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Old Cumnock, Ayrshire

Historical Description

CUMNOCK, OLD, a manufacturing town and a parish, in the district of KYLE, county of AYR, 10½ miles (S. W.) from Muirkirk, and 61 (S. W. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing 2836 inhabitants, of whom two-fifths are in the town. This place derives its name of Cumnock from its situation in the bosom of a hill, and its adjunct Old by way of distinction from that part of the parish which, more than a century since, was erected into a separate parish. The town appears to owe its origin to a charter granted to Sir Thomas Campbell, prebendary of Cumnock, by James IV., making the church lands a free burgh of barony, and empowering him and his successors to let the glebe, in burgage tenure, for building. After passing through several hands, the barony came ultimately, in the reign of Charles II., into the possession of the Earl of Dumfries, and is now the property of the Stuart family, Marquesses of Bute. The town is beautifully situated in a deep recess, at the confluence of the rivers Glasnock and Lugar, and consists chiefly of three streets, and a spacious quadrangular area now the market- place, the sides of which form ranges of good houses, and in the centre of which is the church. The houses are regularly built, with the exception of those in some narrow lanes, which are of inferior order. The whole has an air of cheerful neatness; and, combined with the interesting banks of the Lugar, and the rich woodlands immediately surrounding, it presents a pleasing appearance. Gas-works have been constructed for lighting the town; and there are two public libraries supported by subscription, each of which has an extensive and well-selected number of volumes. A post-office is also established.

The manufacture of wooden snuff-boxes resembling those originally made at Laurencekirk, is extensively carried on here, and has been brought to a state of great perfection. These boxes are made from the wood of the plane-tree, as being closest in its texture; and at the original prices paid for them, a solid foot of wood worth three shillings, could be manufactured into boxes that would sell for £100. From the great reduction in the price since the extension of the manufacture, however, they are sold for less than a tenth part of the original value; and the painting of the boxes in devices has been nearly superseded by the introduction of chequering, which is performed in great variety by machinery, producing brilliancy of colour and elegance of pattern. The number of persons employed in this manufacture is about fifty. Weaving is carried on for the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley, and more than 120 looms are in constant operation; a considerable number of females, also, are employed in working and embroidering muslins, which are much admired. There is a large manufactory for threshing-mills and cheese-presses, some of the former of which are sent to Ireland; also a pottery for brown earthenware, for which purpose clay of good quality is found in the parish. Fairs are held on the first and sixth Thursdays after Candlemas, the Wednesday after the last Tuesday in May and first Tuesday in July, and the Wednesday after the third Tuesday in October (O. S.). Great facility of intercourse is afforded by the Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle railway. A baron-bailie is appointed to superintend the police of the town, by the Stuart family.

The PARISH is about ten miles in length and two in average breadth, and comprises 16,400 acres, of which about 630 are woodland and plantations, 2500 moorland pasture, and the remainder arable. Its surface is pleasingly undulated, rising in some parts into hills of gentle elevation; and along the banks of the Lugar are fine tracts of level ground. In this parish the whole of the lands have an elevation of some hundred feet above the sea, but they are finely sheltered by the still higher lands of the district adjoining. The river Lugar, which has its source in the eastern extremity of the parish, is formed by the union of the streams of Glenmore and Bella, and after constituting the northern boundary of the parish, flows with a western course into the river Ayr. Its scenery is boldly varied; in some parts the banks are richly wooded, whilst in others the stream runs between perpendicular ramparts of barren rock and projecting crags. The river Glasnock issues from a lake on the southern confines of the parish, and after flowing though the town, falls into the Lugar. The lake just referred to abounds with trout, pike, and eels; trout are found also in the Lugar, and salmon were formerly often taken in its waters, but, since the construction of a dam on the river Ayr, none have ascended so high. The SOIL is chiefly clayey, intermixed with portions of a light and sandy quality, and occasionally a rich loam. The crops grown are oats, with a little wheat, barley, and bear, also potatoes, peas, beans, and turnips; the system of agriculture is in an advanced state. A great degree of attention is paid to the management of the dairies, and considerable quantities of cheese are made, and sent to the neighbouring markets, where it is much esteemed. About 1000 milch-cows, of the Ayrshire breed, are kept on the several farms; and the number of sheep, chiefly of the black-faced kind, averages about 1200. The annual value of real property in the parish is £9724. The substrata are limestone, coal, and freestone. The limestone is of very superior quality; and the lime, which is distinguished by the appellation of Benston lime, is in great demand for cement, and, from its property of acquiring hardness when under water, is much used in the erection of bridges. The freestone on the banks of the Lugar has a light-blue tint, and is susceptible of a very high polish; a white freestone is also found, which is in repute for millstones, and sent off in great quantities for exportation. The coal is alternated with strata of trap, but is on the whole of good quality. The woods consist of oak, ash, elm, beech, plane, lime, chesnut, and birch; and the plantations, of silver, spruce, and Scotch firs, poplar, mountain-ash, holly, and evergreens of almost every variety: many of the trees are of stately growth, and all are in a flourishing condition. Dumfries House, one of the seats of the Stuart family, Marquesses of Bute, is a very spacious and handsome mansion, built of the blue freestone found in the parish, and containing stately apartments; the walls of the drawing-room are hung with some fine old tapestry, presented to one of the Earls of Dumfries by Louis XIV. of France. This house is beautifully situated on the bank of the Lugar, which flows through the pleasure-grounds, and over which an elegant bridge has been erected near the mansion. Glasnock House, situated on the bank of the Glasnock, is an elegant mansion of recent erection, built with the white freestone found near the Lugar. Logan and Garrallan are likewise good houses.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Ayr, synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Stuart family. The minister's stipend is £218, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £20 per annum. Cumnock church, erected in 1754, is adapted for 900 persons: the cemetery has been removed to a rising ground called the Bar Hill, east of the town. There are places of worship for members of the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Synod. The parochial school affords instruction to about 130 scholars: the master has a salary of £34, with £15 fees, and a house and garden; he also receives one-half of the interest of a bequest of £1000 by Mr. Duncan, the other half of the interest being distributed among poor persons not on the parish list. There is a savings' bank with a fund of about £1000; and three friendly societies are supported. Within the grounds of Dumfries House are the ruins of the ancient castle of Terringzean, anciently the residence of the Loudoun family; and in the south side of the parish are some slight ruins of Boreland Castle.

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