- PENPONT, a parish and village, and the seat of a presbytery, in the county of Dumfries, 2 miles (W. S. W.) from Thornhill; containing 1266 inhabitants, of whom 492 are in the village. This parish is supposed to have derived its name from a very ancient bridge erected over the Scarr, of which the abutments rested on the summits of two precipitous rocks on opposite banks of the river, and which, from the singularity of its appearance, obtained the appellation of the "Hanging bridge." It is a place of great antiquity, and appears to have been a Roman station; the vestiges of a causeway may still be traced along the bank of the Scarr, and through the parish of Tynron, and there were also several forts, of which no vestiges now exist. Near the confluence of the Scarr and the Nith, to the south-east of the parish, are some slight remains of a fortress said to have been erected during the occupation of this part of the country by the Romans, by one of the Roman generals, and which was called Tiber's Castle in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. This castle was subsequently held by a detachment of the English army under Edward I., who placed in it a garrison to keep the Scots in subjection, and which committed frequent depredations throughout the neighbouring districts, and laid waste the country. To deliver his countrymen from this tyranny, Sir William Wallace, assuming the disguise of an itinerant mendicant, ascertained from the keeper of a kiln in the immediate vicinity of the castle, which prepared the corn for the use of the garrison, their probable number, and so far ingratiated himself in the good opinion of the keeper as to be entrusted with the care of the kiln during his temporary absence. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Wallace set fire to the building, and retired. The garrison, on seeing the flames issuing from the roof, at once repaired to the spot to save their grain from destruction; and Wallace, advancing with his party from their concealment in a thickly-wooded dell, made himself master of the castle, which he burned to the ground.The parish is bounded on the west for almost five miles by the river Scarr, and on the north-east for about three miles by the Nith; it is nearly eighteen miles in length and five miles in breadth, comprising by computation 20,640 acres, of which by far the greater portion is grazing land. The surface is hilly, and partly mountainous. The hills mostly vary from 500 to 1000 feet in height; the bases of many of them are clothed with copse wood, and the acclivities and summits of these afford excellent pasturage for numerous flocks of sheep; while others are rugged and precipitous, resembling those of the Highlands. Of the latter the most conspicuous are, the Craig of Glenquhargan, which has an elevation of 1000 feet, terminating a range of heights that intersects the parish from north-west to southeast; and Chanlock, at the extremity of a similar range, of nearly equal height, formerly planted with trees to its very summit, and still presenting in the verdure of its aspect a fine contrast with the barren Craig of Glenquhargan. Almost in the centre of the parish is a ridge, extending towards the north, and terminating in Cairnkinnow; it rises by a gradual ascent to 2080 feet above the level of the sea, and commands a richly-diversified prospect over a country abounding with the most interesting features. By these several ridges the parish is divided into three deeply secluded, but picturesque and fertile valleys, each watered by its own peculiar streamlet, and in the highest state of cultivation, enlivened with verdant pastures and with plantations. The Scarr has its source in the hills to the north-west of the parish, and, after a course of ten miles through the interior, forms its western boundary, as already stated, separating it from the parish of Tynron; it subsequently flows eastward for nearly three miles along the southern boundary, and falls into the Nith. In its course through the parish the Scarr receives numerous tributary streams, of which the principal are, the Glenmanow burn, the Chanlock burn, the Homer burn, and the Druid Hill burn, all of which have their respective glens; and in the north-west is the Mar burn, which runs through the grounds of Drumlanrig Castle into the Nith river. The only lake is that of Dowloch, a small sheet of water, originally 120 yards in length and seventy yards in breadth, though now much diminished by draining, situated near the summit of the hilly ridge to the south of Drumlanrig, and in early times supposed to possess miraculous efficacy in curing all kinds of disease.Of the lands, little more than one-tenth is arable and in cultivation; and of the remainder, which consists chiefly of sheep-walks and plantations, but a very inconsiderable portion is thought to be capable of improvement. The soil of the arable land is generally fertile, and the system of husbandry has been gradually advancing. The chief crop is oats; some barley is likewise raised, and sent to the Ayrshire breweries; and the growth of turnips, to be eaten off by the sheep, has been recently introduced with great advantage: the dairyfarms are under good management, and the produce forwarded to the Glasgow and Liverpool markets. The farm houses and buildings, especially on the lands belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, are substantial and commodious; and under the favourable leases granted, considerable progress has been made in draining and inclosing. The plantations, which are rapidly increasing in extent, consist, in the Highland districts, of natural copsewood, chiefly hazel; in the glens, oak, for which the soil seems well adapted, and various kinds of foresttrees, all in a thriving state. The rocks are generally of the basaltic formation; and the substrata principally sandstone, of good quality for building purposes, and of which there are two quarries in operation, one on the lands of the Duke of Buccleuch, and one on the estate of L. Maitland, Esq. The rateable annual value of the parish is £9397. The only mansion is Eccles House, the seat of Mr. Maitland, beautifully situated in a richlyplanted demesne commanding a fine view of the vales of the Nith and the Scarr for several miles; the grounds are tastefully laid out, and near the house are two stately beech-trees of luxuriant growth. Part of the pleasure-grounds, and the whole of the extensive new gardens, of Drumlanrig Castle, a seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, situated in the adjoining parish of Durisdeer, are within the limits of this parish. These gardens were commenced, and have been completed, within the last ten years, at an expense of £11,000; and an elegant cottage for the residence of the gardener has been erected, under the superintendence of Mr. Burn, the architect. The vegetable garden occupies an area of four acres within the walls, and abounds with every variety of produce, of the choicest quality, and in the highest perfection. Nearly 1000 square feet of glass are contained (in the fruit garden) in the forcing-frames for melons, cucumbers, and similar plants, and in the vineries, pine-stoves, and peach-houses, in all of which the requisite degree of heat, for each, is produced by water raised to different degrees of temperature. In the conservatories is every species of exotics, in the richest profusion. All the various departments are studiously contrived with a due regard to the most scientific arrangement, and preserved in the most beautiful order; and by the liberality of the noble proprietor, the gardens are accessible to the visits of strangers, who are also permitted to inspect the flower-gardens in the immediate vicinity of the castle.The village of Penpont is situated on the turnpike-road leading from New Galloway to Edinburgh, and consists of several clusters of houses which once formed the hamlets of Townhead, Brierbush, and Burnhead; the last is within half a mile of the Nith, and may be regarded as a suburb. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in agricultural and pastoral pursuits; but the smelting of old iron, and the making of spades and other implements, have been lately introduced, and afford employment to about four or five persons. There are, also, some good inns, and several small shops stored with various kinds of merchandise for the supply of the neighbourhood; and some of the inhabitants are employed in the usual handicraft trades. Fairs were formerly held on the third Tuesdays in March, June, and October, chiefly for hiring servants. Letters are forwarded from the post-office at Thornhill; and facility of communication is maintained by good turnpike-roads, and by bridges over the different streams, of which the ancient bridge across the Scarr, from which the parish is supposed to have taken its name, has been rebuilt. The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Penpont, who have their seat in the village, and the synod of Dumfries. The minister's stipend is £236. 6. 9., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £30 per annum; patron, the Duke of Buccleuch. The church, which is situated at the lower extremity of the parish, about 150 yards from the village, was built in 1782, and since substantially repaired at an expense of £340, including the session-house; it is a neat plain structure, partly cruciform, and contains 408 sittings. There are places of worship for Reformed Presbyterians and members of the Relief. Two parochial schools are supported, of which the masters have salaries of £27. 6. 6. and £24 respectively, with a house each, and one a small garden, in addition to the fees, which average £16 and £9: in one of these schools, the Greek and French languages are added to the usual routine. The foundations of Tiber's Castle may still be distinctly traced; and till the year 1812 a portion of the doorway, and a winding staircase, were remaining, near which a labourer, who had been employed to remove part of the ruins for the sake of the materials, discovered a number of arrow-heads, fragments of pottery, and the head of a spear.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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