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Ardrossan, Ayrshire

Historical Description

ARDROSSAN, a parish, in the district of CUNNINGHAME, county of AYR; including the thriving sea-port town of Ardrossan, and the greater part of Saltcoats. seventy-four miles (W. S. W.) from Edinburgh; and containing 4947 inhabitants. This place derives its name, of Celtic origin, from the situation of its ancient baronial castle on a small promontory. Little is known of its earlier history; and of its ancient proprietors not much further notice occurs than that Sir Fergus de Ardrossan accompanied Edward Bruce in his expedition into Ireland, in 1316, and was one of the Scottish barons who in 1320 signed a memorial to the pope, complaining of the aggressions of Edward I. of England. During the time of Baliol, the castle being occupied by the English, was surprised and taken by William Wallace, who, arriving in the night with some of his followers, set fire to the few houses situated around the base of the hill on which it stood; and on the garrison going out to extinguish the flames, the assailants rushed into the castle, made themselves masters of the gates, and put all the English to the sword, as they unsuspectingly returned. The castle appears to have been inhabited till the time of Cromwell, who is said to have thrown down its walls, and to have not only demolished it, but carried away the materials for the erection of the fort which he built at Ayr. On the death of the last Baron Ardrossan without issue male, the estate passed, by marriage with his heiress, to the Montgomerie family, its present proprietors.

The TOWN is beautifully situated on the shore of the Firth of Clyde, and owes its rise to the fostering patronage of the late Earl of Eglinton, by whom it was originally built, and by whom the harbour to which it is so much indebted was originally constructed, chiefly at his own expense. Ardrossan is rapidly increasing in importance. It consists of various spacious and regularly- formed streets, intersecting each other at right angles, and containing houses uniformly and handsomely built; the town is lighted with gas, and is supplied with excellent water by means of cast-iron pipes, which are laid down from a reservoir fed by a small stream called the Stanley burn. It is much frequented, during the season, as a watering-place. Lodging-houses have been built for the reception of the company who resort hither for bathing; and a large hotel has been erected, containing ten public rooms, and a proportionate number of sleeping-rooms, with hot and cold baths. The public baths, for which a handsome building was raised, were originally established on the tontine principle by the late Earl of Eglinton, after whose decease in ISIQ they were suspended for a time, till in 1833 they were purchased by the present proprietor, by whom the buildings have been enlarged, and put into a state of complete repair. The baths are of marble, with convenient dressing-rooms attached to each; they are under excellent management, and hot, cold, shower, and vapour baths are prepared on the shortest notice. Connected with the establishment are numerous lodging-rooms, which are fully occupied during the season; there is also a bath gratuitously appropriated to the use of the poor. In the immediate neighbourhood of the town are several villas, pleasantly situated, commanding good views of the Firth; and around the margin of the bay a crescent has been laid out, forming a splendid addition to the appearance of the town. The Pavilion, the marine villa of the Earl of Eglinton, is an elegant seat, occasionally the residence of his lordship. There are many agreeable walks in the environs, and between this and Saltcoats is a fine sandy beach, about three-quarters of a mile in length, which is a favourite promenade. In the year 1846 an act of parliament was passed for erecting the town and places adjacent into a burgh of barony; for paving, lighting, and cleansing the same; and establishing a police. There are about sixty looms in the town, employed in the weaving of shawls and heavier articles, and lighter articles of silk and cotton; and in Saltcoats nearly 450: many of the females are also engaged in working muslin. Fairs are held in July, and on the fourth Thursday in November, for cattle and various kinds of merchandise.

The HARBOUR was projected by the late Earl of Eglinton, in the beginning of the present century, with a view to accommodate the shipping belonging to the Firth of Clyde. At that time, the river Clyde had not been deepened, and only the smallest class of coasters could reach Glasgow. The accommodation at Greenock and Port-Glasgow was limited, and as the trade of the city of Glasgow was rapidly increasing, it was very probable that a safe and commodious harbour at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, with a proper communication to Glasgow, would confer a great benefit on the manufacturing and commercial interests of the west of Scotland, and command a large return upon the capital required for the construction of the necessary works. Lord Eglinton was strongly impressed with this opinion, and through his influence and exertions two companies were organized, one for the construction of a tide-harbour and wet- dock at Ardrossan, and the other for the construction of a canal from Glasgow, by Paisley and Johnstone, to the proposed harbour. The acts incorporating these two companies were obtained in 1805 and IS06, and the works were commenced immediately after. In a very short time, however, it was found that the capital subscribed for the two undertakings would be far short of what was necessary for their completion. The canal was only completed to Johnstone, when the funds were exhausted, and the canal company stopped the further progres.s of the works. The same result would have followed the deficiency in the harbour company's capital, had it not been for the public spirit of Lord Eglinton, who took the whole responsibility upon himself, and continued to prosecute the works until his death in 1819. At that period the tide-harbour was opened, and the wet-dock nearly completed; the whole outlay then amounting to upwards of £100,000. But though the works were thus far advanced, there was little prospect of the canal ever being finished, and as the harbours of Greenock and Glasgow were by this time greatly improved, it was deemed imprudent by the trustees left in charge of the harbour to lay more money out upon it. An attempt was made in 1827, to carry out the original plans by forming a railway from Ardrossan to Johnstone, to join the canal there: an act was obtained, but the line was only constructed to Kilwinning, six miles from Ardrossan, with a branch of four miles more to the Eglinton coal-fields. In 1840 the communication was finally opened by the construction of the Glasgow and Ayrshire railway, which passes through Kilwinning, and there joins the Ardrossan line. About this time, the harbour proprietors addressed the present Earl of Eglinton, requesting him to take the harbour into his own hands, and complete it; to which his lordship acceded. An act was accordingly passed in 1842, vesting the works in Lord Eglinton, on his paying the other share-holders the value of their shares; the works were again commenced in 1844, and were completed the following year. In 1846 an act was passed authorising the construction of the Glasgow, Kilmarnock, and Ardrossan railway, to commence at the Neilston end of the Glasgow and Neilston railway, and to form a junction with the Ardrossan line. The same act gave power to purchase the Ardrossan railway and harbour, for which the new company engaged to pay £208,000 in three yearly instalments; and in 1849 an act was obtained for enlarging the provisions of the acts relating to the harbour, and the Glasgow, Kilmarnock, and Ardrossan railway.

The harbour is perfectly sate, and easily taken in every wind: no damage has ever been occasioned in it during the heaviest storms, and vessels have been known to quit their moorings in other ports in severe gales, and run to Ardrossan for shelter. The entrance bears East 2/3 North magnetic, and is shewn at night by two red guiding lights: the most conspicuous landmark is a tower on the Horse island, whose latitude is 55° 58' 40" N., and longitude 4° 50' 23" W. The depth of water in the dock is nineteen feet at neap, and twenty-two feet at spring tides; it is capable of accommodating forty square-rigged vessels, and the harbour can accommodate about eighty of the same class. It has been in contemplation, also, to extend the piers into deeper water, so as to inclose a greater area, of such depth that the largest vessels might be afloat at low water. The arrangements for loading and unloading are very complete; the railway is carried along every part of the quay walls, and the trucks can be taken directly alongside the vessels. The facilities thus afforded for transmitting goods, conjoined with the great natural advantages of Ardrossan, will no doubt be the means of realizing the anticipations of the noble proprietor, and making the place one of the most thriving sea-ports in the west of Scotland. The export trade consists principally of iron and coal from the mineral fields in the neighbourhood, and general goods from Glasgow: the chief imports are, timber from America; corn, cattle, and provisions from Ireland; and goods from the manufacturing districts of England. Before the opening of complete railway communication between Scotland and England, steamers used to sail four times a week from Ardrossan to Fleetwood, in Lancashire, furnishing the most rapid communication between Paisley, Greenock, Glasgow, Edinburgh, &c., in Scotland, and Preston, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, and London. These steamers were supposed to be the fastest then afloat, and plied in connexion with the railway trains to Ardrossan and to Fleetwood. Passengers were repeatedly taken in rather less than twenty-four hours from London to Glasgow, and twentysix hours from London to Edinburgh, by this route. Steam-boat communication is maintained with Belfast, &c. An excellent graving-dock, here, is capable of admitting vessels of 1200 tons' register, and there is a patent-slip which can take on vessels of 800 tons' register: these afford the most ample facilities for repairing vessels. Ship-building is carried on to a considerable extent, and vessels of every description and size have been built, which bear a very high character. There is a large saw-mill on the harbour grounds.

The PARISH is bounded on the south and south-west by the Firth of Clyde, and comprises about 7000 acres, of which 1580 are arable, 3000 meadow and pasture. 2270 hilly pasture, and about 190 woodland and plantations. Its surface is agreeably diversified with tracts of level land, and gentle undulations rising into hills of different elevation, which increase in height towards the coast. The highest of the hills is called Knock- Georgan, and is 700 feet above the sea, commanding a rich prospect; of the others, only one has an elevation of 400 feet. Several of them are ornamented with clumps of trees, and add much to the beauty of the scenery. The shore is generally level, and indented with bays of various dimensions, of which that of Ardrossan is very picturesque; it is about three-quarters of a mile in length, and to the north of it is another fine bay, of larger size; the coast here becomes rocky and irregular, and ridges of shelving rocks extend for a considerable length. Nearly opposite the harbour, and about a mile from the shore, is Horse Isle, containing about twelve acres: on this isle a beacon tower was erected by the late Earl of Eglinton for the benefit of vessels approaching the harbour, and it has been in contemplation to convert the tower into a light-house. The chief rivulets are, the Stanley and Monfode burns, which descend from the higher lands, and after flowing through the parish, fall into the Firth; and the Munnock or Caddel burn, a more copious stream, which intersects the upper part of the parish, and falls into the river Caaf, which separates the parish from that of Dairy.

The SOIL, towards the coast, is light and sandy, and in the higher grounds a tenacious clay, occasionally intermixed with loam. It has been rendered generally fertile by long cultivation, and a judicious use of seaweed and lime. The principal crops are oats, wheat, potatoes, and turnips. The system of agriculture is in a very advanced state; the lands are well drained and inclosed, and great improvements have been made, and much unprofitable land reclaimed, under the auspices of the Agricultural Society, which holds its meetings here in November. Great attention is paid to the management of the dairies; and about 10,000 stone of cheese of good quality are annually produced, which supply the neighbouring markets: the cows are generally of the Cunninghame or Ayrshire breed. The annual value of real property in the parish is £11,775. The substrata are limestone, freestone, and coal. The last was formerly wrought in the northern part of the parish, and in the vicinity of Saltcoats, but the workings have been for some time discontinued. There are three limestone-quarries in the upper part of the parish. The freestone is found both of a red and white colour, and there is an extensive quarry of the former close to the town of Ardrossan, from which the stone was raised for building the town and forming the quay. Near the town are also various kinds of whinstone, of which whole rocks have been blasted with gunpowder, and used in the formation of the breakwater. There are several strata of ironstone near the pubhc baths, varying from two inches to nearly five feet in thickness, but from their situation, the working of them has not been thought likely to repay the expense. A variety of fossil shells is found in several parts, and it is generally supposed that the sea has considerably receded from this part of the coast.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Irvine and synod of Glasgow and Ayr: the minister's stipend is £261. 1. 3., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum; patron, the Earl of Eglinton. The old church, which was situated on the Castle-hill, at Ardrossan, was destroyed by a storm in 1691, and another erected on a site about half a mile further from the coast. This church, also, being so much shaken by a storm, in 1773, as to be considered unsafe, was taken down, and the present church built, in the town of Saltcoats, in 1774; it is a substantial edifice, adapted for a congregation of 840 persons. Another church connected with the Establishment was built in 1844, in Arran place, Ardrossan; it is a handsome edifice in the pointed style, and ornamental to the town. There are places of worship for dissenters in Ardrossan and Saltcoats. The parochial school, situated in Saltcoats, is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34. 4. 4., and £25 from fees, with a house and garden. Of the ancient castle of Ardrossan some small fragments only are remaining. Upon the lands of Monfode are the remains of a baronial castle, much dilapidated, formerly the residence of a family of that name. On Knock-Georgan are the remains of a Danish camp; and on one of the other hills in the parish is an artificial mound of rectangular form, sixteen yards long, nine yards wide, and the same in height, with sloping banks; concerning which nothing authentic is recorded. Dr. Robert Simson, professor of mathematics in the university of Glasgow, was a heritor of this parish, where he was accustomed to reside during the vacations, on his estate of Knockewart.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


Online maps of Ardrossan are available from a number of sites:

CountyNorth Ayrshire
Postal districtKA22
Post TownArdrossan