Kirkcudbright (surveyed in 1850)


Kirkcudbright is in Dumfries and Galloway, on the left bank of the estuary of the River Dee, which flows into Kirkcudbright Bay on the Solway Firth, which opens into the Irish Sea. The original settlement probably grew up around a castle which appears to have been built there in the twelfth century. It was created a royal burgh in or before 1330, but became a burgh of regality under the Douglas Lords of Galloway in 1369. James II made it into a royal burgh in 1455. The name Kirkcudbright means 'Church of St Cuthbert'. It is derived from either the Scots word kirk or Norse kirkja both meaning 'church' and Cudberct, the Old English name 'Cuthbert'. St Cuthbert was a seventh century priest who became prior of Melrose and later Bishop of Lindisfarne. His name is associated with a number of places in the south- west of Scotland. The name Kirkcutbrithe was recorded in 1291. The town's population in the 1851 census was recorded as 2,778, with little increase in the twenty years from 1831 when it was 2,690.

Town Planning

Kircudbright is a compact town. The main High Street is formed like the letter 'L', one end of which leads to the quay, the other out of town to the south-east. It forms a roughly rectangular area bounded on the other two sides by St Cuthbert’s Street and St Mary’s Street. The enclosed area is further sub-divided by a grid of smaller roads.


Only faint traces remain of the thirteenth-century castle of Kircudbright . Stone from this castle may have been used in the sixteenth century to build MacLellan’s Castle, a tower house in the town which had belonged to the MacLellan family.

Trade and Industry

In the mid-fifteenth century, Kirkcudbright had been important in the woollen trade, being second only to Edinburgh in its cloth exports in the period 1434-5. This trading prosperity did not continue and by the mid-nineteenth century there was little trade from there. Wilson (1857) notes that at that period there were only twenty sailing vessels belonging to the town. However, steam ships stopped on their way from Liverpool, Glasgow and Whitehaven. Coal and lime were the main imports at the time of this survey. There had been various unsuccessful attempts to introduce industry into the town, including woollen mills, gloves, shoes, soap, candles and snuff. At the time of the survey there was a ship-building yard on the estuary.


The hinterland of the town is gently hilly and was mostly under cultivation or pasture in the nineteenth century, the area being famous for both cattle and sheep. There was some stone quarrying directly to the east of the town, principally for house construction.

Religious Life

The parish church was built in 1838. There was also at this period a Free church, a United Presbyterian church, and a Roman Catholic chapel. Prior to the Reformation, there had been a Franciscan monastery in the town. In 1569, Sir Thomas MacLellan, provost of Kirkcudbright, bought the former monastery and demolished many of its buildings.


The main school was the Academy on the south side of the town. A Free school can be seen on the map at the north end of the town and there were five other schools including one for girls.

Culture and Society

There were several libraries in the town and a number of religious and charitable organisations.