Moat Knowes, Moat Moss

Place-names:Moat Knowe, Moat Moss
Suggested Meaning:
1st element:S. moat ‘assembly, meeting place’
A. 2nd element:S. knowe ‘hillock, mound’
B. 2nd element:S. moss ‘marsh, bog, a tract of soft wet ground’
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Moat Knowe, Moat Moss
Location: Lanemark |
Moat Knowe
Ordnance Survey (1895)
Location: Meikle Creoch |
Moat Knowe & Moat Moss
Ordnance Survey (1895)
Other Forms
the Moat (1734), Moate (1758), Mote (1760, 1791), Mote Knowe (1893), Moat Cottage (1925)

Moat Knowes

There are a multitude of named knowes in the parish of New Cumnock from Scots knowe ‘a small rounded hill, a hillock or a mound’ [1]. From this group there are two occurrences of the place-name Moat Knowe in the parish, one on the lands of Lanemark and the other on the lands of Meikle Creoch, both just over a mile apart.

Map 1: Moat Knowes | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

An extract from the Dictionaries of the Scots Language entry for mote, moat reads [2] –

Mote, Mot(t, Moit, n.2 Also: motte, moitt(e, moyt(e, moat, moot, moett.

1. A mound or hillock, natural or artificial; also, an embankment. Freq., an artificial mound on which a castle or fortification was erected, a ‘motte’; also a funeral mound, a tumulus or barrow; and generally.

Dictionaries of the Scots Language Dictionars o the Scots Leid

while an extract from The Dictionaries of the Scots Language entry for mute, mote reads [3] –

Mut(e, Mote, n.1 [ME. and e.m.E. mote, moot(e, ME. mot, imot, OE. (ᵹe)mót, ON. mót.]1. A formal meeting or assembly at a pre-arranged time and place to discuss and transact official or legal business; espec. a meeting of a corporate body or court of judicature.

In 1891 Dr. David Christison, a respected archaeologist and Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries (1888-1904), published an article in the Proceedings of the Society which included ‘an introduction to the study of Scottish Motes‘ [4]. Here he emphasised the difficulty in distinguishing between Motes and Moot-hills –

An unfortunate complication is the difficulty of distinguishing between Motes, or fortresses, and Moot-hills, or meeting-places. Not only is the resemblance between the words Mote and Moot very close, although they are derived from very different roots—the one signifying “dust” and the other “an assembly”—but it extends to the objects themselves, both consisting essentially in little eminences, natural or artificial.

Christison, D. (1893), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 25 ,198-256.

Two years later Dr. Christison turned his attention to ‘The Prehistoric Forts of Ayrshire’ [5] and identified sixteen occurrences of “motes”.

In Ayrshire, although the number of “motes” is comparatively small, the majority, so far as I have observed, conform to the true type by their elevated mound-like character, with flattened top and regular circular or oval form. The name mote occurs sixteen times on the O.M. of the county, in two or three instances apparently without any remains existing; while in one or two others it is perhaps only a name bestowed on natural mounds from a resemblance to the motes.

Christison, D. (1893), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 27, 381-405

Christison’s survey included the two New Cumnock motes, however he noted only their locations and referred to both as Mote Knowes rather than Moat Knowes

  • 11. Mote Knowe, Lanemark. On the east side of Lane Burn, 2 miles W. by S. of New Cumnock.
  • 14. Mote Knowe. A name only. On the north bank of the Nith, 1 & 1/4 m. above New Cumnock, about 600 feet above the sea.

It appears that he did not personally visit the New Cumnock motes, however he did include a sketch of the outline of Lanemark Moat Knowe, presumably taken from the Ordnance Survey Map (1856), which prefers the use of moat over mote.

Christison, D. (1893

Closer to home, in 1899 the Reverend John Warrick in his ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ made reference to mote hills in his discussion on the judicial powers of the Baron of Cumnock [6] .

As the baron had the power to try many civil and criminal cases, it was needful to have one or more courts of justice in the barony. These courts met in the open air, and the place, where they convened, consisted usually of a small eminence called a mote hill or judgement hill. Many of these are to be found over all the country. There is one in New Cumnock, and in Cumnock itself there is the well known mote on the banks of the Lugar.

Reverend John Warrick ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ (1899)

The Rev. Warrick doesn’t identify the mote hill in the parish of New Cumnock which could either be the Moat Knowe at Lanemark or Meikle Creoch and yet it is more likely to be the Court Knowe at Hall of Auchincross [7].

In more recent times Oliver J. T. O’Grady (2008) in his PhD thesis ‘The Setting and Practice of Open-air Judicial Assemblies in Medieval Scotland: a Multidisciplinary Study‘ [8] included research into ‘Place-name evidence and the setting and distribution of early medieval assemblies‘, in which he reiterated some of the pitfalls identifed by Christison above –

– there is evidence for the occurrence of the term mōt in the place-names of Scotland, which can be interpreted as indicating the location of medieval assembly sites . Mōt survives within place-names in a variety of forms which exhibit transition into medieval Scots and Gaelic. Examples include ‘mute’, mwte, ‘moot’, ‘moat’ and ‘mote’. Confusion has occurred in the past between these forms and place-names derived from the related Old French word motte or mot, which during the medieval period was used in reference to earthwork castles (Christison 1898: 15-17). This difficulty led to common erroneous interpretations, especially during the 19th century when mottes (castle mounds) were frequently confused with ‘open-air’ meeting places of the kind indicated by Old English mōt.

Oliver J. T. O’Grady (2008) ,PhD thesis University of Glasgow

O’Grady considered ‘examples of genuine early forms, with supporting archaeological or historical associations with assembly practice, or examples that are not obviously associated with castle mounds’. Only one from Ayrshire met those criteria, that of Mutehill in that parish of Monkton and Prestwick.

With this in mind an attempt is now made to determine which of Dr. Christison’s categories the Moat Knowes at Lanemark and Meikle Creoch fall under, i.e. –

  1. fortification
  2. meeting place, assembly
  3. a resemblance to motes.

Moat Knowe (Lanemark)

Scots moat ‘assembly, meeting place’ + Scots knowe ‘hillock, mound’

Moat Knowe and Lanemark farm in the trees (Robert Guthrie 2022)

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Moat Knowe reads –

A small round hill on Lanemark farm – derivation unknown.

Map 2 : Moat Knowe (Lanemark) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Ayrshire archaeologist John Smith “traversed nearly ‘every inch’ of the county on foot” and in 1895 his findings were published in ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’ [10]. His entry for his trip to Lanemark reads –

Mote Knowe is just to the north of Lanemark Farm-steading, and is a natural elliptical drum having its long axis parallel to the Lane Burn (in this district a number of the burns are called lanes). Its rounded summit is 35 paces by 15, and on its north-east side there is a banked roadway across a bit of marshy ground, connecting it with the rising ground to the east . At one time it has probably been surrounded with water, but, save this roadway there is nothing apparently artificial about it.

John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire (1895)

Modern day Ordnance Survey maps no longer show the outline of the Moat Knowe and the name is applied to the stretch of the land from the knowe to the Lane Burn sitting between Lanemark farm and Hungry Hill.

Map 3: Moat Knowe | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

However, recent advances in mapping technology (LIDAR – Light Detection and Ranging) enables the Moat Knowe to be shown in a new light (excuse the pun) and it is clearly visible. The image below also shows the new re-aligned course of the Lane Burn as well as the banks of the former course.

Map 4: Side by Side map Moat Knowe (Lanemark) | left Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland & right Crown copyright Scottish Government, SEPA and Scottish Water (2012).

There is no entry for Moat Knowe in CANMORE, National Record of the Historic Environment database, neither did it feature in the 1994 Archaeological Assessment of a proposed Open Cast Mining Site at Lanemark [11]. Furthermore, there are no local traditions associated with a castle, hall or tower etc. on the Moat Knowe at Lanemark other than Smith’s observation that ‘at one time it has probably been surrounded with water’. However, going by the dimensions of the Moat Knowe it is difficult to imagine it once hosted a fortification of any note.

Similarly, there are no local traditions about Moat Knowe, like those associated with Court Knowe at Hall of Auchincross, where the Laird was said to have tried criminals [7]. Nevertheless, its location on the east bank of the Lane Burn, which forms a boundary between the lands of Lanemark and Farden, and its close proximity to the Lanemark farmstead may be of significance. Perhaps the Moat Knowe did serve as a ‘meeting place‘ or ‘assembly point‘ if and when required by the landowner or perhaps even by baron of Cumnock or his baillie.

Joyce Steele (2014) in her PhD thesis ‘Seeking patterns of lordship, justice and worship in the Scottish landscape’ [9] observed that antiquarian sources used several terms other than court-hill, to describe a hill where justice was dispensed including ‘court knowe, mote, motehill, moot, moothaill, mute, mutehill and moat‘. In considering the association between court-hills and early Christian sites, defined by containing the place-name element egles ‘church’ including Daleglis (modern-day Dalleagles in the parish of New Cumnock) , Steele observed ‘there is a Moat Knowe some 400 metres to the north which might imply the presence of a court hill‘. However, Steele concluded that there was not enough evidence to support that an early church at Dalleagles was associated in some way to a pre-existing Court Hill at Moat Knowe, Lanemark.

Map 5: Dalleagles & Moat Knowe & Hungry Hill| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch)

Scots moat ‘assembly, meeting place’ + Scots knowe ‘hillock, mound’

Moat Knowe with Corsencon hill in the background (Photo Robert Guthrie)

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Moat Knowe reads –

A small natural knoll near the River Nith. The cause of its being called by the name is unknown.

The Moat Knowe sits on the north bank of the River Nith which forms a boundary between the lands of Boig and the lands of Creoch; indeed the place-name Creoch is from Gaelic crioch ‘boundary, march’ [12].

Map 6: Moat Knowe & River Nith| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

As given above, Dr. Christison’s has little to say about Moat Knowe, Meikle Creoch other than its location [4] –

Mote Knowe. A name only. On the north bank of the Nith, 1 & 1/4 m. above New Cunmock, about 600 feet above the sea.

Christison, D. (1893), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 27, 381-405

In 1895 the archaeologist John Smith sings the praises of the moat in terms of its shape and location [10] –

Near Meikle Creoch there is a Moat Knowe. It is entirely rock, and grass grown, with a small quarry in its side, being extremely well shaped and very pleasantly situated in the valley of the Nith.

John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

Today that pleasant situation is still one to be very much enjoyed. Walking eastwards from the Nith Bridge along the north bank of the river eventually leads to a unique view of Moat Knowe mimicking the profile of the magnificent Corsencon hill some 4 & 1/2 miles downstream where the River Nith bids farewell to the parish of New Cumnock and its Ayrshire birth-place.

Mote Cottage, Moate Knowe and River Nith (photo Robert Guthrie)

The landscape is fascinating with a line of boulders, perhaps quarried from the knowe, on the banks of the Nith leading the eye to the Moat Knowe. Rocky outcrops and other evidence of quarrying is visible from ground level. Climbing up the knowe certainly brings back child-hood fantasies of being ‘the king of the castle rather than the dirty wee-rascal‘. Nevertheless, Moat Knowe is not of the dimension that would suggest the origin of the name is from mote ‘fortification’.

The New Cumnock School-Fellows of 1898, i.e. former pupils, had their own suspicions regarding the origin of the name Moat Knowe, albeit not in so many words [12] .

Was the Moat Brig (i.e. at Fordmouth) a seat of the early Circuit Court?

New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine (1898)

They suggest the presence of a Circuit-Court at the Moat Brig seemingly the local name for the bridge over the River Nith at that time, some 300 yards from Moat Knowe. It is reasonable to assume the locals were more familiar with the brig than the knowe. Whatever the case the School-Fellows were aware of the connection between the place-name moat and a circuit-court, names that Dr. Steele (see above) identified as ‘equivalent and interchangeable‘. It should also be noted that same School-Fellows asked the question ‘Did a noble with power to judge and put to death lived at Hall of Auchincross?‘; a reference to the Court Knowe and Gallows Knowe near the home of the Laird of Auchincross, less than a mile to the west of Moat Knowe. The gallows were reserved for condemed men while condemned women were cast into a water-filled pit or drowned in a pool. Perhaps it was at the Moat Knowe that the fate of such condemned women was announced before they were drowned in the adjoining River Nith? [7].

Moat Knowe and the River Nith (photo Robert Guthrie)

Certainly the landscape at the Moat Knowe fits the bill for a meeting place. Judgements, proclamations etc. could be delivered by the landowner or perhaps even the baron or his baillie from the knowe to those assembled in the adjacent field, particularly the one to east of the knowe (below). Sadly, like Moat Knowe (Lanemark), there is no entry for Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch) in the CANMORE, National Record of the Historic Environment database.

Moat Knowe and Moat Cottage (photo Robert Guthrie)
More photos of Moat Knowe, Meikle Creoch (Robert Guthrie)

Moat Knowe (Lanemark) & Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch)

In conclusion there are several similarities between Moat Knowe (Lanemark) and Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch) – they share the same name, they are both natural knowes, they both sit on the bank of a water-course and those water courses each serve as a boundary between lands at that point. Steele in researching the association between ‘Court-hills and Rivers or Streams’ noted that assembly sites are often associated with boundaries and typically those defined by a river [9]. It should also be noted that the rivers may have been where condemned women were drowned either in a pool or held under the water down by hurdles.

In terms of Christison’s categorisations of such sites it is difficult to differentiate between them both and at best both the Moat Knowes were places where people were called to assembly.

Moat Knowe1. fortificationmeeting place, assemblyresemblance to a mote
LanemarkNopossiblepossible
Meikle CrochNopossiblepossible

Moat Moss (Meikle Creoch)

Scots moss ‘marsh, bog, a tract of soft wet ground’

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Moat Moss reads –

A small moss a short distance north of Moat Knowe from which it takes its name.


Map 7: Moat Moss | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The land to the north of the Moat Knowe rises from the valley of the River Nith and nearby a stretch of marshy ground has been named after the knowe. The LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) map below shows Moat Knowe and the indentation of the Moat Moss.

Map 8: Side by Side map Moat Knowe (Lanemark) | left Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland & right Crown copyright Scottish Government, SEPA and Scottish Water (2012).

MOAT COTTAGE (MEIKLE CREOCH)

The cottage first appears in the Valuation Rolls of 1920 as Creoch Cottage and then as Moat Cottage from 1925 to 1940, the latest Valuations Rolls available on-line . More recently the cottage was rented as a holiday home under the name Mote Cottage – reinforcing Christison’s difficulty in distinguishing between Motes and Moot-hills!

Map 9: Moat Cottage | Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland

However, the following baptisms in the Old Parish Records of New Cumnock suggest that there was an earlier residence known as Moate/Mote, possibly associated with the small coal pits / quarry in the vicinty. Sadly it appears, Mary Donald died after giving birth to twin sons.

27 Oct 1734 |David son to Charles Crichton and Agnes Millar, in the Moat
11 Mar 1744|James son to William Ogg and Isabel O’Cree, in the Moat
08 Nov 1758| John & James twins to Hugh Mirry and the defunct Mary Donald, in Moate
05 Sep 1760| Jean L. daughter to Hugh Howatson and Agnes Gemmell, in Mote
12 Aug 1791| James L. son to Willam Welsh and Mary Wilson, in Mote

MOAT BRIG (MEIKLE CREOCH)

As dicussed above, the bridge over the River Nith near Fordmouth was once known locally as the Moat Brig (New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine,1898), clearly taking its name from the Moat Knowe. However, it is apparent the name Moat was applied to the wider vicinity as witnessed in the following extract from a meeting of the Ayrshire County Road Trust regarding allocation of funds to two bridges in the parish of New Cumnock.

The first referring to the Moat Toll and the second referring to the Bridge over the Water of the Nith, later to be referred to as Moat Brig.

No 12: Petition by the Most Noble Marquis of Bute and Curators for a Grant to build a Bridge near Dalgig Burn, on the Turnpike Road from the Moat Toll to the Marchburn. £28 16s from new bridge fund.


No 13: Petition by the Trustees of the Ayr District for additional Grants to re-build and widen the Bridge over the Water of the Nith, on the Turnpike Road from Ayr by Cumnock to the march of the County. £303 15s for widening the bridge from the repair funds, and £604 for repairs from the repairs fund.

The Ayrshire Express, April 4, 1863 [14]
Map 10: Toll roads | Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland

Some 16 years later the bridge caused some controversy within the body of the Ayrshire Country Road Trust when William Campbell of Over Dalhanna, a former road surveyor [15], and now a trustee for the parish of New Cumnock had ‘objected to the bridge being made of wood instead of iron.”

A bridge there is much-needed, and I merely wished to say that if, instead of erecting a wooden foot-bridge, a grant from the bridge funds had been applied for to build a bridge with stone abutments and iron girders and of a width suitable for the traffic of the district, three-fifths of the cost might have been obtained, and the proprietors benefited would no doubt have contributed handsomely

The Glasgow Herald, November 15, 1879 [16]

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

References
[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. |know, knowe
[2] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. |mote
[3] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. | mute
[4] Christison, D. (1891). A General View of the Forts, Camps, and Motes of Dumfriesshire, with a detailed description of those in Upper Annandale, and an introduction to the study of Scottish Motes. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 25, 198-256
[5] Christison, D. (1893). The Prehistoric Forts of Ayrshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 27, 381-405
[6] Reverend John Warrick ‘The History of Old Cumnock’ (1899)
[7] New Cumnock Place-Name | Court Knowe
[8] Oliver J. T. O’Grady (2008) ‘The Setting and Practice of Open-air Judicial Assemblies in Medieval Scotland: a Multidisciplinary Study‘. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow
[9] Steele, Joyce (2014) Seeking patterns of lordship, justice and worship in the Scottish landscape. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
[10] John Smith (1895) , ‘Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire’
[11] Melanie J. Richmond, ‘Lanemark an archaeological assessment of a proposed of open cast mining site at Lanemark, New Cumnock for R.J. Budge (Mining) Limited’ by Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (1994)
[12] Edward Dwelly ‘Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary| crioch
[13] New Cumnock School-Fellows’ Annual Magazine (1898)
[14] British Newspaper Archive |The Ayrshire Express, April 4, 1863
[15] Campbells of Dalhanna: Road Builders
[16] British Newspaper Archive |The Glasgow Herald, November 15, 1879
Maps
Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
https://maps.nls.uk/
Map 1 |Ordnance Survey (1895) |Moat Knowes
Map 2 |Ordnance Survey (1857) |Moat Knowe (Lanemark)
Map 3 |Ordnance Survey (1895) | Moat Knowe (Lanemark)
Map 4* | Side by Side Map | Moat Knowe (Lanemark)
*left |Ordnance Survey (1895) |Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
* right |LiDAR DTM (50cm-1m) (2019-20) (1895) |Crown copyright Scottish Government, SEPA and Scottish Water (2012).
Map 5 |Ordnance Survey (1895) |Dalleagles & Moat Knowe (Lanemark)
Map 6 |Ordnance Survey (1895) | Moat Knowe(Meikle Creoch)
Map 7 |Ordnance Survey (1856) | Moat Moss and Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch)
Map 8* | Side by Side Map | Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch)
*left |Ordnance Survey (1895) |Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
* right |LiDAR DTM (50cm-1m) (2019-20) (1895) |Crown copyright Scottish Government, SEPA and Scottish Water (2012).
Map 9 | Ordnance Survey (1944-70) | Moat Cottage
Used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Map 10 |James Macderment and Sons. Map of the turnpike & parish roads … [for parishes in central Ayrshire] New Cumnock (1852) | Toll Road to Marchburn
Used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence.
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
scotlandsplaces.gov.uk
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Moat Knowe (Lanemark)
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Moat Knowe (Meikle Creoch)
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Moat Moss (Meikle Creoch)
Scotland’s People
https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuations Rolls, Wills & Testaments
Old Parish Records | Baptisms