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A Short History of Moffat
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Moffat had a considerable career as a cattle and sheep droving centre, with the main street serving as a market and corral. Drovers would stay in local alehouses, which gradually grew into the inns and hotels seen today. As times changed and the coaches and then the railways came, the droving interest died away except for market-day. The town acquired service tradesmen such as bootmakers, tailors, smiths and farriers, also catering for the travellers who took the West Coast stagecoaches to Edinburgh and Glasgow and down into England.
The wool from the local sheep was spun locally, woven and dyed, the Moffat Woollen Mill continuing this ancient tradition under Edinburgh ownership. There are a large number of shops on the High Street which offer woollen blankets, scarves and clothing, to the tourist interested in quality and practicality in a souvenir.
In olden days, a farm-worker would look for work at a Hiring Fair, where he (or she) would stand in line with others, bearing some tool or symbol of their trade. The image of a man in smock and holding a scythe, chewing a stem of grass or wheat, was that of a skilled mower or scytheman, needed in harvest-time or at haymaking. There was a March Fair on the third Friday of the month and the October Fair on the first Friday after the 19th October. Cattle and sheep might be sold at any Friday fair in the year, but the greatest was always the Tup Fair, held in September ' on the Friday after the Falkirk Tryst of that month'. The Tup Fair had a Sheep and Cattle Show, a Moffat Flower Show also being held on the same day from at least the 1870s. Beattock Hotel from 1849 had a sale of the best Cheviot Tups (rams) a day before the Tup Fair, but this is long gone.
The Moffat Ram (Colvin Fountain) is a more-recent memorial to that time, its fountain designed to provide water to dogs, horses and men. Until they were removed, iron cups chained to the fountain allowed men to drink from the water-spouts. The granite basins for dogs are at the base of the fountain, whilst those for horses are at a convenient level. For all its hoary appearance, the Moffat Ram was only set up in 1875, a gift to the town by William Colvin of Craigielands, Beattock. The architect was William Brodie, RSA of Edinburgh; there is an unfortunate myth that Brodie took his own life after the Ram was cast with horns but without ears. There was previously a bowling-green on the site, though this was replaced by one at Beechgrove.
There were many who visited Moffat as travellers, others who came there for their health and later for tourism. In December 1816, the Prince of Austria passed through whilst touring Scotland. The Black Bull Inn was visited by Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, whose chamberlain Baron Nicolai paid double the bill on leaving, as the Bull was the only small-town Inn that had provided beds for all their company.
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All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 9th June 1999.
Last updated 2 April 2011.