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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peter Ewart Biographical Notice

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crown Lands in Galloway 1456 -1469

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Parish formation in Galloway

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Galloway farm names background 1

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Threave and Kelton Mains -at the crossroads of history

Mons Meg, Torrs Pony Cap and Joseph Train

Airigh farms Stewartry of Kirkcudbright

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mons Meg, Torrs Pony Cap and Joseph Train

Mons Meg, Threave Castle, the Torrs Pony Cap and Joseph Train.
                                                                    Mons Meg
An enduring piece of Galloway folklore associates the cannon Mons Meg (on display at Edinburgh Castle) with the siege of Threave Castle in 1455. However, Mons Meg was built at Mons in Flanders and gifted to King James II in 1457 so has no direct connection with the Threave siege of 1455.

At least one large cannon was used at Threave, but it came from Linlithgow as this entry from the Exchequer Rolls (Volume VI, page 200) for 1456 shows

pro diversis expensis factis per fratrem Andream Lisouris, carpentarium, et Johanuem Were, burgensem de Linlitliqw, circa cariagium magni bombardi versus obsidionem castri de Treve.

If, as folklore asserts, Mons Meg (or a similar cannon) had been constructed by a local blacksmith in 1455, payment for his services would have been recorded in the very detailed Exchequer Rolls. The Exchequer Rolls certainly give details of similar payments, including some which appear to have been bribes paid to the defenders of the castle and which led to its surrender to the king.

The oldest version of the story found so far is in Andrew Symson's Large Description of Galloway. This was composed in 1684 by Symson ( then Episcopalian minister of Kirkinner parish in Wigtownshire) for Sir Robert Sibbald, after Sibbald was appointed Geographer Royal by Charles II in 1682. As the title implies, the Large Description of Galloway is a detailed, parish by parish account of Galloway. In his account of the parish of Balmaghie, Symson noted that

The common report also goes in that countrey, that, in this isle of the Threave, the great iron-gun, in the Castle of Edinburgh, called commonly Mount-Megg, was wrought and made; but I am not bound to beleeve it upon their bare report.
This may not have been a very ancient piece of foklore when Symson was writing. In Edinburgh, on 14 October 1681, Mons Meg was fired to celebrate the birthday of James, Duke of York (the future James VII and II) and the barrel burst. Since Galloway at that time was in more or less open rebellion against James and his brother, news of this symbolic event would have been well received. Although the first siege of Threave Castle would have been a very distant memory, if recalled at all, the siege of 1640 would still have been in living memory and remembered as a victory for the Covenanters over Charles I.

Indeed, the version of the story which claim that Mons Meg was built by a blacksmith called 'McKim' at the Buchan smithy in Carlingwark (present day Castle Douglas) can be connected to the siege of 1640. The War Committee of the Covenanters in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright included Thomas Hutton of Arkland as representative of Kelton parish. Hutton's son in law was Adam McMin who was a blacksmith at the Buchancroft of Carlingwark and Hutton's grandson was a smith there in the 1680s. At least eight other members of the McMin family were blacksmiths in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright the between 1660 and 1700. In 1724, a blacksmith called Francis McMin was a Galloway Leveller and used his hammer to kill some Irish cattle at Dundrennan Abbey.

However the most likely source for the folktale is Joseph Train (1792-1852). Train was an excise officer in Galloway for many years, but was also a keen antiquarian who corresponded with Sir Walter Scott. As well as providing Scott with material for his novels, Train also passed on various 'interesting relics' to Scott. One of these was the Torrs Pony Cap. In an appendix to William Nicholson's History of Galloway [Vol. II page 71], Train described how the mask was found and then passed on to Scott at Abbotsford. It was Train who had the two drinking horns attached to the mask.

About the year 1820, a Mummer's head mask was found in a morass in the farm of Torrs, in the parish of Kelton. This ancient disguisement is made of fine copper : it is constructed so as to cover the face of the wearer, having two long horns turning backwards like those of a goat...It may consequently be inferred that this mask once belonged to a Mummer of the neighbouring Castle of Threave...After placing it on a pedestal with an inscription in brass showing where it was found, I forwarded it to Abbotsford where it has since been a conspicuous object in the museum.
                                                             Pony Cap with horns attached
In 1822, Sir Walter Scott hosted a visit to Scotland by George IV. During the visit, Scott suggested to the king that Mons Meg should be returned to Scotland from the Tower of London where it had been since 1754. Mons Meg was eventually returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1829. Aware of Scott's interest in Mons Meg, Train researched the history of the gun. Train was familiar with Symson's Large Description of Galloway which was first published in 1823. Train seems to have taken Symson's mention of Mons Meg as starting point for his history of Mons Meg which then he passed on to Scott – omitting Symson's sceptical comment.

However, as with the Torrs Pony Cap, in the process of discovering the history of Mons Meg, Train managed to improve upon Symson's original cautious note. The result was an enduring romantic fiction. John Patterson's Memoir of Joseph Train [1854, p.140] gives Train's version of Mons Meg's creation.

This very singular piece of ordnance is said to have been made of 25 bars of iron, bound together with an equal number of hoops, to represent the exact number of persons who contributed to defray the expense of making the piece. As a recompense for the present of this extraordinary engine of war, and for the loyalty of the M'Lellans, who assisted him in subduing the haughty Douglases, James II., before leaving Galloway, erected the town of Kirkcudbright into a royal burgh, and granted to Brawny Kim, the smith, the lands of Mollance, in the neighbourhood of Threave Castle. It is still the custom in Galloway to call people by the name of the lands they possess. Hence the smith was called Mollance. But his wife's name being Meg, and she being possessed of a stentorian voice, the cannon, in honour of her, received the name of Mollance Meg. Nor is it singular that in the course of time the name should be corrupted into the present. There is no smithy now at the ' Three Thorns of Carlinwark,' where Brawny Kim and his seven sons had their forge, and where Mollance Meg was constructed, yet when the road to Portpatrick, which passes through that locality, was being made, the workmen cut through a deep bed of cinders and ashes, which was proof enough of there having a forge existed in that place.

In Train's defence, the Old Statistical Account for Kelton parish, written by the parish minister in 1791/2 mentions that

there is also a tradition, that the cannon, with which James IV battered the castle at Thrieve, was made (that is the staves were put together and hooped,) at the Buchan's Croft on the west side of [Carlingwark] Loch. One of the balls, weighing 48 pounds, picked out of the wall at Thrieve, is now at Greenlaw.

It should be noted that this account does not mention Mons Meg by name. Greenlaw is Greenlaw House which belonged to Sir Alexander Gordon (1747-1830) Gordon owned part of what is now Threave estate, through which he had a canal built in 1765. When the New Statistical Account for Kelton parish was written in 1845, Train's version was used with the additional information that Sir Alexander Gordon had been given a large gold ring inscribed 'Margaret de Douglas' which had been found in the castle and was 'supposed to have been on the Fair Maid of Galloway's hand when it was blown away [by one of Mons Meg's cannon balls] at the siege.' [As a school boy visiting Threave castle in the 1960s, the story had grown to include additional details. The ring, I was told, had been found on the Fair Maid's skeletal hand which was still clutching the unbroken wine glass from which she had been drinking when the cannon ball struck...fortunately for her, the 'Fair Maid' was not present at Threave during the siege and lived until 1473.]

As well as acquiring an air of authenticity through inclusion in the New Statistical Account and MacKenzie's History of Galloway, the popular propagation of Joseph Train's version of Mons Meg's origins was encouraged by a 'Melo Drama' based on Train's work which was performed in Castle Douglas in 1837. This was written by William Train, who may have been Joseph's brother. [History of Galloway 1841 Vol. 1 Appendix M, page 38]. How often the play was subsequently performed is unknown, but the dramatisation of local 'history'; e.g.John Nicholson's contemporary (1838) dramatisation of the Galloway Levellers' story, is likely to have shaped and reinforced existing folklore associated with Threave Castle.

John Nicholson (1778-1866) was a contemporary of Joseph Train. Nicholson was a Kirkcudbright based printer and publisher and it was Nicholson who commissioned William MacKenzie to write his History of Galloway, a project which Train was closely involved with. Train himself had proposed writing a history of Galloway in 1818, but Train's own literary ambition 'was superseded by a desire to serve the great novelist ' - Sir Walter Scott.

Since this discussion of Joseph Train's role in the creation of an enduring historical myth was prompted by a guided tour of the archaeology of the National Trust for Scotland's Threave Estate (which includes Threave Castle), a connection to the Hornel Library in the Trust's Broughton House in Kirkcudbright can be made. As Julia Muir Watt points out in the introduction to Dumfries and Galloway a Literary Guide [Dumfries and Galloway Council, 2000] 'the value of this archive [the Hornel Library] to the cultural history and life of this are cannot be overstated'. As well as correspondence between Joseph Train and Sir Walter Scott, the archive also contains invaluable and unpublished material on the Galloway Levellers gathered by John Nicholson for his play about the Levellers.

For all that Train managed to confuse both archaeologists, with his romantic reconstruction of the Torrs Pony Cap; and historians, with his tales of Mons Meg, as Julia Muir Watt points out 'Train's contributions to Scott's pool of information on Galloway, which held special appeal for the Romantic imagination for its remote and undeveloped character, were momentous...' Train and Galloway provided material for many of Scott's novels – Guy Mannering, Old Mortality, Redgauntlet, Heart of Midlothian, The Bride of Lammermuir and The Antiquarian. Although Scott, as the inventor of the 'historic novel', is most frequently associated with the romanticisation of Highland Scotland, through Joseph Train, it is more often Galloway and Dumfriesshire than the Highlands which provided Scott with the history he then romanced.

Scott was a 'conservative and unionist' Scottish nationalist. With Waverley and Redgauntlet and with his orchestration of George IV's visit to Scotland in 1822, he helped to make the history of Jacobite and Highland Scotland a safe and loyal part of British history. To do so required the down playing of other aspects of Scottish history, that of the Covenanters (in Old Mortality ) for example. This also meant that Scott made very selective use of the Galloway material provided by Joseph Train. Scott never used the Galloway Levellers or Mons Meg stories passed to him on by Train. As a result of this filtering process, and despite the later work of S.R. Crockett, at a critical point in the early nineteenth century, the history of Galloway as discovered in folklore and romanticised by Joseph Train, William Mackenzie, James Denniston and John Nicholson did not cross over (as Highland history did) into the mainstream of popular Scottish history.

Instead, their work help create Galloway as ' A Land Apart'; as the subtitle of Andrew McCulloch's history of Galloway proclaimed in 2000. Yet Galloway's history, as Richard Oram pointed out in the Introduction to The Lordship of Galloway (also published in 2000) effectively ended in 1455 when 'In a single act of royal policy, a political unit that had dominated the region for over 300 years was committed to oblivion.' Thus, when Thomas Maitland (later Lord Dundrennan) discovered the manuscript of Andrew Symson's Large Description of Galloway in the Library of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh and had it published in 1823, he helped set in motion the invention of a Galloway painted

in the vibrant but bloody colours of a glorious Gall-Ghaidel heritage, of a mingling of painted Picts and horn-helmeted Viking warriors, and of a magnificent era of power, wealth and independence from the Scots that was ended only through royal deceit and the overwhelming might of Scottish armies. This picture, created over the last 150 years by antiquarian commentators and powerfully reinforced by popular and populist writers, is an attractive but gross distortion of historical reality. Much of the tradition is spurious, or builds from elaborate hypotheses with little or no basis in fact. Beneath the fiction, however, runs an undercurrent of reality; behind the fables lie even more colourful facts. [Oram, 2000, p.264]

The challenge then, if the archaeology and history of Threave Estate are to be investigated, is how to disentangle fact from fiction, historical reality from myth. Since this process must include Threave Castle, which is the focus of so many legends, this may prove a difficult task. However, as illustrated above, with careful investigation and interrogation of local sources, it is possible to distinguish at least part of the undercurrent of reality to which Oram refers.

Alistair Livingston 8 September 2010

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Archaeology Walk at Threave 10 September

From Archaeology walk threave Sept 10

Archaeology talk on Meikle Wood Hill