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Ruthwell

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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Ruthwell, a village and a coast parish of Dumfriesshire. The village stands 1 mile inland and 15/8 SSE of Ruthwell station on the Glasgow and South-Western railway, this being 8½ miles ESE of Dumfries and 7 WNW of the post-town, Annan. In 1509 it was erected into a burgh of barony, in favour of Sir John Murray of Cockpool, with the right of holding fairs and markets; but it has long forgotten all its burghal honours, and is a place of neither trade nor manufacture.

The parish, containing also the post-office village of Clarencefield and the small decayed watering-place of Brow -Well, is bounded N by Mouswald and Dalton, E by Cummertrees, S by the Solway Firth, and SW and W by Caerlaverock. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 61/8 miles; its utmost breadth, from N to S, is 31/8 miles; and its area is 11,321¼ acres, of which 2549 are foreshore and 78¾ water. Lochar Water winds 5 miles Southeastward along all the Caerlaverock boundary, and then, at low water, must still go 5½ miles further across the broad, clayey sands, having blackshaw Bank to the right and Priestside Bank to the left. The coast-line, 3¾ miles in extent, is low, at no point exceeding 29 feet above sea-level. The interior, too, in the W forming part of Lochar Moss, is low and flat, and attains a maximum altitude off only 154 feet near Kirkstyle in the NE. The principal rock is a coarse limestone, which, towards the close of last century, was worked to a considerable extent; and about the same time search was made, but in vain, for a workable seam of coal on Belridding farm. The soil for the most part is a strong gravel, intermixed with vegetable mould; and the tract of moss in the W is partly waste, partly pastoral, and partly used for the supply of peat-fuel. Nearly five-sevenths of the entire area are regularly or occasionally in tillage; and about 535 acres are under wood. Comlongon and Cockpool Castles have been noticed separately. In the manse grounds stands the famous Ruthwell Cross, a sandstone Runic monument 17¾ feet high, 21/3 feet to 8½ inches broad (3 feet across the arms* of the cross), and 1 to 2/3 foot thick. Of its four faces, the side ones are carved with graceful vines and curious animals of the type familiar in other sculptured stones; whilst on their margins are Runic verses from Cædmon's lay of The Holy Rood unquestionably the oldest extant fragment of English literature. The other two faces, in front and behind, contain representations of the Crucifixion (almost defaced), the Annunciation, Christ healing the Blind, etc., with corresponding Latin inscriptions in Roman character. The discoveries of Kemble (1842), Haigh (1856), and Stephens (1865) have demolished the theory that these faces, in front and behind, are of later workmanship than the cross as a whole, which cross is said to have originally been set up, as early likely as 680 A.d., at Priestside near the sea, and thence to have been drawn by a team of oxen to the parish church, where it remained long after the Reformation. In 1642, however, it was cast down and broken into several pieces, one of which was recovered from a grave towards the close of last century. The other fragments were lying within the church in 1772, but soon after were removed to the churchyard, and left to decay, until in 1802 this priceless relic of antiquity was re-erected in the manse garden † by the Rev. Henry Duncan, D.D. (1774-1846), who was minister from 1799 till the Disruption. He it was who in 1810 established at Ruthwell the earliest savings' bank in Scotland; and he, too, was first to discover reptilian footprints in red sandstone from Corncockle Moor. These were inserted in the wall of his summerhouse, into which there were also built two rudely sculptured stones, without any inscription, said to have been removed to the churchyard from a small chapel or preceptory of the Knights of St John at Kirkstyle, but afterwards by Dr Duncan built into the wall of his Free church in Mouswald parish. The Earl of Mansfield is chief proprietor, four others holding each an annual value of between £100 and £500. Ruthwell is in the presbytery of Annan and the synod of Dumfries; the living is worth £337. The parish church, ½ mile N of Ruthwell village, is a patchwork edifice of various dates, and contains 420 sittings. The Free church, at the Mouswald boundary, 1¾ mile NW of Ruthwell station, was founded by Dr Duncan; and near it is a pyramidal monument to his memory, 40 feet high. A public and a female industrial school, with respective accommodation for 132 and 56 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 80 and 43, and grants of £78, 5s. and $42, 1s. 6d. Valuation (1860) £5271, (1885) £7108, 0s. 5d. Pop. (1801) 996, (1831) 1216, (1861) 1046, (1871) 972, (1881) 868.—Ord. Sur., shs. 6, 10, 1863-64. See articles by Dr Duncan in Trans. Royal Soc. of Edinb. (1828), Trans. Soc. -Ants. Scotl. (1832), and the New Statistical Account (1845); Dr John Stuart's Sculptured Stones of Scotland (2 vols., 1856-67); and Joseph Anderson's Scotland in Early Christian Times (2d series, 1881).

* These are a restoration by Dr Duncan in 1823.

† The weather is telling sadly on the Runic character; and in Jan. 1885 it was proposed to have the monument protected in an apse adjoining the church.

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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