1902 Encyclopedia > Dumfries (town), Scotland

Dumfries (town)

DUMFRIES, beautifully situated on the left bank of the Nith, about eight miles from the Solway Firth, is the capital of the county just described.

The irregular yet decided progress of the town can be traced through the Middle Ages, and more recently till our own day, when it wears an attractive and flourishing aspect. A serious check was given to its prosperity by a visitation of cholera, which cut off more than 500 of its inhabitants in 1832. Since a copious supply of good water was obtained from a neighbouring loch, and other sanitary improvements were introduced, the salubrity of the burgh has been fairly established, and its size and trade—promoted also by its railway intercourse and the establishment of the tweed manufacture—have greatly increased. Few Scotch pro-vincial towns have gone forward with such a gigantic stride during the last thirty years, and its steps in advance have been especially remarkable during the latter half of that period, as shown chiefly by the bustle of its business streets, the formation of new thoroughfares, and the numerous suburban villas which now environ the old burgh proper.

From time immemorial the town has possessed a great weekly cattle market, which, though reduced since 1848 by the establishment of competing markets, and the substitution of sheep for cattle on many surrounding farms, is still second to none on the north side of the border. The average number of cattle sold on the Sands during five years ending 1872 was nearly 14,000 yearly; in 1876 the number was 18,413, besides 6844 sold at the auction marts. Vast herds are also sent direct south from the railway station. A still larger trade is now done in sheep, the average number offered for sale during five years ending 1872 being 37,000, while 29,980 were sold at market in 1876, and 42,958 by auction. There is also a weekly market for pork, beginning in November and ending about the end of March.

Among the special industries of Dumfries, clog-making and basket-making have long occupied an important place ; its traffic in timber has grown to be immense ; a hundred acres of nursery ground help to beautify the town, and supply material for an extensive trade in seeds, flowers, and other plants ; the conversion of skins into hides and leather gives labour to about 150 hands; while nearly the same number are engaged at iron works. More extensive than any of these is the hosiery manufacture, which, dating a century back, now gives employment to about 480 hands (including warehousemen), the goods produced ranking as the best in Scotland, and next to those of Hawick in extent. Prior to 1847, however, the prosperity of Dumfries de-pended much on its position as the capital of a rich rural district, which it still is ; but soon after that date it began to bulk largely as a manufacturing town in connection with the tweed trade ; and to its development the growth of the burgh in size and opulence is principally due. The principal firm, that of Walter Scott and Sons, usually employs about 1400 workers, with 400 looms and 30,000 spindles. Nearly all the business traffic to and from Dumfries is now carried on by rail, the vessels belonging to the port numbering only two or three, and its revenue— burdened by heavy interest on a sum borrowed to erect a large sea-dyke, which has been of little benefit—is in-sufficient to cover the expenditure.

The origin of two places of worship in connection with the Established Church (St Mary's and Greyfriars') is noticed below; a third, St Michael's, is a stately fabric dating from 1746. Before the lower interior was reseated in 1869, it contained a pew which Burns and his family occupied. The poet's remains rest under a magnificent mausoleum in the surrounding churchyard ; and besides this paramount distinction the cemetery is richer with monumental erections than that of any other provincial town in the United Kingdom. Among the other ecclesiastical buildings are three Free churches, three belong-ing to the United Presbyterians, two to the Congregation-alists, one each to the Wesleyan, the Scottish Episcopal, the Catholic Apostolic, and the Roman Catholic, while two other denominations—the Baptists and Evangelical Union—o are also represented, Dumfries has three newspapers, two of them published twice a week and one weekly. It has long been able to boast of a well-equipped grammar-school—the Academy. The town possesses its full share of benevolent institutions. Its oldest one, Moorhead's Hospital, erected in 1753, gives accommodation to decayed householders. A hospital for the reception of persons suffering from disease or accident has'been in existence since 1778, under the name of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Royal Infirmary, but the building now used as such, an imposing edifice- in the Northern Italian style, was only opened a few years back; 398 patients were treated in 1876, at a total outlay of ¿£2137. Crowning an eminence situated a little southward of the town stands a noble building resembling a Greek cross; this is the Crichton Royal Institution for lunatics, due to the munificence of Dr James Crichton of Friars' Carse, whose bequest of ¿£100,000 was applied in erecting and partly endowing the asylum. Since it was opened, nearly forty years ago, it has been considerably enlarged, and also supplemented (in 1848) by the Southern Counties' Asylum for pauper inmates chiefly; usually the patients number about 500, nearly a third, as middle and upper class patients, being housed in the older portion of the establishment. The old infirmary building is now used as a commercial academy connected with the Marist Brotherhood, and dedicated to St Joseph. In it about 70 youths receive education; be-longing to the establishment there is a novitiate adjoining the Boman Catholic chapel, where 14 members of the order are under training for missionary service at home or abroad. Several of the banking establishments possess a fine appear-ance, but the county buildings in Buccleuch Street (Scotch baronial in design), Greyfriars' Church fronting the head of High Street (Pointed Gothic), and the new infirmary are the most imposing edifices within the burgh. It has a theatre royal, opened in 1792, which was almost entirely reconstructed at a cost of ¿£3000 in 1876, and its interior is now, size considered, as handsome as that of any similar place of entertainment throughout the kingdom. There is no object in the town that can vie with Devorgilla's Bridge as regards archaeological interest. Built of stone about 1280, it had no equal at that period in Scotland, though the popular story which assigns to it thirteen arches is belied by indisputable documents which show that they never numbered more than nine. A second stone bridge was built in 1793-5, at an expense of about ¿£5000; and a small iron foot bridge, which cost nearly £2000, was opened on the closing day of 1875. The associations of Dumfries with Burns, however, and the memorials it possesses of the national bard, draw to it more travellers annually than all its other attractions—scenic, antiquarian, or social.

The town council consists of 25 members, including a provost, 3 bailies, a dean of guild, and a treasurer. Four other royal burghs combine to form a parliamentary con-stituency with Dumfries, namely, Annan, Kirkcudbright, Sanquhar, and Lochmaben—these>, " The Five Carlins " of Burns's ballads, being represented by one member. In 1861 the population within the royalty was 12,347; in 1871 it had increased to 13,704. As a parliamentary burgh Dumfries includes Maxwelltown on the opposite bank of the. Nith, its population as such amounting in 1871 to 18,826.

History.—The precise circumstances of the origin of Dumfries are but imperfectly known; but the prevailing opinion is that a fortlet built by the Selgovae Britons formed the nucleus of the town, an hypothesis that is supported by its name, which, accord-ing to Chalmers, is resolvable into two Gaelic terms signifying a castle among the brushwood. The oldest existing charter is one granted by Robert II., dated 1395. Made a royal burgh by William the Lion, Dumfries thereby acquired important privileges ; and another stimulus to its prosperity was supplied when Devor-gilla, daughter of Alan, lord of Galloway, connected that province with the town by building a stone bridge over the Nith. It was the son of that munificent lady, John Baliol, whom Edward I. of England selected as heir to the Scottish throne from the numerous competitors for it who placed their claims at his disposal. During the troubles that ensued, Nithsdale and Galloway supported Baliol, and or. his withdrawal from public life they for the most part favoured the pretensions of his nephew John, the Red Coniyn, as opposed to those of Robert Bruce, who drew considerable support from his patrimonial estates of Annandale.

Dumfries figured much in the wars of the period. Whilst the great border castle of Carlaverock was being besieged by an army under the command of King Edward in 1300, the town was visited by him personally, and, as we learn from the Wardrobe Accounts, he lodged with a body of Franciscan friars in a house built for them by Devorgilla, and partly maintained by dues levied at tho bridge which owed its existence to her liberality. Six years after-wards, when Edward had smitten down all opposition to his ambitious designs, the monastery which he had visited became the scene of a deed which led to the overthrow of them all. On the 10th of February 1306 Bruce and Comyn were brought together in the streets of the ancient burgh. As they entered the monastery in company, Bruce charged his rival with treachery ; the latter denied the accusation, and the next moment was stabbed to the heart, Kirkpatrick rushing in to "male siccar " or complete the deed of slaughter which the lord of Annandale had begun. The blow by which the Red Comyn perished in the house erected by his pious grandmother broke all amicable intercourse between the homicidal baron and the English king; and thenceforward Bruce became thoroughly committed to the national cause, of which he had been previously but a questionable friend. A modern eccle-siastical edifice, St Mary's Church, occupies a site mournfully associated with the war of independence,—Sir Christopher Seton, husband of Bruce's sister Christiana, having been there executed by order of Edward I. After peace was restored, the sorrowing widow built upon the spot a little chapel, which her royal brother endowed with a hundred shillings sterling per annum in order that masses for the soul of the deceased should be said in it "for ever." Another church, Greyfriars', stands on the site of the old castle of Dumfries, which exchanged owners half a dozen times at least during the same troublous period,—its sufferings by siege or storm indicating but too truly the sad experiences of the town itself; and for nearly 250 years afterwards, the proximity of the burgh to the western border exposed it to wasting raids from the English side, carried on sometimes by freebooting parties, and net seldom also by more formidable hosts with higher objects in view than the burning of the place or the plunder of its inhabitants,— these hostile visits, with their retaliatory forays southward, terminating at last in 1551. The long close connection of Dumfries with the heroic yet turbulent Douglases proved on the whole more hurtful to it than advantageous. Bound up for several generations quite as intimately with the Maxwells of Carlaverock and Ter-regles, the town experienced alternate '' weal and woe " from the protracted feuds of that family with the Annandale Jolmstones.

When the Union with England was under debate, the provost of Dumfries, as its representative in the Scottish Parliament, voted against the measure ; and the Articles of Union were publicly btirned (Nov. 20, 1706) by a party of Cameronians at the market cross, with the enthusiastic approval of the populace. About nine years afterwards the inhabitants were threatened with a hostile visit from Viscount ICenmure, but they manifested such a bold front that the Jacobite chief acted on Falstafl's maxim, "Discre-tion is the better part of valour." Less vigilant during the next rebellion, they allowed the town to be peacefully occupied by the young Pretender, who, converting No. 6 of the tenement now used as the Commercial Hotel into a little palace, held high state there for three days towards the close of December 1745. In order at once to recruit his own exchequer and punish the burgh for its loyalty to the house of Hanover, the prince demanded a tribute of £2000 in money ; also 1000 pairs of shoes for his kilted followers, whose foot-gear had nearly vauished during their forlorn journey from the south; and, as if he had been de facto king, he levied the excise and appropriated all the moneys possessed by the local I Government officials. Influenced by a false alarm, " Bonnie Charlie " made a hurried departure, having first received £1100 of a levy, and carrying with him hostages for the rest. Some years afterwards the burgh was reimbursed by the state for the money contribution, the whole of which had been paid, and for the shoes actually delivered, 225 pairs, the compensation amounting to £2848.
In 1264 Alexander III. planned an expedition to the Isle of Man at Dumfries. The town was visited at subsequent periods by James IV., James V., by the beautiful daughter of the latter monarch, Queen Mary, and by Mary's son, the " British Solomon." On the arrival of James VI., 3d August 1617, he was sumptuously oentertained by the magistrates in a house that was known as "The Painted Hall ;" afterwards he presented the incorporated trades, seven in number, with a tiny "war-engine," the celebrated Silver Gun, the competition for which encouraged the practice of musketry among the craftsmen, and constituted a great septennial festival, the characteristics of which are finely mirrored in a well-known poem by John Mayne, though the wapinschaw itself has not been held since 1831. (W. M'D.)

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Dumfries (county), Scotland

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