In 1976 Messrs A.Gray and H.M.Paton produced the First Edition of 'Auchencairn and District'.
Their Foreword acknowledged indebtedness to the: Statistical Accounts, The Proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, The writings of R. Trotter, k Trotter, J. Muir, A.H.Christie, W.T.Shaw, and J. H..Milligan, to the many residents of Auchencairn, both former and present, who willingly co-operated in supplying information, and to various Archaeological sources for the material covering the wider aspects.
A second Edition was published by the original authors in 1977
A third Edition was published in 1987
This fourth Edition has been published with the kind permission of Hugh M. Paton. It has been edited and brought up to date where necessary by Dennis Binns
An Auchencairn Community council Publication, l999 Copyright, Hugh M. Paton 1976
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Although no written mention of Auchencairn from before the 14th century has been discovered there are signs that this area has been inhabited from Mesolithic times (5000 - 4000B.C. approx.). The Mesolithic folk were hunters and fishers, and lived by collecting shell-fish, harpooning fish, and hunting seals, roe-deer, boar, badger, otter and wild cat. Their implements included harpoons of red deer antlers or bone. They had no axes and were not able to clear forest, and so had to keep to the shore and river mouths. Remains from this early period are scanty. One example of a deer-horn barbed fish-spear was found at Cumstoun on the Dee estuary near Kirkcudbright; there is an oyster-shell midden on the island of Heston at the top of the raised beach immediately below the existing house; and one stray find of a tiny stone tool was made on Torr. Most of our knowledge of these folk comes from remains in two main areas of Scotland - one on the West coast near Oban and the Isle of Oronsay, and the other in the Kirkcudbright area. From the evidence of Oban and Oronsay they must have arrived by sea; it is thought from Northern Spain and South-West France - not, of course, in a single voyage, but probably over several generations.
During the following period the land was colonised by an incoming people, the Neolithic folk who, from 4000 to 3000 B.C., increasingly settled throughout the region. They had axes, and being able to clear woodlands, developed farmlands for, as well as being hunters, they had become farmers. They grew wheat and barley - oats and rye came into use later. They had domesticated cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. Remains from this time are fairly abundant, the richest sources being the burial cairns. A group of at least seven of these courtyard cairns has been found in the Cree Basin, the most remarkable of which are those at Boreland (Minigaff) and Cairnholy. Other finds have been made; examples of'Beaker' pottery at High Banks, Kirkcudbright being the nearest to the Rerrick area.
The succeeding Bronze Age population have left traces in the shape of weapons, food-vessels, cup-and-ring markings and many cairns. There are twenty-six cairns in the Cree Basin, others in the Ken and Deugh valleys and a more isolated group in the Carsphairn area. Some of these cairn groups include stone circles. Among the many weapons found throughout the region there is a bronze dagger from Carlingwark Loch. The cairn at High Banks contained two food vessels, and an urn of the period was found at Whinnieliggate. In the Fleet Bay area and on the east side of the Dee there are many cup-and-ring markings.
Iron Age remains include sixty-six forts concentrated in the coastal belt between the Fleet and Urr valleys, with seven promontory forts also,probably from this period.
The cave sites at Torrs, Kirkcudbright, have yielded Iron Age material; from Torrs, Castle Douglas, there is a remarkable horse-hat and a drinking horn terminal; and a huge hoard of over a hundred tools and weapons was recovered from Carlingwark Loch. No fewer than twenty forts or encampments of Iron Age origin have been identified in Rerrick, as many as in any other parish in the Stewartry.
The main known Roman sites are the large fort at Glenlochar and the small fort at Gatehouse; there are indications of a small site near Buittle Mill. The princilpal Roman road so far found runs from Dalswinton in Dumfrieshire via Castle Douglas to Gatehouse. In Roman times many of the population of Scotland lived in caves, and some on artificial islands (crannogs) in the lochs, a practice which dates from the Ist century and which persisted into medieval times.
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The Dark Ages
During the Dark Ages which,followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, conditions must have been very disturbed. It is from this period that the considerable group of 'courtyard' forts in Rerrick parish extending over the hilly ridge to the Urr estuary seems to date, and may be linked with the 5th-7th century trading site at the Mote of Mark near Kippford. In the Auchencairn area there are several of these sites; two near the old road from the Hall farm towards Airds; one above the cemetery; one at Nether Hazelfield; one on Suie Hill and one on Dungarry. These last two have been examined and were found to differ from all the others in certain respects, they are thought to date from the 8th century - one theory being that they were built by refugee Scots from Dalriada fleeing from invading Northern Picts. Scots were, of course, Gaelic speakers.
Dark Age remains other than earthworks are few. There are some crosses, and the St Constantine dedications around Dalbeattie seem to be connected with the mission of St Kentigern's disciple about 575 A.D. He was sent there because he was a 'Briton', i.e. a Welsh speaker. There are indications that Welsh died out about 700 A.D., perhaps through Anglian influence as shown in such names as that of the River Fleet. The Anglian period lasted roughly from after 600 to about 900 A.D. The coastal Norse names too probably date from this time. The introduction of Gaelic by the Gallgaidhil may be dated from after 920. These Gallgaidhil were Northmen from the Isles who overran the south-west. The name means 'Foreign Gaels', and was given to them by the Irish and Scottish Gaels. It was from these Gallgaidhil that the regional name was derived. Their language, Gaelic, replaced the Old British or Welsh speech, and was in common use in Galloway until the 17th century. These incoming Northmen were lieges of the Earl of Orkney who were also Earls of Galloway. Malcolm III, King of Scots, claimed Galloway through his marriage to Ingibjorg, a daughter (or widow) of Thorfinn, the great Earl of Orkney. Malcolm later married the English Princess, Margaret, and it was her sons who eventually succeeded their father, thus usurping their half-brothers, the sons of Ingibjorg, whom many Gallovidians, and Scots too, considered to be the rightful heirs.
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The Middle Ages
It was during the reign of David I, Margaret's son, that the land was divided into parishes, it was David, too, who created a Galloway chieftain, Fergus, Lord of Galloway. The two had spent much of their youth together at the English court, and on their return to Scotland imposed their acquired Norman ways, including the feudal system of government, on their subjects. Fergus moved from Whithorn and established himself near Kirkcudbright - even now the place is called Lochfergus. As well as imposing feudalism he replaced the old celtic form of worship with the Roman form and established many churches. The natives showed theh resentment at these changes by rebelling, but before the middle of the 13th century Alexander II had finally crushed the risings, and feudalism under Anglo-Norman nobles was firmly established.
Remains from this period include 25 'motes', mainly in the Dee and Fleet basins, though the most notable is the outlying Mote of Urr. These motes were as a rule wooden defensive structures built on an eminence which was often artificial. The stone-built 'keeps' found throughout Scotland were a later development serving the same purpose. There are five 'Homestead' motes in the Stewartry, and many of the earthworks recorded belong to the medieval" period as does the crannog in Loch Rutton. The ruinous castles at Buittle and Castledykes (Kirkcudbright) date from this time; and Palace Yard at Girthon may have begun as an Edwardian camp, and contains the remains of the last pre-Reformation Bishop of Galloway's Palace.
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The earliest written record referring to Auchencairn is in a charter of Edward I dated 1305. 'Aghencarne' is mentioned among lands pertaining to the Abbey of Dundrennan, along with the "isle of Estholm, Roskerald, Clonsinagh (Glenshinnoch), Barlockwood and Barlock". Another charter of 1567/68 granted by the son of the Lord Herries, John Maxwell, to his brother James, gave him entitlement to "the lands in Achincarne" There is a record from 1675 showing that the daughters of Robert Cairns of Torr a member of the branch of the Cairns family who had long held the estate of Orchardton - inherited the "eight-mark land of Auchencairn and the land of Little Forest".
The village grew round the corn mill in the early 17th century, and the oldest houses are those nearest the mill. The mill building, or all that remains of it, was last used as a joiner's shop. The present day 'brick buildings' stand on the site of the old mill dam. Another group of houses stood beside the burn near where the war memorial stands; these were known as the Netherton of Torr. They were demolished in the 19th century, but a smiddy and a slaughterhouse remained on the other side of the road between the bridge and the existing shop till well into the 20th century.
(Note: (1) - They were referred to as the Netherton of Auchencairn in Legal Documents).
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A bishop of the early church, St Glassen, lived about 830 A.D. and his name was given to a holy well near Kirkland south of Dundrennan. This Kirkland was the site of an early chapel, and of the parish church till long after the Reformation. The Reformation was accomplished quietly in Galloway, but this quiet tolerance was not shown in the controversy of the 17th century between the Episcopalian and Presbyterian parties within the reformed chuch. Mounting bitterness led to persecution and bloodshed, relief coming only with James' VII Indulgence of 1687, and finally with the Revolution. In 1690 the Church of Scotland was established on a Presbyterian basis, but the Covenants were quietly dropped. After the Disruption of 1843 those who left the Established Church began services in Auchencairn, first in the old Collin Mill, until their new church was completed in 1844 at the upper end of Main Street. Transepts and a steeple were added in 1875. The building was sold after the union of 1932, the steeple being removed and the building used as a store, then by the Home Guard during the war, and latterly as a barn. This Free Church also started a school and built a hall to accommodate it. Later this became known as the Murray Hall, having been donated by Mrs Murray, the wife of the first minister.
For the convenience of the growing numbers of the Auchencairn members of the Established Church, at Kirkland, a church was built in the village in 1855 - the one in present use - on land gifted by Miss Culton of Nutwood who, with David Welsh of Collin, gave generously to the building fund. In 1856 Auchencairn was "erected into the Parish of Auchencairn with full and separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction".
The two congregations continued separately until they were re-united in 1932.
The old church at Kirkland, in spite of being at the times in such need of repair that ministers complained of its condition - one at least, reporting preaching with wind, rain, and, on occasion, snow driving in both on himself and many of the congregation - served until 1865. It was taken down and a new church was built in the village of Dundrennan. The clock in the tower was a gift from William Fisher, a native of the parish, and was installed in 1938.
Both the old parish church at Dundrennan and the Established Church at Auchencairn are remarkable for having had very long-lived incumbents at times. At Dundrennan there were only four ministers from 1680 to 1844, the first of these being Alexander Telfair, the author of the tract dealing with 'the Apparition, Expressions and Actings of a Spirit which infested the house of Andrew Mackle in the Ringcroft of Stocking in 1695', which he published in 1696. At Auchencairn there were only two incumbents from 1856 to 1949. The first of these was the Rev. David Wark.
The first Free Church minister, Mr Murray, was accommodated for a time in Torr House until negotiations with Torr Estate were completed for acquiring a glebe and building a manse - now the Rossan. These negotiations took place in 1858. The Established Church manse - still in use but now privately owned - was built about 1856, again through the efforts and liberality of David Welsh of Collin.
At the beginning of the 19th century there was a Baptist Chapel in Auchencairn, the minister of which was the Rev. David Gibson, invariably referred to as 'the auld Dipper'.
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At the end of the 17th century education was at a very low ebb; few could read, not even the Bible. Superstition was rife and belief in witchcraft often led to lurid talk and behaviour, and tragedy.
By 1844 there were two schools in the parish, one at Dundrennan and one at Auchencairn. The school at Auchencairn was built in the early 19th century, the school-master living above the schoolroom. The building is now used for carpet-bowling. The salaries of the respective school-masters in 1844 were:
Dundrennan - f30 p.a.: Auchencairn - f21.6.8d p.a., each with a free house.
After the passing of the Education Act of 1872 a new school was built at Auchencairn. The old school was then used for a time as a Conservative Hall. Under the new Act the first education rate levied in the parish was 3d in the pound. For many years at the school there was a soup kitchen where the pupils got a substantial free meal at midday in winter: farmers sent vegetables, rabbits and meat, and money came from concerts and donations. In 1873 there were at Dundrennan - 172 pupils, and in 1950 - 50 pupils. In 1873 there were at Auchencaim - 232 pupils and in 1950 - 48 pupils.
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Up till at least the early 18th century there were numerous salt-pans along the coast, one at Balcary Point being worked by a James Gordon of Rascarrel. The heat required to evaporate the sea-water was obtained by burning turf.
During the mid-18th century depression hopes were raised that the known mineral deposits would be exploited, but in 1760 a traveller recorded that disappointment was keenly felt that, among others, the iron at Auchinleck and the coal at Rascarrel were still unexploited. But hopes did not die, for in 1792 the minister of Rerrick: indicated that the district still looked to these same deposits for economic salvation.
Over the last century and a half there have been several attempts to work various mineral deposits in the area. On a map of 1797 coal pits are shown near the mouth of the Rascarrel Burn, but no other record of these working have been found.
The iron ore at Auchinleck was being mined in 1843, operations having been started by an English company not long before that date according to the Statistical Account of 1843. The adit level (entrance) was beside Collin Burn and by 1845, 50-60 tons of ore per week were being sent to Birmingham by sailing ship after being carted to Balcary. The venture came to an end in 1870 and there were no further local mining operations for over forty years.
While iron was being mined at Auchinleck, copper was being obtained on the island of Heston, then on lease to an English tenant. This ore was shipped to Swansea. Another copper mine had been opened up at about the same time on Airds Farm near the cliff edge, but according to tradition, (quite accurately as was proved later), an accident to the pump caused the mine to flood and work was abandoned not long after mid-century.
This copper mine was near the site of the old Auchencairn barytes mine: but the main barytes-winning operations were at Barlocco where the deposits of the mineral were much greater. These deposits had been worked quite considerably before any records were kept. The mine was closed in 18G2 when the vein being worked was almost exhausted. During this period of working, the crude ore was carted to Auchencairn where it was washed and ground in the water-powered mill beside the Collin Burn. The mineral was then packed in 1 cwt kegs and, like the iron ore, was dispatched from Balcary Bay.
In 1914 the Barlocco Mining Co. Ltd., was formed and operations resumed. A dressing and grinding mill was set up near the mouth of the mine, power being supplied by a gas engine. The ground barytes was bagged and hauled by steam tractor to Dalbeattie railway station. Work went on until 1920 when the slump in the price of barytes forced the company to close down the mine.
The mine was re-opened once more when the Barlocco Barytes Co. Ltd., was formed in 1946. A dressing plant powered by a diesel engine was set up on the site of the 1914 mill. The deepest working was at 330 ft below the adit, or 180 ft below sea level.
To go deeper with the existing plant was impossible, and the mine was abandoned in 1954, all plant being removed and the adit damned up to provide a water supply for Barlocco Farm. During the operations from 1946 - 54 output was 12,071 tons of dressed barytes: the total recorded output from 1856 was 14,878 tons.
Another former mine nearby was then re-opened close to Airyhill Cottage, and named the windmill Mine from the windmill that had been used to supply the farm with water from the spring there, Little work had been done in the earlier attempt because their methods were not capable of dealing with this rather different ore. The new venture carried on until all the worthwhile ore had been won. This ore was taken to the Auchencairn mine (which had recently been opened up again) for dressing. Only about 2000 tons were obtained before the mine was closed, the shaft filled up, the dumps levelled and a dam built to supply water if required.
Barytes has many commercial uses: in making white paint, as a filler in paper-making, in the manufacture of plastics, linoleum, face-powder, etc.
In 1951 W.T.Shaw who, with his partner the late J.W.Simpson, was operating the Barlocco barytes mine at the time, was asked by the late J.W.Mackie, M.P. to investigate the site of the old copper mine at Airds. as a result the partners took out a 21-year lease of the area and proceeded to open up the old copper workings, not in great hopes of finding much copper but with the old barytes mine in their minds. They found veins of quartz, and decided to enter the market for crushed quartz to be used for pebbledashing. They re-collared the 75ft shaft and set up headgear'and a small crushing plant powered by a Lister diesel engine. However, they received few orders and no continuous working was possible.
J. W. Simpson, with one helper, soon afterwards made a trial on the vein near the shaft which the old miners had not pursued, and came into good copper ore. It was not of sufficient quality to go to a smelter direct, so they decided to put in a small flotation plant to treat the ore on the spot, scrapping the quartz plant and enlarging the building. The electric power plant and the hoist were brought from the Barlocco mine. When they started to pump the water from the shaft and workings they found that the inflow was too great for their diesels to cope with, so they arranged for a supply of power from the electric grid. Finally they cleared the 30 fathom level with the bottom of the shaft a fathom lower. In the course of this work they found the cause of the old-time flooding: a pinch bar had become wedged against the bottom valve in the working barrel of the old pump, thus preventing the pump from drawing water. They found themselves wondering what had been said to the culprit!
The main vein was found and followed till it joined Simpson's vein, but after that very little copper was seen. They went still deeper to the limit of their equipment, but nothing more was found. The ruling price for copper at the time did not make it worthwhile even to take out the proved ore, so the pump was stopped at 10 a.m. on 5th September 1957. All the gear from the mine was salvaged before the water reached the adit.
The mill was taken over by McKechnie Bros. Ltd., and used to dress barytes from the Windmill mine, but by April 1961 all work had ceased, the mill was dismantled and the shaft was concreted over. The few remaining relics of the venture can still be seen from the right-of-way round the Balcary Heughs.
Salmon fishing was established in the bays of Auchencairn and Balcary in the mid-19th century by the owners of Nutwood and Balcary. This stakenet fishing is still carried on today.
Farming remains the chief industry of the area, but over the last three centuries has shown many changes. In the latter part of the 17th century the whole region was in a state of depression, the people living in conditions of wretchedness. This was the result of Galloway's isolation and the dreadful 'Killing Time', followed by 'ill-years' of the 1690's. The expansion which followed was slow to take effect within the Stewartry; potatoes, introduced in 1725, and shell-marl, 1730, were only gradually appreciated. At this time so much man-power, and animal-power, were 'employed' in smuggling activities that improvers like Craik of Arbigland (1703-98) were seriously hindered by the shortage of labour.
The improvements in the rearing of cattle brought distress to many through the building of dykes to contain the cattle (the enclosures), and for a time in 1724 the 'levellers' were active, organised bands breaking down the newly-built dykes. Better communications, particularly the Dumfries-Portpatrick military road, built in 1760 and improved in 1800, and increased investment, brought results. The raising of black cattle was increased and black-faced sheep were grazed on the uplands.
The agricultural boom of the years of the war with France brought a further increase in prosperity which carried through the post-war depression. The subsequent introduction of fertilisers, turnips for fodder, and deep tile drainage maintained the progress. The export of cattle reached an annual total of from 20,000 - 30,000 around 1840. Much of this was still by droving, but the bulk went through the Galloway ports to Glasgow and Liverpool. Coastal shipping had grown remarkably, and in 1835 regular steamer sailings between Kirkcudbright and Liverpool and Glasgow were begun.
By mid-19th century the coming of the railway again raised hopes, there was actually a proposal for the construction of a line from Dalmellington to Balcary but the introduction of the Ayrshire cow in 1850 had a greater effect. The period 1850-75 brought a marked change-over from store to dairy cattle with a corresponding increase in arable for fodder. The slump of the 1870's was lessened by this factor of stock-rearing, and thereafter dairying increased, and by 1914 agriculture in the Stewartry had settled in the pattern of dairying, stores, sheep-rearing and arable for feeding, much as it is today. The Ayrshire took the lead in dairying; but the Galloway and the 'Beltie' held their own as stores. More recently, the Friesian has played an increasing part on the dairying side, and some farmers have brought in the so-called 'exotic' breeds such as the Charoilais on the store side. Between 1919 and 1939 farming did not escape the depression and paid the penalty in Galloway for over-dependence on dairying. Creameries at Tarff, Kirkcudbright and Dalbeattie encouraged over-production, and local milk co-operatives failed to cope. Recovery did not come till the Milk Marketing Board and Road Transport gave effective distribution.
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Ports, Excise and Smuggling
Kirkcudbright had been an important port, but by 1692 its shipping consisted of'one small boat of eight tons for carrying their coals but she hath never as yet been employed'. In the 18th century things had improved, and the Old Statistical Account records 28 ships, 2 in foreign trade. By 1840 this had risen to 54 ships, including the regular steamer sailings to Glasgow and Liverpool. Ship-building and allied trades were carried on, chiefly at Kirkcudbright. At this time, according to a writer of the day, it was common on looking out over the Firth from any of the many high points in the area, to see upwards of a hundred ships between St Bees' Head and the Mull of Galloway. Up till then the port of Dumfries covered the whole coast from the English border to the Mull of Galloway, but in 1870 Kirkcudbright and Wigtown were raised to the status of separate ports. Mulloch Bay, Burnfoot and Balcary were Free Ports, Balcary ranking as 'safe and commodious'. Their chief exports were meal. potatoes and barley; the chief import was lime.
Before the Union of 1707 foreign trade was negligible, but after that it increased and there was a regular arrival of tobacco ships from Virginia with cargoes of tar and other produce in addition. There was a fair trade in wine from Oporto and an occasional timber ship from the Baltic. In times of food shortage quantities of grain were imported from Ireland, but for some reason Parliament prohibited this, with the result that the trade went 'underground'.
The building of the railway from Dumfries to Portpatrick (1858-62) with a later branch to Kirkcudbright, weakened the coastal trade, and finally in 1908 the once-active harbour at Kirkcudbright was partially filled up. There is still some trade through the port today, chiefly in oil; but the only other active port in the area is Palnackie at the head of the estuary of the Urr. It was once too small for the number of ships wishing to use it.
From about 1750 onwards smuggling became formidable in extent, and by 1760 the legitimate tobacco traders were driven out of business. Shipping interests then turned to the bounty-fed herring fishery which soon became of importance to Dumfries.
Although smuggling reached astonishing proportions there does not seem to have been any propensity to engage in the lawless 'wrecking' that was such a feature of the time on the Cornish and Welsh coasts, and elsewhere.
The country-women played a very large part in the smuggling activities, gathering in large bands often 40-50 strong against the 2 or 3 helpless revenue officers. In 1761 it was reported by the Collector of Excise in a letter to the Board that after the withdrawal of 2 companies of Highlanders, the insolence and audacity of the smugglers had much increased; they were riding openly through the countryside in bands with upwards of 6O horses. Even when the officers had succeeded in confiscating a cargo, it was quite often the case that a large band, sometimes disguised, would attack them and hold them prisoners while the cargo was dispersed.
In 1727 an Alexander Campbell was appointed 'tydesman', a post under the Controller of Excise. He was to take up duty at Auchencairn. At that time the King's cutter - the Revenue boat- was stationed in Balcary Bay. The salaries of the Revenue cutter were: The Captain - ?20 p.a., Crewmen - ?15.
There is in the records an estimate of the value of the goods smuggled from 5 ships, as reported in August 1791; it was said to be over ?7,00O. The total amount of goods smuggled into the area was feared to be very much in excess of this.
One of the most notorious of the smuggling communities in this area was centred on the village of Craigrow, which stood near the head of Torr Peninsula on the Orchardton side. It was no uncommon sight for a band of 30-50 smugglers from Craigrow to be seen riding across the Bow Farm, with casks and bags of contraband slung across their saddles, into the more open countryside near Auchencairn.
The existence of this nest of smugglers so near the new mansion of Orchardton was an annoyance to Sir Robert Maxwell, the owner, and he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Edward Cairns to let him have the land so that he could root them out. His son, James, on inheriting the property in 1785 did persuade Cairns to sell the land and the village was destroyed and the smugglers dispersed - a happening which, it is said, Edward Cairns regretted ever afterwards. Craigrow was sometimes called kirvellan, and the bay and point are now shoun on the O.S. map as Girvellan. The old well that served the village can still be seen.
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The Parish and the Village
The Parish has been known at various times as Monkton, Dundrennan and Rerwick. It was first called Rerrick when a new church was erected on the lands of Rerwick, part of the estate of Orraland.
In the late 17th century the principal houses were Dundrennan Abbey, Barlocco, Glenshinnoch, Orchardton and Culnachtry. In 1843 the principal mansions were Orchardton, Dundrennan, Orraland, Netherlaw, Balcary, Collin, Nutwood and Port Mary.
Many of the roads and bridges in the District were constructed through the interest and influence of Adam Maitland of Dundrennan who died in 1843. But the complier of the Statistical Account of 1843 complains of the nonresidence of many of the heritors of various properties in the area, and of the difference from former times when the owners of Collin, Dundrennan, Orraland and Port Mary occupied their properties and showed an active interest in the tenantry and the improvement of agriculture on their estates.
The census of 1851 marked the highest point reached by the population figures for the Stewartry; a total of 43,121. By 1961 the numbers had dropped to 28,877, and by 1971 to 27,631. The trend continues and in 1991 it was 23,629. Migration from the area is a continuing problem due to lack of industrial development and the mechanisation of farm-work.
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Population figures for Rerrick Parish
The peak at 1871 was due to the considerable tree-felling at Auchencairn.
The low figure at 1951 was largely due to the evacuation of 50 households from the lands still in use as a military testing range at Dundrennan.
Population Figures for Screel Ward
Services Available at Auchencairn
|Tailors & Drapers|
Horse-drawn buses plied between Auchencairn and Dalbeattie and later to Castle Douglas in the early 1900's. Motor transport was introduced just before the First World War, nowadays a Post-bus service augments the meagre commercial service.
In the 19th century the village was very prosperous and a writer of the time describes it as 'presenting an animated appearance, the shops crowded with purchasers and the houses with lodgers, provisions rising in price, and carts, gigs, and even carriages rattling along the roads from Castle Douglas, Palnackie and elsewhere. The tide goes out - the whole length of the bay, the sand is level, smooth and hard - and the whole shores of the bay from the jetty to the Red Ha'en are literally crowded with bathers, many from different parts of the kingdom'.
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Originally known as Nutwood, it was built in the late 18th century, about two miles south of the old mansion of Auchencairn by John Culton, who bought the farms of Auchencairn and Auchenfad from Edward Cairns of Torr. Cairns sold the two farms when he succeeded to the estate on the death of his father, William Cairns, in 1797. Major Culton started rebuilding the village, replacing the old thatched houses as they became empty. The plans for the new village were drawn up by an amateur surveyor, Jonathan Graham, who was also joint lessee of the fishings at Balcary and Nutwood. About 1860 Nutwood was bought by Mr Ivie Mackie who added largely to it. He also built new houses in the village and constructed the shore road between the lodges. It was he, too, who built the gasworks on the shore where the present house of Nutwood stands: a supply was laid on to the village for house and street lighting. One of the lamp posts is still to be seen on the wall of the old Post Office (Rosebank).
A story is told that when the pipes were being laid one old dame was puzzled as to "hoo they wad get the wick throu' they pipes'! The cemetery was laid out in 1860 on ground given by Mr Ivie Mackie, and enlarged in 1935, the extra ground being given by John E, Mackie M,P., his great grandson.
This was built about 1761 by Robert Maxwell. He married a McLellan of Kirkcudbright Castle and Bombie, and used the roof timbers from the castle in the new mansion at Orchardton. In 1785 the estate came into the possession of James Douglas, the brother of William Douglas, founder of Castle Douglas. Much rebuilding was done in 1881 by Mr Robinson Douglas, The house was used by the army during the war, and later sold. The grounds being denuded of their wonderful trees. After that it was used for a time as a hotel, and then became a residential school. At present it is a private residence owned by Susan Foster.
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The lands of Torr, which formerly comprised Torr, Rigg, Hardhills, Tails of Forrest, Craig, Bow, Craigrow, Auchencairn, Auchenfad, Daltamie and Bluehill, with various other pieces of land, had been in the ownership of the Cairns family from about 1559. Previously these lands had been part of the abbey lands of Dundrennan. In the latter part of the 18th century the mansion house of Torr stood near the head of Auchencairn Bay. It was a one-storeyed building and occupied the site of the old tower which stood on the rocky mound overlooking the bay. When William Cairns died in 1797 his son Edward built a new mansion which was known as 'Bankend'; it is now known as Torr House. After Bankend was built the previous Torr was used for several years as a farm house; it is now in ruins, but the cottage on the shore below the site is still called Old Torr. This has now been renovated and is in use. An even earlier Torr House is said to have stood on the lower side of Spout Row.
When Edward Cairns died in 1819 the connection of the Cairns family with Auchencairn practically ceased. Torr Estate was sold by the daughters of Benjamin, Edward's son, in 1867 in order that their husbands might recover their dowries. The estate was bought by Thomas Ovens, a manufacturer of Galashiels, and his successors raised the estate from almost a wilderness to the position of one of the best cultivated tracts of land in the Stewartry. The land was extensively drained, a small army of men being employed not only in laying drains, but also in making the tiles. On the shore at the head of the bay remains can still be seen of these workings; there is part of the concrete breakwater and many fragments of the tiles can be found.
They also made bricks, and bricks from this kiln were used in the construction in the village of the 'Brick Buildings, put up by a Manchester business man, and so agressively out of keeping with the rest of the village. Incidentally, as no bricklayers were available in the district they had to be brought from Gatehouse. In thus modernising the estate Thomas Ovens combined the small farms such as the Bow, Rigg, Hardhills, and Daltamie. Nothing remains of the Bow but a few stones among the trees planted by the present owner of Torr Farm; the others have been modernised, Hardhills now being Torr Farm. Torr House is today quite separate from the farm estate.
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Now a hotel, this was built by Messrs Cain (or Crain), Clark and Quirk reputedly from the proceeds of smuggling, and used by them for that business. Cain and Quirk are common Manx names and as the Isle of Man was the source of the 'Free Trade' goods there may be some substance in the legend. As already mentioned, in 1843 it was considered one of the chief mansions of the parish.
Formerly known as Forest House, this was rebuilt in the early 1900's; the loch was formed at the same time. On the slopes of Bengairn there remains the ruins of two former crofts, Foresthill and Greenhill.
This house was built by the most celebrated of the Craigrow smugglers, John McGirr, known as Captain McGirr, or more commonly as Johnnie Girr. He was born in 1745 and by 1773 was so prosperous that he decided to build himself a house. He obtained the feu of a piece of land on Torr estate which had been cut off when the bridge was built somewhat downstream from the ford and the line of the old road. The feu was to run for 133 years at sixpence a year, and Johnnie stipulated that he should have first offer when the time came for a renewal! He was immensely strong and many tales are told of his exploits. He was a skilled carpenter and cooper, and he worked for a time at Collin paper mill and at the building of Robert Maxwell's new mansion at Orchardton. He also rented parks for grazing his cattle on Torr and Collin estates, and another (rent-free!) from Major Culton of Nutwood.
When smuggling was more or less stamped out his funds gave out and the house stood uncompleted for twenty years. Then, the story goes, a brother of his who had gone to America, sent money and the house was finally completed. It was far superior to most of the lairds' houses of the day. He called the house Bunker Hill because his brother was said to have fought in the battle of that name; but another story has it that the house was called Mount Pleasant and it was the villagers who nick-named it Bunker Hill because Johnnie and his sister Grizel were "aye tulziein'(quarrelling). Johnnie Girr died on 21st December, 1833.
Another 'character' who lived in the house for a time was the Baptist preacher, the Rev. David Gibson; he spent his last years there, dying on 22nd October 1853, aged 75. He was buried in Dundrennan Abbey.
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This site was occupied in Johnnie Girr's time by a row of five thatched cottages, and was spoken of as Castle Daffin or Castlebank. The road on to which it faces is now known as Crockett Road in commemoration of the fact that the writer, S.R.Crockett (1860-1914), was a frequent visitor to his uncle who lived there; and also of the fact that one of his best known novels, The Raiders, was set in this area. The Isle Rathan of that book being Heston Island.
One of the oldest buildings in the village, it was built as a corn mill and had drying kilns. Shortly after the Revolution of 1688 Alexander Telfer, of Ringcroft of Stocking fame, preached there and so won the approval of the villagers that they insisted that he should replace the existing incumbent of the parish. The most famous of the millers was Robert Kinstry, who had served as a sapper,in the Peninsula Wars and had many tales of his adventures abroad. The original dam was on the site of the 'brick buildings', and there is a pleasant tale of a cat belonging to a lady nearby, which, though apparently asleep, would jump up as soon as the noise of the mill ceased, and rush to the place where the tail water ran to the burn, having learned that the pools would dry out leaving the fish easy to catch
Built by an Andrew Graham in the 18th century as a paper mill, it stood near Hassburn and was used over the years for a variety of purposes - for cotton manufacture, as a saw mill..as a meeting place far the Free Church congregation while their new church was being built in the village, for washing and crushing the barytes ore taken from the Barlocco mine, and as a bobbin mill. It was taken down in the early years of this century; the stones were used in the building of Duncraig. The mill-lade can still be traced almost up to Bengairn Loch.
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The Heughan Institute in Main Street was given to the village as a Reading Room and Recreation Centre by Robert Heughan, along with his house. He was the third generation of a family of blacksmiths in the village. Until the coming of television and the popular motor car the Institute was a very active centre of community life. It is now closed.
The Fountain in the Square was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Before the fountain was erected there was a lamp post near the same site and so a lamp was incorporated in the design of the fountain.
The War Memorial
The War Memorial was erected after the 1914-1918 war and carries the names of those killed then. Later the names of those killed in the 1939-1945 war were added.
The Bowling Green and Tennis Court
The Bowling Green and Tennis Court were gifted by Waiter Ovens of Torr in 1874 to the clubs. The Tennis Court has now fallen into disuse. There used to be a Croquet Club, a Curling Club, and a Quoits Pitch on the Mill Road, and for a few years there was a Golf Course on the Croft, and for many years there was a thriving Horticultural Society.
The 'Ghost Trees'
At the top of the slope on the south side of the Collin Road can be seen three skeletal trees; one of them is dead, and a fourth was blown down within living memory. (Now, in 1999, only one remains). This is all that remain of what used to be called the 'Ring Plantation' on a farm called the Ringcroft of Stocking. In 1695 a great sensation was caused by a 'Poltergeist'. Over a period of months stones were thrown and many mysterious things happened. Several ministers met and prayed, but apparently without exorcising the 'spirit', for in the end the house and steading were taken down. The story is recorded in all its detail in the pamphlet by Alexander Telfer.
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A list has survived of the names of some of the village worthies of the early 19th century. Among these were Rab Shennan, the miller, James Matheson, the tailor, John McNaught, the shoemaker and fiddler at dances and weddings, John McMinn, the smith, who was generally known as 'Cuttins' from having once had the short rigs at the Ha' Croft before the villagers were dispossessed of this right. There was also Robert McDougall, better known as Rab Dowall; he was the joiner and was looked on by the orthodox as the village 'atheist' for his lack of respect for the local preachers. When the minister of the Baptist Chapel, the Rev. David Gibson - the Auld Dipper died, it was Rab Dowall who bought the chapel at the cross for his dwelling house. Living at the same time was Miller Kinstry who no doubt added his experience of foreign parts in the Peninsula Campaign to what must have been an interesting and amusing group as to be found anywhere in the Stewartry.
The laird of Torr at this time was Edward Cairns, a friend of Burns. He was much liked by the community mixing with them freely and taking part in their lives. It is told of him that he would sit at the Cross reading the news from the Peninsula and elsewhere to the assembled villagers. At Auchencairn Fair, held on the 21st August each year, and famous for the horse races on the firm dry sands of the bay, he was accustomed to lead the convivialities. He remarked in public that the races were marred by the 'dirtery' of Buittle and the 'dregs' of the abbey; and once, in revenge, the 'dirtery' besieged him in Ann Alishender's public house, the doors of which they nailed up. But the villagers, enraged, came to his rescue. and tearing a hole in the thatch pulled him to safety. They then turned on the 'dirtery', seizing them and ducking them in the mill burn.
When Edward Caims died in 1819, his effects, including a fine library, were sold by auction. At the sale John McMinn ('Cuttins'), at that time farrier at Racsarrel, is said to have embraced Minerva, Edward Cairn's horse, exclaiming with genuine emotion, "Oh, Minerva! I'll never shoe thee more!" It was at this sale too that the impudent auctioneer called out to the Lady of Rerrick Manse, "Come forrit, Mrs Tamson, come forrit an' get bargains. A Meenister's wife an' a miller's soo, ye ken, are baith uphadden by the parish!" He no doubt had in mind the dues of thirlage and teinds payable to the church in those days.
There is quite a list of men who reached eminent positions in later life who spent their early years in Auchencairn.
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Burns and Auchencairn
Burns first became aquainted with Auchencairn probably during his service as an Excise Officer, the Revenue Cutter being stationed in Balcary Bay. He became very friendly with the Cairns family at Torr, particularly with Edward Cairns. On one of the copies of'The Whistle', written on excise paper, he included a presentation stanza as follows:-
But one sorry quill - and that worn to the core,
No paper - but such as I show it:
But such as it is, will the good laird of Torr
Accept, and excuse the poor poet?
The 'good laird' was Edward's father, William, who became a successful business man in Birmingham.
At Windyridge, on the Back Street, (now Church Road), lived a Miss Kennedy, the subject of one of Burns' songs.
Another writer who visited Auchencairn was Mrs Gaskell (1810-1865), the authoress of'Cranford'. There is a letter she wrote to a friend telling of her stay here and describing the view from her window in such terms that make it possible that she was staying at Little Forrest
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The earliest trace of human life on the island is the mesolithic oyster-shell midden already mentioned. The next indications take us to the time when the island was part of the demesne of Dundrennan Abbey and the monks used it for grazing, and possibly constructed a tidal fish-pond. The monks called the island Estholme, the easterly part of their lands, and this seems the most likely derivation of the name, altered down the years to Heston. According to the author of 'Highways and Byways of Galloway and Carrick', Crockett's name Isle Rathan is really a very old name for the island.
At certain conditions of the tide the island is accessible on foot as there is a natural causeway of shingle and mussels from near Almorness Point to the northern tip of Heston. This causeway is known as the 'Rak", an example of the Norse influence on Galloway place names.
There are rocks projecting into the sea at the southern tip of the isle which are almost covered at normal high tide. They are known as Daft Anne's Steps, and the legend goes that Daft Anne was a girl of somewhat weak intelligence who lived at the foot of the village in the distant days when the tide receded considerably further from the bay than it does today so that the island could be approached on foot from the Balcary shore across to the southern tip. Anne set out one day for the island laying stepping stones ahead of her, hoping to reach there completely dry-shed, but unfortunately misjudged things at one point, fell into deep water and was drowned.
Above the present house on the island there are the remains of another building to be seen. These are the ruins of a fortified mansion built by John Balliol. His castle at Buittle was destroyed by Bruce in 1313, never to be rebuilt. After Bruce died in 1329 Balliol was crowned King in 1332, after the battle of Dupplin Moor, but a few weeks later was surprised at Annan and fled to England. Edward III at once invaded Scotland and after Halidon Hill laid the country defenceless. However, feeling was still so high against Balliol that he felt it advisable to build a refuge on Heston, leasing or buying the land from the monks at Dundrennan Abbey.
The mansion was completed in 1342 and was garrisoned by a Duncan McDowell; but again because of the hostility of the Scots on the mainland, Edward had to commission cetain Bristol merchants to carry wine, food and salt to the island with all speed. The House is referred to in the documents of the time as a 'pele', which means that it must have stood in a stockaded surround. Balliol did not reside permanently on this island, and in 1345 McDowell changed sides. As a result, the English attacked Heston and McDowell was taken prisoner to the Tower of London. In 1346 King David was captured by the English at Neville's Cross, and the following year Balliol returned to his Heston mansion, but in 1348 he had once again to depend on English shipping for supplies. By 1357 when David was released, Balliol had probably left Heston for good and never returned to Scotland. His former chief supporter in Galloway, McDowell, had come to terms with the Scottish Crown and with the Douglases who were now Lords of Galloway.
From then until recent times nothing is heard of happenings on Heston. In the 18th century at the height of the smuggling activity, the island was used as a depot, the goods being stored in the caves as well as being sunk and buoyed in the waters off-shore. One of the caves is reputed to have shelves or ledges cut out in the rock, and S.R.Crockett made great play with this in his 'Raiders'.
In the 19th century a copper mine was being worked and traces of the workings can be seen on the slope above that remarkable natural feature, the 'Elephant Rock', on the mainland side of the island not far from the cottage. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the mussels on the Rak were cropped by some Kippford residents who took them to Dalbeattie whence they were sent by train to the English markets. In 1893 a light was established on the seaward side after much agitation because of the numbers of craft that were being lost. A few years later the light was much strengthened; it is still in being; about three years ago it was changed for an automatic lighthouse. It used to be in the care of the residents in the island cottage, their fee being only a little more than the rent they paid. There was formerly a life-boat stationed on the Balcary shore - the Boathouse and the slipway, which have now been turned into a private residence, can still be seen - and there was a gun on the island for the summoning of help when required.
No one stays permanently on the island nowadays, although the cottage is sometimes let as a holiday home. The only inhabitants now being the seabirds, mainly gulls, in great numbers, and a grazing flock of sheep.
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When the Douglases, the Lords of Galloway, were over-thrown and their estates forfeited by an Act of 1456, the Crown awarded their lands to those who assisted in their defeat. Among those were the Cains family, and one, John Cairns, had 'sasine of the lands of Orchardton otherwise called Irisbuittle'. (The name means that part of Buittle jutting out towards the sea). This John Cairns erected the castle of Orchardton with its massive round tower soon after 1456 and made his home there.
His grandson, William, was involved in the murder of McLellan of Bombie in the High Street of Edinburgh in 1527. When William died in 1558 the estate was divided up among his three daughters. The son of the eldest daughter, an Alexander Kirkpatrick, sold his share which included the castle to Robert Maxwell, nephew of Lord Maxwell, in 1616. By 1640 this Robert Maxwell had purchased the remaining shares and became the owner of the re-united property. Some generations later a lawsuit was begun by another Robert Maxwell. He had been brought up in France and had returned at the time of the 1745 Rising with a French officer's commission. He was taken prisoner near Dumfries, but was saved by the discovery of his commission which was sewn up in his uniform. He was allowed out on parole and took this opportunity to visit his former home at Glenshinnoch. In 1749 he returned to France, but learning of the terms of his grandfather's will, he came back to Galloway in 1756, declared himself a Protestant and laid claims to the estate. Sir Thomas, his cousin, who held the estate, contested the claim, but died in 1761, and Robert succeeded to the lands and title. Soon after he built a new mansion at Glenshinnoch, now known as Orchardton House.
The story of the returned heir gave Sir Walter Scott the inspiration for his 'Guy Mannering'. All that remains of the original Orchardton Castle is the Round Tower and some ruined walls. The Round Tower is unique in Galloway, and according to some, almost in Britain.
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The Mote of Urr
This is the most notable earthwork in the area and is remarkable for its size, being the largest in Scotland. It covers five and a half acres, and it is thought that the original structure dates back to the Bronze Age days of the second millenium B.C. It is known that an Anglo-Norman mote was built on the mound in the 1130's and rebuilt in the 1170's. It was probably the principal seat of the old Baronry of Urr, one half of which went to Thomas Randolph, Earl of Murray, by gift of his uncle, Robert Bruce. No sign of any tower remains; traces of the ancient rampart and ditch can still be seen.
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