1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dumfries

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DUMFRIES (Gaelic, “the fort in the copse”), a royal and parliamentary burgh and capital of the county, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. It lies on the left bank of the Nith, about 8 m. from the Solway Firth and 81 m. S.E. of Glasgow by the Glasgow & South-Western railway. Pop. (1891) 16,675; (1901) 17,079. Dumfries is beautifully situated and is one of the handsomest county towns in Scotland. The churches and chapels of the Presbyterian and other communions are, many of them, fine buildings. St Michael’s (1746), a stately pile, was the church which Robert Burns attended, and in its churchyard he was buried, his remains being transferred in 1815 to the magnificent mausoleum erected in the south-east corner, where also lie his wife, Jean Armour, and several members of his family. The Gothic church of Greyfriars (1866-1867) occupies the site partly of a Franciscan monastery and partly of the old castle of the town. On the site of St Mary’s (1837-1839), also Gothic, stood the small chapel raised by Christiana, sister of Robert Bruce, to the memory of her husband, Sir Christopher Seton, who had been executed on the spot by Edward I. St Andrew’s (1811-1813), in the Romanesque style, is a Roman Catholic church, which also serves as the pro-cathedral of the diocese of Galloway.

Besides numerous schools, there is an admirably equipped Academy. The old infirmary building is now occupied by St Joseph’s College, a commercial academy of the Marist Brotherhood, in connexion with which there is a novitiate for the training of members of the order for missionary service at home or abroad. In the middle of the market-place stands the old town hall, with red tower and cupola, known from its situation as the Mid Steeple, built by Tobias Bachup of Alloa (1708). The new town hall and post-office are near the uppermost bridge. The county buildings, in Buccleuch Street, are an imposing example of the Scots Baronial style. To Mr Andrew Carnegie and Mr and Mrs M’Kie of Moat House was due the free library. The charitable institutions include Moorhead’s hospital (1753) for reduced householders; the Dumfriesshire and Galloway royal infirmary, dating from 1778, but now housed in a fine edifice in the northern Italian style; the Crichton royal institution for the insane, founded by Dr James Crichton of Friars Carse, and supplemented in 1848 by the Southern Counties asylum; the new infirmary, a handsome building; the contagious diseases hospital, the industrial home for orphan and destitute girls and a nurses’ home. The Theatre Royal, reconstructed in 1876, dates from 1787. Burns composed several prologues and epilogues for some of its actors and actresses. Among other public buildings are the assembly rooms, St George’s hall, the volunteer drill hall, and the Crichton Institution chapel, completed at a cost of £30,000. The corporation owns the water supply, public baths and wash-houses and the gasworks. In front of Greyfriars church stands a marble statue of Burns, unveiled in 1882, and there is also a monument to Charles, third duke of Queensberry. The Nith is crossed by three bridges and the railway viaduct. The bridge, which is used for vehicular traffic, dates from 1790-1794. Devorgilla’s bridge, below it, built of stone in 1280, originally consisted of nine arches (now reduced to three), and is reserved in spite of its massive appearance for foot passengers only, as is also the suspension bridge opened in 1875.

Dumfries, Annan, Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben and Sanquhar—the “Five Carlins” of Burns’s Election Ballads—combine to return one member to Parliament. As a parliamentary burgh Dumfries includes Maxwelltown, on the opposite side of the river, which otherwise belongs to Kirkcudbrightshire.

The leading industries comprise manufactures of tweeds, hosiery, clogs, baskets and leather, besides the timber trade, nursery gardening and the making of machinery and iron implements. Dumfries markets for cattle and sheep, held weekly, and for horses, held five times annually, have always ranked with the best, and there is also a weekly market for pork during the five months beginning with November. The sea-borne trade is small compared with what it was before the railway came.

Although Dumfries was the site of a camp of the Selgovian Britons, nothing is known of its history until long after the withdrawal of the Romans. William the Lion (d. 1214) made it a royal burgh, but the oldest existing charter was granted by Robert II. in 1395. The town became embroiled in the struggles that ended in the independence of Scotland. It favoured the claims to the throne, first of John Baliol—whose mother Devorgilla, daughter of Alan, lord of Galloway, had done much to promote its prosperity by building the stone bridge over the Nith—and then of the Red Comyn, as against those of Robert Bruce, who drew his support from Annandale. When Edward I. besieged Carlaverock Castle in 1300 he lodged in the Franciscan monastery, which, six years later (10th of February 1306), was the scene of the murder of Comyn (see Robert the Bruce). From this time to nearly the close of the 16th century the burgh was exposed to frequent raids, both from freebooters on the English side and from partisans of the turbulent chiefs—Douglases, Maxwells, Johnstones. The Scottish sovereigns, however, did not wholly neglect Dumfries. James IV., James V., Mary and her son each visited it. James VI. was royally entertained on the 3rd of August 1617, and afterwards presented the seven incorporated trades with a silver gun to encourage the craftsmen in the practice of musketry. The competition for this cannon-shaped tube, now preserved in the old town hall, took place annually—with a great festival every seven years—until 1831. John Mayne (1759-1836), a native of Dumfries, commemorated the gathering in an excellent humorous poem called “The Siller Gun.” Though in sympathy with the Covenanters, the town was the scene of few incidents comparable to those which took place in the northern parts of the shire. The Union with England was so unpopular that not only did the provost vote against the measure in the Scottish parliament, but the articles were burned (20th of November 1706) at the Market Cross by a body of Cameronians, amidst the approving cheers of the inhabitants. In both 1715 and 1745 Dumfries remained apathetic. Prince Charles Edward indeed occupied the town, holding his court in a building afterwards known as the Commercial Hotel, levying £2000 tribute money and requisitioning 1000 pairs of shoes for his Highlanders, by way of punishing its contumacy. But, in a false alarm, the Jacobites suddenly retreated, and a few years later the town was reimbursed by the State for the Pretender’s extortions. The most interesting event in the history of Dumfries is its connexion with Burns, for the poet resided here from December 1791 till his death on the 21st of July 1796. The house in which he died is still standing.

The picturesque ruins of Carlaverock Castle—the “Ellangowan” of Guy Mannering—are 8 m. to the south. Above the entrance are the arms of the Maxwells, earls of Nithsdale, to whose descendant, the duchess of Norfolk, it belongs. The castle, which is in an excellent state of preservation, is built of red sandstone, on the site of a fortress supposed to have been erected in the 6th century, of which nothing now remains. In plan it is a triangle, protected by a double moat, and has round towers at the angles. Part of the present structure is believed to date from 1220 and once sheltered William Wallace. It withstood Edward I.’s siege in 1300 for two days, although garrisoned by only sixty men. In the troublous times that followed it often changed hands. In 1570 it fell into disrepair, but was restored, and in 1641 was besieged for the last time by the Covenanters.

A mile and a half to the north-west of Dumfries lies Lincluden Abbey, “an old ruin,” says Burns, “in a sweet situation at the confluence of the Cluden and the Nith.” Originally the abbey was a convent, founded in the 12th century, but converted two centuries later into a collegiate church by Archibald, earl of Douglas. The remains of the choir and south transept disclose rich work of the Decorated style.