Deriving its distinctive name from St. Cuthbert who converted much of southern Scotland to Christianity, the ancient county town of Kirkcudbright is situated at the head of a broad though rugged inlet into which drains the River Dee. The sheltered Kirkcudbright Bay, over two miles wide at its entrance, affords shipping the best deepwater anchorage in the Solway Firth and the water level in the town's harbour falls spectacularly at low tide in a display of endless fascination. In the days of sail, even the largest vessels could enter the bay whatever the wind as the small rocky island of Little Ross offshore served as a perfect natural breakwater against the powerful western seas. Dominated by the sixteenth century McLennan's Castle, the town itself lay at the foot of a high and thickly-wooded hill and, in the early nineteenth century, consisted of little more than two short streets of dwelling houses devoid of any manufacturing. The excellent harbour however was home to some forty ships of varying tonnage which, apart from fishing, were mostly employed carrying potatoes and a small quantity of grain, either to Liverpool or the Highlands. When J.M.W. Turner called there in 1814, during his celebrated “Voyage Round Great Britain”, he found the place little changed since Daniel Defoe's earlier visit in 1705; likewise, Clarkson Stanfield probably found the town much as his predecessors had done although, in his painting, he has chosen to show a brig under tow down the Solway Firth. A common enough sight at the time, the smoking funnel of the steam tug is actually a portent of the many changes which remote coastal towns like Kirkcudbright were beginning to undergo as the industrial age gathered momentum.
signed 'C Stanfield' (lower right)