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A Short History of Moffat
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The departure of the Roman Legions from the British Isles left a legacy of roads, walled towns, fortresses and a Romanised British Celtic population. Invasion, plagues and the collapse of international trade, lead to a return to a farming warrior culture based mainly in fortified farms and hill-forts. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of Rheged, with its main centre at Carlisle, dominated Cumbria and South West Scotland for many centuries. Its decline in Cumbria under Saxon and Viking invasion left only the Kingdom of Galloway west of the River Nith, but that Kingdom was to survive right up to the 1400s when Alba had become the Kingdom of Scotland.
The townsite of Moffat was still unoccupied, but settlement was steadily increasing from the 1100s onwards. Fortified farms protected their owners from the casual pillaging and cattle-reiving of neighbours. As the Mediaeval period wore on, regular campaigns by Scots and English Kings again savaged the countryside, encouraging rather the growth of sheep and cattle breeding than arable farming. Fields could be torched or the produce harvested by an invading army, but cattle and sheep could be driven off to hidden pens and lonely valleys. As most armies simply plundered the land as they travelled, it was also unwise to be near the road taken by an army. Only a town protected by a fortress of some powerful nobleman had a chance of being able to flourish, so the Scottish Royal Burghs such as Dumfries and Kirkcudbright were special cases. The average landowner had to be strong enough to stop casual banditry, but would otherwise kowtow to the next king to come over the hill.
A culture developed of cattle and sheep farmers who paid for their lands with military service. The 'Steel Bonnets' or 'Reivers' were a convenient invading army for either Scotland or England to use. Their local knowledge, - gathered in private feuds and cattle raids, - allowed them to lead whole armies across trackless bogs or 'mosses' to either safety or to drown treacherously in a bog in a hidden ambush. Only after the Union of the Crowns in 1601, was it possible for the King of Scots and England to completely assert his authority, and it was only after the time of the 1745 rebellion that peace returned to the troubled Borders.Countryfolk would in general have no use for the Roman road, so its repair would have largely been ignored. Its main use would have been by armies of one faction or another; in a time when armies pillaged the surrounding countryside for food and drink as they marched, living near a road would have been insanity. The exception was in places where some warlord had his main residence, a sitting market for travelling craftsmen and chapmen. Although it seems a far cry from the tinker, packman and the pedlar, to the factory owner, freight haulage operator and the retail shopping group, that is where their ancestry lies. Another market, - but one which grew in times of peace, - was near the sanctuary afforded by a church with an important saint. Pilgrims needed roads to cross country to such places as Hoddom and Whithorn, which quickly grew into important centres in their own right. Their 'service stations' were the houses of those locals who took payment for a night's food and lodging, or the manors of religious orders.
The north-south route from Carlisle to the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas was to really emerge during the mediaeval period. Moffat's Chapel Lane up to Chapel Farm is a deeply-incised 'hollow way', probably of mediaeval date. It probably began as a short cut from the growing village up from a fording or bridge point on the Annan at Moffat up onto the Roman Road. The Chapel at Chapel Farm survives only as a window and a wall that is the end-gable of a farm building, but it was once the chapel to a Hospital of the Knights Templar, tending wayfarers who needed medical care. Such Hospitals or 'Spitals' sometimes also served as inns, in common with other monastic institutions. Further down towards the River Evan on the western side of the Cotes Hill ridge is a motte, probably a Johnstone or Brus stronghold guarding the Evan Water valley from attacks.
Moffat could be said to have been started by the building by the Johnstone family of Auldton Motte, about a mile to the north east of the present High Street. The motte and bailey fortress may have had its own chapel, but was associated with a small church sited near the graveyard on the southeast corner of the High Street. Robert de Bruce transferred it in 1177 to the Bishop of Glasgow as 'a prebend of the see'.
Moffat is surrounded by the old farm-sites of various noble families and Abbeys. The Lochfoot Tower house outside the southern way into Moffat is a still-occupied relic of that time.
Re-established after a break of hundreds of years, this Clan holds an annual Gathering at Moffat. A short History of the Clan Moffat is hosted on the Moffat Server.
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All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 9th June 1999.
Last updated 16th December 1999.