MUIRFOOT

Place-name:Muirfoot
Muirfoot and Muirfoot Burn
Suggested Meaning:foot of the moorland
1st element:Scots muir ‘open barren land, moorland, heath’
2nd element:Scots foot ‘foot of-, end of-‘
Blaeu Coila (1654):Moorstoun ?
OS Name Books (1855-57):Muirfoot, Muirfoot Bur
Location:Ordnance Survey (1895)
Earlier forms
Moorstoun? (1645), Muirfoot (1707), Moorfoot (occasional)

Moorstoun

Moorstoun (1.) on Blaeu Coila Provincia (1645) is a considerable distance from the location of Muirfoot farm (2.). i.e. close to where Muirfoot Burn meets the River Nith it should be noted that there are a number of discreprancies in this area of Blaeu’s map. Also worth noting is the proximity of Moorstoun to Waterfid (Waterside)and N. PolwhouB (Polquheys) as both these properties in the 19th century form part of the Castlemains estate, as did Muirfoot.

Map 1: Moorstoun (Blaeu 1654)| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Although Muirfoot does not appear in Blaeu Coila Provincia )1654) it does appear on Roy’s Military Map of the Lowlands (1747-55) [Map 2].

Muirfoot

Scots muir ‘moorland’ + foot ‘lower, end’

Moorstoun, may or may not be, the forerunner to Muirfoot, however the two names appear to share the place-name element Scot muir, moor ‘barren open, country, moorland; heath’ [1] .

The muir in question is the land in which the Muirfoot Burn rises and flows through (shown as Moorfoot Burn in the map below), with Lowesmuir to the west and Roughside to the east; both names reflecting the quaility of the land.

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

Photographs of the upper reaches of Muirfoot Burn / (Polquheys Burn (Robert Guthrie)

Muirfoot Farm

Muirfoot farm sat on the west bank of the Muirfoot Burn near to where it flows under the Glasgow-Carlisle railway line and joins the River Nith at the ‘foot of the moor‘.

Muirfoot Farm between the Murifoot Burn and Glasgow Railway Line (Courtesy Aex Jess, NCLG)

The earliest reference to Muirfoot (uncovered thus far) appears in the Old Parish Birth records of New Cumnock (which date back to 1706) on the 23 Feb 1707, following the birth of Jean Gibson, daughter of David Gibson and Janet McKnight; five siblings would follow in the period 1711-1719 at Muirfoot.

At the end of that century it is interesting to note from the Farm Horse Tax Rolls of 1797/98 [Scotland’s Places] that Robert Kerr in Muirfoot kept 7 horses (5 of which were liable for tax) the largest number kept by any other farmer in the parish of New Cumnock at that time. The number does appear excessive to work the lands of Muirfoot and perhaps a number were employed in the carting of the lime and coal deposits on the north side of the River Nith, possibly at Polquheys which was also part of the Castlemains estate.

John Hair farmed Muirfoot for almost fifty years in the first half of the 19th century. He was descended from the Hair family of Glenwharry in the neighbouring parish of Kirkconnel who in the 17th century were strong supporters of the Covenants. In 1684, his namesake John Hair, one of five brothers of Glenwharry, while making his way home from a conventicle through the parish of New Cumnock, along with a companion George Corson, was captured and killed by Government dragoons near the farm of Over Cairn, overlooking the River Nith, two and half miles downstream from Muirfoot. The Reverend Robert Simpson of Sanquhar writing in 1846 notes in his anecdote on the Hair family [ 2] –

A lineal descendant of this worthy household is at present resident in the farm of Muirfoot, in the parish of New Cumnock, and warmly cherishes, as may be expected, the memory of his witnessing ancestry

Rev. Robert Simpson “Traditions of The Covenanters”, 1846

John Hair passed away two years later at Muirfoot farm [3] =

At Moorfoot on the 23d. instant, Mr. John Hair at an advanced age. The deceased was a shrewd intelligent man, and took a warm interest in the affairs of the locality. He has occupied the farm of Moorfoot, in the vicinity of New Cumnock, for the long period of 43 years.

Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser, November 29, 1848.
Muirfoot Burn and Muirfoot Holm (residence)

John Hair had remained a bachelor all his days at Muirfoot (1802-1848) which would account for no baptism records associated with the farm during this period. However an interesting feature emerges in the Old Parish Records over part of this time, ca. 1828-1836 with a spate of births where the place of birth is recorded as Muirfoot burn /Muirfootburn. For example, in a six-month period in 1831 there are five baptisms recorded to five different families –

  • Robert to William Laidlaw & Katherine Thomson Dalzell
  • Mary to Alexander Forsyth & Mary Little
  • Deborah to George McMichaell & Janet Wells (Walls)
  • Agnes to Daniel Tympanie & Jean Guthrie
  • Mary Ann Cunningham to Alexander Hunter & Elizabeth McKnight

In the same year a birth at Muirfoot Holm was also recorded –

  • Jean to David Patrick & Jennet Shaw

There are other examples in the parish where a nearby burn name has been assigned to a small row of cottages, i.e. Connelburn and Dalleaglesburn.

By time of the first census in 1841 the residence was recorded Muirfoot with no record of Muirfoot Burn and/or Holm. Living there at time along with John Hair, 70, farmer; was Alexander Vallance, 50, joiner (possibly visiting); ‘male servants‘ – David Guthrie and John McRae and ‘female servants‘ Marion and Jane McRae as well as Catherine McKie.

Muirfoot does not appear in the 1851 Census records, however in the 1861 Census Records there three distinct and neighbouring properties all named Muirfoot and all are home to coal miners and their families – all probably employed at Pathhead Colliery, further upstream on the west bank of Muirfoot Burn.

On the Ordnance Survey map (1856) Muirfoot is shown as what seems to be a single row of three (and a bit) distinct compartmets that at certain times it is as served as a farmhouse with outbuildings and at others as dwelling for up to three families.

Map 4 Muirfoot | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Disappointingly the Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Muirfoot is rather sparse in detail.

A farm house, occupied by Alexander Shankland

The tenant at the time was widower Alexander Shankland and in the 1851 Census he is recorded as livng at Mansfield with his six children. As disussed above the 1851 Cenus record for Muirfoot is missing and perhaps was mistakenly recorded as Mansfield

After serving as a mini-miners’ row in the 1860s for a spell Muirfoot was re-established as a working farm until the 2006 when plans were put in place to demolish Muirfoot farmhouse and steading buildings in order extend the nearby residential development of Mansfield Heights.

Mansfield Heights, houses this side of the railway bridge on site of Muirfoot farm (Robert Guthrie)

Muirfoot Burn

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) for Muirfoot Burn gives a succinct description of the burn from its source until it meets the River Nith.

A Stream formed by the union of Cameronsyke Burn and others, and flowing in a S.W. [South West] direction by Mossback, it divides the farms Polquheys and Roughside and falls into the Nith South of Mansfield.

However, the devil is in the detail! Three of the four authorities for the spelling of the name identified it as Muirfoot Burn while the fourth authority didn’t identify a various mode of spelling (e.g. Moorfoot Burn) but instead seclected two possible alternative names – Polquheys Burn or Rough Burn.

Various modes of spellingAuthorities for spelling
Muirfoot BurnMr. McGregor, Cross Keys Inn, New Cumnock
Muirfoot BurnJohn Lees
Muirfoot BurnJohn Craig, Polquheys
Polquheys or Rough BurnAlexander Sloan, Roughside

The name Polquheys Burn appears in the ‘Description remarks’ of the Ordnance Survey Name Book entries for Grain Burn (a tributary) [4] and Mossback [5] ruins (on the banks of the burn). Clearly the name Muirfoot Burn had come into fashion with no realisation that the first element of the name Polquheys is Brythonic pol- ‘burn’ [6]. While the farms of Polquheys (Nether and Over) had taken their names from the burn of that name, it is the case that Muirfoot Burn took its name from the farm of Muirfoot.

Photographs of Muirfoot Burn / Polquheys Burn (Robert Guthrie)

“Doon the Burn”

Whatever the name of the burn, Polquheys or Muirfoot, it is recognised as the boundary between Pathhead and Mansfield and as such has coined the local place-name “Doon the Burn” [7] –

once over the Moorfoot brig you were really “Doon the Burn”

George Sanderson, New Cumnock Long Ago and Faraway (1990)
Map5 : Pathhead and Mansfield boundary | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

References
[1] Dictionaries of Scots Language | muir
[2] Reverend Robert Simpson ‘Traditions of The Covenanters’ (1846)
[3] British Newspaper Archive | Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser, November 29, 1848
[4] New Cumnock Place-Name | Grain
[5] New Cumnock Place-Name | Mossback
[6] New Cumnock Place-Name | Polquheys – in progress
[7] George Sanderson ‘New Cumnock Long Ago and Faraway (1990)
Maps
Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
https://maps.nls.uk/
Map 1 | Blaeu Coila Provincia (1645) | Moorstoun
Map 2 | Roy’s Military Map (1747-1755)| Muirfoot
Map 3 | Bartholomew (1899-1905) |Moorfoot Burn
Map 4 | Ordnance Survey (1856) | Muirfoot
Map 5|Ordnance Survey (1856) Muirfoot

Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
scotlandsplaces.gov.uk
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Muirfoot
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49|Muirfoot Burn
Scotland’s People
https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuations Rolls, Wills & Testaments