Of the Borough of Rutherglen, its Charters, Set, Antiquities, &c., Part VIII. – pp.78-89.

[History of Rutherglen Contents]

TO the charters of the corporations are suspended seals, containing impressions of the Town-coat of Arms. It consists of the Virgin and Babe, attended by two Priests, holding up thistles in their hands. On the reverse is a ship with two mariners on board. In the modern seal the shop is placed on the back ground; it is greatly diminished in its size, and deprived of its mariners. The Virgin has undoubtedly a reference to the church. the ship represents the river Clyde, which is navigable up to the town. It is impossible now to ascertain to what extent the trade of Clyde was anciently carried; and what proportion of it belonged to Rutherglen, at the time when it was erected into a Royal Borough. It is highly probable, that Rutherglen, at that time, was the only town of mercantile importance in the strath of Clyde; and that to it any trade that might be in the river chiefly belonged. That the channel of Clyde was then naturally much deeper than at present, we have no reason to doubt, when we reflect that many million cart loads of mud and sand have been since thrown into it from the land. trading vessels therefore, which at that period were of a small construction, might be carried with ease up to the town. We are sure, however, that, till of late, gaberts of considerable burden sailed almost every day from the quay of Rutherglen to Greenock, &c. The freight was chiefly coals. The ship, therefore, with propriety constituted a principal part of the coat of arms. On the old seal, which is long ago lost, the human figured were ill executed, but the form of the ship was somewhat uncommon. It resembled the navis antiqua of the ancients, and is known by the name of the Herald’s ship, because it was introduced by heralds into the blazoning of coats of arms. It is hoped that the draught of the impression, pl. I. fig. I. will not be unacceptable to the curious.


THE Cross and Trone, the two chief ornaments of the main street, were in 1777, removed as incumbrances. The Cross was of stone, about 13 or 14 feet in height: it stood on a pedestal about 14 feet diameter at the base; 4 at the top, and 6 in height. The ascent to the Cross was by 12 steps all round the pedestal. The Trone was a solid piece of extremely knotty oak, about 18 feet in height; and the two opposite branches or arms, on which the balances were suspended, were each about 6 feet long. This uncommon piece of timber grew in Hamilton wood, and was, about 1660, given a present to the town by Mr. Robert Spens.


NONE of the buildings, excepting the Town-house, and Church, is any way remarkable. The former, which consists of the council-chamber, prison-rooms, &c. was built in the year 1766; and is pretty elegant. The latter is a small, but very ancient, structure; and, by the arms of the borough, seems to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is 62 feet in length, and 25 in breadth, exclusive of the additions on the back and front. The walls are 4 feet in thickness, and about 20 feet high, including the pillars on which they are supported. Of these there are 5 on each side: they are smooth and round, except the middle ones, which are octagonal. What reason there might be for such a peculiarity is not, perhaps, easily known. the shafts are 6 feet in height, and 2 in diameter. The capitals are mostly a foot and a half in height, and are ornamented with various figures; draughts of which are given in pl. II. fig. I. The base, fig. 2. is about 6, or 8 inches in depth. The arches, fig. 3. are pointed, but the point is hardly discernible: this, with the construction of the pillars, is a strong proof of the great antiquity of the building, and seems to place its date at a greater distance, than the time when the churches, ornamented with high and clustered pillars, pointed arches, large windows, &c. were built. Only part, however, of the original structure is at present existing. The choir, which extended to the steeple, at the distance of 33 feet, and with which it terminated, was, long since, entirely demolished. But the steeple hath survived the downfall of the choir. It is nearly square: the walls are but a little higher than the roof of the church, and are supported by buttresses. The clock and bell are of a modern date. The bell is 7 feet in circumference, at the brim; and is ornamented with the following inscriptions. 

SOLI   –   DEO   –   GLORIA   –   MICHAEL   –   BURGERHUYS   –   ME   –   FECIT   –   MDCXXXV.


THE oldest account, probably, on record, concerning the church of Rutherglen, is in the history of the Life of Joceline, bishop of Glasgow; who made a donation of it, with the churches of Mernis, Katkert, &c. to the Abbey of Paisley.1 That prelate died in the year 1199. 

THIS kirk is rendered famous on account of two transactions, in which the fate of Sir William Wallace, and of his country, was deeply concerned. It was in this place of worship that a peace between Scotland and England was concluded, 8th February, 1297. 

In Ruglen Kyrk ye traist yan haiff yai set, 
A promes maid to meit Wallace but let. 
Ye day off yis approchyt wondyr fast, 
Ye gret Chanslar and Amar yidder past; 
Syne Wallace come, and hys men weill beseyne, 
With hym fyfty arayit all in greyne; 
Ilk ane off yaim a bow and arrowis bar, 
And lang suerds, ye quhilk full scharply schar, &c.2

IT was in this place also that Sir John Monteath contracted with the English to betray Wallace. 

A messynger Schyr Amar has gart pass 
On to Schyr Jhon, and sone a tryst has set, 
At Ruglan Kyrk yir twa togydder met. 
Yan Wallang said, Schyr Jhon yow knaw yis thing, &c.3

THE area of the church seems to have been formerly occupied as a burying place. Great numbers of human bones, are, occasionally, dug up. A few years ago, when some workmen were laying a floor in the session-house, in thewest end of the church, several bones of more than ordinary size were discovered. What struck the attention of all present, among whom was Mr. Lawrie, surgeon in Rutherglen, was a lower maxillary bone of uncommonly large dimensions. When, out of curiosity, it was applied to the face of a Provost Paterson, a man of no dwarfish construction, it easily admitted twice the thickness of the Provot’s thumb, between its inner surface and his jaw-bone. This relick of the dead, having undergone the above experiment, was, along with several large sculls, and other bones, recommitted to the dust, under the pavement of the session-house. 

WHEN digging a grave in the church, ann. 1786, a stone coffin, containing a whole skeleton, was discovered. No inscription could be seen on the stones; nor any amulets in the grave. 

THE church-yard is not distinguished on account of any uncommon sepulchral monument. The most remarkable are two grave-stones that were, last year, found sunk in a part of the ground, which was never known to have been occupied as a burying place. Each of them is ornamented with the figure of a sword, having the handle adorned with Fleurs de Lis, &c. The execution, for neatness and accuracy, would be no disgrace to the most refined age of sculpture. As there is no date, nor any vestige of letters upon the stones, we have some reason to think that the period in which they were cut, must be at least 500 years back. Each of them is 5 feet 10 inches in length: 1 foot 5 inches in breadth at the head, and 1 foot 1 inch at the foot: they are 10 inches thick. The length of the handle of the swords, (which are of the kind commonly called double handed) is 1 foot 5 inches; and the blade is about 3 feet in length. 

THE surface of the church-yard is about five feet higher than that of the ground adjoining. A very large tumulus, which is said to have anciently stood here, and which was long since levelled, might have considerably augmented the height. 

THE church with the burying ground, nearly in the middle of which the church is situated, exhibits a beautiful example of a Druid temple, and the grove with which it was usually surrounded. The custom of encircling church-yards with rows of trees is very ancient in Scotland; and is supposed to have been borrowed from the Druids, who made choice of woods and groves, as the most proper places for performing their sacred rites. This custom, which is not confined to a few places only, may be mentioned as an argument to support the opinion that Druidism, was, prior to the introduction of Christianity, the religion of the inhabitants of this country. This opinion is corroborated by what are thought to be Druid altars, yet remaining, after all the dilapidations that ignorance, avarice, and superstition have occasioned. Some of these altars, which are composed of large stones, may be seen in the neighbourhood of Glasgow.


THE three auld wives Lift, near Craig-Madden castle, in the parish of Baldernock, is the most remarkable. It consists of three large stones. Two of them are laid along upon the earth, close by each other; and upon the top of these the third is placed, in the same direction, with their ends pointing south and north. The two undermost are of a prismatical shape: but the uppermost seems to have been a regular parallelopepid, and still approaches that figure, as nearly as may be supposed, making allowances for the depredations of time. It is about 18 feet in length; by 11 in breadth; and 7 in depth. It is placed nearly parallel with the horizon, but inclining a little to the north; the upper surface is pretty level. Neither of the two supporters appears to be so large as the stone they sustain: but their just dimensions cannot be easily ascertained, as their bases are sunk a considerable number of feet in the earth. Owing to their prismatical shape, there is a triangular opening between them and the upper stone; it is about 3 feet in depth, but somewhat wider. Through this opening, so Superstition says, every stranger who visits this place for the first time, must creep, otherwise he shall die childless. The stones are of a grayish coloured grit, and were taken from the rocks in the neighbourhood. They stand in a circular plain, of about 250 yards in diameter, and surrounded with rising ground, forming a kind of amphitheatre. The sacred grove hath long ago yielded to the all subduing hand of time; yet not without leaving behind traces sufficient to convince us of its existence. The plain is of a deep mossy soil. Roots and stumps of oak trees yet remain in their natural position: and some of them exhibit evident marks that they had been exposed to fire. 

THE traditional account of the present name of this monument is, that three old women, having laid a wager which of them would carry the greatest burden, brought, in their aprons, the three stones of which it is constructed, and laid them in the position in which they are now found. This tradition probably originated from the Druidesses, who might, at this place, superintend the sacred rites; and whose age, singularity, and more than ordinary sagacity, made them to be looked upon, by the ignorant and grossly superstitious vulgar of these times, as being possessed of supernatural power. Altars, nearly of a similar construction, have been met with in several p laces of Britain. This monument, which strikes with surprise every beholder, owes its preservation more to the nature of the place where it is situated than to any other circumstance. It is, however, to be hoped that its proprietor will take care to preserve from ruin, this venerable relick of the most remote antiquity. 

NOT far from the auld wives Lift, but not within sight of it, are two large Cairns, of an elliptical shape. The largest, which is 60 yards in length, and 10 in breadth, is now almost entirely carried away. Through the whole length of it were two rows of broad stones, set on edge on the ground, at the distance of about 4 feet from each other. Between these rows the dead were buried, having flag stones laid over them. The heap raised above them was mostly of pretty large stones, quarries from the adjoining rock. the other Cairn was laid open last year, and, though not so large as the other, was of the same construction, which seems to be Danish. Some of the stones placed in the rows at the bottom are considerably large. Among the contents, upon opening, were found fragments of human bones and urns; specimens of which are preserved by the Rev. James Couper, minister of Baldernock. One of fragments of an urn is ornamented, near the mouth, with two shallow grooves. The diameter of the circle of which it is a segment seems to have been at least 20 inches. This tumulus, owing to frequent dilapidations, will soon be annihilated. Tradition says that there was a battle in the neighbourhood, between the Scots and Danes: and that among the latter a person of a distinguished character was slain. 

A detached piece of whin-stone in the parish of Kilbarchan, and about three quarters of a mile north from Castlesemple, is believed to have been a Druid altar. The shape is roundish, but irregular. It is 12 feet in height, at the highest part; and about 67 in circumference. It is known by the name of Clochodrig stone, a corruption of the Gaelic Cloch a’ druigh, the Druids stone. This, like the auld wives Lift, is reported to have been brought by more than human power. There does not appear to be any remains of a grove with which it might be surrounded. 

THE Thugirt-stone, in the parish of Dunlop, may be mentioned with the foregoing. It is called Thugirt, by way of contraction, for Thou great stone. It is reported that even so late as the time of Popery, the devotees of that religion, in doing penance, used to crawl on their knees round the stone, and to cry, O thou grit staine; from a belief that the deity was, in a peculiar manner, present at that hallowed relick. It is not unlikely that this, with some other consecrated stones, were considered as idols, and worshipped as such. Among the Arabians, it is not unfrequent, to meet with great stones set up for idols.

1  Keith’s Hist. of Scots Bishops.
2  Henry’s Life of Wallace, B. VI. v. 862.
3  Life of Wallace, B. XI. v. 796.