Earth Bank Enclosures - National Trust for Scotland Threave Estate
Part 1. Background As part of work towards a post-graduate dissertation on the Galloway Levellers Uprising of 1724 (Via Glasgow University- Dumfries) I have carried out research into any surviving features of the pre-Improvement (I.e. before 1760) landscape of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Most such survivals lie in the uplands of the Stewartry. Amongst those visited are a narrow- curving rig-system at Stroan (Kells parish) identified by Dixon 1 , the field system surrounding Kilnair (Dalry parish) and a field system near Darngarroch Bridge (Girthon parish). 2 However, apart from an extensive rig and furrow system preserved on the Kirkcudbright Military Training Area 3 it has been very difficult to trace any other surviving features of the pre-Improvement in the lowland zone of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Since it has often (if not accurately) been assumed that the 'levelling' activities of the Galloway Levellers in 1724 were directed against recently erected dry-stane dykes built as cattle enclosures, it is important to establish the actual extent of existing enclosures in the lowland zone of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. That there were existing lowland enclosures in the Stewartry is revealed by a seventeenth century (1677) contract between James Jack in Strawbroke in Linlithgowshire and John Irvine of Logane for the building of 150 roods of faill (turf ) dyke within the lands of Butlemains (Buittle Mains) : which dyke the said James is to build “seven quarter high above the brink of the dyck and to make the samen seven quarter of bread att the bottom and an ele of bread att the topp and to cast a ditch upon each syde of the said hundreth and fyftie rude of dyck thrie quarter deep asquaint and an ell wyde upon each syde of the said dyck”, completing the same before 31 May next.4 But could any such turf dykes have survived the radical transformation (improvement) of the farmed landscape which occurred in the late eighteenth century? This would seem unlikely, since part of the process of improvement was the rationalisation of the existing field-systems. This rationalisation took the form of sub-dividing farmed land into approximations of rectangular fields by a mixture of dry-stane dykes, hedges, ditches and (subsequently) post and wire fences. The previous use of 'faill' or turf dykes was not continued. Until the recent discoveries outlined and illustrated below, I had assumed that the continuing process of agricultural improvement had effectively erased all traces of earlier enclosures from the lowland landscape of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.. 2. The Findings Following the identification by aerial photography of a possible Iron Age hill (or ring) fort on the summit of Meikle Wood Hill (near Castle Douglas), a site visit by Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland was made on 7 September 1993 . ...nothing is visible of the fort which has been recorded on aerial photographs. The western arc of the defences, which comprise double-ditches, lies within trees but this area has formerly been cultivated, the edge of ploughing being marked by a W-facing scarp about 0.7m in height: the scarp lies parallel to and immediately W of the fence line that traverses the W side of the fort from N to S. 5 On the 29 October 1999, an area of 105 metres north- south by 140 metres east-west on the summit of Meikle Wood Hill was made a Scheduled Monument under section 1 (1) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. 6 In August 2008, felling of Sitka spruce on the north-west slope of Meikle Wood Hill began. Although work is not yet [12 November 2008] completed on the site, the removal of the Sitka spruce and of sections of fencing (to give access to the site) has allowed closer study of Meikle Wood Hill than previously possible. This closer study has revealed the existence of a series of earth banks extending beyond the location of the Iron Age hill-fort and which continue for 500 metres south-east of Meikle Wood Hill towards Barley Hill, where another series of earth banks have been traced around the summit of Barley Hill hill and on its western flank. The most of the banks are shown as fence lines on current Ordnance Survey maps and have been found on the original 1850 period OS maps. On the earlier OS maps, the earth banks seem to enclose areas of woodland. The curving shapes of the earth banks contrast strongly with the straight lines of the dykes, hedges and post and wire fences which enclose the post- improvement fields on Kelton Mains farm. There was a dry- stane dyke on the farm in 1724. It was a march-dyke along a track which was improved in 1764 to form the Old Military Road. The march-dyke was threatened by the Galloway Levellers in 1724, but it was not levelled after Robert Johnston, the owner of Kelton estate promised that none of his tenants would be evicted. Johnston was a Dumfries based merchant and former member of the Scottish parliament. Johnston bought Kelton estate from William Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale in April 1706.7 If 1 Dixon P: Field Systems, Rigs and Other Cultivation Remains in Scotland: The Field Evidence in Foster S and Smout C : The History of Soils and Field Systems (Aberdeen, 1994) p.46 2 NMRS Number: NX66SW 30.02 Map reference: NX 6190 6305 3 http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/kirkcudbrightreport.pdf 4 Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds 1675-1700 (Edinburgh, 1950) entry 184, at Edinburgh 26 February 1677 5 NMRS Number: NX76SW 22 Map reference: NX 7454 6212 6 Index No. 8376 http://hsewsf.sedsh.gov.uk/eschedule/show?ID=8367&OK=Y 7 Kirkcudbright Register of Sasines Vol. 7 Folio 140 15 April 1706.
Johnston or any subsequent owners of Kelton estate had decided to create new woodlands, they would have enclosed the woods with either a hedge or a dry-stane dyke. It is unlikely that Johnston or his successors would have constructed earth bank enclosures. It therefore seems probable that the earth bank enclosures shown in the photographs below are surviving features of an earlier, pre-Improvement, pre- eighteenth century landscape. Given their proximity to Threave castle, could they be medieval features ? As highlighted on the map below, the area of Meile Wood Hill scheduled as an Ancient Monument (Iron Age fort) is shown in red. The earth banks on Meikle Wood Hill and their south-eastern extensions are shown in purple and the Barley Hill earth banks are shown in orange. lthough banks were found in the middle, linking section – running along the fence line and within the plantation - they were difficult to photograph and so have not been included the in following section.
Part 3. Photographs of earth banks – Barley Hill and Meikle Wood Hill
1. Earth bank on lower (western) slope of Barley Hill
2. Earth bank and ditch along north-west edge of Barley Hill.
3. Barley Hill summit earth bank.
4.. Bank along far (north-west) side of Meikle Wood Hill, facing Threave Castle.
6. . Bank and ditch running down far (north – west) side of Meikle Wood Hill.