
Burns and members of the staff will be only too pleased to show visitors
Moving further South to the junction of High Street and Shakespeare
Street, we see Burns Street opposite on the left. The house in Burns
Street, which previously was Mill Vennel and later Mill Street, was where
Robert Burns spent the last years of his life. The accommodation in the
Wee Vennel, Burns' first house in the area, was becoming increasingly
inadequate with the arrival of a daughter on 21st November, 1792, and
Burns decided to move to the house in Mill Vennel. The poet's eldest son,
Robert Burns, Junior, furnished an interesting account of life in Mill
Vennel, indicating that the self-contained house, whose rental was £8 per
year, was of a kind then occupied by the better class of burgess:- 'My
mother and father always had a maid-servant, and sat in their parlour.
That apartment, together with two bedrooms was well furnished and
carpeted; and when good company assembled, which was often the case, the
hospitable board which they surrounded was of a patrician mahogany. There
was much comfort in the house, not to be found in those houses of ordinary
citizens; for besides the spoils of smugglers, the poet received many
presents of game and country produce from the rural gentlefolk, as well as
occasional barrels of oysters from Hill, Cunningham and other friends in
town; so that he was as much envied by some of his neighbours, as he has
since been pitied by the general body of his countrymen'.
Armour continued to reside in the Mill Vennel home until her death 38
years later. One cannot think of Jean Armour without Burns' lovely song
coming to mind: -
'Of a' the airts the wind can blaw
I dearly like the west,
For there the bonie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best.
There wild woods grow, and rivers row
And monie a hill between,
But day and night my fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.'
1944, the transfer of responsibility for the maintenance of the house was
handed over to the local Council, and a curator, Mr. Tom McCrone,
to Burns' house in the Mill Vennel stood the Ragged School, the premises
for which adjoined the poet's residence. Associated with the school there
was an Industrial School, to which juveniles convicted of petty offenses
were sent - the children at both the Ragged School and the Industrial
School usually numbered around one hundred. Food for body and mind was
supplied to them.
close to where Burns' House stands, in Burns Street, was, in the 1770's,
the site of the first Dumfries Infirmary.
now continue South and cannot fail to see St. Michael's Church appearing
before us. Robert and Jean Burns were members of this Church while they
resided in the Mill Vennel, and their pew is marked to this day with a
commemorative plague. It is the original parish church of Dumfries, and,
although little is known of its early history, it can safely be asserted
that the foundation is one of great antiquity. Indeed, the site was almost
certainly sacred before the advent of Christianity. It appears that a
Christian Church has stood on the site for more than 1,300 years.
Following the practice of the day, King William gave the Church of
Dumfries and its dependent chapel, dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket, to
the Abbey at Kelso.
is not known how many buildings have stood on St. Michael's Mount,
Dumfries. From a petition sent to the Papal Curia in 1427, we learn that
the Greyfriars Monastery, which stood in the centre of the town, 'is
desolate, collapsed and destitute in its houses and has been burned by the
English enemies and the Wars long-raging in these parts'. St. Michael's
was not only the site of the Parish Church, it also formed the Southern
part of the town's defenses, commanding the main road from the South into
the burgh. Any Church at the time of the Wars of Independence would not
have been stoutly built and would almost certainly have been despoiled.
There is a belief that the old St. Michael's was the last Church in
Scotland in which High Mass was said at the time of the Reformation. A
century later, popular support tended to be for the Covenanters, and the
Rev. William Veitch, M.A. (1640-1722), was one of St. Michael's ministers
who suffered much persecution for his adherence to the principles of the
Covenant. After taking part in the Pentland Rising, he was imprisoned and
condemned to death, but escaped to England. He was called to be minister
of St. Michael's in 1694 and gave distinguished service for 21 years. A
beautiful pair of solid silver Communion Cups, which he gifted to the
congregation in 1705, are still in regular use at Communion Services. The
Church has had a long history, at times exciting and at other times merely
of interest, but the most important item of history is that, over a
millennium, men and women have found within its walls that peace, strength
and certitude which comes from a Faith quietly and diligently practised.
St. Michael's Churchyard, of course, is the Mausoleum built to commemorate
Robert Burns, Scotland's National Bard. Also in the graveyard are buried
some 40 or 50 of Burns' contemporaries and friends, and a plaque,
following a project organised by the Dumfries Burns Howff Club, denotes
the location of those.
we leave St. Michael's Church and prepare to go further South and up St.
Michael's Street, we see, on the opposite side of the road, Moorheads'
Hospital. 'Quite a lonely building it is, as you can perceive, with an air
of the antique, and, on the whole, not unprepossessing in its outward
aspect. It was erected in 1753 by the bequests of James Moorhead,
merchant, Dumfries, and of his brother-german William Moorhead, who, for
some time before his death carried on business at Carlisle. Their
considerate design being to found a home for persons of both sexes,
belonging to the burgh, who had seen better days, and for the maintenance,
guardianship and education of some orphans. The number of residents is
usually about forty, of whom generally two-thirds or more are adults, and
both classes are lodged in the house, supplied with comfortable clothing,
wholesome diet and medical attendance. Provision is also made for their
spiritual improvement by weekly prayer-meetings in the house, and by, free
seats in St. Michael's Church opposite'. This description of Moorheads'
Hospital was written by William McDowall, a Dumfries historian of the
nineteenth century, and today Moorheads' is run as a home for the elderly,
under Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, and still provides an
excellent home for those requiring such a place. Therefore the wishes and
desires of the Moorheads has been maintained.
Passing up St. Michael's Street and continuing, after the roundabout, on
to Nithbank, we see flats on the right, and this was where the 'second'
Dumfries Infirmary stood. On the 13th of May, 1807, a charter from the
Crown incorporated the contributors to the Infirmary into a body politic
under the name of the Governors of Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary -
the governors consisting of benefactors to the extent of twenty guineas or
more, paid within two years, who thereby became governors for life,
subscribers of not less than one guinea annually, and the two physicians,
the two surgeons and the Treasurer for the time being. For the first
fifteen years, the medical officers were paid nothing for their services,
except a small allowance of five shillings a day, granted by the
Government for military patients. For the year ended 11th November, 1865,
the death rate was only 6.2. It was at this Infirmary in1846, that the
first anaesthetic was administered by means of 'an apparatus hastily
improvised by Dr. Fraser'. There seems to be every reason to believe that
this, the second Infirmary in Dumfries, was the pioneering hospital in
September, 1869, the foundation of a new Infirmary (seen on the opposite
side of the road - on the left going South along Nithbank) was laid with
due pomp and ceremony. The building is in the Northern Italian style of
architecture. A central block, three storeys high, with wings of two
storeys, form the front elevation. The main central doorway is flanked by
pilasters, carrying, on the second floor, two gigantic emblematic figures
- the protecting divinities of the house -from the chisel of Mr. John
Currie. All the windows in the centre and wings are fully architraved,
while the large one in the main block is covered by a pointed gable,
crocketted, and capped by fleur-de-lys. There have, since the erection of
the main building, been added detached blocks, originally for the
treatment of infectious diseases, the accommodation of nurses and a
building temporarily utilised as a sanatorium for consumptives. The
building, which is now Nithbank Hospital, has been converted, following
construction of a new Infirmary, for the treatment and care of the
Still walking in a Southerly direction, after approximately 100 yards we
come to what is known as the 'three road ends'. We take the middle road. A
little further on, Castledykes Park is on the right - once, in the time of
Robert the Bruce, the site of a castle. Nearby the park was a sandstone
quarry, with the entire area now a most beautiful park which is well worth
Twenty or so yards before the park entrance-gate, is an entry on the
right, to the house where the person who is buried in the original grave
of Robert Burns, Mrs. Agnes Perochon, resided. Subsequent to the removal
of Burns' body from its original resting- place to the Mausoleum, the plot
was given by Mrs. Burns to a respected friend, Monsieur Perochon, whose
wife was the daughter of the poet's kind patroness, Mrs. Dunlop; Mrs.
Perochon, in accordance with her dying wish, was laid in the tomb of her
mother's friend. On the monument in St. Michael's Churchyard, there is the
following inscription:- 'Sacred to the memory of Agnes Eleanor Dunlop,
wife of Joseph Elias Perochon, the only daughter and worthy representative
of Sir Thomas Wallace of Craigie, Bart., who died the 16th October, 1823.
Also in memory of Anne, daughter of Alexander Cunningham, Esq, and widow
of Anthony Dunlop, Esq, who died 17th February, 1854'. Jean Armour wrote
to Mrs. Perochon on the 2nd February, 1816:- 'Much already do I owe to
your disinterested friendship; and while a generous public are anxious to
do justice to the genius of my husband, by building so superb a monument
to perpetuate his memory, you have paid the last tribute of your regard by
so warmly interesting yourself on behalf of his widow and children. In
this you follow the example of her whose virtue you inherit, and who
highly distinguished Mr. B. by a friendship which formed one of his first
walk during the past one or two hundred yards has meant that we have
travelled alongside a high hedge on the left. Behind this hedge is the
present Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and residencies of which we
will get a much better view later on in the walk.
further fifty yards up the Glencaple Road we come, on the left, to the
Main Gate of the Crichton Royal Hospital. Founded in 1839, the Crichton
Institution for Lunatics, as it then was, was funded under the direction
of Mrs. Elizabeth Crichton by means of a vast fortune amassed by her
husband, a man with Sanquhar origins. The pioneering policies of Dr.
William Browne, the first Medical Superintendent, led to dramatic
productions, organised, directed and produced by the patients from 1843.
Also the 'New Moon Magazine', the first hospital magazine in the world,
written monthly by patients - all copies of which, from 1844 to 1937, are
today part of the Crichton Royal Museum collection. The Museum also holds
part of what was the second hospital library, dating back to the 1840's.
Occupational, recreational, social and art therapies were being practised
here at least 150 years ago. Maintaining the use of local red sandstone,
the building of houses or wards, each one with a view, to accommodate the
various categories of patient, proceeded apace. In addition to an artesian
well, brand new farm buildings, an electricity generating station, a
Church, a new gardens scheme, a major new recreational and therapeutic
centre, as well as extensive outdoor facilities, were all created
according to the highest specifications, thereby establishing one of the
most splendid institutions in the world, and now covering over 1,000
we enter in at the Main Gate, we see Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary on
the left, but, following the main Crichton road about 45 degrees to the
right, we enter the Crichton Royal complex. On the right is a magnificent
garden and rockery, which is well worth a stroll through. We proceed along
the road, turning left at the side-road up to the magnificent Crichton
Church, built in 1897. The inside of the Church, equally splendiferous,
may be seen on an enquiry being made at the Museum. Carrying on, in an
Easterly direction behind the Church, we are confronted with Easterbrook
Hall immediately in front of us - Dr. Easterbrook being one of the Medical
Superintendents of the twentieth century. On the left of Easterbrook Hall
and facing us, is the Crichton Museum, which, again, is worth a visit. The
museum was opened by Prince Charles in 1989, to celebrate the 150th
anniversary of this hospital.
Having visited the Museum, we now proceed out of the grounds of the
Crichton via the gate visible on our right as we leave the hall. This
brings us out on Bankend Road, and turning left, we make our way back to
the town once more.
we walk along, the ground on both our right and left is Crichton Royal
ground and houses for their staff. We also pass, on our right the Crichton
Social Club and Golf Course. The latter is a nine-hole course and was
built for the use of patients and staff alike.
Further on we get an excellent view of the Dumfries and Galloway Royal
Infirmary on the left. It is a hospital of over 400 beds, built on the
site of a previous Crichton Golf Course, and opened by Her Majesty the
Queen in 1975. The present Infirmary which, it has already been said, is
the fourth to be erected in Dumfries together with the other hospitals in
the area, supports the British Medical Association's assessment that the
Dumfries and Galloway Health Board was 'the best Hospital Board in the
so on, we walk down the brae and come again to the 'three road ends'. This
time we go down Nithbank and re-trace our steps along St. Michael's
Street, but this time, instead of going down Burns Street, we carry
straight on down Nith Place.
Nith Place, on the right, was the dwelling-house of Gabriel Richardson, a
Provost of Dumfries in the nineteenth century and a great friend of Robert
Burns. The house was, until recently, occupied by descendants of Mr.
Richardson, who carried on a large business as a brewer, and at the time
when he used to be visited by his distinguished guest, was a leading
Councillor of the Burgh. From 1791 to 1796, the poet frequently spent a
few hours of a Sabbath evening at Mr. Richardson's fireside, besides
looking in occasionally on weekdays. On one occasion, when the
conversation at the family circle turned upon the transitory nature of all
mundane things, Burns, having taken from his pocket the diamond pen which
he usually carried about with him, said he would furnish beforehand a
fitting epitaph for his host. He then, on one of the tumblers with which
the festive board was furnished, inscribed the following lines:
'Here brewer Gabiel's fire's extinct.,
And empty all his barrels;
He's blest, if as he brewed he drink -
In upright virtuous morals.'
Carrying on down Nith Place, we again come to Shakespeare Street, with the
High street just across the road on the right. About fifty yards up this
Street and we're back at the fountain, with the waters still rolling from