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Kilbirnie, Ayrshire

Historical Description

KILBIRNIE, a parish, in the district of Cunninghame, county of Ayr, 3 miles (W. by N.) from Beith; containing 2631 inhabitants. It derives its name from the term Kil, signifying a church, chapel, or monastic cell, and Birnie, or Birinus, the tutelar saint of the parish, the church of which, with the rectorial tithes and revenues, belonged in ancient times to the monastery of Kilwinning, the monks providing a vicar to serve the cure. The parish is situated in the northern extremity of the county, bordering on Renfrewshire, and is of an oblong form, measuring in length from south-east to north-west between seven and eight miles, and about two miles and a half in average breadth. It consists nominally of the three baronies of Kilbirnie, Glengarnock, and Ladyland; and comprises an area of 10,800 acres, of which 1600 are arable, 2800 in cultivated grasslands and meadows, 1270 green-hill pasture, 70 in plantations, and the remainder heath, moss-land, and water. The surface is much diversified in appearance, and is naturally formed into two distinct tracts. Of these, one is wholly arable, and ornamented by the beautiful water of Kilbirnie loch on its eastern limit, and the winding stream of the Garnoch running from north to south. The other is marked by hill pastures, bog, and moorland, and has a very irregular surface: it rises first into lofty uplands, and these are succeeded by dreary tracts of moss and heath, and ranges of barren and uninviting hills, the highest of which, called the hill of Staik, is 1691 feet above the level of the sea, and commands prospects the most extensive, varied, and beautiful. Kilbirnie loch contains trout, perch, roach, pike, and abundance of eels. The Garnoch and the Maich, also, are good trouting-streams. The former has its source in the hill of Staik, and runs in a south-eastern direction; about a mile and a half from its source it forms a wild and romantic waterfall called the Spout of Garnock, and some miles further down descends along a well-wooded ravine, passes the village, and then pursues its course through the parishes of Dairy and Kilwinning to the sea at Irvine. The Maich runs along the north-eastern boundary of the parish, nearly parallel with the Garnock; and after a course of about five miles in a deep channel, through lonely moorlands, with very little interesting scenery about its banks, except when, like the Garnock, passing one or two favoured spots, it falls into the loch of Kilbirnie.

The SOIL comprises several varieties, with numerous modifications and admixtures. In the lower, or southern, part of the parish is a very fertile alluvial loam, which, higher up the Garnock, assumes the character of a rich clayey loam. Towards the cast, near Kilbirnie loch, and along part of the Maich, the soil is a light red clay, incumbent on a stiff clayey subsoil. West of the Garnock, clayey loam is again found, and also a tenacious clay mixed with sand, crossed with stripes of meadow land. The soil of the higher ground is a light, dry, and fertile earth, resting on trap and limestone, and well suited to pasture; the moorish uplands consist of mossy tracts lying on clay, much interspersed with pools of stagnant water. The produce comprehends all the usual white and green crops; but wheat is now cultivated only to a very limited extent, the returns for several years having been unsatisfactory, in consequence, principally, of the humidity and coldness of the climate, and the moist retentive nature of the subsoil. The farms vary much in size; those under the plough are from fifty to 180 acre, and the rotation system of husbandry is followed. There is a corn-mill in the parish, to which all the lands are thirled; and fifteen of the farms have threshing-mills. On the lower grounds the inclosures are chiefly ditches and thorn-hedges, while those on the higher grounds and pastures are stone walls; and in addition to the great improvements effected during the present century by liming and draining, some superior farm-houses have been built, with good offices: the old, ill-constructed, thatched tenements, however, are still numerous. The sheep, of which upwards of 2000 are kept, are principally the black-faced, and fed on the moorlands; but a few crosses of various English breeds are to be seen on the arable farms. There are about 550 milch-cows and 600 or 700 head of cattle, mostly of the Cunninghame breed, to the selection of which, and the management of the dairy, much attention is paid: the horses used in husbandry are of the Clydesdale kind. The strata of the parish comprise coal of several descriptions, freestone, limestone, and ironstone. The coal is generally found in moderate-sized basins, and has long been worked. Both freestone and limestone are wrought in abundance; and the ironstone, formerly neglected, is now wrought to a great extent by the Glengarnock Iron Company, who have a number of smelting-furnaces in operation. The annual value of real property in Kilbirnie is £7678.

The plantations were chiefly formed in the early part of the present century; but they are of little interest; there are a few fine old trees in the vicinity of Kilbirnie House and the mansion of Ladyland. Kilbirnie House, sometimes called the Place of Kilbirnie, is situated a mile westward of the village, and embraces fine views of the vale of Kilbirnie loch and the river Garnock, with the country beyond. It consists of an ancient quadrilateral tower, and a modern addition built about 1627, extending at right angles from its eastern side, the whole forming a large commanding edifice. The structure was accidentally destroyed by fire in the year 1757, leaving a ruin which time has since been gradually desolating; and all the beautiful wood that once surrounded it, with the ornamental grounds and approaches, have nearly disappeared. The old house of Ladyland, with the exception of a small portion, was demolished in 1815; and in the following year, an elegant and spacious mansion was built by the proprietor, which is situated on a gentle eminence, and adorned with some thriving plantations, intermixed with fine old trees. The village consists principally of a long street lying along the right bank of the river Garnock, and a shorter one extending westward from its upper end. Its general appearance is neat, clean, and interesting: many of the houses, which are of a light-coloured freestone, have been but lately built; and the population, now amounting to 1500 or 1600, has been doubled within the last thirty years, through the progress of manufactures in the locality. The houses are mostly lighted with gas, procured partly from a power-loom manufactory, and partly from the gas-work of Mr. John Allan, erected at his own expense, and capable of supplying half the village.

In the beginning of the present century, a small cotton factory was established, which, being burnt down in 1831, was rebuilt on an enlarged scale. This establishment, in 1834, was sold to a Glasgow merchant, who converted it into a spinning power-loom manufactory, on an extensive footing; the machinery is driven by two steam-engines, and the works employ altogether 350 persons. In 1834, also, a mill was erected for the spinning of flax; the machinery is impelled by steam-power, and the works employ 150 hands. On the opposite side of the river is a bleachfield, in full operation, where about 140,000lb. of linen thread-yarn are annually bleached for the manufacturers of Beith, besides which, 90,000lb. of coloured thread are finished; the whole engaging from ninety to 100 hands. The proprietors have lately erected, near these works, a mill for spinning flax. About 160 hand-loom weavers, also, reside at Kilbirnie, who are engaged in the usual kinds of work given by the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers; and 150 females are occupied in ornamental work on muslin. A rope-work is likewise in operation, employing twenty men and boys; the produce is chiefly sold at Paisley. A sub-post office in the village communicates with Beith twice a day; the turnpike-road from Dairy to Lochwinnoch runs in a north-eastern direction across the lower part of the parish, and another, to Largs, intersects it on the west. There are also two good parish roads, and several bridges, opening up easy communication in every direction. The Glasgow and Ayr railway proceeds to the south, on the eastern verge of Kilbirnie loch, where the line attains its summit level, which is seventy feet above the Glasgow terminus, and nineteen miles from that station; it then continues its course on the east of the Garnock river. Near the northern extremity of the loch is the Beith station on the line, and near the southern extremity the Kilbirnie station. The coke furnaces of the railway company, employed in manufacturing the coke consumed by the locomotives, are situated at Kilbirnie. The agricultural produce of the parish is disposed of at Paisley, Glasgow, and several neighbouring places. A fair called Brinnan's, a term corrupted from St. Brandane, the apostle of the Orkneys, is held on the third Wednesday in May, O. S., and being the largest horse-market in the west of Scotland, is attended by a great concourse of people. Coopers' work and culinary utensils are also sold at it in great quantities, and general business is transacted extensively. A fair held on the first Tuesday in July, and one on the last Tuesday in October, have dwindled away.

Ecclesiastically the parish is in the presbytery of Irvine, synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Earl of Eglinton: the minister's stipend is £193, with a manse, and a glebe of nearly nine acres, valued at £18 per annum. Kilbirnie church, situated about half a mile south of the village, is one of the most ancient in the west of Scotland, the body of it having been built a considerable time before the Reformation. An aisle, called the Glengarnock aisle, bears the date of 1597; but it is considered to be a much more recent addition. The most modern part of the structure is the Craufurd gallery, erected opposite to the aisle in 1654 by Sir John Craufurd, according to an inscription in relief over one of the windows. The church has long been an object of interest to the antiquary on account of the rich carvings in oak, profusely displayed on the gallery and on the pulpit: the gallery also exhibits the armorial bearings of twelve of the ancestors of John, first Viscount Garnock, by whose order the edifice was repaired, and the ornamental work executed, about the year 1700. In the churchyard is the tomb of Captain Thomas Craufurd, of Jordanhill, who performed the remarkable exploit of storming the castle of Dumbarton in 1571: the monument, built of sandstone, is nine feet long and six wide, and through an aperture in the east end are faintly seen the recumbent effigies of the captain in a military garb, and of his lady in the costume of the times. There is a place of worship in the village for the Reformed Presbytery; and the members of the Free Church, also, have a place of worship. The parochial school affords instruction in Latin, Greek, practical mathematics, and book-keeping, in addition to the usual branches; the master has a salary of £25. 13. 4., with a school-house and dwelling, erected in 1823, two acres of land, and about £42 fees. A subscription library was established in 1820, and now contains upwards of 500 volumes. A society was instituted a few years since for granting relief in sickness, called "the Kilbirnie Gardeners' Society"; it has above 100 members, and £100 stock. The chief relic of antiquity is the ruin of Glengarnock Castle, situated on a precipitous ridge overhanging the river Garnoch, about two miles north of Kilbirnie. The date of the erection of this extensive fortification is uncertain; but it is conjectured to have existed in the time of the de Morevilles.

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