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Lincluden Collegiate Church

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Lincluden College, a ruined religious house in Terregles parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, on a grassy mound above the right bank of winding Cluden Water, which here falls into the Nith, 1½ mile N by W of Dumfries. It was originally a convent for Black or Benedictine nuns, founded by Uchtred, second son of Fergus, Lord of Galloway, about the middle of the 12th century. But towards the close of the 14th, Archibald, Earl of Douglas and Lord of Galloway, called the `Grim,' expelled the nuns, for `insolence' and other irregularities, and converted the establishment into a collegiate church, with a provost and 12 canons - later, a provost, 8 canons, 24 bedesmen, and a chaplain. In the zenith of their power the Earls of Douglas expended considerable sums in ornamenting the place, and, when wardens of the West Marches, adopted it as their favourite residence, William, eighth Earl, here holding a parliament in 1448 to revise the uses of Border warfare. From what remains of the ancient building, which is part of the provost's house, the choir, and the S transept, an idea may be easily formed of its bygone splendour. The aisleless three-bayed choir, in particular, was finished in the richest style of Decorated architecture, its roof resembling that of King's College, Cambridge, and the brackets, whence sprung the ribbed arch-work, being decked with armorial bearings. Over the door of the sacristy are the arms of the Grim Earl, the founder of the provostry, and those of his lady, who was heiress of Bothwell. Both he and Uchtred, founder of the nunnery, were buried here; and in the choir is the mutilated but richly sculptured tomb (e. 1440) of Margaret, daughter of Robert III., and wife of Archibald, fourth Earl of Douglas and first Duke of Touraine. To quote from Billings' Ecclesiastical and Baronial Antiquities (1852), the character of the edifice, so far as it remains, is very peculiar. Though of small dimensions, it has, like Michael Angelo's statues, a colossal effect from the size of its details. This is conspicuous in the bold and massive corbels and capitals of the vaulting shafts from which the groined arches, now fallen, had sprung. This largeness of feature may be observed in the moulding round the priest's door - itself but a small object - and in the broken tracery of the window above it. Over the interior of the small square door by which this part of the ruin is entered, there is a moulding of oak wreath, or perhaps, more correctly speaking, a series of crockets, so grotesquely large as to appear as if they had been intended to be raised to a great height, so as to be diminished by distance. Heraldic forms predominate, probably owing to circumstances which the history of the institution will readily suggest. Many of the large brackets are shields, but they are massed in with the other decorations with more freedom and picturesqueness than this species of ornament is generally found to admit of. Of the tracery of the windows, enough only remains to show how rich, beautiful, and varied it had been. The patterns, with a tendency to the French Flamboyant character, are strictly geometrical. The main portion of the church, now existing, consists of the choir and a fragment of a transept. On the right-hand side, opposite to the tomb and door, there are three fine sedilia, partially destroyed. They consist of undepressed ribbed pointed arches, each with a canopy and crocket above, and cusps in the interioran arrangement that unites the richness of the Decorated with the dignity of the Earliest Pointed style. Beyond the sedilia is a beautiful piscina of the same character. The arch is within a square framework, along the upper margin of which there runs a tiny arcade of very beautiful structure and proportion.' Along the walls of the ruin are a profusion of ivy and a few dwarfish bushes; around are a few trees which form an interrupted and romantic shade; on the N is a meadow, sleepily traversed by Cluden Water; on the E is a lovely little plain, spread out like an esplanade, half its circle edged with the Cluden and the Nith; on the SE were, not so long ago, distinct vestiges of a bowling-green, flowergarden, and parterres; and beyond is a huge artificial mound, cut round to its summit by a spiral walk, and commanding a brilliant view of the ` meeting of the waters ' immediately below, and of the joyous landscape about Dumfries. The place is much cherished by the townsfolk of that burgh, and was a favourite haunt of the poet Burns, who here says Allan Cunningham beheld the `Vision.'

The provosts of Lincluden were in general men of considerable eminence; and several held high offices of state. Among them were John Cameron (d. 1446), who became secretary, lord-privy-seal, and chancellor of the kingdom, archbishop of Glasgow, and one of the delegates of the Scottish Church to the council of Basel; John Winchester (d. 1458), afterwards bishop of Moray; John Methven, secretary of state and an ambassador of the court; James Lindsay, keeper of the privy seal, and an ambassador to England; Andrew Stewart (d. 1501), dean of faculty of the University of Glasgow, and afterwards bishop of Moray; George Hepburn, lord-treasurer of Scotland; William Stewart (d. 1545), lord-treasurer of Scotland, and afterwards bishop of Aberdeen; and Robert Douglas, the eighteenth and last provost, a bastard son of Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig, who was appointed in 1547, and was allowed to enjoy the benefice for 40 years after the Reformation. So late as Yule tide 1586, Lord Maxwell had mass sung openly in the church on three days running. Robert Douglas's grand-nephew, William Douglas, the heir of Drumlanrig, obtained a reversion of the provostry, and, after Robert's death, enjoyed its property and revenues during his own life. Succeeding to the family estates of Drumlanrig, and created afterwards Viscount Drumlanrig, and next Earl of Queensberry, he got vested in himself and his heirs the patronage and tithes of the churches of Terregles, Lochrutton, Colvend, Kirkbean, and Caerlaverock, belonging to the college, and also a small part of its lands. But the major part of the property of the establishment was in 1611 granted, in different shares, to Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar and to John Murray. The latter, prior to 1627, conveyed his share, including Lincluden College, to Robert, Earl of Nithsdale, whose lineal descendant, Capt. Alfred Constable of Terregles, is now the owner. Till recently the ruins were neglected, but he has done much to preserve this architectural gem, by erecting a railing round it, and installing a suitable person as custodian. Extensive excavations, too, of the foundations, vaults, etc., have furnished a good deal of additional information as to the dates of different portions of the building. Lincluden House (till recently known as Youngfield), a Tudor mansion, a little SW of the church, was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1875, but was restored in the following year from designs by the late David Bryce, R.S.A., this being his last work. Its owner, Major Thomas Young (b. 1826), holds 1318 acres in the shire, valued at £1212 per annum.—Ord. Sur., sh. 9, 1863. See Wm. M`Dowall's History of Dumfries (2d. ed. 1873), and an article by E. F. C. Clark in Trans. Arch. Inst. of Scotland (1864).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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