Beeswing

The village of Beeswing is remarkable for taking its name, by way of a public house, from a nineteenth-century racehorse. There are numerous inns named after racehorses [1] and a handful of villages named from the public houses around which they grew,[2] but Beeswing appears to be the only example of a name making the transition from racehorse to settlement.

Beeswing was the most successful racehorse of her day, winning an unprecedented fifty-one of the sixty-four races she ran between 1835 and 1842.[3] Her popularity was such that several inns were named, or renamed, in her honour.[4] One of these was opened in a row of roadside houses in the parish of New Abbey, Kirkcudbrightshire, in the 1840s.[5]

The association between racehorse and settlement has been known for as long as it’s been called Beeswing.[6] The entry in the Ordnance Survey Object Name Book, written in 1847, states:

“A row of houses in good repair having a garden attached to each. The property of Jas. McLeod of Drumjohn. The name originates from one of the houses being used as a public house and having for its sign board the likeness of a famed racehorse called the Beeswing.”[7]

In 2007 the Scotsman newspaper declared Beeswing as Scotland’s ‘best place name’ [8] and since then the story of the name has featured in popular publications by Clive Aslet and Justin Pollard.[9] However, the story told in each of these is different from the account in the OS Name Book. Instead of the row of houses taking on the name Beeswing from the pub, it is said that the village was originally called Lochend and renamed in honour of the racehorse. This has become the standard derivation of the name and is repeated in books about place-names and the local area.[10] The story goes something like this:

Beeswing was originally called Lochend, the name of the village church. One of its residents, down on his luck and with next to nothing to his name, takes what little money he has and backs the famed racehorse Beeswing. The horse, true to form, wins by a country mile and our local uses his considerable winnings to build a pub in the village, which he names after his winning horse. The jubilant villagers decide that not just the pub but Lochend itself should take on the name Beeswing. It’s only the dour Kirk elders, aghast at the twin evils of drink and gambling being celebrated in the name of their village, who object. They can’t stop the village changing its name but they make a point of ensuring that the church goes by the original name Lochend.

This is a good story, but a glance at the map shows it can’t be true. A row of houses called Beeswing appears on the first edition of the six inch to the mile Ordnance Survey published in 1854; the spot where the church stands is blank. It’s not until the second edition of 1895 that Free Church appears on the map, a few hundred meters down the road from Beeswing.[11] The Annals of the Free Church of Scotland record that the first church built in Beeswing was completed in 1857.[12] This is ten years after Beeswing is recorded in the Ordnance Survey Object Name Book.

Ordnance Survey, Six-inch to the mile, Kirkcudbrightshire, sheet 33, Survey date: 1850-51, Publication date: 1854
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

But if the village wasn’t originally called Lochend, why should the church have this name? The Annals of the Free Church answer the question. It tells us that “Public worship was held in a barn at Lochend Farm, until the church was built at the east end of the village of Beeswing”.[13] It may well be that the elders of the Kirk didn’t want the name of their new church building associated with drinking and gambling, but the reason Lochend was chosen was because this is where the church began its life as a home mission station, not because it was the village’s original name.

Ordnance Survey, Six-inch to the mile, Kirkcudbrightshire sheet XXXVII.NW, Date revised: 1893, Publication date: 1895
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Although Beeswing wasn’t originally called Lochend,[15] we do know that the row of houses that became the village went by others name before Beeswing appeared on the sign outside the pub. In 1892 the Rev. James Christie made a trip from Dumfries to Dalbeattie by tricycle, which he recounts in A Minister’s Easter Mondays.[15] When passing through Beeswing he stops to enquire about the history of the name. After drawing several blanks an ‘auld body’ tells him:

“I ought to know, for my father built the first house here, and he was the black-smith. The right name is the West Park of Loch Arthur, but an auld wife used to call it Sclate Raw.”[16]

West Park is the name of the land on which the houses were built, and they are referred to by this name in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. Sclate Raw – ‘row of houses with slate roofs’ – [17] is an apt description of the line of old whitewashed houses in the middle of Beeswing, where the inn once was. As for the name Beeswing itself, Christie is informed that:

“a man cam’ here and built a public hoose, an’ put a galloping horse ower the door for a sign, and ca’ad it Beeswing, an’ then the Post Office cam,’ an’ they put Beeswing on the stamp, an’ sae its Beeswing now.”[18]

Although Beeswing wasn’t originally called Lochend, the popularity of that version of the village’s history still tells us something about the stories we like to hear. And the chain of events which led to us knowing that it was once referred to as Sclate Raw is a good example of the serendipity which often accompanies place-names research.

Notes

[1] J. Larwood and J. C. Hotter, English Inn Signs (London 1951), 113-15.

[2] K. Cameron, English Place Names (London 1996), 214.

[3] W. D. Lawson, Lawson’s Tyneside Celebrities: Sketches of the Lives and Labours of Famous Men of the North (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1873); E. Martiniak, Beeswing <http://www.tbheritage.com/Portraits/Beeswing.html>, accessed 24/08/2021.

[4] Larwood and Hotter, English Inn Signs, at 114 note that it has been suggested that some of these inns were named after the ‘beeswing’ which forms on port. While this is not the case for Beeswing, the mare herself was named after this beeswing, J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, ‘Bee’swing’, Notes and Queries, 157 (1929) [link], 115;  A. G. Moffat, ‘Bees’wing’, Notes and Queries, 157 (1929), 158. [link]

[5] The inn’s proprietor was Nathanial Caven, born in the neighbouring Parish of Kirkgunzeon. Local tradition has it that he won money betting on Beeswing but there is no historical record of this (M. Bryson, ‘‘Bee’s Wing’ and Beeswing’, Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society Newsletter, 1999, 36, 9-10, at 10).  Recent accounts of the place-name make a much stronger connection between the horse and the village. A. Room, A Concise Dictionary of Modern Place-names in Great Britain and Ireland (Oxford 1983), 8, states that the inn was built or owned by Beeswing’s owner William Orde, while C. Aslet, Villages of Britain (London 2010), 534 and J. Pollard, Secret Britain (London 2009), 247 claim that the owner of the inn was William’s brother Robert.

[6] A. MacDonald, ‘Review of History in the Open Air’, Antiquity, 11, (1937), 243-244, [link] at 244 claims that the name ‘was tortured into every shape by philologists, till it was discovered that […] the hamlet was called after an inn […]’ but I can’t find any evidence that this was the case. Early discussion of the place-name had no such trouble: P. Dudgeon, ‘Some Curious Place Names’, Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Antiquarian and Natural History Society, 8 (1891-2), 70-72, at 72; J. B. Johnston Place-names of Scotland (Edinburgh 1903), xcv-xcvi, 37.

[7] Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books, 1848-1851, volume 90 OS1/20/90/49.

[8] ‘Best Place Name’, The Scotsman, (Tuesday 18 December 2007) http://www.scotsman.com/news/best-place-name-1-704385. Unfortunately, this page is dead and hasn’t been preserved on archive.org; I see from my notes that I last accessed it on 05/03/2012.

[9] C. Aslet, Villages of Britain (London 2010), 533-4; J. Pollard, Secret Britain (London 2009), 247.

[10] For example, A. Room, A Concise Dictionary of Modern Place-names in Great Britain and Ireland, (Oxford 1983), 8; F. McDonald & J. Cresswell The Guinness Book of British Place Names (Middlesex 1993), 127; H. Gordon, The Kirkcudbrightshire Companion, (Kirkcudbright 2008). The earliest mention of this tradition I can find is I. A. Fraser, ‘Words and Places’, The Scots Magazine, 101, (1974) but the story must have been circulating for some years beforehand.

[11] The first church building is what is shown as Lochend School on the 2nd edition map. The Free Kirk shown was built in 1868, after which the original building was transferred to the School Board, W. Holland ‘Additional Information on the Churches at Lochend and Beeswing’, Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Antiquarian and Natural History Society, 81 (2007), 124. [link]

[12] W. Ewing, Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (Edinburgh 1914), vol. 2, 45-6.

[13] W. Ewing, Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (Edinburgh 1914), vol. 2, 45-46. See also W. Holland ‘Additional Information on the Churches at Lochend and Beeswing’, Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Antiquarian and Natural History Society, 81 (2007), 124. [link]

[14] The relevant is excerpted in J. Christie, Northumberland: its History, its Features and its People (Carlisle, Newcastle, London 1904), 247-249. [link]

[15] Lochend and Beeswing get separate entries in F. H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical, and Hisotrical (Edinburgh 1884) at vol V 534 and Vol I 137 respectively. Lochend is described as follows: “a place in Kirkgunzeon parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, ½ SE of Killywhan station, and 7 miles SW of Dumfries. Here is the Free church f Lochend and Newabbey.” As the 2nd edition OS map shows, at this time there was still some distance between Beeswing itself and the location of the Church; it took several decades for the gap between the two to be bridged by housing.

[16] J. Christie, Northumberland: its History, its Features and its People (Carlisle, Newcastle, London 1904), 249. [link]

[17] Dictionary of the Scots Language, s.v. sclate; s.v. raw, <http://www.dsl.ac.uk&gt;. There is a Slate Row in Kirkbean. The Name Book entry describes it as, “A row of houses in good repair. They were the first slated houses in the neighbourhood, hene the name Slate Row.” Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books, 1848-1851, Volume 122 OS1/20/122/30. There is another is Reerick, Kirkcudbrightshire OS Name Books, 1848-1851 Kirkcudbrightshire, Volume 136 OS1/20/136/49.

[18] J. Christie, Northumberland: its History, its Features and its People (Carlisle, Newcastle, London 1904), 249. [link]