The Packman’s Grave, Kirwaugh

Ninety nine times out of a hundred, there is a grizzly story behind place-names which contain CHAPMAN ‘pedlar’ or PACKMAN ‘a man who carries wares or merchandise in a pack; chiefly, an itinerant packman, chapman or pedlar’. The entry for Chapman’s Thorn, Tongland KCB gives an impression of what you’ll find written for other Packman and Chapman place-names in the Ordnance Survey Name Books: “A thorn which points out the spot where a packman was murdered & subsequently interred.” OS1/20/109/18

The Packman’s Grave, Kirkinner didn’t make it onto the OS. Fortunately, the name and the story behind it were recorded in Fraser Gordon’s 1877 Wigtown and Whithorn: Historical and Descriptive Sketches, Stories and Anecdotes, Illustrative of the Racy Wit & Pawky Humour of the District. True to form, the packman dies. But this tale is more eldritch than the others:

“On the farm of Kirwaugh, near the village of Bladnoch, is what is called “The Packman’s Grave.” Tradition has it that an enterprising packman lived in or near Wigtown long ago. He had a consignment of cloth on board a vessel which put into a local port. The ship was plague-stricken, and the people in the district, fearing that the infection might be spread by means of the packman and his cloth, caught both the merchant and his wares, and taking them to Kirwaugh, digged a deep grave, in which they were deposited – the packman alive. There is a small elevation of the place, which is near the farm-house door, and people, dreading the spot, prefer taking a round-about course rather than approach it. Even until lately, people imagined they saw lights and heard knocks at the spot, which gets the name of “The Packman’s Grave” to this day.” (1877, p. 208-209)

A horrifying tale for Hallowe’en. More horrifying still is the thought of the countless places passed over by the OS whose stories have been lost forever.

Detail from Wigtownshire, Sheet 25 Survey date: 1848, Publication date: 1850
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

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