Kirkbean Parish Heritage Society - Arbigland Estate

The main gates to Arbigland House. Image:

The classically-styled Arbigland House was built in 1755 by the improving laird and gentleman architect William Craik (1703–98). His daughter, the poet and novelist Helen Craik (1751–1825), lived there until 1792. James Craik, the Physician General of the United States Army and personal physician of George Washington, was also born there in 1730.

Arbigland Estate Records written by J.B.Blackett

Arbigland Estate Office is fortunate to hold Records and Accounts Books as far back as 1751 giving a few glimpses into the past.

I have obtained a Conversion Table from the Bank of England to turn a figure for any given year into the equivalent in today’s pounds. (Note: this series of articles was written in 2004 and today’s values will be more than those given.) I will have to show three figures quite often to allow for decimalisation – eg. a rent in 1752 of £5 6s 3d = £5.31 = £430.00 today.


By 1751, Arbigland Estate was divided into eight holdings

By 1751 William Craik (1703-1798), the then Laird, had improved most of the Estate and divided it into eight holdings. Arbigland was responsible for quite a slice of the Minister’s Stipend. For instance, Kimkerrick paid a Stipend of £3 6s 8d = £3.33 = £253.08, plus produce in kind. Whereas, Nethermill, where I live now, would appear to have been only a watermill because it was Stipended at 8s 4d = 41p = £31.16 with no produce.

The rent per acre of the improved farms seems to have been 8s = 40p = £30.83 per acre. Incidentally, "Nethermill" means ‘Lower Mill’, which was a watermill and the ‘Upper Mill’ of the Estate was a windmill in a high-lying field on Maxwellfield.

The tenants in Nethermill in 1751 were John and Archibald Mulligan and the yearly rent was £9 8s 4d = £9.42 = £715.90

At this time William Craik was living at Maxwellfield Cottage while building the Mansion, which was not completed until 1760. However, William had already engaged his Head Gardener, John Paul, father of John Paul Jones, the ‘Father of the American Navy’. In 1753 John Paul was being paid £4 4s 0d = £4.20 = £319.20 per annum, but the Laird was providing him with a house, cow and forage at a cost of £1 5s 0d = £1.25 = £75.00 per annum. This entry threw the Bank of England table into complete disarray as the multiplier for 1753 is given as 76 which turns £4.20 into £319.20). There is no way that a Head Gardener would accept £319 per year today and John Paul had been imported from the Lothians to fill the post. Today we would be looking at about £12000 plus house and perquisites. I rang my contact at the Bank of England who confirmed that the table only applied to goods and that the multiplier for wages should be about 2850!

This clarification makes Craik’s accounts much easier to interpret and explains why, in those days, men of only modest affluence could embark on grand schemes of building etc. For example, the Mansion at Arbigland, completed in 1760, cost £4000. Much of the timber, all of the stone, sand etc were wrought on the estate, which would only have involved labour. Thus, if we allow £2500 for lead, slate, glass, fixtures and fittings etc which multiplied by 76 equates to £190,000 today, William was left with £1500 which multiplied by 2850 gave him £4,275,000 for manual and skilled labour. This gives a total cost for the Mansion of just under £4.5 million – about its insured value today.

The Head Mason appears to have been Simeon Porteus, who had his own staff. Various detailed works are enumerated, eg in 1756 - 1757 :-

‘To Sim. Porteus – 34 days at chimneys £1 17s 9d’ (= £1.90 = £5415.00 value today)

‘To 43 days at stairs £3 12s 0d’ (= £3.60 = £10,260)

William Craik was only really a 'bonnet laird'

William Craik happily embarked on prodigious projects whilst really only a "Bonnet Laird".

The answer lies in the illicit, duty-free trade between the Isle of Man and the mainland. The Isle of Man remained a duty-free island until about 1800. Thereafter, with the threat of French invasion, Whitehall was able to persuade the Manx House of Keys to bring their tariffs into line with the mainland – however, we are looking at the 1750s.

William Craik, as a leading citizen, was Commissioner of Excise "from Foot of Nith to Foot of Urr". Thus he reaped a bounty whenever a smuggling cargo was captured. A page in the Account Book illustrates this: between June 1754 and March 1755, at which time William was entitled to one third of the value of captured illicit cargoes, his bounty money amounted to £48.02. This would have given him purchasing power for £3649 of goods BUT £136,000 of labour. Just one entry suffices to illustrate the scenario:

March 12th 1755

"To my ⅓ share of 20 cases of Brandy seized by me at Southerness. Quantity 240 Gallons –"

However, at the same time, William was a leading smuggler. We have a letter from the Excise Officer in Dumfries to Edinburgh saying that ….

"Sloop in Arbigland Bay …. would not go so far as to say that the Laird was involved …. but many of his servants and horses were."

The house we all know today as the Balcary Bay Hotel was in fact built in the 18th century as the HQ of a smuggling company. The three partners are listed as Messrs Clark, Crain and Quirk. Any of these names could easily be Craik spelt wrongly either accidentally or purposefully.

The temptations were strong. Legitimate duty-paid luxuries were coffee £7.60 per lb., sugar more than £3.00 per lb., wine £7.60 a bottle, brandy (surprisingly) £3.60 a bottle.

With both his legitimate and illicit incomes Craik continued his improvements, even starting his own brickworks at the Carse Pow. Brickhouse Farm was presumably a prototype house built by his neighbour - Oswald of Cavens. In May 1755 Craik paid his brick maker, George Little, £7 12s 7d = £7.63 = £580.00 for thirty thousand bricks of which 2250 were rejected as "soft". The coal to fire these bricks cost £3 10s 7d = £3.53 = £268.28. This makes them 3p per brick whereas the same clay brick today costs 20p.

During alterations at Nethermill I uncovered some of Craik’s bricks. They are rather smaller than our standard house brick today and very variable in colour. They now form a pleasing flight of garden steps.

William Craik lived to the great age of 95

As previously mentioned, the mansion cost the equivalent of £4.2 million to build in today’s money. At the same time William Craik built a cottage in the township of Borron, now just a jumble of stones in a large field at Tallowquhairn. This cottage is described in the accounts as “The Cursors House at Borron”. The materials for this cottage cost “£5 4s 1d = £5.20 = £312.00 today. For example, the wood for doors and windows cost 6s 6d = 32p = £19.20. Lime and bricks for chimneys were 2s 6d = 12.5p = £7.50 and the labour came to £4 19s 6d = £4.97 = £14,164.50. So a cottage was built for the equivalent of £14,476.50 or 0.33% of the cost of a mansion.

William Craik laboured on for many more years and in 1776 built a new church for Kirkbean at a cost of £365, which if we allow £100 = £6000 for material would leave £265 = £755,000 for labour, thus a church was built for £800,000.

William lived to such a great age, 95, that he outlived all his direct heirs. In old age he limited himself to an income of £200 per year (equivalent to £12,000 today) half from his estate and half being his pension from Customs and Excise! He died in 1798 and a nephew from America took over – his son, John Hamilton Craik, sold out to my great great great uncle in 1852.

This uncle was General Stewart of the Coldstream Guards, a rich bachelor and brother of Catherine Blackett, my great great grandmother. The Craiks had bought the unimproved estate of Arbigland in 1698 for £611 or £50,700 and sold to General Stewart for £30,000 or £1.8 million.

There is a gap in our accounts from the end of William Craik’s life to the end of General Stewart’s life.

General Stewart lived until 1872 and, being a bachelor, had his eye on Catherine Blackett’s son, Christopher, as his heir. Christopher (or Uncle Kit as we call him) was an officer in the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders – the “Thin Red Line” of Balaclava fame. However, before the end of the Crimean War he had transferred to the Coldstream Guards, presumably to please his rich bachelor uncle, who almost certainly purchased him a commission therein. General Stewart died in 1872 and the Account Books start again, for Uncle Kit was most assiduous in keeping them.

Uncle Kit was still a serving officer in 1872 when he fell heir to his uncle. His battalion of the Coldstream was stationed in Dublin and there appears to have been much ‘toing and froing’ between England and Dublin:

“May 1872: Week at Bushell’s Hotel, Dublin, Nina, maid and I. £7 4s 7d” = £7.23 = £289.20

The General must have died mid summer because frequent trips to Edinburgh to see the lawyer ensue:

“4 July 1872. Bill at New Club, Edinburgh 14s 10d” = 73p = £29.20

In late July Uncle Kit seems to have made many donations to Regimental Funds totalling £41 10s 0d = £41.50 = £1,660 and entries under Regimental Expenses cease.

Uncle Christopher (Kit) inherited Arbigland in 1872, retired from the army, and set about leading the life of a man of independent means.

It would seem that the bachelor General Stewart either left the contents of Arbigland elsewhere or perhaps had only occupied a very few rooms. Over the next two years there are many entries for furnishing Arbigland.

Examples (The multiplier in this case is 40):

Gask and Gask – Linen £33 16s 0d = £33.80 = £672

Smith, Dumfries – Furniture £10 2s 10d = £10.14 = £405.60

Halliday, Ironmonger - £38 0s 0d = £38.00 = £1520.00

and so on. The total spent in six months to furnish thirty odd rooms being £345.14 = £13,805

On top of this were considerable Parish burdens:

School salary, Kirkbean - ½ year £7 0s 0d = £280 today.

Preston School - ½ year £2 13s 8d = £2.68 = £107.20

½ year stipend – Minister, Kirkbean - £16 0s 6d = £16.02 = £640.80

Assistant Minister – 1 year - £9 10s 0d = £9.50 = £380

Three years – Parochial buildings, Kirkbean - £9 1s 2d = £9.06 = £362.40

By Christmas 1872 Arbigland had an indoor staff of about eight as the wages for November/December are £25 5s 4d = £25.28 = £1011.20. This brings down an annual staff cost of £151.00 or £6065 in today’s money. This shows that the average wage for indoor staff was about £19.00 per year, so, again, the multiplier for wages does not work. It should be a multiplier of about 490 which would convert the indoor staff cost to about £73,990!

Uncle Kit had an income of about £7000 per year or £275,000 today. Income tax is shown as £20 0s 10d = £20.04 = £781.56 or 0.28%!!

It was deemed necessary to have a second home in the shape of a “Hunting Box” in the Shires. During the first six months of 1872 a total of £19 8s 2d = £19.40 = £756.60 is listed as “expenses in looking for a Residence”. The result was taking a lease at £200 per year (£7,800) of Tixover Grange and Farm on a fully maintaining and repairing basis. Tixover was in the Cottesmore Hunt country near Grantham, Lincs. To celebrate this find a six year old bay mare was purchased from Mr. G. Murphy for £120 0s 0d = £4,800 today. A very expensive hunter.

1874: McKinnel, Dumfries, to building sawmill: £56 3s 0d = £56.15 = £2130.00

Gamekeeping expenses for whole year including keeper’s wages of £50 per annum: £122 8s 3d = £122.40 = £4642.00

Hotel, Newcaste (“Went North to vote for Conservatives”) – 9 shillings = 45p = £17.06. A cheap hotel bill!

Savory and Moore, London – medicinal cigarettes for Mr Miller, tenant in Nethermill – 8s 3d = 41p = £15.55

All property repairs and renewals at Arbigland for the year - £1429.00 = £54,201.00. This includes buying the Barracks, The Carse - £340.00 = £12,896.00 and building two Tallowquhairn cottages - £204.00 = £7737.00

Listed under “Amusements” it would appear that Uncle Kit set himself up as an agent for Scottish Fox Cubs to export to Leicestershire. Perhaps they were bigger and gave better sport.

Keeper, Raehills – 5 cubs £5 0s 0d for Cotteshore Hunt.

J. Hetherington, Chemist, Moffat – 7 cubs £7 0s 0d

Keeper, Whitfield – 2 cubs £2 0s 0d

It is an interesting sideline for both a chemist and a retired Colonel. Another interesting aspect is that all these cubs came out of high hill country. Anyway, this little sideline cost £14.00 = £551.00.

Under “Charity” for 1874 for a full year we find a total of £157 5s 8d = £157.28 = £5965.63.

For example:

Poor at Arbigland £12. 0s 0d

10 shillings to enable old Coldstreamer to buy pick and shovel

etc, etc. Old soldiers were always good for a tip.


Building wing and upstairs at Nethermill - £288.00 = £11,347

Building upstairs at Tallowquhairn £340.00 = £12,896

Insurance – Uncle Kit or a valuer put a rebuild value on the Mansion of £6500 = £256,000, the premium being 10% or £6 12s 6d which equates to £261.00. He valued all other farms, houses and cottages at £9062 on which the premium was £9 4s 0d = £9.20 = £362.50 today.

1896: Two cows for Arbigland Home Farm - £29 17s 6d = £1702.50 from Culgruff and Brickhouse. The travel cost of the one from Culgruff, Crossmichael to Southwick by rail with Grierson, my stockman, 11 shillings = £31.35

1897: Men of means belonged to many Gentlemen’s Clubs. Uncle Kit’s roll was as follows:-

Guard’s Club £10 0s 0d

United Services £8 5s 0d

Army and Navy £7 7s 0d

Travellers £10 10s 0d

Carlton £10 10s 0d

Junior Carlton £8 8s 0d

New Club, Edinburgh £6 6s 0s

Dumfries & Galloway £3 3s 0d

This comes to £64.45 or £3612.00 today, and I gave up the Guards Club about twenty years ago when the subscription reached £800.00.

July: Present to McWilliam, tenant in Canabony who has lost two horses - £20.00 or £1120 today.

Oct: Building Dance Hall, Carsethorn - £114 12s 7d = £114.63 = £6425.00

1898: By now Uncle Kit was 77 and had given up the lease of Tixover Grange, residing almost full time at Arbigland.

Six estate men £263 for full year, or £60,000 today.

Housekeeping (food etc) - £371 for full year = £20,405. Of course this included feeding about nine living-in staff.

Various people, probably boys, were paid one old penny per rat’s tail handed in. This equates to 23p in today’s money, or “five bob” to us oldies. Nice pocket money.

1900: Painting outside woodwork on all houses in Carsethorn - £28 11s 0d = £1550.00

Whitewashing Steamboat Inn - £1 5s 0d = £67.87

July: Eatables for my nephew in S. Africa - £2 4d 0d = £119.46

This would have been a hamper from perhaps Fortnum and Mason, carriage paid, to my Grandfather in the Boer War.

From 1900

By 1900, Uncle Kit was becoming rather shaky and the accounts are taken up by his wife, Georgiana or Aunt Nina. She did not always enter items under the correct headings so research is slightly harder.

Although the elderly, childless couple were leading a quiet life at Arbigland a large staff was still maintained:-

  • ten in the house
  • two in the stables
  • three or four in the gardens
  • six on outside maintenance
  • the gamekeeper.

This comes to twenty-two people and all for £764 0s 0d per year.

Aunt Nina put the names of houseguests at the bottom of her house-keeping pages, as though to justify the consumptions –and how these guests did stay on:- in November 1900 a Miss Elwes stayed for 17 days and four Middletons for 15 days, added to which 99 beaters are shown as being fed for shoots.

Housekeeping (food) seems to have averaged about £50 0s 0d per month or £2715 today.

The old couple seem to have gone south for a spell in the summer, renting a furnished but unstaffed house:- “Carriage, two horses, nine servants, Dumfries to Ascot - £35 16s 0d” = £35.80 = £1944 today.

The Factor at Arbigland was for many years a Mr Curr who lived at Kindar Lodge, New Abbey. He probably factored Shambellie as well. Anyhow, Mr Curr was paid £100 per year and his clerk £9 10s 0d. Mr Curr must have attended to his duties at Arbigland pretty regularly because in one year his travelling expenses to Arbigland accounted to £14 17s 6d = £14.87 or £807.44 today on top of which is listed:-

“Sundry journeys to Ascot £4 12s 6d” = £4.62 = £250.86

Aunt Nina added up the whole year down to ten shilling tips and the 16 week rent of the Ascot house which was £201 or £10,900 today. The grand total for 1900 was £5378 15s 9d – this equates to about £292,000 today BUT we must remember that of her five thousand only £764 consisted of wages and if that item is multiplied by about 300 we have to add in another £230,000. Thus we see that to live life in that style – by no means grand in 1900 – would require a net disposable income well in excess of half a million today.

Uncle Kit died, aged 78, in May 1904. He must have been ill for quite a while because in the summary page for 1904 are many medical expenses. No National Health then.

“2 nurses 8 weeks - £28 9d 0d” = £28.45 = £1559.00

“male nurse 9 weeks - £29 0s 0d” = £1589.00

“Dr Cameron 167 days often twice - £143 7s 0d” = £143.34 = £7855.50

Anyway when he died Aunt Nina and the Estate staff must have got their skates on because by 9th September 1904 our private cemetary was ready to be consecrated by Bishop Campbell of Glasgow. The wall is built of New Abbey granite carted free by the Arbigland tenants and coped with Locharbriggs sandstone and ornate railings. Aunt Nina shows the cost of this construction at £306 18s 6d = £306.92 = £16,819.

Aunt Nina lived on at Arbigland with a few trips away. In the second half of 1904 she stayed away in twelve houses and dispensed tips (in shillings) to the total of £3 6s 9d = £3.33 = £182.50.

The school feast seems to have been an annual event in June. In 1905, 210 children and 18 carters (horse buses) consumed goodies described as:-

“Bread, buns, cakes, milk, ice, butter, sweets” to the tune of £6.00 or £329.00 today.

No adult need have been short of a drink since in 1906 for the year:-

108 gallons of beer - £30 12s 0d = £30.60 = £1626.00

23 gallons of whisky - £24 3s 0d = £24.15 = £1283.00 were consumed.

But there is an entry:-

“Whisky for cow – 4 shillings” = 20p = £10.82

And the cryptic note, “Died”.