The Glenkens in the Old Statistical Account (OSA)(Agriculture)

The Glenkens in the Old Statistical Account (OSA)(Agriculture)

(OSA (1983) Statistical Account of Scotland 1791 – 1799. Vol. V Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire. E.P Publishing, Ltd. Wakefield. eds. Donald J Withrington and Ian R Grant)


Balmaclellan (1793)Rev James Thomson (pp 11 – 21)

Balmaghie (Laurieston) (1793)Rev J. Johnstone (pp 22 – 34)

Carsphairn (1791 – 98) Rev Samuel Smith (pp 72 – 79)

Crossmichael (1791) Rev John Johnstone (pp 96 – 112)

Dalry (1791 – 1793)Rev Alexander McGowan (pp113 – 133)

Kells (New Galloway) (1791 – 93) Rev John Gillespie (pp 143 – 160)

Parton & Corsock (1790) Rev William Donaldson (pp 295 – 300)


The ministers comment, among other things, on the agricultural improvements that had been made thus far; some in a great deal more detail than others.

Balmaclellan: Mr Thomson reports that the soil was of 2 kinds – dry light and gravelly – requiring manure, lime and marl, or generally light, but in some places deep moss covered in heath; the light soil was very stony and could not be ploughed. Even in the mossy (boggy) areas there were parcels of superior soil in which were grown an abundant potatoes. A little rye, barley or oats, is also but usually not enough to service the farm.

Oats, rye, barley and potatoes were generally grown, on the better land, but wheat and turnips were seldom attempted. Most of the land was down to pasture with sheep, Galloway cattle and some people bred a few horses. There were 8,200 sheep; 1,340 black cattle; 130 horses; a few goats and about 12 pigs in the parish.

The average rent was scarcely 2/6 per acre, but good land was about 10/-.(10 shillings = 50 pence). There are about 60 acres of woodland along the Ken, chiefly natural and in good condition. Some of the other woods in the parish are rather scraggy and chiefly used as shelter.

Balmaghie: Here the soil was deep in places, strong and fertile, also was light, dry and kindly soil, and in places it was thin and rocky. Rains were frequent and heavy, especially at Lammas (August 1st), when the Dee flooded the meadows and there were usually high winds from the west.

The horses were either reared here or imported from Ireland, the cattle were mostly the true Galloway breed, but some farms dealt in Irish black cattle. These were usually kept in winter till Candlemas (Feb 2) then sent to English markets. The sheep on the moors were the common black-faced kind, those on the lower ground are white-faced half-mug (Wensleydale) species. A few Shetland sheep had been introduced lately, but were not in a thriving state. Livestock prices had fallen very much in the course of the previous year. This was ascribed by some as being due to the war, though others thought it is because of the scarcity of money. Whatever the reason it was causing hardship to the farmers. Good arable and meadow land was let at 10 – 12/- per acre in larger farms; some small enclosures made 18/- to £1 per acre. Moorland was let in a block at 1/- or less an acre.

Improvement on arable farms were similar to other parishes roundabout. Enough was produced to supply local needs and export a considerable quantity of grain.

On the moors the practice of paring and burning was still pursued (muir-burn). Land so managed generally produced 2 or 3 good crops, but, he thought that in many cases the soil itself must thereby be exhausted. Great tracts of heath were set on fire in the spring to encourage young grass for the lambs, but because of the length of the winters and subsequent rain it was not always finish by the time the law dictated it should be, much to the alarm of sportsmen!

He thought that some of the leases did not encourage or reward industry from their tenants; personal services were still required; assignees and subtenants were almost universally secluded (?excluded). Some had begun to go further ‘expressly secluding the legal diligence of creditors; and declaring the lease to be irritated in the event of the statutory bankruptcy of the tenant or sequestration of his effects’. He considered that the laws gave enough rights to the landlords. If someone went bankrupt while improving the land using credit, the landlord would still gain from the improved land.

Carsphairn: Mr Smith reported that there were about 1000 acre of arable in the parish, though only about a tenth of this land was tilled. There was double that quantity of meadow grass a good deal of which was only cut once in two years. He said that though agriculture was still in a rude state, this was by no means the case when it comes to sheep and black cattle. Few famers had less than 2000 sheep and were attentive to every method of improving them and guarding them against the various accidents to which they were liable. Improvements include – lighter stocking, putting on better or lowland ground grass in winter, selecting the best rams, often brought from distant places that were of better size and shape but equally hardy. In addition the farmers were selling off weaker and small lambs at the latter end of the season or at Lammas.

If the farm was large the flock were divided and kept separate throughout the year; rams were changed from one flock to another and were sent to richer pasture in winter and spring. Smearing the sheep [sheep were smeared with tar and grease in the autumn in order to protect them against lice, scab, and harsh winter weather . Smearing was also a practice associated with the new ideas of sheep husbandry. Sheep, because they were kept increasingly out of doors, were dressed with tar and grease to protect them from the cold and also to improve the quality of the wool. ]

was much lighter than in past, though it had been found that it couldn’t be done away with completely unless the winter was very mild. Sheep always became worse and wool was dropped in quantity and was inferior in quality. Sheep diseases were now less common. About 150 years ago woodlands abounded, now almost none.

Crossmichael: Here the soil was found to be extremely variable – e.g. loam, meadow, holm, till, gravely, or sandy. However he states that the whole was remarkable for producing excellent crops. There was said to be less rain than in adjacent parishes, due to the arrangement of the hills and snow seldom lay long. Every year the meadows along the river were flooded and in the winter it made the fields unusable. Some years previously, in 1765, Mr Gordon of Culvennan at his own expense, had a canal cut to connect Carlingwark loch to the Dee, so that loads of marl, [essentially clay mixed with carbonate of lime, highly valued as a dressing or fertilizer. It crumbles rapidly and easily], dug out of the loch, could be carried as far as New Galloway by boat. He adds, however it is small and presently out of repair. He reported that a Mr Copland stated that the level of water in the Urr has of recent years considerably deceased; the reason he gave for this was that in the past much of the land was uncultivated and covered in heath, then the water ran off more easily than on the improved land that has been treated with lime and marl. He added ‘the application of these manures pulverises the ground and it is well known that water is part of the crops and now four blades grow where one used to.’

Tenants were allowed to plough a 4th and some a 3rd of their arable ground, provided they could carry on their ploughing in a regular course. The oldest ground must always be opened first, and they must only 3 or if one of them be green 4 successive crops off the same field, thereafter letting it rest for at least 6 years. Apart from potatoes, few green crops were raised here due to the want of fences to preserve turnips and cabbage from cattle in the winter. Also the practice of housing cattle had not become general so the quantities of dung these crops required was not produced. Not more than 10 or 12 acres of wheat were sown annually but those sown with barley may exceed 100. About 1/3 of the lands was sown to rye grass and clover which produced a very good hay crop (if the land had not been previously impoverished). The staple grain was oats – the small grey oats had almost disappeared but the quality of the white oats was not as high as in places where improvements have been going for longer. Recently some farmers have grown a species of black oats which ripened earlier and yielded more meal than any that had hitherto been tried.

He comments about there being no horns on Galloway cattle [The Galloway breed is one of the oldest native breeds, the Society was formed in 1877, but reference to Galloway cattle can be found as far back as 1603 "England became extensive buyers of "Scotch" polled cattle"] (G C Society - pers. comm.) Only a few animals were fattened for home consumption, most being disposed of to the drovers 3 or 4 times a year who took them to Norfolk, Suffolk and London. Some of drovers made £30,000 to £35,000 annually.

Pigs were fattened and sent to Dumfries market where they were cured for the use of the English. Some barley and a lot of oats and oat-meal was sent to New Galloway and Dalmellington to supply the moor country; even more was shipped to Liverpool and Whitehaven and the manufacturing towns in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire.

Dalry: reported that the Earl of Galloway in order to raise the rents had offered feus (a perpetual lease for a fixed rent) of ground for houses and gardens on reasonable terms. Plan succeeded so well that the village had already become four times bigger than before. The scheme was very popular and people were paying more as new feus were given. He thought that big farms could be split up this way, giving landlord more money and more people would have some land. He also thought that even the poorest thinnest soil could be made to productive with the use of manure. For example, outfield areas were generally only used as pasture but if well manured could cultivated. He advocated planting corn on land that was not so rich because it ‘falls and rots with the rain’, whereas if grown on dry, but not so rich ground, the crop would stand up to it. The greater part of the land in the parish was so naturally poor that without manure the crops they yielded were of poor value. Mr Newall of Barskeoch was probably the first person in the parish to improve any considerable extent of his land with lime and the effects were still remarkable even after nearly 20 years. He says he came to parish as minister in 1783 and after clearing the rocks etc,. brought lime from Tongland and mixed it with earth and dung, spreading it over most of his 11 acres. He claims that it produced as good crops as perhaps anywhere in Galloway amazing many who knew the land before.

He also did an experiment on part of his land:

‘Lime only – oats which even in a wet summer stood firm till was ripe with plump ears which made it lean.

Dung only – very similar results

Marl only – crop although not taller than the others was soon laid with the rain so that some of the ears were no better than chaff, and the best was inferior to the others.’

Although not judging the marl from one experiment, and although it is brought by boat to New Galloway, it was more expensive than lime, so he preferred to stick to the lime.

He goes on to enumerate lands which had benefitted from lime and manure.

An embankment had been built 10 years previously, to stop the river flooding quite so much. He criticised the way the Holm of Dalry had been divided when enclosed as it was ‘fenced with stone and turf’ and not thorn; if hedging had been used he thought, when the river overflowed the crop would be less likely to be swept away. He also thought it would look better and stop encroachment by neighbouring cattle, this was because what was built was too low. It would also, he pointed out, save the expense of a herdsman. ‘In most other parts of the parish stone fences have been erected for several years past to a good height so that they are good fences and provide shelter for cattle when there is a storm.’

Kells: Soil here was very good, described as rich clay, particularly round the loch. With the flooding from the river, good crops were produced. He adds that recently in some places lime and marl applications had fully repaid the expense. In some areas, 35 successive crops have been taken off the land with no added manure other than what it gets from the flooding of the river, with no apparent ill effects.

280 – 290 acres of oats were grown annually, 15 or 16 of bear and rye, and 70 – 80 of potatoes. Potatoes were main food for lower classes. No wheat; cabbage, turnips or other roots were grown in the fields – only raised in gardens, and little hemp or flax.

Many of the farms were already enclosed, but, he says, the great extent and barrenness of others discouraged the attempt. There were 32 farmers in the parish each with one or more ploughs; several labouring men had crofts and small possessions, and each had a plough. The old Scots plough was no longer used a lighter one being adopted. The land was broken with 3 instead of 4 horses and sometimes with 2 and a man; thereafter 2 horses being used to plough for the following crops.

He enumerates that there were 55 ploughs, 47 carts, 2 carriages, but no wagons at that time. The parish needed more meal, barley and malt than is produced. There were nearly 17,400 sheep, 1550 black cattle, 150 horses, 200 goats in the parish altogether. The sale of cattle and sheep paid the rent and bought provisions. A small quantity of cheese was exported; the butter that was made locally was all employed for smearing the sheep and there was not enough so some was imported from the west country or England.

No artificial grass (?rye grass) had been sown here until the last 10 years – there being at the time about 20 acres. It could, however, only be grown with the addition of marl and lime.

The present minister was the first to bring marl to the Glenkens and was laughed at as being too expensive, but when they saw the rich crops his example was soon followed.

Rent – good arable and meadow – 12/- to 15/- an acre; best meadow land 30/-. There were upwards of 500 acres of natural woodland in different spots in this parish, consisting mostly of oak, ash, birch, alder and hazel. These woods had mostly been cut in the last 25 years, and the young plants were in a thriving state. Much old fir was in the parish and many acres of young fir had recently been planted.

Parton and Corsock: This minister reported that there were 40 – 50 farms, each one had a plough. The old Scottish plough was used to break the ground, being pulled by 3 or 4 horses abreast, thereafter a lighter plough with a man and two horses was used. About 400 acres in the parish was used to grow oats, 6 or 8 for barley and 50 for potatoes. Potatoes, he said, were the principal food for the lower classes of people, and the thought that with a small degree of attention they could be made to last from one harvest to the next. Oats were sown from mid to end of March and reaped at the end of August or beginning of September; potatoes were planted at the beginning of April and were ready by Lammas. Rent was paid by selling or exporting sheep, wool, black cattle and oats. Most farms, by then had been enclosed by stone dykes. Rents were from £10 – £120/annum. Leases were granted from 27 – 32 years. Rents on some farms had doubled in the previous 30 years, but the condition of the people had much improved. He also reports that when the Dee flooded(up to 8ft) in summer it caused hurt to the hay, but the winter and spring floods improved the crops.