Kirkcudbright (surveyed in 1893)


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.

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. Two major changes occurred in Kirkcudbright in the later nineteenth century. An iron bridge was built over the Dee in the 1860s, replacing the ferry, and the railway was extended from Dumfries to Kirkcudbright in 1864 (sheet lv.1.15).


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 which had belonged to the MacLellan family. Among the notable buildings at the time of the survey were the Sheriff Court designed by David Rhind and built in 1866-8 and the Town Hall, built in1878-9.

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 late nineteenth century there was little trade from there. Even the improved communications of the rail link and the bridge appear to have come too late to stimulate local industry. There had been various unsuccessful attempts to introduce industry into the town, including woollen mills, gloves, shoes, soap, candles and snuff.


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 had been built in 1838 (sheet lv.1.19).. There was also at this period a Free church (sheet lv.1.15), a United Presbyterian church, and a Roman Catholic church (sheet lv.1.19). 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 (lv.1.15) and there were other smaller schools.

Culture and Society

There were several libraries in the town and a number of religious and charitable organisations. The Stewartry Museum was built on St Mary's Street in 1892-3 (sheet lv.1.19). Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864 – 1933), a successful artist of rural scenes and a member of the influential group of painters known as the 'Glasgow Boys', grew up and settled in Kirkcudbright. The illustrator Jessie M. King (1875-1949), a Scottish illustrator active from the 1890s, and the leading female artist of the Glasgow School, was also associated with Kirkcudbright, although she did not live there until after the outbreak of World War I.