Wigton, or Wigtown


Wigton, or Wigtown
   WIGTON, or WIGTOWN, a royal burgh, a sea-port, the county town, and a parish, in the county of Wigton or Wigtown, 105 miles (S. W. by S.) from Edinburgh; containing, with the village of Bladnoch, 2562 inhabitants, of whom 1972 are in the town. This place is supposed to have been long occupied by the Saxons, who in the 7th or 8th century made themselves masters of this part of the country, and from whom the town is said to have derived its name, in the Saxon language descriptive of its situation on a hill. The ancient castle founded by that people, and of which slight traces of the fosse are still discernible on the side of the hill, subsequently became a residence of the kings of Scotland; and during the disputed succession to the Scottish throne it was delivered into the custody of Edward I. of England, who ultimately restored it to John Baliol, whom he appointed successor to the crown. In 1206, a convent for Dominican monks was founded here by Devorgilla, daughter of Alan, Lord of Galloway, and mother of Baliol, King of Scotland. It was endowed with lands by Alexander III., and subsequently with a grant of the fishery of Bladnoch by James III., and with other possessions by James IV., who generally lodged here while on his pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Ninian at Whithorn, and also by James V. The convent was situated on an abrupt ridge to the south-east of the town, overlooking the bay of Wigton; but no traces of the buildings can be now discovered, though, within the last century, human bones and various sepulchral remains have been dug up on the ground supposed to have been its cemetery. Many of the lands of this district early formed part of the possessions of the earls of Galloway, who are still large proprietors here.
   The town is beautifully situated upon an eminence rising to an elevation of 200 feet above the level of the sea, and consists of several regular and well-formed streets. The principal of these is very spacious, and has in the centre a quadrangular area inclosed by an iron palisade, at one extremity of which is the townhall, and at the other a market-cross of modern erection, constructed of hewn granite. The inclosure is laid out in gravel walks shaded with shrubberies and evergreens, surrounding a bowling-green in the middle; and at one end is a verdant mound formed into terraces. The houses, of which some are ancient, are generally well built; and many handsome houses have been recently erected, giving to the town a pleasing and prepossessing appearance. Assemblies are held in a suite of rooms in the town-hall, in which, also, is a public library, supported by subscription. The environs abound with varied scenery; and the sands on the shore of the bay, which are dry at low water, afford an agreeable promenade.
   There are no manufactures carried on here; the principal trades are such only as are requisite for the supply of the town and neighbourhood. In the village of Bladnoch, however, about a mile distant, is an extensive distillery. The business of the port consists chiefly in the exportation of grain, potatoes, and other agricultural produce. About fifteen vessels are registered as belonging to the port, of the aggregate burthen of 1000 tons; the number of vessels clearing outwards annually is about seventy-five, of 5000 tons, and entering inwards, about ninety, of 6200 tons, mostly in the coasting trade. The harbour, which is about a quarter of a mile from the town, is accessible to vessels of 300 tons; and the jurisdiction of the port extends over all the creeks on the coast of the county, from the Mull of Galloway to the mouth of the river Dee. There are in the town a custom-house, a post-office, and branches of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank and the British Linen Company. Facility of communication is afforded by good roads; and steam-packets for goods and passengers ply between this place and the port of Liverpool, regularly every week during the year. The market is well supplied with provisions; and fairs are held annually on the first Friday in February, the first Monday in April, the 17th June, and the last Fridays in August and October, O. S. The town was erected into a royal burgh by charter of David II. in 1341, granted to the family of the Flemings, of whom Malcolm Fleming, who had been guardian and preceptor to the infant monarch, was created Earl of Wigton, which title, however, became dormant, or extinct, on the decease of Charles, Earl of Wigton, in 1747. The original charter having been destroyed, was renewed by James II. in 1457, and confirmed and extended by Charles II. in 1661. The government is vested in a provost, two bailies, and fifteen councillors; but there are neither incorporated trades, nor any exclusive privileges enjoyed by the burgesses. The magistrates exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction within the royalty; but the former has become very inconsiderable since the establishment of the sheriff's small-debt courts; and the number of cases of the latter, chiefly petty misdemeanors, are very few. The burgh is associated with the several towns of New Galloway, Stranraer, and Whithorn, in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The town-hall is a handsome and spacious building with a lofty tower, and contains, besides the court-room, the assembly-room and library already noticed.
   The parish is bounded on the east by Wigton bay and on the south by the river Bladnoch, and is almost six miles in length and about four miles in breadth, comprising by estimation an area of nearly 7000 acres; about 2000 are arable, 2000 pasture, and the remainder plantations, moorland, and moss. The surface is greatly diversified; in the north-east, generally flat, and bearing every appearance of having been once covered by the sea; on the north-west, chiefly extensive and level tracts of moor and moss; and on the south, interspersed with hills that are arable and in good cultivation. The principal river is the Bladnoch, on which there is a salmon-fishery; and a stream called the Bishop's burn flows along the north-eastern boundary of the parish into the Frith of Cree, in Wigton bay. The soil is very various, in some parts a dry, light, and fertile mould, and in others less productive; the crops are, wheat, barley, bear, oats, beans, potatoes, and turnips, with the different grasses. The system of agriculture has of late been greatly improved; the lands have been mostly drained and inclosed, and several tracts of waste have been brought into profitable cultivation. The substrata are chiefly greywacke and greywacke-slate, of which the rocks are entirely composed. The rateable annual value of the parish is £6188.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Wigton, of which this is the seat, and the synod of Galloway. The minister's stipend is £272. 0. 9., with an allowance of £30 in lieu of manse, and a glebe valued at £24 per annum; patron, Lord Galloway. The church, situated in a beautifully retired spot at the eastern extremity of the town, is a very ancient structure, but, from frequent alterations and repairs, retains little of its original character; it has 660 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and United Secession; and a congregation of the Relief used formerly to assemble every Sabbath in the town-hall. Three schools are under the patronage of the corporation. One is the parochial and burgh grammar-school, conducted by a master who has a salary of £24, a sum of £10 allowed for an assistant, and a parochial salary of £11. 2. 3., the two first amounts being paid by the corporation; the other schools are for girls, and the mistresses respectively receive salaries of £12 and £10 a year from the burgh funds. The grammar-school, for which a spacious and elegant new building was erected at the close of the year 1845, is attended by from 120 to 150 pupils; and there are also Sabbath schools, in which about 300 children are taught. The poor have the interest of bequests producing £18 per annum. The principal relics of antiquity are, a circle of nineteen upright stones surrounding three of loftier elevation, which are called the tomb of Galdus, King of Scots; and several cairns, supposed to have been raised over the bodies of the slain in some battle fought near the spot.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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