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.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Postgraduate Symposium 9 June 2009

This is the text of a presentation I gave to a Glasgow University :Dumfries Postgraduate Symposium at Elshieshields tower house today.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself - it was a great day out - and the presentation was well recieved.

Galloway Levellers - the Irish Connection

Seven years ago I contributed a piece on the Galloway Levellers for a radio series on the Lowland Clearances. At the time I thought I knew their history quite well. But as I began work on my dissertation on the Levellers, I discovered a series of complications. One such complication emerged when I found a link from the Levellers back to the Plantation of Ulster.

My starting point was the discovery that the illegal import of Irish cattle was one of the Galloway Levellers' grievances in 1724. On at least three occasions the dykes they levelled enclosed herds of Irish cattle which they seized and then killed, claiming that laws banning the import of Irish cattle gave them the right to do so.

These laws dated back to 1667 when the English and Scottish parliaments banned the import of Irish cattle. Before the ban, up to 40 000 Irish cattle per year had been imported to England. Most were shipped directly to Chester, but at least 7000 a year reached England via Galloway. The 1667 ban gave a boost to Galloway's indigenous cattle trade, which increased from about 1000 a year in 1666 to 10 000 a year by 1682.

This was an important finding since it ruled out the theory that Galloway's cattle trade began with the union of 1707. It also fitted with Andrew Symson's Large Description of Galloway. This was written in 1682 and described an export trade to England and the existence of several cattle parks in Wigtownshire, including the great park of Baldoon which could hold 1000 cattle. But did similar cattle parks exist in the Stewartry? The answer is yes. By 1690 there were at least three similar cattle parks in the Stewartry, one at Netherlaw near Dundrennan and two near Borgue. The Netherlaw cattle park had an Irish connection. It was owned by Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton who mentioned it in a letter written from his Irish estates in 1688.

In March 1724, after demolishing the dykes of Netherlaw, a party of Levellers drove 57 cattle into Kirkcudbright claiming they were Irish. The cattle were then slaughtered at Dundrennan Abbey in a 'barbarous manner' by a Francis McMinn who was blacksmith.

But was there still an Irish land ownership connection to Netherlaw in 1724?

From sources on the Plantation of Ulster, I found that Robert Maxwell of Orchardton's Irish lands had first been granted to the London Haberdashers Company in 1609. The Haberdashers failed to find enough British tenants to plant their lands, so Sir Robert McLellan of Bombie took over the Haberdashers lands in 1617, recruiting tenants from around Kirkcudbright. Robert McLellan, now lord Kirkcudbright died in 1641 and his daughter Marion inherited his Irish estates. Marion was Robert Maxwell of Orchardton's mother. However, by 1720 the Roman Catholic and Jacobite supporting Maxwells had lost both their Irish lands and Netherlaw. In a confusing series of events fictionalised by Walter Scott in his novel Guy Mannering, by 1780 they had even lost the round tower house and lands Orchardton itself.

I then found a longer lasting Irish connection via the Murray family. In 1609, George Murray of Broughton in the Machars of Wigtownshire was granted 3000 acres of plantation land in Donegal. The Donegal lands were of poor quality so most of the tenants were still Irish in 1627. In that year George Murray's cousin, the marquis of Annandale, gained permission to take cattle from Donegal through Galloway to sell in England, thus providing the Murrays with income from their Irish lands.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the Murrays of Broughton owned or leased 65 000 acres of land around Killybegs in Donegal. By 1723, as well as his Irish and Wigtownshire lands, George Murray's descendant Alexander Murray also owned Cally estate in the Stewartry. Here he had a large cattle park. Suspecting that there were Irish cattle at Cally, the Galloway Levellers destroyed its dykes in 1724. In contrast, although only a mile away, the cattle parks of Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness were not levelled. Perhaps significantly, Colonel Maxwell of Cardoness was a staunchly presbyterian anti-Jacobite who had joined king William's army in 1688, fighting for William at the battles of Killiecrankie and the Boyne. The Levellers believed that Colonel Maxwell was sympathetic to their grievances and he is on record as having negotiated with the Levellers. These negotiations may have led to the peaceful surrender of the Stewartry Levellers in October 1724.

A month later there was a separate outbreak of levelling in the Machars of Wigtownshire and amongst the dykes levelled was Alexander Murray's cattle park at Broughton. In this outbreak, a battering ram was used to demolish the dykes and cattle were 'houghed' - had their ham-strings cut – in the night. Similar methods had been used in Ireland by the Houghers of Connaught who were active in 1712, but were unlike those used by the Stewartry Levellers. After the brief Wigtownshire outbreak, one last levelling incident took place near Kirkcudbright in March 1725. But this was not the end of the story. In June 1725, the Reverend Robert Wodrow wrote in his journal

ther are many of them [Levellers] begging up and down. The souldiers have calmed them, and some proposals they say of erecting manufactorys of wool at Wigtoun, Stranreaur, and Kirkcudbright, which lye very commodiously for trade; and if the Earl of Stair's project hold, will employ the poor who are turned out by the inclosures.

Wodrow's earl of Stair was John Dalrymple, the 2nd earl of Stair whose dragoons had been sent to quash the Levellers. He was also a Galloway land owner with an interest in the cattle trade. And, which I found most significant, by 1731 he had set up a woollen manufactory near Stranraer. About the same time Colonel Maxwell of Cardoness set up a linen mill at Skyreburn near Gatehouse of Fleet and Alexander Murray established up a bleaching field at Gatehouse itself. Taken together, these innovations seemed a very enlightened response to the Galloway Leveller, with local landowners providing employment for the poor turned out by the inclosures.

But did this enlightened response to the challenge posed by Galloway Levellers continue on through the main period of improvement, which began around 1760?

For Cavens estate near Southerness, the answer is yes. Cavens was bought by Richard Oswald of Auchincruive in 1765. Oswald then employed John Maxwell as his factor and together they set about improving Cavens. But what Maxwell was not prepared to do was carry out mass evictions of Oswald's tenants. Why was Maxwell so cautious? The answer lies in a letter he wrote in 1811 in which he described witnessing the actions of the Galloway Levellers as a four year old child. This experience no doubt inspired his cautious approach to the improvement of Cavens estate.

James Murray of Broughton and Cally was born in 1727, so had no direct experience of the Levellers. He inherited the family's Galloway and Donegal lands in 1751 and began building a mansion house at Cally. Following his father's example, he bought up farms around Cally and improved them. The ending of the Irish cattle ban in 1758 may have helped James Murray finance his ambitious development of Gatehouse of Fleet through the sale of cattle from his Donegal lands.

In other parts of Ireland, the lifting of the ban led to the eviction of tenants on arable land to create more cattle pasture. Beginning in 1760 with the Whiteboys of Limerick (who were also called Levellers) successive waves of violent rural unrest, including the houghing of cattle and the demolition of dykes by battering rams, broke out in Ireland. As an Irish and Galloway landowner, it may have been these outbreaks which concentrated James Murray's mind and influenced his decision to provide industrial employment for the poor turned out by his Stewartry enclosures.

What ever the motive, integral to the development of his new town at Gatehouse were a series of industrial enterprises which James Murray added to to his father's bleach field. These included a linen mill, a tannery, a soap works, a brick works and - in 1788 - the first of four cotton mills. These industrial developments were just as carefully planned and organised as his agricultural improvements and the new town of Gatehouse was laid out just as carefully as his mansion house and its gardens were. To provide water power for the cotton mills, a complex system of tunnels, lades and ponds was built, fed from Loch Whinyeon 3 miles away. By 1792, Gatehouse had a population of 1150, of whom 500 were employed in the cotton mills.

Originally I was going to conclude my Galloway Levellers project with Gatehouse of Fleet, suggesting that the combination of agricultural improvement and industrial development it represented was the enlightened and rational solution to the challenge posed by the Galloway Levellers, by the poor turned out by inclosures. But then I discovered that there was a Galloway link to the steam powered cotton mills of Manchester which were to make those of Gatehouse redundant.

In the early 1780s, John and James Kennedy, Adam and George Murray and James McConnel from the Glenkens moved to England to become apprentices to William Cannan. Cannan was also from the Glenkens but now had a machine making business at Atherton in Cheshire. Once they were trained, this group of young men moved to Manchester where they began making cotton spinning machines before setting up their own cotton spinning factories. They were innovators in the application of steam power and by 1805 the firms of Kennedy and McConnel and A and G Murray were the largest and most advanced in Manchester -a leading position maintained for the next seventy years.

Part of Manchester's success was due to the network of canals and rivers which linked it to the port of Liverpool. In 1702, William Maxwell's charter for the estate of Cardoness included the right to build a port at the mouth of the Fleet. However it was not until 1824, when Alexander Murray II recruited several hundred of his Irish tenants to canalise the Fleet, that Gatehouse gained a port - but this was already too late. In 1825, a massive expansion of Liverpool's docks was begun using granite from Dalbeattie and later Creetown. In the same year, John Kennedy of Knocknalling and Manchester joined the board of the proposed Liverpool to Manchester railway.

Although composed in rural isolation at Craigenputtock, when Thomas Carlyle sought to characterise this age in Signs of the Times, he did so as the Mechanical Age. Carlyle's essay was published in June 1829. In October 1829, John Kennedy was a judge at the Rainhill locomotive trials where the triumph of Stephenson's Rocket confirmed Carlyle's insight.

But in Galloway, where a hundred years earlier the earl of Stair, Colonel Maxwell and Alexander Murray had, in response to the Galloway Levellers, established manufactorys to employ the poor turned out by enclosure, the industrial moment was effectively over. Even the great droves of Irish cattle which had set this phase of Galloway's history in motion were now carried by steamship direct to Liverpool.

This nineteenth century version of the Irish cattle trade was dominated by the Liverpool firm of Cullen and Verdon who were to be accused by Irish nationalists of sweeping peasants from the land to replace them with cattle for the English market. Along with thousands of their impoverished compatriots, those so dispossessed were forced to take passage on the cattle boats to Liverpool in the hope of finding employment in England. For many, this hope led them only to despair in the degrading slums of Manchester so vividly described by Freiderich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England.

For Karl Marx, it was the Highland Clearances which typified the expropriation of land by capitalist landowners. In both Ireland and the Highlands the process left an enduring legacy of grievances rooted in the anger and bitterness of those forced from the land.

Galloway has no such legacy of grievance, no tragic traditions of clearance and exile preserving folk stories and memories of the Galloway Levellers. In the absence of any such historical consciousness, the uprising of the Galloway Levellers has been seen as a failed attempt to hold back the tide of 'progress through improvement' ; with the miles of still existing dykes and hedges bearing witness to the triumph of enclosure. I disagree.

If the uprising of the Galloway Levellers was a failure, why were great swathes of arable land not turned into cattle parks as happened in Ireland? Why were there no more mass clearances like those of the Highlands?

Could it be that in Galloway, unlike Ireland or the Highlands, the Levellers' actions halted and then reversed the conversion of arable land to pasture? That, thanks to the actions of the Galloway Levellers a generation before, even when the great wave of improvement swept across Galloway after 1760, the cottars and crofters were not driven into exile but found new homes and jobs in the dozens of new towns and villages built across Galloway by improving landowners?

Finally, as this I hope this quote from one of the Levellers' manifestos shows, they were themselves advocates of improvement through enclosure.

The Gentlemen should enclose their grounds in such parcels that each may be sufficient for a good tenant and that the Heritors lay as much rent on each of these enclosures as will give him double the interest of the money laid out on the enclosures. If he cannot get this enclosure set to a tenant whom he may judge sufficient, he may then lawfully keep that ground in his own hand till he finds a sufficient tenant, taking care that the 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.

In which case the improved landscape of Galloway – which contains no trace of the de-populating cattle parks they rose up against- can be read not as a sign of the Galloway Levellers failure, but of their success.

Photographs and Maps

1.The first map shows the sites of levelling activity in the Stewartry and in Wigtownshire. The second map shows the location of the various Plantation lands in Ulster granted to Galloway land owners.
2.The top photograph shows an Old Scots Plough which is now in the Stranraer Museum. It took a team of eight oxen or four horses to draw this type of plough. The lower photograph shows the broad rigs created by such ploughs, preserved under pasture on the Army Range near Kirkcudbright. This style of arable farming was very labour intensive, so when arable land was converted to pasture many families lost their homes and their employment.
3.These photographs show the narrow rigs of an upland farm (Laughenghie) near Loch Skerrow in the Stewartry. The arable fields of this very marginal farm - owned by the Murrays of Gatehouse -were abandoned in the late eighteenth century when it became a sheep farm.
4.Similar to Laughenghie, Kilnair near Lochinvar was an upland farm which is now part of a larger sheep farm. The shepherd's cottage in the photograph was built in the mid nineteenth century and occupied until about 1950. For Kilnair, there is a tack (lease) from 1669 which shows that it provided grazing for 320 sheep, 16 cows and their calves and two plough horses. As well as cheese and butter from the cows, milk from the sheep were also used to make cheese. Oats and bere (a type of barley) were grown in small fields next to the farm.
5.The transformation of the landscape brought about by the process of improvement is illustrated by the Carlingwark canal, cut in a dead straight line from the river Dee to Carlingwark loch in 1765. The canal was used by barges carrying marl -a lime rich clay used as a fertiliser – to farms along the rivers Dee and Ken as far as New Galloway 15 miles away. So complete has been the transformation that it is almost impossible to find surviving features of the pre-Improvement landscape. However, a medieval wood bank and ditch near Threave castle and close to the Carlingwark canal have recently been found and preserved by the National Trust for Scotland
6.The impact of James Murray's improvements at Gatehouse of Fleet between 1750 and 1797 can be seen when these two maps are compared.
7.Although Gatehouse of Fleet's cotton mills were a revolutionary development for eighteenth century Galloway, they failed to flourish. Powered by water, they could not compete with the massive steam powered cotton mills of nineteenth century Manchester, but by the end of the twentieth century both of the cotton mills shown had become industrial heritage museums.
8.One of Manchester's most innovative and successful cotton manufacturers was John Kennedy who was born at Knocknalling farm in 1769. In 1840 Kennedy returned to Knocknalling were he built an imposing new mansion house. Using Google Earth, the location of old Knocknalling can be identified, complete with traces of rig and furrow. Thus one of the makers of the industrial revolution came from a farm unchanged since the time of the Galloway Levellers or even the Covenanters.


Blogger Philip Robinson said...

Great article!
Any chance of you posting the map referred to of Ulster Plantation lands?
I have a double interest - a long standing one on the Ulster Plantation, but also now I'm trying to establish the Ulster-Scots cattle drove roads that fed the links on from Portpatrick and Loch Ryan.
Philip Robinson

8:43 AM  

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