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The New Statistical Account of Scotland (1845)
Volume VI - Lanark
Parish of Lesmahago

[This Account has been drawn up by Andrew Smith, Esq. of Fauldhouse.]


Name Boundaries, &c.—This parish is supposed to derive its name from Les or Lis, signifying in Gaelic, a green or garden, and Machute, the tutelar saint of the place, who is said to have settled here in the sixth century.

A monastery was founded in this parish by David I. in 1140. It was dependent on the abbey of Kelso ; and hence the village which collected round it received the name of Abbey Green, which it still retains. This village is nearly in the centre of the parish, and about twenty-two miles from Glasgow, upon which the inhabitants of this and other villages in the parish depend for employment as weavers.

The parish may be described as nearly square, and contains sixty-seven square miles, or 34,000 acres. It is bounded on the east by the parishes of Lanark and Carmichael; on the south by Douglas, and Muirkirk ; on the west by Strathaven and Stone-house; and on the north by Dalserf and Carluke.

Topographical Appearances.—The average elevation of more than three-fourths of the parish is probably about 500 feet above the sea; the remainder, lying upon the west and south-west side, rises into considerable hills, dividing the counties of Lanark and Ayr, some of which may be supposed to be 1200 feet high. They afford an excellent sheep-pasture. On the south side of the parish there is a fissure in the rocks known by the name of Wallace's Cave; if ever that hero inhabited it, his lodging could not be of the most comfortable kind.

Meteorology.—The elevated situation of the parish renders the temperature of the atmosphere very variable; and, not unfrequently, the fruit-trees, after promising an abundant crop, have had their blossoms blighted by a few chilly nights in May. In rainy weather, the hills upon the west seem to attract the clouds, and, consequently, more rain falls there than in the lower parts of the parish ; but even there, want of moisture is not generally complained of. The prevailing winds may be said to be from the westward,—every tree or hedge that is exposed leaning from that, and making their most vigorous shoots in an opposite direction. Upon the whole, however, the climate may be said to be salubrious, and instances of longevity are numerous.

Hydrography.—This parish abounds in springs of excellent water; though none of a medicinal quality have been yet discovered. These springs are the parents of several streams, capable of driving machinery. The Poniel water, which rises in the south-west of the parish, divides it from the parish of Douglas, and after a course of seven or eight miles in an easterly direction, joins the Douglas water about three miles from its junction with the Clyde ; for which three miles the united stream becomes the boundary of the parish. The Logan, Nethan, and also the Kype water rise in the high grounds on the west. The banks of the Nethan are generally clothed with coppice, and adorned with gentlemen's houses, or neat farm-steadings.

The Kype, so far as it divides this parish from Avondale or Strathaven, is a moorland stream,—naked and unadorned on its banks, but capable of working mischief on the lower grounds, when thunder storms have passed along the hills. In consequence of these grounds being much drained within these few years, the water descends more rapidly than formerly, and in greater quantities, destroying bridges and injuring the small haughs or holms. There are some other small streams that run a few miles in the parish, but all are tributary to the above, with the exception of the Cannar, which, after a course of a few miles, joins the Avon in the parish of Stonehouse. As all these streams ultimately join the Clyde, where it is from three to four hundred feet above the sea, their courses are pretty rapid.

Geology.—This parish lies nearly on the south side of the great coal field which crosses our island through Fife, Ayrshire, and the intermediate counties. Nevertheless, the strata are so deranged by numerous dikes or fissures, that, where coals are wrought, the direction and inclination of the strata vary so materially, as to set hopes and expectations at defiance. In several of the coal and lime-works, the dip is as one in six; while at Auchenheath, where, as well as in two other places in this parish, a fine kind of cannel coal is wrought, supplying Glasgow and other places with gas, the inclination is only one to twelve, or thirteen. Coal of the same quality has (we believe) been nowhere found in Scotland; and even here, and in a small corner of the parish of Carluke, to which it extends, the thickness of the strata varies from ten to twenty-one inches; it is sold for about 8s. per ton upon the coal-hill, and affords employment to about forty pickmen in this parish. Pit-coal is also plentiful in Lesmahago.

The rocks that appear are either whin, or trap sandstone, or limestone ; in some places the sandstone inclines to slate, but no true roofing-slate has been discovered in this parish. Limestone has been wrought, and still is wrought in seven or eight different places in the parish. Though sold at a pretty fair price, affording the landlord about one-sixth of the sale price, it has given a stimulus to improvement, particularly of waste lands. In these limestone workings, petrified shells are very commonly found; and sometimes the fossil remains of terrestrial animals. Ironstone may be seen in many of the banks, both in balls and in regular strata, but not in such quantities, nor lying so regularly, as to warrant the erection of a furnace. -Lead has frequently been sought in the. high grounds, on the south-west of the parish, but hitherto without success ; nor have simple minerals been found in the rocks, or beds of rivers, to any extent.

From the rapid current of the streams, little alluvial soil is found in the parish ; it may therefore be said to consist chiefly of a yellow clay, to a small extent resting on a substratum of white sandstone ; of a light friable soil, resting on whinstone ; of a sandy gravelly soil, from decomposed sandstone, and of moss. The second of these is unquestionably the best ; but both that and the first, when properly managed, produce better and more certain crops than the other two.

II.--Civil History

A short account of this parish was written by the Rev. Mr Whyte of Libberton, and published in the Edinburgh Magazine about sixty years ago.

historical Notices.--There are no historical events of importance connected with Lesmahago, except the burning by the brother of Edward III. of the abbey, and its destruction a second time by fire, kindled by the zeal of the old reformers. This religious spirit appears to have here broken forth on more occasions; for many of the inhabitants bore arms at Bothwell Bridge. The colours and the drum then used are still preserved in the parish.

It was in Lesmahago that the unfortunate Mr Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart was apprehended by a carpenter named Meikle, and a young clergyman of the name of Linning,--while on his way south to join Prince Charles; in revenge for which, the clans, on their way north, burned Meikle's house. A Mr Lawrie, generally designated the Tutor of Blackwood, from his having married the heiress of that estate, seems to have been a leading character in this part of the country in and about the time of the Revolution. His son was created a baronet by King William.

Land-owners.—The Duke of Hamilton, Lord Douglas, and James J. Hope Vere, Esq. of Blackwood, are the principal proprietors in Lesmahago; there are a number of other respectable land-owners, several of whom reside upon their properties.

Parochial Registers.—The parochial registers commence in 1697; since which time they have been pretty regularly kept, and now extend to twenty volumes.

Antiquities.—Lesmahago can boast of little to attract the notice of the antiquarian, excepting the ruins of Craignethan Castle; which about a century ago passed from the family of Hay into that of Douglas, by purchase.

The remains of an old abbey were pulled down about thirty years ago, to make room for a modern church; and an old Roman road, which passed through a corner of the parish, has been obliterated by the plough.—About twenty years ago, 100 small silver coins of Edward I. were found below a large stone.—Nearly at the same time a Roman vase was found in the parish; it is now placed in the museum of the University of Glasgow. Some Roman coins have also been found; and in making a drain about ten years ago, an old Caledonian battle-axe, made of stone, was found upon the estate of Blackwood. It is now in the possession of the proprietor.

Many large cairns have been removed in this parish, for materials in making roads and fences. These were always found to contain bones in the centre, but so far decayed as to crumble into dust on exposure to the air.

Modern Buildings.—A number of modern mansions have been erected by the resident gentlemen within the last thirty years, and during that time upwards of one-half of the farm-steadings have been renovated; for which purposes abundance of good stone is easily procured.


There are about 90 small proprietors in Lesmahago; of whom at least 50 have rentals of upwards of L. 50 a-year.

The increase of the population betwixt 1821 and 1831 may be accounted for by the facility with' which even boys engaged at weaving got possession of money; able to earn considerable wages before they had acquired sense to manage them, many hurried into matrimonial connections; and their wives being equally young and thoughtless, they indulged in dress and luxuries, and preserved no portion of their gains against poverty in less auspicious seasons.

Character and Habits of the People.—The people in general may be said to be of cleanly habits, which are impaired, however, in some degree, by the influx of strangers. Their style and manner of dress, however, may be said to be rather expensive, the servant-girl dressing as gaily as the squires' daughters did thirty years ago. The difference in their table has nearly kept pace with that of their dress; and, with few exceptions, unless among those employed in agriculture, tea is an universal beverage; even paupers consume more of that article than was used in the parish fifty years ago. How far these changes tend to the comforts and benefit of society may be questioned. Certainly the lower orders are not so contented nor independent as formerly; nor is their general character for morality or religion improved; while there cannot be a doubt. that pauperism has greatly increased. The number of illegitimate births during the last three years has been 27.

Until the weaving of cotton was introduced about forty-five years ago, no trade or manufacture was carried on beyond the wants of the parish. A cottage or two was attached to every farm-house, for the accommodation of the necessary labourers; along with whom the small proprietors and farmers shared in the toils of the day ; joined at the same table in their meals; and, by the side of the kitchen fire, enjoyed the song or gossip of the evening,—concluding the day with family-prayer. A fire in the better apartment, except on the visit of a friend, or on some gala day, was never thought of. Their dress was composed of home-made stuff, excepting a suit of black, which was generally of English cloth, and carefully preserved for funeral and sacramental occasions.


As before stated, this parish contains about 34,000 Scotch acres; of which, probably, 11,000 never have been under cultivation. About 1000 acres may yet be brought to carry grain occasionally, if the spirit of improvement, now so general, be not checked. 1200 acres are planted; 450 are in coppice-wood, and 50 in village gardens and orchards. 21,300 acres thus appear to be now, or occasionally, in cultivation.

Planting in general has been carried on within these forty years to a considerable extent in Lesmahago, which before that period was naked and bare. Now, however, it has a very different appearance, and almost everywhere the eye of the traveller may rest on useful stripes or clumps. In these the Scotch fir predominates, though that plant seems very much degenerated ; wherever it is mixed with the larch, the latter takes the lead; and in damp soils it is also far behind the spruce. Were we to hazard an opinion on the cause of this degeneracy of Scotch fir, we would say it might be found in the careless way in which the nurserymen procure the seed, which, when collected from the nearest young and stunted trees, produces feeble plants. Another circumstance tending much to prevent the proper growth, is the want of thinning in proper time. Few people who plant, like the idea of cutting.

Rent of Land.—The quality of land varies very much: some of it is very rich, but unfortunately the poorer soil predominates. The average rent of the whole may be stated at L. 1 per acre Scotch, —while the waste lands may be estimated at 2s. 6d.,—giving a rental for the parish, exclusive of woods and orchards, of L. 22,675.

The inclosed lands around gentlemen's houses are generally let for pasture during the summer, yielding a rent of about L. 3 for every cow or ox weighing from 400 to 500 lbs. weight. In the common sheep-pastures, 5s. a-head during the season may be stated as a fair rent.

Rate of Wages.—Farm-servants are not so high priced, nor so difficult to be got as they were a few years back; at present, a good man-servant, fit for the plough, &c. may be hired for L. 14 a-year, with bed and board; while less experienced hands may be had from L. 9 to L. 12; girls fit for conducting a dairy, under the eye of their mistresses, get about L. 4 during the summer, and about L. 2, 10s. during winter, with board. Tradesmen generally work by the piece or job; but, like the labourers, are getting less wages than lately, nor are they so shy to work by the day; when they do so, masons and carpenters expect 2s. 6d. a-day,-without victuals; and tailors is. 3d. or 1s. 6d. with board.

Breeds of Live Stock.—From the elevation of Lesmahago parish, it is better suited for the dairy, and the breeding of cattle, than for raising grain ; consequently, the small proprietors and tenants have turned their attention in these ways for the last thirty years. During that time, the Ayrshire breed of cattle has been principally reared; and the cheese made from new milk, known by the name of Dunlop, has become a staple commodity. Of this about 300 lbs. weight may be made from every cow, when the whole milk is turned to that account ; and on some farms, with careful hands, that quantity, is raised, and a number of young stock reared,—which goes to uphold the original stock, or to supply the English and other markets with that breed of cattle. Lanarkshire has long been famous for its breed of draught horses, of which Lesmahago has its share.

The Jewish antipathy against swine seems to be wearing off, and the occupiers of land find it profitable to keep a few of these animals, to consume the refuse of the dairy; and many labourers and mechanics keep a pig, by the dung of which they raise potatoes with a neighbouring farmer in the following year. A mixed breed, between the English and Highland kind, seems the favourite; which, when properly fed, may be killed at the age of nine or ten months, weighing from two to two and a-half hundred weight. It is probable this kind of stock may be more attended to hereafter.

The sheep kept on the high grounds are of the old Scotch black-faced kind, weighing from ten to fifteen pounds imperial per quarter, when fattened. This breed is better adapted to the soil and climate than the Cheviot or finer kinds ; and the improvements sought after by the sheep-master are in shape and weight; to both of which they pay particular attention. By keeping fewer in number than was done forty years ago, they are better fed, and are thus enabled to struggle with the storms and snows of winter; while surface-drains made upon the soft lands, at the rate of L. :3 for 6000 yards, have added greatly to their improvement, by keeping the ground dry, and raising sweeter herbage.

Husbandry.—A very considerable extent of waste land has been reclaimed in Lesmahago within the last twenty-five years; which has generally paid the improvement in the course of the first three years, leaving the amelioration of the soil as profit.. to the farmer. Draining had long been only partially carried on, but seems now to become more general. Irrigation is little attended to here, except, in a few instances, for meadow hay; and embanking is not much wanted, as the streams have generally high and steep banks.

The leases granted to tenants are generally for nineteen years. Some time ago, when land was constantly increasing in value, landlords in some instances made the leases of shorter duration; but this has not had the effect of either putting money into their pockets, or improving their estates: it has rather been of a contrary tendency. As mentioned before, the farm-houses have been much improved within the last forty years; and within the same time, enclosures have been much attended to ; some hundreds of miles of Galloway stone-dikes have been built, where the materials were abundant, or the soil inimical to hedges; while the last have been raised upon the better soils, and now adorn a great proportion of the parish. It may be regretted, however, that we still want those hedge-rows of timber, which in many parts of the island give the appearance of a close-wooded country.

The greatest obstacles to improvement appears to be the system of entails; and, I may add, the custom among landlords of letting their farms to the highest bidder, without a sufficient evidence of his possessing capital adequate to the management of the farm in the most advantageous way.

Produce.—The gross amount of raw produce (exclusive of the pasture lands) raised in the parish, as nearly as can be ascertained, is as follows:

V.-Parochial Economy

There are no market-towns in the parish, the nearest being Lanark, at the distance of six miles from Abbey Green. Upwards of one-third of the population, however, are congregated in the villages of Abbey Green, Kirkmuirhill, Kirkfield Bank, Boghead, and Nethanfoot, all of which villages have a regular communication with Glasgow by means of coaches and carriers; and there is a daily post to the former.
Means of Communication.—Besides the Glasgow and Carlisle road, which runs upwards of eight miles in the parish, and the Glasgow and Lanark road, running about five, there are not less than eighty miles of parish roads kept up by converted statute labour money: and of these fifty miles at least are in very tolerable order. Bridges have been built, partly from the county funds, upon all the streams crossed by these lines of road.

Ecclesiastical State.—Lesmahago has been a collegiate charge ever since the Reformation. The church is in the village of Abbey Green, in the centre of the parish. It is capable of containing 1500 sitters,—the whole being divided among the heritors for their respective tenantry, according to their respective valuations, with the exception of a pew to each clergyman. The first minister has a glebe of eight acres (Scotch,) which might be let at L. 5 per acre; with a stipend of sixteen chalders, one half oatmeal and the other barley, converted, at the highest fiars price of the county, and yielding on an average of the last seven years, L. 277, 12s. The second minister has a manse and garden, but no glebe:—he has the same stipend as the first, and rents a small farm from the patron, on which the heritors have built his house and the requisite accommodations.

There are two dissenting chapels belonging to different denominations of Burghers; both of these have been lately erected. The officiating clergymen are paid from the seat rents, and from voluntary contributions, affording about L. 100 a-year to each. Although these houses have still the enticement of novelty, by far the greater number in the parish adhere to the Established church, in which divine service is well attended. The average number of communicants at the Established church is about 1700. The number of dissenters is about 200.

Education.—The parochial schoolmaster has the maximum salary, with a good house and garden; he has also perquisites as session-clerk, amounting to L. 22 a-year. His school-fees may amount to L. 45. The heritors have assessed themselves in an additional chalder, which is divided among a few other schools, enabling those at a distance from the parish school, to educate their children in English, writing, and arithmetic, and sometimes even in Greek and Latin, at an expense of from 3s. to 5s. a quarter, according to their studies. The consequence is, that reading and writing may be said to be universal, and at present the different schools are attended by upwards of 600 children. A subscription school for teaching girls to read and sew is also kept up in the village of Abbey Green; it is attended by about 30. There are also four well attended Sabbath schools for boys and girls. It does not, however, appear very evidently that either the conduct or morals of the people have been improved by the increased facilities of education: the vices of drunkenness and pilfering, from whatever cause, have certainly not decreased, while discontent has made rapid strides, and the reluctance to come upon the poors' roll has vanished.

Library, &c.—There is a small subscription library in the parish, but it is not in a very thriving state. The parishioners at the same time receive a variety of the London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow newspapers and periodicals.

Benevolent Societies.—There are three Societies in the parish, which distribute a portion of their funds among their aged or sickly members : the inclination, however, to join in such associations, it is feared, is now declining.

Savings Bank.—A Savings bank was established a few years ago. The principal depositors are farm and house-servants: and it is now in a thriving state. The average amount yearly invested is L. 60; withdrawn, L. 20.

Poor and Parochial Funds.—The number of paupers has been trebled within the last thirty years, and now amounts to 148 regularly enrolled. There being neither alms nor poors' house in the parish, they receive from 3s. to 15s. monthly in their own houses, amounting to about L. 500 yearly; of this sum, L.47 is raised by collections in the. church; and L. 98 is the produce of mortif ed money; the remainder is made up by an assessment upon the land, one-half paid by the heritors, and the other by the tenants. Too little attention, however, is paid to this branch of parochial business; the session, by giving up the practice of collecting with ladles in the church, and individuals by propagating the idea that the heritors are bound to support the poor, have brought the public collection below what it was a hundred years ago, when the population was less than half what it is now, and money four times the value.

Inns.—There has been an increase in the number of inns, or rather whisky shops, in the parish, at the rate of six to one, within the last forty years; which either tends to, or is a proof of, the demoralization of the inhabitants; at present their number is as one to less than every 250 souls in Lesmahago.

Miscellaneous Observations

This parish has undergone a great change since the last Statistical Account was published; the population has greatly increased; the lands have been generally inclosed; plantations have sprung up; roads, from mere tracts, have become good carriage ways; and these, with the opening up of lime in several places, have given a facility to improvements in agriculture which has not been neglected; an improved mode of husbandry has been adopted; draining has been introduced; and waste lands to a great extent have been brought into cultivation. These improvements, however, may, with due encouragement on the part of the landlords, be carried still farther, and, by giving employment to labourers, would add to the comfort and happiness of that useful class of society, and tend to the diminution of pauperism,—objects which ought never to be lost sight of by judicious landlords.

March 1834.

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