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Girvan, Ayrshire

Historical Description

GIRVAN, a busy sea-port, a market-town, and parish, in the district of Carrick, county of Ayr, 29 miles (N. N. E.) from Stranraer, and 97 (S. W. by W.) from Edinburgh; containing, in 1841, 7424 inhabitants. Girvan derives its name from the river on which it is situated, and which is supposed to have obtained its name of Girvan from the British term Garev-avan, or Garv-avan, signifying "the rough river". There are few circumstances of historical importance connected with the place, and its origin and early history are not distinctly recorded. The town is beautifully seated at the mouth of the river, which here discharges its waters into a spacious bay; and commands an extensive and interesting view of the sea, the rock of Ailsa, the Mull and promontory of Cantyre, the islands of Sanda, Arran, and Little Cumbray, part of the Isle of Bute, and the coast of Ireland in the distance. It appears to have risen into note from the grant of a charter to Thomas Boyd of Ballochtoul, which was recited and confirmed to Sir Archibald Muir of Thornton, provost of Edinburgh, in 1696 by William III., who bestowed on it all the privileges of a burgh of barony; and from the advantage of its situation on the coast, it gradually increased in population and extent, and ultimately became the seat of trade. The number of inhabitants was much augmented by the introduction of cotton-weaving, and the settlement of numerous families from Ireland, for whom many small houses were built in the town and suburbs. Since the opening of the Glasgow and Ayr railway in 1840, the trade has greatly increased; the population of the town and parish exceeds 8000, and is rapidly augmenting. A public library is maintained by subscription, and two circulating libraries have been established, which are well supported; there is also a library in Girvan belonging to the agricultural society of the district.

Not less than 2000 looms are employed in weaving cotton for the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers, who have agents settled here for conducting that business; and many of the inhabitants are engaged in the several trades connected with the port, and requisite for the supply of the neighbourhood with various articles of merchandise. Shipping is carried on to a very considerable extent. There are about twenty vessels belonging to the port, of from 100 to 300 tons' burthen, chiefly engaged in the export of coal from the adjoining parish of Dailly, and of farm produce. About 1200 bolls of wheat are sent off quarterly, on the average; from 3000 to 4000 tons of potatoes are annually shipped, and the yearly export of coal amounts to 12,000 tons. The harbour is one of the safest to enter, and one of the most secure when within it, in the west of Scotland. Until lately it was in a totally unimproved condition, admitting only vessels of inconsiderable burthen; but a small quay has been constructed, which has much facilitated the exportation of grain and coal: an increased improvement, however, of the harbour, is still greatly to be desired, and the trade of the town would also be promoted by the extension of the Ayr railway southward to Girvan. Branch banks have been established, and there is a post-office. The market, which is amply supplied with provisions of all kinds, is regularly held, once a week; and fairs, to which black-cattle are brought for sale, are held on the last Mondays in April and October, chiefly for the hiring of servants. Facility of intercourse with all places of importance in the district is afforded by excellent roads, of which that from Glasgow to Portpatrick passes along the west side of the parish for nearly nine miles; and there are good inland roads traversing the parish in all directions. Previous to the opening of the Glasgow and Ayr railway, there was but one coach running between Girvan and Ayr, while at present there are not less than three coaches, and two steam-boats plying daily: communication has also lately been opened by coaches between Girvan and Wigtownshire, and steam navigation is maintained with Glasgow for conveying agricultural produce to that city. The Girvan is frequented by salmon, and a considerable fishery was formerly carried on, under the protection of the charter, by the proprietors on both sides of the river; but it has been greatly diminished by the laying down of stake-nets. The bay abounds with fish of various kinds, the chief of which are cod, haddock, whiting, mackerel, soles, flounders, turbot, and lobsters; but, notwithstanding, very little attention was paid to this valuable fishery till of late, when some steps were taken to render it more available to the trade of the place.

Within the last few years, the attention of those interested in the welfare of the town has been directed to the obtaining of a local railway communication. In the month of December 1844, the magistrates and town council brought the subject formally under the consideration of the landed proprietors in the district of Carrick, urging the importance of an extension of the Glasgow and Ayr railway to the port of Girvan, and the great benefits that would result from an increased improvement of the harbour. In the address then issued, the authorities adverted to the favourable position of the place for purposes of traffic with Ireland, Liverpool, and other parts; to the agricultural richness of the country to be traversed, and, towards Girvan, its abundance of valuable minerals, particularly coal and limestone. The town itself, also, with its large population extensively engaged in manufactures and shipping, was stated to present a powerful claim for the desired extension; and the inhabitants of the town of Maybole, and the villages of Kirkmichael, Crossbill, &c., were likewise referred to as being largely engaged in the cotton manufacture, and likely to augment the traffic of the proposed line very considerably. Accordingly, in the parliamentary session of 1846, an act was passed for the construction of a railway of twenty-one miles and a half, from the Ayr railway near the manse of Newton to the town of Girvan, with a branch of nearly a mile to Maybole; to be called the Glasgow and Belfast Union Railway. In the following year, an act was passed authorizing, among other things, a deviation of about four miles in the proposed line, and a new branch of one mile and a quarter to Maybole in lieu of that sanctioned by the act of 1846. Should this extension of the Ayr line be carried out, and a good harbour formed, there is reason to believe that a great increase of trade would spring up, and that Girvan would soon become one of the most flourishing towns in the west of Scotland. The trade in coal alone, is capable of almost indefinite expansion; the coal fields, which lie in the parish of Dailly, are supposed to be almost inexhaustible, and even at present there are four extensive collieries along the proposed line capable of producing 100,000 tons a year.

The BURGH, under its charter, is governed by two bailies and a council of twelve burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, treasurer, and other officers. Four of the council retire annually, but they are capable of re-election by the majority of the burgesses; and the bailies are annually elected by the council: the other officers of the corporation are appointed by the magistrates. The senior bailie is, by virtue of his office, a member of the council, and the junior bailie takes the office of senior magistrate for the ensuing year. The jurisdiction extends over the whole of the burgh, and the barony of Ballochtoul. A bailie's court is held weekly on Wednesday, in the town-hall, for the determination of civil pleas to the amount of £2, and for the trial of petty offences, which are generally punished by the imposition of fines not exceeding £1, and with imprisonment for non-payment. The average number of civil cases appears for some years to have been gradually diminishing, and at present is under fifty a year. This is attributable to the introduction of small-debt sheriff courts, which are held by the sheriff of the county once every four months, for sums not exceeding £8. 6. 8.; and justice-of-peace courts, which are held every month, for sums not exceeding £5. All persons wishing to carry on trade must enter as freemen, for which a fee of £2 on admission is paid to the common fund. The police is under the management of the magistrates; and sixty of the inhabitants are annually appointed constables for the preservation of the peace. Attached to the town-hall is a prison for petty offenders in default of payment of their fines, and for the temporary confinement of others previously to their being sent to the gaol of Ayr.

The PARISH is nine miles in length, and extends about four miles in mean breadth, though of very irregular form, varying in breadth from two to seven miles. It is bounded on the west for nearly the whole of its length, by the sea, and comprises about 19,000 acres, of which the greater part is arable land and moorland pasture, and the remainder waste, with a small portion of woodland and plantation. The surface, which in no part is very level, is diagonally intersected by a boldly elevated ridge, whose highest point is 1200, and the mean height 900, feet above the level of the sea. The lands are watered by three rivers, of which the Girvan is the principal; the Lendal, a comparatively small stream, falls into the sea at Carleton bay, and the Assel, after flowing through the parish, falls into the Stinchar in the parish of Colmonell. There are also two lakes; but though of great depth, they cover a very inconsiderable portion of ground. The soil is generally fertile, and in the lower parts well adapted for the growth of wheat; in the higher parts the lands are coarse, and comparatively unproductive. Near the town the land is of the very best quality, and lets at from £6 to £8 an acre. The crops are wheat, oats, barley, and bear, potatoes in large quantities, beans, peas, and a considerable breadth of turnips for the sheep; the system of husbandry is improved, and draining has been practised to a great extent on the lands requiring it. In fact, better cultivated land is not to be found within the county of Ayr. Seaweed, obtainable in abundance on the shore, is used as manure, but not altogether to the exclusion of lime. The farm-houses and offices in the parish have been almost all rebuilt within the last fifty or sixty years, and are in general substantial and commodious; some of them, of more recent erection, are inferior to none in this part of the country. Great attention is paid to live stock, though from a greater quantity of land having been improved and rendered arable, the number of cattle pastured has proportionally diminished. The dairy-farms are well managed; the cows are of the Ayrshire breed, and about 500 are kept on the several farms. About 300 head of young cattle are pastured in the parish. The sheep are chiefly of the larger black-faced breed, with a few of the Cheviot; upwards of 2000 are kept, and about 400 bought in and fed on turnips for the markets. The annual value of real property in the parish is £12,845. There is very little natural wood, and the plantations are on a limited scale.

The substrata are mostly limestone, red freestone, whinstone of a bluish colour, and graystone in detached masses; the limestone has been extensively quarried for the supply of the neighbouring district. Copper has been found on some of the lands; and it is thought there are abundant veins of the ore at Ardmillan. Indeed, attempts have been made to ascertain the fact, but upon too inefficient a scale to warrant any just conclusion: what ore was obtained was found to be of rich quality, and in searching for it several beautiful specimens of asbestos were discovered. Along the coast, the rocks are chiefly of the conglomerate kind; and huge masses are to be seen, piled upon each other, and in some instances so nicely poised on the slender props which sustain their prodigious weight as to fill the beholder with fearful apprehensions.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Ayr, synod of Glasgow and Ayr; patron, the Crown. The minister's stipend is £269. 12., with a manse, and a glebe valued at £12 per annum. Girvan church, situated in the centre of the town, and close to the Glasgow and Portpatrick road, was erected about the year 1780, and is adapted for a congregation of 850 persons; it is in bad repair, uncomfortable, and very awkwardly situated. There are places of worship for the United Presbyterian Church, Wesleyan Methodists, the Free Church, and the First Reforming Protestant Congregation of Girvan, a body that separated from the Free Church. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £34, with £50 fees, and an allowance of £20 in lieu of a house and garden. He also receives the interest of £1000 bequeathed by Mrs. Crauford, of Ardmillan, for the education of forty children without fees, of whom ten are taught church music by the precentor of the church, to whom she left £12 per annum for that purpose. Another school is supported by subscription, for teaching children to read the Scriptures, and for instructing them in the Catechism. A savings' bank has been established, and some benevolent societies have contributed to diminish the number of applications for parochial aid. Vestiges remain of numerous small circular camps; and there were formerly many cairns, but most of them have been destroyed to furnish materials for fences: on removing one of these, a stone coffin of thin slabs was found, and an urn of earthenware, rudely ornamented, containing ashes.

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