Headline photo

Headline photo
Rockcliffe and Kippford from South Glen Brae: Ed Iglehart [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Introductory text

Kippford and Rockcliffe are on the East Stewartry Coast, an unspoilt National Scenic Area with two other NSAs in close proximity. It is in Dumfries & Galloway, South West Scotland, a region known for it's wonderful scenery, biodiversity, turbulent history, smugglers and black and white 'belted' cattle known as Galloway Belties. This stretch of coastline has many names. Known locally as the Colvend Coast or the 'Secret Coast' (due to the peace and tranquility) it is often referred to as the 'Scottish Riviera' due to it being the holiday resort of choice for Victorian millionaires and having a Gulf Stream influenced microclimate: evidenced by palm trees in some gardens. Castle Douglas, the food town is a short drive away and Kirkcudbright, the Artists Town is over the next headland.

This a scenic and unique part of the world and we started the blog to share the experience of living in this wonderful place. We hope that it will be of interest to others who live here and give those planning to visit the area a taste of all it has to offer.

The blog has a correspondent in both Kippford and Rockcliffe village, you can also follow their Twitter feeds on the right of the page. If you would like to get involved we look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Kippford: it's history as shipbuilding village

It's been a busy Summer here on the Colvend Coast with record temperatures in July. I guess I must apologise for blog post's being thin on the ground but I hope you will forgive us. There is so much to do around here that we haven't had a spare moment to post. What we do have is lots of material written, in the wings so to speak, and we will be posting it at intervals over the coming weeks.

For all those who haven't managed to visit us in person this Summer here is a virtual visit you can make from the keyboard of your computer. A little web tour through the maritime history of this fascinating coast.

Following Kippford Week sailing Regatta (you can go to the Solway Yacht Club website here for results: The Solway Yacht Club website. It's a handy site to bookmark as they have the weather forecast for Kippford and Rockcliffe on the home page) my thoughts turned to the sailing history of this stretch of coast and so I did a bit of research.

A fascinating resource on the history of the area is the Dalbeattie Museum Trust (www.dalbeattiemuseum.co.uk) so it seemed like a good place to start. The Dalbeattie Museum is run entirely by volunteers on charitable donations and is well worth a visit. It is loved by children and adults alike. You can find it at 81, High Street, Dalbeattie and it provides an amazing glimpse into life along the Solway Coast in days gone by.

Their website has a page on Harbours and Quays from Solway Firth to Dalbeattie and it makes for interesting reading. To quote from their web page:

This area was first known as "Red Bay", until 1964. Originaly a very quiet place until some houses were built, then it became a holiday resort for people out of Glasgow. There was never a jetty or quay here, as the beach was to rocky to land any vessels.
Rockcliffe courtesy of Dalbeattie Museum website.

Kippford was a place that many ships were built in the Cummings yard. He employed 8 shipwrights and 4 apprentices. The apprentices were housed in the cottages along the front at Kippford. On a launch day the children from Barnbarroch School were given the day off. All the ship building in Kippford was done out in the open air. In the early days the ships were built side-on to the river beside Whim Cottage, later they were built on the slipway. A steam box used to steam the planks of wood for fitting to the bows and stern of a vessel, was located next to the road beside the village water pump. Next to this pump could also be found a saw-pit where planks were cut, there was also a tar kettle. The workers in the yards religiously upheld the daily visit to the hotel as soon as the sun got over the yard arm. They each had an allowance of whiskey twice a day There was also a stone jetty which was used to load and unload cargoes for the Quarry at Kippford. This is now used by the Yacht Club at Kippford. 
The vessels were loaded with chippings for Lancashire and as late as World War 2 the Caledonian Granite Company was shipping granite out of this area. Prior to 1887 the Dalbeattie road ended beside the Mariner Hotel. A large rock blocked the road to Kippford. People had to walk along the beach or up over the hill if the tide was in. 1881 was when this rock was blasted to make a through road. Mr Cumming sail loft was used as a dance hall, usually after a ships launch. Mrs Agnes Houston of Brownrigg, Dumfries, was a lady who liked to organise events for the crews of schooners lying at the port. She also organised sculling and rowing races for sailors in 1885 and presented prizes of tobacco, knives and money. This led to the Kippford Regatta we have today in Kippford, held every year. After Mr Cumming death the yard was taken over by Mr Collins from Birkenhead, who ran it for several years till the outbreak of the war in 1914. No ships were built in Mr Collins time but in his time of owning the yard, he was to install a motor engine into local schooner called the North Barrule, during the summer of 1909.

Regatta Day Kippford
Regatta day at Kippford courtesy of Dalbeattie Museum website. http://www.dalbeattiemuseum.co.uk/stories/harbours-and-quays-from-solway-firth-to-dalbeattie/

The webpage starts it's journey at Caulkerbush (Southwick) and describes each port along the coast along to Palnackie. To read the full text go to: http://www.dalbeattiemuseum.co.uk/stories/harbours-and-quays-from-solway-firth-to-dalbeattie/

Another excellent source of information on the maritime history of the area is to be found on the Dalbeattie Town website (www.dalbeattie.com).  They have a page on the history of Kippford which you can access in full here: http://www.dalbeattie.com/history/kipphist.htm

Their section on ship building at Kippford reads:

There had been boat repair at Kippford for a long time, but in the early 1800s there was construction of small sloops on the shore. By 1860, this was successful enough for Mr. James Cumming to take over some gardens and a section of the beach and to construct a ship, - the Try Again - over some seven years. She was followed by the construction of the Balcary Lass in 1881; the Balcary Lass was lost in 1883 on a voyage from Goole to St. John's, Newfoundland, whilst carrying coals; it is possible that the coal caught fire, as the ship was in good order.

Because of the steep and narrow beach, ships to be repaired were floated sideways onto the beach and then winched onto blocks. This launching system meant that re-launching was also sideways, a difficult procedure that once nearly damaged a newly-repaired schooner. The Cummings then laid down a proper slipway, with a cradle onto which ships could be drawn. Once in place, a capstan winch ashore could draw cradle and ship up the well-greased slipway for repairs, then assist in the careful re-launching.

The slipway was finally disposed of about 1914, as the level of shipping declined. James and his brother John Cumming died, the lease was taken over by Mr. Collins of Birkenhead, but the business dwindled to small boat repair and ended in the 1920s.

There are still many prints of the old ships of the Urr in the 'Anchor Hotel', which was actually the shipbuilders' pub. They received a dram of whiskey twice a day as well as three shillings (36 old pence or 15p.), per day in wages. This was at a time when ordinary labourers received barely half that sum. The publican used to cover the benches in newspaper, as the shipbuilders' clothes were well-tarred from their work.

There is still a small recessed slip, but this is not on the line of the slipway, which was slightly farther to the north. However, the Kippford Slipway Ltd., though largely a boat-chandlers, does keep up some of the old tradition.

My final port of call is the wonderful website Old Kirkcudbright - Glimpses into the history of an ancient Parish and Burgh. You can access it here: www.old-kirkcudbright.net

This site is a marvel and is described as "An Internet Browse Through the History Topography and Genealogy of the Ancient Parish and Burgh of Kirkcudbright"The material is taken from a selection of contemporary books, magazines, documents, maps, illustrations and ephemera. I love to just dip in and browse, I always find something new to intrigue me about the area. The section on Kippford is a mine of information, and far too long to include here, but I recommend you follow this link: www.old-kirkcudbright.net/pages/scaur1.asp

I love this opening quote "I have visited many villages in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but never have I come across one that could satisfy my longings in every respect, as does the Scaur with its more modern name of Kippford. True it is a place of moods and tenses. When the Estuary of the Urr is in full tide, on whose banks the village stands, and the golden sun is shining on its waters the visitor may think it a perfect paradise." 

The site describes the history and industry of the village as well as the Urr Water Fleet and has some excellent yarns of long distance voyages, shipwrecks and fine old skippers...and there are some evocative old photographs... it's well worth a visit!

Kippford: Sailing vessel crossing the road on the slipway
(Source: www.old-kirkcudbright.net - The Stewartry Museum Collection)

Enjoy your virtual visit to the maritime history of this beautiful coastline...


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