Taken from the Kirkcudbright Burgh Records of the sixteenth century, this article appeared in the Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society in 1908.

Kirkcudbright in the Sixteenth Century. By Mr W. Dickie.

The Common Lands — Alienation of Burgh Property — Extent of the Town.

In perusing the Town Council records of Kirkcudbright many cases come under our notice during the latter half of the sixteenth century in which portions of common lands lying within and around the town were parted with for annual considerations more or less onerous. Thomas Anderson, the Town Clerk, figures in a number of these transactions; one of the deeds conveying to him "all and haill thair common landis by and within the said burgh, betwix the Hie Street qlk passis fra the Marcat Croce of the samen to the port callit the Mekill Yet, upon the south pairt," excepting those portions which have already been conveyed to James Lidderdale of St. Mary's Isle and others. For this he is only to pay annually sixpence of "usual money." Andro Pauling, burgess, gets a conveyance of a "croft and pec. of land" in the south end of the burgh, and lying east of "the common streit qlk. passes fre the said burgh to Sanct Marie Isle," for five merks and an annual feu duty of twelve pennies. In 1581 the Council disponed to "thair nychtbour, Johnne Hendirsoun," a waste piece of ground betwixt the "Mlynburnes," on the east side of the common street, for 2s of ground annual, for the erection of a house; and he is taken bound to build in line with the mill wall. In February, 1584, a number of plots lying north and west of the "Moit," or Moat, are let in feu at 3s 4d each. In one case the length is specified at sixty feet. The Moat Well is also mentioned in the description of boundaries. On 11th February, 1579, a sale is made to Robert Hall, burgess, of certain "common land beneth the toun and at the buttis," as it shall be "proppit and markit" by certain persons appointed and sworn for the purpose. The price is to be fortv merks. Of that sum, the Council assigns £20 to John Foster, a former Treasurer, in payment of a debt due to him; and ten merks to James Cant, "wardane” (who was also the Kirkmaster), in settlement of his claim, probably for arrear of salary. These payments absorb the whole sum. It would seem, therefore, that it was the pinch of necessity which compelled the community to part with so many slices of their birth right. An incidental reference in a court case to a private person, Hercules Hal, uplifting 30s yearly "maills of the Castledykes (16th Dec, 1579), shews that before the year 1572 the burgh had parted with this portion of their patrimony, of which they received a royal gift in 1509.

The Boreland farms were then, as now, one of the most important possessions of the town. They, as well as common lands lying around the burgh, were divided into "skairs," or plots of equal size, regarding which the original rule would seem to have been that they should be let annually to the burgesses; but with that persistent tendency to expansion that seems inherent in "the rights of property” those who were at first annual tenants subsequently secured long leases, and with the lapse of time acquired a prescriptive interest in their holding that put them almost on the footing of proprietors. Of the inconvenience arising from this state of matters, and the way in which it operated to the prejudice of other burgesses, we have evidence in the following elaborate minute of date May, 1580:—

"The qlk day the Provost, Bailzeis, Counsall, and communitie of the said burgh, being conveint in the tolbuith of the same, in ane assensit court, understanding that the common landis beneth the said burgh wir gevin be thame in feu to the burgesses of the said burgh quha wir rentallaris of the same befoir, and als thair landis callit the Borelands wir set in lang takis to the said personis, albeit divers and sundrie of thame to quhome the samen wes gevin were depaupirit [became paupers] and becum unworthie to keip skat and stent [to bear the public burdens, and enjoy the privileges of burgess-ship] with the remanent nytbouris of the said burgh, and that divers young men and others burgesses of the said burgh, quha were abill to sustene the chairges of the toun, wir be dispositioun of the saidis landis in manner foirsaid debaureit perpetuallie fra the saidis landis, and culd ressave na commodtie thairof, quhairthrow thay wir [compelled ?] pairtlie to leif the said toun, to the greit discommiditie thairof, in suffering sik men as were nocht abill to underly and fulfill the charges to bruik the proffeit of the common landis, and sik men as wir abill thairfoir to want the said proffeit, and thairby to depart the said burgh, qlk feuing of the saidis landis thay culd not retreit nor annul, sa that samekill [so much] thairof as wes gevin to thame that wir nocht worthie thairof mycht be of new disponit to thame that wes abill and meit thairfoir; bot behovit to mak sum uthir remeid thairanent, and sa willing to recompens thame quha wantit with sum uthir landis nocht feuit nor set in lang takis, and knawing that na landis perteining the said burgh wir instantilie sa meit to be disponit to thame as the common landis of the said burgh callit the Mylnflat, qlk first behovit to be declarit common, and in the tounis hands, and that because it wes afoir set in tak to sum burgesses of the said burgh for certane yeiris, qlk will be soneexpyrit, and cannot but [without] thair consentis be declarit common nor gevin in feu to na uthirs during the tak thairof : Thairfoir, for eschewing of the inconvenientis foirsaidis, thay altogidder in ane voce, without ony discrepance, hes declarit, and be this present act instantlie declaris that the saidis landis of Mylnflat and the pertinentis as presentlie, notwithstanding the saidis takis thairof, commoun and in the tounis handis, and lesum to the toun to dispone the samen to quhatsumevir burgess within the said burgh thay pleis, but ony observatioun of the takis thairof set to ony of thame of befoir."

The following account of the riding of the marches, of date 4th May, 1597, gives a more detailed account of the burgh's landed possessions, viz. : — "The qlk day Williame Fullartoun, ane of the bailyeis of the said burgh, accompaneit with ane guid pairt of the Counsall and communitie of the said burgh, past and perambulat the landis within thair teritoreis: And first to thair landis lyane benethe the said burgh, on the southe and west sydis thairof, merchand to the land of Sanct Marie Ile on the southe, the landis of Meikill Kirkland on the eist, and the sey on the west partis, qlk is devydit in fyftie skairis and set in few ferme to the burgesses of the said burgh for payment yeirlie of ijs [2s] money for ilk skair: Secundlie, to thair landis callit the Mylnflat, lyand at the north pairt of the said burgh, merchand with the landis of Lochfergus on the northe and eist partis, and the sey on the west partis, qlkis lands [extend to] xxv skairs, and ar set in few ferme to the inhabitantis of the said burgh for the yeirlie pevment of ijs. of few maill for ilk skair thairof: And thirdlie, to thair landis of Boirlandis, merchand with the landis of Lochfergus, Lytill Stokartoun, and Culdoche, on the southe, eist, west, and northe partis, qlk also are devydit in fyftie skairis amangis the inhabitantis of the said burgh, and were set in takis to thame for the space of xix yeiris, quairof thair is bot ane yeir or thairby to rynn, for the yeirlie peyment of xijs money of maill for ilk skair of the same : And fand that nathind was alterit or removit of the boundis and merchis of the saidis landis, boundit of auld tharto, but remaint still, as of befoir, sufficientlie merchit and proppit."

The manner in which the common good of the burgh was intromitted with aroused the suspicions of the Convention of Royal Burghs that it was not being "set to the best avail," as the expression then was; and they called for a strict accounting from the Kirkcudbright commissioner. Accordingly a statement of the burgh's sources of revenue, together with the manner in which these were set, was submitted to the Convention of 1612. So far as regards lands the list is not a correct one, or the process of alienation had gone on rapidly, for it is stated that there are no common lands pertaining to the burgh except the Borelands. These, it is further stated, are divided into a hundred skairs, and let at twelve shillings per skair; and it is explained that one half is under crop and the other half in pasture, "ay four yeirs about.”

The Council in those days sometimes adopted rough and ready methods to obtain the money necessary for public purposes. We have an example of this in connection with the plague or pest, which visited the town in 1585. On the 9th of March of that year (1586 according to our present reckoning) it was ordered for “paying of the clenergie their feis awand thame be the toun” – “clenergies” – being “persons employed to use means for the recovery of those afflicted with the plague” – every burgess, tacksman, and possessor of the skairs of land of the Borelands, Milnflat, and “land benethe the toun” were to pay two years’ “maill” or rent of the said lands in advance. Little time was allowed them to make arrangements to meet this call, for the money was to be paid over to the collector “betwixt and the morne at evin.” In cases where payment is not made, the skairs are to be declared “vacand and in the tounis hands.”

The description of boundaries in the case of property transactions are interesting as helping us to a notion of the extend and form of the town at that period. “Common gaits,” “common streits,” or “hie streits” as they were synonymously called, ran from the Market Cross to the Moat, near the harbour; from the Cross to the Meikle Yett, of gate of the town, east of the Selkirk Arms Hotel; from the town to St. Mary’s Isle, by way of the Meikle Yett; another from the Cross to the Isle, and a “common vennel” branching off in the direction of the Isle, some way east of the Market Cross. The name of the Moat still services, although its use is not apparent. It is probable that it had served a defensive purpose in connection with the harbour. This view is strengthened by the circumstance that the Convention of Burghs made a grant to the town in aid of repair of the Moat and Haven.

Thirled to the Laird’s Mill: Monopolies

On 15th November, 1580, we find this entry: “The Bailzies, Counsall, and communitie of the said burgh, at Desyre of the Rycht Honbll. Thomas McClellane of Bombie [who was Provost in 1576; builder of the castle, father of the first Lord Kirkcudbright], oblisses them to bring their cornis, malt, and uthir stuffe to the miln callit the New Miln, and pay their multuris usit and wont, sa that the said miln be sufficient in wattir, workmen, and all uther necessaries, and [accessable?] to all the town requiring thame.” And if the mill shall be found to answer these conditions – the matter being tried by “half ane disone of the honest men of the said burgh" — they ordain that all malt and other stuff passing from the town to other mills "be eschaittit [i.e., forfeited], and lesum [i.e., lawful] to ony haiffand interest and apprehendane the same, to tak it; in doing of the qlk they sail incur na skaith."

This appears to be an instance of the Council using its monopoly-creating power to the personal advantage of one of its most influential members. We are less surprised to find a prohibition against competing with the ferryboat, for that belonged to the Council, and was a part of its revenues which was annually let. This is the Act of Council on that subject, dated 1st Dec, 1591: "It is ordaint that na boit be permitit to cary men or horss over the water bot the ferry boit allanerlie [i.e., only]."

Here is another prohibitive enactment, of date 12th January, 1587-8: "The Bailleis and Counsall hes statute and ordaint that nane on landwart, in ony tyme cuming, brew ony, except frie stallangeris, under the pane of v. lib. [i.e, £5] ilk fait." The "free stallangers" were persons other than freemen of the burgh, who were allowed for a small annual consideration to open stalls or booths for the sale of merchandise on market days.

The Customs of Minnigaff.

At Michaelmas, 1576, the whole small customs of the burgh "by [i.e., except] Monygeif," were let for a year to Robert McCulloch, at a rent of twenty merks; and about the same time, it appears, Thomas Hall was "customar of Monygeif," holding the customs on lease at the yearly rent of "fyve punds usuall money." In 1579 the customs of Minnigaff were set to Johnne Foster for seven merks; and we find annual entries of their let, at varying sums. Minnigaff was at that time a place of more relative importance than it is now; and it was one of two burghs of barony which were in a manner feudatory to the royal burgh of Kirkcudbright; the other being Preston, now also decayed to the shadow of its former self. Minnigaff was a thorn in the flesh to the neighbouring town of Wigtown, which not only felt its dignity as a royal burgh hurt by the weekly market and annual fair which had been set up and prospered in this up-start village, but which found its customs revenue impaired from the same cause. What was the nature of the customs levied by the superior burgh does not appear; but they could hardly have been of the nature of market dues, for Kirkcudbright joined with Wigtown in at least one of the complaints to the Convention of Burghs, which were of almost annual occurrence, against the infringement of the charter rights of royal burghs occasioned by the markets held at Minnigaff.

The Town Churches and the Tolbooth.

There were at this time two ecclesiastical buildings in the town itself — the church of the Greyfriars, attached to which had also been a convent, where the female school now stands; and St Andrew's Church, or the New Kirk, where the little Roman Catholic chapel and school now stand, behind the Court-house; and the church of St Cuthbert would be standing beside the burial ground still in use, the "Hie Kirkyaird," as it was then called. The churches have a curious and somewhat perplexing history in the years immediately following the Reformation. The magistrates had received from Queen Mary, in 1564, a grant of the Friars' Kirk, to be used as the parish church, and it continued to be so used until the present parish church was built; but in the year 1596 Thomas McClellan, of Bombie, the Provost, had received from King James a personal gift of the church and monastery, and proceeded to build the present Castle on a portion of the ground. He was also patron of the church of St Andrew's, and seems to have exercised a proprietary right in the building. In March, 1570, he disposed of both churches to the town, the price being two hundred merks and a hundred bolls of lime (the latter, it is understood, to assist in building the castle). Greyfriars' continued, as before, to be used as the parish church; but St Andrew's was turned to a baser purpose, being made to do duty in place of the recently demolished tolbooth. Ten years later we come upon an entry in the Council books which puts a different complexion on the transaction. It bears that Provost McClellan (who is here termed "the Richt Honnll.") had excambed the two churches with the town for a tenement called the Pesthous; but the transaction had never been completed by recording and the giving of seasin. To remedy this the town, of new, dispones the said tenement to the Provost, subject to an annual burden of £12, the property "to be halden of their sovrane lord in free burgage;" and he, on the other part, ratifies the conveyance to the town of the two churches, which are to be held of him in blanche, "for payment of ane rois [rose] at midsummer, gif it beis requirit." The former bargain may have fallen through from failure to implement its terms; or this second conveyance may be merely a colourable method of completing the title.

The neighbourhood of the tolbooth and quondam church had been in a very insanitary condition. The burgesses, we learn from a minute of February, 1579, were hardly able to get to it dry-shod, because of the mire and dubs; and Thomas Anderson, the Town Clerk, had undertaken to open up "the auld conduttis [passages or conduits] of the Watergait," and to mend "the passage and way to the said tolbuith;" in recompense for which services he received a conveyance of a rood of the "waist landis callit Poldryte and new kirkyaird," north of "the Hie Passage [street] qlk passis fra the Mercat Croce to the port callit the Mekill Yet," subject to an annual rent of £12. A proper tolbooth was erected soon afterwards, beside the market cross, and it is still standing. The Convention of Burghs, in 1591, voted a sum of £20 to aid in its erection, and exempted the burgh from sending representatives to its sittings for the space of three years, the outlay thus saved being, presumably, applied to the same purpose.

Burials in Church.

Burial within the walls of the church had up till Reformation times been a common practice, and it was one that was clung to with something like superstitious tenacity. Here is a minute, of date 16th May, 1580, forbidding its longer continuance:

"The qlk day the Provost, Bailzeis, Counsall, and communitie of the said burgh, understanding perfytelie that the auld kirkyaird appointit be thame for buriall of the personis deceissand within the said toun and parochin is sufficientlie biggit and dykit, and sa ordainit yeirlie to be uphauldin for the same effect: Quhairthrow bestiall is debarrit fra passing thairin, and sa is decent and honest for the said buriall, and that be the lawes and actis of the realme the kirk aucht to be haldin void of ony buriall, and the samen to be maid in the kirkyaird appointit thairto as said is: Thairfoir statutis and ordains that na person nor personis be bureit or eirdit [earthed ?] in the paroche kirk of the said burgh, sumtyme callit the Freiris Kirk thairof; and gif ony contravenis the samen, ordains the Kirk-master to poynd the executors of the defunct persone bureit thairin or the [effects ?] of the defunct in the said kirk for the soume of x lib (£10) money; and he to keip the samen and be anserabill thairfor to the toun."

House Building.

Although timber was commonly employed in the construction even of the better class of houses, building material of a more durable kind was also in use. We find occasional mention of payments to masons. One of that craft received 25 merks for building a house. Another was feed (in April, 1580), at the rate of 20s yearly, to uphold the tolbooth in slates. And a still earlier tolbooth had been a stone building, for on 22d January, 1577, the Council granted an acknowledgment to James Lidderdale of £110 paid to them for a piece of land and "for the stanis and tymer of the auld tolbuith."

The Rev. John Welsh.

In a minute of date 2d April, 1600, we have incidental mention of the Rev. Mr Welsh, son-in-law of Knox, and for some time minister of Kirkcudbright, in the capacity of defender in a civil action before the magistrates. "The saidis Bailleis decernis Mr Johnne Welshe, minister, pnt. [present] in jugement, be his awin grant, to pay to Williame Fullartoun, burgess thairof, XX lib. money, for the Witsonnday and Mairtimas maill of his houss he occupyit in anno 1599 yeir, with ijs. expenses."

The Minister's Stipend: A Notable Minister.

In 1602 the Council stipulated to pay to a successor of Mr Welsh, the Rev. Robert Glendinning, an annual stipend of a hundred pounds. This, no doubt, would be supplemented by the heritors of the landward part of the parish. At least we know this was the case in 1692, when the burgh's share of the stipend had increased to £183.

This same Robert Glendinning was a man who took a decided stand in troublous times. After he had been settled in Kirkcudbright for more than thirty years he refused to obey an order of the Bishop of Galloway, and the wrathful prelate issued a warrant for his incarceration. His son was at this time one of the bailies, and the bench withheld the civil sanction to the ecclesiastical decree. This brought down the bishop's wrath on the magistrates of the town, and led to their own imprisonment, apparently with the sanction and by the sentence of the Commissary of Kirkcudbright, in Wigtown Jail; a proceeding which led the Estates in 1645 to issue a commission for the trial of the "insolent persons” who had thus treated the magistracy. The son, William Glendinning, rose from the position of Bailie to that of Provost and M.P., and he took a prominent part in the stirring politics of the time, being one of the Scotch Commissioners who were sent to London to endeavour to prevent the execution of Charles I.

The Restoration.

One of the latest entries in the volume now under notice is an elaborate and solemn oath, signed by John Inglis, Provost; John Moir, Bailie; and several other councillors, deacons, and officials, pledging them to remain faithful to the true Protestant religion, as set forth in the Confession of Faith, and to render obedience and undivided allegiance " to my most gracious sovrane, Charles the Second," then lately called from exile to the throne. Read in the light of historical events, the juxtaposition now seems strangely incongruous.

Incorporation of the Trades.

The minute of 4th October, 1598, contains the Act of Council conferring corporate rights on the Trades : "The saidis Provost, Bailleis, and Counsall, in respect of the supplicatioun gevin befoir thame be the craftismen qlkis ar burgesses of this burgh, anent the hurt susteint be thame be the resorting of unfreman craftismenn in this toun: hes thairfoir grantit to thame deaconis of thair cheissing, to put order thairanent, according to the use of uthir burrowis; and the saidis deaconis to be anshirabill for ilk fault to the toun commitit be thair craftismen." This privilege would appear, however, to have fallen into disuse; for a subsequent Act of the Town Council, passed in 1681 (and which is quoted in the appendix to the "History of Galloway," with confirmation by the Lords of Council and Session), conferred on the trades the right of electing deacons, as for the first time; the reason alleged on this occasion being that insufficient work was put out by many craftsmen and better supervision was necessary.

A Note of Luxury.

The services of the dyer, or "litstar” as he was then called, seem to have been much in request, if we may judge from the number of accounts which one "Wm. Quhitford," of that craft, sought to recover, for the "lifting" of "blew woll" and "reid woll." The hair powderer was another minister of fashion who found custom, more or less extensive. On 3d May, 1581, William Wilson, "in Sanct Johnne's Clauchane," as surety for James Wilson, "powderar in Kirkcudbryt," is found indebted to John Johnstone, Dumfries, 24 lbs. weight of fine powder, and 12 lbs. of another quality.

A Marriage Contract.

In 1580 Janet Lintoun, widow of William Hay, and now Mrs Dungalson, is the pursuer in an action of a rather curious nature. She sues James Lidderdale of St Mary's Isle for the sum of £40, being half the expense incurred in "lofting" or putting a second storey upon a portion of "the Place," or mansion house, agreeably to a bargain made in the pursuer's own "buith," or shop, in or shortly after the year 1572. She had undertaken "to loft the hall, the laich hall, and the chalmer of the Place;" and she now set forth that she had spent on this work, in buying timber and paying "warkmen's feis," the sum of fourscore pounds, of which defender was due to her the half. Lidderdale, to whose oath the claim was referred, "made faith that he promeist the same, bot conditionallie, gif his sone, Jon Lidderdaill, suld haif completit marriage with umqll Agnes Hay, hir dochtar, qlk wes nocht, becaus of hir deceis, and sa he wes nocht undir forder promeis."

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