AYRSHIRE ROOTS

Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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 Kilmarnock 1846


KILMARNOCK, a burgh of barony and a parish, in the district of Cunninghame, county of Ayr; containing 19,956 inhabitants, of whom 17,846 are in the burgh, 12 miles (N. N. E.) from Ayr, and 22 (S. W. by S.) from Glasgow. This place, which is of great antiquity, derives its name from the foundation of a church by St. Marnoch, an eminent apostle of Christianity, who flourished in the fourth century, and to whose memory many churches in various parts of the country have been dedicated. The lands, at an early period, were part of the possessions of the ancient family of the Boyds, descendants of Simon, brother of Walter, the first high steward of Scotland, and of whom William, the ninth lord Boyd, was created Earl of Kilmarnock in 1661. The castle of Dean, the baronial residence of the earls of Kilmarnock, was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1735. In 1745, William, the fourth earl, having joined in the rebellion, was taken prisoner at the battle of Culloden, and sent to London, where he was beheaded in 1746; and the title and estates became forfeited to the crown. This place, originally a small hamlet depending solely on the baronial castle, which now forms an interesting ruin, gradually acquired importance from the introduction of various manufactures, for which the abundance of coal in the vicinity, and its facilities of water-carriage, rendered it peculiarly appropriate; and in 1592, it had so far increased in population and extent as to obtain from James VI. a charter erecting it into a burgh of barony. In 1800, an accidental fire, originating in some thatched buildings in the lower part of the town, spread with amazing rapidity to the houses on both sides of the street, which was nearly destroyed.
 
The town is pleasantly situated in the south-western part of the parish, on a stream called the Kilmarnock water, about half a mile above its influx into the river Irvine, and over which are five substantial bridges, affording facility of communication. The streets in the older portion of the town are narrow and irregularly formed, but in the central portion of it, spacious and well built, consisting of handsome houses of freestone, of which many are of elegant aspect; and towards the south and east, in which directions the buildings have been greatly extended, are numerous pleasant villas, which add much to its appearance. Considerable improvements have recently taken place; the streets are well paved, and lighted with gas from works erected by a company of 10 shareholders, established in 1823; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. A public library, having an extensive collection of volumes on general history and literature, is supported by subscription; and there is a good library attached to the mechanics' institution. A handsome structure called the Exchange buildings, containing a commodious reading and news room, was erected in 1814, and is under the management of a committee of directors; there is also a newsroom for tradesmen, well supplied with daily journals and periodical publications. Two weekly newspapers are published in the town; the Kilmarnock Journal, which has been established for many years, and has an extensive circulation; and the Ayrshire Examiner, which is of more recent date. The first manufacture carried on here was that of the broad flat bonnets originally worn by the peasantry, and of red and blue caps called the Kilmarnock cowls, which was the chief trade till about the middle of the 18th century. The manufacture of carpets, however, was subsequently introduced, and soon became the staple trade of the place, for which it is still celebrated, the weaving of carpets of every variety of pattern and texture being carried on to a great extent, and affording employment to 1200 persons. The principal kinds are, Brussels, Venetian, Turkey, and Scotch carpets, for the finest specimens of which premiums were, in 1831, awarded by the commissioners to the manufacturers of this place, to the amount of 210. The value of the carpets made annually in the town is estimated at 150,000. About 1200 persons, too, are engaged in the manufacture of worsted and printed shawls, of which more than 1,250,000 are sold every year, estimated at 230,000: this trade, which was introduced in 1824, also affords employment to 200 printers. The number of bonnets annually made, the manufacture being still carried on, is about 20,000; and 2400 pairs of boots are made weekly, of which three-fourths are exported. There are also extensive tanneries and establishments for the dressing of leather, in which nearly 150,000 sheep and lamb skins are annually prepared.


Considerable improvements in machinery have been made by Mr. Thomas Morton, of this town, which have been adopted in the carpet factories with great advantage; and the same gentleman has also built an observatory, and furnished it with telescopes of a very superior description, made under his own inspection, and for which he has established a large manufactory. A handsome piece of massive plate was, in 1826, presented to Mr. Morton by the inhabitants of the town, in acknowledgment of his having so eminently contributed to the prosperity of their manufactures. There are also manufactories for machinery of all kinds, tobacco, candles, hats, hosiery, and saddlery, in all of which an extensive trade is carried on; and numerous handsome shops in the town are amply stored with various kinds of merchandise. Several branch banks have been opened; the principal is that of Ayr, for which an elegant building has been erected. The market days are Tuesday and Friday, on both of which business is transacted to a very great extent; and fairs are held on the second Tuesday in May, for cattle; the last Thursday in July, for horses, black-cattle, and wool; and the last Thursday in October, for horses. The post-office has a good delivery; and facility of communication is maintained by excellent roads, of which the turnpike-road from Glasgow to Portpatrick passes through the town, and several others through different parts of the parish. In addition to the bridges across the Kilmarnock water, there are two over the river Irvine, which bounds the parish on the south, communicating respectively with the town. The Kilmarnock and Troon railway, the first public railway formed in Scotland, was commenced under an act passed in 1808, with a view to connect the port of Troon, on the coast near Ayr, and the collieries in the neighbourhood, with the town of Kilmarnock and the north-eastern part of Ayrshire. It is nine and three-quarter miles in length, and was opened in 1812, at a cost of 50,000, and, throughout the whole line, which has a double way of flat rails, is worked by horses. An act was obtained in 1837, to enable the company to raise a further sum of money, and alter and amend the line by converting it into an edge railway; but it has not been acted upon, except to improve the line as a tram-road. The line of the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, and Ayr railway separates near Dalry, into two branches, of which one runs direct to Kilmarnock; this branch is about eleven miles in length, and was opened on the 4th of April, 1843.


The government of the burgh, under the charter of James VI., confirmed by charter of Charles II. in 1672, is vested in a provost, four bailies, a treasurer, dean of guild, and eleven councillors, chosen under the provisions of the Municipal Reform act, and assisted by a town-clerk, who is appointed by the Duke of Portland, superior of the burgh. There are five incorporated trades, viz., the skinners, tailors, weavers, bonnetmakers, and shoemakers, the fees for admission into which vary, for sons of burgesses from 10s. to 2. 2., and for strangers from 1.11. 6. to 7. Persons holding leases under the Duke of Portland are privileged to carry on trade in the burgh. The magistrates exercise the usual civil and criminal jurisdiction; the municipal are less extensive than the parliamentary boundaries, which include the village of Riccarton, on the opposite bank of the Irvine. Bailie-courts are held for the determination of civil actions to any amount, in which the town-clerk acts as assessor; there is also a convener's court, in which debts not exceeding 6s. 8d. are recoverable, and the jurisdiction of the dean of guild is exercised by the bailie-court. The criminal jurisdiction is confined chiefly to cases of assault and police matters, all weighty offences being transmitted to the sheriff of the county. The burgh is associated with those of Dumbarton, Port-Glasgow, Renfrew, and Rutherglen, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters is 612. The town-hall, a handsome building two stories high, and crowned with a campanile turret, was erected in 1805, and contains the several courts, and apartments for the transaction of the public business of the burgh.


The parish is about nine miles in extreme length and four in breadth, comprising an area of nearly 9000 acres, of which by far the greater part are arable. The surface slopes gently from the river Irvine, and is pleasingly diversified with wood: the Kilmarnock water, which rises in the upper part of the parish of Fenwick, intersects the parish, and flows into the Irvine. The soil is generally fertile, and the lands are under good cultivation, producing excellent crops of oats, wheat, barley, beans, potatoes, and turnips; the system of husbandry is in a highly-improved state; the lands have been well drained, and inclosed with hedges of thorn; and the farm-buildings are substantial and well arranged. The pastures are rich, and great attention is paid to the management of the dairy-farms, on which cows of the Ayrshire breed are kept; about 12,000 stone of cheese are annually produced, and abundant supplies of milk for the use of the town. The sheep bred on the pastures are of the black-faced and Cheviot breeds; the cattle, of which 400 are annually reared, are of various breeds; and the horses, of which a few are reared for agricultural use, are the Clydesdale. Coal is found in abundance, and ironstone in sufficient quantity to remunerate the establishment of works. Freestone occurs in several places, in seams ten feet thick; and near Dean Castle is a bed forty feet thick, of a fine white colour, and well adapted for buildings of the higher class. Coal-mines are in operation on the lands of the Duke of Portland, affording employment to about 300 men, and producing annually 90,000 tons of coal, of which 30,000 are consumed in the parish, and the remainder sent by the Kilmarnock and Troon railway for exportation. Fire-bricks, for which clay of good quality is found in abundance, are made in great quantities on the lands near Dean Castle. The principal mansion in the parish is Crawfurdland Castle, an ancient structure in the early English style of architecture, of which the central portion was erected by the present proprietor; it is beautifully situated to the north-east of the town, and the older part of the building is remarkable for its strength and solidity. The rateable annual value of the parish is 37,570.


The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The old, or Laigh, parish church is collegiate, and under the care of two ministers, whose stipends are 150 each, with a manse and glebe; the glebe of the minister of the first charge is valued at 30, and that of the second at 12 per annum; patron, the Duke of Portland. The former church, with the exception of the tower and spire, was taken down in consequence of an alarm excited by the falling of some plaister from the ceiling in 1801, which, creating a panic in the minds of the congregation, produced a simultaneous rush to escape, in which many lives were lost. It was rebuilt in 1802, and repaired in 1831 at an expense of 1200, and contains 1457 sittings. The High church, to which a district of the parish, containing 3237 persons, was till lately annexed, was erected in 1732, by subscription, at a cost of 1000; it is a handsome structure in the Grecian style, with a tower eighty feet high, and has 902 sittings. The minister's stipend is 150, with 50 in lieu of manse and glebe. Henderson church, to which also was attached a quoad sacra district, with a population of 2377, is a neat edifice, recently erected. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Secession, Original Burghers, Original Seceders, the Relief, Reformed Presbyterians, Independents, and Wesleyans.

The Academy, a spacious building, erected in 1807, at the joint expense of the heritors and the burgh, is under the superintendence of a committee of fifteen directors, of whom five are nominated by the town-council. There are a classical master, who has a salary of 34, with a house and garden; and an English master and commercial master, each of whom has 15, (without either house or garden,) in addition to the fees, which are fixed by the directors. The academy is attended by more than 300 pupils. There are branch schools at Rowallan and in the barony of Grongar, the masters of which have houses and gardens in addition to the fees, and numerous other schools throughout the parish, in which, collectively, above 2000 children receive instruction. The dispensary was established in 1827, and is supported by subscription; it is gratuitously attended by most of the medical practitioners, and administers extensive relief to the sick poor. There are also numerous benefit and friendly societies, and a savings' bank in which are many depositors. The late Mrs. Mary Cunninghame bequeathed 200, and John Mac Nider, Esq., 40, in trust to the minister of the High church, to be lent out in small sums, and the interest given to the poor. Rowallan Castle, about three miles to the north-west of the town, for many generations the seat of the barons of Rowallan, is a very ancient structure, and is supposed to have been the birthplace of Elizabeth More, first wife of Robert, high steward, and afterwards king of Scotland, as Robert II.: the more modern portion was built about the year 1560. It is beautifully situated, and surrounded with plantations; but the whole is passing rapidly into decay. The former Soules Cross, a rude stone pillar about nine feet high, surmounted with a gilt cross, was erected to the memory of Lord Soules, an English nobleman, who was killed on the spot by an arrow from one of the Boyds, of Kilmarnock, in 1444. A handsome fluted column, supporting a vase, was placed in a niche in the wall surrounding the churchyard, in 1825, in lieu of the old cross: on the pedestal is an appropriate inscription referring to Lord Soules' death. The Earl of Errol bears the title of Baron Kilmarnock.

 

 From: A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

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