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The history of Sanquhar ... To which is added the flora and fauna of the district online

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when a knock was heard on the door. Tammie laid down
the razor, and answered the call. No sooner was the door
opened than a brief scuffle was heard, followed by the sound
of retreating footsteps. After a very short interval Tammie
was deposited on his own door step. On his entering the
house panting and excited, Todd inquired " What's ado,
Tammas? Where hae ye been ava?" "Been," answered he;
"Dreadfu' be't" (a favourite exclamation of his), "I hae been
three times roon the p-p-p-pump well sin' I g-g-gaed oot."
The mischievous twinkle in Todd's eye gave the suspicion that
he was an accomplice in the trick, which received confirmation
from the fact that during Tamrnie's absence he had drawn

276 ffistory of Sanquhar.

the edge of the razor across the fender. When the old man
resumed the shaving process, and found that the razor was
useless, he looked significantly at Todd, who, however, having
an excellent command of his countenance, looked as innocent
as a child.

A minute of the Town Council of the year 1836 relates
that " Bailie Edgar put in a claim for damages to his coat,
received while engaged as a magistrate of the town in
endeavouring to quell a disturbance caused by one Benjamin
Robison, by whom his coat was torn to pieces." This minute
introduces to us a notable character of the place. Benjamin,
or Ben as he was briefly named, was of the class known as
loafers. He followed no regular employment, but was ready
for any chance job, for which he was sometimes rewarded
with drink. In his sober senses a quiet enough man, Ben,
when the drink was in, became a perfect fury. When in that
condition he must get up a " row." He usually began with
some antics which collected a crowd of children, whom he
greatly amused, but the scene oftentimes developed into
something serious whenever any bigger person interfered.
When assailed, Ben would watch for his opportunity to seize
some article of his assailant's clothing. He had a grip of
iron ; when once he got a hold, it was impossible to unloose it,
and whatever he caught had to come. On one occasion, a
prominent citizen of the town was arrayed in all the glory of
one of the ruffled shirts which had just come into fashion ;
he unfortunately got into an altercation with Ben, whose
eyes were attracted by this grand shirt. Springing forward
like a wild cat, Ben seized and wrenched away the whole shirt
front, ruffles and all. He, as we see, had no reverence for
authority ; not even the august dignity of a magistrate
could cowe him, and the majesty of an officer of the
law had no terrors for him. The town officer, Sergeant
Thomson, was endeavouring to remove him to jail for some
street disturbance. Ben threw himself on his back
on the ground (this was his favourite move when he

History of Sanquhar. 277

was in danger of being overpowered) and, watching
his chance as the officer stooped over him, caught the
tails of his coat and literally tore it off his back. These
disturbances, of which he was the central figure, were called
".Ben's weddings." Notwithstanding the damage which an
individual sometimes suffered at his hands, his "weddings"
afforded many an hour's fun, and he was a general favourite.
Poor Ben came to an untimely end. Stumbling one day at
the top of a steep stair in a public-house in the town, he
was precipitated to the bottom. When picked up he was
found to be insensible, and was carried home, where he
lingered for two or three days, but never regained conscious-
ness. Thus passed out of sight one who had been an out-
standing figure in the social life of the town for many a
day. His death occurred about the year 1841 or 1842.

The mention of the name of this " character " leads us to
remark that in the olden time there were in most little
towns a number of individuals, not of the type of Ben
certainly, but in whom individuality of character, of a great
variety of type, was strongly marked. These peculiar
traits were, for the most part, an abnormal development of
one or other of our national characteristics, dogged deter-
mination and perseverance, or the dry humour which, in spite
of the ignorant sneer that it takes a surgical operation to get
a joke into a Scotchman's head, is a distinctive feature of the
Scottish character. The author of the above foolish saying
could not have mixed in the society of the rural parts of
Scotland, without discovering that the faculty of humour,
and even the higher form of wit, was common enough.

One of this class, Willie M , who went on the spree peri-
odically for a week or a fortnight, called at a friend's house
on his way home one day, in a very fuddled condition, and
there unexpectedly met an old schoolfellow, a sea
captain, who had been round the world, and whom
he had not seen for many years. The captain was
the first to recognise him, and, jumping up, greeted

278 History of Sanquhar.

his old friend in hearty sailor fashion. " How are
you, Willie ? It's a long time since I saw you. How
are you?" Willie, somewhat dazed, did not answer for a
moment, but, pulling himself together, at length replied
" Captain, homeward bound with a general cargo."

On another occasion Willie, in the same condition, called
on his friend. He had just learnt of the sudden death of a
near relation. His friend spoke to him in a sympathetic
tone, when Willie remarked " There's a good deal of the
Apostle Paul about me this morning. I have sorrow upon

A good story is told of another character, a mason, who
was working in the country. He and another of the squad
set out one morning to their work. There were two public-
houses on the way. They called at the first house for a dram,
which dram was but the prelude to a "big drink." They
got no further that day. Next morning they set out again,
and passed the first house with a firm determination not to
repeat the folly of yesterday. By the time they had
reached the next "public," however, the resolution of
our friend failed. He again proposed a dram, for
he was very dry. "Na, na," answered his friend; "I'm
no gaun in the day." Persuasion was useless, arid so
he said "Weel, weel, gang slow, and I'll be wi' ye in a
meenit." His companion did so, looking over his shoulder
now and again to see if he was coming, till a turn of the
road hid the house from sight, and he then marched on. Work
began, and went on for hours, when about noon a strange
and accountable sound of music was heard, faint at first, but
ever sounding louder and nearer ; when at length there was
presented a scene which sent the whole squad into fits of
laughter. Our friend had, after refreshing himself very
freely, resumed his journey to his work, and foregathered
on the way with an Italian organ grinder. How he made
himself understood is not known, but he had hired the
musician to play him to his work. On they came, the

History of Sanquhar. 279

organ man in front, grinding his music with might and main,
while he strutted behind with a proud air, and making
what he considered an impressive entry, shouted to the
terrified Italian "Play up, ye furrin' deevil."

An example of a different kind was that of Geordie L .

French clay pipes had come into use, and one or two had
found their way to Sanquhar. They could not be purchased,
however, nearer than Glasgow. So great was Geordie's
ambition to possess one of these grand pipes that he actually
set out on foot all the way to Glasgow for the sole purpose
of buying a French clay pipe. Having secured this coveted
object, he carried it carefully in his hand all the way home.
When he had reached the precincts of the town he stopped,
filled and lighted it, and then marched down the middle
of the street a proud man. He stayed up a little close off
the main street, the opening of which was very narrow, and
in turning the corner rather sharp, the head of the pipe
caught the house, and in a moment Geordie's heart, which
had swelled with pride over his new possession, sank within
him as he saw it fall, shivered to pieces at his feet.

These are only a few samples of hundreds of such stories,
which could be told of Sanquhar characters, but space forbids.
For intellectual gifts of a somewhat higher order, we should
mention two farmers of the neighbourhood the late Mr
Williamson of Barr and Mr M'Call of Ulzieside Auld Barr
and Ulzieside as they were familiarly called. Their witty
sayings, particularly those of the former, are often quoted.
But were quick in repartee, and no one cared to encounter
them. Being next neighbours and fast friends, they sharp-
ened each other's wits in their daily intercourse. The truth
is, one would have had to search far and wide before coming
across two such characters in any countryside.

Speaking of farmers, this district contained specimens of
the hard, close-fisted class, who contrived to gather together
wonderful fortunes, but the truth is, money-making was
their life's study. As an example of how it was done, let us

280 History of Sanquhar.

adduce the case of one who had been visiting overnight a


neighbour some miles distant. He was hospitably enter-
tained, and driven to Sanquhar, half-way home, by his friend.
On alighting he, addressed him, saying " Weel, Mr K., ye
hae been very kind ; if ye'll come in, I'll treat ye." The
gentleman consented, and when the bell had been rung the
old man said " What'll ye tak' ? " " Oh," answered the
other; "it's early, I'll just take a bottle of lemonade."
" Juist what I was gauri to tak' mysel'," he added, " and I
daursay ae bottle may dae us baith." Turning to the waiting
maid, he gave his order " Bring a bottle of lemonade and
twae tumblers, my woman."

This same old farmer borrowed a cart from a neigh-
bour on the opposite side of the river. There was a toll-bar
at the bridge, and when he had done with the borrowed cart,
he was concerned how he would get it returned without
incurring the twopence of toll. At last he hit upon a device.
He was a big strong man, and getting between the trams,
with the rigwoodie chain over his shoulder, he dragged the
cart across the bridge, and into the side of the road near to the
farm whence he had borrowed it, and sent up word to its
owner where he would find it. This man died worth several
thousand pounds.

Resuming our narrative we come down to 1848, when the
country suffered a dreadful visitation of cholera. It gradually
spread northwards, and at length reached Dumfries, which,
being in a particularly insanitary state, suffered to a fearful
extent. Panic seized the people in all quarters, and travellers
by road were viewed with the greatest suspicion, and contact
with them shunned. Measures of precaution against the
introduction of the fell disease were taken. They were of
the simplest kind, the laws of sanitary science being then
practically unknown. The Town Council gave orders for the
cleaning out of middens, and a general white-washing
took place. Every passenger who was known, or
suspected, to have been in the ill-fated county town was

History of Sanqufiar. 281

arrested on his arrival, and fumigated. For this purpose a
square box, high enough to reach to the neck, was made.
Into this he was thrust, and a cloth covering the top of the
box was tied tightly round his neck. When that had been
done, a mixture of sulphur and quicklime was put into an
iron cup, and was then lighted, and laid in the bottom of
the box. An amusing scene occurred with an Irish tramp,
who was subjected to this process. Failing to understand
the object of the authorities he offered a stout resistance, and
it was with the greatest difficulty that he was got into the
box. When the naming sulphur was thrust in at his feet,
his features were transfixed with horror. Evidently he
thought he was to be burnt alive. On being liberated he
bolted out, and when he reached the street set up a wild
hurroo, and shouted " By my sowl, and it never fired on
me." The town happily escaped the cholera, but for weeks
the inhabitants lived in a state of the greatest apprehension.

Chambers, in his " Domestic Annals," mentions a pheno-
menon that occurred in the end of the year 1838, when the
Nith and other rivers in the south of Scotland were so
depleted of water that all the mills were stopped. This
strange occurrence was attributed to various causes ; some
thought it was due to an earthquake, others to a wind
driving back the waters. The matter was inquired into by
a distinguished scientist, who gave the opinion that it was
due to the severe frost, which had completely frozen up the
upper streams, while the lower reaches had been emptied
into the sea. This was no doubt the true reason, for it was
during the winter of 1838-39 that the longest and greatest
frost of the century was experienced. The frost lasted for
twelve or thirteen weeks, the Nith being crossable anywhere
for miles.

We do not require to refer here to the Chartist agitation,
having touched on that subject in the notes on the Sanquhar

In the year 1845 there is the first mention of a coming


282 History of Sanquhar.

event which was destined to have a great effect upon the
trade and social condition of the whole district the making
of the railway through Nithsdale. The construction of it
was let in sections to contractors, and the navvies employed
were almost wholly Irish, the bulk being Roman Catholics.
Between them and the natives there was no good feeling
from the outset. The people of Sanquhar, whose minds were
deeply imbued with the spirit of exclusiveness, inbred by the
privileges which, as burghers, they had enjoyed for genera-
tions, always looked askance at strangers, whom they termed,
and even yet are inclined to stigmatise, as "incomers." This
feeling of hostility towards the navvies was intensified by
the fact that they were of an alien faith. In the rural
parts of the south of Scotland the bulk of the population
was Protestant ; in many parishes, and Sanquhar was one,
not a single Roman Catholic was to be found. The attitude
and conduct of the navvies, so far from conciliating, only
served to exasperate the people of the town. They were
ignorant, savage, and treacherous. Attacks were continually
being made, under cloud of night, on individual inhabitants
by bands of two or three or more navvies, for they always
liked to have the advantage of numbers. These attacks
were made without the slightest warning, and upon people
with whom they had no cause of quarrel. Springing out
from the shadow of a corner, they^ would belabour and kick
their victim unmercifully, and leave him bruised and bleed-
ing on the ground. Sometimes they were watched and
interrupted, but, whenever they became anything like equally
matched in numbers, they immediately fled. Many of the
weavers were stout young fellows, and some of them carried,
down the inside of their trouser-leg or elsewhere about them,
a good stout stick, which was quickly produced if occasion
demanded. It was plain that the town's-people and the
navvies would have it out some day, and that day came when
the steeplechases were held on the Muir. These steeplechases
were organised by the contractors, who sought thereby to

History of Sanquhar. 283

gratify the humour of their workmen and their own humour
as well. Work on the railway was completely suspended for
the day, and an immense concourse of spectators congregated
on the ground to witness what was an entire novelty in this
quarter. Drink was going plentifully, and the navvies
assumed a very aggressive attitude. The inevitable collision
occurred in the evening between a body of them and a band
of weavers at the Council House. The latter felt that the
time had come for settling who should be masters, and had
made due preparations accordingly. They were all armed
with cudgels, and when the moment of action arrived the
navvies found themselves confronted by a close phalanx of
determined opponents, who laid about them with a will.
Beaten at their own game the navvies, finding a convenient
magazine of broken road metal, took to stone-throwing.
A section of the weavers, by a dexterous flank march, cut off
their line of retreat. The navvies took alarm, broke and fled
along the road towards Kirkconnel, along which they were
chased out of the parish. The only serious injury sustained,
however, was by a navvy who had his leg fractured, but many
broken heads and bruises kept the Irishmen in mind of the
lesson they had been taught. From that time they gave no
further trouble.

In the year 1839, Crawick Mill Carpet Company introduced
gas for lighting their works and the village, and the Town
Council resolved to consult the engineer as to its introduc-
tion into the town. The result was that a Company
was formed with this object. The Council subscribed for
200, which was subsequently increased by 15 when the
main pipe was extended to the railway station, at the opening
of the railway. The Gas Company was not a prosperous
concern for many years, owing to the works being ill-con-
structed at first. The street pipes were laid too shallow, and
an enormous loss was caused thereby. No dividend having
been declared for several years, the Company being in
debt to a considerable amount, fresh capital was raised ;

284 History of Sanquhar.

the works were improved, and closer attention to the Com-
pany's business was given by a new body of directors. The
profits have been largely devoted to still further improve-
ments, including a double main on the streets ; dividends
have been declared on the preference and sometimes on the
ordinary stock, and the price of gas was recently reduced
from 8s 4d to 6s Sd per thousand feet.

A reading-room was established in the year 1848 in one
of the rooms of the Town Hall, and was the scene of many
an animated debate on political and social subjects. It was
well supplied with newspapers, and was for many years a
flourishing institution, but the abolition of the paper duty,
and the consequent reduction in the price of newspapers to
a penny, together with the great extension of cheap literature,
took away its attractions, most of the readers preferring to
have their papers in their own homes.

A great improvement on the street was effected in 1852
by the erection of a terrace on the north side at Corseknowe.
The ground rises above the level of the street, which, as we
have elsewhere said, originally ran over the knowe, but was
subsequently cut through it. A retaining wall, surmounted
by an iron railing, was put up, and it received the name of
Dalkeith Terrace, in honour of the Earl of Dalkeith, whose
coming of age in the same year the townspeople had just
celebrated in a very hearty manner. The cost of the terrace
was about 60.

The reader will have observed frequent reference to " The
Pump Well." The water supply of the town was then derived
from a number of wells distributed over the town, but this
well, which was situated at the Market Cross, was in an
emphatic sense the pump well. It was beautifully built with
ashlar, and was covered by a stone erection. The spout by
which the water was discharged faced down the street ; the
handle of the pump was a long bar of iron with a ball at the
end. It was not driven vertically, but horizontally, like the
pendulum of a clock. Few there were who could swing this

History of Sanquhar. 285

ponderous handle except with both their hands, and to do so
with but one hand was regarded as a proof of great strength
of arm. A stone seat was set along the side of the pump
facing the street. The widening of the street in recent times
having left the pump near the middle of the roadway, an
obstruction to the street traffic, it was shifted back to the
side of the pavement in the year 1836, and it was ultimately
taken down and removed altogether about the year 1881.

The source of the present water supply, introduced in
the year 1868, is Lochburn. A limited liability company
was incorporated 21st April, 1868, with a capital, including
preference shares, of about 2000. A reservoir was con-
structed at the gathering ground on Clenries farm, at a
distance of three miles, and a distributing tank and filters
on an elevation in the neighbourhood of the town. The
quality of the water is excellent, being very soft, and there-
fore suitable for general household as well as dietetic purposes.

The Volunteer movement in 1859 was adopted with great
enthusiasm in Sanquhar and the country parts surrounding.
A strong company was promptly formed, arid commenced
drilling in the " big shop " at Crawick Mill an empty
weaving shop formerly belonging to the Carpet Company
It was composed of all classes farmers, artisans, and
labourers. They were tall, broad-shouldered men, but in
truth this description applied equally to the other companies
in the County. Public attention was drawn in the Metro-
polis to their splendid physique, as they marched down
Princes' Street on their way to the Royal Review in 1860,
and we remember hearing an inspecting officer declare that
he had never seen the same number of men cover so much
ground as the Dumfriesshire Volunteers did when standing
in rank. The company still continues strong and efficient.

The Dumfries District of Burghs was represented in
Parliament, from 1847 to 1868, by Mr William Ewart, a
Liverpool merchant, who was much respected, both by his
constituency and in the House. Amid the ups and downs of

286 History of Sanquhar.

political feeling in the other burghs of the group, Sanquhar
always remained steadfast to Mr Ewart and Liberalism, and
on one occasion, when he was opposed by the late Mr Hannay,
the most brilliant of all those who broke a lance with him
during his Parliamentary career, the return from Sanquhar
shewed that not a single vote had been cast for his opponent.
Mr Ewart, in 1863, presented a handsome barometer to the
inhabitants of Sanquhar, which is inserted in the wall of
what was then the residence of Provost Williamson. His
portrait, gifted to the town after his death by his sister,
Miss Ewart, hangs in the Council Chamber.

In 1852 the Town Council resolved "to promote the cele-
bration in a becoming manner of the attainment of his
majority by the Earl of Dalkeith, as a mark of respect and
attachment to the noble house of Buccleuch and Queens-
berry." They resolved to illuminate the Town Hall, to ring
the Town's bell, and voted a sum of ten guineas for fire-
works The townspeople entered heartily into the demon-
stration, which was of a most successful character.

A still greater event, and one which evoked a wonderful
display of loyal feeling, was the visit of the Prince of Wales
to the town in 1871. His Royal Highness and the Princess
of Wales were, in the month of October, on a visit to the
Duke of Buccleuch at Drumlanrig Castle, and shooting
parties were arranged on His Grace's moors in the upper
part of his estate. Having occasion to pass through
Sanquhar, the Duke was just a trifle anxious as to the
reception which the Prince might receive. The Sanquhar
people were regarded by all Tories as dangerous Radicals,
not given to ceremony in the expression of their political
opinions. They availed themselves, however, of this visit of
the heir-apparent to the throne to shew to all men that their
Radicalism was quite consonant with loyalty. Indications
that this was so had indeed been given by them on previous
occasions, as in 1841, on the birth of the Prince of Wales, in
1863 on his marriage, and again, in the early part of this same

History of Sanquhar. 287

year 1871, on the marriage of the Princess Louise to the
Marquis of Lome, when they were not behind in testifying
their attachment to the reigning house and the institutions
of the country, but all these previous demonstrations were
eclipsed on this occasion of the royal visit. The Town
Council presented a loyal and dutiful address, to which the
Prince graciously replied. Three floral arches were erected
across the main street, and the plain architectural features
of the houses were concealed by a profusion of flags, ever-
greens, and other decorations. On the party passing through
in the morning, they were greeted along the whole length of
the street by the population, who turned out en masse. The
carriage containing the Prince and his ducal host proceeded
at a walking pace, and His Royal Highness displayed an
affable manner which fairly captivated the Sanquhar people.
On the return journey in the evening still greater crowds,
gathered from far and near, awaited his arrival, and gave
him a right royal welcome. There was a display of fire-works,
the Council House was illuminated, as were also the houses

Online LibraryJames BrownThe history of Sanquhar ... To which is added the flora and fauna of the district → online text (page 25 of 44)