The meaning of the name Capenoch is said to be ‘the place of the tillage plots or tree stumps’ and this, I think, indicates its location in what must have been, in the Middle Ages, one of the few remaining areas of oak forest in the south of Scotland. The oaks of the ‘Keyr Wood’, which is marked on a map in my possession dated 1763 and on Kitchin’s map of 1769, would gradually give way to the axe, but enough remains – mostly now on the Capenoch Estate and among my most treasured possessions – to show that extensive woodlands between the 200 and 500 foot contour lines once existed in this parish.
The only other Capenoch known to me is in the parish of Kirkinner in Wigtownshire and in this area there are also indications that forests once existed.
The name Capenoch first appears in the year 1483 when a grant of land was made to ‘Peter Grersone’ of ‘Capinache’. At that time Capenoch formed part of the land known as the ‘£36 land of Keir’, which was the property of the Abbey of Holywood and was included in the parish of Holywood (the parish of Keir was not erected until 1637). The occupiers of this £36 land of Keir, which comprised most of the present parish, were ‘kindly tenants’ of the abbey and, after its acquisition in 1522 by Robert, fifth Lord Maxwell, kindly tenants of the Maxwells. They were mostly of the family of Grierson and it is said that although their superiors were first the Abbots of Holywood and then the Maxwells they recognized the Laird of Lag as their ‘chief and master.’
Griersons of Capenoch are on record during the sixteenth century, but it is not known in what degree of relationship they stood to the Laird of Lag. In 1606 Cuthbert Grier in ‘Capenhauch’ was ordained by decree of the Lord of Session to remove horn the six merkland of Capenoch in an action at the instance of Robert Maxwell, brother and assignee of - John, ninth Lord Maxwell. The reasons for this decision are not known but it would appear to have been the end of the earlier Griersons of Capenoch.
In 1609 John, Lord Maxwell was sentenced to death and, following his execution in 1613, the £36 land of Keir was granted to Sir William Grierson of Lag, at that time the head of the Grierson family; it is from him that the later Griersons of Capenoch are descended. In 1616 Sir William granted a charter of the lands of Capenoch in favour of his second son, John, who married Elizabeth Murray, daughter of Sir James Murray of Cockpool and died in 1638, leaving an only child, a daughter.
John Grierson was succeeded by his brother, James, who married Sarah Brown, daughter of John Brown, Minister of Glencairn, and widow of Thomas Grierson, younger, of Barjarg. His son, John, was served heir to his father in 1665.
John was succeeded at Capenoch by his son James in 1687; the latter was three times married but was survived at his death in 1715 by only one child, a daughter, Susan or Susanna, the heiress of Capenoch. She married, in 1727, Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, third Bart. of Closeburn, and Capenoch thus passed from the Griersons to the Kirkpatricks of Closeburn.
The traditional site of the old house or ‘toun’ of Capenoch lies about ½ mile south-west of the present house, some 100 feet or so higher up the hill. The Historical Monuments Commission in their Dumfriesshire Report, published in 1920, say that the foundations ‘appear to be those of a small rectangular tower with buildings surrounding a courtyard attached to it’. Personally I find it impossible to say which are the foundations of the tower and which are the foundations of the other buildings, and the answer, I think, will only be given after excavations have been undertaken.
It is recorded that in 1741 Sir Thomas and Lady Kirkpatrick stayed at Capenoch ‘during the summer’; and in 1748 one John Brown was ‘tenant in Capenoch.’ In the map of Keir parish made in 1763 referred to above the site is marked ‘Old houses, old K’ (K being presumably for Capenoch) and it is possible that the old house was being abandoned about this time. The name of the field in which are the foundation is the ‘Auld Toun field’; this field name must therefore be over two centuries old.
I have been unable to discover the date of the building of the oldest and central portion of the present house of Capenoch. On 29th August 1748, there occurred the disastrous fire which destroyed the House of Closeburn, which had been built in 1685, together with all its contents-and it might be thought that the most likely date for the building of he new house of Capenoch would have been shortly after this fire. Yet, it is stated on good authority that after the fire Sir Thomas and Lady Kirkpatrick went to live in the old tower of Closeburn (which is still standing). Sir Thomas died in 1771 and was succeeded by his son, James. It is he who said to have built the new house of Capenoch, but it has been stated that the building was not begun until after the sale of the Closeburn Estate – which took place in 1783.
In a paper published in the 1928-29 Transactions of the Society, I gave a description of the house of Capenoch a it was until 1848 and an account of the later year of the Kirkpatrick ownership. In 1846 Capenoch was sold by the trustees of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, fifth Bart. (d. 1844) the son of Sir James, and the purchaser was James Grierson, a grandson of James Grierson of Dalgonar (b. 1755) who had died in the previous year at the age of 90. The latter had left Dalgonar equally between two of his grandsons, James (b. 1825), and Philip (b. 1828) and, after Philip had come of age in 1849, James purchased the former’s share of Dalgonar and thereafter sold Capenoch.
The new owner, whose entry was at Martinmas, 1850, was Thomas Steuart Gladstone. His family had be settled in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire for centuries and whose father, Robert Gladstone had been a shipowner in Liverpool. Thomas Gladstone’ was the present writer’s great-grandfather.
John Gladstone, c.1950
Republished by kind permission of Robert Gladstone
Tags: Abbey of Holywood, Capenoch, Capinache, Closeburn, Cockpool, Cuthbert Grier, Dalgonar, Elizabeth Murray, fifth Lord Maxwell, grierson, Griersons, John Gladstone, Keyr Wood, Kirkinner, Kirkpatricks, Kitchin's map, Laird of Lag, Minister of Glencairn, Peter Grersone, Robert, Robert Gladstone, Robert Maxwell, Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, Sir William Grierson of Lag, Thomas Grierson, Thomas Steuart Gladstone, Wigtownshire