Wigton, pp.809-811.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   WIGTON, a parish in the eastern border of Wigtonshire. Its form is ellipsoidal, with the greater axis extending from east to west. It is bounded on the north-west, north, and north-east, by Penninghame; on the east by Wigton-bay, which divides it from Kirkcudbrightshire; and on the south and south-west by the river Bladenoch, which divides it from Kirkinner. Its greatest length is 5 miles; its greatest breadth is 4 miles; and its superficial extent is 5,500 acres. A streamlet, called Bishopburn, runs to the bay over a distance of nearly 4 miles along the boundary with Penninghame. The bay of Wigton, or the estuary of the Cree, while washing the parish, is from 1½ to 2¾ miles broad; yet, at the recess of the tide, it becomes simply an expanse of sand, furrowed by the channels of the streams. A district in the north-east, lying on the bay and measuring 2½ miles by 1½, is an almost uninterrupted level, and bears decided marks of having, at a comparatively recent period, been constantly submarine. Both its soil and its subsoil are a kind of indurated silt, intermixed with shells; and they are stratified, and jointly very deep. The tract, after being forsaken by the sea, appears to have been first forest, and next bog; and though now very extensively reclaimed and arable, still has a large aggregate of bog, and exhibits many trunks of its quondam trees, especially of oaks. The district inward from it, and constituting the north-west division, is roughly tumulated, and, along with some improved lands, and others which are improvable, contains probably 1,000 acres of irreclaimable moor and moss. The southern district, though hillocky and broken, has much good low ground, sends the plough over most of its rising grounds, and exhibits no small amount of the happy results of agricultural improvement. The soil, both on the heights and on the plains, is a dry, light, hazle mould, lying in some places on till, and in others on gravel; and being in general thin, it agrees well with showeriness of weather. The only village is BLADENOCH: which see. The principal landward antiquity is the standing-stones of Torhouse. These are all of unpolished granite; and form a circle of 19 stones, and a centre of 3. The stones on the circumference are from 2 to 5 feet long, from 4 to 9 in girth, and from 5 to nearly 12 asunder, – forming a circle of 218 feet; and the stones in or near the centre, stand on a line from east to west, the exterior ones 5, and the interior one 3 feet high. Some single stones, and several cairns – the latter originally large, but now wasted by having been used as quarries for fences – occur in the vicinity. Some writers regard these remains as Druidical; others, as an ancient court of justice; and others, among whom are Sir Robert Sibbald, Timothy Pont, and Symson, as monuments of the person, the chief officers, and the common soldiers of Galdus, the Scottish prince, who conquered the province from the Romans. Four great lines of road traverse the parish, radiating from the burgh in the directions respectively of Newton-Stewart. Ferry-town of Cree, Whithorn, and Stranraer. Population, in 1801, 1,475; in 1831, 2,337. Houses 403. Population, in 1841, 2,552. Assessed property, in 1815, £6,499. – Wigton is the seat of a presbytery in the synod of Galloway. Patron, the Earl of Galloway. Stipend £272 0s. 9d.; glebe £24. Unappropriated teinds £162 13s. 9d. The parish-church was built in 1730, repaired and enlarged in 1770, and re-roofed in 1830 or 1831. Sittings 660. An United Secession chapel in the burgh, belonging to a congregation established in 1748, was built in 1750, and enlarged about 1785. Sittings 448. Stipend £120, with £10 for sacramental expenses. A Relief congregation was established in the burgh in 1834, and has been gratuitously accommodated with the town-hall. An ecclesiastical census, not of the whole population, but of examinable persons in 1836, exhibited the latter as 1,302, and distributed them into 918 churchmen, and 384 dissenters. There are two schools in the burgh under the direction of the magistrates, the one for boys and the other for girls. Salary of the schoolmaster £24; of his assistant £10; of the schoolmistress £10; of her assistant £6. The fees are moderate; and the schoolrooms are much too confined for either comfort or health. In 1834, there were 8 private schools, attended by 320 scholars. – The ancient church was dedicated to St. Machute, a saint of British origin who died in 554; it was given by Edward Bruce, lord of Galloway, and brother of the royal Robert, to the canons of Whithorn; and it afterwards became a free parsonage, and in the feeble reign of James III. had for its rector a younger son of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch. – A convent for Dominican or preaching friars was founded at Wigton, in 1267, by the well-known Lady Dervorgille. This convent stood on the south-east of the town, and was governed by a prior; but, even in 1684, when Symson wrote, “the very ruins thereof were almost ruined,” and now they have entirely disappeared. The friars obtained from Alexander III. a grant of a large portion of the “firms” annually due to him from the town of Wigton; and they gave lodging to James IV., and received frequent gratuities from him on his many pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Ninian at Whithorn. “Ronald Makbretun, clarschawner,” or harper, received from James IV., during life, six marks worth of land of Knockan in Wigton, for his fee as one of the King’s musicians, on the condition of his annually paying the friars of Wigton six bolls of meal. The friars had in perpetuity a fishery on the south side of the Bladenoch upwards from its embouchure; and, in compensation or purchase of their “singing daily, after evensang, Salve regina, with a special orison, for the King’s father and mother, predecessors and successors,” they obtained temporary grants of the fishery on the north side of the same river from James III., James IV., and James V. The revenues of the convent, never considerable, were vested in the Crown by the general annexation act. The friars, compared to kindred communities throughout the country, seem to have been quite obscure. 

   WIGTON, a royal burgh, and the capital of Wigtonshire, stands in the south-east corner of its cognominal parish, 7¼ miles south of Newton-Stewart, 11 north of Whithorn. 20 east of Stranraer, 58 west-south-west of Dumfries, and 105 south-south-west of Edinburgh. Its site is a rising ground or table-land of about 200 acres in extent, and about 200 feet above sea-level, near the beach of Wigton-bay, and about 3 furlongs north of the mouth of the Bladenoch. As seen from some distance, the town has a beautiful appearance; and as seen from within, it presents a cleanliness, a neatness, and a general taste, rarely, if at all, found in towns of its size. Its principal locality is a rectangle or parallelogram about 250 yards long, proportionally broad, and extending from east-north-east to west-south-west. This area, excepting sufficient space around its exterior for carriage and pathways, is all enclosed. The central part of the enclosure presents the smooth, green, level sward of a public bowling-green. At the, lower end is an intricate and excellent dial. At the upper end is an artificial circular bank, cut into a series of terraces, or concentric sward seats, whence the burghers, rising above one another as on the section of a galleried pyramid, may look down on the sport of the bowl-players below. Round the whole of the enclosure, between the inner objects and the roadways, are umbrageous gravel walks, planted along the sides with shrubs and evergreens and forest trees, and almost completely hid by them from the intrusive gaze of peerers on the streets. So fine and judicious a burghal ornament as this enclosure, with its contents, is quite unique of its kind, indicates much good taste, and ought to provoke imitation; and, while it pleases and delights a stranger simply by its intrinsic properties, how much is he surprised, how greatly is he charmed, when he learns that it occupies the quondam site of a huge common dunghill of the burgh, and thus stands before him the type of transformation from moral turpitude to the sweets and the odoriferousness of moral beauty! Most of the town, additional to the rectangle, consists of a street, proceeding 230 yards west-south-westward, on a line with the south side of the rectangle; a street of nearly the same length, going off from the south side of the latter, bending round in the form of the segment of a circle, and leading out the thoroughfare toward Bladenoch and Whithorn; two streets, each about 130 yards long, and parallel to each other, going off at right angles from the ends of the north side of the rectangle, one of them leading out the highway to Newton-Stewart; and three other streets, short, not fully edificed, but combining with the rest of the town arrangement to produce a tout-ensemble of beautiful intersections and interlacery of plan which could hardly have been producible out of so small a number of houses, and which has an agreeableness of effect seldom equalled in neatly constructed towns of even considerable size. Many of the houses are new; and a sufficient number are neat, entirely to redeem the place from the careworn and tawdry aspect which so generally belongs to old Scottish towns of its class. On the street at the upper extremity of the rectangle stands the market-cross, a structure of great architectural elegance, and adorned with tasteful sculpturings. At the opposite extremity, looking up the unedificed and enclosed area, is the town-house, surmounted by a considerably high tower, and distributed into court-room, assembly-room, and an apartment for a subscription library. In a fine retired spot, nearly 100 yards from the east end of the town, stands the parish-church. In itself it is patched and shabby, and possesses no interest; but in its surrounding cemetery are two monuments which will suggest to many minds of the best cast very thrilling and instructive associations. Both are to the memory of martyrs. Margaret McLauchlan, a woman of advanced years, and Margaret Wilson, a young woman of 18, were tried at Wigton by the inglorious Grierson of Lag, Colonel Graham the brother of the infamous Claverhouse, Major Windram and Captain Strachan, commissioners appointed to try nonconformists with power of extreme penalty, and having been condemned by these brutal tools of truculent persecution to be staked at low water and drowned by the flow of the tide, they underwent the martyrdom with a steadiness which resisted all allurement to recant, and a grandeur of moral heroism which might have put the bull-dog bravery of all the troopers of the king to the blush. One of the monuments commemorates these females, and bears suitable inscriptions, in reference to each, followed, in the case of that which refers to Margaret Wilson, by the doggerel rhymes: 

“Let earth and stone still witness beare 

There lys a virgine martyr here, 

Murthered for owning Christ Supreame 

Head of his Church, and no more crime, 

But not abjuring Presbytry, 

And her not owning Prelacy. 

Of Heaven nor Hell they stood no awe; 

Within the sea, ty’d to a stake, 

She suffered for Christ Jesus’ sake. 

The actors of this cruel crime 

Was Lagg, Strachan, Winram, and Ghrame; 

Neither young years nor old age 

Could stop the fury of their rage.” 

Three men, William Johnston, John Milroy, and George Walker, all in humble worldly circumstances, were interrogated, not tried, by Winram at Wigton; and failing to please him with their answers about attending the services of the curate, they were next day, without even a poor show of justice being done them, publicly executed. The second interesting monument in the churchyard is to the memory of these men; and it bears an inscription which simply states that they were, “without sentence of law,” put to death “for their adherence to Scotland’s reformation, covenants, and national solemn league.” 

   Wigton has no manufactures except the ordinary artisan products for local use, and very little trade beyond the transfer of commodities for the supply of a limited circumjacent country. Though there are nominally five annual fairs, they possess hardly any connection with business, and have fallen into all but complete neglect. A weekly market is held on Saturday; but it entirely wants the stir and the importance of markets in many other agricultural districts. The sum of the most valuable part of the export trade is the annual shipment of probably, on the average, 10,000 or 12,000 bushels of grain, with a proportionate quantity of potatoes, and a smaller quantity of oatmeal. A creek previously used as a harbour became inaccessible in 1817 or 1818, in consequence of a change in the current of the river Blatlenoch; and a new harbour and breastwork were soon after erected at a considerable expense by the magistrates. Though the dues levied at the new harbour are questionable as to their legality, no authority having been obtained for making the erection, they appear to be very moderate, and to yield no more than a fair return for the money laid out in giving accommodation to shipping. Up to 1833, the harbour-dues averaged about £30 10s. In 1831, the vessels belonging to the town were 14 in number, and aggregately carried about 880 tons; and the number of vessels which cleared out from the harbour was 76, cargoed with upwards of 5,000 tons. In 1840 there were 63 vessels measuring 4,199 tons, belonging to this port, and manned by 311 men and boys. The Countess of Galloway steamer maintains communication generally twice a-week with Garlieston, Kirkcudbright, and Liverpool. The Stranraer and Newton-Stewart mail is daily in transit. Wigton has an office of the British Linen Company’s bank; a customhouse; a stamp-office; 5 insurance offices; a masonic lodge; a friendly society; and a Bible society. 

   Wigton is governed by a provost, two bailies, a treasurer, and 14 councillors. Municipal constituency, in 1840, 111. The affairs of the burgh appear to be in a very flourishing condition. There is no debt; there have been no alienations of the common property for nearly two centuries; the public property is of considerable value; and the revenue in ordinary years exceeds the expenditure. In 1832, the revenue was £393 4s. 4d.; and the expenditure £391 5s. 11d. There is no local assessment for burghal purposes. The cess payable for the burgh is £4 16s. 4d., and is defrayed out of the common funds. The affairs of the poor are maintained by voluntary subscription, and managed jointly by the magistrates, the kirk-session, and the heritors. The ancient royalty comprehended about 1,200 acres, almost wholly alienated for trifling feu-duties, nearly two centuries ago, to the Galloway family. The boundaries under the Reform act exclude most of these grounds, and include the farms of Maitland and Kirklandhill which formerly were not held in burgage. The jurisdiction exercised by the magistrates is very trifling; and, during 10 years ending in 1833, disposed of only 5 civil and 33 criminal cases. Nearly all the civil cases on the burgh are tried before the sheriff-court. The patronage of the magistrates extends to the election only of their own officers, and the teachers of the endowed schools. There being no guildry and no incorporated trades, no fees are exacted from any trader who settles in the burgh. The sheriff and commissary court sits every Tuesday during session. There reside in the town the principal clerk of the peace for Wigtonshire, 4 justices of peace, and 7 procurators. Wigton unites with Stranraer, Whithorn, and New-Galloway in sending a member to parliament. Parliamentary constituency, in 1840, 108. 

   An old castle, which dated back to at latest the middle of the 13th century, and was built by a body of successful Saxon invaders, appears to have occasioned the origin of the town. It stood on the banks of the Bladenoch at a place now abandoned by the river, but where anciently it fell into the bay. Vestiges of the fosse, and some confused small masses of stone and mortar, are the only remains. The castle was sufficiently important to be demanded and obtained by Edward I. in 1291, to be held by him till the competing claims for the crown should be adjusted. While in his possession, it was successively under the charge of Walter de Currie, Laird of Dunskey, and others; and it was afterwards delivered up to John Baliol as king of Scotland, and became for a time a royal residence. The town was incorporated and recognised as a royal burgh from a very early period. The original grants having been lost or destroyed, James II., in 1457, of new granted a charter, confirming the burgh in all its ancient rights and privileges. In 1661, this charter was ratified by the Scottish parliament. Shortly afterwards, Charles II. granted a new charter, confirming the former grants, and conferring such rights of taxation as the burgh continues to exercise Wigton gave the title of Earl to the noble family of Fleming. The earldom was created, in 1341, jointly with the title of Baron Fleming and Cumbernauld, and it became dormant, in 1747, at the death of Charles, the 7th Earl. The Hon. Admiral Fleming, governor of Greenwich hospital, who died in 1840, was said to be the representative of the Earls.

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