Bank Street, Dumfries

Dumfries in Burns’ day was a lively town of some 5600 inhabitants, living in houses of sandstone or red brick. It was described at the time as "beautiful and advantageous ... neat ... well built ... well lighted and neatly paved."

Painting of Market Place Photograph of Burns' Burgess Ticket
Market Place, Dumfries Burns' Burgess Ticket

He moved into a small flat in Bank Street, then called the Wee or Stinking Vennel. Below him was the office of his Excise superior and friend, John Syme. Burns was soon playing a full part in town life. His burgess ticket presented four years previously allowed him to claim reduced fees for his childrens’ education. In February 1792 he was promoted to the Dumfries Port Division with an increase in salary to £70 a year. This allowed him more leisure time and the days in Bank Street were a period of prolific song writing for him. In August Volume IV of the ‘Scots Musical Museum’ was published, containing another 50 of his songs. His favourite walks in town were beside the Nith, upriver to Lincluden and along the Dock to Castledykes.

Drawing of Lincluden Abbey Photograph of Nith Estuary
Lincluden Abbey, Dumfries Nith Estuary

Mrs Burns described his domestic habits:- "Burns was not an early riser excepting when he had anything particular to do in the way of his profession. Even tho’ he had dined out, he never lay after nine o’clock. The family breakfasted at nine. If he lay long in bed awake he was always reading. At all meals he had a book beside him on the table. He did his work in the forenoon and was seldom engaged professionally in the evening. He was fond of plain things and hated tarts, pies and puddings. When at home in the evening he employed his time in writing and reading with the children playing around him. Their prattle never distracted him in the least."

Portrait of Dr. William Maxwell Portrait of Maria Riddell
Dr William Maxwell Maria Riddell

He made many friends in the town, Dr Maxwell was one, he had been in the Republican army in the French Revolution and was one of the guards at the execution of Louis XVI. Burns made many visits to Ryedale, the home of John Syme who had the sinecure of Collector of Stamps for Dumfries and their close friendship brought him much pleasure. Another friend was Burns’ supervisor Alexander Findlater, a minister’s son who later became the Collector for Glasgow, a top position in the Excise. Despite their friendship Findlater checked Burns’ work strictly.

Drawing of the Globe Inn
Globe Inn, High Street, Dumfries

Among his women friends was the beautiful Maria Riddell, wife of Robert Riddell’s younger brother Walter. She lived at the estate of Goldielea, near Dumfries, which her husband renamed Woodley Park after her maiden name. Burns wrote her many letters and often visited her. Goldielea still stands today, in an imposing setting.

In Dumfries his favourite inn or "howff" was the Globe in the High Street. The innkeepers were Mr and Mrs Hyslop.



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