Westerkirk


Westerkirk
   WESTERKIRK, a parish, in the county of Dumfries, 6 miles (N. W.) from Langholm; containing 638 inhabitants. This place is by some writers supposed to have derived its name, originally Wester Ker or Wester Caer, from its situation to the west of an ancient fortress on the river Megget, near its influx into the Esk; and by others, from its relative position to other churches in Eskdale, of which district a portion was once included within the limits of this parish. The manor, during the 12th and 13th centuries, formed part of the possessions of the family of Soulis, and on the forfeiture of John de Soulis was, together with the advowson of the church, granted by Robert I. to the abbey of Melrose, to which it continued to be annexed till the Dissolution. Towards the close of the 14th century a chapel was founded here by Adam de Glendonyng, who endowed it for the support of a chaplain to sing masses for the repose of the souls of James, Earl of Douglas, and his brother-in-law, Sir James Simon, of Glendonyng, who had fallen in the battle of Otterburn. A portion of the parish subsequently became the property of the Johnstone family, of whom Sir James Johnstone, Bart., in 1760, discovered on the lands of Glendinning a rich mine of antimony, which in 1793 was brought into operation, producing on an average about 100 tons of regulus of antimony annually. A village called Jamestown was built on the Megget, for the residence of the miners, by Sir James Johnstone, in which were a smelting-house and all the requisite apparatus for working the mine, with a schoolroom for the children of the workmen; and roads were formed for connecting the village with the chief lines of conveyance through the county. The produce of the mines on an average made an annual return of £8400; but towards the close of the century, from what cause has not been recorded, the operations were discontinued. The village, being abandoned, fell rapidly into decay; and the only remains of it are the school, which is still frequented in winter by a few children from the neighbourhood.
   The parish is bounded on the south for nearly two miles by the river Black Esk, which separates it from the parish of Eskdalemuir; and is almost ten miles in length and from five to six miles in breadth, comprising about 35,000 acres, of which barely 2000 are arable, 300 woodland and plantations, and the remainder hillpasture, moorland, and waste. The surface is mountainous and hilly, with the exception of the narrow valley of the Esk; but though some of the hills are heathy and barren, the far greater number are covered with verdure affording good pasturage for cattle and sheep. The Black Esk, after forming for part of its course the boundary of the parish, flows into the White Esk at a place called the King's Pool; and this confluence forms the river Esk, which winds through the parish for seven miles towards the south-east, and eventually falls into the Solway Frith. The rivers Megget and Stennis have their sources in a ridge of mountains separating the counties of Dumfries and Roxburgh. The former takes a southern course; the latter flows towards the south-west; and after a progress of six miles the two unite at a place called Crooks, and then flow together into the Esk, which receives also the waters of numerous rivulets that descend from the hills and water the parish in various directions. The Esk formerly abounded with salmon, which are still found in it in moderate numbers, especially after floods; and salmon, sea-trout, and the common burn-trout are taken in some of the other streams, which afford excellent sport to the angler, and are much frequented. The moors afford game of every kind: grouse, partridges, and pheasants are very plentiful; snipes, curlew, lapwing, and plover frequent the hills; and woodcocks, and the various species of common birds, are found in the woods on the Westerhall estate.
   The soil, on the low grounds along the banks of the Esk, is chiefly a light loam of great fertility; upon the rising grounds, a deep strong loam intermixed with stones; and the summits of many of the hills present extensive tracts of moss. The principal crops are, wheat, barley, and oats, of which, however, not more is produced than is sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants. There is nothing peculiar in the agriculture of the parish, which is, indeed, chiefly of a pastoral character, a very small proportion of the land being in cultivation; but the system of husbandry has been greatly improved under the encouragement afforded by the landed proprietors, and all the more recent discoveries are in general operation. The cattle are of the pure Galloway breed, which is found to thrive well upon all the pastures; many of them attain a large growth, and find a ready sale at high prices in the various markets. The sheep, of which more than 18,000 are reared, are exclusively of the Cheviot breed, and much attention is paid to their improvement; wool and sheep are, in fact, the principal articles exported, and form the chief dependence of the farmers. There are considerable remains of natural timber along the banks of the Esk, and on the demesne of Westerhall, consisting of oak, ash, elm, plane, horse-chesnut, and other forest-trees, which have attained to a luxuriant growth; and the plantations of recent date are well managed and in a thriving state. The rocks generally are greywacke and greywacke-slate, and secondary trap is found on the summits of the higher hills. Shell-marl occurs on the lands of Megdale, belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, who is the principal proprietor of the parish; but the pit being on the declivity of a hill, is difficult of access, and consequently but little is used for manure. The only mineral ever discovered in the parish was the antimony previously noticed. The rateable annual value of Westerkirk is £4409. Westerhall, the seat of the late Sir George Frederick Johnstone, Bart., is an ancient mansion on the eastern bank of the river Esk, beautifully seated in a demesne embellished with ancient timber and thriving modern plantations. Burnfoot and Hopesrigg are also handsome houses pleasantly situated. Facility of communication with Langholm, the nearest market-town, is afforded by good roads kept in excellent repair, which traverse the parish in various directions, and of which many were constructed by Sir James Johnstone, to facilitate access to the mine formerly in operation. Of the good bridges across the numerous streams, one over the Esk is a substantial structure of three arches.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Langholm and synod of Dumfries. The minister's stipend is £153.4.7., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Duke of Buccleuch. The church, erected in 1778, is a neat plain structure, situated nearly in the centre of the parish; it is in good repair, and contains 700 sittings. In the churchyard, which has a fine avenue of trees, is the mausoleum of the Johnstone family, a handsome structure of stone, of circular form, crowned with a graceful dome supported on fluted columns of the Doric order, and embellished with a richly-sculptured frieze. The parochial school affords a liberal course of instruction to about seventy children; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average £20 annually. The school in the deserted village of Jamestown is occasionally opened. A parochial library was established in 1795, and now contains a large collection of volumes, of which many were presented by the late Thomas Telford, Esq., civil engineer, a native of this parish, who also bequeathed £1000 to the minister and Kirk Session, to appropriate the interest to the purchase of books for its increase. A friendly society was established in 1789, which has now a fund of £300 for the relief of the sick. On a rising ground between the rivers Esk and Megget are several upright stones, supposed to have formed part of a Druidical circle; there are also, on the hills in the north-west of the parish, some vestiges of camps apparently connected with the Roman station in Eskdalemuir. On the farm of Enzieholm are some remains of a triangular fort of great antiquity; and at Glendinning and Westerhall are ruins of castles.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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