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Irvine, Ayrshire

Historical Description

IRVINE, a royal burgh, and a parish, in the district of Cunninghame, county of Ayr, 26 miles (W. S. W.) from Glasgow, and 68½ (W. by S.) from Edinburgh; the parish containing 5214 inhabitants, of whom 4594 are resident within the burgh; exclusively of 3053 in the parish of Dundonald, into which the town extends, the total population of the town being 7647. This place derives its name from the river on which it is situated, and appears to have attained a high degree of importance at a very early period. The inhabitants obtained from Alexander II. a charter conferring upon the town the privileges of a royal burgh; and a charter confirming all previous grants was subsequently given to them by Robert Bruce, in recompense of their services during his wars with England in the reign of Edward I. These two charters were renewed and enlarged by successive sovereigns till the reign of James VI.; and the various immunities possessed by the inhabitants were ratified by parliament in 1641. The town is finely situated on the nortii-east bank of the river Irvine, near its junction with the Garnock, and comprises one spacious street, extending throughout its whole length, from which several smaller but well-formed streets diverge at right angles. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, all at the expense of the corporation. A public library was established in 1796, and is supported by subscription; there is also a reading and news room, well supplied with the daily journals and the most esteemed periodical publications. A handsome bridge, erected in 1746, and greatly improved in 1827. connects the town with the spacious suburb of Fullarton, on the opposite bank of the river; and in the immediate vicinity are some fine downs, on which the game of golf takes place, and the Eglinton races are held. The environs are interspersed with numerous pleasant villas; and the scenery, in itself picturesque, is heightened by the proximity of the grounds of Eglinton Park.

The chief manufacture carried on is the weaving of book-muslin, jaconets, and checks, in which more than 500 looms are engaged; and great numbers of females are employed in tambouring muslin. The manufacture of anchors and cables is also considerable: there are extensive rope-walks, a yard for ship-building, and some works for magnesia and other chemical processes. This port, previously to the erection of Port-Glasgow, was the shipping-place of the Glasgow merchants: the trade now consists principally in the export of coal, of which nearly 300,000 tons are annually shipped, chiefly for Ireland and various parts of the British coast, but occasionally for France, Malta, Gibraltar, and other foreign parts. The chief imports are, timber, and sometimes grain, from America; grain and butter, in large quantities, from Ireland; and iron, slates, and limestone, from various places. In 1843, the number of vessels belonging to the port was 123, of 15,380 tons' aggregate burthen; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-house, £2040. Irvine harbour, which was greatly improved in 1826, and has since been under the superintendence of commissioners, has thirteen feet and a half depth of water on the bar at spring-tides, and is accessible to vessels of from 200 to 250 tons. The jurisdiction of the port extends over that portion of the coast included between Troon and Largs. The post-office has a good delivery. Branches of the Union Bank of Scotland, the Ayrshire Bank, and the British Linen Company, have been established; and great facility of communication is afforded by the Glasgow and Ayr railway, which has a station in the town, and is here joined by a branch from Busby, near Kilmarnock. The market, which is abundantly supplied with grain and provisions of all kinds, is on Monday. Fairs are held on the first Wednesday in January, for horses; the first Tuesday in May, for cattle; and the third Monday and Wednesday in August, for horses, and for lint and wool. A market-cross, a very elegant structure in the centre of the town, was removed in 1694, and the materials employed in the erection of the present meal-market.

The government of the burgh is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, and a treasurer, with twelve councillors, chosen under the regulations of the Municipal Reform act. There are six incorporated trades, namely, the shoemakers, coopers, tailors, weavers, hammermen, and squaremen. The fee of admission as a guild burgess is £5; and as a common burgess £2. 10. for a stranger, and half that sum for a son or son-in-law of a burgess. The magistrates, whose jurisdiction extends over the royalty, hold burgh courts both in civil and criminal matters; and the sheriff of the county holds a court here once in every two months, for causes not exceeding £8. 6. 8. A justice-of-peace court is also regularly held. The town-hall, situated in the centre of the principal street, was built in 1745, and is a neat plain structure, containing a court-room and a council-chamber, the public library, and three apartments for criminals. The debtors' prison has been discontinued since 1840, under the new Prison act, and has been transferred to the county gaol of Ayr, whither, also, all criminal prisoners are sent whose cases require more than temporary confinement. This burgh is associated with Ayr, Campbelltown, Inverary, and Oban, in returning a member to the imperial parliament: the number of qualified voters, including the suburb of Fullarton, which is within the parliamentary boundaries, is 235. The celebrated Robert Barclay was provost of the burgh.

The PARISH, situated in the north-western portion of the county, is bounded on the east and south-east by the river Annick; on the west, by the Irvine; and on the north-west, by the river Garnock. It is about four miles in length and nearly two in extreme breadth, comprising an area of almost 4000 acres, of which 3000 are arable, and the remainder woodland, plantations, and waste. Along the shore, and on the banks of the rivers, the surface is flat and sandy: the soil near the town is a light rich loam, and in the higher parts a strong clay. The crops are wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, and turnips: the system of husbandry is improved; the lands are well drained and inclosed, and the farm-buildings generally substantial and commodious. Dairy-farming is well managed, and the produce is in high reputation. The annual value of real property in the parish is £10,156. The plantations distributed over various parts are mostly in a thriving state: there are some considerable remains of ancient timber. The chief substrata are, coal, of which there are numerous seams; freestone; and whinstone, of good quality for building, and of which an extensive quarry, near the town, is in full operation. This whinstone is in great demand for oven soles, for which it is admirably adapted, and which are frequently sent as far south as London. The only seat of importance is Bourtree Hill, pleasantly situated on the banks of the Annick, about a mile and a half eastward of the town.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Irvine, of which this place is the seat, and the synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The minister's stipend is about £280, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £25 per annum; patron, the Earl of Eglinton. Irvine church, erected in 1774, and repaired in 1830, is a spacious structure with a handsome tower and spire, and contains 1800 sittings. There are places of worship for members of the United Presbyterian Church, the Free Church, and Baptists. An academy, for which a building was erected in the town in 1816, capable of receiving 500 pupils, is under the patronage of the corporation, who appoint a rector, an English master, and a commercial master, who have salaries of £30 each, in addition to the fees, which, however, are moderate. Near Bourtree Hill are some remains of an ancient structure called Stone Castle, belonging to the Earl of Eglinton; the principal portion is a square tower, of unknown antiquity. With this castle is said to have been connected a nunnery with a chapel and cemetery. Irvine is remarkable as the birthplace of Montgomery, the poet, and of the late Mr. Gait, the novelist; and as having been for some time the residence of Burns: whilst the last named was endeavouring to establish himself in business here as a flax-dresser, his shop was unfortunately burnt, and his prospects blighted. In Irvine also was born the Right Honourable David Boyle, the present distinguished head of the court of session. See FULLARTON.

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