1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wigtownshire

WIGTOWNSHIRE (sometimes called West Galloway), a south-western county of Scotland, bounded N. by Ayrshire, E. by Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtown Bay, S. by the Irish Sea and W. and N. by the North Channel. Including the small island of St Helena, at the head of Luce Bay, it covers an area of 311,609 acres, or 487 sq. m. On the eastern boundary the estuary of the Cree expands into Wigtown Bay, between which and Luce Bay, farther west, extends the promontory of the Machers, terminating in Burrow Head. By the indentation of Luce Bay on the south and Loch Ryan on the north the hammer headed peninsula of the Rinns is formed, of which the Mull of Galloway, the most southerly point of Scotland, is the southern, and Milleur Point the northern extremity. The more or less rugged coast has many small inlets, few of which, owing to hidden rocks, afford secure landing-places. Excepting Loch Ryan, a fine natural harbour of which Stranraer is the port, the harbours are not available for vessels of heavy burden, on account either of the great distance to which the sea retires, or of their exposure to frequent fierce gales. Much of the county has a wild, bleak appearance, the higher land being covered with heath and whins, while in the lower districts there are long stretches of bog and moss, and in the north centre, a few miles west of Newton Stewart, is a tract known as the Moors. Only towards the Ayrshire border do the hills reach a considerable altitude, Benbrake and Craigairie Fell being each 1000 ft. in height. The chief rivers are the Cree, forming the boundary with Kirkcudbrightshire and flowing past Newton Stewart and Carty into Wigtown Bay, the Bladenoch, issuing from Loch Maberry and falling into Wigtown Bay at Wigtown after a course of 22 m., its principal affluents, all on the right, being Black Burn, the Tarff and the Malzie, and the Luce, formed by the junction at New Luce of Main Water and Cross Water of Luce, and emptying itself into Luce Bay. Most of the numerous lochs are small, several being situated in private parks, as at the earl of Stair's estate of Castle Kennedy. Among the larger lakes are Loch Maberry and Loch Dornal, both partly in Ayrshire, and Loch Ochiltree in the north of the shire, Loch Connell in the west, Loch Ronald in the centre and the group of Castle Loch and four others in the parish of Mochrum, towards the south, and Loch Dowalton, at the junction of Kirkinner, Sorbie and Glasserton parishes.

Geology.—A line drawn in a north-easterly direction from the coast about 3 m. below Portpatrick, passing slightly north of the head of Luce Bay by Newton Stewart to the Cairnsmore of Fleet, divides the county so that practically all the rocks on the northern side are of Ordovician age, while those on the south are Silurian. This line coincides with the general direction of the strike of the beds throughout the county. Most of the Ordovician rocks are black shales, in which graptolites may be found, along with greywackes and grits; they include the Glenkill and Hartfell groups of the Moffat district. These rocks may be seen exposed on the coast south of Portpatrick and in the valley of the Cree. The slate quarries of Cairn Ryan are of Llandeilo age. Nearly the whole of the Silurian region is occupied by dark grits, grey wackes and shales of Llandovery age, though here and there a small exposure of the underlying black Moffat shales appears on the denuded crest of one of the innumerable folds into which all these rocks have been thrown. A series of shales, flags and grey wackes of Wenlock age is found on the shore between Burrow Head and Whithorn. On the west side of Loch Ryan is a narrow belt of Permian breccia and thin sandstones about 9 m. long and 1 m. wide, this rests uncomfortably upon a similar belt of Carboniferous sandstones, about 8 m. long and 1/4 m. in width, which lies on the west side of the Permian. A small patch of granite stands out on the coast at Laggantulloch Head, north of the Mull of Galloway. There are also a few patches and dikes of diorite and quartz felsite. Glacial moraines and drumlins are found over much of the older formations, and are well seen between Glenluce and Newton Stewart and south of Wigtown. The boulder-clay is used for brick-making near Stranraer. On the coasts of Luce Bay and Loch Ryan raised beaches are found at levels of 25 ft. and 50 ft. above the sea, and tracts of blown sand lie above the shore. There are several peat covered areas in the county.

Climate and Agriculture.—The mean annual rainfall amounts to 36.3 in., varying from 49.19 in. at Kirkcowan, a few miles west of Newton Stewart, to 26.81 in. at the Mull of Galloway. The average temperature for the year is 48.3° F., for January 40° F. and for July 58.5° F. In spite of its humidity the climate is not unfavourable for the ripening of crops, and frosts as a rule are not of long duration. Much of the shire consists of stony moors, rendering the work of reclamation difficult and in some parts impossible. The gravelly soil along the coasts requires heavy manuring to make it fruitful, and in the higher arable quarters a rocky soil prevails, better adapted for grass and green crops than for grain. A large extent of the surface is black top reclaimed from the moors, and in some districts loam and clay are found. By dint of energy, however, and constant resort to scientific agriculture, the farmers have placed half of the shire under cultivation, and the standard of farming is as high as that of any county in Scotland. Oats is the leading crop, barley and wheat occupying only a small area. Turnips and swedes constitute the great bulk of the green crops, potatoes coming next. Large tracts are under clover and rotation grasses and in permanent pasture, in consequence of the increasing attention paid to dairy-farming, which is carried on in combination and on scientific principles. Several creameries have been established in the dairy country, cheese being a leading product. Though the size of the herds is surpassed in several other Scottish counties, the number of milch cattle is only exceeded in three (Ayr, Aberdeen and Lanark). Ayrshire is the favourite breed for dairy purposes, and black polled Galloways are found in the eastern districts. A cross of the two breeds is also maintained. The sheep are principally black-faced on the hill farms, and in other parts Leicester and other long-woolled breeds. The flocks are usually heavy, and great numbers of pigs are kept. The shire has acquired some reputation for its horses, chiefly Clydesdale. The holdings are fairly large, the average being considerably over 100 acres, one third of them running from 100 acres to 300. Most of the park land is finely wooded, and there are a few nurseries, market gardens and orchards.

Other Industries.—There are small manufactures in several of the towns, as woollens at Kirkcowan; tweeds, leather and agricultural implements at Newton Stewart; dairy appliances, beer, flour and bricks at Stranraer, and whisky at Bladenoch. Sandstone and slates are quarried, and peat is cut in various places. Fisheries, on a minor scale, are conducted chiefly from Stranraer, certain villages on Loch Ryan and Luce Bay, and Wigtown, and the Cree, Bladenoch and Luce yield salmon. Shipping is mainly carried on from Stranraer, but also from Port William, Portpatrick, Wigtown and Garliestown.

The Glasgow & South-Western railway runs to Stranraer via Girvan, and the Portpatrick and Wigtownshire joint railway from Newton Stewart to Portpatrick via Stranraer, with a branch line at Newton Stewart to Wigtown and Whithorn. There are coach services from Stranraer to Ballantrae on the Ayrshire coast and to Drumore, 4 m. N. of the Mull, and regular communication by mail steamer between Stranraer and Larne in Co. Antrim, Ireland.

Population and Administration.—In 1891 the population amounted to 36,062; in 1901 to 32,685 or 67 persons to the sq. m ., the decrease for the decade being the third highest in Scotland. In 1901 there were 88 persons speaking Gaelic and English. The principal towns are Stranraer (pop. 6036); Newton Stewart (2598), which, however, standing on both banks of the Cree, extends into Kirkcudbrightshire; Wigtown (1329) and Whithorn (1188). Formerly Wigtown, Stranraer and Whithorn formed, with New Galloway, in Kirkcudbrightshire, a group of burghs returning one member, but in 1885 the first three were merged in the county, which returns one member to parliament. Wigtown, the county town, Stranraer and Whithorn are royal burghs. The shire forms part of the sheriffdom of Dumfries and Galloway, and a sheriff-substitute sits at Wigtown and Stranraer. The administrative county is divided into the Lower district, comprising the shire east of the parishes of New Luce and Old Luce, and the Upper district, comprising the shire west of and including these parishes. The county is under school-board jurisdiction, and there are high schools in Newton Stewart and Stranraer. The board-schools in Whithorn and Wigtown have secondary departments, and several of the schools in the shire earn grants for higher education. The county council expends the “residue” grant in providing bursaries for science pupils, and in subsidizing agricultural classes at Kilmarnock and Edinburgh University, and the cookery classes and science department of the high schools.

History and Antiquities.—Galloway, or the country west of the Nith, belonged to a people whom Ptolemy called Novantae and Agricola subdued in A.D. 79. They were Atecott Picts, and are conjectured to' have replaced a small, dark-haired aboriginal race, akin probably to the Basques of the Iberian peninsula. They held this south-western corner of Scotland for centuries, protecting themselves from the northern and southern Picts by a rampart, called the Deil’s Dyke, which has been traced in a north-easterly direction from Beoch on the eastern side of Loch Ryan to a spot on the Nith near the present Thornhill, a distance of 50 m. Evidences of the Pictish occupation are prevalent in the form of hill forts, cairns, standing stones, hut circles and crannogs or lake dwellings (several of which were exposed when Dowalton Loch near Sorbie and Barhapple Loch near Glenluce were drained), besides canoes and flint, stone and bronze implements. The Romans possessed a small camp at Rispain near Whithorn and a station at Rerigonium, which has been identified with Innermessan on the eastern shore of Loch Ryan; but so few remains exist that it has been concluded they effected no permanent settlement in West Galloway. Ninian, the first Christian missionary to Scotland, landed at Isle of Whithorn in 396 to convert the natives. His efforts were temporarily successful, but soon after his death (432) the people relapsed into paganism, excepting a faithful remnant who continued to carry on Christian work. A monastery was built at Whithorn, and, though the bishopric founded in the 8th century was shortly afterwards removed, it was established again in the 12th, when the priory erected by Fergus, “king” of Galloway, became the cathedral church of the see of Galloway and so remained till the Reformation. In the 6th century the people accepted the suzerainty of the Northumbrian kings who allowed them in return autonomy under their own Pictish chiefs. On the decay of the Saxon power more than two hundred years later this over lordship was abandoned, and the Atecotts formed an alliance with the Northmen then ravaging the Scottish coasts. Because of this relationship the other Picts styled the Atecotts, by way of reproach, Gallgaidhel, or stranger Gaels, whence is derived Galloway, the name of their territory. With the aid of the Norsemen and the men of Galloway Kenneth Macalpine defeated the northern Picts at Forteviot and was crowned king of Scotland at Scone in 844. Henceforward the general history of Wigtownshire is scarcely distinguishable from that of Kirkcudbrightshire. A few particular points, however, must be noted. Malcolm MacHeth, who had married a sister of Somerled, lord of the Isles, headed about 1150 a Celtic revolt against the intrusion of Anglo-Norman lords, but was routed at Causewayend near the estuary of the Cree. In 1190 Roland, lord of Galloway, built for Cistercians from Melrose the fine abbey of Glenluce, of which the only remains are the foundations of the nave, the gable of the south transept, the cloisters, quadrangle and the vaulted chapter-house. In the disordered state of the realm during David II.’s reign east Galloway had been surrendered to Edward III. (1333), but Wigtownshire, which had been constituted a shire in the previous century and afterwards called the Shire to distinguish it from the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, remained Scottish territory. In 1342 Sir Malcolm Fleming, earl of Wigtown, was appointed sheriff with power to hold the county separate from the other half of Galloway, but falling into straitened circumstances he sold his earldom and estates in 1372 to Archibald the Grim, 3rd earl of Douglas, thus once more placing all Galloway under one lord. Under Douglas’s lordship the laws of Galloway, which had obtained from Pictish times and included, among other features, trial by battle (unless an accused person chose expressly to forgo the native custom and ask for a Jury), were modified, and in 1426 abolished, the province then coming under the general law. Soon after the fall of the Douglases (1455) the Kennedy family, long established in the Ayrshire district of Carrick, obtained a preponderating influence in Wigtownshire, and in 1509 David Kennedy was created earl of Cassillis. Gilbert, the 4th earl, so powerful that he was called the “king of Carrick,” held the shire for Mary, queen of Scots, when she broke with the Lords of the Congregation, but could do little for her cause. He profited by the Reformation himself, however, to acquire by fraud and murder the estate of Glenluce Abbey (about 1570). In 1603 James VI. instituted a bishop in the see of Galloway—which had not been filled for twenty years—and otherwise strove to impose episcopacy upon the people, but the inhabitants stood firm for the Covenant. The acts against Nonconformity were stringently enforced and almost every incumbent in Galloway was deprived of his living. Field-preaching was a capital crime and attendance at conventicles treason. A reign of terror supervened, and numbers of persons emigrated to Ulster in order to escape persecution. John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, having replaced Sir Andrew Agnew, who had refused the Test, as sheriff (1682), goaded the people into rebellion, the drowning of Margaret MacLachlan and Margaret Wilson within flood mark in Wigtown Bay (1685) being an instance of his ruthless methods. With the Revolution of 16S8 Presbyterianism was restored, and John Gordon, recently consecrated bishop of Galloway, retired to France. The Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745 excited only languid interest, but in 1747 heritable jurisdictions were abolished and Sir Andrew Agnew ceased to be hereditary sheriff, though he was the only official able to prove continuous tenure of the post since it was granted to his family in 1451. The first sheriff appointed under the new system was Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, father of James Boswell, the biographer of Dr Johnson. In 1760 an engagement took place in Luce Bay, when the young French seaman, François Thurot, with three warships, attempting a diversion in Jacobite interests, was defeated and killed with the loss of three hundred men and his vessels.

Among ancient castles in Wigtownshire may be mentioned the cliff towers, possibly of Norse origin, of Carghidown and Castie Feather near Burrow Head, the ruins of Baldoon, south of Wigtown, associated with events which suggested to Sir Walter Scott the romance of The Bride of Lammermoor, Corsewall near the northern extremity of the Rinns; the Norse stronghold of Cruggleton, south of Garliestown, which belonged in the 13th century to de Quincy, earl of Winchester, who had married a daughter of Alan, “king” of Galloway, and to Alexander Comyn, 2nd earl of Buchan (d. 1289), his son-in-law; Dunskey, south of Portpatrick, built in the 16th century, occupying the site of an older fortress; the fragments of Long Castle at Dowalton Loch, the ancient seat of the MacDonells; Myrton, the seat of the MacCullochs, in Mochrum parish; and the ruined tower of Sorbie, the ancient keep of the Hannays.

See Sir Herbert Maxwell, History of Dumfries and Galloway (Edinburgh, 1896); Sir Andrew Agnew, The Agnews of Lochnaw (Edinburgh, 1893); The Galloway Herd-Book (Dumfries, 1880); Proceedings of the Soc. of Ant. of Scotland, passim; Gordon Fraser, Wigtown and Whithorn (Wigtown, 1877).