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Great Cumbray, Buteshire

Historical Description

CUMBRAY, GREAT, an island and parish, in the county of BUTE, 2 miles (W.) from Largs; including the villages of Millport and Newton, and containing in summer about 1400, and in winter about 1000, inhabitants. Its name is derived from a Gaelic term signifying a bold or steep coast rising abruptly from the sea, and this description corresponds with the natural appearance of the island, which presents a steep and precipitous coast all round. The isle is supposed formerly to have been in the possession of the Norwegians, concerning whose occupancy, however, no particulars are known. They are said to have been dispossessed of the territory after many successive encounters with the Scots, by the decisive battle of Largs, when they were completely routed and driven from the coast. A cathedral once stood here, which was dedicated to St. Columba, but no remains of it are now visible. The island was formerly distributed into a number of small baronies, the owners of the principal of which were the families of Hunter, Stuart, and Montgomerie. The barony of Kames, belonging to the Hunters, has given name to one of the finest bays in the island, and on this property, also, stood the village of Kames, some vestiges of which may still be traced. Ballykellet, which appears to have been the most considerable of all the baronies, belonged to the Montgomeries, who possessed the patronage of the parish, and part of whose mansion-house was until lately standing, having in it a stone with the family arms sculptured.

The island is of very irregular figure, extending about three miles and a half in length, from north-east to south-west, and about two miles in breadth: its circumference is ten miles, comprehending an area of 5120 acres. It is situated on the Firth of Clyde, and is separated from Little Cumbray, on the south, by a strait three-quarters of a mile in breadth; from Ayrshire, on the east, by Fairley Road, about one mile and a half broad; and from the isle of Bute, on the west, by a part of the Firth, which is about four miles wide. Numerous hills rise, with a gradual ascent, from the extremities of the island to its centre, and merge in one continuous range called the Shough-ends, which runs from north to south nearly throughout the whole length of the island; it attains an elevation of about 500 feet above the sea, and commands one of the most beautiful views on the coast of Scotland. The shores and bays abound with fish of various kinds, and oysters are found in some parts. A stream of inconsiderable dimensions, taking its rise from two small lochs that communicate with each other, in the highest part of the island, receives the waters of several springs, and at length becomes sufficiently large to form a mill-dam, which the people use for grinding their corn. The soil varies in different places. On the coast it is light and sandy, lying on rock or clay; on the higher grounds it is gravelly and thin, tending to moss, bedded on rock and covered with heath; in some of the valleys it is a deep rich loam, incumbent on clay, and producing good crops. About 3000 acres are arable; upwards of 1400 are waste, a considerable part of which, however, affords pasture for cattle; thirty acres are common, and 120 are planted. Grain and green crops of all kinds are produced; the cattle are of the pure Ayrshire breed. The annual value of real property in the parish is returned at £1845.

The rocks consist of several varieties of whinstone, of limestone, and sandstone. The limestone is not wrought, on account of the expense of fuel; but the sandstone, which is plentiful, is wrought by about six men: during the formation of the Ayrshire railway, about eighty men were employed in quarrying for the purposes of that undertaking. There is a regular communication with the land by steam-boats, and the island is much resorted to by strangers in the summer season. Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Greenock, synod of Glasgow and Ayr; patron, the Earl of Glasgow. The stipend is £159, and there is a good manse, with a glebe of six acres, valued at £8. 10. per annum. Cumbray church, which was built in 1837 to meet the exigences of a largely augmented population, is situated on rising ground, immediately behind the village of Millport; it is a commodious and elegant structure, ornamented with a handsome tower, and capable of accommodating 750 persons. A place of worship has been erected for Baptists; likewise a Free church. There is a parochial school, where, in addition to the usual branches, Latin, mensuration, and navigation are taught; the master has the legal accommodations, and a salary of £30, with £15 from fees. A parochial library is supported, and also a library in connexion with the parish church.

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