Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lost landscape of the Levellers?


The following was inspired by aerial photographs of rig and furrow cultivation in the Milton Parks/ Dunrod area of the Kirkcudbright (Dundrennan Range ) Military Training Area which can be found in an RCAHMS report at :

http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/kirkcudbrightreport.pdf


Do these images reveal remnant and fugitive traces of a lost landscape?

The Lost Landscape of the Levellers

In the Hornel Library, Broughton House , Kirkcudbright [National Trust for Scotland] is a transcript (see below) made by John Nicholson [1778-1866] of a case brought against 22 named Galloway Levellers by Sir Basil Hamilton on 27th January 1725. The transcript gives the 13 locations these Levellers came from. Eight are the names of farms, two are mills and three are crofts or cots.

Mapping the Levellers

Of the farms, Beoch NX 681 609, Orroland NX 773 466, Kirkcarswell NX 755 493, Merks NX 732 519, Bombie NX 714 503, Gribdae NX 710 503 and Lochfergus NX 515 698 are still working farms, but Mullock NX 711 444 is on land occupied by the Kirkcudbright/ Dundrennan Military Range since the 1940ies.

The site of Auchleandmilne [Auchlane NX 711 584] can be traced from Ainslie’s 1797 map but is now ruined. Nethermilns [Fagra] survived to be recorded by Donnachie: Industrial Archaeology of Galloway : 1971 at NX 748 467.

Of the crofts and cots, Greenlane NX 747 558 survives as a mid 20th century cottage, Meadow Isle [possibly NX 755 580] as a field name only on Airieland farm NX 757 571. Cotland has not yet been identified.

The Lost Landscape of the Levellers

With the exception of Beoch, all these Leveller locations lie within a 10 km wide by 15 km long area to the east of the lower river Dee. It is an area I am very familiar with, but despite this familiarity, it is very difficult to imagine the area as it was in 1724. The farms may bear the same names but that is all. Most of the farms are now dairy farms. The farm buildings, their layout and sometimes locations, are different. Their fields are laid out in a rationalised grid-like pattern, divided by dykes, hedges, ditches and barbed wire fences. The courses of streams have been altered, areas of marsh and bog and even a few lochs have been drained. In winter, the bright green grass of ‘improved ( through drainage and the application of fertilisers ) pasture’ stands out against the yellows and browns of the ‘unimproved’ rough grazing of higher land. Roads and bridges have been built.

Is it possible to imagine, to re-construct and re-discover this lost landscape? This is what I have been trying to do as part of my Galloway Levellers’ research. This is important if I am to understand the actions of the Levellers. The Levellers’ actions were not spontaneous, they were planned and organised. They took place over several months in several different locations and involved hundreds (up to 1000 allegedly ) of people. The specific action which led to the 1725 court case was directed against Sir Basil Hamilton, who had been an active Jacobite in 1715 and whose grandfather and great-grandfather [David Dunbar I and II of Baldoon] were Episcopalian anti-Covenanters in the 1670s and 1680s is significant. But the ’location’ of the Levellers named in the case is also significant. From studying some 300 tacks recorded between 1623 and 1700 in the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds plus records of teind payments from the same source, it is clear that these Levellers came from arable ferm-touns and crofts producing oats and ‘beir’ [bere, bear, a hardy four-rowed type of barley] as their main crops. Although not accurate in detail, Roy’s Military Survey of 1750 confirms this, showing extensive areas of open field rig and furrow cultivation in this area.

Some enclosed areas are shown, but these are large enclosures which cannot be related to present day field boundaries. One of these large enclosures appears to correspond with the cattle enclosure between Bombie and Galtway [ NX 71 49 area] demolished by the Levellers in 1724. This held 400 head of cattle. Another such large enclosure appears to be at ‘Milton Parks’ [ NX 70 45 area]. From the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds [Volume II, Entry 1265 ] there was a cattle park at Netherlaw [NX 73 45 area] in 1688 which the landowner, Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton required ‘not to be set to the plough’.

Land ‘not set to the plough’ but used as extensive cattle enclosures did not require the labour of cottars to work it. Although an exact figure is difficult to establish, the eviction of some sixty cottar families at Whitsun 1723 by Hamilton and other cattle-trading landowners seems to have been a key trigger for the events of 1724. It was the threat of further expansion of such cattle enclosures at the expense the traditional arable farmed landscape and the cottar families this landscape supported which provided mass/ popular support for the Galloway Levellers.

However, although the cattle parks did not depopulate the landscape as the Levellers feared ( possibly due to the expansion of the Highland cattle trade at the expense of the Galloway cattle trade), the landscape they knew was transformed from the 1760ies onwards. To begin with, up until the 1840ies, arable farming was still important and so the transformation was not total. But as dairy farming, especially once rail links to population centres were built (1860 onwards), came to predominate, the arable fields became pastureland.

Finally, it would seem, the post-war mechanisation and intensification of farming completed the transformation. At the MoD Kirkcudbright Training Area [Dundrennan Range] large areas of rig and furrow cultivation can still be seen. Since the Range has preserved the farmed landscape as it was in 1940, I wonder if the last traces of Levellers’ landscape have only been erased within living memory?

The Leveller Court case

From A.S. Morton: The Levellers of Galloway: Transactions Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society: Third Series, Vol.19., 1936.
Based on John Nicholson’s research notes (circa 1830)


On the 27th January 1725, at a court held in the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in Galloway, with the following justices being on the bench- Thomas Gordon of Earlston, David Lidderdale of Torrs, Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness (presiding)

NOTE: Maxwell's father presbyterian minister of Minnigaff parish, removed in 1662. Maxwell had to flee into exile in Holland in 1685 after showing support (embracing him on scaffold!) for the Duke of Argyll's 's rebellion, In 1688, joined William of Orange's invasion army, fought against Jacobites at Killiecrankie and Boyne, organised defence of Glasgow against Jacobites in 1715 and 'sympathised' with Levellers in 1724.

, John Gordon of Largmore, Robert Gordon of Garvarie, Nathaniel Gordon of Carleton, and John Maxwell, provost of Kirkcudbright - the Honourable Basil Hamilton brought a complaint at the instance of Lady Mary Hamilton of Baldoon (being his mother) and himself as her factor against:

Thomas Moire of Beoch and Grisel Grierson his wife
John Walker of Cotland
Robert McMorran of Orroland
John Shennan and William Shennan of Kirkcarswell
John Cogan, John Bean, Thomas Millagane and Thomas Richardson of Gribty
James Robeson of Merks
John Donaldson and John Cultane the younger of Bombie
John Cairns and John Martin of Lochfergus
Alexander McClune and James Shennan of Nethermilns
James Wilson of Greenlane croft
Robert Herries of Auchleandmiln
John, George and Robert Hyslop of Mullock
John McKnaught of Meadowisles

that between the 12 and 16th days of May 1724, they did in a most riotous, tumultuous and illegal way assemble and convene themselves with some hundred other rioters, mostly all armed with guns, swords, pistols, clubs, batons, pitchforks and other offensive weapons on Bombie Muir, parish of Kirkcudbright on the Stewartry thereof and marched to the lands of Galtways, belonging to the complainer and then:

demolished 580 roods of dykes, equal to £19 6s 8d, in consequence of which the complainer was damnified of her stock of 400 black cattle kept at grassing within said inclosure, amounting to £50 by the loss of mercats; the fences being pulled down obliging the complainer to drive them to some remote place before sunset each night and watch them all night and keep them from straying which hindered them being fattened for which the sum of £50 is claimed, as also for the complainers cattle breaking away and destroying other people's corn for which the complainer is chargeable, together with the sum of £500 sterling as damages sustained for rebuilding the said dykes.

The defendants presented a petition 'expressing their sorrow for the loss and damage' which had happened then due to 'people's madness and ignorance' and prayed that consideration might be taken to the 'indignant circumstances' (i.e. poverty) of many of them. A Commission of honest and discrete men was appointed - Willam MacMillan of Barwhinnak, Francis Rogerson of Rascarrell, John Kuton of Knabiee and John Johstone of Airds. They presented their report in March 1725 and as a result the defendants were 'jointly and severally ' fined £777 Scots.

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