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A Short History of Moffat
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Roads and Coaches :
Beattock old coach-road bridge
In this day and age we take good roads for granted, but the first travellers from Carlisle to Edinburgh and Glasgow found it a long and treacherous journey, once the Roman Legions had been and gone. Heavy rain, winter freezing and thawing of the soil, made the old Roman roads into little more than the name. The wealthy and merchants carried their posessions and goods on packhorse, themselves riding from place to place. The poorer people and humble chapmen had to walk, in a time when reiving made life hazardous for unarmed individual travellers. There was often a reluctance to do anything about the roads, partly because good roads were often easy invasion-routes for armies, but also because the burdens of maintenance fell on locals who might get little profit from their work.
The end of reiving and the Union of The Crowns in 1607 made traffic between Scotland and England both more practicable and more profitable. Moffat was well-placed to take advantage of this situation, being at a point where Annandale ended and two traditional routes to Glasgow and Edinburgh crossed the Southern Uplands. When heavy rain or snow closed the routes, travellers could be forced to put up at the inns for days or even weeks, delaying both commercial transactions dependent on paper bonds and government mails. This serious matter meant that news and money could not go as fast as was necessary to ensure economic development.
The 1715 and 1745 uprisings supporting James III and his son 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' are supposed to have beggared the lairds and started the infamous 'Highland Clearances', but the 1715 Rebellion made it obvious that good roads were essential. General Wade constructed extensive Military Roads in the Highlands, notably those along the Great Glen between Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George. Galloway had its own Military Road west from Carlisle to Stranraer and Portpatrick, lesser known but a strategic route now part-followed by the A75.
Charles II of Scotland and England is said to have passed a Turnpike Act to fund road repairs by levying tolls during the 1670s, but it was not until the days of Robert McAdam that they were made use of. As the section on McAdam points out, tolls were regarded as being a source of private profit rather than for public benefit and the roads did not improve despite (or because of) their use as a kind of parish poor relief.
The original Roman Road up the Evan Valley had been replaced by a more arduous track up the side of the Ericstane Moor from Moffat Water in the early middle ages, - bearable for a man on foot, or the occasional packhorse, but appalling for waggons and coaches following that route. Frequently blocked by mud, flood or snow, the steep and eroded track was plainly unsuitable and could not be properly repaired. Mail services were frequently delayed for days. In desperation, the Glasgow merchants and the Postmaster General pressed for public moneys to be spent on a better road, but it took them from 1789 to 1830 to improve the situation.
As this subject has become steadily more complex, the writer and a colleague decided to give it its own prominence in the Thomas Telford website. Telford was closely involved in designing the route from Elvanfoot down the Evan and Annan Valleys towards Carlisle. The original Metal Bridge over the Esk was his design, as were the Beattock Inn (now the Old Brig Inn & Telford Restaurant) and a number of bridges and Toll Houses.
The growth of Beattock came with the new road of Telford, for it was soon realised that a coaching-inn there would remove the need to divert to Moffat for fresh horse-teams. That destroyed the trade for the two main coaching inns in Moffat. - the King's Arms and the Spur Inn. Recommended to his friends by such as Sir Walter Scott, the Beattock Inn was a large modern establishment that was the motel and service station of its day. But that inn was soon to fail in its turn, for the construction of a railway-line through the Evan Valley in 1848 was to finally destroy the mail-coach and post-chaise system that had been driving up to Glasgow. The Spur ousted the King's Arms by the 1850s, but the mail-coach to Edinburgh was itself to go by the 1880s.
Though railway carriage of freight and passengers is still important, the convenience and speed of cars, coaches and lorries, abolished the power of railways as the main means of mass transportation. The coach firm of Gibson's of Moffat were established in 1919, and for over eighty years have stayed in being.
Beattock and Moffat initially benefited from the new form of road transport, as coaches brought in tourists from the 1920s onwards. Beattock had the further advantage of being on the A74, with the Beattock Garage of the Porteous family supplying petrol and spares. A tea-room was added to the business in the 1920s but closed in 1939.
Moffat itself has both gained and suffered from the M74 motorway. The gain is the access to an even-larger motorised public, but the loss has been of the signs guiding traffic onto the A701 'Tourist Route to Edinburgh', a small but vital matter for the town. It is hoped that the town of Moffat will be able once again to find visitors as the Internet becomes the new advertising and market place of the world.
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All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 9th June 1999.
Last updated 25th April 2000.