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.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Threave and Kelton -at the Crossroads

Threave and Kelton Mains – at the cross roads of history.
Kelton Mains shown by Pont in 1590 as M[eikle]Grange -from Blaeu's Atlas  1645 (N.L.S. maps)

Today the busy A 75 Euro-route passes through Threave estate carrying ferry traffic to and from the north of Ireland. Just outside the estate, the east-west route of the A 75 crosses the A 713 which runs north through the Glenkens towards Ayr. Travellers have used the routes followed by these modern roads since before the Romans built their fort at Glenlochar 2000 years ago.

The Romans built their fort to control an important territory of the Novantae people. This territory stretched up the rivers Dee and Ken from Threave into the Glenkens. The bronze 'pony cap' from Torrs loch near Castle Douglas, a bronze mirror from Balmaclellan and the Carlingwark loch cauldron show the importance of this territory in Roman and pre-Roman times. Pieces of scythe blade found in the Carlingwark cauldron along with an ard (early plough) found beneath a crannog on Milton loch show that cereal crops were cultivated here 2000 years ago.

After the Romans, the next set of invaders to occupy the Kelton/Threave crossroads were Angles from Northumbria. The Angles built a church at Kelton and dedicated it to St. Oswald the Martyr, a Northumbrian king who died fighting the still pagan Mercians in 642. Local historian Daphne Brooke argued that Kelton/ Threave was the centre for a Northumbrian shire which extended north into the Glenkens. At the core of this Northumbrian shire were a set of cereal producing estates, including Kelton and Threave.

The period of Northumbrian rule probably lasted from the late seventh century to the late ninth century. From the ninth century onwards, Galloway was taken over and settled by the Gaelic speaking descendants of Vikings. These were the Gall – Ghaidheil who gave their name to a greater Galloway which by the eleventh century stretched south from Renfrewshire and west from Annandale. Professor Thomas Owen Clancy suggests that the first Gall- Ghaidheil settlements in Scotland were around the Firth of Clyde with a separate group in Wigtownshire. Settlement in the Stewartry probably began with a trading post at Kirkcudbright and there is a cluster of Norse place names around Kirkcudbright. The thousands of Gaelic place-names in Galloway show the extent and duration of these settlements, but the survival of the Brittonic Threave and the Northumbrian Kelton suggests that these lands were taken over as 'going concerns' by their new owners.

In the early twelfth century, the arable lands of Kelton and Threave became a core part of Fergus of Galloway's kingdom. It was probably Fergus who built the wooden fort on Threave island which was burnt by Edward Bruce's soldiers in 1308. This event was part of a struggle for the Scottish throne between the Bruce and Balliol families which lasted for nearly 70 years and which provoked the Scottish Wars of Independence. John Balliol won the first round of the struggle by becoming king of Scotland in 1292, but then Robert the Bruce seized the vacant Crown in 1306. In 1329, the crown passed to Bruce's infant son David II. In 1332, John Balliol's son Edward claimed the Scottish throne with English help. In 1356 he renounced the claim since the only part of Scotland he controlled was Galloway, which he ruled as the great-great -great-great grandson of Fergus of Galloway.

Even after Edward Balliol gave up the Scottish crown, English forces held key castles like Lochmaben. To help recover these castle and control Galloway, David II made Archibald Douglas Warden of the Western Marches in 1368 and granted him the lands between the Nith and the Cree in 1369, to which Archibald added (through purchase) Wigtownshire in 1371. By building Threave castle, Archibald was stamping not just his authority but that of the Scottish crown on the 'rebellious' province of Galloway. Archibald died at Threave castle in 1400, but within fifty years, the earls of Douglas had become powerful enough to threaten the Stewart kings of Scotland. In the summer of 1455, James II besieged Threave castle but his cannons were unable to breach its defences so the castle's surrender was negotiated.

The lordship of Galloway and its lands, over one hundred farms, were now part of the Crown's estates. In the Exchequer Rolls for 1456, a lengthy account of these lands is given. These included Kelton Grange, Kelton mill, Over, Mid and Nether Kelton and Carlingwark. Kelton Grange is recorded as being 'occupied with the king's grain', as was Threave Grange on the west side of the Dee. The Exchequer Rolls also mention the movement of oxen for ploughing between the several grange lands now under the king's control. Just over 200 years later, teams of oxen were still toiling at the plough, as this tack (lease) for Keltonhill shows.

The Thomas Hutoune of Arkland who owned Keltonhill (or more likely his father, who was also a Thomas) can be connected to the siege of Threave castle in 1640. In The Minute Book of the War Committee of the Covenanters in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in the years 1640 and 1641 Thomas Hutton of Arkland is recorded as representing the parish of Kelton on the Committee, a period which includes the siege of Threave castle in the summer of 1640.

The 'kipelles' mentioned in the tack are 'couples', timbers used for constructing a cruck-framed building for the new tenant and his workforce. Near Halketleathes farm in Buittle parish there is a Kipple Hill (NX 802 635), where timber for cruck-frames was grown. These buildings were very insubstantial. Like those at Kelton Grange, they were later replaced with stone farm buildings as part of the process of agricultural improvement. The same process of improvement also swept away most of the cottars' crofts. However, one of the seventeenth century tacks refers to a croft which can be identified -at Furbar and Furbar Hill on Threave estate.

The John Gae or Gaw who witnessed the tack was the tenant of Threave Mains. His son Robert was the tenant of Kelton Mains at the same time. Moving forward fifty years, it was at 'Furbar Ligget', that Captain Robert Johnston and the Reverend William Falconer of Kelton confronted a group of Galloway Levellers who had assembled on Kelton Hill in the summer of 1724. In his Rambles in Galloway, Malcolm Harper quotes an account of what happened passed on to Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill farm by his grandfather who had witnessed the event as a boy. 'Captain Johnstone was then laird, and had built a high dyke to fence his estate from the public road…anxious to preserve it he prevailed upon Mr. Falconer to accompany him in going to the levellers with the view of advising them to desist from their destructive proceedings…'

Bread and beer were provided for the Levellers and the dyke was left standing. Harper goes on to provide confirmation of the story by asserting that 'On a stone in the dyke of the right hand side of the road leading from Lochbank to Furbar House, there is a date, which is now indistinct, but about [1840] it was plainly 1725, and is now commemorative of the event'. There is a stone with a date carved on it next to Furbar House. However, the date on the stone is 1753, not 1725 nor 1724.

But was Captain Johnston really the 'laird of Kelton' in 1724? It would seem that he was. At Whitehall in December 1705, Queen Anne granted 'Captain Robert Johnston ... the twenty pound land of Thrieve [Kelton] Grange, the lands and baronies of Gelston, Kelton...ordaining the manor place of Kelton to be the principal messuage [dwelling place].'

However, before Johnston could take possession of his new estate, the feudal superior of Kelton, William Maxwell, 5th earl of Nithsdale, had to grant Jonhston 'sasine', which he did on 16 April 1706. Maxwell's feudal rights dated back to 1526, when Robert Maxwell, the 5th lord of Nithsdale was appointed hereditary keeper of Threave castle and its lands. Although Johnston had, as member of the Scottish Parliament for Dumfries, opposed the Union of 1707, when William Maxwell and William Gordon of Kenmure led a Jacobite uprising which threatened Dumfries in October 1715, one of the depute-stewards of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright appointed to raise a militia in defence of Dumfries was Robert Johnston. Since there was a strong anti-Jacobite aspect to the actions of the Galloway Levellers in 1724, Johnston's anti-Jacobite credentials may have helped save his march dyke at Furbar.

If this dyke was newly built in 1724, this implies that Johnston was engaged in improving his estate. Since the existing farm house at Kelton Mains would have been of very basic cruck-frame construction with a thatched roof, part of Johnston's improvements would have been to build a mortar and stone walled farm house with a slate roof. It therefore seems likely that it was Robert Johnston who built the original parts of Kelton Mains farm house sometime between 1706 and his death in 1735, most probably around 1720. Johnston left his estate burdened with debt and in 1744 his grandson Robert Mcdouall was forced to sell the Mains of Kelton and its parks (fields).

The first real sign of the age of the improvements which transformed the farmed landscape of Galloway can be traced in the arrow straight line of the Carlingwark canal (now the Carlingwark Lane) which runs through Threave estate. The canal was cut through the marshland which separates Carlingwark Loch from the river Dee by Sir Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw in 1765. The canal carried marl, a lime rich clay dug out from the loch, to farms along the Dee and Ken upstream as far as New Galloway 15 miles away. The collapse of the Ayr Bank in 1772 bankrupted Gordon who sold Carlingwark Loch and the surrounding land to Sir William Douglas in 1789. It was William Douglas who planned and built the new town of Castle Douglas with its grid like street pattern and its (unsuccessful) cotton mill.

Although the new town failed as an industrial centre, it thrives to this day as a market and commercial centre for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright – helped by its location at the ancient crossroads of Kelton and Threave.

Alistair Livingston 2 September 2010


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