Ever since we first laid eyes on Rigg House we have been fascinated with the history of the building and all the stories within it. It would be difficult to live in a house of this age and not feel strangely moved and inspired by the unknown tales that only the walls can tell.
Jay and I are not the first English family to run Rigg House B&B – not by a long shot. This beautiful farmhouse has been operating as a Bed & Breakfast for over 20 years and for most of this time it has been run by English families, all of whom still live in the area. But the link between Rigg House and us English settlers goes back much further – right back to the building of the house itself.
John Rigg was born some time around 1750 in the village of Dalston just outside of Carlise in Cumbria, England. In 1774 he moved to Scotland and became the lease holder of the Sanquhar Coal Fields. He proved himself to be a clever workman with good business sense and before long he erected a forge at Crawick Bridge to supply shovels and working gear for the coal pits, as well as agricultural implements for the farms of Upper Nithsdale.
Sometime around 1780 John instructed the building of a new farm in Kirkconnel, complete with a large stately farmhouse to raise a family with his new wife, Elizabeth. He chose a beautiful location with a view looking out over the rolling Kirkconnel hills – a vista which has remained virtually unchanged over 200 years later. The view he chose to see every day is the one which our guests enjoy when they stay at Rigg House B&B – the one which made us fall in love with this area instantly.
At the same time that John Rigg was making a name for himself in the iron forging trade, a young man from Ayrshire by the name of Robert Burns had also built up a favourable reputation, but in an all together different line of work. Burns was, by this point, internationally admired for his poetry and songs but in 1788 he decided to return to the farming life which he was raised in and he took over Ellisland Farm, 24 miles south of Kirkconnel. Like Rigg, he too commissioned the building of a beautiful farmhouse for his family on a peaceful spot by the banks of the River Nith.
To make ends meet Burns took work as an Exciseman and was tasked to cover the Upper Nithsdale region – the area of Dumfriesshire where Kirkconnel lies. It was during this time, possibly through his work, when Robert Burns made the acquaintance of John Rigg. Burns had heard of the high quality of Rigg’s forge output and called on Crawick Bridge to order the supplies for Ellisland Farm.
“It happened that on the poet’s first call Mr. Rigg was intently reading a copy of the Kilmarnock edition of the ‘Poems’, which he had recently purchased. Burns was pleased to see his book making someone so delighted and when he introduced himself a lasting friendship developed.” (http://www.axtell-surname.org.uk/ind1931.html)
Both Rigg’s and Burns’ occupations (as a producer and a customs officer respectively) would have caused their paths to cross many times, and if their friendship really did develop into more than just a business relationship then it seems justified to imagine Burns being invited up to enjoy a meal with Rigg’s family whenever he was in the area. It is incredible to think that the Bard of Scotland may have stood within the walls of Rigg House, maybe even slept here if conditions were too bad to head back down the harsh road to Ellisland? It is perhaps something we will never know for sure but for me it is just too likely to not be true. If only Burns had been compelled to compose a couple of verses on the quality of John Rigg’s shovels!
05/05/19 – Okay…so, as it turns out that although the whole story of John Rigg and Burns is indeed true, it is unlikely that John Rigg had anything to do with Rigg Farm (or what ever was here then). Rigg House as it is to day was built around 1863 although it is likely there was a structure on the same plot before then.