In 1793 Robert Heron Published his book Observations made in a journey through the western counties of Scotland in Autumn 1792. This is his account of Gatehouse.
The Early Days of Gatehouse of Fleet
W ITHIN the remembrance of several now living, there was only a single house on the seat of this fine village. It was the scene of a considerable market, held, once a fortnight, for a certain number of weeks in the end of harvest, and the beginning of winter. Lying on the great road from Dumfries to Portpatrick, and at a considerable distance — ten or twelve miles — from Carlinwark, the last good inn on this road; it was naturally, a proper situation for an inn. An excellent inn, with a suitable yard and offices, was built. A smith and a few tradesmen were equally necessary. The vicinity of the inn, and the highway, with the advantage of the well frequented markets, rendered it a situation promising enough for a shop-keeper or two. To a great land-holder, it would naturally be honourable and agreeable to have labourers, tradesmen, and shop-keepers, near his principal seat, that they might be ready to perform a variety of little services which his household would necessarily demand. It would be no less worthy his care to provide shop-keepers, labourers, artizans, &c. for the accommodation of his tenants, upon his own estate. The situation was one of those which seem intended by nature for the seats of towns: In a beautiful, and fertile vale; by the side of a fine river; so near where that river discharges its waters into the adjacent Frith, that it might easily become a sea port town; and in a neighbourhood where the principal articles of provision were so plentiful, as to be the chief or only articles of export. With these advantages of situation, and through the influence of circumstances already begun, — nothing could be more natural or proper than for the proprietor of these scenes, to think of raising a town here.
ACCORDINGLY, as Mr Murray built his own spacious seat, he invited inhabitants to settle and form a village here, by offering very advantageous terms of feu. A plan for a village was formed by his direction : and the feuars were required to build their houses in a certain order, and of certain dimensions, the spot which was marked was a fine plain, not more than a mile distant from Cally-house, close by the inn and the scene of the markets, and on the highway. Two streets were marked out, divided from each other by intervening gardens. The one, named the fore-street, and lying along the highway, was to have all its houses two stories in height and covered with slates. Those in the back-street might be meaner in their structure and dimensions, but were to be equally orderly in their arrangement.
THE situation, and the advantages offered, were sufficiently inviting. The enlightened and public-spirited proprietor had soon the pleasure of seeing a fine village rise near his principal seat; more orderly, in its arrangement, more uniformly handsome in its buildings, happier in its situation, than perhaps any other village in Galloway. Attempts were soon made to render it a seat of trade. A Company engaged in the establishment of a tannery here, with sufficient success. Another Company tried to establish a wine-cellar, and to import wines, at this port, to supply the gentlemen of the county: a trade which, if I am not mistaken, has been since relinquished. Mr Murray, at no inconsiderable expence, — either formed a short canal, or deepened and widened the channel of the Fleet, (for, indeed, I cannot, with certainty, recollect which) so as to form a passage by which small vessels might advance from the Frith, almost close up to the village.
MEANWHILE, the richer cottagers were invited from the adjacent country, by the haughty prospect of becoming Lairds in Gatehouse. Mr Murray had occasion to throw some smaller farms together; and this circumstance drove several families from the country into Gatehouse. The local advantages brought the tradesmen and shop-keepers at Gatehouse into a thriving condition; and this naturally allured others to repair from the adjacent clachans and hamlets to settle in the same seat. Tanners, glovers, weavers, shoe-makers, sailors, masons, carpenters, butchers, bakers, alehouse-keepers, day-labourers, smugglers were thus brought together in Gatehouse. The parish school was transferred hither. And although in one or two instances, the attempts to augment its opulence and population might misgive; yet in the whole, it continued to advance with wonderful success.
THUS was it advancing, when Messrs Birtwhstle, gentlemen who had for some time before, dealt largely in cattle purchased from Kirkcudbrightshire, and had lately become proprietors of an estate, in the neighbourhood of Kirkcudbright, — proposed to establish a cotton-work here, and obtained a suitable lease from Mr Murray. It was said, that these gentlemen had previously applied to the Earl of Selkirk for a lease of grounds near Kirkcudbright, on which they might have erected their cotton-work; but that his Lordship apprehending, that an Earl's mansion might be disgraced by the vicinity of an establishment of manufacturing industry, rejected their offers with earnestness.
MORE successful in their application to Mr Murray, they immediately built a large fabric, at a great expence, at the western end of the village. Water to drive the machinery, by the apparatus of wheels and cranks, was to be brought from a lake, several miles distant, among the hills to the north-east, — by an aqueduct, to the expence of forming which Mr Murray contributed: The Fleet lying too low to leave it possible to obtain water from it which might be conveniently raised to such a height as to command the wheels. Every difficulty was overcome. The works were prepared; and the manufacture begun. The poor people in the immediate neighbourhood, although numerous enough, were however so little accustomed to any thing like the regular industry of manufacture, that they could not at first be persuaded to apply to the employment which this establishment afforded, for reasonable wages. Those in the neighbourhood again who had provisions to sell, had fancied that they might now obtain for such articles, any extravagant prices they should chuse to ask. But labourers soon flocked from Ireland and other places, to perform that work which the good people about Gatehouse could not be induced to perform: And the importation of butter, cheese, and some other articles of provision from a distance soon brought the farmers of the neighbourhood to reason. The returns answered the wishes of the adventurous undertakers. The money circulated, served to enrich, and to quicken the industry of the whole country-side. And, there was soon an enthusiasm among all to be employed about the cotton-mill, and to contribute to the success of the manufacture.
THE increase of opulence, the growth of population and the rising activity of industry have, through these means, been astonishingly rapid and powerful. A second large edifice for a cotton-work, has been erected by Messrs Birtwhistle. Another has likewise been built by a Mr McWilliam. All intended as houses only for the spinning of cotton-yarn. By that machine, named a mule, between forty and fifty pounds of cotton-wool are made into yarn in a week. For, many have been induced to try this manufacture, who could not erect cotton-mills, and were therefore obliged to content themselves with spinning mules and Ginnees. A maker of these machines has settled here. A Brass-foundery has been also established here, to supply those articles of wrought brass which are necessary to the construction of the spinning and weaving apparatus. Three hundred pounds of cotton-wool are spun into yarn in the week in the large cotton-work of Messrs Birtwhistle. Three hundred persons are employed in the labour; of whom two hundred are children; and fifty pounds of weekly wages are paid. On the Ginnees, a hundred pounds of cotton-wool are spun in the week. This yarn is all sold at Glasgow, — and in the neighbourhood: For the weaving of cotton-cloth begins to be carried on here with little less earnestness and success than the spinning of cotton-yarn, Nor is the spirit of the cotton-manufacture now confined exclusively to Gatehouse. It spreads fast through the whole country. Every person who can spare money enough to purchase a mule or a Ginnee, and a little raw cotton to begin with; eagerly turns Cotton-Spinner. The country weavers too either purchase yarn and make cotton-cloth for themselves:—for which they find a ready sale,—or are employed by the manufacturers of Glasgow or of Gatehouse, to weave cotton-cloth for them. The ploughman forsakes his plough, the schoolmaster lays down his birch, the tanner deserts his tan-pits, the apothecary turns from the composition of pills, and the mixing of unguents; and all earnestly commence spinners of cotton-yarn or weavers of cotton-cloth.
THE village of Gatehouse has thus been greatly enlarged, within this short time, by the addition of new streets, and the extension of those which had been before begun. Its inhabitants are multiplied to the number of fifteen hundred. It has even been extended to the western side of the river Fleet, with which there has been long an open communication by an excellent bridge. A library has been formed here, on the plan of that of Kirkcudbright, begun upon a fund of twenty pounds raised by subscription, and to be maintained, and enlarged by the payment of two shillings quarterly, by each proprietor. Here is a mason-lodge, too—for free-masonry is a hobby-horse with some of these people,—to which no fewer than seventy members belong. Provisions are laid in to their labourers by Messrs Birtwhistles and Co, The wages are paid once a fortnight. The labourers do not all squander their money, as it is acquired; some of them begin to accumulate property. In their Sunday's array, they are well-dressed. Marriages are frequent. The price of coals has risen considerably here as in other places in this season. The coals are from White-haven. Peats are sent in for sale, by the farmers on the contiguous muirs. Garden-stuffs are to be had in abundance from Cally. Many more vessels now frequent the harbour.
I WISH I could honestly add, that the morals of these good people have been improved with their circumstances. But prostitution and breaches of chastity have lately become frequent here. Tippling houses are wonderfully numerous. I was informed by the intelligent exciseman of the place, that not fewer than an hundred and fifty gallons—of whisky alone—had been consumed here for every week of the last six months. The licentiousness of Gatehouse affords frequent business for the neighbouring Justices. The Clergyman of the parish has found it necessary to act both as a Justice of the Peace and as a Clergyman; and although exceedingly active in the former of these capacities, has yet found it too hard for him to restrain the irregularities of these villagers. An assistant has been employed to aid him in the discharge of his clerical functions. Yet, both the pious assiduities of his assistant, and his own labours, clerical and juridical, have proved insufficient to maintain among the manufacturers of Gatehouse, all that purity of morals and decorum of manners which might be wished. Marriages are indeed so frequent that the clergyman has found it occasionally necessary, for the sake of dispatch, to dispense with the ordinary ceremonies of the church.—A sunday school has been instituted for the instruction of those children who are employed at the cotton-work through the week: And I am pleased to relate, to the honour of Mr McWilliam, who is the most considerable cotton-spinner in Gatehouse, after Messrs Birtwhistle, that he pays the teacher for the Sunday instruction of the children of all his own workmen.
AS a moralist, I cannot but regret that crowded population, and the prosperity of manufactures should be so invariably attended with the extreme corruption of the lower orders. In this mind I should not wish to see Gatehouse increase greatly above its present population: and I would gladly see some expedients used to restrain the growth of vice, in a village, where, but for vice, want and idleness might be unknown. It has been the great errour of the politicians and philosophers of the present age, that, in their care to multiply the numbers, to stimulate the industry, and to increase the opulence of mankind, they have overlooked the important concern of checking their vices, and of encouraging their declining virtues. This concern belongs to the politician, not less than to the Divine and the Moralist. The institution of Sunday schools is almost the only thing that has been done, in the present time, towards preserving a sense of religion and of decent morals among the poor. The lord of the manor and the principal manufacturers about Gatehouse might also use means to enforce a due attendance on public worship among all, whether old or young. They ought to establish a strict police. Men habitually addicted to drunkenness, and women abandoned to prostitution ought to be invariably discharged from employment, and dismissed out of the village. The wages ought not to be paid oftener than monthly. The manufacturers ought to provide for their workmen—the more necessary articles of subsistence; meal, butcher's meat, &c. Some small part of the wages of every labourer should be saved for him, to the end of the year; and interest be paid him upon it. The labourers should be persuaded to establish a common fund, formed by the contributions of all who are in health to labour, and destined to relieve the wants of the sick and the infirm. The use of whisky should be discouraged; and good malt liquors,—ale and porter introduced in its stead. I will even venture to suggest, that the establishment of an Antiburgher or Cammeronian meeting-house might have no bad effect here. I shall add, that it might be better, if Mr Murray, the manufacturers, and the neighbouring gentlemen should be induced rather to encourage the formation of other villages, at the distance of every five or six miles, than to promote the farther increase of Gatehouse.——
THE vale of Fleet is beautiful, for a good many miles above Gatehouse. Rough, heath-clad hills rise, indeed, on both sides; but, the lower declivities, and the intermediate plain are fertile, cultivated, and adorned with large tracts of wood. At Caerstramman, Mr Murray has a handsome hunting-seat, on the eastern side of the river, and about four or five miles above Gatehouse. On the western side of the Fleet, and at nearly an equal distance from the village, is Rusco, once a feat of the Viscounts of Kenmure. The house is large, and still habitable. Northwards are a range of wild hills, affording pasture to sheep and goats, and having a few shepherd's huts scattered over them. The Highlands of Scotland have no scenes of higher beauty, than what the vale of Fleet displays; and they have hardly any wilder than the hills among which this river takes its rise.