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The Clyde from the Source to the Sea
Chapter IV. Historical


Burton in his History of Scotland says: “It is in the year 80 of the Christian era that the territory in later times known as Scotland comes out of utter darkness and is seen to join the current of authentic history. In that year Julius Agrieola brought Roman troops north of the line, winch, hundreds of years afterwards, became the border dividing1 Scotland from England. .    .    .

“The neck of land between the Firths of Clyde and Forth appears to have been the boundary where the general found that the outer line of Roman acquisition could be most effectually marked. Agrieola ran defensive works across this line; and these were the beginning of the fortified rampart, renewed and strengthened from time to time, of which some remnants may still be seen.”

Agricola for five years remained in the country establishing forts and making occasional campaigns, gradually pushing northwards until the famous battle of' Mons Grampius was fought, somewhere probably north of the Tay, but authorities are divided on this, as upon many other matters of these far-back times. Agricola appears to have been a skilful general as well as military engineer, as his forts were numerous and well planned. In A.D. 85 he was recalled by orders from head-quarters, it is believed through envy at his success. The chain of forts which he erected from the Forth to the Clyde, after subduing the tribes to the south of the latter river, gave him a base of operations from whence he proceeded in his more northern and last campaign. The tribes to the north of this line appear to have been the Caledonians, or Picts as they were known later on, a race of a warlike character. Thus we are told by a Roman historian, Dion Cassius, that “they have neither castles nor cities; nor do they till the ground, but live by their flocks, by hunting, and on the fruits of trees. They go naked and dwell in tents. They are addicted to plunder, make war in chariots, and have small but fleet horses.” He further tells us that they are armed with a shield and short spear, and carry short daggers. This description applies to the “two great nations, the Caledonians and Mieatm;” the latter, however, were said to “dwell near the wall which divides the island into two parts, and beyond them are the Caledonians.”

These impetuous natives, on the retreat of the Roman army southwards and the absence of Agricola, descended from their “rugged and arid mountains, and desert plains abounding in marshes,” and made reprisals, carrying with rapid and fierce attack the Roman forts and driving back their legions. The Emperor Hadrian, however, visited Britain (a.d. 120), and determined to make a division further south, so as to protect the Britons who had become

Romanized from the Caledonian tribes of the north, and consequently built a wall extending from the Tyne to the Solway. This no doubt served the purpose to some extent and for a time, but the Romans had a valiant, restless people to deal with, who paid little respect to the warlike emissaries of the Mistress of the World. Hence about a.d. 140 Lollius Urbicus, a lieutenant of the Emperor Antoninus, was sent to deal with the refractory tribes who lived to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, in which he seemed to be successful, as he appears to have penetrated as far north as the Moray Firth. Lollius, like Agricola, believed in having a base of operations to operate against the Caledonians of the north and the inhabitants of the country to the south, as he completed the line of defences begun by the latter general, and built a wall from the Forth to the Clyde pretty much on the line of Agricola’s forts.

The northern tribes appear to have highly resented this abridgment of their liberties, and made constant efforts to overturn the Roman power. They were finally successful in bursting through this new barrier, and apparently did not stop until they had passed through the more southern wall of Hadrian. For a time they appear to have held this territory, harassing the provincial Britons of the southern part of the country, and levying “blackmail” on these more wealthy and probably more peaceful tribes. Such a state of things did not suit the central authority at Rome, and about A.D. 208 the Emperor Severus came to Britain to look into matters in person, and subdued the tribes once more with his legions. The passion for building walls still existed as strongly as ever, and Severus built another somewhat on the line of Hadrian’s.

For about two hundred years after little is known of the events happening north of this wall. About the year 306 the restless Caledonians seem again to have made an excursion south, only to be driven back by the Romans, who, still believing in their walls, had the one between Forth and Clyde put in complete repair, and added to its strength about the year 368. The district lying between the walls was known to the Romans as the province of Valentia. The Romans finally abandoned the district about the year 446, and their ancient foes of the north were not long in following up this advantage, and renewing their raids upon their neighbours to the south. Those tribes formed themselves into a community for purposes of defence, from which arose the Cumbrian or Strathclyde kingdom, of which what we now call Lanarkshire constituted a portion. Mr. M'Gregor, in his History of Glasgow, says:

“Running through this early British kingdom was the now famous river Clyde, a name derived with little or no alteration from the old British or Welsh word Clyd, signifying warm or sheltered. Even in these primitive days Clydesdale was celebrated for its fruit crops, for there is an obscure reference by one of the early chroniclers to the ‘orchardes of Lenerck.’ The metropolis of this region was Alclwyd, or Petra Cloithe (Rock of the Clyde), afterwards called by the Scoto-Irish Dunbritton (Hill of the Britons), from which, by an easy transition, comes the present name of Dumbarton.”

Speaking of these occurrences, Burton says: “Cumbria or Cambria was the name given to the northern territory retained by the Romanized Britons, a territory described as a continuation northward of their Welsh territory. Gradually, however, the name of Strathclyde was given to that portion reaching from the Solway northward, in fact the portion within modern Scotland. The word Cumbria continued to be frequently used as equivalent to Strathclyde.”

The walls built by the Romans appear to have been much the same in design, that is to say, they consisted generally of a wall with a ditch. In the case of the earlier works the material used was mainly earth, stones being placed where the foundations were to be on marshy ground. The later wall raised by Severus was largely composed of stone, with towers at intervals. The wall between the Forth and Clyde appears to have had a vallum or ditch of from twelve to fifteen feet wide, and the earth taken out was used to make the agger or wall, the latter being raised on the south side. A military road or causeway adjoins this work. From inscribed stones found on the line of this wall we find that a great part of it was executed by the Legio Secunda Augusta, and it is thought, from the skill and celerity with which the Roman legions executed such defensive works, that although the length is about thirty miles, yet it might be finished in a few months. [Perhaps no part of Britain has been the scene of so many sanguinary conflicts as the vicinity of the Roman Wall.]

“The Romans and the Caledonians, the Southern and Northern Britons, the Saxons, the Piets, the Welch, and the Scots, had all fallen on these fields before the plains of Falkirk and Bannockburn were whitened with the bones of the more modern English and Scots. ‘ The sore battaile of Camlan,’ in which...

The line of this wall can still be readily traced at parts, and at the stations made out. Recently a portion of the wall and military way was exposed in some excavations at Kirkintilloch.

Many sculptured stones and objects of interest, of Roman origin, have been discovered from time to time in the line of the wall and in the Clyde district, and are now preserved in the Hunterian Museum. Not many years ago a fine bowl of Samian ware was dug up in Glasgow Green, and is now preserved in the Kelvingrove Industrial Museum. This bowl is supposed to date back to near the beginning of the Christian era, and may have at one time in other lands served at the banquets of the great, when the order was given to

“Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!”

On the parish church of Baldernock, a few miles to the Arthur and Modred fell, was probably fought in the same vicinity. The following passage of an old romance presents a vivid picture of one of these battles:—

“King Bohort so smot ozan,
0 the helme that hoge man,
That he sat astoned uprizt,
& nist whether it was dai or nizt—
—Ichon other so leyd beir,
That it dined into the air;
Also thicke the aruwe schoten,
In sonne bem so doth the moten;
Gaue lokes al so thick flowe,
So gnattes ichil avowe.
Ther was so michel dust riseing,
That sen ther was sonne schineing;
The trumpeing and the taburninge
Dcde togider the knitztes flinge.”
—Leyden's Notes to Wilson's “Clyde."

north of Glasgow, and not far from the line of the Roman wall, is a stone with the following Latin inscription:

DEO . OPTIMO . MAXIMO ! P.FS-QS. MD.CCXCV.

The year mentioned is the date when the present church was built, an earlier edifice having stood upon the same site. In Dr. Bruce’s description of Hadrian’s Wall a stone is described having an inscription almost similar so far as the three first words are concerned, but with Jove as the deity addressed. The similarity suggests a Roman origin for the stone, or at least for the form of the dedication.

The Rev. H. R. HaweisJ in The Light of the Ages, says: “ The Romans had no special cosmogony—no favourite gods—eveiyone was allowed to bring his own—all seemed welcome, all were equally accepted by the state, which, if it gave any theological unity at all to the national Pantheon, only did so by a rather misty assertion of the general supremacy of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.”

The withdrawal of the Romans did not, however, leave the natives in undisturbed possession of their territories, as about the middle of the fifth century the Saxon element asserted itself in the south-eastern part of the countiy, and about the year 500 the Scots settled in Argyle. These Scots were also known as Dalriads, their original territory having been the northern part of Antrim. Here, then, we see the country nearly divided amongst four different peoples, all of whom appear to have been actuated by an aggressive spirit. Consequently they were in incessant commotion, which was heightened at a later period by the inroads of the Norsemen.

About the year G85 a great battle appears to have been fought at a place called Dun-nechtan or Nechtans Mere, north of the Tay, between the Northumbrian Saxons who had invaded the country and the Piets, in which the latter were victorious. This battle appears to have had a greater importance than many of the other struggles in which these various tribes were engaged. Thus Burton in his History of Scotland says: “The Saxon army was destroyed; the frontier of the Forth was abandoned; and the Kingdom of Northumbria, taking its limits at the Tweed, foreshadowed the boundary line between the England and Scotland of later times.”

About this time Great Britain appears to have been divided broadly into four nationalities. The ancient Britons, who had still preserved something of their original characteristics notwithstanding the four centuries of Roman occupation, were distributed more or less along the western coast throughout Cornwall, Wales, and Cumbria. The Saxons, who, having been invited by these Britons to help them oppose the Roman power, preferred to remain on the island, and spread themselves over a great part of England and the east of Scotland. The Picts, who still held their own against all comers, appear to have inhabited the country to the north of the wall between Forth and Clyde; and the Scots were established in the West Highlands. The struggle for existence went on; the Picts and Scots struggling over long years for the mastery, until finally a union resulted in 843 under Kenneth II., King of the Scots.

During those early times the Strathclyde Britons must have been more or less affected by the movements of their active and predatory neighbours. The territory spoken of as Strathclyde appears to have embraced Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Stirlingshire, and Dumbartonshire (in which latter shire the capital was situated), and they appear to have preserved an independent existence till after the union of the Picts and Scots; after that event it became incorporated with the larger state about the time of Kenneth III. or Malcolm II. The latter prince appears to have been an able general, and extended the boundaries of the now rising kingdom of Scotland. In this he had to contend both against the Northumbrians and the Danes; the latter sea-rovers having for some time infested the coast both east and west.

A few years afterwards, in 1030, the then reigning King Duncan was slain by a northern chieftain, whose name and deeds live again in the tragedy of Macbeth, who himself fell in a fight with Malcolm, a son of Duncan, the latter being proclaimed king:

“Hail king! for so thou art; behold, where stands
The usurper’s cursed head: the time is free;
I see thee compass’d with thy kingdom’s pearl,
That speak my salutation ill their minds;
Whose voices I desire aloud with mine,—
Hail King of Scotland.”

This Malcolm, surnamed Canmore, reigned for thirty-six years, and married Margaret, a Saxon princess and sister to Edgar Atheling, the heir to the Saxon line in England. He was an able prince, who upheld the position of the now growing country of Scotland against its foes, and died in battle against the Normans at Alnwick Castle in 1093. Passing over the short reigns of Donald Bane, Edgar, and Alexander I., we find David, the youngest son of Malcolm Canmore, succeeding to the throne in 1124. He did much for the improvement of the country both commercially and ecclesiastically, and died in 1153 after reigning twenty-nine years. The succeeding reigns of Malcolm IV., William, and Alexander II., until that of Alexander III., are more or less marked by struggles for the consolidation of the regal power or extension of the same.

The seaward portion of Strathclyde must have now suffered much from the incursions of the Norse sea-rovers, as from time to time their ships entered the firth and their warlike crews threw themselves upon the country with the suddenness and celerity of sea-birds. These adventurous strangers carried on their raids for the long period of eight centuries, and especially along our north-eastern and north-western coasts have left many traces of their inroads and occupation. They have doubtless contributed much of the sea-blood in our stock, as the earlier races do not seem to have been distinguished by nautical enterprise.

Motherwell, a Glasgow poet (1797-1835), gives us the following stirring song of the Danish sea-king:

“Lords of the wide-spread wilderness of waters we bound free,
The haughty elements alone dispute our sovereignty;
No landmark doth our freedom let, for no law of man can mete
The sky which arches o’er onr head—the waves which kiss our feet.
The warrior of the land may back the wild horse in his pride.
But a fiercer steed we dauntless breast—the untamed ocean tide;
And a noble tilt our bark careers as it greets the saucy wave,
While the herald storm peals o’er the deep the glories of the brave.”

The reign of Alexander III. is marked especially by a determined attempt of the Norsemen under King Haco, who with a large fleet entered the firth in 1263, and attempted to land his forces at or near where the town of Largs now stands. It appears that the cause of this attack on the Scottish kingdom was the question of the sovereignty of the Western Islands. The circumstances of this early battle seem remarkably like in many respects those which accompanied the attack on the shores of England in the reign of Elizabeth. In both cases a violent storm interfered with the plan of attack by disabling part of the attacking fleet. The battle of Largs, however, was in no case a sea-fight; it was more an attempt at invasion of the country with a large army conveyed in sailing vessels, as the Normans had done at Hastings nearly two hundred years before.

The storm burst upon the Norsemen, and King Haco could only land a part of his forces. These were routed by the Scots. Afterwards some more of the scattered fleet landed their contingents, and the battle was renewed and carried on for a whole day. But the victory was not for Haco. The forces of nature and the determination of the Scottish warriors were too much for the valour of the sea-rovers, who were at length finally beaten off to their ships. With a military courtesy which one would hardly have expected in that rude age the Norsemen were afterwards allowed to bury their dead on the field of battle, and many eairns and tumuli still, or until recent years, stood near Largs as silent memorials of that eventful day in our history.

From the higher slopes we can still view the main features of the scene as they appeared when—

“The King of Norse in summer tyde,
Puff’d up with pow’r and might,
Landed in fair Scotland, the isle
With mony a hardy knight.
The tydings to our good Scots king
Came as he sat at dine,
With noble chiefs in brave array,
Drinking the blood-red wine.”

King Haco drew off his shattered forces, and hied him away back to Norroway; but his proud heart could not bear defeat, and he died at Orkney.

Carlyle in his Early Kings of Konvay says: “To this day, on a little plain to the south of the village, now town, of Largs, in Ayrshire, there are sandstone cairns and monumental heaps, and, until within a century ago, one huge, solitary, upright stone, still mutely testifying to a battle there,—altogether clearly to this battle of King Hakon’s; who, by the Norse records too, was in these neighbourhoods at that same date, and evidently in an aggressive, high kind of humour.”

In these early days the kingdoms or districts of Northumbria and Cumbria appear to have stretched side by side from the Forth to the Humber on the one hand, and from the Clyde to the Mersey on the other; almost dividing the country in a north-and-south direction equally between them, the dividing line following somewhat the main watershed of the country.

The ancient kingdom of Strathclyde comes into prominence, amidst the confusion which surrounds a great deal of the history of these early times, through the labours of Kentigern, or, as he is better known, St. Mungo. Born about the middle of the sixth century, he is supposed to have established himself as a religions recluse in a cell on the banks of the Molendinar, latterly establishing a church in the district, where, some think, the Romans had a station, and which may be considered as the point around which the city of Glasgow gradually developed itself. St. Mungo died about the year 600, and tradition says he was buried on a spot near where the eastern end of the present cathedral now stands.

About the same time (560) Columba established his religious community in Iona, and it is said he afterwards visited Iventigern in his district. Many stories have come down to us of St. Mungo’s piety and miraculous power; and doubtless he would, like Columba, exercise considerable influence on the wild tribes amongst whom he dwelt. In speaking of Strathclyde, Burton says: “Strathclyde has less renown from its political history than as the theatre of the triumphs of St. Iventigern.”

Both in a religious and social aspect little is known of the condition of the people in these early times. The early religion of the people, according to references by Roman writers, appears to have been Druidism; but as to its essential characteristics, we are left much to speculation. The habitations appear to have been formed in some cases of branches or twigs and clay, as Columba’s early dwellings are recorded to have been. The remains of lake-dwellings, founded on piles driven into the water, stone towers or brochs, and earth-houses, are left for the antiquary to investigate and unravel their use and purpose as best he may. The part of the country held by the Romans would soon show the skill and taste of that nation of builders, and the Romanized inhabitants would no doubt learn some of the lessons taught them by the buildings which were erected.

The Druid performed his mysterious rites in the gloom of the forest, and the Roman soldier raised his altar to one or other of his mythological heroes, and to the mighty Jove. In an article on “Ancient Tumuli,” in The Scots Mechanics’ Magazine, 1825, it is stated that “On Dychmount Hill, near Glasgow, which is situated in the centre of the Rutherglen and Cathkin tumuli, a thick stratum of charcoal has been discovered, which has lain concealed for time immemorial under a stratum of fine loam near the summit of the hill; and that on seeing the charcoal for the first time the country people expressed no surprise, because the tradition was familiar that their forefathers had been in the habit of lighting the Beltane on the summit of this hill. The Beltane is generally believed to have derived its appellation from the divinity Belus, or Bel of the Babylonians, who is supposed at some distant date to have had his worshippers in our island.” It was a rude age, the people restless and ever engaged in struggles either for their daily food—whether with the wild beasts which then roamed through the forests, or with a soil whose return was as yet scanty and limited from the want of skill of the agriculturist—or, again, in contention with their neighbours for the mastery over the lands which stretched around.

Whatever Christian influence there may have been, and which might have entered during the later part of the Roman occupancy, does not seem to have been marked. It was a most unpromising outlook in many ways for the mission of such men as Columba, Kentigern, and Aidan. Yet these men, by calm perseverance over the many difficulties which surrounded them, by the purity of their lives and the force of a noble example, inspired by a high religious purpose, where Christian gentleness was opposed to all the rough and warlike energy which dwelt in those to whom their mission was addressed, slowly gained an influence over the various districts in which they laboured, sowing a seed for good which, with many changes during the long course of the ages, has yet sprung up and grown and increased, we now reaping the fruits of their labours.

Speaking of this, Dr. Ross says: “During the long period of eight centuries that elapses from the departure of the Romans to the War of Independence, some shining figures light up the deep obscurity in which Scottish history is involved. Of contemporary literature there was, unfortunately, little or nothing, and the lives of men like Ninian, and Kentigern, and Columba have come down to us with halos of imaginative superstition that make biographical criticism well-nigh impossible.”

And as bearing upon this subject, and showing the condition of the people inhabiting the district of the Tyne, we have the following in a work on the river Tyne by the late J. Guthrie:—“During the long dark night which ensued on the cessation of the Roman power, and the establishment of the Saxon dominion, we get no glimpse of the Tyne, nor, indeed, of anything certain in English history. Fearful and bloody inroads of Picts and Scots, arriving shoals of Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, with their murderous warfare on the ancient inhabitants the Britons, is what we know to have taken place; and when, after this darkness of a century and a half, history again throws a dim light on the scene, we find the district forming part of the sometimes dual, and sometimes united, Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Under the Northumbrian kings Christianity is again introduced among the pagan inhabitants by Paulinus from Kent and Aid an from Iona. The foundations of the great see of Durham are laid by Aidan in the church formed at Lindisfarne, or Holy Island. The monastic system is established and rapidly spreads. Churches and monasteries are founded at Monkwear-mouth and Jarrow, and we find the old Pons AElii, the military station of the Romans, referred to by the appellation of Monk Chester. The Cathedral of St. Wilfrid, now the Abbey Church of Hexham, is erected. The stately and beautiful Priory of TynennHh rises through the piety and munificence of Northumbrian kings, who endowed the place with princely gifts. The earliest religious house is said to have been founded at Tynemouth by King Edwin, and church of stone first built by King Oswald.”

Writing on “The Early Christianity of Northumbria,” the late Dean Stanley (see Good Words, 1875), speaking of the two sources from which Northumbria was Christianized, says: “At the end of the sixth century, when the first Italian missionaries landed in Kent, Northumbria had, as far as we know, remained more completely beyond the reach of the Christian religion than Southern or Western Britain. We hear of the first British martyr,

St. Albyn, in the southern provinces; jbut there is no story of any such martyr in the earlier days of Northumbria, We hear of the first British missionary, St. Ninian, on the coast of Cumberland, in the fourth century, and on a lonely hill in Galloway still survives the contemporary gravestone of some who would seepi to have been his own companions.” He then speaks of the advent of Paulinus. A stagnation in the new religious life afterwards followed, and Aidan from Iona was sent. “ He started on the long journey over highlands and lowlands, and did not pause till he came to a spot which reminded him of the distant island home that he had left on that western coast of Scotland. This spot was Lindisfarne, which, from his settlement there, became the Holy Island in his eyes, and in the eyes of those that followed him, even as Iona had been before.”

When we see across so many centuries the use to which King Oswald turned the irregular bands of Irish and Scottish missionaries to fill up the vacant spaces which Edwin and Paulinus, with their more statesman-like and established order, had left unoccupied, we can now see clearly that without some such co-operation Christianity might have died out from the old kingdom of Northumbria, and generations would have been lost to the Christian civilization of England.

Of St. Ninian we are told (History of Stirling si tire, 1817) that “The Romanized Britons of Valentia, who, by Bede and the contemporary writers of the middle ages, are called the Southern Picts, were converted, about the beginning of the fifth century, by Ninian or Ringan.” He appears to have been born in Scotland about the year 360, and founded a church at his birthplace, Whithorn, which, being built of stone, was called Candida Casa. jMmian died in the year 432, and the day of his death appears to have been long celebrated, and his name associated with many places throughout Scotland.

It is usual for archaeologists to speak of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages, and doubtless the earlier inhabitants of the Clyde valley would have methods of living, and implements alike primitive. Their early vessels In which they moved about in the then wide estuary, which must have stretched across the valley where the city of Glasgow now stands, do not show any special marks of skill, as the various canoes which have been found in the sandy substratum of our now busy thoroughfares are simply “dug-outs.' We must not, however, suppose that because the races which inhabited a certain tract of the earth’s surface were of a low type, that therefore all its inhabitants were in a like condition. Doubtless the various developments overlapped each other, as they do at the present day, when our high civilization is often contemporary with very primitive habits.


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