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Parish of Biggar

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: Biggar
1834-45: Biggar

Biggar (Gael. bigthir, 'soft land'), a town and a parish on the eastern border of the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire. The town by road is 12½ miles ESE of Lanark, and 28 SW of Edinburgh; by a branch of the Caledonian, opened in 1860, it is 37 miles from the latter city, 3¼ ENE of Symington Junction, 41 ESE of Glasgow, and 15¾ W by S of Peebles. A small, yet picturesque and ancient place, it is built on a sunward slope to -left and right of the Tweeddale Biggar Burn, but within 2 miles of the Clyde's main valley, and within 6 of Tinto and Culter Fell. It consists of one very broad main street, two back streets, and the Westraw suburb, this last, across the burn, communicating with the older portion by the new iron bridge of 1873; in 1451 it was created a burgh of barony, in 1863 a police burgh, being governed by a senior and 5 junior magistrates. It has a post office with money-order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branches of the Commercial, Royal, and National banks, a local savings' bank, 15 insurance agencies, gas-works (1839), a commercial hotel and 4 inns, an Elizabethan corn-exchange (1861) with a clock-tower, a public library, and a horticultural society. The collegiate parish church of St Mary, founded in 1545 by Malcolm, third Lord Fleming, for a provost, 8 prebendaries, 4 singing boys, and 6 bedesmen, is interesting as among the latest, if not indeed the last, of Scotland's pre-Reformation churches. A plain Second Pointed, cruciform, aisleless structure, it retains the low central tower with NE belfry turret, the corbie-stepped western gable, and the embattled choir with trigonal apse; but, whitewashed, plastered, bepewed, and galleried in 1795 and 1834, it has lost a W porch, N sacristy, and lych-gate, along with its gilt oak chancel roof, its organ loft, and its emblazoned scutcheons. In its churchyard -lie three generations of the Gledstanes of Liberton, beginning with ` John Gladstones, maltman and burgess in Biggar ' (1693-1756), great-grandsire of the present premier. The United Presbyterians have two places of worship, the North and South or Moat Park-and Gillespie churches; the former (rebuilt in 1866 at a cost of £1400) was served from 1806 to 1822 by Dr John Brown, the well-known biblical expositor, whose son and namesake, author of Rab and his Friends, was born at the manse, 22 Sept. 1810. Monday is marketday; and fairs are held on the last Thursday o. s. of January (horses and hiring), the Thursday after first Tuesday of March (seeds), the last Thursday of April (horses, etc-), the Thursday after 11 June (do.), the third Thursday o. s. of July (wool and shearers), the first Thursday after 12 August (cattle show), the 15 September if Thursday, if not Thursday after (horses, etc.), and the last Thursday o. s. of October (do.). Three public schools, East, South, and West, with respective accommodation for 102,110, and 195 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 72,89, and 171, and grants of £77, £77,2s., and £178,14s. 6d. Municipal constituency (1881) 200. Pop. (1790) 589, (1831) 1454, (1841) 1395, (1851) 1530, (1861) 1448, (1871) 1471, (1881) 1556.

Bounded NW by Liberton and Walston, E by Skirling in Peeblesshire, S by Culter, and SW by Liberton, the parish has an extreme length, from Broomy Law at its north-eastern to the Clyde at its south-western angle, of 6¼ miles; a varying breadth from E to W of 7 furlongs and 41/8 miles; and an area of 7288½ acres, of which 16¾ are water. The Clyde, near Culter station, traces the border for some 300 yards; but most of the drainage is carried eastward to the Tweed by Biggar Water, whose level haugh, 640 feet or so above sea-level, comprises the SE corner of the parish. All its remaining surface swells into moderate hills, rounded and soft in outline, rising northward to 788 feet near Spittal, 1192 near Balwaistie, 842 near Carwood, 1176 on Ewe Hill, 817 on Strawlaw, and 1399 on Broomy Law; westward to 975 feet near West Lindsaylands, 1041 near Springfield, and 1275 and 1024 on Biggar Common. The prevailing rocks are eruptive, including greenstone, porphyry, and amygdaloid, which last has yielded fine pebbles and moss-agates; the soils consist chiefly of clay, sand, loam, and peat-moss. During the last half century great improvements have been effected in reclaiming and fertilising land and in restraining the Biggar's inundations, so that less than a fifteenth of the entire area is left now as too hilly for the plough, whilst nearly one-ninth is covered by plantations. A moat hill, at the W end of the town, is 36 feet high, and 120 paces round the base, 54 round the top; of Boghall Castle, which stood in a swamp ½ mile to the S, hardly a shred remains, it having fifty years since been razed for the sake of its stones. This was the seat of the great Fleming family, Lords Fleming from 1460, and Earls of Wigtown from 1606 to 1747, whose founder, Baldwin, settled at Biggar under a charter of David I. (1124-53). His descendants figure in the battles of Halidon Hill, Otterburn, and Pinkie, and in the annals of Dumbarton Castle; and Biggar's chief memories centre round this stronghold. As for the battle fought in 1297 on Biggar Moss, between Edward I.'s vast host, 60,000 strong, and Wallace's 3000 horse (plus an unknown quantity of ill-armed foot), the battle in which 11,000 Englishmen were slain, it rests on Blind Harry and local tradition. But Boghall, we know, lodged Edward II. in 1310, Queen Mary in 1565; in 1568 it yielded to the Regent Murray, and in 1650 to Cromwellian troopers, who held it next year against Leslie's summons to surrender, when Charles II. reached Biggar en route for Worcester. And its beautiful ruin was sketched by fat, fodgel Grose (1789), and visited by Scott and Lockhart (1831), within a twelvemonth of Sir Walter's death. Modern mansions, with the proprietors and the extent and yearly value of their estates in the shire are-Biggar Park, 1 mile SW of the town (Jas. Neilson, 348 acres, £625); Carwood House (1832), 2 miles N by W (Wm. G. Mitchell, 1525 acres, £1413); Cambus Wallace, 1 mile NNE (Jn. Paul, 71 acres, £183); and Edmonston Castle, 3½ miles NNE (Wm. Allan-Woddrop of Garvald House, Dolphinton, 3205 acres, £3029). In all, 4 landowners hold each an annual value of £500 and upwards, 10 of between £100 and £500,17 of from £50 to £100, and 35 of from £20 to £50. Biggar is seat of a presbytery in the synod of Lothian and Tweeddale; the total value of the living is £430. Valuation (1881) £14,445, including the 2½ miles of railway. Pop. (1801) 1216, (1831) 1915, (1851) 2049, (1861) 1999, (1871) 2013, (1881) 2128.—Ord. Sur., sh. 24,1864.

The presbytery of Biggar comprises the parishes of Biggar, Broughton, Covington, Culter, Dolphinton, Dunsyre, Liberton, Skirling, Symington, Walston, and Wandel. Pop. (1871) 6537, (1881) 6230, of whom 1928, according to a Parliamentary Return (1 May 1879), were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878, the sums raised by the above eleven congregations amounting in that year to £603. The Free Church presbytery of Biggar and Peebles, meeting at the latter town, comprises the churches of Broughton, Culter, Ellsridgehill. Innerleithen, Kirkurd, Peebles, and Skirling, which together had 1108 members in 1880. See Wm. Hunter's Biggar and the House of -Fleming (Edinb. 1862; 2d ed. 1867), and Prof. J. Veitch's ` Mr Gladstone's Ancestors ' in -Fraser's Magazine (June 1880).

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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