Levellers & Lowland Clearances
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Wed Dec 30 20:05:45 GMT 2015
As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Levellers and Clearances in the Glenkens
1. Highland Clearances and Galloway Levellers
On 15 October 2002 the Herald newspaper published an article by Neal Ascherson. Ascherson’s article was in response to an announcement that Michael Fry was to write a book on the Highland Clearances. Since Fry had already been accused of being a ‘Clearance denier’ having stated that he did not believe that the Highland Clearances had happened except occasionally and on a very small scale, Ascherson was expecting a ’major stushie’ to erupt.
I responded with a ‘Letter to the Editor’ which was published a couple of days later. In the letter I mentioned the
Galloway Levellers resistance to the construction of cattle parks in 1724and hoped that Michael Fry would extend his history of the Highland Clearances to include the continuing de-population of rural Scotland.
Herald 15 October 2002
I was then contacted by a researcher for Lesley Riddoch’s BBC Radio Scotland show to ask if I would like to take part in a discussion of Fry’s new book by telephone. This I was very happy to do, but on the day a previous item over-ran so my contribution was dropped. However, I was told that the producer of Lesley’s show was working on a new radio series about the Lowland Clearances. This was Peter Aitchison. I contacted Peter and sent him some background material on the Galloway Levellers.
As a result, in early 2003, Peter and Andrew Cassell came down to Castle Douglas and recorded and interview with me at the back of Threave Gardens where the local laird had managed to save a
dyke from being levelled. In the book ‘The Lowland Clearances which followed the radio series, Peter and Andrew dedicated a whole chapter to the Galloway Levellers.
I continued researching the Levellers and after meeting with Professor Ted Cowan, an eminent Scottish historian and Director of Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus, I was able to turn the research into a 50 000 word thesis for which I was awarded the title ’Master of Philosophy’ in 2009.
2. The Galloway Levellers and the Glenkens
Geographical note: Galloway is in the deep south-west of Scotland, facing the north of Ireland on the west and Cumbria/ the far north-west of England to the south. The Glenkens is the northern most district of Galloway and takes in part of the Southern Uplands of Scotland.
Although most of the Galloway Levellers actions took place in the south and central Stewartry, there was one outbreak of
levelling in the Glenkens when dykes at Airds of Kells were levelled on 2 June 1724.
Although the Gordons of Earlston owned the farms of High, Upper, Middle and Nether Airds, in September 1718, Alexander Gordon and his son Thomas leased the farms to Patrick Murdoch of Cumloden in Minnigaff for 25 years for £785-12-4 Scots. Murdoch then enclosed the lands as a cattle park with dykes, which were levelled in 1724.
What is interesting is that both Patrick Murdoch and the Gordons were attempting to rebuild their family fortunes after the disruption of the Covenanting period in the late seventeenth century. Patrick Murdoch’s grandfather had been involved in the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679 and as a result his lands of Cumloden were forfeited to Colonel James Douglas.
Airds of Kells, Boat of Rhone and Duchrae: Roy's map, 1755
Although the Murdoch family regained their lands after 1689, by the
time Patrick inherited in 1697 they were burdened with debt. Murdoch’s neighbours in Minnigaff were the Heron family of Kirroughtrie. The Heron family had been involved in the cattle trade since 1682 when Patrick Heron I had taken up a lease of David Dunbar’s cattle parks at Baldoon in Wigtownshire. By 1689, Patrick Dunbar I was sending 1000 cattle per year to England. The Heron’s used their income from the cattle trade to buy or rent farms in Minnigaff which they used to raise more cattle for export.
Patrick Murdoch would therefore have seen the cattle trade as a way to restore his family’s fortunes. However, the venture was not successful and Patrick Murdoch’s son Thomas was forced to sell Cumloden and its lands to the earl of Galloway in 1737.
The Gordons of Earlston faced similar problems. William Gordon and his son Alexander had also fought on the Covenanter side at the battle of Bothwell bridge in 1679 where
William was killed. Alexander escaped but was tried in his absence, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. His estates were also forfeit. He was captured in 1683, tortured and then imprisoned until June 1689. In 1708 Alexander assigned his lands, worth £300 sterling/ year and his debts, £1687 sterling, to his son Thomas. Although Thomas married an heiress, he was unable to clear the debts he had inherited and was declared bankrupt in 1737.
To understand the uprising of Galloway Levellers then, it is necessary to bear in mind that the traumatic events of the seventeenth century were still within living memory in 1724 and that the impact of fines and forfeitures imposed then continued to have an economic impact on the region.
In the even more recent past, the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 had revived memories of the Killing Times and created another set of land owners struggling with fines and forfeitures. In the Glenkens,
William Gordon of Kenmure was executed in 1716 for his role as leader of the local Jacobite forces. Basil Hamilton who had lands around Kirkcudbright had also joined the Jacobites in 1715. However, thanks to his grandmother Anne, duchess of Hamilton and his youth- he was only 18 at the time- his life was spared.
So although the first outbreak of levelling occurred in March 1724, against dykes around a cattle park at Netherlaw which had been built before 1688, the largest Leveller action took place in May against a cattle enclosure built for Basil Hamilton in 1723. Over 1000 Levellers took part and 2 miles of dyke were demolished between the 12 and 16 May.
As a former Jacobite, his fellow land-owners had little sympathy for Hamilton personally. However, perhaps anticipating the course of events, Hamilton was able to persuade Thomas Gordon of Earlston to ride with him to Edinburgh on 2 May to ask John Dalrymple, the 2nd earl of
Stair for assistance. Stair was commander of a regiment of dragoons and was also a Wigtownshire landowner with an interest in the cattle trade. That Thomas Gordon and Basil Hamilton were able to work together against the Levellers is interesting since in October 1715 Gordon had led a group of 300 volunteers from Kirkcudbright to Dumfries to help defend the town against Hamilton and his fellow Jacobites.
By 29 May, the whole of Stair’s regiment - two troops of horse and four troops of foot-soldiers had arrived in Kirkcudbright. On 31 May, the Levellers asked their supporters to assemble at the Boat of Rhone on 2 June. In response, Stair’s regiment set off from Kirkcudbright at 3 am, arriving at the Boat of Rhone by 8 am. However no Levellers appeared. The troops then set off back to Kirkcudbright but as soon as they had gone, the Levellers, who must have been lurking nearby, emerged to level the dykes at Airds of Kells. They then moved
on to Kilquhanity and McCartney (now Milton Park) in Kirkpatrick Durham to level more of Murdoch’s dykes. Murdoch had bought these farm in 1723 and as landowner rather than tenant, had then evicted 16 families to create another cattle park.
On 20 June, Patrick Murdoch pursued a claim for damages against some of those involved in Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court. One of the Levellers is named as John Charters who was a tenant or cottar in Drumglass farm in Balmaghie. In January 1725, Basil Hamilton took 23 named Levellers to court and was awarded damages against them for the destruction of his dykes in may 1724.
The presence of Stair’s regiment in the Stewartry made levelling more difficult, but the fear of further outbreaks combined with an expression for the evicted tenants plight from king George 1 himself -probably influenced by the Levellers anti-Jacobite rhetoric persuaded the duke of Roxburghe as Secretary of State for
Scotland to call for a public enquiry into the Levellers grievances. This was held in August by John McDowall, Stewart-Depute of Kirkcudbright. Basil Hamilton then complained that McDowall was too sympathetic to the Levellers…
Although there is no record to confirm it, Hamilton can hardly have been pleased when major James Gardiner took control of Stair’s regiment in July 1724. Gardiner’s military career began when he was 14 in 1702, fighting under the duke of Malborough against the French in Holland. In 1715 he was aide-de-camp to the 2nd earl of Stair who was then involved in anti-Jacobite diplomacy at the French court. Later that year, Gardiner took part in the battle of Preston where northern English and southern Scottish Jacobites -including Basil Hamilton - were defeated. In 1719, Gardiner had a religious experience which transformed him into a committed Christian soldier. During 1724 he seems to have spent more time conversing
with local ministers than pursuing the Levellers.
As a deeply religious soldier, Gardiner would have found a soul mate in lieutenant-colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness. Maxwell’s father had been the Covenant supporting minister of Minnigaff parish from the 1630s until his death shortly before his son’s birth in 1663. William’s mother was Elizabeth Murdoch of Cumloden. In June 1685, Maxwell made a rather public expression of his politics by embracing Archibald Campbell, earl of Argyll shortly before his execution for treason against James VII and II in Edinburgh. Maxwell then became a medical student but was arrested and imprisoned for attending a conventicle in 1687. After his release from prison in early 1688 he wisely decided to continue his studies at Leyden in Holland.
However, instead of becoming a doctor, Maxwell joined William of Orange’s army and sailed with William’s invasion fleet to England in November
1688. He fought for William at the battles of Killiecrankie and the Boyne and then in Europe. While still on active service in 1697, he married Nicolas Stewart, a niece of the earl of Galloway and heiress to Cardoness estate. In 1702, while still a commissioned officer he was elected to represent the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in the Scottish parliament. In 1706 he was decommissioned for voting against several of the Articles of Union.
Then, in 1715, he was called back to the army and given command of the militia in the south of Scotland. In October 1715 he was made Governor of Glasgow to help defend the city against the Jacobites. From his diaries which have been published, it is clear that Maxwell was a deeply religious man. Unfortunately the diaries only cover the period 1685-1697. However it is known that he negotiated with the Levellers in 1724.
It is therefore likely that bloodless conclusion to the Levellers uprising in
the Stewartry was negotiated with the Levellers by Maxwell and major Gardiner. In late October a group of over 200 Levellers assembled at Duchrae in Balmaghie close to the Boat of Rhone and Airds of Kells. Unlike the similar assembly in June, this time the Levellers waited for Gardiner and his troops to arrive. Gardiner had ordered his troops to use minimal force against the Levellers and the Levellers put up minimal resistance. Two hundred Levellers were captured but nearly all were allowed to escape before they reached Kirkcudbright.
As an aside, it can be noted that major Gardiner, by then a colonel, died fighting the Jacobites at Prestonpans in 1745 and is mentioned in Walter Scott’s novel ‘Waverley’.
In January 1725, when Basil Hamilton had his day in court against the Levellers, William Maxwell was the presiding magistrate. Although damages were awarded against the Levellers, since most were poor cottars it is unlikely
that Basil Hamilton received much in the way of compensation from them.
One of the Levellers brought to court by Basil Hamilton was John Martin. In 1724 he was only 14 but John went on to become a clock maker, living to the ripe old age of 91. He is buried in Kirkcudbright and sometime before his death in 1801, John Nicholson, a Kirkcudbright printer and publisher, interviewed him. Nicholson’s interview, along with a wealth of other details about the events of 1724 is contained in a hand written book in the Hornel Library at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright.
Nicholson ‘s book also contains the original account of a story which made its way into Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell’s radio series and book on the Lowland Clearance. Nicholson got the story from Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill farm who had heard it from his grandfather. According to Geddes, in the summer of 1724, probably around the time of the Kelton Hill fair in
June, a group of Levellers threatened to demolish dykes on Robert Johnston’s Kelton (now Threave) estate. Johnston, along with William Falconer, minister of Kelton managed to persuade the Levellers- with the aid of a wagon load of bread and beer -not to demolish the dykes. As recounted by Malcolm Harper in his ‘Rambles in Galloway’, while waiting for the bread and beer to arrive, one of the Levellers carved the date ‘1724’ a stone in the wall of the dyke and that this stone was still visible 140 years later.
Unfortunately, although there are at least two stones with dates carved on them in the vicinity, the dates are not 1724.
On the other hand, William Falconer was the minister of Kelton in 1724 and Robert Johnston was laird of Kelton. Falconer is commemorated by a :Latin inscription carved into a stone on the wall of the remains of the old kirk in Kelton graveyard. Johnston is commemorated in an even more imposing Latin
inscription on his grave in St Michael’s kirk in Dumfries.
Robert Johnston's gravestone, St Michael's, Dumfries
Johnston was buried in Dumfries because had had been a provost of the burgh and represented the burgh in the Scottish parliament of 1702-7. Roughly translated, the Latin inscription on Johnston’s grave claims that he defended Scotland’s liberty by strongly opposing the Union, although, as with William Maxwell, the records of the Scottish parliament show that Johnston voted against some but not all of the Articles of Union. Again, like William Maxwell, when the local Jacobites threatened Dumfries in 1715, Johnston helped to raise a volunteer militia to defend the town.
Another opponent of the 1707 Union was John Hepburn, minister of Urr. In November 1706, Hepburn and a group of his armed supporters burnt the Articles of Union at the Mercat Cross in Dumfries. In 1715, Hepburn and around 300 of
his armed followers marched to Dumfries to offer their support against the Jacobites. Hepburn was a veteran of the seventeenth century struggle against the Stuarts. Although he died in 1723, contemporary accounts suggest that the hardcore of armed Levellers in 1724 were Hebronites, as Hepburn’s followers were called. The Hebronites were probably responsible for several acts of ‘unauthorised levelling’ directed against Roman Catholic landowners including the Jacobite Maxwells of Munches near Dalbeattie and Robert Neilson of Barncailzie near Crocketford.
On the other hand, a good Presbyterian, Scottish patriot and anti-Jacobite like Robert Johnston of Kelton would have been viewed positively by the Hebronite levellers. It would therefore not have been very difficult for him to save his march dyke. It may also be significant that Johnston’s brother in law, William Craik II, was the laird of Duchrae. William Craik I has been provost of
Dumfries in the 1670s but was removed from office for his Covenanting sympathies. In December 1688, when news reached Dumfries that James VII and II had fled London rather face William of Orange’s army, William Craik I was re-elected provost and in January Dumfries was the first town in Britain to accept William of Orange as their new king.
To conclude, although the Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724 was primarily a reaction against the clearance of tenant farmers and cottars to make way for cattle parks, a whole range of other factors were involved. In particular, although short-lived, the local Jacobite rebellion in 1715 revived bitter memories of not just of the Killing Times, but also the fifty years of struggle which began with the National Covenant in 1638 and only ended with Glorious Revolution of 1688. It could even be argued that it was only with the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746 that the fear of a second Stuart
restoration was ended.
3.The Upland and Lowland Clearances
In one of their printed tracts justifying their actions, the Galloway Levellers made it clear that they were not opposed to enclosures. This is rather confusing, since their uprising is often seen as being part of a wider movement of futile resistance to the process of enclosure which drove ‘peasants’ from the and into the first factories of the capitalist industrial revolution.
For example, Tom Johnston in his ‘History of the Working Classes in Scotland’ published in 1920, claimed that the 'the ruthless clearances and ejectments of the peasantry which began in Galloway soon became a general feature in Lowland agricultural economies.’ As a result ‘From the Lowland hamlets came to the industrial towns a steady stream of destitutes owning no capital but their muscles, destined to the miserable half-starved drudgery from which an unregulated capitalism
wrung fabulous profits'.
In the Glenkens however, the situation was, to put it mildly, more complicated.
To go back to 1724, the Levellers advice to land-owners was that
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 tenant’s 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.
However, even twenty years later, when William Roy extended his Military Survey of Scotland from the Highlands to the Lowlands, there are very few signs of enclosure in Galloway. On Roy’s map, enclosures are shown as thin red lines, usually rectangular or square, concentrated around the houses of larger landowners owners and larger settlements. More widely distributed are patches of cross-hatching which represent the rig and furrow of areas where oats and barley (bere) were cultivated.
One of these patches of arable land is shown on Roy’s map beside Kilnair above Lochinvar loch in Dalry parish. Although Roy does not show this as being enclosed, the surviving area (now grassland) of arable land at Kilnair is surrounded and divided by the remains of rough dykes. These seem to have been built from stones turned up by ploughing which were then used to construct an irregular enclosure.
Kilnair above Lochinvar today
That there was arable land at Kilnair is confirmed by a tack or lease from 25 May 1669 which details the livestock permitted to be kept -16 cattle with calves, 16 score of sheep and two horses ‘for labouring on the arable ground’. The cows and the sheep were to be milked to make cheese as part of the rent. Kilnair is a Gaelic farm name which Herbert Maxwell suggested could either mean ‘the corner of the battle‘ or, more likely, ‘the corner of the ploughing’, which fits its location as area of better quality land still standing out from the rough grazing land around it.
Tack (lease ) of Kilnair from 1669
In his Victorian study ‘The Lands and their Owners in Galloway’ Peter McKerlie includes Kilnair within the estate of Lochinvar or Gordonstoun. The Gordons acquired the estate in the early fifteenth century during the Douglas lordship of Galloway
(1369-1455). Control passed to the Maxwell family during the sixteenth century but passed back to the Gordons in the seventeenth century. However sometime before his death in 1784, Richard Oswald of Auchincruive in Ayrshire had possession. The Oswald family still owned the 10 000 acre estate in 1871.
Unfortunately, although David Hancock in ‘Citizens of the World’ (Cambridge, 1995) discusses Richard Oswald’s role as an improving landowner in Kirkbean parish, where he bought Cavens estate in 1759, he makes no mention of Oswald’s lands in Dalry parish. Hancock does provide a link to the Galloway Levellers however, via John Maxwell who was Oswald’s factor. As child, Maxwell had seen the Levellers in action at Munches near Dalbeattie. Hancock noted that in his dealings with Oswald’s tenants, Maxwell adopted a cautious policy which avoided wholesale clearance.
Oswald’s neighbour in Kirkbean was William Craik III of
Arbigland. Craik had in inherited Arbigland in 1739 and set about improving it. The fertile soil no doubt facilitated the process and Craik, through his friendship with Henry Home, Lord Kames became well known as an improver.
In contrast, the soil of the Craik family’s other estate, Duchrae in Balmaghie, was of poorer quality and was still in need of improvement when it was bought by William Cuninghame, a wealthy Glasgow tobacco merchant, in 1786. In his book ‘Raiderland’ published in 1904, S R Crockett included extracts from Cunninghame’s diary which provide a fascinating glimpse of the Stewartry in the age of improvement.
In the seventeenth century, there were 15 farms on Duchrae estate, but by 1786 these had been combined into three large and one small farm. As Crockett noted, what the Leveller movement had feared had come to pass with the smallholdings swept away and the cottars and crofters either forced to emigrate
or reduced to the status of hired labourers on larger farms.
One of the local landowners Cuninghame mentions in his diary is Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw. In 1765, Gordon had had a short canal cut through marshland on his estate to the river Dee. This canal to allowed barges to carry marl from Carlingwark loch up the Ken/Dee river system. In the absence of local source of limestone, marl was used as a substitute fertiliser. Writing for the Statistical Account of Scotland in the early 1790s, John Gillespie, minister of Kells parish praised Gordon for his exertions and notes that some of the barges can carry up to 400 cubic feet of marl, carrying timber from the parish on their return trips.
One sign of the improvement of the parish was the construction of new houses. However Gillespie cautioned that were no proof of an increase in population since ‘farmers are encouraged by landlords to combine several farms into one so that
more houses in the parish have gone to ruin than have been built or rebuilt’. Gillespie calculated that one tenant in the parish now rented 5 farms which previously had supported 14 families but now supported only ten.
In 1765, the English ban on the import of Irish cattle which had been imposed in 1666 was lifted. By 1790, over 17 000 Irish cattle were passing through Portpatrick harbour annually. By 1800 this had risen to over 20 000. Since Galloway’s cattle trade had developed in response to the English ban on the import of Irish cattle and in the absence of major competition from the Highlands and the north of Scotland, by the beginning of the nineteenth century rearing cattle for the English market was declining in importance.
The cattle trade was still important, but as William Cuninghame’s 1786 diary reveals, cattle had become a commodity which the tenantry speculated on, with cattle at times remaining ‘for no more
than two weeks upon the Estate’ before being sold on again. Cuninghame also noted that his tenants kept very few sheep.
In the mainly upland parish of Minnigaff, the Heron family had made their fortune through rearing cattle for export to England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, by the 1790, when the Old Statistical Account for Minnigaff was written, the 30 000 sheep kept on the hills had become as important as the black cattle. By 1842, The New Statistical Account gives a figure of 33 500 sheep, with only 2000 black cattle kept. In Carsphairn parish, the Old Statistical Account gives a figure of 30 000 sheep and 1200 black cattle, with similar numbers given in the New Statistical Account. The Old Statistical Account for Dalry gives 13 000 and 1650 cattle. The New Statistical Account does not give any figures for livestock. For Kells, the Old Account gives 17 400 sheep and 1550 black cattle. The New Account
gives 17 040 sheep and 1300 cattle. For Balmaclellan the Old Account gives 8200 sheep and 1340 black cattle, but the New Account does not provide any figures.
Altogether, by the 1790s, the upland parishes of the Glenkens plus Minngaff carried over 98 000 sheep but only 6000 black cattle. From the 1790s through until the 1960s, sheep farming was the main land use of the uplands. Since the 1960s, trees have replaced sheep in the Galloway hills.
In their book ‘The Lowland Clearances’, Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell draw attention to the way that the same process of agricultural rationalisation in the Lowlands is called ‘improvement’ but in the Highlands ‘clearance’. The underlying difference was one of geology. Across the Lowlands there were extensive areas of traditional arable farming which could be ‘improved’ to increase crop yields. In the Highlands, most of the land was rough grazing land which could not be
improved in the same way. Instead, landowners wanting to increase the economic return on their lands turned their estates over to sheep farming.
Across Galloway and the south of Scotland, the Southern Uplands proved a similar obstacle to the extension of arable improvement. As a result, with the indigenous cattle trade now facing increased competition from Ireland, improving landowners adopted sheep farming as the best way to increase the value of their upland estates.
In the Glenkens, William Forbes of Callendar bought up traditional farms in Kells and Dalry parish to create sheep farms. Born in Aberdeen in 1743, in the 1770s Forbes began amassing a huge fortune by supplying and fitting Royal Navy and East India Company ships with copper plates which protected them from damage by marine worms. His main landholding was the Callendar estate near Falkirk which he bought in 1783. It was probably through his first wife, Margaret McAdam
of Craigengillan near Dalmellington, that Forbes became interested in buying lands in Galloway as well. In Dalry parish he acquired Earlston estate from the Gordon family and in Kells he bought Barskeoch estate in 1787.
4. The Glenkens and the Industrial Revolution
In 1456, Barskeoch and its farms, including Drumbuie, was among the lands forfeited to the Crown by William Douglas, 9th earl of Douglas and the last Douglas lord of Galloway. After passing to the Gordons, by 1660, the Newall family had possession of Barskeoch and its lands, remaining in possession until 1787. In the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds there are two tacks for Drumbuie from the 1670s which give an insight into farming practice of the time since they both require the tenants of Drumbuie to return any cattle pasturing on the west side of Miekle Millyea ‘in the summer half of the year’ to the heft. In other words, before sheep farming came to dominate the
hills, cattle were grazed on the Rhinns of Kells.
By 1741, when Samuel McConnell and his son John were the Newalls’ tenants in Drumbuie and nearby Hannaston, this requirement had been dropped. Samuel and John’s tack was for 19 years, paying £33 sterling rent annually. In 1760, John’s James took over the tenancy for another 19 years, paying £26 sterling annually. However, when the next renewal came in 1779, the annual rent had risen to £52. James struggled with this increase and gave up his tenancy in 1782.
Tack of Hannaston, 1741
In early 1781, James McConnell’s 19 year old son also called James decided to leave Hannaston and the Stewartry to take up an apprenticeship with his uncle, William Canaan (or Cannon) now Lancashire but originally from Knocknairling in Kells. William Canaan, after serving his apprenticeship as a carpenter had left the Stewartry in the 1760s, first for Whitehaven,
then Liverpool before finally settling in Chowbent near Bolton where he began making textile manufacturing equipment.
Between 1780 and 1786, Adam and George Murray, sons of a New Galloway shopkeeper and John Kennedy from Knocknalling in Kells also moved south to take up apprenticeships with Canaan. After serving their time with Canaan, they moved on to Manchester where their skills as machine makers were in demand.
None of these young men fit Tom Johnstone’s description of destitute peasants driven by clearance and enclosure from the land into industrial cities. On the other hand, if they had stayed in a Glenkens about to be transformed by incoming landowners like William Forbes and Richard Oswald into a vast sheep walk, they could never have achieved the wealth and status they were to gain in Manchester.
Writing in 1844, based on his experience of Manchester in 1842/3, Friedrich Engels claimed that
history of the proletariat in England begins with the second half of the last century, with the invention of the steam-engine and of machinery for working cotton. These inventions gave rise, as is well known, to an industrial revolution, a revolution which altered the whole civil society; one, the historical importance of which is only now beginning to be recognised. England is the classic soil of this transformation, which was all the mightier, the more silently it proceeded; and England is, therefore, the classic land of its chief product also, the proletariat. Only in England can the proletariat be studied in all its relations and from all sides.
In the early 1790s, when James McConnell and John Kennedy along with Adam and George Murray first arrived in Manchester, the problem of how to apply steam power to the spinning of cotton had not yet been solved. Steam power was used, but indirectly to pump water back into reservoirs which fed
water-powered cotton mills. Of the four from the Glenkens, it was John Kennedy who had the best mechanical skills and so made the vital breakthrough, directly connecting a steam engine to the spinning machines.
By 1815, the two firms of McConnell and Kennedy and A and G Murray were the largest in Manchester, each employing over 1000 workers on their adjacent factory sites at Ancoats. With the average Manchester cotton spinning factory employing only 250 workers, the Glenkens cotton spinners works powered by steam and lit by gas were the archetype of the industrial revolution’s ‘dark Satanic mills’.
While John Kennedy went on to promote a transport revolution as one of the judges at the 1829 Rainhill locomotive trials won by his friend George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’, his business partner James McConnell’s brother in law Henry Houldsworth took their revolution to Scotland.
In 1799, Henry
Houldsworth became manager of a cotton spinning factory in Glasgow. In 1801, using machinery supplied by McConnell and Kennedy he established his own steam powered cotton factory in the city. As McConnell and Kennedy’s cotton spinning enterprise prospered, they gave up their machine making business. This led Houldsworth set up his own foundry and machine works at Anderston in Glasgow in 1823.
Henry Houdsworth’s brother Thomas had stayed in Manchester and built up his own successful cotton spinning business. By the 1830s, Henry realised that the Scottish cotton industry was losing out to competition from Manchester and Lancashire. Henry was also aware, through his Anderston foundry, that the iron industry in Scotland was booming. As a result and with his brother Thomas’ backing, he set up the Coltness Iron Works in Lanarkshire in 1836. This venture proved to be highly profitable..
Looking to repeat the success of the
Coltness works, in 1846, Henry Houldsworth decided that the combination of ironstone and coal around Dalmellington in Ayrshire made it a suitable location for a new iron works.
Unfortunately, although an ambitious plan to build a railway from Ayr up to Damellington and the down through the Glenkens to the coast at Balcary Bay existed in 1846, the line was never built. It was not until 1856 that a less ambitious railway was constructed from Ayr to Dalmellington. Until the railway was completed, all the pig iron from the Dalmellington works had to be transported by road down to Ayr. The additional cost of road transport along toll-roads threatened the new iron company with bankruptcy.
Luckily, Henry’s son in law James Murray stepped in with a loan of £50 000 which kept the iron company solvent until the railway was completed. James Murray went on to become the Dalmellington company’s largest investor and a Director.
Dalmellington Iron Company works, 1858
James Murray was able to make his investment in the Dalmellington company as heir to his father George Murray’s share of the prosperous Manchester cotton spinning firm of A and G Murray…
James Murray’s brother Benjamin used his share of A and G Murray to buy Parton estate where he lived after leaving Manchester. The row of attractive ‘Arts and Crafts’ style houses in Parton and the village hall were built by Benjamin Murray.
John Kennedy’s Manchester residence was the imposing Ardwick Hall, but after his brother David died in 1836, he also became owner of the family farm which he improved with erection of Knocknalling House. In 1906, John Kennedy’s granddaughter Violet, who had inherited Knocknalling, married Archibald St Clair, later lord Sinclair. The Sinclair family still own Knocknalling.
In 1827, John Kennedy wrote a short account of his
early life for his children. In this he explains that although a Kennedy family had owned Knocknalling for about 300 years, his branch of the family were only distantly related to them. Instead, his great-grandfather had moved to New Galloway in the 1650s where he became a shop-keeper. John Kennedy’s grandfather was also a shop-keeper and Baillie in New Galloway. Kennedy’s describes his grandfather as a careful man who managed to save enough from his business to buy Knocknalling in 1740. After his marriage in 1763, Kennedy’s father took over the running of Knocknalling. John Kennedy was born at Knocknalling in July 1769. John had an elder brother David, three younger brothers and two sisters. His father died young, leaving his mother to bring up the family. Since David would inherit the farm, John knew from an early age he would have to find some other way to make his living, perhaps as a travelling carpenter. He says
I used to long to
see something beyond the still valley and blue mountains of the place of my birth…These natural objects used to produce in me sometimes the deepest melancholy; and a singular lonely feeling would be excited by the external silence all around us…
Significantly, John also describes ‘seeing the wooden plough arrested in the furrow from the inclemency of the weather…exposed to the splashing showers. And then after all this toil and turmoil, to see such poor, scanty, miserable crops.’
>From the mention of the wooden plough ‘arrested in the furrow’ above as well as a reference to black oats, it is clear that Knocknalling was a farm which had not been improved. The earliest reference to Knocknalling (as Knockallen) is from 1481 when it belonged to James Campbell of Corswell in Wigtownshire who had inherited it from his father Alexander. So 300 years before John Kennedy’s time, the ‘old Scots’ or wooden plough would have
been familiar to James Campbell and the arable land would have been growing black oats.
If John Kennedy’s father had been wealthy enough to improve Knocknalling, would this have made John more enthusiastic for farming as a career? Possibly not. He mentions the Newalls of Barskeoch and the Griersons of Garroch as neighbouring farmers. In the Old Statistical Account for Kells, ‘Mr Newall of Barskeoch’ is described as the first landowner in the parish to improve his lands with lime and that 20 years later the effect was still remarkable.
However, as we know from Kennedy’s future business partner James McConnell, the improvement of Barskeoch and its farms went along with a doubling of the rent which forced McConnell’s father to give up Hannaston in 1782 and persuaded James McConnell to leave for Lancashire in 1781. By 1787, despite the remarkable effect of his improvements on land his family had owned for 130 years, William
Newall decided to sell Barskeoch and its farms to William Forbes.
5. Conclusion- history as irony.
Looking back over the history of the Glenkens and the Stewartry in the era of the Lowland Clearances, it is difficult not to do so without recognising an almost tragic irony in so much of what happened.
While the Galloway Levellers tried to distinguish between the depopulating enclosures which they opposed and the improving enclosures which they supported, the rational approach to agricultural improvement promoted by the Scottish Enlightenment made no similar distinction. Across Galloway, scarcely a trace remains of the medieval farmed landscape that had been familiar to the Levellers.
In 1670, James McKnaught was recorded as a cottar living in the Meadow Isle croft on Airieland farm near Gelston. In 1725, John McKnaught in Meadow Isle on Airieland was one of the Levellers pursued for damages by Basil
Hamilton. Meadow Isle croft is still shown on Roy‘s Military Survey of 1755. According to the Wright family of Airieland, Meadow Isle was last occupied by a group of dykers around 1800. The dykers last act was to demolish Meadow Isle and use its stones to complete the dyke around the field which before they left. The field is still called Meadow Isle.
Slightly later, around 1820 according to McConnell family history, the thatched farmhouse of Hannastoun where James McConnell had been born was demolished and replaced by the present farm higher up the hill. Nearby the original Drumbuie was abandoned about the same time and replaced by present day Drumbuie. The site of old Drumbuie, dating back to at least 1456, is shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of Kells which was survey in the 1840s. Modern satellite maps show that traces of old Drumbuie, its fields and patches of rig and furrow still survive.
The modernisation of Galloway
and Dumfriesshire which gathered pace through the eighteenth century saw the construction of 81 planned towns and villages. One of the most successful of these new towns was Gatehouse of Fleet, planned by James Murray complete with water-powered cotton mills designed to provide employment for agricultural workers displaced by his improvement of Girthon parish. In 1724, the dykes of his father at Cally had been levelled and James did not want a repeat performance. But within 30 years of their construction, Gatehouse’s cotton mills had been superseded by an industrial revolution pioneered by a small group of economic migrants from the Glenkens.
There is an important point here. The physical landscape of the Stewartry even today still reflects the philosophical landscape of the Scottish Enlightenment. It is an actualisation of the Age of Reason as envisaged by Adam Smith, Henry Home and their contemporaries. It is also an example of what
Tony Wrigley has described as ‘an advanced organic economy’.
Over the past 40 years in numerous articles and books, Wrigley has argued that the industrial revolution marked a step-change from economies based on sustainable and renewable energy sources- human and animal labour, wind and water power, wood for construction and fuel- to mineral economies which rely on coal, natural gas and oil as energy sources.
As an example, while Manchester had developed as a textile trading centre through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its phenomenal growth in the first half of the nineteenth century was only made possible by the use of coal as an energy source in its cotton factories. A development facilitated by John Kennedy, James McConnell, Adam and George Murray.
In Galloway, if not Dumfriesshire, there is no coal. Before losing most of his money when the Douglas and Heron / Ayr Bank failed in 1772, Alexander Gordon
of Greenlaw had proposed a canal which would have connected Loch Ken to Loch Doon and the Dalmellington coal fields. In 1803, when a canal to link the Glenkens with the sea at Kirkcudbright was proposed, Gordon revived the idea. The Ayrshire and Galloway railway of 1845 would also have given the Glenkens and the Stewartry access to the Dalmellington coal field.
If either the canal or the railway had been built, the Glenkens and the Stewartry might have made the transition to Wrigley’s mineral economy.
On the other hand, although the Glenkens today struggles with the problem of rural depopulation and lack of employment opportunities, the Doon Valley provides a salutary reminder of the cost of industrialisation. From 1848 to 1921, the Dalmellington Iron Company’s furnaces provided employment for thousands of workers. Even after iron production ended, the deep coal mines built to fuel the iron furnaces survived until 1978.
These were then replaced by open cast coal mines, although they provided only a fraction of the employment the iron works and deep coal mines had supported.
So while a nineteenth industrial revolution might have boosted the population and economy of the Glenkens and the Stewartry, the long term impact would have been an intractable legacy of environmental degradation, social deprivation and economic desperation.
6. And finally… a new town for the Glenkens?
An unintended consequence of the shift from the type of advanced organic and sustainable economy represented by the Glenkens to the type of mineral and unsustainable economy represented by the Doon Valley is the advent of global climate change. Climate change is driven by global warming which is the result of burning billions of tons of coal and oil which has released carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.
In 2010, the UK Government
Office For Science produced a report ‘Land use Futures: Making the Most of Land in the 21st Century’. This report included a series of scenarios for the future which took the impact of climate change into account. Tucked away on page 284 of the 325 page long report is the following scenario for the year 2030.
London and the South East of England is under significant water stress. A new 1800 acre reservoir built to the west of the city has improved the short term situation, but continuing population growth means that this may be a short lived solution. Accordingly, the government is considering plans to disperse citizens to three new towns in Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and Powys – now engines of innovation and growth at the centre of the UK’s land based industries.
Back in 1851, the population Dumfries and Galloway reached a peak of just over 150 000. In 1851, this was 5.5 % of Scotland’s population. Today,
Dumfries and Galloway has only 2.8 % of Scotland’s population. If the region still had 5.5 % of Scotland’s population, instead of having only 24 000 inhabitants, there would be around 70 000 people living here.
Since one of the most damaging effects of climate change is going to be the loss of productive farmland, it would be foolish to build a new town on high or medium quality farm land. It would be more sensible to look for locations on poorer quality land. An area like the Glenkens, on the boundary between better and poorer quality farm land would therefore be a possible option if a new town is to be located in Dumfries and Galloway.
If, thanks to rural de-population, about 50 000 people are missing from the Stewartry, why not think big and go for a new town of about that size, located in the Glenkens? Or even two new towns, one in the Doon Valley and one in the Glenkens, linked by railway to Ayr and Dumfries?
While some of today‘s inhabitants of the Glenkens might not agree, I am sure Alexander Gordon, John Kennedy and their compatriots would have approved of such a bold plan…
Alistair Livingston at 1:48 p.m.
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