New Galloway: The Smallest Royal Burgh

There have been royal burghs since the twelfth century, but New Galloway gained its charter in 1633.

Essentially a royal burgh charter was given by the Crown and conferred various rights, privileges and responsibilities. The royal burgh could establish a market, develop trade and appoint bailies, who had powers over civil and criminal justice. The burgh council was headed by a provost.

The burgh councils were abolished in the local government reorganisation of 1975 after the report of the Wheatley Commission, although some areas retained the title for the new body.

In 1629, King Charles I granted a charter to Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar (created Viscount Kenmuir in 1633) to establish a burgh on his lands in Glenkens. The plan in 1629 was that the burgh would be sited in St John’s Clachan of Dalry (hence the modern St John’s Town of Dalry), where there was an existing ‘illegal’ market and the site was to be renamed Galloway.

There were, however, various problems locally and opposition from other markets in the area with the result that, in 1633, Sir John transferred the burgh to a site nearer Kenmure Castle and called it Newtown of Galloway.

Although it served as a ‘service station’ on the Old Edinburgh Road and the cattle route to the south, New Galloway did not realise its creator’s expectations, perhaps partly because Sir John himself died the year after the burgh’s creation. It did continue to enjoy royal burgh status with the full panoply of provost, bailies, dean of guild etc, but it remained the smallest of Scotland’s sixty six royal burghs.

New Galloway Town Hall

An original bell-tower stood on this spot as early as 1711. The two bells which you hear today when the clock chimes were recast from the originals which had been supplied by Robert Maxwell in Edinburgh in 1711. The smaller bell was recast in 1812 as a gift of William Cochrane of Kilmarnock, brother of the 2nd Earl of Dundonald. The larger was recast in 1872 and carries the Burgh Arms as well as those of William, the 6th Viscount Kenmure. The clock faces were also renewed in 1872, along with the still functioning clock mechanism which was made by Gillet and Bland of Croydon the same year. The earlier clock mechanism is in the Stewartry Museum in Kirckudbright.

in 1837, the Town hall was serving, in part, as a prison, with a small prison for criminals and a larger one for debtors on the first floor.

The present structure dates from 1875-76 when the earlier building is said to have been ‘rebuilt and enlarged’. An engraving of 1798 certainly shows the tower with a thinner spire at that time. The least altered part of the building appears to be the tower, and, in fact, the slated spire of 1872 you still see today encases the earlier timber spire. The Town Hall was cement-rendered in 1878 shortly after the rebuilding, thus hiding any details which might help to date the structure in more detail.

The main entrance to the hall was actually made as recently as 1895, although the panel above it bearing the town’s arms may have been there earlier.

(This information is drawn from ‘Tolbooths and Town Houses’ published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

‘The Town Park’ by Thomas Faed (junior)

The large painting, ‘The Town Park’, is mounted on the wall above the stage at one end of the upper hall and is normally hidden away behind shutters. It was presented as a gift to the Royal Burgh of New Galloway in 1893 by the artist, James Faed  junior (1856-1920).

James was born in Mid Calder, the son of James Faed (senior) and Mary Cotton. His father was a mezzatint engraver and one of a family of artists, originally from Gatehouse.

James junior was a painter of the countryside with a particular flair for heather and water scenes. After he married, he moved to London living at 38, Abbey Road in St John’s Wood. He spent some time in Cannes, where, on one occasion, he was visited by Jessie King. In London they received visits from Harry Lauder and J. M. Barrie, which indicates his significance in the Scottish cultural coterie of the capital.

In his later years he moved to The Bungalow in New Galloway. His hands became paralysed so that he had to paint with his mouth. He died in 1920 and is buried in Kells churchyard.

His eldest son, Ronnie, was drowned at Gallipoli in 1915, aged 15, and is remembered on the New Galloway War Memorial.

The Crest of New Galloway

The Burgh of New Galloway has its own crest.

In 1975 it was incorporated into the Stewartry and in 1996 into Dumfries and Galloway.

The Official blazon is described as follows:town hall crest

Gules, a [long] cross couped and reversed, charged with a boar’s head erased, and encircled in chief with a viscount’s coronet of sixteen pearls all Proper.

Above the Shield is placed a mural coronet and in an Escrol below the Shield this Motto “Cruce Crescimus”.

Origin and meaning

The arms were officially granted on April 26th 1938, New Galloway having been created a Royal Burgh by King Charles I in 1630.

The arms are something of a mystery, though it is known that they are based on the device on the old Burgh seal, but without the crest and supporters, since the Town Council did not wish to have them. The boar’s head and the Viscount’s coronet evidently commemorate Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar, 1st Viscount Kenmure, on whose lands the Burgh was established and who was himself involved in its foundation.

The explanation of the red field and silver cross can only be the subject of conjecture. There seems to be no local connection with St. Peter to explain the cross reversed, and it therefore appears reasonable to suggest that, as the original site for the Burgh was St. John’s Clachan of Dalry, the cross may have some reference to the Knights of St. John who bore “Gules, a cross Argent”.

The use of the Latin motto – “By the Cross we prosper”­ would seem to support the view that the cross is that of the Knights of St. John.

If you are interested in the history of the wider area of Glenkens, you might like to look at the Facebook page for the Glenkens Story.