Francis Grose

Born in 1731, Captain Francis Grose was the son of a Swiss jeweller who had settled in London. (His father had fashioned the crown for the coronation of George I.) During an eventful and mixed life as a soldier, militia paymaster, artist, herald, lexicographer, draughtsman and antiquary, Grose published several books, including 2 volumes entitled 'Antiquities of Scotland', which he compiled during an Antiquarian tour throughout Scotland. During his travels he met and became friends with Robert Burns who convinced Grose to include, in the second volume of his work, Alloway Kirk. Grose agreed to include it on the condition that Burns composed a poem to accompany the engraving. The poet agreed, and the supernatural tale of witchcraft, became, out of all his poems, his personal favourite and is also his best known and best loved poem today; Tam O'Shanter.

Burns wrote in admiration of Grose to his long standing correspondent,  Frances Anna Dunlop in 1789: "Captn Grose, the well known author of the 'Antiquities of England and Wales' has been through Annandale, Nithsdale and Galloway, in the view of commencing another publication, 'The Antiquities of Scotland'. As he has made his headquarters with Captn Riddel my nearest neighbour, for these two months, I am intimately acquainted with him; and have never seen a man of more original observation, anecdote and remark. Thrown into the army from the Nursery, and now that he is the father of a numerous family who are all settled in respectable situation in life, he has mingled in all societies and known everybody. His delight is to steal thro' the country almost unknown, both as most favourable to his humor and his business…if you discover a cheerful looking grig of an old, fat fellow, the precise figure of Dr Slop, wheeling about your avenue in his own carriage with a pencil and paper in his hand, you may conclude: "thou art the man!" 

In the winter of 1790 Burns sent an incomplete version of 'Tam O'Shanter' to Mrs Dunlop and Grose received the complete version shortly after. Burns's tale is based on a true story about Douglas Graham of Shanter. Graham was a farmer who, while drunk on market day, found that practical jokers had clipped his horse's tail. Scared of what his wife was going to say about it, he concocted a supernatural story about witches grabbing his horse by the tail as he tried to outrun them. 

About  Alloway Kirk Grose writes: "This church is also famous for being the place wherin the witches and warlocks used to hold their infernal meetings, or Sabbaths, and prepare unctions: here too they used to amuse themselves with dancing to the pipes of the muckle-horned Deel. Diverse stories of their horrid rites are still current." 

The following excerpts are on some of the other places of interest from south west Scotland which Captain Grose included in his writings: 

The Collegiate Church of Maybole or Minniboil: "This collegiate church was founded in the year 1441, by Sir Gilbert Kennedy, of Dinnure, ancestor to the Earl of Cassils, for a provost or rector, and several prebendaries; it was consecrated in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary. The founder, by his charter, dated at Edinburgh, the 18th of May, in the year before mentioned, endowed it with all, and singular, his lands of Largenlen and Brocklack, within the county of Carrick". 

St. John the Baptist's Church Ayr: "The ruins of the church of St. John the Baptist stands between the town and the sea, within the fort, built by Oliver Cromwell: it is said to have been entire about sixty years ago: at present the tower only remains: its foundation may still be traced, from which it appears to have been in the form of a cross. Among the archives of this town, is a charter from  Robert II surnamed the Blear-eyed, A.D. 1378, respecting the preserving this church from being destroyed by the blowing of sand; but the church has, it is said, been since quite demolished through want of taste, and the guilt of avarice; though there is evidence of its having been the seat of a parliament, held in the time of  Bruce and  Balliol , and where a number of the nobility and gentry determined upon noble and free motives, for the former: a copy of their names and signatures is still extant, many of them could not write. Tradition says, that Cromwell having taken in this church in order to erect a fort, gave the town a thousand English marks to build another." 

Dunure Castle: "Nothing can succeed the sublimity of the prospect from this castle, whence at one coup d'oeil is seen the conical rock of Lamlash, and over it in the craggy mountains of the Isle of Arran, frequently hiding their heads in the clouds; from hence also may be seen the rock of Ailsa, the coast of Kentire, on both sides of Arran, the coast of Ireland, the islands of Bute and Cumraes, and a great part of the bay of Ayr. By whom, or at what time this castle was built, I have not been able to learn; from its strength and situation it must formerly have been of consequence as a fortress." 

The Old House of Cassilis: " Here is a great square tower, whose walls are of an uncommon thickness, with a court of lesser buildings, beautifully situated on a bank above the water of Dun, and surrounded by extensive woods of old timber. This old tower is ascended by a turnpike staircase; the lower story is vaulted: the walls, as high as the third storey, are said to be sixteen feet thick…This tower has probably undergone many repairs; the present appearance of the building does not bespeak the last to be older than the reign of  Queen Mary, or James VI her son. This house belongs to the Earl of Cassilis." 

The Castle of Dolquharran: "This castle at present consists of an old tower or fortalice, to which is joined a more modern house; probably the addition above-mentioned, from the figures over the door, was made in the year 1679…On the old tower are escutcheons of the arms of  Kennedy, and another coat, seemingly that of  Stewart, but much defaced by age…This venerable building is the property of Thomas Kennedy, of Dunure, Esq. for whom Mr. Adams is erecting a handsome house, of the castellated form, in the adjacent demesnes." 

Greenand Castle: "The Grenand is a high house upon the top of a rock hanging over upon the sea, with some lower new work, lately added to it, but never finished; it is too open to the cold and moisture arising from the sea to be a desirable habitation, and has been designed to be the owners security against a surprise, rather than a constant residence." 

Crosraguel Abbey: "This was a Cluniac abbey, founded by Duncan, son of Gilbert, Earl of Carrick, in the year 1244, as we are informed by the Chartulary of Paisley. There is a charter of King Robert Bruce to this place, which he therein calls Croceragmer de terra de Dungrelach, given at Berwick the eighteenth year of his reign, and also confirmation of all the churches and lands granted to it by Duncan Neil (Nigellus) Robert, his father, and Edward Bruce, his brother, Earls of Carrick, dated at Cambus-kenneth, the 20th of June, and the twenty-fifth year of his reign." 

Turnbury Castle: "This castle belonged to Alexander, Earl of Carrick, who died in the Holy Land, and left an only daughter and heiress named Martha; she about the year 1274, taking the diversion of hunting, with her women and attendants, met by accident Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale in Scotland, and Cleveland in England, a very handsome young man, who after the usual salutes and kisses, which Fordun says were customary in courts, would have proceeded on his way; but the Countess being enamoured with him, seized his horses reins, and with a kind of violence, apparently against his will, led him to her castle of Turnbury, where after detaining him above a fortnight, she married him privately, unknown to the king, or to any of the friends of either party, whence it was currently reported that she had obtained her husband by a rape. On this the king, to punish her for her feudal delinquency, in marrying without his consent, seized her cattle and estates; but by the interposition of friends, and the payment of a sum of money, Robert Bruce shortly after obtained a full restitution." 

Colaine or Culzean Castle: "Here formerly stood an ancient fortalice, of which this is in some degree a part. It was the residence of that branch of the family of the Kennedy's, which afterwards succeeded to the title of Cassilis, in the person of Thomas Kennedy, in default of issue male of the elder branch. At the bottom of the rock, under the castle, are three caves, one beyond the other, well known for the legendary tales related of them, on which account they are celebrated by  Mr. Burns, the Ayrshire Poet, in his excellent poem on Hallow E'en…The edifice here represented was erected by the present Earl, after a plan drawn by Mr. Adams in 1789." (The Adam's designed Culzean Castle was not quite finished when Grose saw it and was included "on account of the beauty of its situation, than for any pretence it has to antiquity, unless it may be considered as an ancient building repaired." 

Mauchline Castle: "This castle stands in the town of Machlin; it formerly belonged to the Earls of Loudoun, and gave the second title to that noble family. In 1789 it was the property, by purchase, of  Gavin Hamilton, Esq." 

Sorn Castle: "This castle is most delightfully situated on a lofty and well wooded rocky terrace, overlooking the water of Ayr. The building, though inhabited, having been lately repaired, seems at least as old as the beginning of the fifteenth century. It was formerly a seat of the Earls of Loudoun. An old lady of that family died there a few years ago, aged ninety-nine." 

The Old Castle or Mansion of Auchinleck: "This was the ancient seat of the family of the Boswells, of Auchinleck: the only remains are the fragment of a ruined wall and window. It is said (and indeed seems) to be of great antiquity…In the adjacent grounds there are the walls of a later mansion, seemingly of the time of Mary or James VI…These at present belong toJames Boswell, Esq. well known to the publick by diverse ingenious publications. He resides in a handsome modern seat adjoining." 

The Abbey of Kilwinning: "This abbey is situated in the Bailiwick of Cunningham, one of the three districts or subdivisions of the shire of Ayr, about three miles North of the Royal Burgh of Irving, near the Irish sea. It was founded in the year 1140, by Hugh Morville, Constable of Scotland, for monks of the Tyronefian order, brought from Kelso; it was dedicated to St. Winning." 

Dean Castle: "This was one of the ancient seats of the  Boyds, Earls of Kilmarnock, for some time favourites of King James III. It was forfeited in the year  1745, afterwards sold to the Earl of Glencairne, and in 1789, belonged to Miss Scot…Upon the tower, under a defaced coat of arms, there is this inscription: James Lord of Kilmarnock. Dame Katherine Creyk Lady Boyd. The Lord James here commemorated, died 1654. He was a firm adherent to the royal cause, for which he was by Oliver Cromwell excepted for pardon, and fined fifteen hundred pounds sterling. In this castle, it is said, Lady Margaret (Mary), sister to King James III was confined during the life of her husband,  Thomas Boyd, Earl of Arran, from whom she was divorced, notwithstanding she had borne him two children. The pretext for this divorce was some legal impediment at the time of marriage. Some say it was a prior contract to the Lord Hamilton. On her husband and the rest of his family falling under the king's displeasure, she went to Denmark, to acquaint him with it; who thereupon fled for refuge to the courts of France and Flanders. In the mean time King James sent for her. She hoping to make her husband's peace, obeyed the summons, when the divorce was procured. After her husband's death, who died abroad, she was married, A.D. 1471, to the Lord Hamilton, then created Earl of Arran." 

Corshill House: "This ruin stands about a mile from Stewarton, in the main road leading from thence to Paisley. It was the seat of the family of Cunningham. The last person who dwelt in it was Sir David Cunningham, thence denominated of Corshill. His grandson is now Lord Lisle. At a small distance from this ruin are some small remains of a more ancient building belonging to the same family." 

Grose's travels prompted Burns to write 'On Captain Grose's Peregrinations through Scotland': 

"Hear Land o'Cakes and brither Scots, 
Frae Maidenkirk to Johnny Groat's _ 
If there's a hole in a' your coats, 
I rede you tent it: 
And faith he'll prent it! 
If in your bounds ye chance to light 
Upon a fine, fat, fodgel wight 
O' stature short but genius bright, 
That's he, mark weel - 
And wow! He has an unco sleight 
O' cauk and keel…" 

Grose died in 1791, shortly after publishing his work on Scottish Antiquities, after suffering an apoplectic fit while visiting Ireland. He was buried near Dublin. 

Grose left us several important publications which he illustrated himself including: 

'Antiquities of England and Wales' (1773-87) 
'A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' (1785) 
'A Provincial Glossary' (1787) 
'A Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons' 
'Antiquity of Scotland'

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