Jun 22 2011 by Sharon Liptrott, Dumfries Standard Wednesday
IF WALLS could talk those at The Old Bridge House would have plenty to say after standing watch over Dumfries for more than three centuries.
And, while extensive restoration work has been underway, experts have found many signs of its long history.
Records show that James Birkmyre, a cooper or wooden barrel maker, began building what is now known as The Old Bridge House about 350 years ago. Today it is the oldest domestic building in Dumfries.
Externally the outlines of arched doors and windows can be seen half buried in the ground which has occurred because the level of the road has increased several times over the centuries, particularly after river levels rose when the caul or weir was built in 1707.
There are boulders at the corners of the house to fend off grain wagons as they travelled to and from the grinding mills further along the river bank.
Internally the downstairs kitchen contains original timbers and the double floor of the attic is packed with an insulating layer of rye chaff, similar to straw.
The “tree of life” design carved on the sandstone slab leaning against the eastern wall originally came from above the doorway of a house built into the other end of the bridge. It was demolished in 1795 when the bridge was shortened.
The house, and its occupants, would have witnessed many significant moments in history.
One June morning in 1671 five women accused of witchcraft were “tied with small cords” and dragged across the Old Bridge to be surrendered for trial to the Magistrates of Kirkcudbright at the Brigend.
It was probably the “meeting house in Bridgend” where Covenanters held secret religious services rather than agree to the changes King Charles II wanted to make to the church services during the late 1600s.
During the early 1700s it would have witnessed the regular passing of a riderless group of horses heavily laden with smuggled goods and led by a white stallion on their way to the Whitesands and the safety of the backstreets of Dumfries.
It was an inn until well into the 1800s and Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns was a frequent visitor as he went about his business as an excise officer.
It became a dwelling house some time during the 1800s but was still within a few yards of open fields.
By the 1950s the internal staircase had been boarded up and the upstairs and downstairs rooms were separate homes.
It was converted into a folk life museum in 1959 when the last occupant of the upper storey left.
During the work the stairway was rediscovered and the two sections of the house became one again.
Now it has a new lease of life as a restored museum for generations to come.