WIGTON (surveyed in 1894)
Wigton is in Dumfries and Galloway, situated on the north side of the mouth of the river Bladenoch, where it flows into Wigton Bay on the Irish Sea. The name Wigton means ‘Wicga’s farm’. It is derived from Wicga, an Old English personal name and tun, the Old English word for ‘farm’. It was recorded as Wyggeton in 1293. Wigton was a royal burgh, probably from the fourteenth century, although the earliest surviving charter dates from the reign of James II in 1457. Wigton Castle, which had probably been built by Alexander III in the 1280’s was demolished by the Bruces in 1310, and only traces of foundations were visible at the time of this survey. The Fleming family had been made Earls of Wigton in 1341, but this was transferred to the Douglas family in 1372, again reverting to the Flemings from 1606 until 1747. The population recorded in the 1891 census was 1,591, a drop from the figure of 1,789 recorded in 1881.
The town had a large, roughly triangular, central open green area, bordered by North High Street and South High Street. Most of the properties extended at right angles to these two roads, although there was a parallel back lane on the north side, which was partially built up at the time of the survey.
The original parish church, formerly the Church of St Machute had been largely rebuilt in 1730. In the Statistical Account of 1845 this building was described as an, ‘old, mean-looking edifice’. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was in ruins, but a new parish church had been built in 1853. The new church had a noteworthy spire. The townhouse, which was built in 1862-3, was a mock- Tudor building with a tower.
Trade and Industry
The harbour of Wigtown was about Ľ mile from the town centre. At this period it was chiefly used for the shipping of grain and other agricultural produce. There had been a steady decline in the number of vessels belonging to the port, from 54 in 1856 to 21 in 1893. There was little industry beyond those required to cater for local needs, although there was a small distillery at Bladenoch about a mile from the town.
The land in the area around the town included much bog and moorland at northern end of the parish, but better, improved, ground further south. Quarries to the north and west of the town were probably used for buildings in the town itself.
The Parish church lay at the east end of North High Street. There was also a Free church and a United Presbyterian church. A Roman Catholic church had been built in 1879. Wigton is notable for having memorials to five Presbyterian martyrs executed there during the Civil War. Two women, Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLaughlan, were tried and condemned to death by drowning on 11th May 1685 because they refused to renounce their Presbyterian views. Three men, William Johnston, John Milroy and George Walker were executed the following day.
The main schools in the late nineteenth century were the Wigton Academy, the Wigton normal school and a charitable school. There was also a Roman Catholic school attached to the church.
Wigton had a customs house, which covered the area from the Mull of Galloway to the River Fleet.
Culture and Society
There was a public bowling green in the open area in the centre of the town. This whole area had been landscaped and planted for public leisure at the beginning of the century. The town also had a well-stocked public library, which had been established in 1794. There was an agricultural society and a mechanics’ institute.