- RUTHWELL, a parish, in the county of Dumfries; containing, with the village of Clarencefield, 1032 inhabitants, of whom 162 are in the village of Ruthwell, 7½ miles (W. by N.) from Annan. This parish was called Ryval in the 14th century, in a charter by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Murray, to his nephew, Sir William Murray; and the appellation is continued in all the charters to Sir William's descendants. Ruthwell, most probably corrupted from Ruthwald, or Rithwald, is a more modern name, and appears to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon Rith, "a rivulet," and Weald or Wald, "a woody place;" terms descriptive of the locality through which a rivulet passes contiguous to the church and village, and in which there are extensive natural woods. Few events of historical importance are recorded; but the parish was formerly remarkable as containing the castle of Comlongan, for many generations the residence of the Murrays, of Cockpool, a family of great eminence in Annandale. Some of them were wardens of the western border; and Cuthbert Murray, of Cockpool, was one of the commanders of the army which defeated the Duke of Albany and the Earl of Douglas, when they invaded Scotland in 1483. John Murray, a younger son of the family, having acquired a large estate, as well in Scotland as in England and Ireland, was created Earl of Annandale by James VI., and afterwards resided in the castle of Comlongan; but the family and title becoming extinct upon the death of his son without issue, in 1658, Lord Stormont succeeded to a considerable part of the property. His descendant, Viscount Stormont, in 1792 became second Earl of Mansfield; and from him the present earl, who is the principal landowner, descended in a right line. At Cockpool, also, was an old castle, situated about half a mile from Comlongan, and where the family frequently resided. It may likewise be observed, as throwing light on the history of the parish, that at a place called Kirkstyle was in ancient times a commandery belonging to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, where they had a place of worship and a burying-ground. The order also possessed property to a great extent in the neighbourhood, which, when the society was abolished, came into the hands of the Murrays. There are still some tombs in the churchyard, on which the insignia and arms of the knights are cut.The parish is about five and a half miles long and two and a half broad. It contains 8420 acres, and is bounded on the north by Dalton parish; on the south by the Solway Frith and the river Lochar, which stream divides it from Caerlaverock; on the east by Cummertrees; on the west by Caerlaverock; and on the northwest by Mouswald. The surface is in general flat and uninteresting, the highest land not rising more than eighty or ninety feet above the level of the sea. The sea has receded from the shore in late times; so that at low water the tide is almost out of sight, and at high water falls short of a large space which it once covered, and which now consists of extensive tracts of green merse. The beach is low, and formed of clayey sand which runs for several miles into the Frith, and is known in the locality by the name of "sleetch." At the confluence of the Lochar with the sea, some salmon are taken with stake-nets; and cod, skate, and herrings, with very fine flounders, are caught off the coast. The soil varies considerably in different places, consisting sometimes of a shallow sandy mould which requires good manuring and cultivation to render it fertile, and in a large proportion of the parish being a strong gravelly earth. On the low ground near the sea, and on the banks of the Lochar, it partakes of clay mixed with sand, and is the same kind of soil as that upon which the extensive Lochar moss, to the north, rests. Shellmarl also exists in the parish; but the expense of working it has rendered it hitherto unavailable to agricultural purposes. About 5500 acres are either cultivated or occasionally in tillage; 1400 acres are in moss; 520 under wood; and a number of acres, now subject to floodings by the tide, are being converted by embankments into good arable land. All kinds of grain and green crops are grown, and the most improved system of husbandry is followed; the farm buildings and inclosures, however, are in a very indifferent state. The cattle are the black Galloways; the sheep consist of the black-faced, with some Cheviots. Considerable tracts of moss have lately been reclaimed on some of the farms; and large portions of marshy ground, by good draining and judicious cultivation, have been also brought into tillage. Some land, too, has been recovered along the shore of the Frith; but the quantity is inconsiderable in comparison with the extent capable of being added to the productive soil of the parish. The principal rock is coarse limestone, which was once extensively worked; but its use is now superseded by the superior lime obtained from Kelhead, only about four miles distant. The rateable annual value of Ruthwell is £3636.There are two small villages, Ruthwell and Clarencefield: the former was made a burgh of barony by charter of James VI. to Sir John Murray, of Cockpool, in 1509, with the privilege, now neglected, of holding fairs and markets. Large quantities of salt were formerly made upon the coast by filtration, the parish enjoying exemption from the duty under a grant to them by James VI.; but this manufacture was discontinued when the saltduty was abolished. A few strangers visit Ruthwell for the benefit of the sea air, bathing, and mineral waters. The great turnpike-road from Dumfries to Annan and Carlisle runs through the parish; a coach till lately passed and repassed daily. At the junction of the Lochar with the Frith is a creek into which small vessels enter with coal from the opposite coast of Cumberland. The ecclesiastical affairs are subject to the presbytery of Annan and synod of Dumfries; patron, the Earl of Mansfield. The stipend of the minister is £263, with a manse, about 100 years old, but which has received within the present century some enlargement and repairs: the glebe consists of thirty-six acres, worth thirty or thirty-five shillings per acre. The church, an ancient edifice, was formerly a very indifferent building thatched with heath, but has been greatly altered and improved, and is now in good condition; it contains 420 sittings. The members of the Free Church have no place of worship. There are two parochial schools, in one of which are taught the classics, mathematics, and French, with the usual branches of education; the master has a salary of £34. 4., with a house, and about £45 fees. In the other school only the branches of a plain education are taught; the master has between £8 and £9 salary, £4 fees, and Candlemas gifts. In the parish are also maintained a good parochial library, two friendly societies, and a savings' bank.The antiquities are very interesting. There are yet to be seen the remains of the old castle at Cockpool, already noticed as a seat of the Murrays; but their chief residence was the castle of Comlongan, a place of great strength before the union of the crowns. It is sixty feet square and ninety feet high, with battlements, and port-holes in the walls, which are of sufficient thickness to admit of small apartments within them. The most celebrated relic of antiquity, however, is an obelisk in the churchyard, which appears to have been eighteen feet high, bearing numerous ornaments of a scriptural character, and Runic and Roman inscriptions. The traditional account of it is, that it was set up at a place called Priestside, near the sea, in very early times, in order to assist the common people, by sensible images, to receive religious instruction; and that it was subsequently removed to the church. Here it remained, and was held in great veneration, till the Reformation, after which it was thrown down as a relic of idolatry. Some time since, in digging a deep grave, an upper portion of the monument was discovered, on which is represented part of the image of the Deity, with an Agnus Dei in his bosom; and on the reverse are two human figures in the act of embracing. The only large fragment of the column which seems to be irretrievably lost, is that which contained the transverse arms of the cross, and which may probably have been much shattered by the fall when the whole was thrown down, or may have been entirely destroyed by the zeal of the agents of the General Assembly. There is a chalybeate spring at Brow, not far from the junction of the Lochar with the Frith; near which is a stone table where it is said that Lord Stormont, father of the celebrated Earl of Mansfield, sat with his son, and drank to his health, when about to quit his native land for the English bar.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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