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Annan The History Town

Enlivening Annan's past to create a brighter future for the town...

Boomtown Annan

Discover More about Annan’s famous 19th Century pioneers , artists and military leaders


The Rev Edward Irving, son of tanner Gavin Irving and Mary Lowther, was born in Butts Street, Annan. Educated at Annan Academy and Edinburgh University, he was licensed to preach in Kirkcaldy in 1815.  From 1818 until 1821 he was Assistant to Thomas Chalmers and the following year was ordained in Annan, where he had preached his first sermon. He was called to the Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden, London, drawing crowds of thousands. In 1823 he married Isabella Martin (1797-1854).


Irving was excommunicated by the Presbytery of London in 1830 for publishing his doctrines of the humanity of Jesus Christ. Following a trial in Annan Old Parish Church on 13 March 1833 he was found guilty of heresy and deposed. Before returning to London, he preached to large crowds. He was ordained in London as an Angel in the Catholic Apostolic Church.  Moving to Glasgow, Edward Irving died the following year and was buried in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral.


A statue by sculptor James Dods was originally erected in front of Annan Town Hall. It is now in the grounds of Annan Old Parish Church. There is a plaque and memorial window in Glasgow Cathedral.


Hugh Clapperton was born in Annan on 18 May 1788, youngest son of surgeon George Clapperton (1753-1816), and his first wife Margaret Johnstone (1752-1792).


Having served on vessels travelling to North America, the East Indies and in Canada, Clapperton was promoted to Lieutenant. From Scotland he accompanied Dr Walter Oudney, Royal Navy, on a mission to penetrate northern Africa. Major Dixon Denham, two Jewish attendants and shipwright William Hillman completed the team, which arrived in Tripoli in November 1821.


A year later they became the first Europeans to see Lake Chad. Denham travelled east, while the others journeyed west to seek the course of the river Niger. Clapperton reached Kano and Sokoto in January 1824. He met up again with Denham and they headed home, where an account of their expedition was published.


On a second expedition, Clapperton travelled first to Lagos before moving inland. He reached Sokoto in very ill health. Before his death on 13 April 1827 he entrusted his papers to Richard Lander, his assistant, who in a later expedition succeeded in discovering the Niger estuary.


Clapperton Road in Annan is named after Hugh Clapperton. His portrait is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


Dirom had the greatest influence of anyone on  the growth  of Annan.  A man of national importance, with connections to all the leading figures of Georgian Britain, soldier, MP, agriculturalist, engineer, builder, writer and  poet, Fellow of the Royal Society.  My book on him is on sale in Annan Museum.  He was born in Banff, and married  Magdalen Pasley, who inherited great wealth and Mount Annan estate,  and was cousin of  to the Four Knights of Eskdale, the Malcolm brothers,  with whom  Dirom fought in India .


 Served in India as Deputy Adjutant General in the defeat of Tippoo Sultan and features in the painting of that event. Made Colonel in the Nile campaign and rose rapidly in the Napoleonic Wars to be Deputy Quartermaster for Scotland doing surveying, also  in charge of defence of N W Britain based in Liverpool. As County Commissioner of Supply  he considered   that invasion by the French was highly likely in SW Scotland because moving troops to defend the area was impossible given the state of the roads. He called his friend Thomas Telford to Mount Annan, his career having been helped by Mrs Dirom, and together they surveyed the area and Dirom oversaw the work of building a new road, cutting 37 miles off the journey from Carlisle to Stranraer, along with building all the bridges needed to cross rivers.


He designed and had built the model village of Brydekirk, then Bridekirk, its bridge and new road system, cutting the travel time from Langholm to Dumfries.  It was the first model village in private hands in Scotland and was designed to use water power for mills and have good housing for workers, but no pub allowed!   Later Mrs Dirom paid for the church.


By surveying the land and being a geologist he was able to supply his building projects using stone quarries, brickworks, sawmills and a reservoir, and to improve his land with lime from limekilns.



This was the Agrarian Revolution and he spearheaded it here. He signed the petition for enclosure of common land, and introduced new farming methods e.g. his overseer at Mount Annan, Wm. Halliday, invented  the disc  harrow.   Dirom spent £3000 on improving his land.  Poor grazing for a few horses was turned into fields growing grain. He turned Annan from a  port importing grain into one which exported it.  He saw that Annan got its first bank, having seen what his friend Henry Duncan had done at Ruthwell.


From 1806 to 1811 he represented Dumfries at Westminster, rewarding the folk of Annan by giving them the silver snuff mull, still used today in Riding of the Marches.


Dirom led the turning of Bridge House in 1803 from a hotel into a school, Annan Academy, and Carlyle taught there. This was too small, so in 1891 he oversaw the purchase of a site in Ednam Street for the building of the next Academy.  Meanwhile his wife built a girls’ school in Annan and paid the salary of the teacher.



1 Brydekirk  village, bridge and church, a granddaughter is buried here.

2 Annan bridge, he laid the foundation stone.

3 Bridge House turned into a school

4 Annan Old Parish church: he was the main force behind  the building of it, and reserved the plot for the mausoleum which contains the bodies of him, his wife, and some  of his children and grandchildren. In the church is the memorial erected in memory of his daughter   Christina who died in Calcutta aged 26.

5 Mount Annan, once  called Cleuchhead,  renamed by the  Diroms who added a top floor. It was completely rebuilt by their grandson but burned down in 1926. The gates, lodge and stables remain. A dower house was built later, and called Cleuchhead, overlooking  the river.


1 Robert Burns  was entertained at Mount Annan in 1795.

2 Henry Raeburn painted 4 portraits of the Diroms and their two eldest sons.

3 Thomas Telford, career launched by the Diroms and a long  time collaborator in  building of roads and bridges.

4 Henry Duncan minister and founder of saving banks, family friend.

5 Thomas Carlyle, began his career as a tutor at Mount Annan to the elder sons, as did

6 Edward Irving

7 James Hogg the Ettrick Shepherd, poet, wrote a poem on the deaths close together in Liverpool of two daughters of the Diroms, and  inspired Dirom to write verse.




                           Dirom’s plans for the building of Brydekirk model village


Leading Scottish artist in last quarter of 19th century; 400 works known, 29 exhibited in Royal Academy exhibitions, 141 in the Royal Scottish Academy exhibitions, 30 paintings now in Scottish galleries, 6 in Annan Museum and 2 in Annan Town Hall. Official artist in Westminster Abbey for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee service in 1887, resulting in one of the largest paintings in the Royal Collection. It contains 278 portraits and took three years to paint, at 92 x 120 inches.


Born in Eaglesfield, illegitimate son of two of workers at Scottsbrig, the farm of Carlyle’s brother, Ann Lockhart and William Ewart. He was brought up in Annan by Lockhart grandparents at Orchard Fold in Bruce Street, on which there is a plaque.  Attended Annan Public School, and aged 14 given a place at Royal Scottish Academy Schools in Edinburgh, where he was given lodgings in home of Dr John Carlyle, brother of Thomas. Had first work shown in 1861 at Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art exhibition, aged 15. Had TB, and RSA paid for him to go to Australia for 3 years, 1863- 66, which cured him. 


Rapid rise in popularity, best work considered to be watercolour, mainly Scottish east coast scenes and illustrating Scottish history, many turned into engravings e.g. for R.L.Stevenson’s  Notes on  Edinburgh. Weak health meant he went abroad in winter to Majorca and Spain, later Italy, which  resulted  in  large output. Married his RSA Tutor’s niece and they had 5 surviving children; it was daughter Theodora who donated his work to Annan. Became an RSA tutor himself, living in a fine house in Morningside. The local press was keen to report his presence here in 1879 when he came to draw the High Street in Dumfries for his retrospective view of Burns’ Funeral.


In 1875 the family moved to London to West Cromwell Road and then to a fine house in Phillimore Gardens, Holland Park. He became part of an art circle, with friends like Alma Tadema and John McWhirter, but still had his Edinburgh base and kept up his foreign travel.   It was in Edinburgh in 1886 that he escorted the Queen around the International Exhibition and she greatly admired his Spanish paintings. He was a charming man, and she appointed him the following year to paint her Golden Jubilee.


Theodora Lockhart gave to Annan all the Jubilee letters and notes kept by her father in two large volumes, but no trace of them emerged from storage under the Town Hall when the museum was set up.  They contained evidence of the huge undertaking that those three years  became: there were endless sittings, many fitted in when visiting Royals were here, e.g. Grand Duke Serge of Russia, Indian princes etc.. He had a spy hole behind the high altar in the service and  based his work on a long view from there focused on the Queen in the centre with all her family round her. She and her daughter, the Empress of Germany, visited his studio and were pleased with progress. The toll on Lockhart was enormous, involving  letter writing,  appointments and  sittings  as well as painting.


The 1890s were years of great success mainly as a portrait painter, with many fine examples of  his work  eg in the Palace of Westminster is the portrait of Speaker Peel. He still  continued to exhibit   regularly e.g. at the Paris Salon Exhibitions, and at the 1901 Paris International Exhibition where his self portrait, wearing the gold medal from the Edinburgh exhibition of 1886, itself won a posthumous medal .

Annan’s Two Railway Stations and the Solway Viaduct

The railway station at the southern end of St John’s Road was built in 1848 for the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway Company. It was subsequently managed by the Glasgow and South Western Railway, British Rail and currently by Abellio ScotRail.  A fine two-storey sandstone design in the Italianate style with columned entrance porch and incorporating the station master’s house, it is regarded as one of the best-surviving early stations in south-west Scotland.  The original lattice-girder iron bridge to the down platform survives with modifications.   The signal box dates from 1877 and is important as a surviving Glasgow and South Western Railway Type 1 box.  The glazed platform roof with elegant cast-iron columns and the small single-storey brick building at the west end were added circa 1900.  Modernisation in the last 25 years has meant the disappearance of original features such as the main platform waiting room, toilet and ticket office. The down platform stone waiting room has been replaced by an open fully-glazed structure.  The main building is now occupied by the Station House pub. Outside the station the original goods yard and buildings were demolished to make way for the present commercial buildings. 


The photograph for this tinted postcard was probably taken soon after 1900.

Annan Shawhill Station and its goods shed survive on the south side of Scott’s Street, at the east end of the town, but are now occupied by the premises and scrap yard of John Walker & Son.   It was one of the stations on the Solway Junction Railway, which opened in 1869 to carry the iron ore from the West Cumberland mines to the Lanarkshire Steel Works. A full passenger service across the new Solway Viaduct to Bowness on Solway and Whitrigg began in the following year.

The Solway Railway Viaduct was constructed of 74 piers of tubular cast iron columns braced with longitudinal wrought iron girders.  The first sod was cut on 28th March, 1865 by William Ewart MP, the occasion being marked with a commemorative medal, a ballad and a ‘Déjeuner in Annan’ hosted by the seven directors, known locally as ‘The Seven Wise Men’.  The viaduct opened for goods traffic in September 1869 and for passenger trains in July of the following year.


This postcard photograph emphasises the length of the viaduct, showing the end of the Annan sandstone-faced embankment and the watchmen’s hut.


The viaduct in a photograph probably taken in the 1920s, with fisherman Tom Rule holding a salmon caught from this whammel boat.  The slender 12 inch diameter cast iron columns of the viaduct would always be a weakness of the design.

By the mid-1870s the profits from the ore traffic were beginning to decline because of the cheaper imported Spanish ore.  The maintenance of the viaduct was proving to be expensive, with the cast iron columns of the viaduct often in need of repairs from frost damage. In January 1881 the watchmen in the huts at the ends of the viaduct listened with alarm to the terrifying noise “like artillery fire” as huge chunks of ice 6 feet thick and as much as 27 yards across destroyed a large section of the bridge. At night local onlookers watched sparks being struck by the collapsing iron sections. The repairs were difficult and extremely expensive, and the line did not reopen until May 1884.  During the First World War there was a brief resurgence in the use of the viaduct when the supply of pig iron became vital. However the fragile condition of the bridge meant the imposition of speed limits, daily inspections and the use of new locomotives of lighter weight.   In May 1921 the Caledonian Railway Company closed the line, partly because of a miners’ strike but mostly because of the huge cost of yet more repairs. A limited passenger service was in operation until the last train in April 1931; this was sufficient to allow children from Bowness on Solway to travel by train to Annan Academy, their nearest school.  The demolition of the viaduct began in 1933, much to the disappointment of those Annan drinkers who had regularly crossed it on foot to the English pubs in Bowness on the days when the Annan pubs were closed.


A rare photograph taken about 1935 at the Annan end during the final demolition process. The vessel is the schooner General Havelock, equipped with cutting gear, a crane and high explosives.   The operation proved difficult and took 19 months to complete, costing the lives of three Annan workers. Note the details of the rail lines and fish plates.

The line from Annan Shawhill to Kirtlebridge Station and its junction to the main Carlisle to Glasgow line remained open for goods traffic until 1955.   Annan Shawhill station was built of local sandstone and had a single platform, with an adjacent loop siding and three freight sidings controlled from a signal box.   Passenger traffic was never high, but the goods yard was busy handling coal and the livestock for the local auction mart.   Because it is now the private house and yard of John Walker & Son, the station site is inaccessible today.  However it is possible to walk beyond it for about a mile along the fine sandstone-revetted railway embankment as far as the Solway shore end.  This embankment was in recent years used to carry a pipe from Chapelcross Atomic Energy Station to empty the cooling water from the towers into the Solway.


Annan Shawhill Station was still in use in the 1930s for the passenger service to Kirtlebridge.