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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Last 2000 words on Galloway Levellers

At least until I revise the whole 40 000...

James Murray and Gatehouse of Fleet

It was from James Murray (1727- 1799) that Richard Oswald bought Auchincruive in 1764. Although Murray lacked Oswald‘s huge resources, he rather than Oswald was the most successful of Galloway’s improving landowners. Uniquely amongst Galloway’s many improving landowners, Murray managed to combine the agricultural improvement of his estates with the successful development of a planned industrial settlement - Gatehouse of Fleet. With the benefit of hindsight, the 19th century, the application of steam power to the cotton mills of north west England and west central Scotland fossilised the water powered cotton mills of Gatehouse of Fleet as part of industrial archaeology. But this should not detract from the achievements of James Murray and his enlightened attempt to combine agricultural and industrial development.

The careful consideration of James Murray’s development of Gatehouse of Fleet1 is also valuable since it brings together several of the themes previously discussed. Most immediately, James’ father Alexander had an enclosure able to contain 1000 head of cattle near Gatehouse which was levelled in 1724. The Birtwhistle family who built the second cotton mill in Gatehouse in 1787 were Yorkshire based cattle traders. The Murray family’s interest in the cattle trade can be traced back to the Plantation of Ulster. In 1608, George Murray, Alexander Cunningham, Alexander Dunbar, James McCulloch, William Stewart, Patrick Vans and Robert McLellan were granted lands in the Boylagh district of Donegal.2 With the exception of McLellan (later the first Lord Kirkcudbright) all were landowners in the neighbouring parishes of Sorbie, Glasserton and Whithorn in the Machars of Wigtownshire. The lands in Donegal were mainly cattle grazing pasture lands. Of these Wigtownshire landowners, George Murray of Broughton took the most active interest in the Irish lands and died at Lifford in Ireland in 1613. John Murray of Cockpool (later Earl of Annandale) then acted as guardian to George’s son John. In 1627, Murray of Cockpool “obtained from the Privy Council permission to land at Portpatrick and take to England cattle belonging to his Irish tenants, to enable them to pay their rents.” Permission was necessary since the Privy Council had attempted to prevent the export of cattle from Nithsdale and Annandale to England in 1625.3 Through marriage alliances John Murray II of Broughton extended his landholdings in Galloway and Ireland, including the Cally estate in Girthon parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. This was gained by his son Alexander through marriage in 1658. Alexander inherited Broughton in 1665 and after a lengthy legal dispute gained 65 000 acres of land around Killibegs in Donegal. Alexander was based in Donegal for several years and became Sheriff of Donegal in 1672. In 1676 he was given a Scottish Privy Council commission to prevent the import of goods - including cattle- from Ireland. In 1677 the Privy Council further commissioned Alexander Murray to assist in the suppression of illegal conventicles in the Sheriffdom of Wigtown and the Stewatry of Kirkcudbright.4

Although Alexander Murray of Broughton and Cally is not amongst the Wigtownshire landowners Symson mentions as having constructed large cattle parks it is noteworthy that he shared the Episcopalian and pro-Stuart sympathies of Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon, Sir William Maxwell of Monreith, Sir Godfrey McCulloch of Myreton and the Earl of Galloway who all had cattle parks in the Machars and that Sir David Dunbar was accused of importing Irish cattle.

Alexander Murray died in 1690 and after his son John died unmarried in 1704, John’s younger brother Alexander inherited. Alexander had a cattle park at Cally which was levelled in 1724. In 1726 he married Lady Euphemia Stewart, daughter of the 5th earl of Galloway. Alexander was the Member of Parliament for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright between 1715 and 1727 and before his death in 1751 had added to the family landholdings. The farm of Beoch in Tongland parish, where Galloway Levellers Thomas Moire and Grizel Grierson had lived in 1724, was amongst those he acquired. James Murray followed in his father’s footsteps. As well as becoming MP for Wigtown from 1762 to 1768 and for the Stewartry from 1768 to 1774, he married a daughter of the Earl of Galloway - his cousin Lady Catherine Stewart, daughter of the 6th Earl of Galloway. And, as Russell puts it:

James Murray evidently learnt much from his father on the techniques of managing the financial side of the estates, raising money by wadset or mortgage to finance improvement, the profit of which paid off the money borrowed…Between 1781 and his death in 1799 there were at least sixty five sasines to his name. Typically he got [wadsets on 17 farms owned by his father] on resignation by John Symes W.S…who had probably held these as security to raise money.. Almost immediately he was life-renting these to local gentry who perhaps let them to tenant farmers … so as to maintain his income from these properties. James Murray’s financial expertise in financial management resulted in his being elected a director of the Douglas Heron [Ayr} Bank, although wisely he was not a guarantor and so was not affected when this bank went bankrupt.5

When James Murray drew up his will in 1797, as well as his Irish estates, he owned 112 farms in Galloway in the parishes of Whithorn and Wigtown in Wigtownshire and in the parishes of Girthon (where he owned the whole parish), Anwoth, Twynholm, Borgue, Tongland, Rerrick and Borgue in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. In addition to his farms, James Murray also owned the industrial settlement of Gatehouse of Fleet.

The very first ‘industrial’ development at Gatehouse took place in the 1730s when a bleachfield was laid out on the east (Girthon parish) side of the river Fleet, close to the site of a wooden bridge over the Fleet. Russell suggests that this development was probably related to the construction of a lint mill by Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness on the site of an older grain mill on the Skyreburn (2km from Gatehouse) and indicates local expansion of the linen industry.6 However, evidence from the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds reveals the existence of a ‘walk’ mill at Skyreburn in 1668, with Alexander Makewin as the ‘walker’.7 Twenty years later, Alexander Carsan was the miller at Skyreburn who received 39 stones of wool from John Mckie of Craig farm and in 1691 Patrick McKie was ‘dyer at the walk milne of Skyerburn‘.8 This evidence for the manufacture of woollen cloth in 17th century Galloway is confirmed by Symson in his Description of Galloway when he comments that two of the four annual fairs in Wigtown were dedicated to the sale of cloth and that these were “frequented by merchants from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Air and other places who here buy great quantities of raw broad cloth and transport part of it overseas”. 9

It seems to have been the construction in 1763/4 of a military road from Gretna to Portpatrick which inspired James Murray to develop the hamlet of Gatehouse of Fleet into an industrial settlement. 10 However, the first action James Murray took was to have a coaching inn built in the centre of what was to become the new town of Gatehouse of Fleet. The first industry James Murray established in Gatehouse was that of tanning in 1768, followed by brewing in 1769. Sometime in the 1770s, a lint mill was built near the bleach fields, but was not until 1788 that the first of Gatehouse’s four cotton mills was established. Before this mill was built, miners from Wales were employed to cut a 500 metre tunnel from Loch Whinyeon in the hills above Gatehouse to supply a complex system of lades and mill ponds which in turn fed the mill. Finally, a soap works was established. By 1792, the parish of Girthon had a population of 1730, a 371% increase in population since Webster’s survey of 1755. The majority lived in the new town of Gatehouse of Fleet which had a population of 1150, of whom 500 were employed in the cotton works. The only parish in Galloway which came near to matching this growth rate was Stranraer, which grew by 150% between 1755 and 1791. The next largest increase was in the parish of Kelton, which had a population increase of 97.3%. As with Girthon, this increase was due to the creation of a new town - Castle Douglas, as the village of Carlingwark was renamed in 1791. Kirkcudbright grew by 51.7%

Parish (out of 27)

Population 1755

Population 1790/2


K.P Durham (4)




Terregles (5)




Kirkpatrick (6)




Kirkbean (7)




Balmaghie (8)




Twynholm (9)




Minnigaff (10)




Of the parishes listed above, Kirkpatrick Durham contained a new village actively promoted by the Dr. Lamont, the parish minister which contained 14 masons, 13 weavers, 8 tailors, 7 inn-keepers, 5 shoe-makers,3 coopers, 3 shop keepers, a butcher, a baker and a dancing master. According to Dr. Lamont, the village contained a ‘society for carrying a cotton manufactory’ which had six members and a working capital of £120 as well as a similar society for woollen making which had five members and capital of £100.11

The Old Statistical Account for the parish of Rerrick (which experienced zero population growth between 1755 and 1794) reveals a similar enthusiasm for industrial development.

What now gives a prospect of comfort, affluence and importance to the lower class, is a spirit of cotton manufacturing got in amongst us; which we hope in time will lead to woollens. Here we have two small villages; one at the old Abbey [Dundrennan], and another at the head of Heston Bay [Auchencairn]. At the former ,a few spirited young men commenced business last summer. At the latter a company of farmers…have subscribed a capital of £1200 for that purpose. The machinery of the last mentioned place is to go with water.12

Whilst the spirit of cotton manufacturing was sustained, the substance was lacking. The Auchencairn cotton mill, which was 50 feet long, 19 feet wide and three storeys high and contained 5 carding machines and 6 spinning jennies, was put up for sale in March 1800. In 1815, the building was in use as a paper mill, in 1843 as a cotton mill again, in 1852 as a woollen mill, then as a saw mill and finally as a washing and crushing plant for the Barlocco bayrtes mine before being demolished by the end of the century.13 Cotton was still being manufactured in Gatehouse of Fleet in 1847, but “the Gatehouse mills finally closed about mid-century”.14

Ultimately, it was the policy of ‘improvement through agriculture’ pursued by John Maxwell, Richard Oswald and William Craik in Kirkbean parish which prevailed over James Murray’s attempt to industrialise Girthon and William Douglas’ similar attempts in Kelton parish. Gatehouse of Fleet, which had grown so dramatically, became a quiet backwater, a piece of industrial archaeology within a farmed landscape. A farmed landscape which in essence remains that created by improvement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But it is not a fossilised landscape. Successive changes in agricultural techniques and technology have had their impact, most noticeably the 19th century shift to dairy farming across the lowland zone of Galloway. In the upland zone, vast plantations of Sitka spruce and other fast growing soft woods have replaced sheep and cattle farms. Only in the intermediate areas of unimproved land does something of the pre-improvement landscape survive - including the black cattle of Galloway grazing the rough pasture.

Towards a conclusion

If the uprising of the Galloway Levellers in 1724 was a unique event, was a ‘one-off’, why was this so? What was different about Galloway at that time?

One possibility, which is reflected in the ‘internal structure’ of the events of 1724 when the outbreak of levelling which occurred in Wigtownshire is compared to that which occurred in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright is that of landownership. More evidence needs to be gathered through analysis of McKerlie’s History of the Lands and their Owners and the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds, but it does seem that the fragmentation of landownership in Galloway was greatest in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

If this class of ‘owner-occupier’ farmers was greatest in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and if, as certainly became the case, their ownership of land was threatened by the expansion through consolidation of landownership, then this would help explain why the uprising of 1724 happened and why it took the form it did.

Taking Leopold’s 1980 study as the most detailed analysis of the Galloway Levellers, then his conclusion :- that it was an uprising of ‘peasants’, of cottars and crofters threatened by mass evictions, given leadership by a remnant of the suffering remnant, I.e. by a few parish ministers who still adhered to the radical heritage of the Covenanters and Conventiclers - is mistaken.

Although the majority of those who were active dyke-breakers were cottars and crofters and at least one outbreak of levelling was preceded by a rousing speech by a minister (Hugh Clanny) there was little that was spontaneous about the events of 1724. Only the attacks on Neilson of Barncaillie and Maxwell of Munches dykes seem to have been unplanned and were most likely an expression of anti-Catholic sentiments.

It is also important to recognise that the relationship between landowner and tenant is very different when the landowner is an owner-occupier with an estate amounting to no more than a handful of small farms and who works those farms in the ‘half-manner’ I.e. in co-operation with a tenant who is socially and economically indistinguishable from the farm-owner.

The recent history of Galloway would also be a factor. Whilst in Wigtownshire, many of the larger landowners had been pro-Stuart/ Episcopalian supporters e.g. William Maxwell of Monreith, Alexander Murray of Broughton, the Dunbars of Baldoon, this was not the case in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Here a key figure was Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness, himself ‘one of King William’s men’ and his father a Covenant supporting minister. Others, like Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie and Robert Johnston of Kelton had been active anti-Jacobites in 1715, as had been Thomas Gordon of Earlston.

The threat to Dumfries posed by the Jacobites in 1715 revived local memories of the struggles of the 1660-1688 era and from the Stewartry and over 1000 volunteers were raised by Robert Johnston of Kelton, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie and Thomas Gordon of Earlston, as well as John Hepburn of Urr’s 320 armed Hebronites. It is probable that the Jacobite challenge to the Revolution Settlement and the Hanoverian succession had the effect of strengthening the sense of political solidarity in the Stewartry. So that when a former Jacobite -Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon - took up the strongest anti-Leveller position, then the economic division between larger landowners and owners-occupiers/ tenant farmers which would otherwise have prevailed was neutralised by political and social solidarity.

Finally, whereas Leopold and most others consider the Levellers Uprising as a doomed struggle against the rising tide of improvement and economic rationalisation of traditional farming practices, an alternative position can be argued.

If the Galloway Levellers uprising was organised and led by owner-occupier and their tenant farmers t is possible that the negotiations which took place between the Levellers and Maxwell of Cardoness and Heron of Kirroughtrie influenced their later demands. If as a consequence of these negotiations it was recognised and accepted that the consolidation of landownership was necessary and inevitable this may explain the Levellers subsequent advocacy of ‘improvement through enclosure’ -

The Gentlemen should enclose their grounds in such parcels that each may be sufficient for a good tenant and that the Heritors lay as much rent on each of these enclosures as will give him double the interest of the money laid out on the enclosures. If he cannot get this enclosure set to a tenant whom he may judge sufficient, he may then lawfully keep that ground in his own hand till he finds a sufficient tenant , taking care that the tenants house be kept up and that it may be let with the first opportunity and that a lease of twenty-one years be offered. This will considerably augment the yearly rent of the lands and the tenant will hereby be capable and encouraged to improve the breed of sheep and black cattle and the ground, which without enclosures is impossible.

So that the Levellers legacy was not one of failure but of success, illustrated by John Maxwell’s policy of pursing improvement through co-operation on Richard Oswald’s Kirkbean estate and which even Sir Basil Hamilton’s son Dunbar Hamilton, the 4th Earl of Selkirk, and his grandson Lord Daer (another) Basil Hamilton pursued.

1 The following is based on Russell : Gatehouse and District: Dumfries and Galloway Council: 2003

3 Haldane : The Drove Roads of Scotland: 1973 : 161 and 163, quoting R.P.C. 2nd Series I, 138 and 591.

4 Russell: 2003 Vol I : 88

5 Russell: 2003 : Vol. I. : 91

6 Russell: 2003 : Vol. I :187

7 KSCD: 0586i, Bond dated 20 April 1688 ‘at the Walk millne of Skyreburn’ and 0725i, Obligation by Andrew Makewin, walker at the mill of Skyreburne, dated 9 October 1668

8 KSCD: 1871ii, Bond dated 26 July 1688 at Skyrburn mill, KSCD: 2080ii, Bond dated 14 March 1691

9 Symson: 1682, in McKenzie: 1841

10 As well as passing through Gatehouse, the road also passed through the hamlet of Carlingwark in Kelton parish. In 1765, Sir Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw had a short canal cut from Carlingwark to the river Dee. This canal was used to transport marl from Carlingwark Loch upstream as far as New Galloway 15 miles away. The marl was used as a fertiliser on farms adjacent to the river Dee and Loch Ken. In 1791, Carlingwark became the planned town of Castle Douglas.

11 OSA: 1983 : 243

12 OSA:1983:312

13 Fortune: The Story of Bengairn: 2005

14 Donnachie : The Industrial Archaeology of Galloway : 1971: 98


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is the progress is the enemy reply progressing then?
In the meantime I have found a quote (by Mircea Eliade in a piece called "Mythologies of Memory and Forgetting" from History of Religions, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter, 1963) pdf version) which I thought was kind of interesting and relevent.

"The Gnostic, like the disciple of Samkhya-Yoga, has already been punished for the 'sin' of forgetting his true Self. The sufferings that constitute every human life vanish at the moment of waking. Waking, which is at the same time an anamnesis, finds expression in an indifference to History, especially to contemporary History. Only the primordial myth is important. Only the events that occurred in the fabulous past are worth knowing; for, by learning them, one becomes conscious of one's true nature - and awakens. Historical events proper (e.g. the Trojan War, the campaigns of Alexander the Great, the murder of Julius Caeser) have no significance since they carry no soteriological message."

3:24 pm  

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