- BIGGAR, a parish and market-town, in the Upper ward of the county of Lanark, 12 miles (S. E.) from Lanark, on the road from Dumfries to Edinburgh; containing 1865 inhabitants, of whom 1395 are in the town. The original name of this place, as it occurs in several ancient charters, is generally written Biger, or Bigre, and is supposed to have been derived from the nature of the ground on which the castle of the family of Biggar was situated (in the centre of a soft morass), and to have been thence applied to the whole of the parish; and from the same circumstance, the castle assumed the name of Boghall. The manor was granted by David I. to Baldwin, a Flemish leader, whose descendants still retain the surname of Fleming; they appear to claim a very remote antiquity, and the name of Baldwin de Biger appears in testimony to a charter, prior to the year 1160. Some accounts, chiefly traditional, are still retained of a battle fought at this place, between the English forces under Edward I., and the Scots commanded by Wallace, in which the former were defeated; and though not authenticated by any historian of acknowledged authority, the probability of the event is partly strengthened by the frequent discovery of broken armour in a field near the town; the name of a rivulet called the Red Syke, running through the supposed field of battle, and so named from the slaughter of the day; and the evident remains of an encampment in the immediate neighbourhood. On this occasion, Wallace is said to have gained admission into the enemy's camp, disguised as a dealer in provisions, and, after having ascertained their numbers and order, to have been pursued in his retreat to the bridge over Biggar water, when, turning on his pursuers, he put the most forward of them to death, and made his escape to his army, who were encamped on the heights of Tinto. A wooden bridge over the Biggar is still called the "Cadger's Brig;" and on the north side of Bizzyberry, are a hollow in a rock, and a spring, which are called respectively Wallace's seat and well. The Scottish army under Sir Simon Fraser is said to have rendezvoused here, the night previous to the victory of Roslin, in 1302; and Edward II., on his invasion of Scotland, in 1310, spent the first week of October at this place, while attempting to pass through Selkirk to Renfrew. In 1651, after Cromwell's victory at Perth, the Scottish army, passing by Biggar, summoned the place, at that time garrisoned by the English, to surrender; and in 1715, Lockhart, of Carnwath, the younger, raised a troop for the service of the Pretender, which, after remaining for some time here, marched to Dumfries, and joined the forces under Lord Kenmure.The town is finely situated on the Biggar water, by which it is divided into two very unequal parts, the smaller forming a beautiful and picturesque suburb, communicating with the town by a neat bridge; the houses in this suburb are built on the sloping declivities, and on the brow, of the right bank of the rivulet, and have hanging gardens. The town consists of one wide street, regularly built, and from its situation on rising ground, commands an extensive and varied view; most of the houses are of respectable appearance, and within the last few years, several new and handsome houses have been erected. There is a scientific institution, founded in the year 1839. A public library was established in 1791, which contains about 800 volumes; another was opened in 1800, which has a collection of more than 500; and a third, exclusively a theological library, was founded in 1807, and has about 700 volumes. A public newsroom was opened in 1828; but it met with little support, and has consequently been discontinued. The trade consists chiefly in the sale of merchandise for the supply of the parish and surrounding district, and in the weaving of cloth, in which latter about 200 of the inhabitants are employed. A branch of the Commercial bank was established in 1833, and a building erected for its use, which adds much to the appearance of the town; and a branch of the Western Bank of Scotland has since been established. A savings' bank was opened in 1832, for the accommodation of the agricultural labourers, of whom there are about 460 depositors; and the amount of their deposits is about £3500. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held at Candlemas, for hiring servants; at Midsummer, for the sale of wool; and on the last Thursday in October (O. S.), for horses and black-cattle; all of which are numerously attended. The inhabitants, in 1451, received from James II. a charter, erecting the town into a free burgh of barony, and granting a weekly market and other privileges, which grants were renewed, at intervals, down to the year 1662.The parish, which borders on the county of Peebles, is about 6½ miles in length, and varies very greatly in breadth, being of triangular form, and comprising about 5850 Scottish acres, chiefly arable land. The surface is generally hilly, though comprising a considerable proportion of level ground, particularly towards the south, where is a plain of large extent; the hills are of little height, and the acclivities, being gentle, afford excellent pasture. The principal stream is the Biggar water, which rises on the north side of the parish, and, after a course of nearly two miles, intersects the town, and flows through a fine open vale, to the river Tweed; the Candy burn rises in the north-east portion of the parish, which it separates from the county of Peebles, and falls, after a course of three miles, into the Biggar water. The scenery is highly diversified; and the approach to the town, by the Carnwath road, presents to the view a combination of picturesque features. The soil is various; about 1000 acres are of a clayey nature, on a substratum of clay or gravel; 2000 are a light black loam, resting upon whinstone, and the remainder sandy, and black loam inclining to peat-moss. The system of agriculture is greatly improved, and green crops have been introduced with success; the chief produce consists of oats and barley; much attention is paid to the management of the dairy, and to the improvement of live stock. The cattle are mostly a cross between the native and the Ayrshire breed, which latter is every day becoming more predominant; many sheep are pastured on the hills and acclivities, and the principal stock regularly reared are of the old Tweeddale breed. Great progress has been made in draining and inclosing the lands; two mills for oats and barley have been erected, and there are not less than twenty-five threshing-machines, of which one, constructed by Mr. Watts, has the water-wheel 50 feet below the level of the barn, and 120 feet distant from it, the power being communicated to the machinery by shafts acting on an inclined plane. The rateable annual value of the parish is £7329. About 750 acres are in plantations, chiefly Scotch fir, in the management of which much improvement has been made by the introduction of a new method of pruning; and on the several farmsteads, are numerous fine specimens of the hard-wood timber, which is better adapted to the soil, and is consequently growing gradually into use, in the more recent plantations. Of these, the ash and elm seem to thrive best; and the beech and the plane also answer well. Among the various mansions are, Edmonston, a castellated structure, pleasingly situated in a secluded vale near the east end of the parish; Biggar Park and Cambus-Wallace, both handsome residences, in the immediate vicinity of the town; and Carwood, a spacious mansion, recently erected, and surrounded by young and thriving plantations.The origin of the parish is rather obscure; but it appears that a chaplaincy was founded here, in expiation of the murder of John, Lord Fleming, chamberlain of Scotland, who was, in 1524, assassinated by John Tweedie, of Drummelzier, his son, and other accomplices. For this purpose, an assessment in lands was given to Malcolm, Lord Fleming, son of the murdered lord, with £10 per annum granted in mortmain, for the support of a chaplain, to pray and sing mass for the soul of the deceased in the parish church of Biggar, which Malcolm, in 1545, made collegiate, and endowed for a provost, eight canons and prebendaries, and four choristers, with six aged poor men. On this occasion, the church of Thankertoun, which had previously been bestowed on the abbey of Kelso, by one of his predecessors, was given up to Malcolm, by the monks, and annexed to the collegiate church. The parish is now in the presbytery of Biggar and synod of Lothian and Tweeddale, and in the patronage of the family of Fleming; the minister's stipend is £263. 4. 7., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £30 per annum. The church, erected in 1545, was formerly an elegant and venerable cruciform structure in the later English style, with a tower which was not finished, as the Reformation occurred while the building was in progress. This structure, though complete in every other respect, and uninjured by time, has been dreadfully mutilated: the western porch, the vestry communicating with the chancel, and having a richly-groined roof, the buttresses that supported the north wall of the nave, and the arched gateway leading into the churchyard, though perfectly entire, and beautiful specimens of architecture, were all taken down about fifty years since, and the materials sold for £7, to defray some parochial expenses. The interior of the church underwent, at the same time, a similar lamentable devastation; the organgallery was removed, and the richly-groined roof of the chancel, which was embellished with gilt tracery, was destroyed, and replaced with lath and plaster, for uniformity. The church has lately received an addition of 120 sittings, by the erection of a gallery; it has been also newly-seated, and affords considerable accommodation. There are places of worship for Burghers, and those of the Relief Church. The parochial school affords education to about 180 scholars; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., about £75 fees, and a house and garden.At the western extremity of the town, is a large mound, more than 300 feet in circumference at the base, 150 feet on the summit, and 36 feet in height, supposed to have been, in ancient times, a seat for the administration of justice; it appears to have been also used as a beacon, and to have formed one of a chain extending across the vale between the Clyde and the Tweed. There are several remains of encampments, of which one, about half a mile from the town, is 180 feet in circumference, defended by a deep moat and double rampart; and near Candy bank, is another, of oval form. On the banks of Oldshields, are some Druidical remains consisting of four upright stones, near which arrow-heads of flint have been found; and on the lands of Carwood, two Roman vessels of bronze were discovered in a moss; one, holding about two quarts, has a handle and three legs, and the other, less elegant in form, holds about eight quarts. The venerable remains of the castle of Boghall, which gave so great an interest to the scenery of the beautiful vale in which they were situated, have been almost demolished, for the sake of the stone; and little more is left than a small angular tower, which serves to mark the site. The late Dr. A. Brown, Professor of Rhetoric in the University of Edinburgh, and Robert Forsyth, Esq., an eminent advocate, were natives of the parish; and many of the landed proprietors have been eminently distinguished in the annals of their country.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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