DUMFRIESSHIRE, Scotland - History and Description, 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]

"DUMFRIES, a county in the S. of Scotland. It is bounded on the N. by the counties of Lanark, Peebles, Selkirk, and Roxburgh; on the E. by Cumberland, on the S. by the Solway Firth, on the S.W., W., and N.W. by the counties of Kirkcudbright and Ayr. It measures 50 miles in extreme length from E. to W., with a breadth of about 32 miles from N. to S. It contains an area of 1,006 square miles, or 644,385 English acres. The western, northern, and eastern boundaries of the county consist of lofty mountains, from which ranges of lesser altitude branch off into the lowlands. Among the mountains forming the boundary from W. to E. are Black Larg, 2,890 feet above the sea; Lowther, 3,130; Queensberry, 2,140; Hartfell, 3,300; Whitcoomb, about the same; Ettrick Pan, 2,220; Wisphill, 1,836; and Tinnis-hill, 1,846. Of those in the interior of the county the highest are Cairnkinna, 2,080 feet in height; Glenquhargen, 1,000 feet; Langholm-hill, 1,204; and Brunswark-hill, 740 feet above the sea. These mountain, owing to the nature of the rocks of which they are composed, are mostly rounded or flattened on the summits, while their sides rise steeply and abruptly from a comparatively narrow basis. The central part of the county presents great diversity of hill and valley. The southern part of the county is divided into three great basins by the valleys of the Nith, the Annan, and the Esk, which, however, for some miles before reaching the Solway, are flattened into plains. These three rivers follow a south-easterly course for the most part parallel to one another, at an average distance of 12 miles, and have many small tributaries, chiefly remarkable for the beauty of the dells through which they flow. The county has few lakes, those of Lochmaben and Loch Skene being the most remarkable. The latter is the source of Moffat water, which forms the magnificent waterfall called the "Grey Mare's Tail." Fish abound in the rivers and lakes. Chalybeate and sulphureous springs are found in various places. The climate is genial, being defended by the mountainous boundary from northerly and easterly blasts, but as the prevailing winds in summer and autumn blow from the W. and S., they bring along with them an abundance of moisture from the Atlantic. In the winter and spring the winds are from the E. and N. Game is plentiful. In the southern part of the county, a sandstone of various hues from grey to reddish, and of different degrees of compactness, is, the chief rock. Limestone is largely worked. Ironstone occurs both associated with limestone and also as bog iron ore, but it has not hitherto been worked. Coal is worked in the parishes of Sanquhar and Canobie. In the parish of Sanquhar at Wanlockhead, at the N.W. extremity of the county, galena, or lead ore, yielding from 74 to 80 per cent. of metal, is worked. These lead mines are the most extensive in Britain. From 6 to 12 ounces of silver per ton is also extracted from the ore. Gold occurs in quartz veins, or in the sands of rivulets, among the mountains around Wanlockhead. The only antimony mine in Scotland occurs at Glendinning, in the parish of Westkirk. The rocks of many of the hills are composed of greywacke, greenstone, trap, and basalt. The soil varies in different parts of the county, being in general light, or consisting of a rich loam, in the southern parts. Alluvial soils of greater or lesser depth skirt the streams. Peat moss is abundant. Estates are held either of the crown or of a subject superior, who may or may not have property in the county. In either of these cases estates may be entailed for an unlimited period. In the neighbourhood of the castle of Lochmaben there are possessions called 00 kindly tenures," held of the sovereign subject to a small annual payment to an officer appointed by the crown. Similar tenures occur in Orkney. Feu-holding, involving perpetuity of right and power of alienation, but subject to a fair annual rent, is confined chiefly to the burghs. Long leases of small plots of land for building purposes are common. Farms of arable land are let on leases of fifteen, nineteen, or twenty-one years, and sheep pasture farms on leases of nine or thirteen years. During the past 100 years all the new improvements in agriculture and husbandry have been introduced. Black cattle, but principally sheep, are pastured in the mountainous division of the county. Pigs are reared in enormous numbers. The pork is cured and sent as bacon to England. The coasting trade is insignificant, compared with the importance of the productions of the county. The chief exports are oxen, sheep, pigs, corn, wool, and skins. In the parish of Sanquhar, ginghams, Thibets, and tartans are woven, and coarse ginghams at Dumfries and Annan. Good roads traverse the county. The western turnpike from Carlisle to Glasgow traverses the county from Sarkbridge through Annan, Dumfries, Thornhill, and Sanquhar, and the eastern through Ecclefechan, Lockerby, and Beattock. The Dumfries and Edinburgh turnpike passes northward by way of Moffat, the Carlisle and Edinburgh along the vales of the Esk and the Ewes, and the Dumfries and Ayr north-westward through Dunscore and Glencairn. The Caledonian railway passes down the valley of the Annan, and thence to the head of the Solway Firth, with stations at Beattock, Wamphray, Dinwoodie, Nethercleugh, Lockerby, Ecclefechan, Kirtlebridge, Kirkpatrick, and Gretna; and the Glasgow and South-Western railway traverses the county down the valley of the Nith to a junction with the Caledonian railway near Gretna, with stations at Kirkconnel, Sanquhar, Carronbridge, Thornhill, Closeburn, Auldgirth, Holywood, Dumfries, Ruthwell, Cummertrees, Annan, and Dornock. The royal burghs in Dumfriesshire are Dumfries, Annan, Lochmaben, and Sanquhar. The burghs of barony are Moffat, Lockerby, Langholm, Eccle fechan, Thornhill, and Minnihive. This county originally comprehended, in addition to its own territory, the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and in the reign of William I. was placed under a sheriff. From the reign of David I. to that of Robert Bruce the county consisted strictly of the sheriff-ship of Nithsdale, the stewartry of Annandale, and the regality of Eskdale. The present jurisdiction of the county was assumed by an Act of Parliament passed in the 20th of George II. The county town is Dumfries. The sheriff court for the county and the commissary court are held there every Tuesday and Friday during session, the sheriff small debt court every Friday during session, and on ordinary court days during vacations. The justice of peace small debt court is held every Monday. The sheriff small debt courts are held at Annan, Langholm, Lockerby, Moffat, Thornhill, and Sanquhar. The county returns one member to parliament. Population in 1851, 78,149; in 1861, 75,904. The synod of Dumfries not only includes the whole county, but extends beyond its limits. It includes the presbyteries of Dumfries, Lochmaben, Annan, Penpont, and Langholm, which are themselves composed of 46 parishes. The places of worship in the county are divided between the Established Church, Free Church, United Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Independents, Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, Evangelical Union, and Roman Catholics. This county, during the wars of Bruce and Baliol, was exposed to the most harassing struggles of those competitors for the crown, the baronial possessions of Bruce being in Annandale, and those of Baliol in Nithsdale. From being situated on the border, until the union of the English and Scottish crowns this county was constantly exposed to hostile incursions. The remains of the Romans are numerous, the county having many vestiges of fortifications and their connecting roads, which traversed the county in a north-westerly direction. There occur also Druidical and monastic remains in various places. The principal ancient castles are those of Caerlaverock, Torthorwald, Closeburn, Morton, and Sanquhar, in Nithsdale; Achincass, Hoddam, Comlongan, and Lochwood, in Annandale; and Wauchope and Langholm in Eskdale."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]