The Glenkens in the Old Statistical Account (OSA) Misc.

Category: History
Published on Friday, 11 October 2013 09:56
Written by Maggi Kaye
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The Glenkens in the Old Statistical Account (OSA)

(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)

Balmaclellan: He describes the parish as generally moorish, though not as hilly as some of the surrounding parishes. On a clear day, from the top of the hills on the northern boundary, the shipping in the Solway can be seen 20 miles away and the Cumbrian hills 60 miles away.

The church and manse had been built more than 40 years previously and have been repaired several times since then.

Disadvantages – about a quarter of land is incapable of cultivation but there was superior fencing and what improvements that were thought possible were made. More woodland would give shelter and better building of farmhouses was necessary. Roads to farms would also help as many were impassable to strangers and in a dangerous condition; he thought that they could easily be repaired.

A new road was proposed to be opened from Dumfries to Newton Stewart – this would have meant that the distance was cut and he hoped that a large proportion of Irish travellers would pass that way, which would correct the opinion of local prejudices.

Balmaghie: No epidemic diseases were prevalent, malignant fevers sometimes appear in spring and were mainly fatal to those most poorly fed and housed. About 20 years ago a woman died at 113, now oldest people are 86 and 90.

The church was almost ruinous and about to be rebuilt.

A military road from England to Portpatrick runs through the south of parish, and the road from Kirkcudbright to New Galloway passed through the middle of parish.

Carsphairn: Iron ore might be found in abundance and formerly iron mines were wrought, but the enterprise was discontinued as soon as the wood for charcoal was exhausted. If re-opened would need to use expensive coal, and as it was a great distance from a sea port there would be little profit.

Epidemics are rarely known but an intermittent fever used to be native to the parish. Diseases were occasionally imported by cattle drovers when they returned from the fens of England. There are other fevers are of the slow nervous kind but these are only found among some of the lower classes and were evidently as a result of cold damp housing, want of cleanliness and proper food. Scurvies were little known, even though most of the inhabitants lived all year round on salted provisions, but they also ate plentiful amounts of potatoes and other vegetables which obviated the disease. Rheumatism would be expected in a cold damp country, but that it was not must be attributed in a good measure to the discreet use of warm woollen clothes, particularly the plaid that everyone wore.

“Yaws” (is a tropical disease of the skin, bones and joints, usually affecting children; what was called Yaws seems to have been widely reported in Scotland around this time) formerly present and was still prevails on other places in the south of Scotland. Spread by saliva ‘it is evidently of the venereal kind, but the mode of receiving it is different from lues venerea’ (syphilis). He described it as beginning with a ‘pricking pain, slight inflammation and small ulcers on one or both sides of the throat. The inflammation then extended over the fauces (cavity at the back of the mouth, leading into the pharynx) and uvula, the amygdalae (tonsils) and sometimes parotids swelled on one or both sides. At this stage it was impossible to tell it from a slight cynanche (severe sore throat/quinsy) or common sore throat. The pain and inflammation increased for several weeks or months. ‘By this time the whole of the fluid is tainted’ and has spread to ‘the scrotum, penis, sides of the thighs, or more frequently in tumours in the anus which soon break and become painful ulcers. Red or purple spots sometimes appear on the breast or other parts of the skin and the whole of the body is disordered. Though the disease usually begins in the fauces, yet the palate is seldom much injured, or the cartilage of the nose as is the case of lues venerea when of long standing.’ He has not seen any case where the patient’s legs or arms were affected. Treatment was the same ‘as in a confirmed lues, by the use of mercury to such a degree as to gently affect the mouth and for such a length of time as may remove every symptom, which will seldom be less than 6 weeks or 2 months and often considerably more. Prevention – not to sup from the same dish, drink from the same cup, or smoke from the same pipe that has been used by an infected person. By the use of these precautions a very troublesome disorder is removed from this parish and might soon be extirpated every where.’

Crossmichael: Since the mosses were been drained the ague (fever, poss. malaria), which was the only prevalent disease had quite disappeared.

There were plenty of salmon and trout in the river and lochs and the trout were much darker and fatter than those found in most of the rest of south Scotland. He refers to pike of great size and tells us that perch were first introduced in 1750. Eels go unhindered as the country people won’t eat them. According to Hector Boethius (Boece) c. 1465 - 1536 and George Buchanan, 1506 – 1582 there used to be an eel fishery in the parish and the eels were exported to Italy.

Prices of feed and foodstuffs were cheaper in Stewartry than Dumfriesshire because the Kirkcudbright lb of cheese, butter etc. = 28 oz and was 4oz heavier than in Dumfries. [(Standardisation took place from 1661 onwards, and in 1824 an act of parliament imposed Imperial measure and defined the proportions of older measures to Imperial measures) (measurements seem to have varied from county to county, e.g. in Lanark 1 pound = 16 ounces, Scots*; 1 pound 1 ounce 8 drams, Imperial; 496 grammes, but in Edinburgh 1 pound = 16 ounces = 16 pounds, Scots, 1 pound 6 ounces 1 dram Imperial; 624.74 grammes)].

( * Tron measurement – the standard measurement for each burgh - Locally weights and measures were regulated mainly by burghs, where the public weighing machine, the tron (from the old French tronel or troneau, meaning 'balance'), was one of the key places of the burgh. The street where it was situated was often known as the Trongate (gate meaning 'street', from the middle English gate or Old Norse gata), and the Tron was often the site of public meetings and punishments, such as the pillory. In Scotland tron weight meant weight according to a local standard) 

He says there were 10 cairns in the parish, called Pictish cairns. 3 had been opened and large coffins with some human bones were found. He also mentions that the foundations of a large convent have recently been found about which there were no records.

Chief disadvantage: scarcity of fuel and bad roads. Whins, broom and scrub which were formerly used by the poor for fires had almost disappeared as land has been ploughed. Mosses, where peat might be dug were few and peat had to come 4 or 5 miles and was therefore expensive. Coal had to be brought 40 miles from Dalmellington as coal from England carried a duty which he thought was very unfair as people already had to pay for freight and insurance.

Dalry: There were no peats closer than 2 or 3 miles and coal had to come from Dalmellington which, he thought, was a great obstacle to establishing any manufacturing.

Principal roads were from Kirkcudbright – Ayr & Glasgow, Newton Stewart (now Newton Douglas) to Edinburgh and Dumfries via Monnihive (Moniaive). A bridge over the Ken between Dalry parish and Kells would have been a great advantage as sometimes the river was impassable even with boats.

Many of the lands have changed hands in the previous 10 – 12 years. The family of Kenmure had land which had recently been purchased by Mr Oswald of Auchincruive. Several estates (Barskeoch, Ardoch, Achirshinnoch, & that of Mr Agnew of Ochiltree) had recently been purchased by Mr Forbes of Callendar. Some of those ancient proprietors who resided in the parish has seats that were, at the time, its great ornaments, but at present only two resided there, Hunter of Lochinvar and Alexander of Mackilston.

“Scarcely any of them, for a long period, have been convicted of capital crimes, though there are a few, especially in the village, who are said to be addicted to fraud, pilfering, lying, evil speaking, and several other immoralities.”

Kells: The snow was sometimes on the Kells hills for 8 or 9 months of the year.

Wildlife: Foxes, hares, wild cats and badgers found excellent cover in the woods and otters on the river banks – when it was frosty they were destroyed in great numbers by sportsmen. There was plenty of black and red game on the moors, but partridge were not so numerous as in corn country, there were ptarmigan on the high hills and plover and snipe in marshy areas.

Eagles are seen, they are very large, one having been killed recently had a wingspan of 7 feet. All deer were by then destroyed.

Advantages – the taste of the hill fed mutton; he thought it much better than that produced in the lowlands; a weekly market; high roads from Edinburgh to Portpatrick and Glasgow to Kirkcudbright.

Disadvantages – high situation, rendering the high hills cold and stormy and dangerous for the sheep; bad roads in the interior; pernicious quality of the grass, he said that on 2 or 3 of the farms by the Dee, the grass caused a sheep disease called Vanquish that weakened, wasted and eventually killed the sheep, unless they were moved to another farm where they would recover. This is not to be confused Rot; sheep with rot put on these farms often recover! injured

The church was rebuilt in 1745 and repaired 1788; manse repaired in 1765 and 1788, but was still a bad house. There were10 heritors, of whom 5 resided in the parish. He thought the school to be inadequate for the parish only serving the village and the people who loved within a couple of miles round about. Families further away, either had to club together to hire a teacher, of hire a lad who has been to school to teach their children the basics.

People were of a common size, between 5’7” and 6 feet, strong built more rosy and better complexion than those of the low country, owing perhaps, he thought, to not having to work so hard, living better and with more animal food as in the moor country. There was no part of Scotland wherethe poor lived better or ate so much animal food. The people were frugal and industrious and manufacture most of the woollen and linen cloth used by them; they were fond of music, dancing and other social amusements. There were only 2 inns in New Galloway where entertainment could be had for men and horses.

Parton & Corsock: He thought the air salubrious and said there had been no epidemic distempers apart from rheumatic complaints for the last 40 years among all ranks.

There had been a quarry, but it was mismanaged, so was no longer in use. There was an opinion that it could be got going again, especially as there was much building and improvement in this area.

Fuel was mainly peat though it was scarce in southern parts; the poor used broom and furze. Mosses were hard to access as there were no roads, so that people had to carry peats home in corn sacks on horses. There was no turnpike road, only road going along the Dee. He states, it “will be made good by a commutation of the statute-labour”.

There were 2 motes, one by church with a ditch 6 – 9 ft deep and the other at Boreland that was twice as big and surrounded by two ditches. - Nearby (200 yd) the larger one there were the remains of a small Druidical circle. About 3 miles north of the church there was a remarkable heap of stones from which the farm where it was seems to have been named for it – the Cairn, measuring about 120 yds circumference. A mile away lay another, smaller cairn. It was opened about 50 yrs ago and contained a stone coffin and a few remains of human bones.