According to the 1837 Statistical Account
" The habits of the people are particularly clean and decent, and their language is among the best samples of English to be found in any Scottish village.The grey plaid, thrown round the body or across one shoulder and under the opposite arm, is still common. Curling, bowling and billiards are popular.A subscription and a circulating library furnish the people with books. There are two daily newspapers. There is hardly any smuggling or poaching, and low and gross acts of immorality are seldom heard of in Moffat. "
Between 1791 and 1799, 80 families had lived in the country part of the parish.
" No houses were uninhabited. There was no manufacturing industry." There were:
By 1837, advances had been made, with " many new houses; church and parish school rebuilt; new baths with reading room and bowling green; cistern for public use in the main square; regular market for beef and mutton;mail coaches daily to Carlisle and Glasgow; 70 cart-loads of merchant goods every week, mostly cotton; post horses and carriages for hire at the principal inn; all roads and bridges good and safe. "
Moffat was a busy, thriving community, not only as a centre of the sheep industry, but also as one of Britain's most fashionable spa resorts. Moffat Well drew the rich and famous to partake of its healing waters.Graham's " Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century " observed:
In spring there meet round the little wells of Moffat a throng in their gayest and brightest from society in town and country, sipping their sulphur waters and discussing their pleasant gossip.... city clergy, men of letters, country gentlemen and ladies of fashion and the diseased and decrepit of the poorest rank, who had toilsomely travelled from far-off districts to taste the magic waters. "
Among well-known visitors were the Empress Eugenie of France, James McPherson, the "discoverer" of the epic poems of Ossian which took literary Europe by storm (he is said to have devised his ruse on Moffat bowling green, which stood in the middle of the High Street), the Grand Duke Nicholas, who was so impressed with his hotel, the " King's Arms", now the "Annandale ", that at the end of his visit in 1815 he paid his bill twice.
Moffat's oldest hotel, the "Black Bull", was visited by Robert Burns. The diarist James Boswell came in 1766 "to wash off a few scurvy spots which the warmer climate of Europe had brought out on my skin."
A guide book of 1840 described the sulphureous spring as follows:
"In the removal of bilious complaints it is eminently successful, as well as creating appetite and promoting digestion.It is an excellent specific for gravel and rheumatism. It sparkles in the glass like champagne, but it is so volatile that it can be drunk in perfection only at the fountain."
Not eveyone was so enthusiastic. One Dr Garnet wrote in 1800 that the waters of Moffat Well had "a strong smell, resembling bilge water, or the scourings of a gun." In 1858 the famous road builder John Loudon McAdam, who is buried in Moffat cemetery - Dumcrieff Mansion, which he rented from 1783 to 1784, was later sold to Dr John Rogerson, who was court physician to Catherine the Great - claimed that the odour of the well reminded him of a "slightly putrescent egg."
Despite their comments - and that of the Baron of Penicuik, who pointed out in1748 that local lepers bathed their sores at the well - Moffat prospered as a spa resort.
The "Hydro Hotel" with its 300 bedrooms opened in 1878, and drew the middle and upper classes (in 1900 it took 24,949 visitors) not only to take the waters, but also to sample its Turkish Baths, play croquet on its lawns and watch in summer the Scottish Lawn Tennis Championships, hosted then by Moffat. In 1921, the Hydro was totally destroyed by fire , and the popularity of the town as a spa declined.
Today, the most important figure associated with Moffat is Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, Commander-in Chief of RAF Fighter Command in the Second World War and leader of the Battle of Britain. He was born in April 1882 in the headmaster's bedroom at St Ninian's School, which has been renovated as a sheltered housing complex in Dowding's honour.
For some excellent photographs of Moffat, see Sandy's page
Bunty and Bill Hart, formerly from Lockerbie, but now living in New Zealand, have kindly sent me this vivid description of life as a shepherd in the Moffat area, written by one of their forebears:
I came to the district in 1867 and I may be called the Moffat Water Veteran Shepherd. I have resided in Moffat Water 58 years, 6 years at Capplegill, 41 at Bodesbeck, 8 and a half at Craigbeck Cottage, 11 and a half years at Crofthead Cottage.
With the Johnstones and Mr Moffat I have been at Bodesbeck clipping 59 years in succession and I am said to hold the longest service certificate of any hill shepherd in Upper Annandale 47 years.
I was 50 years a full shepherd and I have gone through 65 lambings. The worst lambings I mind of was 1860-75 or 6 and 86-88-92, 1917 and 1919 when it was the worst snowstorm I ever saw in Lambing time, sheep were lambing well before the storm, after that there was a heavy death of both ewes and lambs. I have been out on Capplegill and Bodesbeck hills in many a severe snow storm. The worst snow drift I ever saw was on the 12 of November 1901, for about two hours I did not know whether I was on my own hill or not and after I got in to the house it took a long time to melt the frozen snow off my clothes before they could be taken off.
I had a lot of sheep covered but with the assistance of my dog setting the sheep beneath the snow I got them all out alive next day except two that were drowned in a burn, the only sheep I ever lost in a snow storm that I am aware of.
During the time I was herding there is no doubt I made many a mistake, though I always tried to do what I thought best for my master's interest and my own credit. I took a great interest in the sheep under my charge and the Nethertown of Bodesbeck sheep improved very much the time I herded them, for many years before I left it was one of the best Cheviot hirsels in the district and they made good prices at the market. I was at Lockerbie Lamb Fair in August 1857 and I have been at some of the Lockerbie sheep markets every year since.
I firmly believe in the old style of herding, looking the hill before breakfast till after clipping time. I have seen 33 proprieters, 40 farmers and over 120 shepherds in Moffat Water since I came when I was a young man. I was the champion mile runner in Upper Annandale and only once beat in a walking match for a mile. In those days there was a foot race at almost every country wedding for a pocket napkin. Unless the race was very short I mostly came in first and my own was the 30th wedding I had been at.
I gave up herding a few years ago and now reside at Craigbeck Cottage, Janet Scott my wife has resided 42 years in Moffat Water at Craigbeck, Bodesbeck and Craigbeck Cottage and Crofthead Cottages.
Over a hundred years ago on a wild stormy night when Mrs Beattie's Grandfather, Walter Scott was away with stormed sheep, the roof was blown off his house and Mrs Scott had to tie her boy on to her back and walk about 3 miles through the storm to Polmoodie for shelter.
It has been said they both perished in the storm, that is not true. Mrs Scott lived till she was 82 years of age. Her boy grew up to a man, got married to a sister of the late James Edgar, Butcher, Moffat and he was Mrs Scott's china merchant,Holme Street, Moffat's father. The house was never inhabitated again but the place where it stood can still be pointed out in a wild spot on the Tail Burn near the foot of Loch Skene.
How many shepherds and their wives has got such a record and can tell a similar story.
James A Beattie, Craigbeck Cottage, Moffat, Dumfriesshire. 9 December, 1921