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The History of Sanquhar
Chapter II.— Antiquarian

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 marked.

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 were found.

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 Galloway.

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, Sanquhar.

Groin Stone of Arch in old Parish Church, and several well-preserved pieces of the Mullions of the windows of the old Church.

[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 Museum, Thornhill.

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 Scott.

Pre-Reformation Tombstone, embellished with cross-and-scissors device ; built into the east wall of the Churchyard.

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.

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