The Stream’s Secret: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Lost Covenanters’ Cave #History #Scotland

The history of the Covenanters and caves rarely approaches the erotic…

This is a slow burner to start with, but remarkably a lost Covenanter’s cave is revealed in the love lives and affairs of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Penwhapple Burn

Scott, Penwhapple Burn

The story of the cave first appears in an unexpected source, Charles Dougall’s The Burns Country of 1904:

‘About half a mile from Old Dailly, in a romantic spot on the edge of Penwhapple Glen, stands Penkill Castle, an excellent example of a modernised keep, which may claim to be one of the most picturesque as well as one of the oldest inhabited houses in Ayrshire. “The oldest part of the building, a high, square block, with quoin turrets, and an enclosing wall and gate, was built by Adam Boyd sometime in the sixteenth century; a newer and more commodious portion was added in 1628, while the castle in its present state was the work of the late Spencer Boyd [d.1865].”’

Penkill Castle lies in Dailly parish in Carrick, Ayrshire.

Map of Penkill Castle and Penwhapple Burn

Dougall continues:

‘That is a description from the pen of W. Bell Scott, who had his home at Penkill, and adorned its spiral staircase with a series of mural paintings, representing scenes from the “King’s Quhair.” [a fifteenth-century Scots poem believed to be by James I about his future queen Joan Beaufort]’

Penwhapple 3 Hogg

Penwhapple Burn © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

Bell Scott was having a romantic affair with the artist, Alice Boyd, who lived at the castle. Alice Boyd and Bell Scott lived in “a virtual ménage à trois” with Mrs Scott. After Alice’s brother, Spencer, died, she and Scott used the castle as their summer residence, usually remaining until the first frosts. Together they restored the castle, which remained in “a sort of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ manner” until the contents were sold in 1992. (Jan Marsh, The Topsaic Tapesties and Penkill Castle.)

Rossetti in 1871Rossetti in 1871

Bell Scott was intimately associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and was held in high repute both as an artist and as a poet. Rossetti visited him at Penkill [in the summer of 1869], and wrote sonnets in the Covenanters’ Cave in the glen below the house. They visited the glens in the Girvan valley together. The wildness of the scenery seems to have terrified Rossetti, who was suffering from insomnia.’ (Dougall, The Burns Country, 80-1.)

Rossetti’s was later addicted to “knockout drops”, Chloral Hydrate.

Penwhapple Burn Hogg

Penwhapple Burn © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

Recalling his visit to Penkill in early 1870, Rossetti wrote: ‘I have done just a sheet to add to my book since coming here. It consists chiefly of the “Stream’s Secret” which I began at Penkill last Autumn, sitting on that dear little slope of steps by the bed of the stream before the cave became an institution.’

Rossetti in Bennan's Cave

D. G. R. in Bennan’s Cave. Sketch by W. B. S.

What was Rossetti’s ‘institution’?

William Bell Scott wrote on Rossetti’s curious ‘institution’ in the cave and sketched him in the act of doing it, see above:

‘Here I used to find him face to the wall lying in a shallow cave that went by the name of a seventeenth-century Covenanter, Bennan’s Cave, working out with much elaboration and little inspiration.’ (Quoted in The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Chelsea years, 1863-1872, 407.)

Bell’s sketch is the only image I have found of Bennan’s Cave.

Jane Morris 1865Jane Morris in 1865

Earlier, in the summer of ‘69, Rossetti had tried to tempt his muse and model, Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris, to come to Penkill with the cave – the affair between Jane and Rossetti, which probably started four years earlier, was the subject of considerable gossip and scandal:

‘There are many enchanting spots … and particularly a little cave in a concealed position overhanging the bed of the stream, the very place for Topsy to spin endless poetry in, and for you to sit in and listen to the curious urgent whisper of the stream. … All this you know is perfectly private. … How nice it would be to see you here, at ease and liberty, and with an air likely to do you good.’ (Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 143 ).

I think we get the picture.

Penwhapple Burn 2 Hogg

Penwhapple Burn © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

Bennan’s Cave
‘Bennan’s Cave’ was not recorded in the OS name book and did not, and does not, appear on OS maps.

The seventeenth-century Covenanter after whom the cave was named was almost certainly George Maclure ‘of Bennan’, now Benan, a forfeited laird from Barr parish.

There is no record of what his connection to the cave was, but presumably Bennan is said to have hidden in the cave after his forfeiture, perhaps with the complicity of either Thomas Boyd of Penkill, or his wife, Anne Melville, sister of George Meville, Lord Melville, a moderate presbyterian, alleged Rye House plotter and committed supporter of the Glorious Revolution.

Today, Bennan’s Cave is sadly said to longer exist following a land slip. However, one wonders if it does, or if at least the location of it can be found.

It is, or was, a relatively small, ‘shallow cave’ somewhere on the Penwhapple Burn below Penkill Castle.

Margaret Wilson

The Pre-Raphaelite connection to the Covenanters does not end there. In 1871, less than two years after Rossetti was in the cave, John Everett Millais painted The Martyr of the Solway, above, which is held in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery. Initially Millais’ Martyr was naked, but he repainted her with clothes on to blunt public criticism. The subject of the painting is Margaret Wilson , the younger of the two ‘Wigtown Martyrs’ that were executed by drowning in the Killing Times of 1685.

If you are exploring the Penwhapple Burn and Glen, then be prepared for wet and muddy conditions.

Street View of Penwhapple Burn

There are also three Covenanter sites within a very short distance of it. In the churchyard at Old Dailly, which lies beside the Penwhapple Burn, are the gravestones of John Semple, who was shot by Cornet Dundas when escaping out of a window, and Thomas Mclorgan, who was shot at Drummellane and was probably the son of an officer at Bargany in the same parish. Also in the graveyard is a monument to George Martin, a schoolteacher who delivered a fine gallows speech on behalf of himself and his brethren hanged in Edinburgh in 1684.

Street View of Old Dailly Churchyard        Map of Old Dailly Churchyard

Just along the road from Old Dailly churchyard and the Penwhapple lies Camregan, the home of John Stevenson and his wife Isobel Mconnal, who left a facinating account of their time in hiding during the Killing Times. They, too, are buried in the graveyard with their family.

Map of Camregan and Killoup Wood

Just beyond Camregan is Killoup Wood, where unreliable tradition and the monument in the churchyard claim that an unknown Covenanter was killed.

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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

~ by drmarkjardine on November 7, 2015.

3 Responses to “The Stream’s Secret: Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Lost Covenanters’ Cave #History #Scotland”

  1. […] 1875 John William Waterhouse, probably inspired by Millais, also painted a picture of the same subject, “Margaret, Scottish Martyr”. Its location is […]

  2. […] Bennans Cave (near Old Dailly, Ayrshire) A lost Covenanter’s cave somewhere on the Penwhapple Burn below Penkill Castle that reveals the love lives and affairs of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This cave probably entirely lost to a small land slip, but the cave was quite small and it may have been overlooked. The full story of Bennans Cave can be found here. […]

  3. […] It is worth noting that in the tradition, that Camregan lies beside Penkill Castle, to whom Smith is said to have been related via his deceased mother. The Boyds had seized Penkill Castle in the Sixteenth Century. Tradition, via a very curious route, claims that a Covenanter hid in a cave there in the 1680s. […]

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