Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer
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Before the coming of coaching, communications and mail between Glasgow and England were carried by mounted post boys via Edinburgh. At that time, the road between Glasgow and Carlisle passed over Ericstane Brae, north of Moffat, a treacherous road and the scene of many a mishap.
An attempt was made to improve the road when it was turnpiked in 1776. It was hoped that the imposition of tolls taken at toll houses, or turnpikes, would yield enough money to keep the road in good repair and repay the loans taken out by trustees. The Turnpike Trust found, as with others elsewhere, that they too could not maintain the road and it remained as bad as ever. This remained the case when the Post Office instituted mail coaches elsewhere.
Glasgow was developing commercially so the fact of not having a direct mail coach south via Carlisle was a serious concern for the Glasgow merchants. It was pointed out to the Post Office that the Glasgow to Carlisle diligence had found it possible to use this route. The implication was that if it was possible for private enterprise then it should be possible for the Government to use the route as well.
To further induce the Post Office to establish a mail coach by this route, the Glasgow merchants and their Chamber of Commerce subscribed handsomely to augment the meagre pay offered to the contractors. The contractors were the stages (coaching inns) on the road that provided fresh horses and feed, together with the services required for travellers. On this basis the mail coach route was established in June 1788. The Post Office was still not satisfied as the route over Ericstane Brae remained rough and stony, the Secretary continually threatening to withdraw the service if the worst damaged sections were not repaired.
In 1795 Provost Dunlop was informed that the Glasgow to Carlisle Mail would in all probability have to be discontinued in favour of the old route via Edinburgh, causing a loss in time of delivery of one day. Glasgow appealed to the Government to repair the road south of Elvanfoot, pointing out that Lord Douglas had expended £ 4,000 on the road Lesmahagow and Hassockwell Burn, near The Devil's Beef Tub. The City of Glasgow had also invested a great deal of money on the road and the Government was reminded that the road was not a local highway, but part of the great national route north and south, as such being the responsibility of the Government. Crossing the wild and little-travelled water-shed between the Clyde and the Annan, it could never be adequately repaired from the proceeds of any tolls it was possible to charge.
The situation had been made worse by the Government allowing mail coaches to travel without paying tolls. This exemption allowed the mail coaches to carry passengers more cheaply than the heavily-charged stage coaches, the stage coaches being driven out of business by 1795. The Turnpike Trusts thus lost money at every turn. The Post Office turned a deaf ear to all the appeals and complaints.
The Post Office was well aware of the importance of a good road to the Glassgow merchants and realised that it would only be a matter of time before the merchants were forced to finance improvements themselves. This was correct, the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce obtaining an Act in 1798 that empowered the Evan Water Trustees to to make and maintain a new road over the water-shed, in place of the old road over Ericstane Brae. Whilst the Trustees were so empowered, funding the work was a harder problem, the money ultimately being raised by subscriptions.
The merchants of Glasgow, the public institutions of the city and a number of English mill-owners between them subscribed £ 6,000, the road being begun firstly from Elvanfoot to Summit level and then down Evan Water to Beattock. There, the road joined the Edinburgh, Moffat and Dumfries Turnpike, a second section of a diagonal line of new road running across the Dale of Annan to Dinwoodie Green, eleven miles south of Moffat, where the new road joined the existing Glasgow to Carlisle Turnpike. The works were commenced, the first sectionm from Elvanfoot to Beattock actually being completed in 1808, but the funds gathered were then exhausted, and the Dumfriesshire people would not - or could not - construct the second eleven-mile section to Dinwoodie Green. The road had, after all, to go via Moffat, turning sharply to the left at Langbedholm two miles north of Beattock and then passing over the Chapel Brae to Moffat, going south by the old Carlisle Road through Wamphray, Woodfoot and Dinwoodie Green.
Even this half-realised plan was preferable to the route by Ericstane Muir and Brae, but no sooner was the new road made than the old question of repairs was raised again. The tolls were insufficient to pay expenses and the wear and tear of the elements and traffic could not be made good. Hasker, the Superintendent of Mail Coaches, continually threatened to withdraw the mail and send it round by Edinburgh. By 1810 the various Trusts involved had approached Parliament for a redress of their grievances, but without result. It was not until 1813 that an Act of Parliament removed toll-exemption from all four-wheeled mail coaches in Scotland, but an exemption continued for two-wheeled gigs provided no passengers were carried.
Even this concession did not satisfy the local trustees. As late as 1828, Francis Feeling, Secretary of the Post Office to the Post Master General, had received complaints from Scottish Turnpike Trusts of passengers occasionally being carried in the two-wheeled gigs in the south of Scotland, requesting as a consequence the complete removal of the exemption. Freeling replied :-
"I wish sincerely that the Trustees of all the roads in Scotland were more desirous of repairing and maintaining them than attempting to enforce what under any circumstances must be considered an unjust claim. I lament to add the fact that most of the roads in Scotland are kept up with Post Office money."
The concessions given by the Act were taken away by the Post Office by raising the postage on letters to Scotland by one halfpenny each, so raising annual revenues by £ 6,000. The Scottish Turnpike Trusts answered this by raising the tolls against the mails, with the result that the Post Office was made to pay £ 12,000 per annum more. The Superintendent responded by taking off a number of the mail services as a warning to the City of Glasgow.
A terrifying accident that took place in 1808 on the Elvanfoot Bridge began to bring both sides to their senses. The mail from Glasgow reached the bridge on a stormy night and as the horses' hooves touched the bridge, half of it collapsed, coach, horses, coachman, guards and passengers, plunging into the raging River Evan below. One passenger died, four were injured and two horses were killed. The coach was completely destroyed, the driver died a few weeks later, the guard had a slight head-wound and soon recovered.
The Carlisle to Glasgow road was of national importance and in 1816 £ 50,000 was granted by an Act of Parliament, to improve and repair it under the auspices of the Highland Road and Bridges Commissioners, with the eminent Thomas Telford as engineer. Telford had earlier been commissioned to make proposals for a fast road from Carlisle to Portpatrick and to improve communications to Ireland.Picture - Telford on a tour of inspection
At this time the route across the border was via Longtown. In his report to a House of Commons Select Committee in 1815, Telford wrote on the Cumberland section. :-
"From the Sark Bridge where the road enters Cumberland section it turns Eastwards about three miles up the north bank up the river Esk to Longtown and then returns at nearly right angles to Carlisle. The inconvenience of this circuitry is rendered evident and irksome by perceiving from the bank at Springfield, an almost uniform plain, and a straight direction to Carlisle, but to pass along this straight line, a new road of about eight miles is required, and a considerable bridge over the Esk at Gerlston. This very material improvement has already been stated to your Lordships in my Reports of 1809 and 1811, upon improving the line of intercourse between the north of England and Ireland, by Carlisle, and Portpatrick and was recommended to be executed, solely at the public expense, by a Committee of the House of Commons, printed 13 May 1811."
The old coach road from Dinwoodie Green to Moffat had also caused difficulties for many years and several alternatives had been surveyed. Telford finally adopted a new line of road from Beattock to Dinwoodie, similar to one proposed in 1786. This road was 8 miles in length and would require its own toll bar, this being built at Dinwoodie. As in the previous surveys, Moffat would be bypassed. In his original survey of 1815 he planned to use most of the existing troublesome route.Map - The Glasgow to Carlisle Road.
This length of new road opened in 1820 and diverted the mail and carriage traffic on the Glasgow and Carlisle road from passing through Moffat. It also meant that there was now no inn or posting house between Lockerbie and Elvanfoot, a distance of 28 miles.
As Beattock was conveniently placed for a halfway stage and at that point the new road was intersected by the Dumfries and Edinburgh road, it was ideal for a new inn. The Commissioners of Highland Roads and Bridges were unsuccessful in persuading landowners through whose land the road passed, or innkeepers in the neighbourhood, to finance its building. Application was made to the Court of the Exchequer for a sum of money and they were awarded £ 5,000 on the 1 November 1821. They proceeded to ascertain through Mr. Telford, Civil Engineer, the expense of erecting the building necessary for the said inn. Telford's estimate amounted to £ 4,0688 5 shillings and 1 penny. The inn was completed in 1822 by John McDonald, who built the bridge next to the inn.
The Commissioners retained the right to appoint managers and the first were Mr. & Mrs. Wilson and family from England. Wilson had the contract for the Glasgow and Carlisle and Edinburgh and Dumfries mails, apparently making a success of the venture. The Postmaster General had made it clear that the Wilsons would not be allowed to continue in the Mail Coach Concern should they leave the inn. An unusual hire took place in 1826. An intrepid balloonist from Carlisle crashed to earth on farmland at Wamphray near the old coach road. There were no injuries and the balloon was ignominiously returned by chaise to Carlisle.Picture - A once common sight on Telford's roads
In 1831 Mr. Wilson stabled 50 horses, probably 40 for his mail coach contracts and a number of spare horses for his posting business. On the 10 July 1823 an Act of Parliament was passed instructing all Postmasters, or other persons so licenced to let horses,
"to cause the words Licenced to let Horses for Hire, to be displayed."On the great stone archway into Beattock Inn yard are the words "Licenced to let Post Horses". Mr. Wilson was still managing the Inn in 1832 according to the settlement statement for that year.
The opening of the Beattock Inn caused the closing of the "King's Arms" at Moffat. The Annandale stabled 50 horses and had a byre for a cow to supply the inn with milk. James Rae the contractor "had the ground" from Moffat to Abingdon and must have had the contract for the Edinburgh Mail. Rae was at the "King's Arms" until 1795-1796 when a Mr. Baldchild took over. The two words "Post Horses" remained painted on the two pillars of the main entrance to the "Annandale Arms" (which took over the King's Arms premises) for many years.
The years between 1830 and 1840 were the golden days of coaching. However, in 1836 the engineer Joseph Locke, a man of outstanding ability, was asked by the directors ofthe Grand Junction Railway to make preliminary surveys to find the best route for reaching Glasgow and Edinburgh from Carlisle. He began by following the the coach route through Annandale. On reaching Beattock Summit, he considered the gradients too steep and turned back. The longer but gentler route through Nithsdale seemed more suitable.
The Glasgow merchants were delighted with the Nithsdale choice, which might have gone through if one man had not opposed it. The Dumfriesshire Member of Parliament Mr. Hope Johnstone was determined that the line should go though Annandale and instructed his factor Charles Stewart to persuade Locke to re-survey the route. A significant entry on 12 January 1842 appeared in the Day-Book onf the Crawford Inn, "two engineers Locke for a gig to Chesterhall". Locke conceded that the route was practicable after all. At that time, only one West Coast line was being considered between England and Scotland and by 1841 the Nithsdale line was beginning to get underway. The Nithsdale line were determined to present their Bill to Parliament, but Hope Johnstone forestalled them.
On 31 July 1843, Royal Assent was given to the Caledonian Railway Bill, to construct the line through Annandale towards Glasgow. By 1846 the railway lines had been laid as far as Lancaster, the Carlisle to Beattock section opening a year later at 6.30 a.m. on Friday 10 September 1847. Beattock Inn still continued as a mail coach stage; passengers from Glasgow to Carlisle changed from the mail coach at Beattock, embarking at the Caledonian Railway main line station at Beattock onto the train for the south. The reverse procedure applied to passengers heading north. It was on 14 February 1848 that the last mail coach pulled up at Glasgow Post Office, the next day the railway service running to Glasgow.
Beattock Inn lost a great deal of trade but it remained in business. In the early 1850s it was referred to as "an excellent large Inn" and the cross-country mail services continued. For example, twenty years later mails were still being carried from Edinburgh to Dumfries via Moffat, and also by Biggar and Thornhill through Abingdon and Elvanfoot.
The fate of Mr. Wilson, tenant and mail coach contractor, has not yet been established, but John Marshal was hotel keeper from 1866-1878. During his tenancy the Commissioners of Highland Roads and Bridges came to decision to sell the Inn, although it still showed a return from the rental. William Younger of Auchencastle bought the Inn in 1876, Mrs. Marshal appearing from the valuation roll to have continued as hotel keeper until she retired in 1889, the Inn then being incorporated into Lochhouse farm and used as a farmhouse.
The Kirkpatric family were tenants for 57 years before purchasing the farm and the inn from Sir William Younger, Bart., in 1947. John Kirkpatric was the last to occupy the place, selling in 1973 to Roger J. Worthy who intended to restore the Inn to its original use. He appears to have been successful and re-opened the building as the Brig Inn, but sold it to a Mr. Walker from Manchester. A further stage in its chequered history was when the Inn was used as an old peoples' home. The same owners as recently as 1998 converted it into its true original purpose as a "Motel" - the "Brig Inn and Telford Restaurant". Finally, in March 1999, Chris Harrison bought the Brig Inn and has continued to develop it. There is a good display on Telford and the Beattock Inn in the bar.
''I have a particular interest because I think I can fill in a little of the missing history of what is now the Old Brig Hotel. I should be grateful if you could pass this on to the Millars, in case they would like to read it.''
''Their article wondered who was tenant between Mr. Wilson in the 1840s and Mr Marshall in 1866. I have the answer - my great great grandfather, George Brown Ramsay, followed by his daughter Janet. George was born in 1800 to an East Lothian family, from Haddington and Aberlady. Five out of his six children were born in Edinburgh but the birth of the youngest, Agnes, my great grandmother, is listed as in Moffat in 1847, so it is a good guess that they took over the tenancy from Mr. Wilson around then. George Ramsay died at the Beattock Bridge Hotel in 1862, but by then his eldest daughter Janet had already taken over as hotel keeper and is listed as head of the household in the 1861 census. It shows how much the hotel was in decline that on the census night there was only one guest - a cook from Dunfermline.''
''Janet Ramsay must have been a formidable person. The year after her father's death she married Alexander Morrison from the Caithness area, a foreman tailor then working in Moffat. As Janet was 34 and ten years older than Alexander, she can be excused for knocking a couple of years from her age. They were married from the hotel, Alexander changed his profession to hotel keeper/wine merchant. The Morrisons eventually moved to Paisley to run the Globe Hotel in the High Street in the mid 1860s, making room for Mr Marshall at Beattock Bridge. They took the rest of the Ramsay family with them and it is in Paisley that Agnes Ramsay met and married my great-grand father. He turned from weaving to the spirit trade too, which I suspect dispatches him quite soon after his young wife dies at the family hotel.''
''So Janet ends up outliving her youngest sister, brother in law and husband, and once widowed herself quietly retires to Gourock. Meanwhile another Alexander Morrison from Caithness, probably a nephew, takes over the Globe Hotel by 1881 and goes on to spend another sixty years in Paisley, becoming one of its most respected and notable citizens.''
''My poor orphaned grandfather, whose mother was possibly born in Telford's hotel, was apprenticed out to an engineering firm and spent his life as a wandering Scot specialising in advanced concrete construction. He built railways, bridges, docks and even has a hand in building both Murrayfield and Wembley Stadiums.''
Bracegirdle, Brian and Patricia H. Miles : Thomas Telford : 1973, in the series "Great Engineers and Their Works" publishers David and Charles, Newton Abbott.
Cameron, A.D. : The CAledonian Canal : 1994, publishers Canongate Academic, Edinburgh.
Gibbs, Alexander : The Story of Telford : 1935, publishers Maclehose and Co., London
Pennfold, Alistair ed. : Thomas Telford, Engineer : 1980, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
Rolt, L.T.C. : Thomas Telford : 1958, Longmans, Green and Co. London.
Smiles, S. : Life of Telford : 1867, A selection from his "Lives of the Engineers", Vol. 2, 1862, Murray, London.
Telford, Thomas : The Life of Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer, Written by Himself, 1838.
All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 8th March 2000.
Last updated 11th September 2001.