From Academic Kids

Sanquhar is a town in the south of Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway, on the River Nith. It lies north of Thornhill and west of Moffat. It is a Royal Burgh.

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Sanquhar is the name of both a parish and the town that is at its heart. It is located amid the rolling pastures and hills of Southern Scotland. Sanquhar is in the northwestern part of the county of Dumfriesshire. Dumfriesshire is described this way: “The surface in general is bare and hilly. The dales of the Nith, Annan, and Esk, however, are rich in beauty, and contain fine homes for pasture and some good arable land. The rivers are numerous, and yield splendid salmon and trout fishing. The coast and S. region is low and sandy; much of it is covered with morass, and lochs are numerous around Lockerbie; but there is also much excellent corn-growing land. The Lowther or Lead Hills along the N. boundary are upwards of 2000 ft. in height, and abound in lead ore. These and the other hills round the borders are mostly smooth in outline, and afford excellent pasturage. Red sandstone is a prevailing rock, and limestone. Coal, and lead, are worked." [Bartholemew's Gazetteer of the British Isles, 1887]

Sanquhar is notable for its tiny post office, claimed to be the oldest post office in the United Kingdom. It was also the place where the Covenanters, who opposed episcopalisation of the church, signed the Sanquhar Declaration renouncing their allegiance to the King, an event commemorated by a monument in the main street. The church of St. Brides contains a memorial to James Crichton, 'The Admirable Crichton', a sixteenth century polymath. The ruins of Sanquhar Castle stand nearby.


History of Sanquhar

The name “Sanquhar” comes from ancient Gaelic words San Caer meaning “Old Fort”. There is an impressive ancient ruin of a castle that over looks the town, but the name predates even this ancient fort. With its location along the river Nith Sanquhar has been a major crossroads for centuries. Artifacts have been found here from Neolithic times. Several prehistoric British forts can be found in the area as well as traces of an ancient Roman outpost. Some of the earliest recorded settlers in the area came from Ireland in the 9th and 10th Centuries, and these Scoto-Irish people were the inhabitants for hundreds of years. It was in the 12th century when Norman colonization of the British Islands brought a feudal system of government and squabbling Barons and Sheriffs ruled the land for several centuries. Sanquhar is in the county of Dumfriesshire, which rests along the English boarder. These border counties were constantly in a state of turmoil as groups raided each other across the dividing lines.

During the war of Scottish Independence the English army took over the old castle at Sanquhar. The Lord of the Castle, Douglas of Drumlanrig, learned of this and came up with a clever plot where one man sneaked into the castle and threw open the gates, allowing Lord Douglas to seize it. The English began a counter attack, but William Wallace learned of the battle and came to the rescue. As the English army retreated Wallace chased them down and killed 500 of them. Wallace visited the castle on several occasions.

The Crichton Family

During the 11th century the Crichton family came to Britain from Hungary, and began to acquire land and power. During the reign of Robert The Bruce they obtained the lands round about Sanquhar and they ruled over the area from the mid 1300’s until the mid 1600’s. Mary Queen of Scots (archrival of Queen Elizabeth the 1st) came to Sanquhar in May of 1568 after her defeat at the battle of Langside. Lord Crichton of Sanquhar was loyal to Mary, and harbored her until she escaped across the Nith. For this he was punished and the English besieged and captured Sanquhar castle once again.

The end of the Crichton family power in the area was the result of a lavish party. In July of 1617 the King of England, James VI, traveled through Scotland to Glasgow, and on his way home stopped at the castle in Sanquhar. The Crichtons welcomed him with a display so huge that it bankrupted them. Its said that the Lord Crichton escorted the King to bed carrying a lighted torch made from £30,000 in bond notes that the King owed to the Lord Crichton. By 1639 the Crichtons had moved to Ayrshire, and sold their holdings in Sanquhar to the Earl of Queensberry. Not all members of this family were as admirable as James Crichton 'The Admirable Crichton'. A joke in the region is that many a young woman who worked for the Crichtons would "Go in the servants entrance and come out the family way".

Religious Upheaval

A new period of disruption came in the form of religious rebellion. The King of England in the mid 1600’s was a Papist, that is, a Catholic follower of the Pope. The Covenanters were dedicated Scottish Presbyterians devoted to maintaining Presbyterianism as the sole religion of Scotland. They led Scotland into England’s civil wars of the period against King Charles (and later against the Parliamentarians). Throughout the 1600’s there was fighting and persecution by both sides.

Sanquhar was a hotbed of unrest during the Covenanting period. With its position as the only major town in a large area, and situated by the river Nith, it seemed that whenever any remarkable political movement was going on people would go to Sanquhar to proclaim their testimonies on the subject. It was here, in 1680, that Richard Cameron, with a band of armed supporters, posted on the town cross the first declaration of Sanquhar renouncing allegiance to Charles II. The year 1685 saw the second declaration, by James Renwick who also took a large armed party into Sanquhar, frightening all the townspeople who thought a battle was coming. The Sanquhar Declarations, as they are known, set forth the basis of religious freedom in Scotland. Sanquhar’s location also led those who were hunted and persecuted to pass though or hide in the area.

The end of the Covenanting period in the early 1700’s was not the last religious upheaval for the area. The Church of Scotland was torn by several disputes over the years. One of the major issues was whether the local populations or Church Headquarters could hire local ministers. In the 1830’s many churches seceded and in 1843 a large number of churches broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland. The time was known as the “Great Disruption”. In Sanquhar the minister was leaning towards the new splinter groups, mostly at the urging of his wife. When she passed away he lost his nerve. The split came and he stayed behind, along with most of his parishioners. He kept his job and his church house, but lost the respect of the community. The creation of the Free Church in Sanquhar, and the wobbling of this minister, left many hard feelings in the town. There was hardly a family that wasn’t torn apart by the disputes. At this point the Parish Records become a shambles, and hardly a birth or marriage was recorded until civil registration started in 1855.

Sanquhar was legally recognized by the crown as early as the 1400’s and was made a royal Burgh in 1598. Despite the political unrest in the area agriculture began to flourish in the early 1700’s. Local industries came into their own, particularly Coal mining. Coal had been dug in the area for hundreds of years, but more advanced methods helped the industry grow. Other industries that depended on coal, such as weaving, carpet making and forges began to appear.

Robert Burns

In the 1780’s the legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns was a frequent visitor to Sanquhar. When he was renovating a farm in 1788 he often passed through on the way back to his wife Jean in Ayrshire. Afterwards he became a well-known face because of his Excise duties. Burns called the town “Black Joan” in his ballad “Five Carlins” in which he represented the local burghs as characters. He would stay overnight at the Queensberry Arms in the High Street, making friends with the owner and calling it “the only tolerable Inn in the place”.

Wool Trade

The wool trade had been an important one in the coastal trading towns of Dumfriesshire and Kirkcudbright since medieval times and by the 18th century Sanquhar had developed as an inland market center. The Sanquhar Wool Fair, held in July, regulated the prices for the whole south of Scotland. A distinctive two-colored pattern of knitting which is widely known as 'Sanquhar knitting' takes its name from this small parish. A traveler’s account early in the 18th century tells us: 'Gloves they make better and cheaper than in England, for they send great quantities thither.' Many a poor farm family supported themselves with extra income from these sought after knit garments. While knitting died out as an industry, the presentation of traditional Sanquhar gloves is an important part of local celebrations even today.

During the 1700’s the life of a weaver was enviable. They earned good wages and worked at their looms indoors, often at their homes. They could work whatever hours they wanted, and could take time off in autumn to help farmers with their harvests. It was said that any time there was a noise in the streets all the weavers would be the first ones to drop their work, run out and begin gossiping about the matter. Towards the end of the century, however, advances in technology made the home shops less profitable, and many of Sanquhar’s weavers found themselves looking for other work.

Crawick Village

Other work came in the form of a carpet factory along the Crawick River. At first it consisted of a few separate looms, but by the 1830’s there was a large factory, boasting 54 looms at its height. The carpets made here were world-renowned for their durability and orders came from as far away as South America. A large proportion of their total production was shipped to Valparaiso, Chile.

The location along the Crawick River was also the home of John Rigg’s Forge. In the late 1700’s he had been persuaded to move here from Dalston in Cumbria to supply tools for the coalfields. He made a damhead opposite the village of Crawick and used the water to power his factory. The water separated the parishes of Sanquhar and Kirkconnel, and although the Forge was on the Kirkconnel side, Sanquhar always laid claim to it. The forge produced shovels and other tools into the 20th century.

The village of Crawick had once been known as a haven for witches. One story is that the parish minister’s cows began making milk that would not churn. He sent one of his servants to tie a branch from a Rowan tree over the doorway of the witch’s house in Crawick, which ended the curse. For a long time a large Rowan tree flourished in the front yard of the church, perhaps partly to keep these evil spirits away. Life in Crawick was described beautifully by James Brown, in his History of Sanquhar

“Crawick Mill was a clean tidy little hamlet pleasantly embosomed on the banks of the Crawick and sheltered from almost every wind that blew, and there was no happier colony of weavers to be found in any country district in Scotland. They were almost all natives, whose whole life associations were connected with the place. We have no pleasanter memory than that of the weavers playing quoits, of which they were very fond, on the summer evenings on the "Alley"-a long strip of ground on the banks of the stream behind the Village, while their wives, with their clean "mutches" sat about or sauntered up and down chatting and gossiping, and the bairns were either scrambling along the wooded banks of the Crawick or "paidling" in its clear water, the pleasant babble of the stream as it rushed over the dam-head mingling with the voices of the men at their game and the joyous shouts and laughter of the children.”

Crawick even had its own post office, and had gas powered streetlights two years before the rest of the town of Sanquhar. All of this came to a sad end when one of the owners of the factory died, and the others squabbled. By 1860 the factory was shut down. Many of the weavers moved to larger cities to keep their trade. The Forge, and the nearby colliery, kept people employed until the 20th century. During the period just before World War II many people moved away, and the little hamlet was all but deserted. Only a few homes stand there now, the occupants little aware of the industries that once thrived there.

Sanquhar more recently

Sanquhar itself prospered through the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The decline of traditional industries in the middle of this century hurt the town, but now new manufacturers are moving in and there is a strong sense of community in the Burgh. Sanquhar’s main street boasts the world’s oldest Post Office. They had a public school as early as 1793. William Adam, a famous Scottish architect designed the Tollbooth in the center of town, which is the only surviving building of this type designed by him. Built in 1731, much of the building materials for it were taken from the old castle in Sanquhar. In 1800 the population of Sanquhar was 2350. It grew to 3268 by the year 1830, but by 1991 had collapsed again to 2910. Today it stands at about 2100.

Curling (where you slide a big rock across the ice, like shuffleboard) runs in the blood of people from Sanquhar. The town has the world’s oldest curling society, formed in 1774 with sixty members. James Brown, who wrote an important history of the town, is also credited with writing the rules universally used for the sport. The witches of Crawick were known for casting hexes on other teams. There were tournaments where the prize was a sack of grain. The winning team would get the food and distribute it to the poor and needy in their hometown.

In the arts, the Sanquhar Pantomime Group annually performs a traditional Christmas Pantomime in aid of local charities.


  • Tom Wilson, Memorials of Sanquhar Kirkyard (pub Robert G. Mann, "Currier and Herald" Press. Sanquhar: J.M.Lang. 1912).
  • Sherry Irvine, Your Scottish Ancestry (pub Ancestry Incorporated 1997)
  • James Brown, The History of Sanquhar ( pub. Dumfriesshire: J.Anderson & Son, Edinburgh and Glasgow: John Menzies & Co. 1891)
  • "A History of Sanquhar Knitting" ( October 1999.
  • Dumfriesshire & Galloway Council, Sanquhar, The Historic Walk (pub Upper Nithsdale Community Initiative, Ltd. 1998)
  • Dumfriesshire and Galloway Libraries, Information and Archives, Through the Lens, Glimpses of Old Sanquhar, Wanlockhead and District, (pub Dumfriesshire and Galloway Council 1998)
  • Bob McGavin & Duncan Close, Old Sanquhar (pub Stenlake Publishing, Ochiltree Sawmill, The Lade. 1998)

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