Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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 Riccarton 1846

RICCARTON, a parish, in the district of Kyle, county of Ayr; containing, with the villages of Hurlford and Sornhill, 3226 inhabitants, of whom nearly 1200 are in the village of Riccarton, mile (S.) from Kilmarnock. This place, which is of considerable antiquity, is supposed to have derived its name, originally Richardstown, from its ancient proprietor, Sir Richard Wallace, to whom the lands were granted in the early part of the 13th century by Walter, high steward of Scotland. One of the descendants of that family was uncle of the celebrated Sir William Wallace, who seems to have frequently resided here with his relative during the intervals of his military career; and it is expressly stated that, after setting fire to the barns of Ayr, which had been converted into temporary barracks by the English forces under Edward I., who at that time occupied the castle of Ayr, he retired to this place. Numerous incidents connected with that hero during his stay at Riccarton are recorded; but they are too well known to need repetition. The baronial residence of the family has been entirely destroyed, and the site is now occupied by the farm of Yardside. The only memorials of it which have been preserved are, the original mantelpiece of the dining-room now placed in the kitchen of the manse, and a pear-tree said to have been planted by Sir William Wallace, which is still in the gardens of the farm.
The parish is bounded on the north by the river Irvine, and is about eight miles in extreme length, and from two to three miles in breadth; comprising 18,000 acres, of which 500 are woodland and plantations, 700 moor and moss, and the remainder arable and in cultivation, with a due proportion of meadow and pasture. The surface is pleasingly varied, rising by gentle undulations towards the south and east, and terminating in a ridge of hills, of which the highest has an elevation of 500 feet above the level of the river, and commands extensive prospects over the surrounding country, embracing the whole of the vale of Irvine and the town of Kilmarnock. The rivers are the Irvine and the Cessnock. The Irvine has its source to the east of Loudoun hill, in the parish of that name, and, flowing westward along the northern boundary of this parish, falls into the Frith of Clyde near the town of Irvine. The Cessnock has its source in the adjacent parish of Galston, from which it separates this parish on the west; and winding in graceful curves towards the north, it intersects Riccarton for the remainder of its course, and runs into the Irvine. Both these rivers abound with trout of good quality, affording excellent sport to anglers, by whom they are much frequented; and the latter, in many places flowing between richly-wooded banks, adds much to the beauty of the scenery. There are also numerous copious and perennial springs in the parish; but many of them are strongly impregnated with different mineral substances, and are consequently unfit for domestic use. The soil is generally of a stiff clayey quality, but, when under proper management, is capable of producing heavy crops of grain, and, on the holm lands immediately adjoining the rivers, is luxuriantly fertile; indeed some of the farms on these lands are among the most valuable in the county. The crops are, oats wheat, barley, potatoes, and turnips, with the usual grasses. The system of husbandry is in a very advanced state, and a due rotation of crops is every where carefully observed, according to the nature of the soil: great improvements, also, have been made by tile and furrow draining, which has added materially to the value of the lands. The average quantity of land which has been annually drained within the last few years, has been about 200 acres; and in several instances the drainings have been made at the expense of the landlords, especially on the farms held under the Duke of Portland, the tenant paying five shillings a year additional per acre for the term of his lease. The farms are mostly about eighty acres in extent, and the farmhouses are substantial and commodious, many of them two stories high, and roofed with slate; the lands are inclosed chiefly with hedges of thorn, kept in good order; and all the more recent improvements in the construction of agricultural implements have been adopted. Great attention is paid to the management of the dairyfarms, on all of which the cows are of the Ayrshire breed, and the produce is in high repute; about 160 tons of cheese are annually sent to the neighbouring markets, where that of the best quality obtains a price of twelve shillings per stone Dutch weight. No sheep are reared, except a few on the lands attached to the houses of landed proprietors: the horses, of which a number sufficient for agricultural purposes are kept, are chiefly of the Clydesdale breed. The plantations, which are of very moderate extent, are principally in the demesnes of the gentlemen's seats, and are under careful management, and in a thriving condition.

The substrata include coal, limestone, sandstone, and clay of an excellent description for making bricks and tiles; the coal-fields are numerous, and, though differing in species, are all of good quality. Some of the coal found on the lands of Caprington, Skerrington, and Barleith is very superior, and in extensive operation for ordinary uses: the blind coal, also, or Anthracite, though not confined to this parish, is chiefly obtained at Caprington. This coal, which burns without emitting either smoke or flame, occurs among the lowest strata, and is mainly used for drying grain and malt, and in the burning of lime to a small extent. For these purposes large quantities are sent by a railway from the Caprington collieries to Troon, whence it is shipped for Ireland; and the coal from the other mines is conveyed in carts to Ayr and Irvine. The limestone is excellent either for building purposes or for manure, and two large quarries of it are in operation: in the quarry of Knockmarloch, on the side of Craigiehill, and at a height of nearly 500 feet, are found numerous petrifactions both of vegetable and animal substances. The freestone is also of good quality and extensively wrought; the quarries in some parts contain stone of a reddish colour, and in others the stone is of a yellowish hue. The clay is manufactured into bricks, and tiles for draining; they are in great demand throughout the district, and are sent in large quantities to various places. The rateable annual value of Riccarton amounts to 17,159. The principal mansion-house in the parish is the castle of Caprington, an ancient structure situated on the south bank of the river Irvine, and once the baronial seat of a branch of the Wallace family. The building, which is spacious and of great strength, though improved by recent additions, still retains much of its original character; in the centre of the front rises a lofty tower, to which the entrance is by an arched gateway flanked with towers of inferior dimensions; and from the extent and beauty of the surrounding demesne, which is embellished with stately timber and thriving plantations, it may be regarded as a splendid residence. About a mile to the south of the castle is Treesbank, a neat structure beautifully situated in grounds tastefully laid out, and commanding some finely varied prospects. The other mansions are, Shaw Hill, Dollars, and Bellfield, all handsome residences; and Milrig, recently rebuilt in a very elegant style.

The village of Riccarton, which is of great antiquity, and was anciently a burgh of barony, is on the south bank of the river Irvine, and has a handsome bridge of three spacious arches, connecting it with the burgh of Kilmarnock, to which it forms a suburb, and within the parliamentary boundaries of which it is included under the Reform act. The houses are built on an eminence rising gradually from the bank of the river, and have generally an appearance of antiquity, forming one irregular street of considerable length, on the turnpike-road from Ayr to Edinburgh. The inhabitants are chiefly engaged in hand-loom weaving for the manufacturers of Paisley and Kilmarnock; the principal articles are, shawls, mousselins-de-laine, and similar fabrics, in making which more than 200 persons are employed. A great number of females, also, are engaged in sewing and embroidering muslin, called here Ayrshire needlework. The manufacture of shoes for the foreign markets was formerly largely carried on; but within the last few years it has been gradually declining, and at present affords employment to a very small number of persons. Letters are delivered twice daily from the post-office at Kilmarnock; and facility of communication is partly maintained by the turnpike-roads from Glasgow to London and to Ayr and Portpatrick, which intersect the parish; and by the turnpike-road from Ayr to Edinburgh, which passes through the village. Other roads are kept in good repair by statute labour; and there are three bridges over the Irvine, and one over the Cessnock, all of which are in substantial repair. A private railroad has been laid down from the collieries at Caprington to the Kilmarnock and Troon railway. The villages of Hurlford and Sornhill are described under their respective heads.

The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The minister's stipend is 241. 3. 9., with a manse, and a glebe valued at 50 per annum; patron, John Smith Cuninghame, of Caprington, Esq. The church, built in 1823, to replace the ancient church, of which the burial-ground is still preserved, is situated in the centre of the village of Riccarton, on a lofty mound said to have been the seat for administering justice. It is a substantial and neat structure with a handsome spire, erected at a cost of 4000, and contains 1200 sittings, most of which are free, or let at a nominal rent. From its elevated situation, the church forms a very conspicuous and interesting feature in the landscape. The parochial school affords instruction to about 120 children; the master has a salary of 34. 4. 4., with a house and garden, and the fees average 50 annually. There is also a school at Hurlford, of which the master has a house and garden, in addition to his fees; the house was built by subscription, on a site given by the Duke of Portland. A parochial library, containing about 500 volumes of historical, biographical, and religious works, is supported by subscription; and there are several friendly societies. Among the distinguished persons formerly connected with this place are several of the Cuninghame family. John Cuninghame, of Caprington, created a baronet by Charles II., and a lawyer of great eminence, was employed as counsel for his country, against the Duke of Lauderdale; and as a man of profound learning and incorruptible integrity, honourable mention is made of him by Bishop Burnet in his History of his own Times. Mr. John Cuninghame, second son of Sir John, who was the first that delivered lectures on the Roman law in Scotland, and who died in 1710; and Sir James Shaw, Bart., the first Scotsman that ever filled the office of lord mayor of London, and who died in 1843, were natives of the parish.


From:   A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)








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