History of Rockhall

Rockhall, located six miles east of Dumfries, is an altered tower house which dates from the 16th century. This was home to Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, a notorious persecutor of Covenanters. 

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There was a chapel near Rockhall Mote which is mentioned in 1223 when it was in the possession of William of Glencairn. At the end of the 13th century or the beginning of the 14th Robert, son of Robert de Brus Lord of Annandale, granted the chapel of Rockhall to the church of St Mary of Guisborough.

When the first tower was built at Rockhall is not known, however the estate originally belonged to the Kirkpatrick of Closeburn family. In 1412 Gilbert Grierson, 2nd of Lag, married Isabel Kirkpatrick, daughter of Sir Duncan Kirkpatrick of Torthorwald, and Rockhall eventually passed to their son Vedast Grierson and so into the Grierson family with whom it would remain until the 1950s.

It seems likely that a tower was built either by the Kirkpatricks or the Griersons in the 15th century and this is represented by the westernmost part of the current building. The tower was oblong on plan and aligned approximately north to south. Thick walls enclose a vaulted basement chamber, lit by slit windows, with an internal floor area measuring around 3.7m by 2.7m.

In 1526 James V erected the lands of Rockhall into a feudal barony for John Grierson of Lag. Late in the 16th century the tower was extended to the east, tripling the length of the building, with two storeys over a vaulted basement to match the original tower. Sir William Grierson of Lag was knighted by James VI in 1608 and a sasine by Grierson to his wife, Nicholas Maxwell, daughter of William Maxwell, 5th Lord Herries of Terregles, in 1610 states “All and haill the place of Rockhall laitlie biggit be the said Sir William”. This may refer to the aforementioned extension or possibly to further remodelling early in the 17th century

Elizabeth Crichton

Elizabeth CrichtonElizabeth Crichton- 4th Daughter of Margaret Dalzell and Sir Robert Grierson 5th Baronet of Lag (The family had moved on from the days of their notorious ancestor Grierson of Lag, persecutor of the covenanters) Elizabeth was born in 1779 at Rockhall. Elizabeth’s father died at the age of 106, it was reported in his funeral records that there was a two mile from Rockhall to Mouswald church lined with people wishing to pay their respects to the grand old man.

Dr James CrichtonIn 1810 at the age of 31, Elizabeth married 45 year old Dr James Crichton who had returned two years earlier from India, where he served as physician to the Governor General (Richard, the brother of the Duke of Wellington) where he had made his fortune through trading in silks and opium (allegedly)

Elizabeth’s new home was Friar’s Carse. Dr Crichton died in 1823, he left £200,000 to his trustees, headed by Elizabeth. Mrs Crichton’s initial idea of a university failed because the existing Scottish universities feared competition and probably lobbied the government not to support the scheme.

She cared deeply about the plight of the mentally ill and The Crichton Institute for “lunatics” opened on the 3rd June 1839.

Crichton Royal Institution (acquired royal status the following year when the Crichton Act of 1840 received the signature of Queen Victoria) as it was known until 1950 was “to be the best in Europe” said Mrs Crichton because it had to be worthy of her husbands memory.

Elizabeth died in 1862, she was a widow for almost 40 years. Her university dream came true 170 years after her initial proposal…..

The Monkey

Grierson had a pet monkey, which would often blow a whistle.

The servants tired of the creature after Grierson died, and killed the monkey.

They were not so easily rid of the sound of it.

The noise of whistling was still heard repeatedly, believed to be the ghost of the pet.

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