Parish of Caerlaverock

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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1791-99: Caerlaverock
1834-45: Caerlaverock

Caerlaverock, a coast parish of Dumfriesshire, lying on the Solway Firth, between the rivers Nith and Lochar. It has its church on the Lochar, 4¼ miles W of Ruthwell station, and 5½ SE by S of Dumfries; it contains the village of Glencaple on the Nith, of Bankend on the Lochar, each with a post office under Dumfries, as well as the villages of Greenmill, Glenhowan, Shearington, and Blackshaw, and part of the village of Kelton. It is bounded N by Dumfries parish; E by the Lochar, separating it from Torthorwald, Mouswald, and Ruthwell; S by the Solway Firth, separating it from England; W by the river Nith, separating it from Kirkcudbrightshire. Its greatest length, from NNW to SSE, is 43/8 miles; its breadth, from E to W, varies between 1¼ and 4 miles; and its area is 18,320½ acres, of which 12,382½ are foreshore, and 274½ are water. The coast along the Solway, from the mouth of the Lochar and up the Nith to Glencaple, measures about 6 miles; is all low and flat; suffers slow but sure encroachments by the tide; has a shore of sandy mud which used to serve as a kind of manure; and is subtended, on to the low water channels of the Solway and the Nith, by the 12,382 acres of foreshore called Blackshaw Bank, which is swept by the ` bore ' for which the Firth is celebrated, and, at low water, is left an expanse of naked sand. The Nith widens from 2 furlongs at Kelton, to 5 at Glencaple, and to 23/8 miles opposite Bowhouse Scar; and, while all swept by the same tremendous tide as the open Solway, deep enough to take sea-borne ships with a rush up to Kelton, is so very low at neap ebb tides as, in many parts, to be fordable over to the Galloway shore. The Lochar, on the contrary, has very little estuary, is mostly a sluggish stream, and places, on its Caerlaverock bank, a belt of the great Lochar Moss, traversable only by pedestrians, and by even them only in the driest months of summer. The surface rises in Wardlaw Hill to 313, and at Banks Plantation to 300. feet above sea-level, these summit-points commanding extensive views over Dumfriesshire, Galloway, the Solway, and Cumberland. The views all along the Nith, as well on the shore as on the higher grounds, are confronted, on the Galloway side, by the woods of Arbigland, Newabbey, and Kirkconnel, and by the grand masses of the Criffel mountains. Much of the scenery around the Nith's mouth, specially in the neighbourhood of Caerlaverock Castle, is graphically described in Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering; yet, with poetical licence, is combined in his pictures of it with salient features borrowed from still more picturesque tracts on the Kirkcudbrightshire coast. Caerlaverock Castle itself is Sir Walter Scott's 'Ellangowan,' and forms by far the most interesting object, not only in Caerlaverock parish, but in a great extent of the SW of Scotland. Old Red sandstone is the predominant rock; has long been quarried for building purposes; is traditionally said to have been the material for Sweetheart Abbey at Newabbey village; and, at one place on the glebe, has been occasionally worked into excellent grindstones. The soil, in some parts peaty, in others a poor alluvium, is mostly a light loam. About 5320 acres are arable, and 126 under wood. At Wardlaw Hill, with remains of Roman and native works, Skene places Uxellum, a town of the Selgovæ, mentioned by Ptolemy. Dr John Hutton, first physician to Queen Anne, was a native of Caerlaverock, built a manse for its minister, and bequeathed £1000 for the benefit of its inhabitants. Marmaduke Constable-Maxwell, fourteenth Baron Herries (b. 1837; suc. 1876), of Everingham Park in Yorkshire, is chief proprietor, 1 other holding an annual value of more than £500,2 of between £100 and £500, and 5 of from £20 to £50. Caerlaverock is in the presbytery and synod of Dumfries; the living is worth £238. The parish church (1781; 470 sittings) contains in its churchyard the grave of Robert Paterson (d. 1801), the ` Old Mortality ' of Sir Walter Scott, over which a neat monument was raised in 1869 by Messrs Black of Edinburgh. There is also a Free church at Glencaple; and Glencaple, Hutton Hall, and Hutton Lodge Female schools, with respective accommodation for 168,85, and 69 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 47,81, and 37, and grants of £53, £62,14s., and £33,19s. Valuation (1881) £9085,16s. Pop. (1801) 1014, (1841) 1297, (1861) 1248, (1871) 1151, (1881) 1051.—Ord. Sur., shs. 6,10, 1863-64. Caerlaverock Castle stands near the mouth of the Nith, 7 miles SSE of Dumfries. Its site is low ground, not many feet above high water mark; was naturally surrounded with lakelets and marshes; and is sometimes called, by the country folk, the 'Island of Caerlaverock.' It naturally possessed considerable military strength, of the same kind as that of many old fastnesses situated on islets or in the midst of great morasses; it has always possessed also the strong military defensiveness of near environment by the surging tides of the Solway and the Nith, and of the impassableness, by an army of the great Lochar Moss, or of being so situated that it can be approached, even at many miles distance, only along the sort of isthmus between the upper part of Lochar Moss and the Nith; and it, therefore, was in the highest degree, likely to be selected at an early period as a suitable place for a great artificial fort. A tradition says that a castle was founded on it by Lewarch Og, son of Lewarch Hen, about four centuries prior to the time when Ptolemy wrote his Geography, and bore the name of Caer-Lewarch-Og; but that tradition is utterly unsupported by either record, monument, or circumstantial evidence. Camden supposes the site to have been occupied by the Roman Caerbantorigum, mentioned by Ptolemy; but his conjecture is disproved by the very name Caerbantorigum, which signifies 'the fort on the conspicuous height.' A Roman station may have been here-can almost be affirmed, from the discovery or existence of Roman remains and Caledonian forts at no great distance, to have really been here; but that station neither was Caerbantorigum, nor has left any vestiges. The earliest known fort or castle on the spot comes first into view about the year 1220, or a little later; and one which stood upon it then belonged to the family of Maccuswell or Maxwell, the progenitors of Lord Herries, the proprietor of the present pile. The castle was occupied for a night in 1296 by Sir William Wallace; and it was taken by 3000 English under Edward I. in July 1300, after a two days' defence by only 60 men. A Norman-French rhymed chronicle of the siege, written by a contemporary Franciscan friar, is preserved in the British Museum; and this, as rendered by its editor, Sir Harris Nicolas (1828), says respecting the fortress:-'Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it did not fear a siege; therefore, the king came himself, because it would not consent to surrender. But it was always furnished for its defence, whenever it was required, with men, engines, and provisions. Its shape was like that of a shield, for it had only three sides, all round, with a tower on each angle; but one of them was a double one, so high, so long, and so large that under it was the gate, with a drawbridge well made and strong, and a sufficiency of other defences; and it had good walls and good ditches filled to the edge with water.' The castle, towards the end of August, was the scene of a notable interview between Edward I. and Rt. Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury; and it remained some years in possession of the English. It speedily reverted to the Scots, though in what year or by what means is not known; and, in 1312, it was held by Sir Eustace Maxwell, in support of the cause of Bruce. Sir Eustace maintained it against a second siege by the English, and successfully resisted them, but afterwards saw cause to dismantle it; and he received from Robert Bruce a charter of compensation 'for demolishing the castle of Caerlaverock.' The pile, however, appears to have been soon and effectually repaired; for, in 1.347, after a shifting of the political scenes, it was held by the son of Eustace Maxwell as liegeman of Edward III. Sir Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, who remained faithful to the cause of Bruce amidst the general defection of the nobles, re-took the castle from the English in 1355, and he is usually said to have then levelled it to the ground; but he at least retained as much of it as was suitable for habitation; for he lived in it for two years, and was assassinated in it by Sir James Lindsay in 1357. The castle of his times, and of previous times, is sometimes alleged to have stood on other ground than the present pile, and at some distance; but it clearly has left both its general outline and some of its courses of masonry in the present pile. A new castle, on the old foundations, appears to have begun to be built near the end of the 14th century, and is presumed to have been completed about the year 1420; and that new edifice, with the exception of extensive dilapidation, continues to stand till the present day. Murdoch, Duke of Albany, was confined in it on a charge of high treason in 1425; and the round tower at its western angle is still called Murdoch's Tower. Several of the Lords Maxwell, its proprietors, in the latter half of the 15th century and the former half of the 16th, made it a base of warlike operations against the North of England. James V., at the time of the rout of the Scots at Solway Moss in 1542, was residing in the castle, which, delivered over by Lord Maxwell to Henry VIII. in Oct. 1545, was by him retained till the following May. The English, under the Earl of Sussex, again besieged and took it in 1570; and they partially destroyed it in 1572. Robert, first Earl of Nithsdale, repaired it in 1638, and probably then added to it its most modern existing portions. The Covenanters, under Lieut. Colonel Home, besieged it in 1640; and, after a siege of fully 13 weeks, obtained possession. The castle, from that time, ceased to be an object of contest, or even a place of habitation. The Maxwells, its proprietors, transferred their residence to a small square tower on the margin of the Lochar, near the parish church. Robert, the second Earl of Nithsdale, commonly called the Philosopher, died in that tower in 1667. William, the fifth Earl, suffered attainder for participation in the rebellion of 1715, but escaped forfeiture of his estates by his having disponed them to his son in 1712; and they afterwards passed, through failure of direct male representatives, to the Maxwells of Terregles. The title of Baron Herries had been held by these Maxwells from 1489, but was attainted in 1716, and it was revived in favour of William Constable Maxwell by Act of Parliament in 1848, and by adjudication of the House of Lords in 1858. The courts of Caerlaverock then rang with festivity and rejoicing, at a great gathering of the tenants of the estate. The pile, though long a ruin, still wears a noble and imposing aspect. Presenting a grand entrance gateway, flanked by massive round towers, and surmounted by the Maxwells' motto, 'I bid ye fair,' it diverges from those front flanking towers right and left, and is closed in the rear by an elevation connecting the ends of the diverging elevations, so as to have a triangular outline enclosing a triangular court, which, measuring 123 feet along each of the divergent sides, is three lofty stories high. It exhibits on the E side, which was the family residence, finely sculptured doors and windows; it shows there decorative features of the best periods of ancient Scottish domestic art, similar to those in Linlithgow Palace; it had machicolated gates, successive portcullises, and two deep wide fosses; it retains, in a ruinous condition, many of the features, both exterior and interior, which characterised it as a fortress; and, studied as a whole, either in itself or in connection with its surroundings, it has very high attractions for both the artist and the antiquary. See William Fraser's Book of Caerlaverock: Memoirs of the Maxwells, Earls of Nithsdale, Lords Maxwell and Herries (2 vols., Edinb. 1873).

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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