For four centuries the Graham family nurtured and developed Netherby and its estates before they finally parted company in the late 1900s.
There’s is a tale of “rogues to riches”, steeped in the history of the Borders with its notorious Reivers and a unique part of the country that went by the forbidding name of the Debateable Land.
It appears the Netherby Grahams descended from nobility, through Lang Will Graham, born in 1468, a grandson of Malise, Earl of Strathearn and 1st Earl of Menteith.
Sometime before 1492, the King of Scots, probably James III, got fed up of Lang Will’s business practices. He was well known for his Reiver ways of extracting rents, mails, for land he did own but he went too far when he stole lands from the Earl of Morton.
Put to the horn, in other words and outlaw, he was eventually forced to flee with his family to the Debateable Land, an area between Langholm and the Solway claimed by neither Scotland nor England. It was a British badlands, an area where any person who was outwith the law and consequently could be killed without any redress on the killer, would find refuge. As such it was home to some of the most notorious Border Reivers, the Grahams among them.
Lang Will’s family prospered. By the 1540s, made up of at least six sons, they had half a dozen peel towers and the eldest son, Richard, owned Netherby. Lang Will’s rent collecting business, blackmail to you and I, raised vast amounts of money, 100,000 merks according to one source. They were allies of the Armstrongs and linked by marriage to the Johnstones.
But they were arrogantly confident about their strength and abilities as a record from the State Papers of Henry VIII, in the shape of a letter from his nephew, King James V, reveals. It complains that on May 29, 1541, six sons of Lang Will Graham (Richard, Thomas, Fergus, Will, John, and Hutchin), along with about 50 others, on an open day foray came to Auchinbadrig, in the lands of Logane, in the parish of Kirkpatrick (Dumfriesshire) and there murdered brothers Thomas, Rolland, and William Armstrong, sons of David Armstrong. The accused then brazenly appeared the following Tuesday at a day of truce held by the Scottish West March Warden, Lord Maxwell, and his English counterpart, Sir Thomas Wharton, with the blood of the slain still on their hands, faces, and clothes. Maxwell was rebuffed when he asked for redress.
It was not the last time the Grahams would be part of a rebuff to the Maxwells. They fought alongside the Johnstones at the Battle of Dryfe Sands in December, 1593. The vastly outnumbered Johnstones out thought and outfought Lord Maxwell’s superior forces in a running battle through the streets of Lockerbie.
King James VI brought the reiving way of life to an end after he ascended the English throne in 1603. But the Graham’s success story continued with another Richard, almost certainly a grandson of Lang Will. Born in 1583, he was a favourite of King James and became Master of the Horse to the Duke of Buckingham, entrusted to run errands all over Europe. One was to arrange the marriage of the King of Spain’s daughter to King Charles 1.
He is referred to as Sir Richard and is credited with taking the first steps to turn the old peel tower into the magnificent home and gardens it was to become.
So in the space of three generations the fortunes of the Graham family had been transformed from notorious outlaw to a Royal favourite at the heart of the kingdom.
The work on the Hall was to continue through successive generations. Alterations made by Dr Robert Graham, who took possession in 1757, were still visible in the 1960s.
Possibly Netherby’s most celebrated son was Sir James Graham, 1792 -1861, who became MP for Carlisle and several other constituencies, and has been described as a politician of national importance, a British statesman.
The second baronet, in an illustrious career he was First Lord of the Admiralty and went on to become Secretary to the Home Department under prime minister Robert Peel. Graham Land in Antarctica is named after him.
He carried out further extensions to the house in 1833.
His father, the first baronet, also James, was a friend of the great Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, who, it is claimed, wrote his famous poem, Young Lochinvar, at Netherby in 1802.
Much of the estate was sold off in the early twentieth century but it remained in the family’s hands until the 1960s.