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, April 23, 2013

The Rationalised Landscape of Enlightenment

Kill Head (Kelhead) House near Annan -Roy's Military Survey 1755. From NLS  Online Maps.
During the eighteenth century, the farmed landscape of southern Scotland was transformed by improving landowners.The irregular fields and randomly scattered fermtouns which had been evolving since the early middle ages were swept away to a rationally designed and planned landscape. The beginnings of this process were mapped as part of General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland. As can be seen above, the first parts of the landscape to be altered were the lands around the new houses built by the improving landowners.

Equipped with the same tools as the army surveyors, civil surveyors first mapped estates and then divided them up into geometrical blocks of land. new hedges, ditches and dykes were then constructed, imposing a rational grid upon the land. The old cruck-framed farm buildings were demolished and new stone built and whitewashed farm steadings were built. New roads were made, linking the new farms and fields to new towns and villages and newly improved ports.

The first of the new roads built through Dumfries and Galloway was what is now the Old Military Road which ran from Gretna to Portpatrick. This was constructed in 1764/5. At the hamlet of Carlingwark (now Castle Douglas, the road was joined by a new canal.

Carlingwark Canal, built 1765.

Carlingwark Burn, Military Survey 1755.
Just as the grid pattern of the newly enclosed fields replaced the irregular outlines of the medieval fields, so the new canal replaced the wanderings of the Carlingwark Burn with its ruler straight lines.

On a smaller scale, where medieval parish boundaries had followed the wanderings of streams, the urge to improve also led to which a process of rationalisation. In the photos below, the stream shown originally meandered towards the clump of trees (site of  lost Leathes Burn Croft). When the new dykes were built, the course of the stream which marked the boundary (first recorded 1325) between Buittle parish and Kelton the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

Kelton parish (Ernespie farm) boundary with Buittle parish (Leathes farm)

The most complete realisation of  a rationalised landscape constructed for and by an Enlightened  landowners is found in Girthon parish in the Stewartry. Here James Murray lived in his mansion house at Callly, owned and improved every farm in the parish and built a new town complete with water powered cotton mills and other industrial enterprises. Even the course of the river Fleet was straightened, using the labour of workers from his Irish estates. [The Murray family, originally from Broughton in Wigtwonshire acquired 60 000 acres of land in Donegal via the Plantation of Ulster and held the land until the 1920s]

Gatehouse of Fleet in early 19th century. The ponds in the foreground  supplied the cotton mills and were fed via  a tunnel from Loch Whinyeon  in the hills above the town.