Mill Street, Dumfries

In May 1793 the family moved to a better quality house in Mill Street (now Burns Street). Their standard of living was good and they employed a maid servant. The house had two bedrooms, a parlour, a kitchen and even a small study. It was well furnished and carpeted. Wellwishers would often send Burns game or country produce and occasionally, barrels of oysters. He was always anxious that Mrs Burns should be well dressed. She was one of the first women in Dumfries to have a dress of gingham, at that time an expensive material.

Photograph of Scullery Drawing of Burns House
Scullery at Burns House Burns House, Dumfries

Burns had a great curiosity about Scotland and this prompted him, in July 1793, to embark on a tour of Galloway with his friend John Syme. They set out on two highland ponies, passing through Castle Douglas, Crossmichael with its attractive church, Parton and on to Kenmure Castle at the head of Loch Ken, where they spent three happy days. This was the home of the Gordons of Lochinvar whose ancestors had helped Mary Queen of Scots. The travellers then went on to Gatehouse where they stayed at the Murray Arms and returned via Kirkcudbright.

Photograph of Mid Garrary Photograph of Crossmichael Church
Mid Garrary, Clatteringshaws Crossmichael Church

He was now writing songs for a new book ‘A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs’ produced by George Thomson, a clerk to the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Art and Manufacture in Scotland. This task was to occupy him for the remaining years of his life.

Drawing of Mill on the Fleet Photograph of Buchan Bridge
Drawing of Mill on the Fleet, Gatehouse Buchan Bridge, Glentrool

In September Burns wrote to Thomson describing his method of song composition:- “My way is this: I consider the poetic Sentiment, correspondent to my idea of the Musical expression; then chuse my theme; begin one Stanza; when that it composed, which is generally the most difficult part of the business, I walk out, sit down now & then, look out for objects in Nature around me that are in unison or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy & workings of my bosom; humming every now & then the air with the verses I have framed: when I feel my Muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of my study, & there commit my effusions to paper: swinging, at intervals on the hindlegs of my elbow chair by way of calling forth my own critical strictures, as my pen goes. - Seriously, this at home, is almost invariably my way.”

Photograph of Collection Photograph of Pen and Paper
A Select Collection of Scottish Airs Book of Essays

Song writing gave him great enjoyment and in all Burns, provided over one hundred songs for Thomson. Songs written in Mill Street include ‘My Luve Is Like A Red Red Rose’,’ A Man’s A Man for A’ That’ and ‘Scots Wha Hae’.


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