St John's Town of Dalry


In the 1851 census over fifty different occupations are listed for people in Dalry parish. Innkeepers, grocers and other merchants, doctors, nurses, teachers, saddler, blacksmith, baker, butcher, tailor, milliner, seamstress, millers, toll keepers, saddler, castrator, hooper, sheriff and many more, as well as all the different estate and jobs that you would expect in a rural area such as this.

 Today there is a primary and secondary school, a church, 1 grocer’s shop, (which from May 1st 2014 will also house the post office), a library which is open twice a week, 2 hotels, a village hall, a community centre, a bowling green, a part time police station  and a garage.

People returning to visit will find a large new housing development ant the entrance to the village on the A702.

There are also a number of small businesses in the village. At the foot of the village, by the river there is a 12th century mote, and at the top is a stone known as St John’s Seat. 

St John’s Seat or Chair is set in the pavement at the top of the village between the road that leads up the Southern Upland Way and the road up to Moniaive. One local legend said that St John had been chaplain to the Lord’s of Kenmuir and that the he actually used this seat. However, the St John’s part of the name of the village is said to be from the Knights of St John who had had a base in the village. The Knights Templar were committed to protecting pilgrim routes, and Dalry stood on the pilgrim route between Edinburgh and Whithorn. It is possible that the stone seat may have come from that time, however the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland believe it may be a stone font from the old church, but there is some confusion as a stone font still exists in the churchyard.

There is a story that Joseph Train when visiting the village heard the story of the seat and decided he would take it and present it Sir Walter Scott. He got it and put it on a cart, but was seen, and angry villagers came out and stopped him before he could escape with it.

The village is at the head of the valley of the Ken, with the river running past it at the foot of the hill. There is river and loch fishing close by and many walks in the nearby hills and along the Southern Upland Way which runs through the village.

In the past Dalry was closely associated with the Covenanters and the Pentland Rising in 1666 was a direct result of an attack, by troopers, on an old farmer who had not paid a fine.

The famous Free Grammar School of Dalry was established in 1668 with a legacy of £2,500 left by a Mr Johnstone of London. There was some argument as to whether the Dalry specified was the one in the Stewartry or the one in Ayrshire, but this one won. Alexander McGowan had the distinction of serving as the first master of the school, and he went on to become a much loved minister of the parish. He was known to be somewhat unconventional in his manner and dress. Over the 40 years of his ministry he cleared the glebe land (11 acres) of rocks by blasting, and succeeded in growing good crops with the help of manure and lime … he was from a farming background. He was minister in the parish at the time when the First Statistical Account of Scotland was being compiled and he made some interesting observations therein. He gives details of farming life and the introduction of lime and manure, including compost, to the land which resulted in much better crops and higher land values. He gives the population of Dalry parish at that time being about 1000. He also states that the village belonged to the Earl of Galloway. He remarks about the high cost of labour and comments that the servants here and some neighbouring parishes do much less work than some in Ayrshire or the Lothians. The cost of labour and merchandise had apparently risen sharply within the last 10 - 20 years. Peat and especially coal were difficult to get and considered a great obstacle to the establishment of manufacturers in the area. The inhabitants of the parish are said, generally, to be peaceful, obliging and well disposed.

Gordon of Lochinvar There is a story about how the knight of Lochinvar got the name Gordon. The laird of Lochinvar was hunting a boar for which the king was giving a reward as they were considered “noxious animals”. He finally slew the boar and cut out its tongue, but being exhausted he fell asleep beside his prey. Another man called Seaton had also been after the beast and finding it dead and Lochinvar asleep he cut off its head and went to the King for his reward, which he received. Lochinvar, on waking, realised what had happened and sped off to Edinburgh to see the King. He produced the tongue and asked the King to inspect the head that had been given to him by Seaton. This was done and he got his reward. The King asked him how he had killed the boar and he said “I just gored him down”. “Well”, said the King, “as a reward of your merit you shall be henceforth Goredown knight of Lochinvar”. The family name actually comes from elsewhere.