I found this wonderful article at old-kirkcudbright.net written nearly 100 years ago about Kirkcudbright circa 1830. So this is the story of how Kirkcudbright was almost 200 years ago. What makes this find so great is that it mentions Robert Beattie on High Street. This is my great-great-great grandfather. In 1841, Robert lived on High Street with his entire family. He was a merchant sailor but his family ran an Inn / Pub on High Street. His son and my great-great-grandfather, Jonathan, came to the US in 1842 and settled in Brooklyn, New York.
One hundred years ago may seem an age in the span of life, but it is only a tick in eternity, or a flow and ebb in the tide of time. What a transformation scene it works! The old times have changed, and the old manners gone. The residents of the Royal Burgh of one hundred years ago have all passed away into the limbo of forgetfulness, most of them “unwept, unhonoured and unsung.” Yet, in their day and generation, they played their part in the great drama of life, and then passed from the stage never to return. Their places have been filled by another generation which has also passed away, only to be filled by another. Thus the great wheels of time and evolution ever revolve, bringing life, death and change. They will continue to do so until this world also passes away amid the wreck and ruin wrought by the cruel Juggernaut of Time.
One hundred years ago, the Royal Burgh of Kirkcudbright was one of the quaintest and romantic little burghs in Scotland. Viewed from one of the surrounding heights, it resembled an earthly paradise embosomed in lovely sylvan surroundings. There are few towns so rich in natural beauty, or in objects of antiquarian and historical interest.
At the beginning of the 19th century it had like other burghs in Scotland, passed through the dark ages of oppression, ignorance, and superstition, and was just emerging into the light of knowledge and a more advanced civilisation. The houses had assumed a more respectable and comfortable aspect, most of them being rebuilt, and many of them being two storeys in height. The streets had also undergone a transformation, being laid out on a regular plan, at right angles to each other. The names are much the same as at the present day, viz:- High Street, Castle Street, St. Cuthbert Street, Union Street, Millburn, St. Mary’s Street, Quay Street, and Waterloo Street.
Among the more imposing buildings were the public buildings and jail, erected in 1816, the Academy, the old Tolbooth with its antique tower and one-handed clock, the ruins of the old castle of the Maclellans, and the old Established Church which stood on the site of the Franciscan Monastery founded in the 13th century. In High Street there stood a neat little chapel belonging to the United Associate Congregation. The Academy, or Grammar School, was, even at that period, a large and elegant building comprising not only the school but also a spacious room for the use of the subscription library. In addition to this library there was a news-room in High Street kept by John C Mackenzie, a billiard room, and a Freemasons’ Lodge.
At this period railways and steam engines were looked upon as a magician’s dream. “Puffing Billy” had just been patented, and its advent was hailed with jeers and laughter. There was no imposing suspension bridge spanning the Dee, and passengers from the other side had to be ferried over on a flat-bottomed boat, or sort of floating bridge. A broad platform was attached at each end by hinges, which, when lowered, allowed all kinds of vehicles to pass on and off with rapidity. The ferry boat was so large that it could accommodate four horses and carts, or two carriages and one gig. The mode of propulsion was by means of a crank winch and chain, much the same as the present-day ferry-boat at Boat-o’-Rhone. In stormy weather when there was an excessive current running, this mode of conveyance was not without danger and inconvenience.
Compared with present-day facilities, the outside means of communication and trade with the burgh were very much restricted. A coach ran every afternoon to Dumfries, passing through Castle Douglas and Dalbeattie. Inland goods and parcels were brought in, and despatched by means of carrier’s carts, as follows:- To Castle Douglas, every Friday by Samuel Mouncy, David M’Clure, and Thomas Wallet, starting from the Commercial. To Dumfries, every Tuesday, from High Street, by William M’Knight; to Edinburgh, every Friday, from the Commercial, by Samuel Mouncy, and from the Selkirk Arms, once a fortnight, by Hugh Pennycuick; to Glasgow, from the Commercial, alternately every Friday by Thomas Wallet and David M’Clure; to Gatehouse once a fortnight, by James Lees and Hugh Pennycuick; and the New Galloway every Friday, by M’Cutcheon, from the Commercial. Regular communication was also kept up between Liverpool and Kirkcudbright by the “Countess of Galloway” steamship. Much trade was done by a small fleet of coasting vessels, about 20 in number. In 1840, this fleet had increased to 54 vessels with a tonnage of 2069. The principal items of traffic were coals, lime, bone-dust, guano, slates, freestone, iron, lead, herrings, flour &c. When we look at the present grand commodious harbour, without its ships, we cannot but exclaim, Ichabod! Ichabod! the glory has departed.
The postal service to Kirkcudbright was fairly good notwithstanding the difficulties of transit. The Post Office was situated in Castle Street, with Mr Charles James Finlayson as postmaster. Mails arrived from London, Edinburgh, and all parts, every afternoon, and there were despatches every night at 10 o’clock.
Kirkcudbright had a real market every Friday, and there were two annual fairs held on the last Friday of August and September.
A very considerable local trade was done in manufactures, such as gloves, boots, shoes, soap, candles, leather, brewing, and the manufacture of snuff. By some strange infatuation, the burghers of that period refused to allow the burgh to become the seat and centre of cotton manufacture, and thus forced their would-be benefactors to erect their mills over at Gatehouse. The mistake was, as is usual, only recognised when too late. A local attempt was then made to secure both cotton and woollen manufactories, but it proved a failure.
The following were the incorporated trades at this period, viz.:- Squaremen, Tailors, Weavers, Hammermen, Clothiers, and Shoemakers.
Being the county town, and the seat of the law courts, the burgh was the resort and residence of many opulent families. A few of the principal inhabitants were – in High Street – William Ireland of Barbey, sheriff substitute; William Mure, factor to the Earl of Selkirk; Mrs Elizabeth Carson; the Misses Carson; the Misses Sarah and Elizabeth Drew; the Rev. George Hamilton, minister of the Established Church; John Henderson; Miss Jean Melville; John Napier; and John Paul. In Castle Street – David Caig; Capt. John Dun, G.M.; Mrs Penelope Edie; John Hannay; Rev. David Ker; Mrs Grace M’Caul; David M’Clellan; Mrs Jean M’Taggart; Mrs Catherine Morrine; Mrs Elizabeth Sims. In St. Cuthbert Street – Andrew Brown; Mrs Elizabeth Cochrane; the Misses Gordon; the Misses M’Minn; Mrs Jean Muir; and the Rev. George Wood. In Quay Street – Miss Jane M’Caul. In Union Street – Mrs Jean Welch.
The burgh was rich in scholastic institutions. There was the Academy, or Grammar School, with Thomas Hope, rector; John Hope, commercial and mathematical teacher; and the Rev. William Mackenzie, English teacher, author of the “History of Galloway” (2 vols. 1841). These men made the Kirkcudbright Academy famous over Scotland, and many pupils from all parts of Scotland came for tuition. In addition there were many smaller adventure schools. There was one in St Mary’s Street, taught by Mr James Broom; in High Street by Miss Margaret Coupland; in Castle Street by The Misses Jane and Mary M’Millan; and another in Castle Street taught by Mr John Mitchell.
It is now more than one hundred years ago since the National Bard nicknamed the burgh as “Whisky Jean.” The following appalling list of inns, spirit merchants, and vintners go far to prove that the nickname was not really misapplied. The Inns were: Commercial, Robert Carson; Galloway Arms, David Kissock, St Cuthbert Street; King’s Arms, Janet Malcolmson, High Street; Selkirk Arms, Margaret Kissock, High Street.
The vintners, wine and spirit merchants, and spirit dealers were as follows: The Ship, Mrs Isabella Armstrong, the Shore; Farmer’s Arms, Mrs Nicholas Black, High Street; The Cross Keys, John Gordon, St Mary’s Street; Masons’ Arms, John Knox, High Street; The Rose, John Keiter, St Cuthbert Street; The Crown and Anchor, John M’Intyre, Waterloo Street; St Cuthbert Lodge, John M’Intyre, Castle Street; The Royal Oak, David M’Whan, Quay Street; The Steam Boat, Alexander rae, St Cuthbert Street.
Wine and Spirit Merchants – Charles James Finlayson, Castle Street; and Samuel M’Knight, High Street.
Vintners – John Clarke, High Street; John Gordon, Castlesod; Ellen Posstlethwaite, High Street.
Spirit Dealers – John Casteen, High Street; James Cavan, High Street; James Hornel jun., High Street; William Johnston, High Street; William M’Kinnell, High Street; William M’Myn, St Mary Street; Jane M’Whinnie, High Street; Thomas Sproat, High Street; William Cavan, St Mary’s Street; Jean Gray, High Street; John Grieve, High Street; Mary M’Ewan, High Street. It is a nice little list, and when compared to the present day licences may point a moral and adorn a tale for the gentle Mrs Pussyfoot.
There is only one bank recorded – the Bank of Scotland. It drew on the Bank of England, Coutts & Co., and Smith, Payne & Smiths, London. The agents were William Hannay M’Lellan, and Adam Bell. The booksellers, stationers and printers were John Cannon, who also kept the Stamp Office; Alexander Gordon, High Street; and John Nicholson, who was also a tea-dealer.
Being the seat of the law courts for the county, the burgh had a lion’s share of lawyers, notaries, and writers. Their names included James Burnie, St Cuthbert Street; William J B Gordon, (Procurator Fiscal for the county), High Street; Bryce Johnstone, St Cuthbert Street; William Campbell Low, (Procurator Fiscal for the burgh), St Cuthbert Street; William Macbean, Castle Street; David Melville, (Stewart and Commissary Clerk), High Street; David Morrison, writer, St Cuthbert Street; Mure & Mackenzie, High Street; David Niven, (Clerk of Supply), High Street; Alexander Skeoch, St Cuthbert Street.
The grocers were: John Casteen, High Street; James Cavan, High Street; James Hornel, High Street; William Johnstone, High Street; William M’Kinnell, High Street; William M’Myn, St Mary Street; Jane M’Whinnie, High Street; Thomas Sproat (ironmonger), High Street; Elizabeth Brown, Castle Street; Agnes Cairns, Union Street; Elizabeth Cairns, Highmiln burn; Samuel Cavan, High Street; William Cavan, St Mary’s Street; Peter Gourlay, High Street; John Grant, High Street; Jean Gray, High Street; John Grieve, High Street; Hugh Guthrie, High Street; Janet & Margaret Kingan, Union Street; James M’Cleave, High Street; Mary M’Ewan, High Street; Thomas M’Whinnie, High Street; William M’Whinnie, St Cuthbert Street; Elizabeth Peat, Castle Street; Samuel Rae, Castle Street; Catherine Telfer, Castle Street.
With such a busy coasting trade the shipowners make a very good show. They are as follows :- Robert Bee, St Cuthbert Street; David Caig, Castle Street; James Cavan, High Street; James Chrystal, Castle Street; John Conning, St Cuthbert Street; James Dickson, St Cuthbert Street; Galloway Steam Navigation Company, James Cavan, agent, High Street; John Grant, High Street; William Johnstone, High Street; James M’Cleave, High Street; James M’Keachie, High Street; William M’Kinnell, High Street; Robert M’Murray, Castle Street; John Mitchell, Tongland Bar; William Pain, Sandside; James Rankine, St Cuthbert Street; Thomas Sproat, High Street; William Sproat, Tongland; George Wishart, Twynholm; James Campbell, Old Yard Quay; M’Ewan & Jenkinson, New Yard Quay. The last two were also shipbuilders.
The watch and clock makers were Robert Halliday, Union Street; William Law, High Street; and John M’George, High Street. Some of the grandfather clocks made by these old clockmakers are much to be prized, not only for workmanship, but also for good time-keeping.
Among the boot and shoemakers were the following :- John Angus, Union Street; George Caird, High Street; David Gray, High Street; John and James Hornel, High Street; William Hornel, High Street; and William Jamieson, Castle Street.
Nail making by hand was one of the most important and lucrative trades. Good wages were made, but alas, it was a drouthy job. The nail makers of that period in the burgh were John Price, High Street; Andrew Wilson, High Street; John Halliday, High Street; Alexander M’Knight, Castle Street; James Gourlay, High Street; and William Gordon, High Street.
Country coopers were :- John Anderson, Robert Beattie, High Street; and John M’Dowall, High Street.
Fleshers included John Stewart, High Street; William Rain, High Street; Thomas M’Ewan, High Street; William Noble, Castle Street; David Johnstone, High Street; and Henry Gourlay, Castle Street.
Joiners and cabinet makers were represented by Peter Fergusson, High Street; James M’Ewan, St Cuthbert St; William M’Kay, Highmiln burn; Samuel Robertson, Castledykes.
Linen and woollen drapers – Jonathan Beattie, Castle Street; Agnes M’Clune, High Street; and John Black, St Cuthbert Street.
There was only one miller – James Birkmire, Millburn.
Perhaps the busiest trades within the burgh were the dressmakers and milliners and they were represented by Jean and Margaret Callie, Union Street; Ellen and Grace Gourlay, Highmiln burn; Janet and Ann Erskine, Castle Street; and Margaret Kissock, The Wynd.
Painters and glaziers were represented by Robert Chrystal, Castle Street; Robert Erskine, Castle Street; James M’Murray, Castle Street; William Murray, Castle Street; and Thomas Morrison, Union Street.
The three slaters were – David Clerk, St Cuthbert Street; David Clark, jun., St Mary’s St; and Thomas Clark, St Mary’s Street.
There were only three blacksmiths in the burgh – Thomas Anderson, High Street; William Seggie, High Street; and Samuel Stevenson, High Street.
There is an old saying that it takes nine tailors to make a man, but the burgh could only muster five – James Carter, High Street; James Gibson & Sons, St Mary’s Street; John Dixon, High Street; Alexander M’Kinnell, High Street; and Joseph Nairn, High Street.
Stone masons were represented by James M’Keachie, High Street; Robert M’Murray, High Street; James Milligan, St Mary’s Street; and Sharpe Bros., Union Street.
The tallow chandlers were Elizabeth Brown, castle Street, and Robert Chrystal, Castle Street.
The burgh could boast of four doctors – David Blair, High Street; Gavin Hamilton, Castle Street; John Hewitson, Castle Street; and John Shand, High Street.
Among the miscellaneous list I note that John Callie, St Mary Street, was harbour master; John Clark, High Street, session clerk; Alexander Munro, High Street, gaoler; David M Jolly, High Street, collector of Customs; Daniel Kelly, dyer in Back High Street; Isabella Law, High Street, a straw hat maker; John M’Ewan, High Street, a button maker; William Murray, saddler in High Street; Ann Seggie, meal seller in High Street; William Smith, St Mary Street, clogger and leather cutter; James Thomson, High Street, hair cutter; and James Waugh, Castleyard, an auctioneer.
These were the principal folks in the burghal life of Kirkcudbright one hundred years ago. Collectively, they helped to secure the foundation, and build up what is now a prosperous and beautiful town, the admiration of all who enter it.