The Gallows of Ayr and the Lost Covenanter’s Grave #History #Scotland

•February 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Old Mortality 2

The Covenanter Andrew Macgill who was hanged at the end of 1684 or early 1685 had a martyrs’ stone erected over his grave beside Ayr gallows. However, his gravestone has been lost for well over a century…

His gravestone was erected by the “Continuing” Society people between 1702 and 1714, as part of the inscription on it was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses:

‘Upon a stone lying beside the Gallows of Air, upon the Body of Andrew M’gill, who was apprehended by the information of Andrew Tom, who suffered there         November 1684.

Near this abhorred Tree a Sufferer lyes,
Who chus d to fall, that falling Truth might rise
His Station could advance no costly deed,
Save giving of a Life, the LORD did need.
When Christ shall vindicate his Way, he ll cast
The Doom that was pronounc d in such a haste,
And Incorruption shall forget Disgrace
Design d by the Interment in this Place.’

Thomson thought that the loss of the stone ‘is much to be regretted, as the inscription, for vigour and beauty, is not surpassed by any in the “Cloud of Witnesses”.’ (Thomson, MGoS, 312.)

Where were the Gallows and the Gravestone?
According to the Canmore website, the gallows lay on the south side of a later street called Station Bridge and just beyond the west side of the bridge by the modern Ayr Station. Like Glasgow’s Townhead Martyrs and the three men hanged at Wigtown, Macgill was apparently executed at a traditional gallows site outside of the burgh.

Today, the site may be occupied by the Gulf ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ Filling Station, if the Canmore entry is accurate.

Street View of CANMORE site of Gallows and Martyr’s Stone

The single source given in the Canmore entry for the gallows and the lost gravestone is Gibson’s Inscriptions on the tombstones and monuments erected in memory of the Covenanters, (Glasgow, 1881),161-2.

However, Gibson did not give a specific location for the gravestone beyond it having been ‘near’ the ‘present’ station. It is possible that the Canmore site is a general marker near the modern station, rather than specifically marking where the gallows lay.

We need to interrogate where the gallows and grave lay a little deeper.

Macgill’s gravestone does not appear on the first OS survey maps of c.1850s, as a nursery then occupied the present day filling station site.

By that point, the railway line and the nearby Townhead Station had already been constructed. His gravestone is also not recorded on both of the later 6″ and 25″ maps of the second survey.

The name books for the first OS maps were reliable recorders of martyrs’ graves. The fact that they do not record Macgill’s grave probably indicates that the gravestone was lost, either before, or when, the railway line was constructed.

Printed sources back up the evidence of the OS maps. Gibson’s information from 1881 was copied from an earlier published source, Thomson’s updated edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1871. The latter reported that the gallows lay ‘near the present railway station’ and that Macgill’s stone was ‘the only one that we have been unable to find.’ (Thomson (ed, CW, 588.)

What Thomson meant by the ‘present’ railway station in 1871 was Ayr Townhead Station, which opened in 1856, and was simply renamed as Ayr Station a year later in 1857 after an earlier Ayr Station was closed elsewhere in the town.

Ayr Townhead Station was smaller and lay to the north and up the line from the modern Ayr Station, which was opened in 1886. In other words the ‘present’ station in 1871 was not the modern station.

Map of former Ayr Townhead Station:

Thomson enlisted the help of his fellow Reformed Presbyterian minister, Thomas Halliday Lang, who was born in Shotts in 1834 and was a minister in Ayr from 1860 until his death in 1919. In Thomson’s later Martyr Graves of Scotland, he reported that ‘this monument has disappeared’ and that ‘every effort on the part of a zealous inquirer, the Rev. T. H. Lang of Ayr, has failed to discover what has come over it.’ (Thomson, MGoS, 312.)

As the ‘zealous’ Lang doubtless had excellent connections in the local community as a minister, it appears that what happened to Macgill’s gravestone lay beyond the memories of his parishioners or others that he spoke to. That indicates that the loss of Macgill’s gravestone probably predates the construction of the railway near the gallows site, as the Ayr and Dalmellington Railway was constructed in the early 1850s and Lang was a minister there in 1860. That suggests that Macgill’s stone probably vanished at some point between 1714 and the early Nineteenth Century.

However, there are obvious problems in the evidence: If nobody knew what happened to the stone, which had presumably been a local landmark, then how did Lang or Thomson’s informers know that it had been located ‘near’ the ‘present’ station? Where the stone lay and its fate are separate issues, but it is a puzzle that people knew roughly where it lay, but not what happened to it.

Also what did Thomson define as a location ‘near’ Ayr Townhead Station?

A Second Source
It is fortunate that we have second reference to the location of the gallows that predates Thomson’s 1871 work. According to Paterson, writing in his History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton in 1863:

‘The “common place of execution” in 1730 was near the Nether Milns. It was subsequently changed to the “Gallows Knowe,” in the common, now the site of Mr Heron of Dalmore’s villa. Latterly, executions were effected in front of the steeple [of the Tolbooth].’ (Paterson, History, I, 180.)

The ‘common place of execution’ lay near the Nether Milns, aka., Nether Mill, which were corn mills that lay by the Mill Dam across the River Ayr.

Map of the Nether Milns

The ‘Nether Mill’ appears on Wood’s map of 1818 as sitting on ‘Town Property’ beyond the Poor House and a quarry. On the first OS map it appears as ‘Ayr Mills (Corn)’ with a bleaching green beyond them on the burgh boundary. The Nether Milns lay a short distance to the east of Ayr Townhead Station, with a quarry in between them.

Ayr Gallows.JPG

We can make some educated guesses from that information.

The gallows were ‘near’ the Nether Milns in 1730 and were probably the place where Macgill was executed and buried in 1685.

The gallows probably lay close to the burgh boundary. Similar examples of boundary gallows sites can be found at the Gallowlee, which lay close to the Edinburgh’s boundary with Leith, Dumbarton’s gallows and those at Wigtown.

Ayr’s gallows were later moved to the far side of the Burrowfield/Common to ‘The Knowe’, aka. ‘Gallows Knowe’, which was also on the boundary of the burgh’s lands. (For ‘The Knowe’, see Pagan, Annals of Ayr in olden times, 49.)

A boundary location symbolised the rejection of the condemned by the community. In that respect it was akin to a suicide’s grave, i.e., those who were buried out with the community of the parish churchyard often at the edge of the parish. It is worth noting that quite a number of the militant Covenanters of the 1680 remained buried outside of graveyards, especially if they had no connection with that parish and had committed treason or violence. It appears that the ministers of Ayr did not want Macgill in their graveyard and he was buried as a outcast at the gallows.

Macgill was from Arecleoch in Ballantrae parish and not from Ayr parish. The erection of the gravestone to him between 1702 and 1714 was in part a denial of his outcast status. It said that he deserved to be remembered.

The gallows were also probably in a prominent location, as they were a symbol of civic pride and head-burgh status in the Seventeenth Century.

It is possible that the gallows lay where the “Old Quarry” is marked on the first OS map, which presumably removed some rocky feature from the relatively flat landscape. The quarry had been levelled and completely obliterated, and the plan of entire area radically altered by the second OS survey in the 1880s.

It is possible that the gallows and gravestone lay beyond the Nether Milns and close to the burgh boundary where the road to Sanquhar and Dumfries ran.

There is a further twist in the tale.

A Gallows or a Dule Tree?
From the limited evidence of Cloud of Witnesses’ description of the gravestone, it is possible that Macgill was hanged on a Dule Tree, rather than a gallows. The record in Cloud is not clear on that point. On the one hand, it describes his gravestone as ‘lying beside the Gallows of Air’. However, on the other hand, the poetic inscription from the gravestone erected before 1714 records that ‘near this abhorred tree a sufferer lyes’. Was it a Dule Tree?

Ayrshire has, or may have had, several Dule Trees, apparently at Cessnock Castle near Galston, Cassillis Castle, Kilkerran, Blairquhan and Bargany. It is possible that one lay ‘near’ Ayr Townhead Station and the Nether Milns. However, Dule Trees are often associated with baronial power, rather than burghs.

To read about what happened to Andrew Macgill, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in full without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine



The Pentland Rising of 1666: Executed in Dumfries on 2 January, 1667 #History #Scotland

•January 2, 2019 • 2 Comments


Two days after the executions in Irvine, two more Covenanters were hanged and beheaded in Dumfries for their part in the Pentland Rising of November, 1666. Their heads were exhibited at the mercat cross of Dumfries and were said to have been spiked on the bridge port. (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 210, 210n.)

Two executed at Dumfries, 2 January, 1667.

35. John Grier[son] in Fourmerkland, Holywood parish, Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived. Fourmerkland lies in Holywood parish near Dumfries in Nithsdale.

Map of Fourmerkland Tower

36. William Welsh in Kirkpatrick parish/Kilpatrick parish.
He was probably Kirkpatrick-Irongray parish (kirkcudbrightshire) rather than Kirkpatrick-Juxta parish (Annandale). A number of fugitives named Welsh came from Irongray parish. No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

Their gravestones were erected between 1702 to 1714 and are located in St Michael’s Churchyard in Dumfries. A later monument lies close to the graves.

Both Covenanters also appear on the Nithsdale Martyrs Monument.

The Dumfries martyrs were the last of 36 Covenanters executed for the Pentland Rising of 1666. To see the first ten executed and find out what happened to their heads, see the first post here.

The Pentland Rising of 1666: Executed at Irvine on 31 December #History #Scotland

•December 31, 2018 • 3 Comments

Irvine Mercat Cross

Four days after he had executed seven of his rebel comrades at Ayr, Cornelius Anderson hanged and beheaded two more Covenanters in Irvine, probably at the mercat cross, on 31 December, 1666.

33. James Blackwood, servant to John Brown in Fenwick parish, Ayrshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

34. John MacCoul, son to John MacCoul in Carsphairn parish, Kircudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

As at other execution sites, they were probably executed in the burgh and their heads displayed nearby at Irvine’s mercat cross before they were spiked, probably on a burgh gate, for public display.

The mercat cross lay where the Kirkgate met the High Street and just before the town council building (now demolished) in the middle of the High Street.

A gravestone was erected to them in Irvine between 1702 and 1714, and was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses. Today, it can be found at Irvine Old Parish Church.

After the Irvine executions, two more Covenanters were hanged and beheaded in Dumfries on 2 January


The Pentland Rising of 1666: Executed at Ayr on 27 December #History #Scotland

•December 27, 2018 • 2 Comments

Five days after six were executed in Edinburgh for the Pentland Rising, seven Covenanters were hanged and beheaded in Ayr. All of those who were executed were from Galloway. At around the same time, General Tam Dalyell shot David Finlay at Newmilns.

Seven* were executed at Ayr on 27 December, 1666
A gravestone was erected to them in the Auld Kirk of Ayr churchyard between 1702 and 1714, and replaced in 1814 and renewed more recently. It was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714.

*Cornelius Anderson, tailor in Ayr, was forfeited, but he was not executed. After the Ayr hangman ran away and the Irvine hangman refused to conduct the executions, Anderson had to execute his comrades at both Ayr and Irvine. (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 210-11.)

For an account of how the prisoners were dealt with at Ayr, see the letter from the Earl of Rothes in the Lauderdale Papers, I, 266-8.

25. John Graham, servant to John Gordon of Midtown [in Old Clachan of Dalry], Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

26. James Smith in Old Clachan of Dalry, Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

27. John Short in Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

28. Alexander MacMillan (or MacCulloch) in Carsphairn parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived. Hewison named him as MacCulloch, but the rescinding of his forfeiture (1690) and his gravestone (1702 to 1714) name him as MacMillan.

29. James MacMillan ‘in Marduchat’, Carsphairn parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
Said to be ‘in Marduchat’, i.e., in Muirdrockwood. No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

Map of Muirdrockwood

Muirdrochwood was the home of Robert Cannon of Mardrogat.

He received particular criticism for betraying Cameronians after 1679 in a set of papers from Carsphairn parish, many of which came from individuals in the parish named MacMillan. I am very grateful to Dr Louise Yeoman for sending me a copy of a paper she gave which contains intriguing information on the Ayr executions in 1666 from those potentially Cameronian papers collected in Carsphairn parish in c.1689:

“Agnes Bannoch wrote her account on the back of a letter from a young man called John Macmillan to his mother. As the young man seemed to be intending a career as a minister, it made me wonder if the letter was from the John Macmillan of Balmaghie – and if she was his mother but I have no proof of this. Her account of her sufferings tell how she had sustained oppression since the 66 year – i.e., after Rullion Green. She was later forced to leave her house in the winter time and to wander ‘with my child in my airm’, which if it was John Macmillan of Balmaghie explains a lot. She writes of how after the death of my husband she had to pay ‘ten merks to Sergeant Colloch which loss was nothing to the losse of my husband which was taken by [Captain?] William Kennedie… out of his bed which was taken to Ayr and execute’.”

What is clear is that Agnes Bannoch, or Bennoch, was married to a MacMillan prior to his execution in 1666. The only two Covenanters from Carsphairn parish who were executed at Ayr were Alexander MacMillan (or MacCulloch) and James MacMillan in Muirdrochwood. A John MacCoul from Carsphairn parish was also tried at Ayr with the MacMillans, but he was hanged and beheaded in Irvine. No other Covenanters from Kirkcudbrightshire were executed in Ayr. It is clear that Agnes Bennoch was married to one of the two executed MacMillans from Carsphairn parish.

Bannoch, or Bennoch, was a very rare surname in Galloway and Dumfriesshire. A James Bennoch was killed at Ingleston in Glencairn parish in April 1685.

As her husband was forfeited, all his (and thus her) property was confiscated. She would have been cast out of her home and in desperate straits. Where Agnes Bennoch went to after she was cast out of her home is not known, but she possibly went to kin who were prepared to take her and her young child in during the dearth of winter.

The famous John McMillan is supposed to have been born in c.1669. If he was her son, and it is an if, then he may have been born in 1667 after his father’s death. He also had a brother. ‘a plain countryman’ according to Wodrow’s vivid description, who could, perhaps, be Bennoch’s ‘child in my airm’. (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 290.)

Where John McMillan was born and/or brought up in Kirkcudbrightshire is a matter of considerable debate.

The author of A Cameronian Apostle presented credible evidence he was ‘born, and lived as separatist [i.e., one of the militant Society people]’ in Kells parish, the neighbouring parish to Carsphairn and easily accessible from it, and was known to the minister of Kells parish from 1692. (A Cameronian Apostle, 13-14.)

Later tradition claims he was born at Barncauchlaw, now Barncaughla, in Minnigaff parish in c.1669. His name does not appear on the parish list of 1684 when he may have been about fifteen (or seventeen) under what appears to be the same location, i.e., “Barncable” by Glenamour. (Parish Lists of Wigtownshire and Minnigaff, 41.)

In c.1689, Agnes Bannoch was back in Carsphairn parish, at which time her child/children by the executed MacMillan would have been an adults in their early twenties and making their own way in the world.

30. George MacCartney in Blairkennie/ Blairkenny/ Blaikit, Urr parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived. His close kin George MacCartney of Blaikit was later forfeited.

Map of Blaikit

31. James Muirhead in Irongray parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

Unfortunately for Cornelius Anderson, his grim task of executing his fellow Covenanters was not finished. He had hangings and beheading to conduct in Irvine …

32. David Finlay was shot ‘at Belmoynock’ near Newmilns, Loudoun parish, in December, 1666.
No grave is known. General Thomas Dalyell, who is said to have killed Finlay, was at Kilmarnock on 27 December, the day of the executions in Ayr, which is near Newmilns. Dalyell’s letter testifies to his hostility to the local population. (Lauderdale Papers, I, 266.)


Where was ‘The Deer Slunk’ where the Wild Sweet Singers Hid in 1681? #History #Scotland

•December 25, 2018 • 1 Comment

Darmead Monument Jon Morrice

As it is Christmas Day, let’s find a ditch in the midst of a Scottish moor near Shotts where the militant, radical and mainly-female Sweet Singers lay hidden … It is a bit of mystery. Where was it?

On the morning of 24 April, 1681, the Sweet Singers lay in a mysterious location known as ‘the Deer-slunk’:

‘That Sabbath Morning [24 April], John Gibb, David Jamie, Walter Ker, John Young, and Twenty six Women, were lying in the Dear-slunk, in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian, about a Mile distant [from Donald Cargill’s preaching].’ (Walker, BP, II, 17-18.)

Where was the Deer Slunk?
On 24 April, 1681, the militant Covenanter and field preacher, Donald Cargill, preached at Darmead. We know where the site of the field preaching was, as a monument stands there.

Map of Darmead

We know that the Sweet Singers were ‘in the Dear-slunk, in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian, about a Mile distant [from Darmead]’.

However, the Deer Slunk does not appear on any maps under that name. What does the name mean?

According to the Scots Dictionary, a ‘slunk’ is broadly defined as ‘a wet and muddy hollow, a soft, deep, wet rut in a road, a ditch, mire, slough’.

The Deer Slunk was clearly a “muddy hollow” or “ditch” where deer gathered in somewhere ‘in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian, i.e., on Darmead Muir.

We know that the Deer Slunk lay ‘about a Mile distant’ from the preaching site at Darmead.

If we look at modern maps, only one feature like that stands out on the Craig Burn, which is about a mile from the Darmead site.

Deer Slunk

It lies not far off the Climpy to Headlesscross road at the western tip of West Calder parish in Ednburghshire (i.e., just in the Lothians.)

Map of the Deer Slunk

Does that look like the Deer Slunk? Yes it does!

From the Deer Slunk, the Sweet Singers went armed to meet with Cargill. There would be fallout.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in full without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Image of the Darmead Monument Copyright Jon Morrice

The Pentland Rising of 1666: Executed in Edinburgh on 22 December #History #Scotland

•December 22, 2018 • 1 Comment

Edinburgh Mercat Cross

Three days after four Covenanters were executed in Glasgow for the Pentland Rising of 1666, six more were hanged in Edinburgh.

Six were executed in Edinburgh on 22 December, 1666:

19. Mr Hugh MacKail. a minister.
He left behind an individual martyrs’ testimony.

20. Umphrey Colquhoun.
It is not known where he was from. He left behind an individual testimony.

21. Mungo Kaip/ Kippie/ Keppie in Evandale parish, Lanarkshire.
No martyrs’ testimony has survived.

22. Ralph Shields, an Englishman and clothier in Ayr, Ayrshire.
He left behind an individual testimony.

23. John Wodrow, merchant in Glasgow, Lanarkshire.
He left a letter to his wife and a copy of his last speech on the gallows.

24. John Wilson in Kilmaurs parish, Ayrshire.
He left behind an individual testimony.

After the Edinburgh executions, seven Pentland rebels from Galloway were hanged in Ayr


The Pentland Rising of 1666: Executed in Glasgow on 19 December #History #Scotland

•December 19, 2018 • 2 Comments

Glasgow Covenanters Cathedral.jpg large

Five days of four were executed in Edinburgh for their roll in the Pentland Rising of 1666, four were executed in Glasgow.

Four were executed at Glasgow on 19 December, 1666.
All four had a gravestone erected to them in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral between 1702 and 1714, which was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714. Today, the repaired monument marks their deaths on the way to the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral where Donald Cargill used to preach. Like nearly all those executed outside of Edinburgh, they did not leave behind a martyrs’ testimony.

15. Robert Bunten in Fenwick parish, Ayrshire.
It is not known where Buntin/Buntine was from in Fenwick parish. However the parish register recorded that a ‘William Buntin in midell rotens was buried’ at Fenwick church in 1663 and that on about 26 March, 1674, ‘ane chyld of (Ro[ber]t?) Buntine in haghous’ was buried.

Map of former site of Haghouse

16. Matthew Paton, shoemaker in Newmilns, Loudoun parish, Ayrshire.

Map of Newmilns

17. John Hart, in Westquarter of Glassford parish, Lanarkshire.
Westquarter is old name for the modern village of Glassford.

Map of Westquarter/Glassford

18. Robert Scott in ‘Shavock’, Dalserf parish, Lanarkshire.
‘Shavock’ does not appear on historical maps of Dalserf parish, but it may be an error for Laverock, i.e. Laverock Hall, now Larkhall.

Map of Larkhall

Three days after the Glasgow executions, six more Covenanters were hanged in Edinburgh…