The History of Arbigland Estate
400 million years ago, before man clambered out of the primeval swamp, Scotland and England weren't even on the same continent, something that might account for the nationalist argument today!
Between them lay the Iapetus Ocean - what is now the Solway Firth - and the fossils on the estate show that Arbigland was then somewhere near the equator! When the two continents collided the geology of the region was formed and the story is written in the uniquely weird and wonderful rock formations on our shore.
That collision might account for the turbulent history of the area ever since. As very fertile land with a mild climate and a natural harbour the estate would have been inhabited from earliest times. The Iron Age fort known as McCulloch's Castle and several flint scatters survive on the estate to this day.
As part of the ancient kingdom of Galloway, Arbigland saw the Vikings come and go. Their main harbour was at Carsethorn, now a sleepy fishing port on the estate. It remained the major port of the South of Scotland well into the 20th century and 60,000 people embarked there to emigrate to North America in the 19th century.
As far as we know the estate has only changed hands twice since the Middle Ages but little is known of its history prior to 1679 when the Craik family bought it from the Earl of Southesk. Its inhabitants would have seen Queen Devorguilla of Galloway build Sweetheart Abbey as a memorial to her husband John Balliol, King of Scotland, in 1273 in nearby New Abbey 5 miles up the road.They would also have seen Kind Edward I of England pass this way on one of his forays into Scotland in 1300. After taking Caelaverock Castle just across the Nith from Arbigland he moved West into Galloway, crossing the river in Dumfries and advancing down what is now the A710. He stopped to give an offering at the shrine of Our Lady of 'Suthayk' not far from what is now Southwick Church. It is not recorded whether he also stopped at the shrine of Our Lady's Well on Arbigland - the well can still be seen under a protective concrete cover in the garden of Ladywell Cottage just outside Kirkbean.
During the turbulent 1500s Arbigland would have been ripe prey for the border reivers on a cattle rustling raid. In the 1600s Galloway was witness to the rise and bloody put-down of the Covenanters and there are many local memorials to them.
The 1700s saw the Scottish Enlightenment following the Act of Union in 1707 and also the Agricultural Revolution. In Scotland this was triggered by a boom in farming as England started importing Scottish beef. Arbigland was fortunate that for most of that century the laird was William Craik (1703-98), a polymath who seized the new ideas and put them into practice. Craik designed and built Arbigland House, since 2000 no longer part of the estate, a classical Georgian house in the Adam style completed in 1755 as well as the kirk in Kirkbean (now deconsecrated and turned into a private house) He was also an agricultural improver in the manner of Coke, Townsend and Bakewell. He drained the land, reclaiming some merse from the sea, and laid out the park and fields you see today with their drystane dykes.
It is thought that he was able to afford to do this from the receipts of brandy smuggled across the Irish Sea from the duty free ports on the Isle of Man. An exciseman's report on a seizure of contraband nearby states:
" I would not go so far as to say that the Laird of Arbigland was involved but many of his horses and servants were present!"
Craik did his neighbour, James Maxwell of Kirkconnel a good turn after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Maxwell had fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie and after escaping from the battlefield at Culloden he fled to France. Craik, whilst probably not a Jacobite himself, looked after the estate at Kirkconnel for his friend and ensured that the rents were paid and the money remitted to Maxwell until it was safe for him to return.
Smuggling also provides a link to the poet Robert Burns, who was an exciseman in nearby Dumfries. Burns was a frequent visitor to Arbigland as a friend of the daughter of the house, Helen Craik.
The 18th century also saw the birth of Arbigland's most famous export: John Paul Jones. Born John Paul, the gardener's son in a cottage on the estate in 1747. After emigrating to America he is credited with being the founding father of the United States Navy. A hero of the revolution he returned to terrorise the coast of his homeland in the American War of Independence. The cottage where he was born is now a museum on the estate, see the John Paul Jones Cottage Museum web site.
The estate has been home to the Blackett family and their forebears the Stewarts since 1852 when General William Stewart purchased the estate. General Stewart had served in the Coldstream Guards and also owned the St Fort estate in Fife. The estate then passed to his nephew Colonel Kit Blackett, who had served the Sutherland Highlanders in the Crimean War where he was part of the 'thin red line' that held off the Russian Army at the Battle of Balaklava. He transferred to the Coldstream Guards while in the Crimea and took over Arbigland in 1872.
Further research may be carried out by visiting www.kirkbeanheritagesociety.org.uk .
Arbigland Estate Today
We subscribe to the idea that in order to conserve our heritage we have to be prepared to change a few things. The estate today is a modern diversified business based on agriculture, property, events and tourism. Activities stem from beef rearing to beekeeping and forestry to fishing. We hope you find our website user friendly and that you will come and stay with us.