An article from

'The Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland'

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848


AYR, anciently ARE, sometimes AIR, a parish in Ayrshire, about 5 miles in length, and 3 in breadth. It is bounded on the north by the river {Ayr (The)} just described, which divides it from Newton-upon-Ayr; on the East by Coylstone ; on the south-east by Dalrymple; on the south-west by the river Doon, which separates it from Mavbole ; and on the west by the sea. The surface is flat and sandy, but here and there interspersed with beautiful plantations and villas. Towards the east the country rises gradually; in the immediate neighbourhood of the sea there is a good deal of light shifting sand, especially in the neighbourhood of Prestwick. Aiton estimates the superficies at 4,000 Scots acres. Real rent, in 1799, £3,700. Present rental about £10,000. Assessed property, in 1815, £16,078. There are two small lakes in this parish, one toward the south side named Carleny, and the other at the eastern extremity called Loch Fergus. The latter has a small island in the centre, but is not above a mile in circumference. There is plenty of muirstone in this district; but freestone is neither abundant nor good ; and coal is not wrought, although all the neighbouring parishes possess inexhaustible pits of the finest coal. There is a strong chalybeate {Impregnated with or containing salts of iron.} spring on the north side of the river Ayr, which is famous in scrofulous {A form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes, especially of the neck, that is most common in children and is usually spread by unpasteurized milk from infected cows.} and scorbutic complaints. Tradition reports an engagement to have taken place in the valley of Dalrymple, between Fergus I., king of Scots, and Coilus, king of the Britons, in which both leaders lost their lives. The names of places in the neighbourhood seem derived from this circumstance ; and a circular mound, marked by two large upright stones, and long the reputed burial-place of 'auld King Coil," having been opened in May, 1837, was found to contain four urns. History has recorded two distinguished characters in literature, natives of this parish: Johannes Scotus surnamed Erigena, and the Chevalier Ramsay, author of Cyrus's Travels, and other works. To these may be added John L. McAdam, Esq., of road-making celebrity, who was born at Ayr in 1756, and Lord Alloway. Population, in 1801, 5,492 ; in 1831, 7,600 ; by a census in January 1836, 7,475 ; of whom 4,958 belonged to the Established church, and 2,424 to other denominations, chiefly the Relief. Houses 892—This parish is in the presbytery of Ayr, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. It consists of the united parishes of Ayr and Alloway. Patron, the Crown, and the Magistrates of Ayr and Kirk session. It was anciently a prebendal benefice of Glasgow.(1) There are two parish-churches, both in the town of Ayr. The old one was built in 1654, on the site of the Grey Friars convent, in place of St. John the Baptist's church which Cromwell had converted into an armory for his citadel in Ayr. It is a massive cruciform structure, and is surrounded with the town burying-ground. The new church was built in 1810, by the town council of Ayr, at an expense ot £5,703. Total sittings in both churches, 1,982. The charge is collegiate, and the two ministers officiate indiscriminately in both churches. Stipend of the 1st charge £178 5s., with a manse and glebe ; of the 2nd, £283 6s. 9d., with allowance for a manse, and a glebe of the value of£286s. 8d. Mr. Ferguson of Doonholm left the interest of £1,000 to be divided between the two ministers. — The Relief church was built in 1816, at an expense of £3,000; sittings 1,182. Stipend £180.—The Wesleyan Methodist church was built in 1813, at an expense of £1,500; sittings 530. Stipend £86, with a manse - There are also Independent, Roman Catholic, and Episcopalian chapels onthe opposite side of the river - The parochial schoolswere formed into an academy in 1797, which is conducted by 6 teachers and 2 assistants. The salary of the rector is £100 per annum ; that of the other teachers from £15 to £22. There were 460 pupils in the academy in 1833 ; and above 600 children attended the private schools in the parish, which were 16 in number. Mr. Ferguson of Doonholm bequenthed the annual interest of £1,000 to the public schoolmasters of Ayr; and, in 1825, Captain John Smith bequeathed a sum for erecting a school for poor children here which produces £88 yearly. There is also a school of industry.The royal burgh of Ayr, the county-town of Ayrshire, and the seat of a circuit-court, is of great antiquity. It is 75 miles south-west of Edinburgh, 34 distant from Glasgow, 12 from Kilmarnock, 11 from Irvine, and 9 from Maybole. It is situated at the western end of a fertile and beautiful valley, on the southern bank of the Ayr, at its influx into the frith of Clyde. The principal or High street is broad and spacious, with a row of houses on each side presenting a motley group of elegant structures and mean buildings, in most uncouth and amorphous combination, with fronts, gables, and corners projecting to the street as chance or caprice may have directed; and having, till within these few years, the huge mass of the tolhooth and town-hall in the centre, with a spire 135 feet high. At the end of this street is 'the Auld brig o' Ayr,' consisting of four lofty and strongly framed arches, said to have been built in the reign of Alexander III., and connecting the town with Newton-on-Ayr; and 150 yards below is 'the New brig,' a fine structure of five arches, built in 1787-8, from a design by Robert Adam. At the junction of the High street and Sandgate are the assembly-rooms, with a spire 228 feet high. The court and record rooms, and county-hall, are in Wellington square, near the south end of Sandgate. They were designed by Mr. Wallace, and erected at an expense of £30,000. The streets are lighted with gas, and well-paved. Ayr was erected into a royal burgh by William the Lion, about the year 1202; and the extensive privileges granted by that charter are still enjoyed by the town. This charter contains a reference to the granter's "New castle upon Are" which was built about five years before, and probably stood at the eastern corner of Cromwell's fort. Here the heroic exploits of Sir William Wallace began ; and here Edward I fixed one of his most powerful garrisons. Oliver Cromwell, too, judging it a proper place to build a fortress, took possession of the old church of St. John the Baptist, and converted it and the neighbouring ground, to the extent of 10 or 12 acres, into a regular citadel. On one of the mounts, within the walls of this fortress, stood the old castle of Ayr, and the old church—the tower of which still remains—noted for the meeting of the Scottish parliament on the 26th of April, 1315, when the succession to the Crown was settled on Edward Bruce, Earl of Carrick, the king's gallant brother. In 1530 upwards of £700 were expended in rebuilding Wallace's tower, in the High street; the foundation, however, having given way it was rebuilt, in 1832, at a further expense of £1,500. The new tower is a Gothic building 113 feet high, ornamented with a statue of Sir William Wallace by Thorn. In ancient times we find Ayr to have been a place of considerable trade. Buchanan characterises it as 'emporium non ignobile.' And Defoe remarks of it: "It is now like an old beauty, and shows the ruins of a good face, but is still decaying every day; and from having been the fifth best town in Scotland, as the townsmen say, it is now the fifth worst; which is owing to the decay of its trade. So true it is that commerce is the life of cities, of nations, and even of kingdoms. What was the reason of the decay of trade in this place is not easy to determine, the people themselves being either unwilling or unable to tell." ['Tour through Great Britain,' edn. 1745, p. 114.] The merchants used to import a great quantity of wine from France, and export corn, salmon, and other produce of the country. The rising-trade of Glasgow proved very injurious to the trade of this town; but of late it has somewhat revived. The opening of the railway from Ayr to Irvine, and thence to Kilwinning, has already added considerably to the trade of the town ; and now that the entire line to Glasgow is opened, a large increase of traffic must necessarily follow from the increased intercourse with the towns of Dairy, Kilbirnie, Beith, Stevenston, Saltcoats, and Ardrossan. During the first twelve months after the opening of the line to Irvine, the number of passengers who travelled between the two towns was 137,117 - A branch line to Kilmarnock and an ultimate connexion with Carlisle by Dumfries, is contemplated. With Glasgow, Ayr has repeated intercourse daily by steam-boats plying in the frith. The sea-shore is flat and shallow, and the entrance of the river Ayr, which forms the harbour, is subject to the inconvenience of a bar of sand, which is often thrown quite across the river, especially by a strong north-west wind. The water, even at spring-tides, never rises above 14 feet. The piers extend about 1,100 feet each; and there are two light-houses in faking the harbour. The position of Ayr north pier nght, as determined by Mr. Galbraith in 1827, is N Lat.55° 28' 53"; W. long. 4° 36' 21".(2) There are three lights, bearing S. E. by E ½ E. 850 feet. Two of the lights are bright, and one red. The red and one bright light are in the same building, and show all night. In 1792 an act was passed for deepening and maintaining this harbour, and enlarging and improving the quays. Another act was passed in 1817, with the same objects. The annual receipts of the harbour vary from £1,200 to £800. The harbour-master has a salary of £107 10s. The principal trade now carried on at this port is the exportation of coal to Ireland, to the amount of about 50,400 tons annually. The other exports are pig-iron from Muirkirk and Glenbuck, coal-tar, brown paint lamp black, coal-oil, and Water-of-Ayr stone. About 60 vessels, amounting to 5 or 6,000 tons, and employing 500 seamen, belonged to this port in 1812. The shipping of Ayr has, however, fallen off since that period, and at present consists of 20 vessels The imports are hides and tallow from South America ; beef, butter, barley, yarn, and linen from Ireland; spars and deals from our American colonies; hemp and iron from the Baltic; and general cargoes from Glasgow, Greenock, Liverpool, the Isle of Man, etc. Shipbuilding is carried on to a considerable extent; and there is a woollen mill employing, in 1838, 55 hands. Between 200 and 300 families are employed in flowering muslin. Besides the salmon-fisheries in the Ayr and the Doon, the sandbanks off the coast abound with all kinds of white fish, and afford employment to 8 or 9 boats of four men each. There is an extensive manufacture of leather here, and another of shoes. There are branches of the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank, Glasgow Union Bank, and Sir William Forbes' Bank here. The bank of Hunters and Co., has been long-established, and has six branches throughout the county. The Ayrshire banking company, formed in 1831, has also six branches. Ayr possesses a good academy, of which notice has been taken in the preceding article. It was incorporated by royal charter in 1797. All the branches of education necessary for a commercial life are here taught by able masters; besides the Latin, Greek, and modern languages, experimental philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, etc. A library and museum have recently been formed in connection with this institution. The building is plain but chaste, and occupies a fine airy situation near the citadel. A Mechanics' institution was formed in 1825. Two newspapers are published in the town. Ayr is reckoned a gay and fashionable place. It has a theatre, and well-attended races, and is sometimes the seat of the Caledonian hunt. The race-course consists of an enclosure of about 90 acres, about a mile to the south of the town. The races are generally held on the first week of September. It has markets on Tuesday and Friday; and four annual fairs; viz. on 1st Tuesday of January, O.S., last Tuesday of June, O.S., 29th of September, and 3rd Tuesday of October. It was governed until the late municipal act by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean-of-guild, a treasurer, and 12 councillors. The jurisdiction of the magistrates extended over the conjoined parishes of Ayr and Alloway. The water of Ayr forms the eastern boundary of the royalty, and separates it from the populous communities of Newton-upon-Ayr, Wallacetown, and Content, which are, however, united with Ayr under the Reform act. The jurisdiction of the magistrates of Ayr is at present entirely confined to their own side of the river, Newton-on-Ayr having its own magistracy. The revenue of the burgh, from 1832 to 1833, was £2,057 6s. 11d. Ordinary expenditure £1,870 12s. 7d. Nett amount of debt, in October 1833, £18,823 9s. 11d., all of which had been contracted since 1792. The only taxation is for cess and poor's money. The amount of the duties levied, in 1833, was £991 6s. 3d. About £600 is mortified to the poor of the parish. Themagistrates, in conjunction with the Kirk-session, are patrons of the 2d charge. There are nine incorporated trades in Ayr, who all possess funds varying respectively from £50 to £1,500. Ayr unites with Irvine, Oban, Inverary, and Campbeltown, in sending a member to parliament. The population exceeds 6,500, and has increased upwards of a third during this century. See articles ALLOWAY, NEWTON-UPON-AYR, and ST.QUIVOX.

{1 The 'Rectoria de Ayr' was taxed £26 13s. 4d., the tenth of its estimated value, in the reign of James V.}

{2 In Norie'a Navigation, [edition of 1835,] this point of the Ayrshire coast is stated to N Lat.55° 28' 30"; and W. long. 4° 37' 0". Navigation, [edition 1804]° 25' 0"; W. long. 4° 26' 0". And in the tables of the Hyldrographic offce, Admiralty, N. lat.55° 27'; W.long 4° 38'.}




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