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Dalry, Ayrshire

Historical Description

DALRY, a manufacturing town and parish, in the district of CUNNINGHAME, county of AYR, 5 miles (S. W.) from Beith, and 7 (N. N. E.) from Saltcoats; containing, according to the last census, 4791 inhabitants. This place derives its name, in the Gaelic language signifying the "king's valley", from its situation in the vale of Garnock, which formed part of the royal demesnes. Previously to the year 1608 the town was an inconsiderable village, consisting only of five or six decent houses and a few straggling cottages, and containing scarcely one hundred inhabitants. It owes its origin and increase to the erection of the parish church at this place, towards the commencement of the seventeenth century, when the two ancient churches, becoming dilapidated, were abandoned. The town is beautifully situated on a gentle eminence rising from the right bank of the river Garnock, and between the rivers Rye and Caaf, which flow into the Garnock above and below the town. It consists principally of five streets, three of which terminate in an open area nearly in the centre. The houses are regularly and well built, and many of them are of handsome appearance; the streets are lighted with gas by subscription of the inhabitants, for which purpose a company was formed, and works erected, in 1834. There are two good bridges of stone across the Garnock, of two and three arches respectively; and bridges of one arch each have been erected over the rivers Rye and Caaf.

The weaving of silk for the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley is the principal occupation of the inhabitants of the town, 500 persons being constantly thus engaged; and as they are employed chiefly in the superior description of articles, they have not been subjected to the depression occasioned by the introduction of power-looms, which are not adapted to the finer kinds of work. A great number of females, also, are employed in sewing and embroidering muslins, for the Glasgow and Paisley markets, which are celebrated for Ayrshire needlework; and a mill originally erected for spinning cotton has been enlarged, and converted to the spinning of woollen-yarn for the making of carpets. There is likewise a manufactory for wooden plates, bowls, ladles, and other articles of the kind, the machinery of which is driven by a steam-engine of two-horse power. The town contains numerous handsome shops, amply supplied with every requisite for the supply of the inhabitants and of the neighbourhood. A public library is supported by subscription, and has more than 1000 volumes: a church library, also supported by subscription, in connexion with the parochial school, contains 600 volumes; and there is a library belonging to the congregation of the United Presbyterian Synod. The Ardrossan Farmers' Society hold their annual exhibitions occasionally in the town, and the Ayrshire Agricultural Association meet alternately here and at Kilmarnock. Six fairs are annually held, but one only is of any importance, which takes place on the last day of July, and was formerly one of the most extensive horse-fairs in the west of Scotland; it is chiefly for horses and cattle, but comparatively little business is transacted.

The PARISH is ten miles in length and from three to eight in breadth, and comprises 19,046 acres, of which 12,287 are arable, 6089 pasture and waste, and 670 woodland and plantations. Its surface is pleasingly varied. A rich and fertile valley, along which the river Garnock pursues its winding course, intersects the parish nearly in the centre. On the western side of this valley the grounds rise by a gradual ascent towards the northwest boundary, and terminate in a ridge of hills, the highest of which has an elevation of 1200 feet above the sea. The lands on the eastern side are interspersed with hills of various height, of which Baidland and Caerwinning are the chief, the former having an elevation of 946, and the latter of 634 feet. The river Garnock rises in the parish of Kilbirnie, flows for seven miles through this parish, and after receiving in its course numerous tributary streams, of which the Rye and the Caaf are the principal, falls into the sea at Irvine. The Rye has its source in the parish of Largs, and runs through a deep and richly-wooded dell into this parish. The Caaf rises on the confines of Kilbride and Largs, and forcing its way through a basaltic rock, in which it has worn for itself a passage, enters a deep and rocky glen, where, its course being obstructed by huge blocks of stone, it forms a romantic cascade, falling from a height of twenty-four feet, in one unbroken column about twenty feet in breadth, between two large masses of rock. There are numerous springs of excellent water in the parish, and also some possessing mineral properties, one of which, at Loans Bridge, is a strong chalybeate, and one at Maulside powerfully efficacious in scorbutic affections. The vale of the Garnock is thought to have been anciently an extensive lake, reaching from this place to Johnstone in the county of Renfrew, and of which the lochs of Kilbirnie and Castle-Semple formed a part; a supposition in some degree rendered probable from the number of trees that have been found embedded in the soil of the valley.

The SOIL is generally a thin cold retentive clay, with a portion of rich loam along the banks of the Garnock; in some parts, of more adhesive clay, with a large extent of moss; and in the uplands, of a light and dry quality. The progress of the plough is impeded by vast numbers of boulders, of which, though great quantities have been removed at various times, many still remain. Some of the mosses are of great depth, and in all of them oak, birch, and hazel trees are found prostrate. The crops are wheat, oats, barley, beans, potatoes, and flax: the system of agriculture is in an advanced state, and much waste land has been brought into cultivation. The dairy-farms are extensive and well managed; about 1400 milch-cows are kept, mostly of the Cunninghame breed, and the average quantity of cheese, to the making of which particular attention is paid, exceeds 35,000 stones annually. In general the sheep are of the black-faced Linton breed, with a few of a breed between the Cheviot and Leicestershire. The annual value of real property in the parish is £16,314. The plantations, especially those on the lands of Blair, which have been chiefly formed on steep rocky banks within the last forty or fifty years, are in a very thriving condition, and consist of oak, ash, beech, chesnuts, and willow, and of silver and spruce firs, and larch. Those around the house of Blair contain several fine specimens of luxuriant growth, among which are a Spanish-chesnut tree and some plane-trees; and in the grounds are various kinds of evergreens, including Portugal laurels and rhododendrons of unusual size. The plantations on the lands of Maulside are also remarkably fine. The substrata of the parish comprise sandstone, limestone, and coal, and the hills are mostly claystone-porphyry, greenstone, and basalt; jasper is found in the porphyry, hornstone in the bed of the Caaf, and agate in that of the Rye. In the hill of Baidland, a vein of cannel coal has been discovered of the thickness of six feet, exceedingly inflammable, and, when burnt, emitting a strong sulphureous smell. Coal is wrought in various parts of the parish. Limestone is extensively quarried, not only for the supply of the parish, but for that of the adjoining districts; and there are three lime-kilns, at which great quantities of lime are burnt, and sold at a very moderate price. But more valuable than these minerals is the ironstone discovered since the opening of the Ayr railway, and which is now wrought to a great extent; ironworks have been erected on the estate of Blair, and others are contemplated. The discovery of most valuable strata of clay and blackband-ironstone has increased the value of property, and infused a spirit of enterprise that was previously altogether unknown here. Blair House is a spacious mansion, situated in a richly-embellished demesne; a handsome residence has been erected at Swinridgemuir, and there is also a good house on the lands of Pitcon. Facility of intercourse is afforded by excellent roads; and the railway from Glasgow to Ayr, Kilmarnock, &c., has a station at Dairy.

For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is in the presbytery of Irvine, synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of W. Blair, Esq.: the minister's stipend is £231. 10., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £24 per annum. Dalry church, erected in 1771, and thoroughly repaired in 1821, is a plain edifice adapted for 870 persons. There are places of worship for the Free Church and United Presbyterian Synod. The parochial school affords a good course of education; the master has a salary of £32, with £65 fees, and a house and garden. There are considerable remains of an ancient fortification on the summit of Caerwinning hill, consisting of three concentric circular ramparts of stone, inclosing an area about two acres in extent, and surrounded by a fosse which may still be traced. The walls, about ten feet in thickness, have been nearly destroyed by the removal of the stones, at different periods, for fences and other uses. The Scottish forces are said to have been encamped here previously to the battle of Largs. There were formerly some remains, also, of a square fort on a precipitous rock called Aitnach Craig, on the bank of the Rye; but it has been totally destroyed. An artificial mound near the town, named Courthill, of conical form, and grown over with grass, was once the place for dispensing justice; and various tumuli have been discovered, in some of which were human bones. Four urns containing human bones have been found on the lands of Linn, near the site of an ancient chapel. An urn, also, containing calcined bones and ashes, has been discovered near Blair House.

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