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Ayr, Ayrshire

Historical Description

AYR, a sea-port, burgh and market-town, in the district of Kyle, county of Ayr, of which shire it is the capital, 87 miles (S. W. by W.) from Edinburgh, and 40 (S. S. W.) from Glasgow; containing 8264 inhabitants, and, including Newton-upon-Ayr and Wallacetown on the opposite side of the river Ayr, which are within the parliamentary boundary of Ayr, upwards of 18,000 inhabitants. This place derives its name from the river on which it is situated, and appears to have attained a considerable degree of note at a very early period. A castle was erected here by William the Lion, to which reference is made in the charter subsequently granted to the town by that monarch; and from the importance of its situation, it was besieged and taken by Edward I. during his invasion of Scotland. In 1289, Robert Bruce, on the hostile approach of an English army towards the town, finding himself unable to withstand their progress, set fire to the castle, to prevent its falling into their hands; and at present there are no vestiges of it remaining. During the usurpation of Cromwell, a very spacious and strongly-fortified citadel was erected here as a military station for his troops, for the maintenance and security of the town and harbour of Ayr, which at that time were of great importance, as enabling him to hold the western and southern parts of the county in subjection; and of this fort the greater part is still in good preservation.

The TOWN is finely situated on a wide level plain, on the sea-coast, and at the head of the beautiful bay of Ayr, by which it is bounded on the west. The more ancient part consists of houses irregularly built, and of antique appearance; but that portion which is of more modern origin contains numerous handsome ranges of buildings, among which may be noticed Wellington-square, Alloway-place, Barns-street, and a spacious and well-built street leading to the new bridge. Very great improvements have been made in the aspect of the town, which is seen to much advantage from the higher grounds, and more especially on the approach from the south; and many agreeable villas have been erected in the vicinity, which are embellished with shrubs and trees. The principal streets are well paved, and lighted with gas; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, partly from numerous wells opened in convenient situations, and partly from a softer spring, in Carrick, by pipes laid down for that purpose. The environs are extremely pleasing, abounding with richly-diversified scenery, embracing fine views of the sea, and many interesting features. There are two bridges over the river Ayr, celebrated by the poet Burns in his Twa Brigs of Ayr, one of which, erected about sixty or seventy years ago, is a very handsome structure, affording communication with the towns of Newton-upon-Ayr and Wallacetown. The beach, which is a fine level sand, is much frequented as a promenade, and contributes greatly to render the town desirable as a place of residence.

There are two libraries supported by subscription, containing good collections of standard and periodical works, and newsrooms or reading-rooms well supplied with journals; and a mechanics' institution established in 1825, with a library attached of more than 3000 volumes, for the increase of which a specific sum is annually appropriated. Races are annually held by the Western Meeting, in the first week in September, on an excellent course in the immediate vicinity of the town, comprising about fifty acres inclosed with a stone wall; and the members of the Caledonian Hunt hold a meeting here once in five years. Two packs of fox-hounds, and a pack of harriers, are kept in the neighbourhood. Assemblies are held in an elegant and spacious suite of rooms, admirably adapted for that purpose, in the Town's Buildings, a stately edifice embellished with a spire (with clock) rising to the height of 226 feet: it contains, in addition to the assembly-rooms, two large newsrooms, rooms for town's meetings, and various apartments for public purposes. There is also a handsome structure in the early English style called Wallace Tower, erected on the site of an ancient building that bore the same name: this tower is 115 feet in height, and is adorned in the front with a well-sculptured statue of Wallace by Thom; it contains a clock, and forms a conspicuous object in the distant view of the town. The Ayrshire Horticultural and Agricultural Society was established in 1815, under the auspices and patronage of the late Lord Eglinton, for the distribution of prizes for the best specimens of flowers, fruit, and vegetables, and for improvements in husbandry and agricultural implements; exhibitions are annually held, and attached to the institution is a library. A Medical Association has also been founded by members of that profession resident in the town and neighbourhood, the library of which contains a selection of the most valuable works on medical literature. The Barracks, an extensive range of building near the harbour, pleasantly situated on a fine level plain, are adapted for the reception of a regiment of infantry, and during the late war were fully occupied by the military stationed here; but since the peace they have been unoccupied. There are public baths at Ayr.

On the summit of the bank of the river Doon, about two miles from Ayr, is a stately monument in honour of the poet Burns, erected by subscription at an expense of £2000, and consisting of a circular building, rising from a triangular basement fifteen feet in height, to an elevation of more than sixty feet. It is surrounded by nine Corinthian pillars with an enriched cornice, supporting a cupola, which is surmounted by a gilt tripod resting upon dolphins; and a window of stained glass gives light to a circular apartment eighteen feet in diameter, in which are a portrait of the poet, an elegant edition of his works, and various paintings illustrative of the principal scenes and descriptions in his poems. Opposite to the entrance is a semicircular recess decorated with columns of the Doric order, intended for the reception of his statue; and in the grounds, comprising an area of about two acres, disposed in gravel-walks and shrubberies, and embellished with plantations of every variety of forest-trees, are placed in a handsome building for the purpose the well-known statues of Tam O'Shanter and Souter Johnny, executed by the late James Thom, and exhibited, previously to being deposited here, in almost every town of Britain. The Burns Monument was designed by Mr. Hamilton, and finished in 1823.

Notwithstanding the very advantageous situation of the town, which stands in the midst of a richly-cultivated district abounding in mineral wealth, and commands extensive means of communication both by sea and land, the town has never been much distinguished for its manufactures. A principal manufacture carried on here is that of shoes, which has for some years very much diminished, affordiug employment at present to little more than 200 persons. The working of muslins in varieties of patterns, for the Glasgow manufacturers, is carried on to a considerable extent, occupying about 300 persons at their own dwellings. Weaving with the hand-loom, for manufacturers in distant towns, employs about 150 persons; and tanning and currying are carried on upon a limited scale. A spacious factory for the spinning of wool and the manufacture of carpets, has been established by Mr. Templeton, which originated in a small establishment for the spinning of cotton-yarn; since its application to the present use, the building has been enlarged, and supplied with the most improved machinery of every kind, and the concern at present affords employment to 200 persons. A mill for carding, spinning, and weaving wool for plaids and blankets, has been also erected; the machinery is impelled by water, and about thirty persons are employed.

The foreign trade of the port consists almost entirely in the exportation of coal, and the importation of hemp, mats, tallow, tar, iron, pitch, timber, and other commodities; the number of vessels engaged in this trade is about eighteen. About 300 vessels are employed in the coasting trade, which is carried on to a very considerable extent; the imports are corn, groceries, hardware, iron, lead, haberdasheries, and other wares, and the exports are coal, corn, wool, and agricultural produce. In a late year, 739 vessels, of 62,730 tons' aggregate burthen, cleared out from the port, exclusively of steam-boats: 3136 quarters of wheat, 306 cwt. of flour, 11,145 quarters of oats, 5623 cwt. of meal, 318 quarters of barley, 643 quarters of beans, and fifty-one quarters of peas, were brought into the port in the year; and 60,000 tons of coal, 5571 quarters of wheat, 5586 cwt. of flour, eighty-seven quarters of oats, 3178 cwt. of oatmeal, eighty-four quarters of barley, and 183 quarters of beans, were shipped coastwise. The port appears to have been distinguished at an early period, and ships are said to have been built here by several of the kings of Scotland. The harbour is capacious, and affords good accommodation for vessels, but the entrance is somewhat obstructed by a bar thrown up by the accumulation of alluvial deposit, for the removal of which considerable sums have been expended with great effect. A wall was raised, nearly twenty feet in height, tapering from a base nearly thirty feet in breadth to about eight feet on the summit, and extending nearly 300 yards into the sea, on the south side; and a similar pier on the north side, parallel to the former, was likewise erected, at a very great expense, and recently enlarged. By these means the harbour has been considerably improved: and to render it still more complete, a breakwater has been partly erected at the mouth of the harbour, stretching still further into the sea, and which it is estimated will be completed at an expense of about £4000. The depth of water is from fourteen to sixteen feet, at ordinary spring tides; and about eighty sail of ships may lie in perfect safety within the bar.

The rivers Ayr and Doon abound with excellent salmon, and considerable quantities are taken with drags, and afterwards with stake-nets, and, besides affording an abundant supply for the town and neighbourhood, are sent to the Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London markets; the fishery in the Doon is let for £235, and the other for £45 per annum. The fisheries off the coast are extensive, and at present twenty boats, each managed by four men, are employed in taking cod, ling, haddock, whiting, turbot, skate, flounders, mackerel, and herrings, which last are taken only during the summer months: soles, red gurnet, and large conger-eels are found occasionally. The post-office has several deliveries daily, and the utmost facility of intercourse is maintained with the neighbouring towns, and with England and Ireland. The roads are kept in excellent order; and the trade of the place has been much improved by the formation of a railroad to Glasgow, for which there is an appropriate station on the north bank of the river, near the new bridge, having a frontage of eighty-four feet, with every accommodation for goods and passengers. The market-days are Tuesday and Friday; the markets are amply supplied with grain and provisions of every kind, and four annual fairs are held for cattle, horses, sheep, and agricultural produce.

The charter of INCORPORATION was first granted in the year 1202, by William the Lion, who conferred upon the burgesses the whole of the lands of the parish, with many valuable privileges. This charter was confirmed by Alexander II., who added the adjoining parish of Alloway, and extended the jurisdiction of the magistrates over the two parishes; and Robert Bruce, by a charter dated at Dunfermline, ratified all the grants of his predecessors, and erected Alloway into a barony, of which the corporation were the lords. Under these charters, the government of the burgh is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and twelve councillors, of which last number ten were formerly of the merchants' guild, and two of the trades'. The provost, bailies, and dean of guild are ex officio justices of the peace of the county. Until lately the burgh magistrates were elected from the guild brethren, who formed the council, by whom all the officers of the corporation were appointed; but the magistrates and councillors are now chosen agreeably with the provisions of the Municipal Reform act, by the parliamentary voters within the limits of the municipal burgh. The incorporated trade guilds were nine in number, and were styled the squaremen, hammermen, tailors, skinners, coopers, weavers, shoemakers, dyers, and butchers. The magistrates have jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, but confine the latter to petty misdemeanors; they hold courts weekly for civil and criminal causes. The more important cases are instituted in the sheriff's court, held every Tuesday from May to July, and from October to April; the number of causes in this court averages about 500 in the year, and very few of them are removed into the court of session, or supreme court. A sheriff court for the recovery of debts not exceeding £8. 6. 8. is held every Thursday; and a court every Monday chiefly for breaches of the peace. A dean-of-guild court is holden occasionally. These courts are held in the Court-House or County-Hall, on the north-west side of Wellington-square, a spacious and elegant building after the model of the temple of Isis at Rome, erected within the last thirty or forty years, at an expense of more than £30,000. The front is embellished with a portico of massive circular columns, affording an entrance into a lobby, lighted by an ample and stately dome rising to a considerable height above the building, which consists of two stories. The interior comprises the requisite offices for persons connected with the proceedings, arranged on the ground floor; while the upper story, to which is an ascent by a noble circular staircase, contains two spacious halls, with rooms for the judges and barristers, and retiring-rooms for the juries and witnesses. Of these halls, one is appropriated to the business of the courts, and the other chiefly used as a banqueting or assembly room; the latter is splendidly fitted up, and is embellished with a portrait of the late Lord Eglinton as colonel of the Royal Highland regiment, of Lord Glasgow, late lord-lieutenant of Ayrshire, and Mr. Hamilton, late convener of the county. The prisons for the burgh and county are spacious and well ventilated, and the arrangement is adapted for the classification of the prisoners, who are regularly employed in various trades, and receive a portion of their earnings on leaving the prison. Ayr is the head of a parliamentary district comprising the burghs of Irvine, Campbelltown, Inverary, and Oban, which are associated with it in returning a member to the imperial parliament: the right of election, previously vested in the corporation, is now, by the act of William IV., extended to the £10 proprietors and householders; the sheriff is the returning officer, and the present number of voters in the parliamentary burgh of Ayr is about 420.

The PARISH, including Alloway, forms part of an extensive and richly-cultivated valley, and comprises about 5000 acres. It is bounded on the north by the river Ayr, which separates it from the parishes of Newton and St. Quivox; on the south-west by the river Doon; and on the west by the sea. Towards the sea the surface is generally flat for about two miles, beyond which it rises by a gentle ascent to a considerable elevation, forming a range of hills that inclose the vale, and terminate towards the south-west in the loftier chain of Brown Carrick, which projects into the sea in some precipitous rocky headlands called the Heads of Ayr. The river Ayr, which has its rise in the eastern extremity of the county, divides the valley in which the parish is situated into two nearly equal parts, and flows between banks richly embellished with plantations and pleasing villas. It is subject to violent floods, and in its course to the sea conveys great quantities of alluvial soil, which, accumulating at its mouth, and to some extent obstructing the entrance to the harbour, is removed by the means formerly mentioned. The river Doon has its source in a lake of that name, to the south-east, on the confines of the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and in its progress displays many strikingly romantic features. A small stream called the Glengaw burn flows between the ancient parishes of Ayr and Alloway; and numerous springs are every where found, at a small depth from the surface, affording an abundant supply of water, but not well adapted for domestic use, containing carbonate and sulphate of lime, with some traces of iron in combination. Close to the eastern border of the parish is Loch Fergus, about a mile in circumference, and abounding with pike: near the margin were formerly the ruins of an ancient building of a castellated form, which have been long since removed to furnish materials for the erection of farm-buildings, and in the centre of the lake is a small island, the resort of wild ducks and other aquatic fowl.

The scenery is interspersed with numerous pleasing villas and stately residences. Among these are, Castlehill, commanding a fine view of the town and bay; Belmont Cottage, embosomed in trees; Doonholme, with its richly-planted demesne extending along the banks of the river; Rozelle, a stately mansion surrounded with trees of venerable growth; Belle-isle, an elegant castellated mansion with turrets, rising above the trees by which it is surrounded; and Mount Charles, with its flourishing plantations crowning the precipitous bank of the river Doon. The beautiful bay of Ayr is remarkable for the scenery it discloses. To the north are the islands of Cumbray, the Bute hills, and the Argyllshire mountains, with the summit of Ben-Lomond in the distance. To the west are seen the coast of Ireland, and, near the Ayrshire coast, the Craig of Ailsa, rising precipitously from a base two miles in circumference, to a height of 1000 feet above the level of the sea by which it is surrounded. The island of Arran with its lofty mountains, behind which is seen the Mull of Cantyre, also forms a conspicuous and interesting feature in the view.

The SOIL varies in different parts of the parish; but from the progressive improvements in agriculture, and the extensively adopted practice of tile-draining, the lands have been rendered generally fertile, and a considerable quantity of unprofitable land has been made productive. The greater portion is under tillage, and produces abundant crops of grain of all kinds, with turnips and other green crops. Considerable attention is paid to the rearing of live-stock; the sheep are chiefly of the Leicestershire and Cheviot breeds, and the cattle, with the exception of a few of the short-horned kind, are of the genuine Ayrshire breed, which has been brought to great perfection. The annual value of real property in the parish is £24,664. The substratum is mostly trap and whinstone, of which the rocks principally consist. Coal is prevalent, but the working of it has not been found profitable in this parish, though it has been extensively wrought in the parishes adjoining. Red sandstone and freestone also exist, and the latter was formerly quarried. Some beautiful specimens of agate are found upon the shore; and in the bed of the river occurs a peculiar species of claystone with small grains of dark felspar and mica, which is frequently used for polishing marble and metals, and as a hone for giving a fine edge to cutting tools.

The parishes of Ayr and Alloway were united towards the close of the seventeenth century. The church of Ayr, which had been made collegiate in the reign of Mary, afforded sufficient accommodation for the whole population; and divine service, which, for some time after the union of the parishes, was performed in the church of Alloway every third Sunday, was finally restricted to the church of Ayr. For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The stipend of the incumbent of the first charge is £178. 5., including half the interest of a sum of £1000 bequeathed for the equal benefit of both ministers; with a manse, a comfortable modern residence. The second minister has also a stipend, including £20 interest money above stated, £82. 15. 8. received from the public exchequer, and £108. 6. 8. paid from the funds of the burgh; with an allowance for a manse. The Old church was erected about the middle of the seventeenth century, to supply the place of the church of St. John, which had been desecrated by Cromwell, and converted into an armoury for the fort that he erected around the site. It is a substantial edifice, but greatly inferior to the original church in elegance of design. The New church was erected in 1810, at an expense of nearly £6000, and is a handsome edifice. The two churches together are capable of accommodating from 2000 to 2500 persons. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Synod, Wesleyans, United Original Seceders, Reformed Congregation, Episcopalians, and Moravians. The parochial schools of the burgh, by a charter in 1798, were incorporated into an institution called the Academy, and a handsome and capacious building was erected with funds raised by contributions from the heritors, and subscriptions. It is conducted under the superintendence of a committee of directors, by a rector who has a salary of £100 per annum, and three masters with salaries of about £20 each; the course of instruction is comprehensive, and the number of pupils averages about 500. A school in which about 200 children are taught, is supported by the produce of a bequest of £2000 by Captain Smith, under the direction of the two ministers and the magistrates.

The hospital for the poor, or Poor's House, was erected in 1759, at the expense of the corporation, aided by subscription, for the reception of the infirm and helpless poor; it is conducted by a master and mistress with a salary of £80. A dispensary was estabhshed in 1817, which afforded medical assistance to more than 500 patients annually, and a fever hospital has been lately built, with which the dispensary is now conjoined: the subscriptions amount to about £300 per annum. A savings' bank was instituted in 1815; the present amount of deposits is about £3000, and the number of contributors 700: the gross amount of deposits, since its commencement, exceeds £30,000. Numerous charitable benefactions have been made, the principal of which are, a bequest by Mr. Patterson, of Ayr, to the Glasgow Infirmary, of £500, in consideration of which the parish is privileged to send four patients to that institution; an annual income of £55, derived from a bequest left by Mr. Smith, a native of this town, and alderman of Londonderry in Ireland, distributed among poor persons; a bequest of £300 by Mr. James Dick, the interest of which is similarly distributed among the poor; the farm of Sessionfield, consisting of 100 acres, bequeathed by Sir Robert Blackwood, of Edinburgh, a native of this parish, the produce of which is distributed among poor householders; a bequest of £1000 by Mrs. Crawford, for reduced females; a bequest of £300 by Captain Tennant, to the Poor-house; a bequest of £5 annually to ten females, by Miss Ballantine, of Castle-hill; and a bequest of £1000 to the poor of the parish, by Mr. Ferguson of Doonholme.

There are remains of the church of St. John, within the area of Cromwell's fort, consisting of the tower; and also of the old church of Alloway, of which the walls are entire. The moat of Alloway may be traced, on the approach to Doonholme House: on its summit, according to ancient records, courts of justice were held for the trial of petty offences. There are evident traces of the old Roman road leading from Galloway into the county of Ayr, and passing within half a mile of the town: portions of it are still in tolerable preservation. A tract on the coast, called the Battle Fields, is supposed to have been the scene of a fierce conflict between the natives and the Romans. Both Roman and British implements of war, urns of baked clay, and numerous other relics of Roman antiquity, have been found at this place. Coins of Charles II. were discovered under the foundation of the old market-cross, a handsome structure of hexagonal form, removed in 1788.

Johannes Scotus, who flourished in the ninth century, eminent for his proficiency in Greek and oriental literature, and who was employed by Alfred the Great to restore learning at Oxford; and Andrew Michael Ramsay, better known as the Chevalier Ramsay, the friend of Fenelon, Bishop of Cambray, were natives of Ayr. John Loudon McAdam, celebrated for his improvements in the construction of roads, and David Cathcart, Lord Alloway, one of the lords of session and of the high court of justiciary, were also natives; and John Mair, author of a system of book-keeping, and Dr. Thomas Jackson, professor of natural philosophy in the university of St. Andrew's, and author of several valuable works, were connected with the town. But the most celebrated name connected with the place, is that of Robert Burns, who was born at Alloway, in the parish, in a cottage which is still remaining. On the 6th of August, 1844, the town of Ayr was the scene of great rejoicings, occasioned by a national festival being held in the neighbourhood, on that day, in honour of the memory of Burns, and to greet the three sons and the sister of the bard. At an early hour of the morning, visiters from all parts of Scotland and many from England and Ireland had arrived, to join in or be spectators of the proceedings; and a grand procession was shortly formed, which passed from the town along a road thronged with people, to the more immediate scene of the events of the day, the banks of the river Doon. Here, in the vicinity of the poet's birth-place, beside the old kirk of Alloway which his muse has immortalized, and beneath the monument raised by his admiring countrymen, the procession closed; and not long afterwards a banquet was partaken of by above 2000 persons, including many visiters of distinguished talent, in a large pavilion 120 feet square, that had been specially erected in a field adjoining the monument. Numerous appropriate speeches, some of considerable eloquence, were made upon the occasion. That of the Earl of Eglinton, lord-lieutenant of the county, who presided, and that of the croupier. Professor Wilson, were particularly remarkable; and the whole of the proceedings were characterized by the utmost enthusiasm, and by an universal desire to merge every individual feeling, that the day might be truly devoted to its own peculiar object.

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