HISTORY OF THE PARISH OF NEILSTON.
As in the earliest history of an ancient country or race the beginnings are lost in the mists and uncertainties of the past, so it is with the earliest history of any particular community ; and it is not until long after the dawn is passed and the people have emerged from their primitive and aboriginal surroundings, when to some extent they have begun to assert themselves, that history comes to deal with them ; recognising their doings and recording their relations according as they interact upon themselves and affect their neighbours.
In this respect the history of the parish, and of the town from which it takes its name, is no exception to the general law.
The Parish of Neilston, like the county of which it is an integral part, was originally included in the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde ; " a kingdom formed by the Britons during the inter-tribal battles and strife that followed upon the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain in 407 A.D." These Britons were, as their name indicates, a Celtic people. They entered the British Isles from the Continent at a very early but uncertain period.
The River-drift and Cave-men were the earliest human inhabitants of the British Isles, and they are only traceable by their relics. They are also known as the Paleolithic men, or men of the Ancient Stone Age. Judged by their skeletal remains, they appear to have been a short, sturdy people, with long, narrow heads, depressed or low at the crown, strong ridgy eye-brows, prominent muzzle-like mouths, and very little chin.
They had no domestic animals, not even the dog, that almost constant companion of savage man. They wandered hither and thither as chance of food impelled them, sheltering under overhanging rocks or in the mouths of caves, or camping in the open air.
It is a matter of conjecture with anthropologists whether this people, like the animals they hunted and lived on, became extinct, or whether they were to some extent absorbed by the race that followed them. They do not appear to have had canoes or any means of crossing streams or water, and probably reached this country while there was yet a land connection with the Continent, and therefore before the Channel, the " silver strand " that separates these islands from the Continent, was formed.
The Iberians, another very ancient race, were, it is believed, the successors to these primitive peoples in our islands. At one period they appear to have spread all over the West and South-west of Europe, and even to Berber in North Africa, whence they are sometimes spoken of as the Berber race. They were non-Aryan and spoke a non-Aryan tongue—traces of which, philologists say, are still discoverable in the British language.
They were taller than their predecessors, having an average height of about 5 ft. 5 in. Their heads were oval-shaped, their eyes very dark, their skin swarthy, and their hair black. Slim and agile in body, they were alert and active hunters. They had some knowledge of the earlier rudiments of civilization, could weave a kind of cloth, and make a coarse kind of pottery, the ornamentation of which, simple, wavy, dotted or zig-zag lines, indicates the beginnings of art.
The later members of this people, however, as evidenced by some of their relics, exercised a much higher degree of art. They were already in possession of the more common cereals, and practised a rude kind of agriculture, and had domesticated animals. They possessed, however, no knowledge of metals, and therefore, of all their implements, the stone axe, in making which they evinced great dexterity, was perhaps the most important. They made dug-out canoes from the trunks of trees, by the aid of which they probably had reached our shores from the continent of Europe.
Their system of sepulture was to bury their dead in a crouching or sitting position in chambers, a very interesting series of which may be seen just across the border of the parish at Cuff Hill in the parish of Beith. " They are part of a cairn (originally a long barrow and as such probably unique, second in interest only to the Cave Cairn on Strawarren in Ballantrae district) that exists near the south-east base of Cuff Hill. In 1810, when the parish road was being formed near it, it was considered a convenient quarry for road metal, and as it was being removed, two rows of stone Cists, with human remains, were laid bare. Public curiosity was excited, and a stop was put to its demolition. At the same time the rest of the Cairn was partly explored, with the result that three Cromlechs or Cistvaen, and other features of ;interest, were found. These ancient graves having been left open, can still be examined. Two of the Cromlechs have still got their table stones in position, whence the popular mind has come to associate them with caves. Both of them are 3 feet wide, and one of them is at least 3 feet deep. The other Cromlech has had the top stone removed, for there are two massive stones beside it, that may have covered it. One of the massive cheek-slabs, a lime-stone one, of this Cromlech, is over 8 feet long.
This Cist is 3 feet 6 inches wide at one end, and 1 foot 9 inches at the other, the depth being 3 feet 9 inches. The original size of the Cairn was 153 feet by 59 feet by 13 feet high. About thirty yards of it still remain.
The Gauls, a Celtic people, so named by Caesar, would appear to have been the next people, in the order of racial succession, to invade our shores. Their original home is said to have extended over a great part of Central Europe . They are supposed to have reached our country in the ninth century before Christ. They were altogether a superior people to any of their predecessors, and brought with them a knowledge of metals. They used bronze weapons instead of stone, which no doubt greatly aided them in their conflicts with their Iberian predecessors. They seem to have been a comparatively tall people, their average height being about 5 feet 9 inches. They had broad heads, capacious skulls, white skin, fair hair, and blue eyes, with large and strong 'nibs. They belonged to the great Aryan family of nations, and spoke an Aryan language, which at a later period we shall find their descendants bringing back from Ireland into Scotland, on the establishment of the Dalriadic colony. Their language, according to some, was also the tongue of Pictland. They are sometimes spoken of as the " Men of the Bronze Age," from the fact that they were the first introduce a knowledge of bronze into the country. To them also owe the cranogs and lake-dwellings, and possibly many other prehistoric structures.
The Britons or Brythons, another branch of the Celtic stock, appeared on our shores four or five centuries before the present era, in succession to the Gauls. Spreading from the south-east part of our island, where they probably first landed, they had become, by the time of Caesar's invasion, a " great multitude." They seem to have extended northward and westward, possessing the country as they advanced.
Like the Gauls, they spoke a dialect of the Celtic tongue, which at a later period developed into Welsh. More advanced in knowledge than any of their predecessors, they possessed weapons of iron, and had a practical understanding of agriculture and of growing of cereals, which we are told they continued to exercise, their predecessors, whom they certainly did not entirely destroy, maintaining themselves for the most part by pasturing their herds and flocks. It was probably during the predominance of this people, and from them, that our country obtained the name of Britain.
They, with their predecessors, the Gauls, are sometimes spoken of as the Megalithic race, from the gigantic structures they are supposed to have left in the several countries they inhabited ; the great circle of Avesbury in Wiltshire, Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and the many smaller circles, pillar stones, or maenhirs and trilithons to be found among the hills of our own country under the name of Druid Circles and Altars. The religion of the Britons was the Druid system, and no idolatrous worship ever attained such ascendancy over its followers. Our country at this period was covered with dense forest, in the groves and secret recesses of which their priests practised their occult rites and ceremonies. War was more or less the constant occupation of the different tribes, and as human sacrifice was part of their system of offerings, the captives taken in war as well as slaves were frequently devoted as sacrifices to their gods.
The Picts were divided into the northern and southern Picts. The former dwelt in the Lowlands north of the Forth. The others are said to have occupied the country immediately to the north-east of the Forth, but were probably confined to Galloway and certain districts between the walls built by the Romans. According to Skene, they were of Celtic origin, and spoke the Goidelic dialect. According to Professor Rhys, they were the descendants of the old Iberian race, who had adopted the Goidelic dialect, and were ultimately merged into the Celtic population. The name Picts—Pictus—a painted man, was applied by the Romans to such of the tribes as painted and tattoed their bodies with woad and other pigments.
The Scots came from Ireland, and landed on the west coast of Scotland about the beginning of the fifth century. They founded the kingdom of Dalriada in Argyllshire, and thence spread over a number of the western isles and along the shores of Ayrshire, and probably to the Solway. After much fighting, their king, Kenneth II., in 843, subdued the Picts. In 1018, under Malcolm II., they conquered the Angles of Bernicia, made the Tweed their southern boundary, and gave to the whole of the country the name of Scotland.
Mere lust of conquest may, to some extent, have prompted the aggressive inroads of these savage peoples, but the necessity for expansion may have been the result of some economic law. The Aryan stock were a prolific people ; the land in the east had already been exploited by the Asiatic, and consequently the south and west alone remained into which they could overflow.
What probably took place at these several incursions upon our shores would be something like what Cesar tells us he experienced when he landed in South Britain. The people in possession would offer the most strenuous resistance in their power to each aggressor, but superior weapons and discipline, better generalship and leading, would ultimately prevail. The natives, forced to give way, would for a time fall back into the forests and mountain fast nesses of the land, and doubtless many would fall in battle. But the necessity is not implied, as is too readily assumed, that the native people were hurried down, and annihilated root and branch. On the contrary, there is sufficient reason for believing that the older people, slowly emerging from their places of retreat, made friends with their new masters, and through various ways and expedients, became gradually absorbed by them. The conquered would, in process of time, be admitted to the protection of the chief or headman of the tribe, for body service, thirled as a serf or bondsman, possibly to work out his liberty or freedom, and ultimately, no doubt, closer unions would be formed through the medium of inter-marriage.
Some such solution as this of the question of racial survival is almost predicted by daily experience, as, excepting possibly the River-drift and Cave men, representatives of the various other peoples are to be met with among the inhabitants of the different parts of our country at the present day. The persistence of the Jewish type, through the ages, shows us that racial characteristics are not readily lost.
INVASION BY THE ROMANS.
THE Romans, under the command of the famous General, Caius Julius Ctesar, invaded our shores 55 B.C., and with that event begins the re corded history of our country. A large part of Scotland is said to have been travelled through six centuries before that date by Pytheas, a native of Massila, the modern Marseilles. But his narrative havingbeen lost, his opinions are only known through quotations by other writers. Csar's operations were confined mostly to the south-east of Britain, and therefore do not so much concern us.
It is not until the arrival of Agricola, 79 A.D., that the veil is lifted, and we get an authentic glimpse of the geographical and ethnological conditions of Northern Britain. This famous commander, having finished his campaign in the south, marched in person from Wales, to subdue the northern tribes, who were giving trouble. He was the first commander to lead the legions of Rome across the border into what is now Lowland Scotland. In the course of his progress northward, he found the country along the western shores inhabited by several native tribes, and an account of them is given by Tacitus, his son-in-law, who was also his biographer.
On reaching the district which is now Renfrewshire, on his way to the great ford across the Clyde, Agricola found it " inhabited by the Goidelic Dumnonians (except in the east, where, in the Mearns, as the name implies, was a tribe or clan or settlement of Meatae). The Dumnonians were related to the Damnonians of Cornwall and Devon, who were probably their superiors in the arts of civilization, in consequence of their more frequent intercourse with foreigners."
The inhabitants here named Dumnonians by the Romans were Goidels, Gaels, and we are given a description of them by their historian, as they were found on his arrival amongst them. They were a rude, uncivilized, very barbarous, yet brave and warlike people, living mostly on the milk of their flocks, wild fruits, and the flesh of such animals as they captured in hunting. They do not, however, seem to have lacked courage, as they are said to have been very hostile. No doubt they would give strenuous and stubborn resistance to the invader of their territory at first ; in fact, we are left in no doubt of this, as Tacitus informs us that, on the part of the Romans, the struggle with them was at first for existence, and afterwards for conquest ; adding, that the Britons exhibited such fierceness, that even a long peace had not softened them.
During the occupation of the district by the Romans, no doubt the native tribes in their vicinity would be held in a state of comparative subjection, but as they were the most tolerant of conquerors, the restraint may have been compatible with considerable freedom.
The Picts from beyond the Clyde and Forth line would appear to have given the Roman invaders a great deal of trouble by their harassing raids. So much so, indeed, as to subsequently necessitate the erection of a fort on what is now Oakshaw Hill, Paisley, to protect their camp, and a great wall, the Wall of Antonine, across the isthmus between these rivers (the remains of which may be seen to the present day), in order to keep them within their northern boundaries.
These border Picts are spoken of as being naked, painted, and tattoed, after the manner of the New Zealander in later times, with representations of animals, etc., and the Romans seem never to have succeeded in conquering them. The Picts appear to have lived in the rudest of houses, little better in many instances than holes excavated in the ground ; or rude huts, erections of wattle and clay ; or shelters scooped out of the hillsides ; weems or earth-houses, as they have been named.
In connection with these primitive dwellings, it is interesting to note that quite a group, a town indeed, of such was discovered in our neighbourhood little over a hundred years ago in quarrying near the site of the Castle of Williamwood in the parish of Cathcart. A description of this interesting discovery is given in the New Statistical Account, which I here copy :
"In removing the earth from the quarry, a great many subterraneous houses were discovered, ranged round the slope of a small swelling hill. Each house consisted of one apartment from eight to twelve feet square. The sides, which were from four to five feet high, were faced with rough undressed stones, and the floors were neatly paved with thin flag stones, which are found in the neighbourhood. In the centre of each floor was a hole scooped out as a fireplace, in which coal-ashes still remained and seem to indicate that their occupiers had left the place on a sudden. That coal and not wood or peat had been employed as fuel, seemed at first an argument against the antiquity of the houses, until it was remembered that many seams of coal crop out on the steep banks of the river in the immediate vicinity, which may have been picked out for firing by the aboriginal inhabitants, as is still done to a limited extent by a few of the poorer classes in the neighbourhood.
Near the fireplaces were found small heaps of water-worn pebbles, from two to three inches in diameter, the use of which it is difficult to conjecture. They may have been used as missiles for attack or defence in the rude warfare of ancient days, or more probably they served the purpose of an equally rude system of cooking, by which meat was prepared for being eaten by heated stones placed round it as is still done in many of the South Sea Islands. . . . The number of huts discovered amounted to forty-two, of which thirty-six formed the arc of a lower and larger circle, and the remaining six, also circularly ranged, stood a little higher up the hill. . . . If the natives of the village described above, deserted their homes hastily, as may be conjectured from the fact of the fuel remaining on their hearths, it may have been in terror of the Romans, one division of whose invading army must have passed not far from the place. About twelve querns or hand-mills were found near the site of these houses, and a grave lined with stone, containing a rude urn filled with ashes and human bones, which the discoverer avers were of almost super-human magnitude. To the great loss of antiquarian science, these houses were unfortunately destroyed." '
As has already been stated, during the inter-tribal strife that followed the withdrawal of the Roman legions from our island, 407 A.D., the tribes of Britons, rallying to each others support, succeeded in establishing the independent kingdom of Strathclyde or Cumbrae. This kingdom extended at one period from the Clyde—where its existence is still witnessed to by the islands of the Cumbraes—along the western shore between the Pennine Range and the coast, as far as the Ribble in Lancashire.
Rydderick Hael, the great king of the Britons, a prince of liberal sentiments and great valour, reigned over it in the zenith of its power, 573 A.D., his " strong city " or capital being fixed at Alclyde, the " Rock of Dumbarton," or fortress of the Britons ; and as this kingdom includes the Dumnonian Britons who occupied the tract of country that long afterwards became the County of Renfrew, it possesses for us more than an ordinary interest.
Concurrently with the growth of the kingdom of Strathclyde in the west, its great rival, the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria, was gaining strength and power on the eastern shore of the island, and during a war of encroachment on the part of the latter, under their king, Ethelfrid, what is now modern Wales was separated from the Strathclyde Britons, and the Northumbrian kingdom reached the western shore. At this time the island of Mona, which had always been held in sacred respect as holy isle, by both Druid and Christian Britons, had its name changed to Anglesey, the island of the Angles, and Strathclyde for a period was itself reduced to the condition of a subject province. The venerable Bede informs us that the Anglians established a bishopric thus early at Whithorn, " Candida Casa," which continued till 803 A.D., find adds, " The island (of Britain) at the present time (750 A.D.) c ontains five nations, the Angles, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins, and that the Latin tongue by the study of the Scriptures had become common to all."
The decline of the Northumbrian kingdom in the eighth century afforded Strathclyde the opportunity of again asserting its independence ; and within the restricted limits nearly answering to the valley of the Clyde, it continued to maintain this condition until its union with the greater kingdom of Scotland.
The Britons of Strathclyde we thus see were a persistent and indomitable people. Not only had they survived the Roman occupation with all its vicissitudes, but had also successfully maintained the struggle for independence against the aggressions of their great rivals, the Saxons and Angles. This protracted independence - for it continued for two hundred years after the conquest of the other provinces the lowlands — had an enduring influence upon the language, the place names of the West of Scotland and Renfrewshire being rich in Celtic derivatives.
The Strathclyde Britons were, moreover, a people of tall stature and powerful build ; and there is reason for thinking that their influence in these particulars can still be traced in the people of our own day in the south and west of Scotland, and even among their kindred people in Wales, to which they numerously emigrated during the pressure of the Angles in the east, and the Irish Scots on the west.'
The character given them by Tacitus, "that they were a warlike people," still continued to distinguish them, and in 912, during the wars that followed the McAlpine succession, they carried the tide of battle against the enemy in the north, as far as Dunblane, which they burned. Their kingdom, still unconquered, became absorbed by union with Scotland, first under Malcolm, King of Scots, but finally and permanently when their prince ascended the Scottish throne as King David I ; thus terminating their independence as Strathclyde by giving their prince to Scotland as its king in 1124 A.D.
In the later years of the protracted military occupation of the district of the Dumnonians by the Roman legions, there would appear to have subsisted a quite friendly relationship between them and the native Britons, which could only have been engendered by a certain mutual confidence as between rulers and ruled. For after the withdrawal of the Romans, we find a section or tribe of the latter boasting themselves, with evident pride of descent, as " Roman-Britons," and claiming to have descended from the Roman rulers. They were, probably, the Clyde Britons.
Notwithstanding the length of time the Romans occupied their camp or fort on Oakshawhill, Paisley, and its proximity to what is now our parish, I am not aware of any evidence to show that they were ever resident in the parish itself, though from its salubrious surroundings, as a health station, such may have been the case. With the Britons it is different ; they have not gone without having left evidence of their former occupancy in numerous ways ; in the stature of the subsequent race ; in the place-names in the parish and county ; in the geographical names of the islands of the Clyde ; and in the valour and courage they have transmitted to their successors throughout the ages.
At the battle of the Standard, for instance, it is the opinion of the ablest critics that the brave tribesmen who fought for King David I. under the name of the " Levernanii," were the men of Levernside (the sons of the noisy stream), drawn from Neilston parish. Such is the opinion of Chalmers and Hailes. And when Walter the Steward summoned the stout men of Strathclyde to his standard to aid in repelling the invasion of Somerled, " Lord of the Isles," when he sailed up the Clyde and landed at Renfrew, 1164 A.D., they would doubtless again be in the field fighting for hearth and home ; and at the battle of Largs, in 1263 A.D., when it became necessary to hurl back the invading host under Haco, the men of Renfrewshire and Neilston parish were there, and a Mure of the Caldwell family was a leader.
Then, on that ever memorable day in the year 1314, when the fate of Scotland's inde pendence was to be finally decided, when the High Steward of Scotland again summoned the men of Renfrewshire, his own particular district, to the support of the royal Bruce, there can be no doubt that the stalwart men of the Levern valley responded to the call, and on the glorious field of Bannockburn upheld their own traditional honour, and the honour of their country, in that fateful struggle for national freedom.
We have thus seen that the men of Strathclyde were of heroic mould. But they were also men of intellectual stamina, and the two most outstanding missionary saints of the early Christian Church, St. Ninian, the apostle of the Southron Picts, and St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, were natives of Strathclyde ; whilst St. Mungo of the Celtic Church, the apostle of the Britons, spent his life amongst them. But if Ireland was indebted to us for her great patron saint, born at Kilpatrick on the Clyde, she amply repaid the debt by giving us in return the apostle of the Scots and northern Picts, St. Columba, who, coming de Scotia ad Britanniam, bore the torch of Christian enlightenment into the dark regions of the Western Isles and the northern Highlands. Nor is the region of romance unrepresented by this remarkable people. Arthur of " heroic valour " and " Round Table " fame was also a prince of the Britons, who, after his campaign in Ayrshire, may have passed through our parish on his way to the Lennox, leaving as a relic some connection with the Arthurlie at Barrhead. We thus learn that the territorial ancestors of the people of Renfrewshire and the parish of Neilston, as an integral part, were no mean race, but brave, hardy, and intellectual, according as we view them in their different phases of progressive civilization, and that during their long occupancy (for, as already shown, they were a persistent people) they passed through many vicissitudes and took part in many bold enterprises.
In the opinion of many people, much that has been written in thischapter may be considered as having little to do with the history of the parish. But as the character and genius of a people can often only be
ORIGIN OF THE COUNTY OF RENFREW.
Up till the beginning of the fifteenth century, what is now the County of Renfrew was wholly included in the County of Lanark ; and from a very early period what is now the western or lower division of the County, was known as Strathgryfe. But on December 10, 1404, King Robert III., as all the lands were holden of him, caused the baronies of Renfrew, Cunningham, and Kyle Stewart in Ayrshire, his possessions as Earl of Carrick, and the islands of Arran, Bute, and Cumbraes, and other lands, to be erected into a free regality, and afterwards into a principality, for James, his son, the heir-apparent, under the title of Prince and Steward of Scotland. This title the Prince of Wales, as heir-apparent to the British Crown, still enjoys, with all the benefits attaching thereto. About ten years later, somewhere between August 7, 1413, and August 12, 1414, Renfrew ceased to be a barony, and was erected into a shire.
As we are largely an agricultural community, I propose giving a short sketch of that important branch of industry from an early period, before dealing with its special development in our parish. So universal has the knowledge of agriculture become in our day, and so important are its bearings in every relation of life, that it is difficult to think that there ever could be a period in the history of our country when agriculture was unknown. Nevertheless, such seems to have been the case, for. the earliest recorded observations inform us that, at the time the Romans came to Scotland, agriculture had not begun ; that tillage of the soil was unknown ; that the natives, who were a fierce and rude people, lived upon roots, and the milk of their cattle, on fish, and the flesh of such animals as they killed in the chase. This was the state of the people in the first and second and third centuries, and had been so from an unknown antiquity. The Romans, no doubt, during the four hundred years they occupied this country, carried on a process of agriculture ; and the early Scots, who came from Ireland in the third century to Kintyre, would also bring with them a crude knowledge of agriculture from their early home ; but its development must have been slow and tedious amongst a semi-civilized people with such implements as were at their disposal.
In the fifth century, however, a second batch of Scots crossed to Kintyre, and established themselves there in the Dalriadic sub-kingdom ; and, following in their wake, and bearing with him the torch of Christian knowledge, came St. Columba, who finally founded his house in the island of Iona. By this time agriculture was evidently beginning to take shape, for we find him blessing the harvest of barley, and giving directions as to the ploughing and sowing, and grinding of corn ; and it is interesting to note that at this early time the tribesmen seem to have been in possession of all the principal cereals, as corn and barley, etc. The early tribes having discovered the advantages of cultivating the soil, next began to form their several homesteads into social units or townships for protection, and began the distribution of the land. The arable land was given at first to the freemen of the tribe, whilst pasture land was held in common by bond and free. At a later period, what were designated inheritance lands were held by the headsmen of the tribes as individual property, and the tribesmen cultivated this property either by bondsmen (probably prisoners taken in war), or by free tenants, on various tenures, one of which was steelbow, a mode of tenure which has come down the ages to our own day in some parts of Scotland —an arrangement by which the tenant is supplied by the superior with the means of stocking and labouring the farm, and is bound to return produce equal in value at the expiration of the tack. The primitive farm-steading consisted of dwelling-house, ox-stall, hog-stye, sheep-pen, and calf-house, and the whole was surrounded by an earthen wall or rampart. Each clan or tribe gave a portion of its territory for the support of the headsmen and officers, and, after the introduction of Christianity, a portion for the support of the priest.
In the ninth and tenth centuries, rents were paid by " kain " or kind. This was necessary where payment had to be made, as there was no money coined in Scotland until the reign of David I. ; grain was given from arable lands, and stock from pasture lands, and poultry and eggs. This method of paying rent has come down to within quite recent times. In the event of disagreement occurring in any matter, it was referred to the birleyman, an umpire chosen by the people themselves, whose decision had all the force of law, as the tribes-men always supported it and saw it carried out.
In the twelfth century, the tribal system of agriculture passed away, and the feudal system was established throughout Scotland ; and now a new class of agriculturist come into prominence, viz., the monks, who were principally concerned in land operations, as they held considerable possessions. Each district had a Grange, and we learn that the Grange was the Abbey homestead. These references are interesting, because, amongst other things, they explain the original use of many farm and place-names that still remain amongst us. The homestead farm had a byre, etc., besides a house for the caries or nativi—who did the land labour— names which strongly suggest that the nativi or caries were the original natives of the land now reduced to serfs by their conquerors, as we are told they belonged to the land and went with it. There were also the Mains and the Granary—names which again throw light upon the origin of many farm names in our parish and county—and outside the grange property were the " cotters," occupying a township with from one to nine acres of land each, for which they paid rent in service.
Then came the " malars," occupying a " mailen," these were farmers renting a husband- land. The husbandland consisted generally of two " oxgates " of land, each thirteen acres, " where plough and scythe could gang," and four husbandmen occupied together a ploughgate of land, which was equal to 104 acres, and they had a plough in common, to which each contributed two oxen ; they were bound to good fellowship by rules, which, if broken, were enforced by the birleyman. By an Act of the Scottish Parliament, where any one owned more than four cows, he was forced to rent land and plough it with the cattle, under penalties; and so hurtful to the crops had the " gule "— the corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) — become, that it was enacted he should be punished as a traitor would be who grew it, which meant that he might be executed for it. If it grew owing to the carelessness of a bondsman, the farmer was to be held responsible, and fined a shilling for every plant, and was compelled to clean the land besides.
Leases began to be given in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to tenants, and it was a condition of lease to plant trees near the steading, and hedges round the fields, and with moorland farmers, that they were bound to keep dogs to hunt the wolves. Throughout these periods, an essential part of all tenants' contracts, except on lands belonging to the Church, was the obligation of being ready and equipped for service in the field on military expeditions, whenever called upon by the headsmen, laird, or baron, and to give a certain number of days' labour on the laird's land each year.
Where rents were paid in kind, it was necessary there should be some standard of value for calculating the amounts, and, accordingly, for the neighbourhood of Paisley, the monks of the Abbey had a table drawn up for this purpose, in which " each capon is valued at 8d. ; each poultry at 4d. ; ilk chicken at 2d. ; a laid of coals, 4d. ; the day's pleuch, 2sh. ; the day's sherin, 3d. ; and we have a glimpse of prices in the thirteenth century, in the following rhyme :—
" A bolle o' aits, pennies foure
These prices are all of Scots money, which is one-twelfth of sterling money. That is, a shilling Scots is one penny sterling ; a pound Scots is one shilling and eightpence sterling. And, further, that the lieges might be protected from imposition in regard to charges for the ordinary necessaries of life, Royal proclamation was made in each assize town, by authority of the Court of Justice, as to the prices of com modities. In Pitcairn's Criminal Trials, we have an example of such a proclamation :—
All maner of victuallis, sic as flesche, fische, meitt, fowale, and uther necessaris, be brocht to the mercat and sauld for reddie money, for the prices following. . . . That is to say:
" The laif of guid sufficient quheit bread for sustentation of the Quenes Majesteis Houshald and remanet Nobill men, of xxii unces wecht, 4d.The pynt of Burdeous vyne,.........12d.
The pynt of fine Scherand or Amzerk vyne, ..................... 10d.
The quairt of guid Aill, to be sauld for ................................. 8d.
The best mutton bowik (carcase), for .................................. 6sh.
The pryce of ane guiss, .......................................................... 18d.
The muirfoull, ........................................................................... 4d.
The capon to be sauld for ....................................................... 12d.
The peiss of poultrie, ................................................................ 6d.
Gryt chikkinnis, ........................................................................ 4d.
The gryse (pig), ....................................................................... 12d.
Four eggis, for ............................................................................ ld.
The kid, for ......................................................................... 2sh 4d.
The leid of puttis, ....................................................................... 4d.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, leases were usually for five and six years, and the several distinct classes of rural occupiers were‑
The Barony of Corshill, in the adjoining parish of Stewarton, exercised in its Court some peculiar powers in agricultural matters, and others. The tenants and feuars in the parish having been summoned, the Baron presided, the Bailie, the Baron Officer, and the Dempster— who pronounced the doom of the Court—and the Birleyman to keep good order, were appointed, and then the Court proceeded to consider complaints.
The proceedings of the Court cover a period from 1590 to 1719. Tenants not attending the summons of the Court were fined. Complaints of many kinds were considered—for example, farmers taking their grain past the mill to which they were thirled, had to pay the multures to the miller, with expenses. Sub-tenants refusing to pay the " grass maill " were, by the Court, ordained to pay ; and petty squabbles, such as stealing fruit, steeping lint in running water, shooting hares, or wild fowl, or burning moss out of season, were all amenable to this Court.
Such is a view of some of the conditions through which agricultural customs have passed in Scotland from a very early period till the eighteenth century, and although the general tendency has been towards advancement, the progress has been slow, as agricultural methods are amongst the last things to undergo change in any country.
But as civilization is not always the same quantity, even in the same country, so some districts have advanced with greater strides towards improvement than others, and our county has, through a long series of years, always occupied a forward position in agricultural matters in all its varied branches. Many things contributed towards the retardation of this branch of industry. For one thing, want of a proper system of drainage kept the land in a sour, bad condition ; then the pernicious practice of succession cropping—taking successive crops of the same grain from the same land ; for example, three crops of oats, in three following years, thereby necessitating a long rest of probably six years in grass, to allow the soil to recuperate, constituted a great hindrance to progress ; another drawback was the wretched state of the roads leading to many of the farms, for, except in the drought of summer, or the frost of winter, the roads before the conversion of Statute Labour in 1836, were scarcely passable, and it would not be easy to over estimate the benefit agriculture has derived from good roads ; whilst clumsy implements made it impos sible to economize labour.
About the middle of the eighteenth century, it was no uncommon thing to see four horses in a plough, and three individuals attending it, a boy who acted as "gaudsman " (driver), the ploughman, and a gundy- man, who, with a long pole fastened to the beam of the plough, helped to guide it, by pushing it off or pulling it to him as required, and seeing that the furrows were turned over, for they were sometimes from twelve to fourteen inches wide, and the plough, save " the metals," was made of wood, of strong, clumsy construction. Now two horses do the same work equally well, without either gaudsman or gundyman ; no doubt this is contributed to in the present day by the land being more friable for one thing from improved drainage, and the great improvement in the breed of horses for another. It is to this form of plough-yoke that our national bard refers in his " Salutation to the Auld Mare Maggie ;" when speaking of her offspring, he says:
" My pleugh is now thy bairn-lime a',
And, again, in the " Inventory," when describing the four brutes o' gallant mettle he was possessed of, when he says:
" My Lan' afore's a gude auld has-been,
My Lan' ahin's a weel gaun fillie,
So that the custom of having four horses in the plough must have been quite common in Burns's time.
The wages of farm labourers about the end of the eighteenth century were—for men servants, £10 yearly and board ; women servants, £3 10s. yearly and board ; and common labourers, 1s. 6d. per day. By this time also the system of succession cropping was mostly, if not entirely aban doned, and that of rotation cropping generally in use. This method was found to be advantageous in two ways—it produced more satisfactory results to the farmer, and the ground was kept in better heart by the manure used.
But with the advent of the nineteenth century, agricultural methods began to assume a different aspect, especially was this the case towards the middle of it ; and concurrently with the improvements in the farmer's implements and methods, the dwelling-houses and offices began to receive attention. One-storeyed houses gave place in a great many instances to houses of two storeys, with corresponding comfort to the farmer's family ; and the extension of modern conveniences generally greatly increased the facilities for carrying on the work. So much has this been the case in our own agricultural community, that it may now be said there is not a farm steading in the parish that has not undergone almost entire renewal, or received great enlargement in some respect, as regards either milk-house, byre, hay-shed, stable, or barn, and also a pure and abundant water supply, so that not only is there increased domestic comfort for the farmer's family, but the cattle upon which so much depends, have now more comfortable and sanitary surroundings, which should aid in warding off disease. The land has been better drained, and fences have been made more efficient.