The Old Bridge House stands on the south side of Dumfries' Devorgilla Bridge or Old Bridge, at its western end, and the first impression is that it actually forms part of the same structure. This is an illusion as the house was built some decades after the bridge. Today the Old Bridge House is one of the many museums that enliven a visit to Dumfries.
Old Bridge House was built in 1660 by a barrel maker called James Birkmyre. Planning laws at the time were not as rigorous as they have since become. Nonetheless the town council became so worried that Birkmyre's new house was in danger of blocking traffic across the bridge, at the time the main link between Galloway and the rest of Scotland, that they stepped in to demand that the front of the house should not project forward of the line of the bridge parapet. If you look at this end of the bridge today, it is questionable whether they were completely successful. The council also stopped Birkmyre running wagons heavily laden with wood destined for the construction of the house across the bridge.
There is a suggestion that two decades later the Old Bridge House was what was referred to as "The House at Bridgend" which was used for gatherings of Covenanters, persecuted by the government for their Presbyterian beliefs. This may be so, but as meeting places go, there must have been many more discreet possibilities available in the area at the time.
The house served as an inn through most of the 1700s and into the 1800s, and would probably have been visited by Robert Burns in his role as an exciseman. Maxwelltown, the area at this end of the bridge, had an exceptionally poor reputation the time, and it seems unlikely that as the town's exciseman Burns would have numbered this among the inns he frequented on a social basis.
During the 1800s the Old Bridge House became a family home, and then in the 1950s it was converted into two flats, one upstairs and one downstairs. It was only when the house was being converted into a museum in 1959 that the staircase was rediscovered behind panels and the house became a single unit again.
The rear of the house, facing away from the bridge, is two storeys high, while there appears to be just one storey when viewed from the bridge. The large stones at the front corners of the house were intended to protect it from being struck by the wheels of the grain wagons that once crossed the bridge en route to and from the town's mills.
Internally the house is divided into a number of rooms on two floors, each of which is home to a range of exhibits and artefacts representing a particular theme and a particular time period. There are three rooms upstairs. One contains household furnishings from the 1500s to the 1700s, including chairs once owned by Robert Grierson of Lag. It is ironic given the house's possible covenanting links in the 1680s that he was known as a merciless persecutor of Covenanters. This room is also home to a superb fireplace from Elschieshiels, a tower house near Lockerbie. Another room on this floor is fitted as a kitchen from around 1910. The third room has fixtures and fittings provided by a local family of dentists, including a cabinet full of teeth.
One of the downstairs rooms is also a kitchen, this time from the 1850s. A second is a bedroom from the 1870s and includes a brass and iron bed and a swinging cradle. Hanging from the head of the bed are suits of children's clothes, including a court dress for a boy prepared for the visit by Princess Louise to open Lockerbie Town Hall in 1872. The final room on the lower floor is the childhood room. This is home to many games, books, dolls and toys from the 1800s. On the table in the centre of the room is a stereoscope, used to view three dimensional images.