- WHITHORN, a royal burgh and a parish, in the county of Wigton, 11 miles (S.) from Wigton, and 97½ (S. by W.) from Glasgow; containing, with the village of Isle of Whithorn, 2795 inhabitants, of whom 495 are in Isle of Whithorn, and 1502 in the burgh. This place, which occupies the south-eastern extremity of the county, is of remote antiquity, being identified as the Leucophibia of Ptolemy, during the Roman occupation of Britain, and as subsequently the capital of the Novantes, who made themselves masters of the whole of Galloway. It seems to have derived its present name from the erection of a church here by St. Ninian in the 4th century, which, being the first in the country that was built of white freestone, obtained from its light appearance the appellation of Candida Casa. In the eighth century the place became the seat of the ancient bishops of Galloway; and it continued to be the head of that diocese after its revival in the 12th century. Fergus, Lord of Galloway, in the reign of David I. founded here a priory for Præmonstratensian canons, of which the church was appropriated as the cathedral of the see. This establishment was eminent from the possession of the relics of St. Ninian, and for centuries before the Reformation was the frequent resort of devotees on their pilgrimage to visit the shrine of that saint, among whom were some of the Scottish sovereigns. In 1425, James I. granted full protection to all strangers coming into Scotland for that purpose; and in 1473, Margaret, queen of James III., attended by a retinue of ladies of her household, made a pilgrimage to the shrine. James IV, during his reign paid frequent visits to the church, on which occasions he presented numerous offerings in honour of the saint; and his son and successor, James V., in the years 1532 and 1533, performed pilgrimages to the shrine, which, even for a considerable time after the Reformation, continued to attract devotees. Among the most distinguished of the priors of this establishment were, Gavin Dunbar, afterwards Archbishop of Glasgow, and James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrew's, and Chancellor of Scotland. The priory flourished till the Dissolution in 1561, when its revenues amounted to £1016 in money, and various payments in kind. Of the ancient buildings there are but very inconsiderable remains, consisting chiefly of some arches of the church, one of which, however, almost entire, is a remarkably fine specimen of Saxon architecture.The town, which is situated almost in the centre of the parish, consists principally of one spacious street more than half a mile in length, which towards the centre expands into unusually great breadth, and from which diverge two or three smaller streets and lanes. The houses are generally neatly built, and roofed with slate; many of the more ancient have been taken down, and rebuilt in a better style; and various other improvements have recently been made in the appearance of the place. The principal street is intersected nearly in the middle by a rivulet, over which is a neat bridge. There are no manufactures carried on; and the only trade is that which the town derives from its proximity to the small port of Isle of Whithorn, which is separately described, and from the pursuit of the usual handicrafts requisite for the supply of a neighbourhood. Branches of the Bank of Scotland and the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank, and an agency for the Aberdeen Insurance office, have been established; and a fair, chiefly for hiring servants, is held annually at Midsummer, and a cattle market monthly from April to January. The town was erected into a royal burgh by charter of King Robert Bruce, which was confirmed by charter of James IV. in 1571. The government is vested in a provost, two bailies, and fifteen councillors; but there are no incorporated trades possessing exclusive privileges, and every inhabitant is free to carry on trade within the burgh. The magistrates have the usual jurisdiction of burghs royal; but no civil causes are brought for their decision, and in criminal matters their jurisdiction extends only to breaches of the peace. The town-hall, situated on the west side of the principal street, is a substantial structure with a tower and spire, and attached to it is a gaol, used as a place of temporary confinement. The burgh is associated with New Galloway, Stranraer, and Wigton, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters at present registered is fifty.The parish is bounded on the south by the Irish Channel, and on the east by the bay of Wigton; it is about eight miles in extreme length, and varies from two to five miles in breadth, comprising an area of 10,000 acres, of which the whole, with the exception of about 200 acres of meadow and a little waste, is arable. The surface, though generally level, is marked by numerous hillocks of various form and appearance, most of them covered with briars and whin, which give to the parish an aspect of sterility. There are no rivers of any importance; but three small burns flow through the lands into the sea, each of which in its course gives motion to some corn-mills; and there are numerous springs of clear water, of which one, on the Isle of Whithorn, is slightly chalybeate. The several lakes have been drained, and some of them brought under tillage: of those which have not been cultivated, some form peat-mosses, and others produce great quantities of excellent marl. The coast, which is more than nine miles in extent, is in some parts bold and rocky, especially towards Burrow Head, on the south, where many of the rocks rise perpendicularly from the sea to a height of 200 feet. Some of the rocks are perforated with deep caverns; and on the east are several bays, whereof the principal are, PortAllan, Port-Yarrock, and the Isle of Whithorn, at which last is a commodious harbour.The soil is generally fertile, and in some parts a rich vegetable mould resting upon a bottom of rock; it has been much improved by a liberal use of bone-dust and guano as manure. The chief crops are, wheat, oats, bear, barley, potatoes, and turnips. The system of husbandry is making steady progress; a due rotation of crops is uniformly observed; the farm-buildings are substantial, and roofed with slate, and the lands mostly inclosed with stone dykes. The cattle, once wholly of the Galloway breed, and to the improvement of which the greatest attention is paid, have since the increase of dairy-farms been partly of the Ayrshire breed; and considerable numbers are now fed on turnips till fit for the market, and sent by sea to Liverpool. The plantations are gradually increasing in extent, and at Castlewigg are some noble specimens of oak, ash, beech, and firs. An attempt was at one time unsuccessfully made to work coal; and at Tonderghie, copper of rich quality was discovered by a mining company from Wales, but the works have long been discontinued. The rateable annual value of the parish, according to returns made under the Income tax, is £10,313. Castlewigg, the seat of Hugh Hathorn, Esq., is an ancient and venerable mansion, beautifully situated in a richly-planted demesne, near the western border of the parish; and Tonderghie, near the southern coast, the seat of Hugh D. Stewart, Esq., is a handsome modern mansion, commanding a fine view of the English coast and the Isle of Man. The only village is Isle of Whithorn, which is described under its own head.The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Wigton and synod of Galloway. The minister's stipend is £246. 15. 9., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Crown. The church, erected on part of the site of the priory in 1822, is a substantial and neat structure containing 800 sittings: in the churchyard are the only remains of the priory and cathedral, conveying but a faint idea of the ancient grandeur of the buildings. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the Secession Synod, and Reformed Presbyterians, and a Roman Catholic chapel. Of the two parochial schools, one is in the burgh and the other at Isle of Whithorn: the master of the burgh school has a salary of £39, with £6. 6. in lieu of a dwelling-house, and the other master a salary of £19. 10.; the school fees averaging £50 per annum in the aggregate. About half a mile to the west of the town are the remains of a Roman camp, and numerous Roman coins have been found near the priory, and in various other parts of the parish. On the shore are the ruins of several castles and fortresses, which are supposed to have been built for the protection of the coast from the frequent incursions of the Scandinavians, who made the Isle of Man their common rendezvous in their predatory attacks on this part of the country.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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