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This is a commentary on part of Rowanburn’s long history written by the late Mrs Margaret Smith, a long time resident of the village. Margaret had a passion for her community, and the work she put into preparing this document was her own method of expressing her love of the area she lived in. Rest in peace Margaret.
The small Dumfriesshire village of Rowanburn near Canonbie has a vital connection to the Armstrong’s. The sixteenth century Reiver Lang Sandy Armstrong lived here, along with his eleven sons. All twelve men died during the so-called pacification of the borders in the early seventeenth century. In 1996 an eight-foot high wooden effigy of Lang Sandy was unveiled in the village. It now stands in the Armstrong Trust Museum in Langholm – and a new stone one is gracing Rowanburn. Our thanks to Roland Smith, who carved that original statue, for his permission to publish this article which was written by his wife, Margaret, one of the driving forces behind the promotion of the community.
In 638 A.D. King Oswald captured the castle rock at Edinburgh. It was not till after the battle of Carham in 1018 that the frontier between Scotland and England was finally pushed southwards again to the Tweed. At the same time the Celtic kingdom of Strathclyde included Cumberland.
It all meant an intermingling of people and an increased identity. Both English and Scottish borderers sprang from a mixture of races. They were almost identical in blood and spoke much the same language and religion. Yet the wars of regression, instigated by Edward the First and carried on by his successors, were to result in these people, with their similar civilisations and common interests, being set against each other.
Two and a half centuries of violent, if intermittent, warfare between England and Scotland were enough to reduce the borders to a charred wilderness. When armies were not on the march, frontier raids were encouraged by both sides to wear down the enemy. For centuries men living within fifty miles of the border could not sleep without fear of attack. As the years went by victims of constant warfare were often left homeless and starving.
Legend has it that during a battle an early Scottish king had his horse killed under him. He was saved, it is said, by his armour-bearer, a man called Fairbairn, who lifted him onto his own horse and galloped off the field. This feat of strength won him the name ‘Armstrong’ – together with a settlement of land on the borders.
Whether that is fact we do not know. What we do know is that the family claims descent from SIWARD, the Armstrong Earl of Northumberland, who was connected with the royal houses of Denmark and Sweden. Northumberland was at that time part of Scotland. The descendants of this first Armstrong are mentioned as being resident in Cumberland in 1235. In Liddesdale the first sighting is in 1336, when Alexander Armystrend is shown residing at Mangerton.
Between 1360 and 1601 the number of Armstrong’s on the border between England and Scotland increased. In 1528 the family could put 3,000 horsemen into the field.
From the 13th century the burn after which the present village was named marked the boundary of the land called ‘Debatable’. It was an area of scrub, with some woodland, the haunt of wolf and wild boar.
Lower down the burn was a stone-built Pele tower of considerable height and strength. It is now long gone – destroyed in 1603 by the forces of James VI of Scotland – newly come to the throne of England as James 1st.
Round this peel lay the original village of Rowanburn. It was inhabited by a fierce and feared family named Armstrong. They were descendants of the line of Armstrong chiefs of Mangerton who lived further up the valley of the Liddle.
Before 1542 within the Debateable Lands, the local population was only permitted to graze cattle, sheep, goats and pigs between dawn and dusk. No-one was allowed to erect any building. The Lords warden of both England and Scotland frequently made raids into the area to destroy temporary buildings and apprehend those who tried to live there.
The original peel was made of timber. The homes of villagers were huts of grass sod, roofed over with branches covered with mosses. They could be easily re-erected (if burned by marauders) in a matter of hours. It was an area filled with fugitives and lawless men from both sides of the borderline.
. We find from historical records that the laws of the Debateable Lands were regularly being flouted. Armstrongs and Grahams had intermarried. Their numbers were growing and they needed more land for younger sons, so they began illegally building. Towers of timber and stone went up. Lord Maxwell whose lands lay to the west wanted these settlements destroyed. He wished the area kept as a buffer zone between the two countries and for grazing. He possibly had an eye to his own expansion into the Debateable Lands, for he held tenancies of some of the priory lands in Canonbie. Certainly the Armstrong’s and Grahams were not at this time adherents or supporters of Maxwell – or of Scotland.
The English meanwhile were determined that the Debateable Lands should, in their entirety, become part of England. This idea enraged Lord Maxwell. He and the Laird of the Johnstones decided to make a point. They reduced the tower of Sark to the west of Canonbie which had been erected – albeit illegally – by Sandy Armstrong, father of Kinmont Willie Armstrong, to a mere shell. Rescue came from the English Warden, Lord Dacre. He told the English Privy Council “that certain of the brethren and sons of Richard Gregme and divers others dwelling upon the debatable land are determined to become Scotsmen if England did not resist the enemy”. Dacre was ordered to defend Sandy Armstrong, but when the treaty of Norham was signed on the 10th of June 1551, one of the terms was that the boundaries between England and Scotland be restored to their pre-war state. The Debatable Land went back to it former usage and all inhabitants were evicted. It was just what Lord Maxwell wanted.
Maxwell immediately entered the Debateable Lands and burned out and evicted all pro-English settlers. The Grahams entered into a feud with Maxwell. Sandy Armstrong’s timber tower was burned. It was later rebuilt in stone. We are fairly safe in assuming that a similar fate overtook Rowanburn tower.
A strong French influence then persuaded the Scottish crown to sort out this untidy situation on the border. It was costing large sums of money which the French were largely funding. In 1552 a Commission was set up to define the border. The priory lands – like those at nearby Canonbie – played a great part in these negotiations. A new borderline was drawn. A marker was dug, now known as Scots Dyke. Canonbie priory was accepted as Scottish territory, as was the village of Rowanburn. The border now ran from Scots Dyke northwards, up the centre of the Liddle Water, to Kershopefoot.
In 1590 Sandy’s Rynian Armstrong (Rynian was son of Sandy of Sark), appears in an “Act anent the Debateable Land”, as holding land at Rowanburn. This family never ever forgave the Scotch Maxwell or his descendants for his actions. They were a wild bunch; fearless Reivers and they continued to exert their revenge, until they were wiped from the face of the earth.
The Murder of Sir John Carmichael.
It was at a football match at the small settlement of Mumbies in the year 1600 that the Armstrong’s of Rowanburn made final arrangements to murder a Scottish warden. The man in question was Sir John Carmichael – someone who perhaps because he was not a borderer himself had made quite a reputation as warden of the west march. In so doing, however, he not unnaturally made many enemies – particularly among the Armstrong’s. Knowing that Carmichael had it in mind to punish his tribe for their latest exploits – and hoping to get his oar in first – Rynian Armstrong set off to meet him. Unfortunately, some of the warden’s staff began to make fun of Rynian and poured egg yolk into his scabbard so he could not draw his sword. So incensed was the headsman at this treatment he swore that the next time his weapon left its resting place it would be in earnest.
Rynian, his sons Tom, Lancelot, Hugh, Archibald and Walter, together with Simeon Armstrong and Lancie of Side, Sandy Armstrong, son of Robert, Rob Scott, Tom Taillyeur, William Forrester, William Grahame of the Braid of the Grange of Medap and some Carlyes, George Richardson and William Watson, met on Sunday 15th June, at a football match at Mumbies. Here they heard the warden was to hold a court at Lochmaben the following day. They arranged to meet at Blerieshaw, armed and ready for a fray, dressed in jacks and steel bonnets, carrying lances and hagbuts. They then moved on to Colonheugh and as the warden passed they shot and wounded him, gave chase and hacked him to death at Rae-knowes.
Tom, son of Rynian, was captured by the Laird of Johnstone, having been pursued by Archibald Carmichael of Edrom, brother of the slain warden. He was tried and sentenced to be taken to the nearest cross in Edinburgh to have his right hand struck off, be hung on a gibbet and his body tarred and hung in chains to rot on the gallows of Burrowmure. All his goods would be forfeit to the King. This is the first record of anyone’s body being hung in chains after execution in Scotland.
Verses reputed to have been composed by Tom Armstrong of Rowanburn the night before his execution, have been passed down. Tom was recorded as being minstrel of Clan Armstrong.
Armstrong’s Last Goodnight.
“This night is my departing night,
For here nae longer must I stay,
There’s neither friend nor foe o’ mine,
But wishes me away”
“What I have done thro’ lack of wit,
I never can recall,
I hope ye,re a’ my friends as yet,
Goodnight and joy be with you all!”
Almost immediately after Tom’s apprehension the Laird Johnstone had a barnyard and mill burned. The Armstrong’s raided Johnston’s tenants in retaliation, leaving some wounded and in fear of death.
A diligent search was made for other troublesome Reivers. Scotland’s King James VI wrote to Queen Elizabeth complaining that the Grahams were sheltering wanted men another letter went from the Scottish court to Queen Elizabeth saying that the new warden, having apprehended the principle murderers of Carmichael, had had his corn burnt and his men killed and carried away.
The following February, 1602, James V1 decided to go to Dumfries to take order with the Armstrong’s. The King sent his warden to cast down the house of Rynian of Rowanburn. This further infuriated the Armstrong’s of Rowanburn. Again they rode against Laird Johnstone and carried away his goods. The warden called upon the other Armstrong’s to rescue Johnstone’s goods. They refused.
When Queen Elizabeth died on 24th March 1063, many families including the Armstrong’s of Rowanburn, rode into Cumberland causing mayhem. It was to become known as “Ill Will Week” – or ‘busy week.’ They went as far south as Westmoreland, North Yorkshire and County Durham. Some two hundred raids took place. The official estimate of the spoils was £10,600. Sandy Armstrong of Rowanburn, Will and Archibald, sons of Rynian took prisoner for ransom of £35.
Sandy of Rowanburn, together with Rynian of Rowanburn’s other sons, were listed on 23rd July, amongst 113 wanted men. A later list of 157 wanted men included Rynian’s sons David, Geordie and William.
In 1604 David Armstrong was apprehended and charged with the slaughter of John Johnstone, parson of Tundergarth, and also with killing Robert Currie, servant to the Baillie of the Water of Leith. He had fled Liddesdale and was wanted for killing three men named Mason at a ‘place he had rained with fire”. David was hanged.
On the 12th of March 1605 Rynian Armstrong, known as New Maid Armstrong, and his son Will Armstrong, were captured and trialed for assisting the king’s rebels when they killed some troopers. They were sentenced to be hanged on a gibbet beside the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.
On 13th February 1606, Alexander (Lang Sandy) Armstrong of Rowanburn was arrested and charged with the murder of Sir John Carmichael. Again Sandy ended his life on the Mercat Cross gibbet in Edinburgh.
Thus by the early 17th century all the adult male Armstrong’s of Rowanburn were dead. Their wives and children must have remained along the Rowanburn, living as best they could.
In 1606 the King granted extensive lands in Eskdale including Mumbiehurst, Whiteside, Harelaw and Rowanburn, jointly to James Maxwell and Robert Douglas, who were officers of his household. It seems unlikely that they ever really owned them, because in 1607 John Armstrong in Rowanburn was among a large number of Armstrong’s summoned to appear before the Privy Council for refusing to co-operate with the commissioners sent by the King to survey Eskdale. Because they would not obey they were declared outlaw. It is not known what happened to John after this as no record of him can be traced.
The lands were later to be granted by the English King to a Graham, groom to the infamous Duke of Buckingham. His grandmother was an Armstrong, whose family had settled in the Midlands of England in Nottinghamshire. In the 13th century they moved into Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.
In 1620 Harelaw and Rowanburn and other local communities passed to a John Kerr of Jedburgh. He did not keep them long and they were soon added to the much larger holdings of the Buccleuch family. By 1671 the Scotts owned the whole of Canonbie parish.
The Armstrong’s were still in residence in Rowanburn – but as tenants. In 1673 Archibald Armstrong in Rowanburn registered a will in Edinburgh.
The hearth tax of 1691 records William Brown in Rowanburn as having two hearths. This was clearly a farmhouse. Almost all dwellings at the time had only one hearth. The tax roll does not show any other dwellings listed as Rowanburn. Soon after, the holding seems to have been divided and we find the areas of Rowanburnhead and Rowanburnfoot.
After the Reivers
At the beginning of the 18th century the only way across the River Esk was by boat or ford. About 1740 there was a great flood and people from Rowanburn coming home from church n a boat from Canonbie were drowned. This tragedy led to the building of a bridge.
In 1783 the Duke of Buccleuch, planted a variety of orchards at his own expense at various farms. By 1791 there were only four productive ones still standing – Forage, Woodhouselees, Rowanburn and the Ministers at the Manse.
The Duke of Buccleuch had given some tenants leave to fish the river which bordered their farms. Salmon and trout seldom found its way to market, being used mainly to feed families. They were caught by the long net, the rake net and the rod – and sometimes killed by an instrument called a lifter. This is a shaft with 3 iron prongs barbed on one side fixed on the end (like Neptune’s trident).
In about 1770 roads were made east and west of Canonbie, with branches to almost every farm. There was a toll bar placed upon the side of Scots Dyke. The money from this was used towards the repair of the post road. To further keep these roads in good repair the duke appropriated five per cent out of the whole land rent of the parish – and gave fifty pounds a year from his own pocket. In addition a halfpenny was levied at the coal pits on every horse-load of coal.
Limestone was found in great abundance in the area. The best was to be had at Harelawhill, it was pure and white. Now the Duke of Buccleuch made many improvements to the area. Farms were laid out on once rough ground. Houses and offices were built and slated at His Graces expense. The ground was divided by hedges and ditches, and leases given at moderate rates. Industry and housing increased and people were more numerous and prosperous. The population in the Canonbie parish in 1801 went up to 2,580. The works afforded full employment to masons, wrights and labourers.
Roman and English coins have been found in the area. In 1711 a person employed in draining marsh ground near the place where the Rowanburn falls into the Liddle found a number of silver coins, some of which were marked ‘Edward, Lord of England and Ireland.’ We can assume this was Edward the First, because if they had been coins of any other Edward’s, a number would have followed the name. Great numbers of coins of the same kind have been found not just in Eskdale, but in neighbouring Annandale. In 1298 an army of forty thousand men marched through to re-establish King Edward’s authority during the Scottish Wars of Independence.
There were two collieries in the Canonbie area, one at Archerbeck, the other at Byreburnfoot. In 1770 the Archerbeck coalmines and limestone quarries were let to a Mr Lomax on a long lease. One of the conditions was that a supply of coal, equal to the demand of the area, should be readily available. Lomax worked about seventy drifts in the area.
After Lomax’s death the duke took over the mines and sunk a shaft at Rowanburn. The coal here was wrought by a water engine, a new invention of Mr Kerr of Milnholm. It was moved by means of a large square bucket, suspended from the end of a lever. There was a valve in the bottom in the centre which would open and close with the action of the pump, thus keeping the pit free from water.
His Grace started building Rowanburn village in 1860 and work was completed in 1863. At that time the community had no sanitation, the toilets were outside and flushed twice a day. Fresh water was collected from standpipes outside numbers 10, 24, and 55. Numbers 1 to 33 were known as ‘barrel row’, because each house had a water barrel outside the front door. There was no electricity and no street lighting. People used paraffin lamps and every house had an open fire – an old black cast-iron stove with an oven, which had to be cleaned with black lead once a week. The coal for these fires was stored outside in the coalhouse near the toilet. In between the toilet and the coalhouse was the midden for the ashes and the household rubbish. These were emptied daily and a horse and cart was used to remove the rubbish. It was a common sight to see the women of the village sitting on the walls in their black dresses and course aprons smoking clay pipes. Inside the houses the ground floors were sandstone slabs. Downstairs had a small kitchen and living room. Upstairs was a small bedroom with an attic. All the houses had a large garden where the families grew vegetables. Some kept chickens and pigs. The streets were unpaved and remained this way for many years.
In 1864 the railway came to Canonbie in the form of a branch line from Riddings (on the main Edinburgh – Carlisle line) to Langholm, with stations at Canonbie and Gilnockie. This meant the people of Rowanburn could travel further and quicker than before.
By now Rowanburn was a thriving village with its own school and shop. There were two pitheads, one at Blinkbonnie, the other at Rowanburn, and the coal was transported via an overhead line. There were still pit ponies and they were stabled at Blinkbonnie which was called ‘the first pit’. Two houses were close to the pithead at Rowanburn. One was a colliery cottage, the other Bankhouse, which consisted of four houses, two-up, two-down. The pit officers were where the garages are now.
In the early 1900s the Netherby estate sank a borehole at Rowanburnfoot by the railway. It was worked by a German company and they went down 900 feet. Then the First World War broke out and work was abandoned. If they had carried on they would have discovered the Canonbie coalfield. It was not re-found until 1955.
The mine at Rowanburn closed in 1922. It was good coal, the natives said, but it lay deep to be an economic proposition. Six months before the close of the Rowanburn pit Samuel Lindsay was killed when a tub slid down an incline and crushed him. The wheel at the lay-by is a remembrance of Samuel.
Between 1934 and 1935 electricity came to the area. The old paraffin lamp was seldom seen. Rowanburn now had street lighting. At this time the area had two policemen – one of whom looked after the fishing on the Esk.
As the pit had closed many of the houses were being sold. Some went for as little as £20. But in the 30’s, with no work and no money, it was like asking for £50,000.
In 1934 the Duke of Buccleuch asked Mr Potts of Priory Hill if he would reopen the Harelaw lime workings. The kilns were repaired and lime burnt for the farmers. Harelaw was worked until the early 1960s. The tunnels are still there. Some are wide enough to drive a double decker bus through.
The shop on the main road had a shed that belonged to a Mr Moffat and then passed to the Nichol family. Mr Nichol used this shed for curing bacon. People kept pigs in the garden. There were other shops in the village. A clogger lived in the cottage next to the main shop which used to be the Land Drive agricultural equipment offices. The pit chimney was demolished in 1935. I have been told the boys used to light fires and roast potatoes inside the chimney
Bessie Cutherbertson who lived in Greenbank cottage sold Redseal toffees, four for a penny. Mrs Wylie at No 2 barrel row made fish cakes and had a fish business. Mrs Irving at No 11 barrel row sold Botanic Cream (an alcoholic drink), while Janet Hogg at No 44 sold everything.
The school had closed between the world wars and the children now walked to Canonbie School. The old school building was used for whist drives and dances. Carpet bowling and badminton was held on certain nights of the week, as well as annual concerts.
During the war years of 1939-1945 Rowanburn again changed. There was a shooting range towards Crookholm and a military camp behind Brighton wood. Allied British and Australian soldiers used to cut timber from Brighton wood and surrounding areas.
In 1942 a saw mill opened behind what the old Land Drive offices. The hours of work were 7.30am until 6.30pm and workers were paid7/8 per cubic foot of wood. The mill closed in 1946.
The district nurse, Nurse Sutherland, lived in the schoolhouse. Most of the women in the village spent the winter nights making ‘clippy mats’ (rag rugs) and bedspreads. The winter nights were long and blackout made it difficult to travel far. The railway station was also a sub-post office. It sent telegrams and had a public telephone. Dodman’s buses were running a weekend service, Saturday from Copshaw to Carlisle, and Sunday to Langholm for the cinema. In the late forties Mary Ellen Lindsay opened a shop in No 55. She was a general dealer and was given the sub-post office.
Bankhouse was demolished in 1957. Colliery cottage, the office and the weigh house, were already gone. Plumbing came to the village in 1958 and by 1959 most houses had inside toilets. Some even had bathrooms. Houses were selling from £325 at this time. During 1962 the Land Drive Company was formed to manufacture farm machinery. The first tarmac road was laid in Rowanburn in March 1960. This greatly improved the look of the village and must have made a great improvement to the cleanliness of cottages.
In 1965 the Harelaw lime and coal company closed as the lime ran out. At the end of March 1967 the last train to carry passengers left for Langholm,
During the late 1970s many of the houses in Rowanburn were sold as holiday homes. Young people are moving back to the area and more children are to be seen in the village. All this we hope will continue for many years to come.
Rowanburn Amenities Group.
This was a group of villagers who banded together to improve the village and surrounding area. It was established in 1984 and the first project was to have the 30mph speed limit at the boundaries of the village. With a lot of help from the council and local people they developed a play area for children. Rowanburn is a village to be proud of. The committee members have planted hundreds of trees and bulbs and shrubs at the roadside and as a result of their hard work Rowanburn won the prize of best small village in 1995 and 1996.
With the involvement of the famous BBC Beechgrove Garden team, the village prepared a section of land within the boundaries of the village, and next to the roadway running through the village. The project was aptly named the Beechgrove Garden, which was officially opened along with the unveiling of the statue of “Lang Sandy” Armstrong of Rowanburn on the 5th October 1997.
My special thanks go to
Alan Armstrong of Nether Thorniewhats N.N. for his help with the Armstrong’s of Rowanburn, 16th and 17th Century.
Helen McArthur and her staff at Dumfries Libraries, for all their help in gathering information of the same period.
I would also like to thank all the villagers of Rowanburn, who gave up their time to talk to me about their memories of the village, and photographs to help compile this booklet.
Mrs Margaret Smith, Rowanburn.
References and Bibliography:
Excerpts from the Border Papers 1592-1643.
The 1671 Valuation Roll.
The 1691 Hearth Tax Lists.
The Armstrong Borderland by William A Armstrong.
The Border Reivers by Godfrey Watson.
The Privy Council Papers.
The Railway to Langholm by R. B. McCartney.
The register of the Great Seal of Scotland.
The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser.
For more information, see our website www.rowanburn.org.uk
A campaign group has been set up to oppose the industrialisation of the historic landscape around Hermitage Castle by a proposed wind farm. Their objective is the stopping a plan by developer Infinis to put up 20 turbines, each 125m high at Braidlie and Sundhope Farms. The wind farm would be next to the historic Hermitage Castle and the turbines would be taller than the Forth Rail Bridge which is only 104m high.
Please support the Hermitage Action Group by contacting Malcolm McGregor (this is not Fiona’s husband) at email@example.com.
The following article is reproduced by kind permission of Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser:
Developer Infinis expects to submit its application for the 17 turbines on land at Braidlie and Sundhope farms next month and held two exhibitions – in Newcastleton village hall and Hermitage hall – last week.
Malcolm McGregor, chairman of the Hermitage action group, viewed mock-up photos showing the turbines in the Hermitage valley and described the development as a ‘large-scale industrial wind power plant’. Malcolm, who lives at Whitropefoot Farm with his wife, Sandra, said: “There’s not really anything I’m happier about because the bottom line is it’s a large-scale industrial wind power plant.
“It’s totally destroying the countryside in our locality as well as the cultural and historical landscape setting of the castle.”
One controversy is the view from Tofts Knowe, labelled ‘insignificant’ by Infinis but important by locals because from that point the turbines will be clearly visible above the castle. Malcolm said: “We have a landscape, and it’s why the castle is unique, which has been undisturbed, apart from sheep farming, and this iconic setting will be destroyed. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” He said another photo from Hartsgarth Fell, a very popular walk, showed how the windfarm would dominate the landscape. At Caldcleuch Head you would see all of them. The guidelines on how close turbines should be to properties recommend two kilometres but Whitrope hamlet and the McGregors’ property will be 1.6km from the nearest.
He has also complained to their MSP John Lamont that no one from Hermitage is represented on Infinis’s community liaison group, although Newcastleton community council and business forum are.
On the issue of construction, Malcolm said: “The turbine abnormal loads are planned to come via Carter Bar and through Chesters. The community there are concerned, especially because they have to contend with the Infinis Cummings Hill windfarm proposal. I pressed Ben Ridder, the project developer, about the route of all the HGV vehicles to Windy Edge, which would be transporting steel, gravel, sand and cement and there would be a considerable number of traffic movements.
“When one looks at the main road network from likely gravel quarries and other material suppliers, there are not many options for such a large number of HGVs.”
Mr Ridder said Infinis had already completed a pre-construction survey of the road network which would help them assess any damage done during construction. As for the views, he said the turbines could not be seen from the castle. He admitted many people were concerned about the visual impact but added: “The assessment of the effect on the castle and its setting places less priority on the Tofts Knowe viewpoint because it’s not of any significance.” Planning consent would be for 25 years, after which the company would remove the turbines and the foundations to a depth of one metre only.
Mr Ridder said blanket bog was a rare protected habitat but this was not an actively-forming bog because of the effects of grazing and other land-use practices, like drainage.
The council did have a reputation for turning down windfarm developments so the money invested at this stage was done at risk but if their environmental assessment had shown the site was unlikely to get permission, they would not have gone ahead.
There have been objections to windfarms from the Ministry of Defence in the past because of RAF Spadeadam and the seismological array at Eskdalemuir. Mr Ridder said the MoD was trialling mitigation measures for its radar masts, one of which was on Deadwater Hill. They had less influence over the seismological array which was a much bigger issue but the company remained confident.
As you can see from the Facebook icon on the righthand side of all the page, we now have a Facebook account. If you want to make a comment about anything to do with the Trust then please use our “Wall”. If you have a Facebook account yourselves then click our “Like” button.
To assist you in finding family ancestry, our archivist has prepared a list of websites to assist with your research. This list with much more information has been updated in October 2012.
Please click the download button to save the file to your computer..
From a talk by Travers Cosgrove at the Clan Armstrong Trust Gathering of August 1999.
Thoughts on Irish ancestors?
Whether a Scottish or an English Armstrong, common to both were the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century.
The Catholic Queen of Scots, Mary, was facing John Knox and a fiercely Presbyterian nation. Henry VIII formed the Church of England to ensure the Tudor succession which finished early in the 17th century, on the death of Queen Elizabeth I.
King James VI of Scotland and First of England then succeeded to the throne of Great Britain, with the Union of the Crowns in 1603. James made it clear he wanted no more border incursions ‘for the fun of it’. So he removed several Scots border clans and ‘planted’ them to settle in Ulster in Northern Ireland. He had inherited trouble here and thought to cure it this way.
And so the border clans arrived as Presbyterians in a country where the majority of the inhabitants were Roman Catholic and the administration, Anglican. Almost four centuries later, things are still much the same and this fear of being overwhelmed persists.
So the Scots Armstrong were an early example of ‘Social Engineering!’ Their presence was resented by the locals; their educational and religious culture feared and frowned upon by the authorities; their social and family units probably broken up perhaps because they didn’t correspond with the available land and too many in one place would be too powerful. I think mostly they hated it!
Our experience of life tells us many would have pulled strings or vanished to avoid plantation altogether. The ‘grandees’ appointed to administer the plantation were superseded by hired ‘foresters’ – and they were overtaken by the civil war. No wonder it was 150 years later before a stable pattern of administration emerged, before records were kept faithfully and before a recognisable civilisation was established. By then, many had already left for the Americas and continued to do so.
In Ireland itself, Armstrong ‘Lads ‘o Pairts’ began to emerge as accomplished individuals and social leaders. As genealogists, we are very short on those first 150 years. Of course, there are municipal and family exceptions. But it was 100 years later that I was astonished to discover that my Cosgrove Presbyterian antecedents had to remarry in a Church of Ireland to succeed in their modest profession the constabulary. Of course, there were other Armstrongs in Ireland, too. They arrived, or were named, for different reasons. Ireland is quite a large, diverse country.
But all is not gloom on tracing back early Armstrongs. We are fortunate that a former Trust member, Alexander, discovered and gathered many early records. These are published in Part One of our Index – it’s kept in the museum and we have copies for sale. Then there is a Part Two, which our President, Alan Armstrong of Nether Thorniewhats, has gathered and printed that is also available. Joan McKeague and I are working on Part Three. But too many records are dull and confusing; calling them an Index is rather misleading. There is no index other than by parish and date. Will you help me to produce one, please? Christian names and place or farm name seem to be the best remembered.
Now let me talk about Living Genealogy. Have you asked your Grandad or Grandma about the relatives that visited in their childhood? Do it now, whilst they’re still here to ask. Do you keep in touch with distant cousins? Do you ask them about their parents and relatives? Are some of them members of the Clan Armstrong Trust? What can they tell you?
How about an exciting family reunion? Someone has to suggest the idea. It has just happened to us. We seized on the intention of American cousins to celebrate the 70th birthday of their ‘Mater Familias’ by bringing all her family on a trip to Ireland. 36 of them arrived! I organised four families in Britain and Ireland to meet them in Killarney and there was even one from Australia. Between us, we were able to organise a welcome gathering. Especially memorable for the children, we were able to find local historians to show us where our family had lived and died over 300 years ago.
That was living geneaology. For our part, we had put together a family tree and illustrated it with what portraits we could. It was fun to see these pictures grow, shrink and brighten before our eyes. No matter that these were all ‘Palmers’. All the relatives had Emma Margaret Armstrong as Great Grandmother – or Great Great, or Great Great Great grandmother. Think of us as Armstrongs and I found a link with Sir Robert Slain 1647.
Genealogy can be fun as well as interesting, but we need your help to make it factual.
Armstrong Places of Interest
Places to StayView All
Offering Scottish Tourist Board 3 star accommodation, the Eskdale Hotel, Langholm sits with pride of place in the centre of town. The hotel accommodation provides visitors luxuries normally only found in larger hotels, whilst ensuring personal attention, quality and care associated with a hotel of this size.
A short drive from the M6 and M74, The Eskdale Hotel and Langholm offer the perfect place to relax and unwind. For those seeking something more, there’s a series of waymarked hill walking routes and walks around the town.
Mountain biking is also available nearby at 7 Stanes, whilst the famous river Esk offers great fishing opportunities for salmon & sea trout. Road cycling, golf and shooting is also available locally and for those seeking culture, the Clan Armstrong Museum offers an incisive glimpse into the lives of the Border Reivers. The Buccleuch Centre and theatre in the town provides a range of entertainment, music & exhibitions.
The Eskdale Hotel offers the opportunity to enjoy and experience all of these and much more.
For retail therapy the nearby Gretna Outlet Village offers famous brands at discount prices. But take time to explore the town of Langholm, explore the varied local shops, galleries and visit the regular Farmers’ Market or Antiques Fair.
The Eskdale Hotel really the perfect place to stop, stay and relax when visiting the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway or the North Lakes of the English Lake District.