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The History of Sanquhar
Chapter III.—Early History

IN the Roman period, the western clan of the Selgovse inhabited Annandale, Nithsdale, and Eskdale in Dumfriesshire; the east part of Galloway, as far as the river Dee, which was their western boundary; and they had the Solway Firth for their southern limit. The British name of the Selgovm is supposed to be descriptive of their country, which lay on a dividing water, and which, by the new settlers who were introduced during the middle ages, was denominated the Solway. The Nid or Nith, like the Nidus or Nith in Wales, derives its appropriate name from the British Nedd, which is pronounced Neth, and which signifies, in the Cambro-British speech, circling or revolving.

After the Romans had withdrawn from their occupation of North Britain, as of the remainder of the island, the Danish Vikinger, sallying out from Northumberland in 875 A.D., wasted Galloway, which of old included Dumfriesshire. The Saxon plantation had always been inconsiderable, and the Saxon authority became extinct at the end of the eighth century. This incited the settlement of a new colony from Ireland, and the settlers of this period were followed by fresh swarms from the Irish hive during the ninth and tenth centuries. These Gruithne, as they were called, were joined by the kindred Scots of Kintire, and it was these Irish colonists which, Chalmers is of opinion, assumed the name of Picts, as seen in the chronicles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Picts signifying painted, and being the well-known name of the genuine Picts of Scotland.

It is curious to remark how much the names of places within the peninsula bounded by the Irish Sea and the Firths of Solway and the Clyde correspond with the history of the people who successively colonized within its limits. The paucity of Anglo-Saxon names in Dumfriesshire, exclusive of the pure English appellations of modern times, proves that the Saxons never settled within Galloway in any numerous bodies for any length of years. The Irish settlers completely occupied the whole extent of the peninsula, and mingling in every place with the enfeebled Britons, whose speech they understood, and amalgamating with the still fewer Saxons, whose language they rejected as unintelligible, the Scoto-Irish imposed their names on many places which still remain on the county maps.

It is perhaps more difficult to settle, with equal precision, the several epochs at which the Saxon settlers sat down in Dumfriesshire among the Scoto-Irish. A few Saxons did settle in this district among the British Selgovje during the seventh and eighth centuries, but the most extensive and permanent colonisation in Dumfriesshire took place in a subsequent age. The occupation by the Scoto-Irish must have extended pver several centuries, for we find that in the reign of David I. (1124-1153) Nithsdale still remained in the hands of Dunegal of Stranith, a Scoto-Irish chief, and was then inhabited by a Scoto-Irish people, who long enjoyed their own laws. This Dunegal ruled from the Castle of Morton, the ruins of which still remain, the whole of the strath from Corsancone to Criffel. On his death, his possessions were divived among his four sons, of whom only two, Randolph (or Rodolph) and Duvenal, are known to history. Randolph, the eldest, inherited the largest share of the patrimonial estates, and, like his father, had his residence at Morton Castle. He had three sons, the youngest of whom, Dovenald, received from his father Sanchar (so it was then spelt), Ellioe, and other lands, and was slain, while quite a youth, at the “Battle of the Standard.” One of Dovenald’s sons was Edgar, who lived in the reigns of William the Lion and Alexander II. The children of this chief adopted the surname of Edgar for the family—one of the earliest recorded instances of the adoption of a surname in Nithsdale. One of his sons, Richard, owned the Castle and half of the barony of Sanquhar, together with the lands of Elioek, by charter from Robert Brus, the other half being owned by W'illiam de Crichton through marriage with Isobel, daughter of Robert de Ross (who was related to the Lord of the Isles) ; and, to his grandson Donald, David II., who began to reign on the death of his father Robert the Bruce in 1329, granted the captainship of the MacGowans, a numerous clan of the Scoto-Irish then located in the district. The possessions of the Edgars in Nithsdale were very extensive, for we find that Affrica, the daughter of Edgar, in the reign of Alexander II. owned the lands of Dunscore, a place there still bearing the name of Edgarstown. Edgar is still a common name in Dumfriesshire, and from this ancient stock some families in the neighbourhood of Sanquhar can still trace their descent, the common progenitor of all the Edgars having been the son of Dovenald, the Scoto-Irish chief.— Chalmers’ Caledonia.

Prior to the twelfth century, a good deal of obscurity surrounds the history and condition of the country. Excepting a few leading facts, much of the so-called history is merely the collected opinions of various historians. These opinions rest frequently on very slender foundation, being at the best nothing more than shrewd conjecture, and, to a considerable extent, contradictory of each other. The law of the land, too, was an unwritten law, and consisted simply of the established usages and customs of the people. From the date mentioned, “the laws of England and Scotland,” Lord Kaimes says, “were originally the same, almost in every particular.” The beginning of the twelfth century marks a new era in the history of the country. Then it was that the feudal system, which in a modified form still prevails among us, was first established; the land, which previously had been the subject merely of grants, was now secured to its possessors by charters, and the administration of justice, however rude and imperfect in form, was provided for by the appointment of Sheriffs, whose duties, if not at first, at least afterwards, were military as well as judicial, as we shall see in the Chapter on the Crichton family. “These Sheriffs,” we have it on the authority of Caledonia, “the Celtic people, both in Ireland and Scotland, concurred in hating.” This is not surprising, however, as human nature at all times is apt to rebel against unaccustomed restraints. The jurisdiction of these Sheriffs was not confined to shires, but extended over certain defined territories, ten in number. The idea of shire, belonging to the Saxons, was unknown to the races that then inhabited Scotland.

The Norman colonisation which, beginning in the reign of Edgar, was carried out so extensively in the propitious reign of David I. (1124), exerted a wonderful influence on the settlement of the country. Society now began to assume definite shape and form. The colonists were English barons, who brought with them a host of vassals. These barons were attracted across the border in the year 1124, when David came to the throne. He had been educated at the Court of Henry I., and had married an English countess. The wonder which one would naturally feel at persons of rank and influence migrating from a richer to a poorer— from a comparatively civilised to a semi-barbarous country (for the pressure of over population was not then felt)— disappears when we consider the connection which the reigning monarch had had with their own Court. David, who was a wise monarch, probably held out such promises and inducements as were sufficiently enticing to lead these settlers to surrender certain social advantages for others of a material kind—to make the same kind of sacrifice which colonists iu these days have to undertake. The king was most liberal in his treatment of the colonists in the distribution of lands to them and their followers. The most conspicuous of these settlers was Hugh Moreville, who came from Burg, in Cumberland. He acquired vast possessions in both the east and the west country, and was a great favourite with David, who created him Constable of Scotland, which office was hereditary in his family for generations. He was the founder of the monastery of Dryburgh, and died in 1162. His grandson," William, having died without issue, the vast family estates passed into other hands through the marriage of his sister Elena to Roland, the Lord of Galloway. Their son, Alan, was one of the most powerful barons in Britain. He had no son, and his three daughters were married to English nobles—Elena to the Earl of Winchester, Christian to the son of the Earl of Albemarle, and Devorgil to John Baliol, the lord of Barnard Castle. By these marriages there was introduced into Galloway a great number of English settlers, much to the discontent of the natives, blit greatly to the ultimate advantage of the country. Several persons who were surnamed Ros, from the north of England, settled under the Morevilles in the district of Cunningham. Godfrey de Ros acquired from Richard Moreville the lands of Stewarton, in the possession of which he was succeeded by his son, James de Ros, and these are the progenitors of the Rosses of Halk-head, Ros Lord Ros, Ros of Tarbet in Cunningham, andRos of Sanquhar in Nithsdale. Here then we have the root of the second of the four great families—the Edgars, the Rosses, the Crichtons, and the Douglases—who for centuries bore sway in Upper Nithsdale. The Rosses were a family of high distinction. Robert de Ros, who was sent to Scotland by King John, married Isabel, the natural daughter of King William, in 1191, with whom he obtained a manor in Scotland. A descendant of his was one of the unsuccessful competitors for the Scottish crown in 1291.

These Rosses owned the lands of Ryehill, about a mile to the south-east of Sanquhar, and built a stronghold on their estate, of which traces still remain. In proof of the worthy character of this family, and the esteem in which they were held by their neighbours, Simpson quotes the inscription on one of the gravestones in their ancient burying ground, which ran thus—

Hir ly.s the gude Sir John Ross of Ryehill
Hir ly* the gude, gude Sir John Ross of Ryehill
Hir lys
of Ryehill

—and further assumes that it refers to three different persons of the same name. Now with regard to the character of Sir John Ross, whether one or three of the name, too much stress need not be laid upon evidence of this kind. In all likelihood the people of that, just as of this, generation had a regard to the adage “De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Besides, this inscription would likely be composed by a member of the family, and its testimony cannot therefore be accepted as quite unbiassed. Neither to our mind is the assumption that it refers to three different persons justified. We incline rather to the belief that it refers to one and the same person, and that the writer of the inscription adopted the well-known figure of a climax to emphasize the gudeness of this Sir John Ross “Their place of interment,” Simpson says, “appears to have been exactly to the east side of the moat of Ryehill, and close to the foot of the bank, as it was here the gravestones were found.”

The Edgars and Rosses were thus contemporaries. The former, the more important of the two families, possessed the Castle and the larger portion of the barony of Sanquhar, the latter having their headquarters at Ryehill, a place of altogether minor importance. By the failure, however, of the male line of the Rosses, and the marriage of Isabel de Ross, the heiress of Ryehill, to William de Crichton, there was introduced into Nithsdale a family which was destined to play an important part in the history of Sanquhar and the surrounding district. So bound up, indeed, was the name of Crichton with Sanquhar during a period of over 300 years, and so distinguished a part did the Crichtons play, that it has been deemed fitting to devote a separate chapter to their career.

Inglistown, a corruption, according to Chalmers, of English-town, marked the place where these English colonists at first settled. Now, as there is an Inglestown in Durisdeer, in Moniaive, in Irongray, and elsewhere, it is evident that the vale of Nith enjoyed its full share of the benefits which flowed from the introduction of these settlers. There were thus imported into Scotland the elements of a civilisation to which she had been a stranger—the order of society was of a distinctly higher kind than had hitherto obtained, and the native races were taught improved methods of agriculture and other manual arts. Great benefit was likewise received by the settlement throughout the lowlands of Scotland, about the same period, of a large number of Flemings. These Flemings, driven from their own country by force of circumstances, repaired in great numbers to England in the reigns of William Rufus and Henry I. In 1154, however, Henry II. banished the Flemings and other foreigners who had come to England in the previous reign, and the banished Flemings fled across the border and settled in the southern parts of Scotland. The skill of this people in weaving and textile industries of all kinds was known all over the Continent, and the trade of the Low countries in manufactured goods of this description was enormous. In this way the foundation was laid of that industrial skill and activity which, in these later times, afford employment to a large proportion of the population, and have developed a large trade in staple goods in the manufacturing towns along the banks of the Tweed, Nith, and other rivers in the South of Scotland. But the immigrants from the Low countries embraced not merely handicraftsmen, but also persons of rank—soldiers of fortune who had distinguished themselves in the wars, and whose services were rewarded with grants of lands which they well knew how to cultivate. The influence of these settlers must have strengthened that of the Anglo-Normans, who came across the border at an earlier period, in imbuing the minds of the native population with improved ideas of agricultural processes, and thus of advancing the material and social progress of the country.

Some of the principal towns of Scotland, as Edinburgh, Berwick, Roxburgh, &c., had their rise prior to this period, but to the Anglo-Norman settlers and their characteristic habits is due the existence of quite a number of smaller towns or villages, which now began to spring up all over the country. Being of a military race they, on settling in any locality, first busied themselves with the erection of a stronghold, around which their followers gathered, thus forming a hamlet and sometimes a town.

Another important factor in the settlement of the country, and the civilisation of its inhabitants, is to be found in the erection of so many religious houses. The monks were drawn chiefly from England. Then were built those magnificent abbeys and ecclesiastical edifices, the ruins of which bear witness to this day of the architectural skill and taste of their founders, and the patient labour bestowed by the monks on the beautification of God’s house. The Crown was generous in the gift of lands and revenues for the maintenance of the religious houses. The common notion of Protestants that the monk was a fat, lazy priest who filled up the measure of an easy-going life between religious duties and observances, performed in a spiritless and perfunctory manner, and the gratification of his fleshly appetites, in whatever degree it may have correctly described the monk of a later period, is certainly misapplied to those of this early age. It is well known that, besides having a monopoly of the learning of that time, these priests thought it no degradation of their office to learn to become skilled in all the then known arts and industries, and that, into whatever country they penetrated and obtained a footing, they, besides using all diligence in the propagation of the faith of which they were the professed teachers, were equally diligent in spreading abroad among the people a knowledge of those arts through which alone they could be raised from the wretched state of semi-barbarism in which they were too often sunk. Such were the influences which co-operated at this early age in introducing into Scotland some measure of civilisation. Still, they have not succeeded in obliterating the proof of the Celtic origin of the early inhabitants, and of the fact that Celtic blood runs in the veins of the Scottish people to this day. As Chalmers remarks—"Many children of the Celtic people have been, no doubt, converted from their maternal Celticism to the artificial Gothicism of the Saxon settlers; they have been induced, by interest, to imitate the Saxon manners; they may have been obliged, by discipline, to speak the Teutonic language. Yet at the end of seven centuries the Saxon colonists and their descendants have not been able, with the aid of religious prejudice and the influence of predominating policy, to annihilate the Celtic people, to silence the Gaelic tongue within Scotland, nor to obliterate the Celtic topography, which all remain the indubitable vouchers of the genuine history of North Britain.”

The name Sanquhar, or Sanchar as it was formerly spelt, is generally allowed to be a compound of two Celtic words—Saen, Caer—signifying “ old fort,” pointing undoubtedly to the existence of an ancient British stronghold at the time of the Scoto-Irish invasion in the ninth and tenth centuries. The site of this old fort is believed to have been the knoll immediately behind the present farm-house of Broomfield; a few hundred yards north of the town. The town of Sanquhar doubtless owed its origin to the existence of this fort. This was, indeed, the origin of many of the small country towns, both then and during the subsequent Anglo-Norman colonisation in the twelfth century, the people during those rude and unsettled times gathering for protection under the friendly shadow of a stronghold. In charters and other documents the name receives various forms of spelling— Sanchair, Sancher, Sanchar, &c., but in the early part of the seventeenth century the “ ch ” is changed into “ quh,” with the same sound, and that form the name has ever since retained. We confess to a wish that this change had never taken place, the older form being simpler, and having the advantage of a closer resemblance to the original. here are other two places, but not towns—one in Morayshire and the other in Ayrshire—of the same name with the same derivation. The town consisted simply of mud hovels and huts of wood, with a covering of thatch. There are old houses still standing which, if not built wholly of such materials, have had in their construction clay used as mortar, and the thatching with straw was up to the present generation a common enough method of covering the roof. To this style of covering succeeded for a time the use of thin layers of freestone called “flags,” but, though these were rain-proof and did not, like the thatch, require frequent renewing, they were of great weight, and put a severe strain upon the framework of the roof. Both have now given way to slates. The thatched roof was undoubtedly troublesome to keep in order, and was liable in a severe storm of wind to “ tirling,” but it had the advantage over slates—straw being a bad conductor of heat — of rendering the houses cool in summer and warm in winter. The thatch, too, gave an air of picturesqueness to the cottage, which is lacking in the bare slate, while the sparrow chirped and the swallow twittered beneath its eaves.

In the reign of Robert the Bruce, the Castle and half of the barony of Sanquhar were held by the Edgars; but, as is stated in the chapter on the Crichtons, they were purchased from them by Crichton, and the Castle became the residence of the Crichtons, and continued so during the long period down to 1630, when it was in turn sold to the Douglases of Drumlanrig. After the battle of Bannockburn, and the establishment of Scotland’s independence, the Edgars of Sanquhar, Elliock, &c., were confirmed in their possessions. We infer from this that they had remained true to their country’s cause, for many barons who had proved traitors, at this time had their estates forfeited to the Crown. During the war of independence, Sanquhar Castle was captured by the English, who placed a garrison within its walls. The aid of the gallant Douglas was besought, who, in response to the appeal, made a secret and rapid march with his followers down Crawick, where he placed them in ambush in the dark recesses of that glen not far from the Castle until a plan had been devised for its capture. This proved a clever piece of strategy, and was completely successful. The following is the account of the affair as it appears in Godscroft’s history of the Douglases, published in 1644 :—

Of William the Ilardie, (or Long legge), the fourth William and seventh Lord of Douglas.

“To Hugh did succeed his son William, who for his valour and courage is distinguished by the addition of William the hardie; he is named also William long legge by reason of his tall and goodly stature, having been a very personable man. He was twice married.....Concerning himself we find in the English Chronicle that when King Edward the first took the town of Berwick (in the year 1295) he was Captain of the Castle there, and not being able to resist and hold out, the Towne being in the enemies' hands, he rendred the place with himself also a prisoner, where he remained until the warres were ended by the yeelding of John Baliol to King Edward. During the time of his captivitie he was moved to marry this English Lady, that so he might be drawn to favour the King’s pretensions in conquering of Scotland. But his matching did not alter his affection towards his native countrey, nor brake his constancie in performing his dutie to it.

"Wherefore when he heard that William Wallace was risen up, and had taken open banner against the English, he joyned with him, by which accession of forces Wallace army was much increased and strengthened; yet they were not always together, but according to the occasion and as opportunity did offer they did divide their companies, and went to several places, where they hoped to get best advantage of the enemie, and where they needed no great Annie, but some few companies at once. In these adventures Lord William recovered from the English the Castles of Disdiere and Sanwheire. The manner of his taking the Castle of Sanwheire is said to have been thus :—There was one Anderson that served the Castle, and furnished them with wood and fewell, who had daily access to it upon that occasion. The Lord Douglas directs one of his trustiest and stoutest servants to him to deale with him, to find some means to betray the Castle to him, and to bring him within the gates onely. Anderson, either perswaded by entreatie or corrupted for money, gave my Lord’s servant (called Thomas Dickson) his apparell and carriages, who, comming to the Castle, was let in by the porter for Anderson. Dickson presently stabbed the porter, and giving the signall to his Lord, who lay neere by with his Companies, set open the gates, and received them into the Court. They being entered, killed the Captaine, and the whole English garrison, and so remained master of the place. The Captain’s name was Beuford, a kinsman to his own Ladie, who had oppressed the country that lay near to him very insolently. One of the English that had been in the Castle escaping, went to other garrisons that were in other Castles and Townes adjacent, and told them what had befallen his fellowes, and withall informed them how the Castle might be recovered. Whereupon joyning their forces together, they came and besieged it. The Lord Douglas, finding himself straightened and unprovided of necessaries for his defence, did secretly convey his man Dickson out at a postern or some hidden passage, and sent him to William Wallace for aid. Wallace was then in the Lennox, and hearing of the danger Douglas was in made all the haste he could to come to his relief. The English, having notice of Wallace approach, left the siege and retired toward England, yet not so quickly but that Wallace, accompanied with Sir John Grahame, did overtake them, and killed 500 of their number ere they could pass Dalswynton. By these and such like means Wallace, with his assistance, having beaten out the English from most part of their strengths in Scotland, did commit the care and custody of the whole countrey, from Drumlenrigge to Aire, to the charge of the Lord Douglas.”

The founder of that branch of the Douglases which bore sway in this district and gave rise to the house of Drumlanrig was William, the natural son of Archibald the Grim. He was the first Lord of Nithsdale, and in spite of the taint of illegitimacy, he, by his virtues and bravery, so commended himself to the favour of his Sovereign, Robert II., that he preferred him for a son-in-law over all the other young noblemen of the kingdom, bestowing upon him the hand of his daughter Egidia or Giles, esteemed the most beautiful woman of that age. The King conferred upon Douglas the Lordship of Nithsdale and the Sheriffship of Dumfries, the office of Warden of the Western Border, and those of Justice and Chamberlain, besides an annual pension of three hundred pounds sterling, to be paid out of the great customs of certain burghs. There were minor branches of the Douglas family at Coshogle, Pinyrie, Dalveen, and other places in Nithsdale. This first Lord of Nithsdale was the renowned Black Douglas of Scottish history. “Tall and of commanding presence, he was also unusually bony and muscular, being, however, graceful and well proportioned.” He was a gallant soldier, stout-hearted and resolute in action, and many of the exploits with which he is credited by tradition are so extraordinary as to bear an air of romance. He had an arm and hand, a blow from which was like that of a sledge-hammer; and instances are given of his freeing himself from the custody of his guards by suddenly striking out right and left with his clenched fists. His dark and swarthy complexion gave to his countenance an air of martial sternness, and procured for him the appellation by which he is distinguished from the rest of his illustrious race. In the many encounters which in his time took place between the English and Scots along the Border, the Black Douglas played a conspicuous part. His tall dark figure was to be seen in the forefront of the fight, and so great was his prowess in the field that in time he became a perfect terror to the enemies of his country. The stories of his doughty deeds were told at many a fireside, and so impressed the imaginations of the simple-minded country people that English mothers along the Border were accustomed to frighten their disobedient children into submission by threatening them with the apparition of the Black Douglas.

The whole of this district was at this time densely wooded, the inhabitants maintaining themselves more by fishing and the chase than by agricultural husbandry. The style of living was of the most primitive kind, and their wants were few. The remains of the forest which filled the valley are to be seen in the mosses in all directions, but there is reason to believe that in the immediate neighbourhood of the town, and in the vicinity of the Castle, there was an opening which, at a later date, after the Castle had been built, a large portion of it was turned into a “deer park” well stocked with deer. The three large fields on the south of the town are still called the Deer Parks. This deer park, many acres in extent, was surrounded by a beautifully built stone dyke or wall seven feet high, which was surmounted by a loop-holed coping. A large part of this dyke still remains, and, till quite recently, some of the coping had not been removed. The last reference we can find to the deer is contained in a letter from the Earl of Queensberry, addressed to his cousin of Dornock, and dated from Edinburgh, 31st August, 1688, in which directions are given for the killing of two bucks, the one white and the other brown. (See end of Chapter.) In further proof of the existence of the wood and of its termination here may be adduced the name given to houses at the west end of the town, which were only recently demolished. These houses were called the “warld’s end”—a corruption of the “wold’s end”—wold in the ancient tongue meaning “wood.”

The state of society at this period was of a rude and semi-barbarous character. There were, first, the barons, the descendants of individuals who, chiefly by their military services, had commended themselves to the Crown, by whom, in reward for such services, they had had bestowed on them the gift of lands, on condition that they, with their retainers, should render services of a like kind whenever occasion demanded. The possession of the land carried with it an authority absolute and uncontrolled. The barons dispensed what they were pleased to call justice, which, in too many cases, meant only the expression of their own will or caprice. In truth, the common people were simply slaves—bondsmen, or “villeyns,” as they were called. At the mercy, therefore, of lords, ignorant and intolerant, and of a brutal and savage nature, they were in a most miserable condition. There was, however, a middle class consisting of those who held the land under the barons; some of whom, it appears, paid rent and corresponded to the modern farmer, whilst the bulk were liable to military service with their over-lord. The laws of the Burrows were more favourable. According to them any bondsman, except the King’s, who resided for a year and a day within a “burrow” was entitled to his freedom. The chartularies of the period afford numerous proofs of the existence of this condition of servitude, wherein the number of villeyns is given as belonging to the lands transferred, and they contain notice of cases where some of these villeyns were released from their servitude. The practice was even more general in England than in Scotland. “Some of the greater Abbeys,” Walsingham says, “had as many as 2000 villeyns.” The system was there happily abolished in Cromwell’s time, but it survived in Scotland till a later period under the name of 'man-rent, and that notwithstanding Acts of Parliament directed against it.

In the middle ages, there were erected throughout the country hospitals, generally for the reception and relief of lepers. There were also hospitals established for the care of the sick poor. We know also of establishments for the assistance and shelter of travellers such as those maintained by the monks on some of the Alpine passes at the present day. The hospitals in our own country, which may possibly have been made to fulfil not merely one, but all of these various purposes, were served by charitable brotherhoods. The members of the brotherhood took upon themselves certain vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in common with the other brotherhoods of the Roman Catholic Church. One of those hospitals existed in the parish of Sanquhar, being situated near to Kingsburn, about half way between the Castle and Ryehill. This must have been one of the most ancient of such establishments, for, though the date of its erection is not known, it was in existence so early as 1296, in which year Bartholomew de Eglisham, its chaplain and superintendent, swore fealty to Edward I. (Pryenne iii. 659). Simpson mentions several relics of the place as having been observed. Hewn stones of Gothic masonry were found on the site ; a variety of human bones had been turned up at various times ; a large key was found near the same spot; and what was believed to have been the font-stone of the chapel long stood in the open field. It is a fact that several stones, not apparently belonging to the Castle, but to some other building of importance, are to be found built into the dykes in the vicinity.    .

The exact date of the building of Sanquhar Castle cannot be fixed, but there is no reason to doubt that it was the work of the Edgars or their predecessors in the twelfth century. In connection with the Saxon colonisation in the reign of David I., to which reference has been made, the first thing done by these colonists for the defence of the possessions granted them by the Crown was the erection of some place of strength. It does not appear that they obtained a very extensive footing in Nithsdale, the Scoto-Irish, of whom were the Edgars, keeping their ground. But no doubt their improved methods in the building of fortifications, as in everything else, would be noted by the native tribes, and, anxious like their neighbours to keep their own, the Edgars set about building a stronghold becoming their rank and station, and of greater security than anything of the kind erected at any previous time in the district. At all events, the Castle is mentioned as being held by Richard Edgar during the reign of Robert Bruce. The site of the Castle was a well chosen one. It was built on the verge of the plateau which runs along the valley of the Nith, overlooking what has once been the course of the river. It commanded the passage of Nithsdale, one of the lines of march from England into Scotland, and was, both from its position and construction, a place of great strength. The possession of it was, therefore, of great importance during the long-continued war between the two countries, and frequently it changed hands. Though now in ruins, sufficient remains to enable us to gather a general idea of its size and style of architecture. An examination of the ruins leads to the conclusion that, originally one of those square baronial keeps which were common in the country about the twelfth century, it was enlarged from time to time, till latterly it must have been a fortress of considerable size, capable of accommodating a large garrison. It stands facing the north-west. The original keep, containing the principal gateway, has been, strange to say, the best and most substantially built part of the whole structure. The outer walls are composed of blocks of stone all of the same size, squared and dressed, and laid regularly in courses nine to eighteen inches in height, but they are now bleached and weather worn with the storms of centuries. The heart of the wall has been packed with whinstone and other hard material, into which hot lime has been run, welding the whole into one solid mass. A close inspection of the lime in the walls reveals the fact that it had been burnt in open fires by the agency of coal, as numerous particles of unburnt coal are to be discerned mixed up with it. The interesting question arises—Whence was the coal derived? It is true that thin seams crop out at the edge of a cleuch on Ryehill near the Castle and elsewhere in the vicinity, and probably the early inhabitants had discovered its applicability for the purpose of fuel. The amount obtainable, however, by mere open digging could not be great, and other methods would be required to secure the large quantity that would be necessary to burn so great a mass of lime as was evidently poured into the massive Castle walls. The natural and inevitable conclusion, therefore, appears to be that it must have been by mining, probably by driving in a level, that the coal was procured; if this be so. Sanquhar may claim to shew the earliest example in Scotland of coalmining. The oldest authentic notice of the use of coals is recorded by the Monks of Newbattle, about 1210, but Sanquhar Castle was built in the twelfth century.

This, the ancient Peel, does not appear to have been of any great size, being fit to afford protection to little more than the baron and his household. It would appear to have consisted of probably only one room on the ground floor, access being had to the upper storey or storeys by a spiral stair, traces of which are still visible. There were no offices attached, nor indeed was there the same necessity for accommodation of this kind. The wealth of the baron consisted of cattle and horses, which roamed in the woods that grew all around. Probably the first addition that was made in the vicinity of the Peel, for it does not appear at first to have been connected with it, is the square Tower at the south corner of the pile of ruins, and which, for what reason does not appear, was called Wallace’s Tower. It measures twenty-three feet over the wall and ten to eleven feet inside. It consisted of three storeys at least, with a dungeon beneath, which, however, is now filled up to the level of the ground with the fallen debris. The chambers in this part have been very small, and the windows little better than loopholes. The stones used in the construction of this Tower are not so massive as those in the Peel. The ground floor was vaulted, as was probably also one of the upper floors. The original Keep and this southern Tower have been subsequently connected by a range of buildings on the southern and western sides. That this is so is plain from the fact that at the junction with the south Tower there is a straight joint from top to bottom of the wall. Next to the Tower is the bakery, with the oven outside the wall. This oven seems to have been an insertion. The kitchen is in the south-west corner. It has had a fire-place about ten feet by nine feet, with a stone drain through the wall to the outside. These additions were continued along the north-west or front side till the ancient Peel had been reached. They embraced a large round tower, which would be a prominent feature, and enhance greatly the appearance of the Castle. It likewise played an important part in the internal economy of the place, for it afforded access by a fine spiral stone stair, with steps four feet wide, to the upper floors of the Castle, while it enfolded within its sweep the well of the Castle, which was forty-two feet in depth, and beautifully built. The basement floor, which was vaulted, is at a lower level than the courtyard. The other two sides appear to have been completed at a later period, and when that had been done, Sanquhar Castle would be a fortress of great size and strength. Together, the courtyard and castle form an oblong, measuring about 167 feet from east to west, and 128 from north to south. From the outer courtyard iu front, entrance to the Castle was obtained by an arched doorway about seven feet six inches wide, which was protected by the round tower. Through this door the inner courtyard was reached by a vaulted passage. The Castle was approached from the town along an avenue of trees, of which a few still remain, and the burn which runs round the base is carried under the roadway by an arched tunnel regularly built, one of the oldest specimens of work of the kind to be seen in Scotland. At the end of the avenue was the gateway leading into the outer courtyard at the northwest corner. This gateway, of which little remains, is seventeenth century work, and formed the entrance to a handsome quadrangle. It was surrounded on the unprotected sides by a double fosse, the common form of defence adopted in our ancient strongholds. An iron gate closed the entrance to the court, and when the ponderous portcullis was lowered, the garrison had little to fear, provided the place was well provisioned, for their supply of water was secured by the well within the round tower. On the death, in 1695, of William, first Duke of Queensberry, when the family residence was tranferred to Drumlanrig, the Castle was stripped of its leaden roof and allowed to fall into ruins.

Grose, in his “Antiquities,” published in the end of last century, says:—“Upon the bottom that lies beneath the west side of the castle were formerly the gardens, where the remains of a fish pond, with a square island in the middle, is still visible. On the south side of the castle was the Bowling Green, pretty near entire. The principal entrance was from the north-east, where a bridge was thrown over the fosse,”

The building has fallen into such a ruinous state that little can be known of the internal arrangements. The principal rooms, however, including the great hall, were situated in the vicinity of the gateway, on the front side. Much, however, that had long remained in obscurity was cleared up during a course of excavations, undertaken a few years ago, with consent of the Duke of Buccleuch, by the Marquis of Bute, the lineal descendant of the Crichtons, the ancient lords of the manor, whose most ancient title is Baron Crichton of Sanquhar. These excavations revealed the bakery, kitchen, and well, and parts of the internal dividing walls. No trace could be found, however, of the outer wall about the east corner, but it is quite supposable that this part of the wall, even to the foundations, was taken for the building of Sanquhar Town Hall, of which more anon. The bricks were manufactured here, pointing to the fact that brick-making is one of the oldest established industries of the district. It will be noticed that in the Earl of Queens-berry’s letter, at the end of this chapter, reference is made to the same effect, the term “tiles” being there used. The mortar was very coarse, but strong, and the arch of the gateway was pinned with oyster-shells. Teeth of the horse, cow, sheep, and pig were found, together with skulls of various breeds of dogs, and bones of all kinds of fowls, shewing that, in its later days at least, the diet of its inhabitants was of a liberal and varied kind. Two boar tusks were found in the sewer. The collection of curiosities unearthed also included a massive old key, an antique chisel, an ancient reaping-hook toothed like a common saw, many pieces of glass and earthenware, the heel and sole of a lady’s boot, differing but little in size and shape of the heel from the prevailing, fashion of the present day. Five tobacco pipes of different patterns were turned up, one of them adorned with a rose on the bowl. These pipes were very small in the head—so small that the consumption of tobacco by the smoker could not have been great. Another interesting relic was a child’s toy in the form of a small boat found in one of the sewers. The greatest and most important discovery of all was the well in the round tower. The well, it was declared by the older people, was in the court; but the architect argued that if there was a well within the walls, it would be found in the circular tower. This supposition, founded no doubt on the position of the well in other similar fortresses, proved, therefore, to be correct, and it was shown how unreliable an authority mere tradition is in matters of this kind. The well was forty-two feet in depth, lined with beautiful masonry, which, however, had been removed for several feet at the top. About eighteen inches at the bottom was square, and constructed of wooden piles, upon which the masonry rested. A scabbard of an old sword, several gargoyles or water-spouts, a number of stone window-mullions, the legs of sundry chairs and tables, and the old bucket for drawing the water were found in the well. The bucket lay mouth downwards, and almost entire. There had been a traditional story current in the district that a huge pot of gold was hidden somewhere about the Castle, and this story was known to the workmen. The moment therefore the bucket was disclosed to view in such a condition that it was impossible to determine on a mere glance what it was, the story was recalled to the labourer’s mind, and instantly his imagination pictured a glorious “ find.” He shouted in an excited manner—“Here’s the big pot o’ gold. Pull me up, and I’ll gie ye the half o’t.” Up came the man and the bucket, but instead of gold it contained only a mass of broken stones. So much again for tradition.

The entrance to the deer park from the avenue approaching the Castle, though now built up, is still discernible. The park skirted the gardens of the good burghers on the south side of the town, into which the deer, it is said, were accustomed to make plundering raids in winter, when the pasture was bare, and the kitchen vegetables on the other side were altogether too tempting. A curious accident occurred to an old buck in one of these raids. The gardens contained not only vegetables, but fruit trees, and, in jumping, this old reiver, who, from the height of the wall, could not see what was on the other side, drove one of his horns deep into the trunk of a tree in coming down, the horn snapping and leaving a considerable portion imbedded in the wood. The tree was cut and converted into a table, and it is said that the table, containing a section of the horn', is still to be seen in the town. The upper portion of the deer park was on a level with the town and the Castle, the lower lying along the banks of the river. The garden, about two acres in extent, lies at the back of the Castle facing the south. It is terraced at the upper end, and is still enclosed within a substantial wall, remains of the old fruit trees being visible until quite recently.

It is but right to state that in “Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland,” M'Gibbon and Ross take a different view of the relative age of several parts of the structure, holding, for example, that the south Tower is the original Keep,, and therefore the most ancient portion, but we have adopted the view, which not only is supported by other antiquarian authorities of eminence, but accords with the popular opinion founded upon natural conclusions drawn from the appearance of the ruins.

Thus stood the Castle in its palmiest days—a magnificent pile, towering up in massive strength and grandeur, the watchful guardian of the vale. The scene presented to the noble clames, as they sat in the window of the great hall, would form a charming picture. At their feet lay the fish pond, whose calm and placid bosom was undisturbed save by the splashing of the trout or the white swans as they swam slowly and majestically round the island. The timid deer bounded over the surface of the wide and undulating park, their forms at one moment clearly outlined on the crest of a ridge and anon disappearing in a hollow, their tall antlers, like the masts of a ship at sea, being the last to dip out of sight. Further away, the valley, with its rich adornment of woods, and herds of cattle browsing in the open spaces, stretched back for miles, and was encircled by a long range of hills deeply pierced on either hand by the bosky glens of Crawick and Euchan, and the wild Kello, while the western sun, as he sank behind the brow of distant Corsan-cone, flooded the whole with a rosy light.

“The air a solemn stillness holds,” unbroken save by the lowing of cattle as they are driven home to milking, the distant bleating of sheep, and the cawing of the rooks, as in great flocks they pursue their weary flight homeward to the woods of Elioek, while jovial shouts and laughter float up from the Bowling-Green where gallant knights for the moment forget the cares of state and bury their mutual jealousies and animosities.

Copy Letter from the Earl of Queensberry to his Cousin,

Douglas of Dornoch.

Ed., 31 Augt., 1688.


"Soe soon as possible wreat to David Reid (to whom thcr’s noe occasion going from this) that imediatly he meit with Win. Lukup, and cause him send some of his men to Sanquhar to take in the Chimneyes of my Chamber, the Drawing Roume, and hall, which ar by a great deall too large, and by taking them in as they ought, will both make the Roumes warmer and prevent smoaking. This is to be done with the tile there, and cannot take up much tyme or charges, and I’ll not be pleased if I find it not done when I come. Lykewise tell David to take exact notice to the ovens, both in the kitchen and bakehouse, and if they be any way faultic that they be presently helped and made sufficient, for it will not be proper those things be doing when I’m ther. Tell him Lykewise that he and Win. Johnstone consider what useless Broken pouter (pewter) is there and uufitt to be made use off, and that he send it in by the first occasion heir with the weight of it. And new pouther (pewter) shall be sent out in place of it, and that he may do this more exactly, tell him goe throw the wholle Rouines and Wardrobes, and see if they have the keyes of the Wardrob at Drumlangrig, that the old wash-basins and what useless peader (pewter) he finds ther, send it out, and if there be any usefull pewter ther, send it to Sanquhar and keep it ther. James Weir tells me there is ane old Brewing Lead at Sanquhar quyt useless, and that it is not possible to mend it, order David and Wm. Johnstonne to consider it, and if it be soe, lett the said Lead be sent heir with one of the Retourned Carts from Drumlanrig, that it may be disposed off. But if it can be usefull at Drumlanrig or Sanquhar, it’s still to be keept. Tell David and Wm. Johnstone to cause clear the Bartizans of Sanquhar, and that the doors be made sufficient and locks putt upon them. Tell Wm. Johnstone that I have lost the state of provisions to be sent to Sanquhar that he gave me when he was heir, soe order him by the first occasion to send me ane exact note of everything to be provided and sent from this, and that they have ther thoughts how all things shall be provided to the best advantage in the country, and that they remember former directions and have every thing in order. Tell David that he kill presently both the old Bucks, and send them heir cased up, as James Weir used to doe. I would not putt them to this, bot that David in his letter assured me that they can do it as weill as James Weir, bot tell them I’ll take it verrie ill if they kill the wrong deer, soe if they have the least distrust of themselves, tell them not to Medle with it, but send me word and I’ll wreat to James Weir to go ther. James Weir tells me one of the bucks to be killed is whyte and the other brown.”

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