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, July 05, 2012

Farms and Parish Boundaries

Kelton- Buittle farms and parish boundary

Which came first- the farms or the parishes?

In 1325, King Robert I granted most of the lands of the barony (now parish) of Buittle to James Douglas (father of Archibald 'the Grim' Douglas]. The charter defined the boundaries of the grant.Using present day names, one boundary was with the lands of Crossmichael parish (in grey above), then with Torrs farm (now in Kelton parish, orange above), then with the Gelston mill burn (Gleston burn above). Breoch farm was included in the Buittle lands (green above). The farms of Whitepark and Halmyre (in Kelton) and Cuil and Corra (in Buittle) were not mentioned

As I have suggested here (pages 5 to 7) Cuil and Corra were probably created by Gaelic speakers through a division of Breoch after 1325 while Whitepark was probably created by Scots speakers through a division of Torrs after 1369 (but before 1455).

The interesting question is -were the farms of Torrs and Breoch in existence before Kelton and Buittle were distinguished as separate parishes? The 1325 charter is too late to help with such a question. However, the earliest farm name I have found is Sypland. I found this in the Paradox of Medieval Scotland database in a charter  dated  7 January 1210.

King William to the church of St Cuthbert of Kirkcudbright; has granted donation which Alan, son of Roland the constable, made of that part of Sypland (KCB) which Kineth held, and donation which Alan made to church of St Oswald the Martyr in Kelton (KCB) of 32 acres of land in territory of same _villa_

Sypland, Kirkcudbright parish recorded 1210, later divided into two farms.
Since Little Sypland and Meikle Sypland are nearly 2 miles apart, this suggests that the oldest farms [like Torrs and Breoch] were much bigger than present day farms. This fits with with my study of airigh farms in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright..

Unfortunately, Sypland is not a Gaelic farm name. It is probably Older Scots/ Middle English from 'seep land'- land which seeps or oozes water, wet land.  Sypland is therefore not likely to be older than mid-twelfth century, when the first Older Scots/Middle English speakers arrived in Galloway e.g. foundation of Dundrennan abbey by monks from Rievaulx abbey in Yorkshire in 1142. 

On the other hand, the parish system in Galloway is likely to have followed the restoration/ revival of the See of Whithorn by Fergus of Galloway in 1128, when Gille Aldan was appointed bishop of Whithorn. 

 While parts of some Galloway parishes are clearly defined by major rivers like the Dee and Urr, other parish boundaries are less easy to distinguish. In many cases, quite small streams [like the Gelston Burn above] are used. In some places, for example the boundary between Buittle and Crossmichael parishes along the Old Military Road north-west of Castle  Douglas, the march walls of farms define the boundary.

Assuming that the parish structure is a creation of the later twelfth century, I think it is likely that the parishes were originally constructed by grouping a few (large) farms together. The boundaries of these large farms were not at first very well defined and so neither were the parish boundaries. Then, as the population increased and the farms were gradually subdivided, the boundaries became more clearly established. So, for example, the later subdivisions of Beoch in Buitltle  (e.g. Corra and Cuil) and of Torrs in Kelton (e.g. Whitepark) helped to define the parish boundaries. Thus quite small streams and other identifiable features which were used to define farm boundaries became  parish boundaries.

One such boundary follows the hidden course of a stream through the photograph below, dividing Torrs and Whitepark farms in Kelton from Cuil and Corra farms in Buittle, creating  an otherwise arbitrary division in the landscape.
Looking towards hills in Buittle parish from Kelton (Torrs/ Whitepark).


Blogger Clair said...

Thanks for this info Alistair.
My grandfather's family lived in Little Sypland in the early 1900s and I had wondered about the meaning of the name. Hi father was a shepherd and I think he and his siblings would have attended Whinnyliggat school (the same mentioned in S R Crockett's novel Kit Kennedy, Country Boy). Not sure if this is your kind of history but thanks none the less.

2:34 AM  

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