In April 1816, Hugh Pritchard, a blind wandering minstrel, his wife and their five young children were journeying from Stranraer to Dumfries. The minstrel is described as “Seemingly upwards of 50 years of age, of very diminutive stature, the small part of his countenance that appeared above his bushy beard was of sallow complexion, very much pitted by the smallpox and no wise improved by his large sightless eyeballs, which seemed to roll instinctively as he moved his hand across the strings of the harp. His habiliments seemed to be just whatever chance had thrown his way”
It is recorded that he had a small wicker cart drawn by a little cuddie (donkey) and they halted near Kirroughtree where the minstrel, and some of the children, formed a band playing music which soon drew a crowd of spectators. Two nights later, by which time the family had reached Twynholm they were unable to find lodging and settled for the night in a gravel pit opposite to the Old Mill of Twynholm. During the night the pit collapsed and the whole family was buried. It is said that “the quantity of gravel that had fallen was almost incredibly small to have been the cause of such a sad catastrophe; some of them were barely covered. By the composure of their features when taken out of the pit the whole family seemed to have died without a struggle.”
The bodies were interred by the Kirk Session in Twynholm Churchyard. Fifty-five years later, in 1871, the Ministers of Twynholm, and the neighbouring parishes of Anwoth, Balmaclellan and Kirkcudbright joined in erecting privately a headstone to mark the grave.
More than 100 years later members of the Galloway Association of Glasgow discovered that the soldier and minstrel was the original of “Wandering Willie” in Sir Walter Scott’s story “Red Gauntlet”, The Association decided that as the original stone bore no reference to “Wandering Willie”, a second memorial tablet should be erected. This was unveiled on 20th April 1946, the 130th anniversary of the tragedy. Both headstones are maintained by the Association.
On 20th April 2016, two hundred years later, a very moving service commemorating the disaster was conducted by our Minister, Val, in Tarff & Twynholm Church. Wreaths were laid on both graves. On Harvest Sunday 2021 Kirk Session members Helen and John planted daffodil bulbs around the graves.
Just recently, Howard Potter from the Welsh Triple Harp Society has been in touch about this tragedy. Some members of the Welsh Triple Harp Society are keen to come up and visit Twynholm and play at the graveside of the Pritchard family and also in church. They would like to meet with other local musicians and give a concert. The dates of their visit are May 17 – 20 . There will be more information in the next Diary.