Kilsyth, pp.137-140.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   KILSYTH, a parish in Stirlingshire; bounded on the north by Fintry and St. Ninians; on the east by Denny; on the south by Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch in Dumbartonshire; and on the west by Campsie. It measures, in extreme length along its southern boundary, 7¼ miles; in mean length, about 5 or 5¼ miles; in extreme breadth, from the point where it is first touched by Carron-water on the north, to a small bend in the Kelvin opposite the parish-church on the south, 4¾ miles; and, in superficial area, 24 square miles, or about 15,000 acres. Carron-water, coming in from the west, traces the northern boundary over a distance of 3¼ miles, flowing in short and frequent sinuosities through a broad meadow, remarkable for its luxuriance, and for the joyousness of the scenes which it exhibits during the season of haymaking. Kelvin-water rises on the southern boundary near Gateside, and flows along that boundary, through a plain of small declivity and of a soft loamy soil, in a deep artificial channel 5½ miles to the point of its leaving the parish. It formerly straggled in many directions over the plain, in a very shallow channel, gorged up into a pool at every turn, overgrown with aquatic vegetables, diffusing, wide and far around it, a little sea at every flood, often ruining the hay and corn harvests, and rendering several fields, naturally rich in soil, incapable of cultivation; but in 1793 and 1794, a deep cut was made, capacious enough to contain the whole of its waters in the highest flood, flanked by low embankments admitting of being heightened, and all completed at the cost of about £600. Several streamlets which rise in the interior, and flow southward, are remarkable for the great numerousness and variety of the cascades and cataracts which they form, and for the vast aggregate amount of machinery which they drive. Bush-burn flows on the eastern boundary, and is a tributary or head-stream of Bonnywater. A mile, on the average, westward of it, flows another head-stream of that water, Auchincloch-burn. Next are Shawend-burn and Garrel-burn, both natural tributaries of the Kelvin, but now collected into a large artificial lake lying about a mile east of the town of Kilsyth, covering upwards of 70 acres, shut up within romantic banks, and serving as a reservoir to the Forth and Clyde canal. Further west are Quinnie-burn and Inchwood-burn, the latter flowing for about a mile on the boundary, and then running into the interior. Though none of the streams have more than 4 miles length of course, they all enrich the district by their water-power, and beautify it by their cascades, more than many considerable rivers do their far-stretching basins. Garrel-burn is the most noticeable, and – like all the streams in Scotland which bear the name of GARVALD [which see] – is rough, rapid, and turbulent. Within the distance of 1½ mile it falls 1,000 feet, and it necessarily forms many cataracts and waterfalls. Yet though its falls are very romantic, and in time of a great flood even awful, they are in no single instance deeper than 50 feet, and are not much distinguished by sentimental tourists. The southern district of the parish, or nearly one-half of the whole area, is the highest part of that strath which runs far westward from the Carse of Falkirk, and which is traversed by the Forth and Clyde canal. The surface, for a little way northward from the boundary, is nearly a dead level, little more than 160 feet above the level of the Forth at Grangemouth; and farther north it makes an undulating, broken, and rough ascent. Though very bare of trees, this district, in consequence of being well-cultivated and enclosed, presents a pleasing aspect. Between it and the belt of meadow-land along the northern boundary, the whole area swells boldly and variedly up in wild pastoral heights, a continuation of the Campsie fells, called the Kilsyth hills, lifting their summits from 1,000 to 1,368 feet above the level of the sea. The loftiest of these hills commands a prospect which, if less beautiful and variegated than that from the top of Benlomond, is richer and more extensive. Part of at least fourteen, if not sixteen counties, is under the eye at one glance. Scotland is seen from sea to sea, and over a still more extensive area from south to north. The contrast between the Lowland and the Highland part of the vast scene, strongly arrest the attention. “If you turn your eye southward from the frith of Forth to Clyde, and from Pentland and Galloway to the Ochils and Kilpatrick hills, the whole seems one extended fertile plain, or rather like a beautiful garden sheltered on all hands by the surrounding mountains, and divided into numberless beautiful enclosures, like the compactments of a flower garden. Nothing can possibly be a more striking contrast to this than the prospect to the north. For 70 or 80 miles it appears to be an endless succession of hill upon hill, overtopping one another till they are lost in the distance of the prospect, and blended with the blue clouds or azure sky. In a foggy day, or frosty morning, the prospect is truly picturesque. Being raised entirely above the fog, the whole plain to the south appears like the sea in a calm; while the hills on the north seem to rise like islands out of the main, or like the tumultuous waves of the ocean in a storm.” The soil of the parish in that part of the southern plain which is skirted by the Kelvin, is a rich fertile loam, from 2 to 2½ feet deep; in the smaller part of that plain whose waters run eastward, it is thin, channelly, and siliceous; and in the upland districts it is in general sandy, or gravelly and light, and, in some places, almost wholly yields to a carpeting of small stones of from four ounces to two or three pounds weight. The climate, though moist, is salubrious. The agriculture of the parish probably exhibits no peculiarity except the historical one, that it introduced to Scotland the open cultivation of the potato. In 1728, when that esculent was known and treated only as a tender exotic, Thomas Prentice, a day-labourer here, set the example of raising it in the open field;1 and eleven years later, Robert Graham, Esq. of Tamrawer, had here brought the practice to such perfection, that he rented lands near Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Perth, and Renfrew, for supplying the public. 

   The parish is singularly rich in both the number and the utility of its minerals. Coal is very abundant, stretching in thick seams from 4 to 16 fathoms beneath the surface, and probably existing in other and equally rich seams at a greater depth. That wrought in the western district is of prime quality; and that of the eastern district is a blind coal in great request, and exported along the canal to England, Ireland, and formerly to Russia. Limestone, consisting of a conglomeration of small shells of all sizes, from an inch in diameter till they become invisible to the naked eye, and containing the greatest proportion of calcareous earth and the least proportion of sand of probably any limestone in Scotland, is extensively worked, and in great request. Freestone of a beautiful white colour, sometimes tinged with various shades of brown and yellow, easily chiselled when fresh from the quarry, and hardening on exposure to the air, offers an abundant supply to demands at a distance for the materials of ornamental masonry. Ironstone has, for three-fourths of a century, been worked here by the Carron company, and occurs in a variety of forms. Balls or round masses, uniform in shape, and having the outline of a flat-topped loaf or apple-pudding, were long considered the richest form in which it occurred. A very large vein of blackband ironstone has recently been discovered. A seam of stone, from 20 to 30 feet in thickness, has furnished an annual supply of many thousand tons for paving the streets of Glasgow. A vein of copper was wrought during last century by the York Building company. Large masses of grey and variegated dull-coloured flint, and specimens of yellow and red jasper, were discovered in 1791, or rather were then brought into notice; for the jasper possessing a very fine grain, had even at that date found its way to the lapidaries and seal-engravers of Edinburgh and London. 

   The parish all lies immediately on the Caledonian side of Antoninus’ wall, and possesses, or has yielded up antiquities in keeping with its position. At Westerwood and Barhill, beyond the limits of the parish, are two distinct Roman forts; and corresponding to these, within the limits, are two Pictish forts, respectively at Cunny-park and at Balcastle. That at Balcastle is perhaps the most beautiful, regular, and entire of all the Pictish forts in Scotland: situated in a peninsula formed by two rills, rising on all sides at an angle of 45 degrees, 300 feet in diameter at its base, and 150 feet on its flat summit, and traditionally reported to be hollow in the interior. Several circular fortifications called ‘Chesters,’ the Gaelic name for camps, have a strong mutual resemblance, and bear such marks of high antiquity as to have been supposed coeval with the Roman forts, or of earlier construction than Antoninus’ wall. Various tumuli once existed; but have been levelled in the course of agricultural improvement. Besides earlier monuments, there are some of the feudal times, and not a few of the eventful period of strife between the tyrannical Stuarts, and the martyrly Presbyterians of Scotland. In the Barwood is an eminence, still called the Court-hill, where the haughty barons of the dark ages were accustomed to sit in judgment. Near Quinzie-burn is another eminence called the Gallow-hill, where their unrelenting sentences were put in execution. But by far the most interesting antiquities, or antiquarian reminiscences, are those connected with the battle of Kilsyth, the most disastrous in which the Covenanters acted a part, and at once the most sanguinary and the most victorious, whence the gallant but utterly mistaken Montrose plucked wreathes of blood-soaked garments in lieu of green laurel. This battle was fought on the 15th of August, 1645. The scene of action was the district immediately around the hollow which now contains the artificial lake or reservoir of the Forth and Clyde canal, a field so broken and irregular, that, did not tradition and history concur in identifying it, few persons could believe it to have been the arena of any military operation. Montrose and his men had hitherto been on the losing side, – for they could scarcely regard their victories over tumultuary armies at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, and Inverlochy, as having been serious achievements; and they took up their ground in Kilsyth to their own liking, to abide the onset of forces specially deputed against them by the Scottish council under the command of Baillie, an officer of reputation. But when Baillie arrived to make the attack, he found his authority all but entirely superseded by a committee, headed by Argyle, and shorn of power to exert subordinating influence on the portion of the army placed specifically under his control. Montrose’s army consisted of only 4,400 foot, with 500 horse, while that of his antagonist amounted to 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse; but he had the high advantages of having chosen his ground, of possessing the supreme and the sole command, and of having arranged his troops in the best possible manner for confronting and overpowering his opponents. The weather being very hot, Montrose bade his fellows doff their outer garments, – a circumstance which gave rise to a tradition that they fought naked; and, making a general assault, he almost instantly – aided or rather led by the impetuosity of his Highlanders – threw his antagonists, reserve and all, into such confusion, that prodigies of valour, on the part of their nominal commander, utterly failed to rally even a portion of them, and incite them to withstand the foe. A total route taking place, Montrose’s forces cut down or captured almost the whole of the infantry, and even coolly massacred many of the unarmed inhabitants of the country. Though Baillie’s cavalry, for the most part, escaped death from the conqueror, they very numerously met it in fleeing from his pursuit across the then dangerous morass of Dullater bog. Incredible as it may seem, only seven or eight persons in Montrose’s army were slain. “It belongs not to me,” says the Rev. Robert Rennie, in the Old Statistical Account, ‘to give any detail of that engagement, in this place. Suffice it only to say, that every little hill and valley bears the name, or records the deeds of that day; so that the situation of each army can be distinctly traced. Such as the Bullet and Baggage-know, the Drum-burn, the Slaughter-how or hollow, Kill-e-many butts, &c. &c. In the Bullet-know and neighbourhood, bullets are found every year; and in some places so thick, that you may lift three or four without moving a step. In the Slaughter-how, and a variety of other places, bones and skeletons may be dug up everywhere; and in every little bog or marsh for 3 miles, especially in the Dullater bog, they have been discovered in almost every ditch. The places where the bodies lie in any number, may be easily known; as the grass is always of a more luxuriant growth in summer, and of a yellowish tinge in spring and harvest” – In 1769-70, when the Forth and Clyde canal was cut through Dullater bog, myriads of small toads, each about the size of a nut or turkey bean, issued from the morass, hopped over all the adjacent fields northward to the extent of several miles, and were so numerous as to resemble in motion the rebound of hail-stones in a heavy shower, and to count 10, or even 20 or 30, in the space of a square yard. They all went directly north, yet were never seen beyond the summit of the hill, nor anywhere in considerable number the following spring. – The parish is traversed near its southern boundary, and in its extreme length, by the Glasgow and Stirling turnpike by way of Kilsyth; and along the whole of that boundary, it is nowhere more than half-a-mile, and generally not more than 200 or 300 yards distant from the Forth and Clyde canal. Sir William Livingstone, who became a senator of the college of justice in 1609, and the Rev. John Livingstone, a man of letters and piety, who held pastoral charges successively in Ireland, at Stranraer, and at Ancrum, were natives of Kilsyth. Population, in 1801, 1,762; in 1831, 4,297. Houses 560. Assessed property, in 1815, £9,317. – Kilsyth is in the presbytery of Glasgow, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Crown. Stipend £271 6s. 7d.; glebe £20. Unappropriated teinds £78 12s. 8d. The parish-church was built in 1816. Sittings 850. – A Relief meeting-house, belonging to a congregation established about 70 years ago, cost £1,000. Sittings 559. Stipend £120, with manse and glebe. There are two small Independent and Baptist congregations. A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built here in 1840. According to ecclesiastical survey in 1836, the population then was 4,460; of whom 2,941 were churchmen, and 1,453 were dissenters. – The parish consists of two baronies, the East and the West, called respectively Monaebrugh and Kilsyth. The latter, till 1649, belonged to Campsie; and did not impose its name on the parish, to the expulsion of the ancient one of Monaebrugh, till the close of the 17th century. In the western barony, at a place still called Chapel-green, there was anciently a chapel. Supposing this to have been dedicated to a Romish saint of the name of Cetae, the word Kilsyth may be derived from that name, with the prefix Cella, a church, chapel, or burying-ground. Or the word may be an abbreviation of the Gaelic Kilabhuinnsith, ‘Church of the River of peace,’ and the brook in the vicinity of the church may have been considered as haunted by the Daoine Sith, or Scottish fairies, called ‘men of peace,’ for fear of their malign influence. The parish was anciently a parsonage. There are three parochial schools, and two non-parochial, the former situated respectively in the burgh and in the west and east baronies. Salary of the burgh schoolmaster, who employs an assistant, £30, with £58 fees, £9 other emoluments, and a dwelling-house; of the east barony schoolmaster £12 6s. 3d., with £31 fees, £1 1s. other emoluments, and a lodging; of the west barony schoolmaster £9, with £23 fees, £22 other emoluments, and a dwelling-house. Average attendance at all the five schools, 365; and at evening schools, 150. Kilsyth is remarkable as the scene of two religious revivals which occurred respectively in the years 1742 and 1839, and excited great interest throughout the country. Narratives of them were written and published by the Rev. Mr. Robe and the Rev. Mr. Burns, the incumbents at their respective dates. 

   KILSYTH, the capital of the above parish, a burgh-of-barony, and a considerable village, stands ¾ of a mile north of the Forth and Clyde canal; 5½ miles from Cumbernauld; 12½ from Glasgow; 12 from Falkirk; and 15 from Stirling. Seen from the banks of the canal or from the neighbouring heights, it seems to be bleakly nestled in a hollow, and has a dingy and forlorn appearance. Its street-arrangements are straggling and irregular; and its edifices indicate the pervading poverty, or very narrow competency, of a community of cotton-weavers subordinate to Glasgow. The original village ran along the banks of the Garrel, at a time, of course, when that stream was not diverted toward its present reservoir receptacle; and it then bore the name of Monaebrugh. But about the year 1665, an entirely new town was built on a small rising ground, called Moat-hill, and took the name Kilsyth from the title of the proprietor. Soon after the new erection, the recently-built houses being at an inconvenient distance from the stream, water was conveyed in earthen pipes from a spring about ¼ of a mile distant, and stored in a well or cistern near the centre of the new town, bearing an inscription of the date 1676. Since that period, and especially in 1716, other cisterns were erected. The town very recently began to enjoy the additional luxury of being lighted at night with gas. The parish-church stands at the southern extremity, and is the only individual feature of the burghal landscape which draws attention. In the town are a library and a savings’-bank. Fairs are held in January, March, May, August, and November. Nearly the whole support of the place is weaving. The number of looms, in 1812, was between 400 and 500; in 1828, it was 800; and in 1838, it was 1,020. Only six, in the last of these years, were harness-looms; all the other 1,014 being plain. Kilsyth is a burgh-of-barony, erected by a charter from George IV., dated 7th August, 1826. The magistrates are a bailie, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 4 councillors. There are also a clerk and a procurator-fiscal. – The right of election is in the inhabitants having right by feu or lease of 19 years to a house and garden of the annual value of £5, and who have been admitted burgesses. The dues of the burgess-tickets are 5s. – The bailie and councillors usually remain two years in office; but the election is annual. – The dues of entering burgess, and the fines imposed on delinquents, are applied to defray the expenses of administering justice. – Custom dues were at one time levied, but have been discontinued for a considerable time, in consequence of the burgesses refusing to pay; and strangers also have disputed payment. The burgh has no funds to try its right, which besides is, it is said, rather involved in doubt. – States of the revenue and expenditure are made out annually, and are open to the inspection of the community. The revenue arises at present wholly from burgess entries and fines, and is not adequate to meet the expenditure. The burgh has no property, and there are no taxes or stents imposed by the magistrates. – The jurisdiction is confined to petty offences. No stated courts are held. Population, in 1835, 2,500. – Three-and-a-half miles north-east of Kilsyth, stands the small village of Banton, the site of the East barony school. – Half-a-mile north of the town are the ruins of Kilsyth-castle, anciently the baronial residence of the Kilsyth, and junior branch of the family of Livingstone. Sir James Livingston offered to hold out the castle against Cromwell, and otherwise maintained loyalty to the house of Stuart during the period of the interregnum, and at the Restoration was created Viscount Kilsyth, and Lord Campsie. His second son, William, the third Viscount Kilsyth, engaged in the rebellion of 1715, was forfeited, and died in Holland. He married first the widow of Viscount Dundee, who brought him a son, and next Barbara, daughter of Macdougal of Mackerston, who brought him a daughter. The family burying-vault, 16 feet square, having been entered, in 1795, for the purpose of plunder, the embalmed bodies of one of these ladies – most probably the second – and her infant, were found in a state of apparently as complete preservation as immediately after death. The vault is now so closed up as to be inaccessible.

1  “The potatoe plant seems first to have been introduced into Britain by Sir Walter Raleigh, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; but, for more than a century, its cultivation was exceedingly confined, owing probably to erroneous modes of cultivation, and to an improper manner of preparing it for food. In the reign of James I., this root was considered a great rarity, and sold so dear as 2s. per pound; and even so late as the beginning of last century, it seems not to have entered into the lists of agricultural produce. Bradley, who wrote about the year 1720, and who treated expressly of new improvements in horticulture, says of potatoes, – ‘They are of less note than horse-radish, radish, scorzonera, beets, and skerrit; but as they are not without their admirers, I will not pass them by in silence.’ The district of England where the potatoe was first generally cultivated seems to have been Lancashire; and, about the same time, it was introduced to general use in Scotland. In 1728,” – as mentioned above, – “a day-labourer, living near Kilsyth, successfully raised a crop of potatoes on a little plot of ground attached to his cottage, and was fortunate enough to call the attention of his neighbours to the value of this hitherto neglected vegetable. By the annual sale of his produce he soon realized what was to him a fortune, a sum of £200; and meanwhile, the public attention being called to the plant, it gradually made its way. It was not, however, till after the year 1743, which was remarkable as a season of scarcity, that it came to be generally cultivated as a regular branch of held husbandry. I very well remember a near relative of mine mentioning an anecdote which showed that, so late as the year 1755 or 1756, the potatoe was still a rarity in Wigtonshire. This incident was, that a lady had brought some potatoes in her pocket to church on Sunday, to present to a friend, as something quite new; but the string of her pocket breaking as she was in the act of going out on the dismissal of the congregation, she lost her burthen in the passage, which created considerable speculation. In England, with the exception of Lancashire, the progress of this esculent into a general cultivation was still lower. It was known in Yorkshire only as a garden-plant down to 1760; and in Somersetshire we must date its introduction as an article of farm produce, at least ten years later. After this period, however, the value of the potatoe came to be very generally appreciated; and, in the year 1796, in the county of Essex alone, no fewer than 1,700 acres were planted with this root, for the supply of the London market. Potatoes seem to have found their way into the Continent of Europe at a considerably later period than into England, but they came more rapidly into common use, and we may date their general cultivation there from about the middle of last century.” – Duncan’sPhilosophy of the Seasons.’